How We Paid Off $195,000 in Debt in 18 Months!

Recently, I decided to start a new series where I interview people who are doing extraordinary things with their lives. First up was JP Livingston, who retired with a net worth over $2,000,000 at the age of 28. Today’s interview is about Sami and Dallas, who started their debt free journey in January of 2016,…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: April 2, 2024

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Recently, I decided to start a new series where I interview people who are doing extraordinary things with their lives. First up was JP Livingston, who retired with a net worth over $2,000,000 at the age of 28. Today’s interview is about Sami and Dallas, who started their debt free journey in January of 2016, and as of July 28, 2017, they are debt free!

Sami and Dallas paid off debt in the amount of $195,000 in just 18 months. You can read more about their amazing debt payoff story here. Here are their tips to help you pay off debt quickly, find motivation, and more!In this interview, you’ll learn:

  • How they got into debt.
  • Why they decided to pay it all off.
  • How they managed to pay it off in just 18 months.
  • Why they decided to pay off their debt instead of primarily investing.
  • Their tips for others to pay off debt.
  • How their debt payoff story is different from others.
  • The financial goal they are working on now.

And more!

After reading about their story, I thought they would be a great addition to my interview series. Paying off that amount of debt, in such a short amount of time, is crazy interesting!

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I asked you, my readers, what questions I should ask them, so below are your questions (and some of mine) about paying off debt. Make sure you’re following me on Facebook so you have the opportunity to submit your own questions for the next interview.


Tell me your story and all about you and your spouse. How much debt did you have and what was your debt from?

My husband, Dallas, and I just celebrated our 3rd anniversary in August. We’re both under 35 years old and currently reside in beautiful Northern Colorado. We have two furry kids but are DINKs (double income, no kids) by definition. I am an accountant by day for a construction company and run my personal finance blog, Eat Pray Budget, by night. My husband is a general manager for a local business and pursues his passion of motorcycles via his radio talk show. We work hard but try to play hard too, and we love adventure of any kind!

For the first year or so of our marriage we would say things to each other like, “we make too much money to be this far in debt.”  Me having an accounting degree and an MBA, I thought I had this money stuff down.  

I was beyond wrong.  

We started out with almost $187k in debt. $80k of that consisted of my student loans (an accounting degree and an MBA is expensive!), $6,600 was credit card debt, $17k was an auto loan, and $83k was a mortgage.  In July, we made our final debt payment and ended up paying off $195k in 18 months. The difference of the two is about $8k in interest.  

We were thrilled to finally proclaim WE’RE DEBT FREE!!!


Why did you want to pay off all of your debt?

We decided that we were tired of the rat race.  

We want to be able to travel and live a life with less stress and financial worry, but who doesn’t right? While we hadn’t really hit rock bottom, we weren’t living the financial life we desired. We were tired of the debt and of the interest fees robbing our pockets. Looking back now, I know that we were living paycheck to paycheck by just being irresponsible with our money.

I honestly thought that I’d be paying off my student loans well into my 50’s.

My thought was, that’s what everyone else is doing so why am I any different? I had no concept of actually paying those bad boys off early. I just thought I would make the minimum payments and that was it. One day, my husband challenged that with a simple question, “why can’t we pay them off early?” A lightbulb went on.  We can!  We took a leap, set a plan and took control of our money. It has been freeing!  


How did you manage to pay off so much debt and so fast?

We were intentional with every penny we earned! We started zero based budgeting every month, and we’ll do this every month for the rest of our lives.

Folks get scared when I mention the word budget, they think its limiting. I always say, you can buy anything you want as long as it’s in the budget! Budgeting is a great way for us to set boundaries with ourselves and to be ridiculously intentional with our money.

We also cut our expenses, drastically! We were literally hemorrhaging money at the grocery store, dining out and shopping online. We didn’t stop doing those things, we just did so within our budget. We currently live on 47% of our income. So at the time, we were paying 53%+ of our income toward debt each month.  We honed in on our goal to pay off our debt and went after that with everything we could. We would even take any extra money from our other budget categories and throw it to debt. So, if we went $4.96 under budget on groceries, we would throw that to debt. I literally made payments to debt for less than $5.  Sounds crazy, but it worked!

We also sold junk like our lives depended on it!

Seriously, you’d be shocked by what you have laying around the house that people will pay you for! We started out small selling some purses, clothes and other household items. Then we sold my motorcycle. It was only worth $2k and wasn’t really rideable, so selling it was a good move. Eventually, we sold our condo. I had purchased a small condo when I was 19. Yes, the bank gave me a home loan at 19 years old, with no co-signer! We had actually moved to a neighboring town and had been renting the condo out. When we weighed the income from that property and our goal of paying off debt, it was a no brainer! We destroyed the mortgage with the sale and ended up making nearly $46k, all of which went to my student loans. It was bittersweet. We knew we were selling a great investment property but we also knew, that in due time and with the appropriate funds, we could replace that investment property, and we plan to do just that!


What is your response to people who say, “you should invest that money instead of paying off the debt, you’ll earn more in the long run…” etc.?

My response to when people tell us “you should invest that money instead of paying off debt, you’ll earn more in the long run…” is: the bank can’t take something you own, i.e. they can’t repo your car or home if you own it free and clear. That kind of freedom is something an investment can’t buy.  

Sure, if you invest properly, you can liquidate if you find yourself in a bind, but we don’t want to live that way.  We want to think about money and not have a panic feeling take over us.    

It’s honestly all about opportunity cost to us.  

We owed nearly $186k, over $100k of that was not an appreciating asset. It was interest accruing debt.  Our minimum debt payments before we started paying off debt was nearly $1,600. You know what you can do with $1,600?!

A whole lot of investing!!!

We would have rather taken the time to pay off that debt so that eventually we can invest that money without the worry of debt hanging over our heads. During the 18 months it took us to pay off our debt, we paid nearly $8k in interest. That’s nearly 4% interest, and yes, we might be able to find an investment that will pay more than that, but what’s the net impact? Not to mention the stress relief we experienced from owing no money to anyone is worth it to us! It’s an incredible freedom.


What’s the best way for a person to get started paying off all of their debt?

Start budgeting like your life depends on it! I explain how we budget every month here. Budgeting is an important yet simple practice to make a plan for your money. Do you think a builder builds a house without a plan?  Most businesses, successful ones at least, operate on a plan too. Why wouldn’t we set a plan for our money? Money, after all, touches every aspect of our lives! From grocery shopping, to vacations, to Sparky’s vet bill. Bottom line, we need money to function in our world, so set a plan with a budget!

Stop going into debt!!! I mean, you can’t pay it off if you keep accumulating it, right? One of the first things we did was cut up our credit cards and cancel them. You have to stop using those as your bail out. Instead, create a quick savings fund ($500-$1000) to cover anything that may come up. But be sure to set good boundaries with yourself on that savings. Only use it in an emergency and replace it as soon as possible.

Cut your expenses and throw any extra money to debt. Literally every extra cent!

You have to be so intentional with your money and get mad at your debt. Really mad. Seriously, use that anger to slay it, and slay it fast! You will not regret paying off your debt, you’ll just regret that you didn’t start sooner. Start selling stuff too! Have a garage sale, start selling stuff online (Facebook has a great marketplace) or start a side hustle! Michelle has some epic content on creating a profitable blog, I’m just saying.


What is your next financial goal?

We are currently saving six months worth of our expenses for an emergency fund. Well, we’re actually saving more than that because we want a healthy cushion, just in case. Sure we don’t owe anything but we’d really like the peace of mind that if something happens to one of our jobs, we won’t drown. We’ve set a stretch goal and are saving for what we anticipate our expenses to be when we buy a house one day. Like I said, we cut expenses drastically but don’t expect to live so frugally forever. When we do own our own home, we want to make darn sure that the mortgage is covered for at least six months.

Speaking of a house, we’re also saving for a down payment on a house. We plan on putting at least 10% down, but we’re pushing toward a 20% down payment on a 15 year mortgage. We won’t be buying anything extravagant and hope to purchase a home with a reasonable price and a mortgage not to exceed 25% of our take home pay.  Again, we’re setting financial boundaries so that we can position ourselves to pay off that mortgage quickly.


Often, people paying off loads of debt feel they have to choose between “living life” and making payments. Were there any times during the journey that you chose to “splurge”? If so, what were the reasons? Were there any months that you didn’t make extra payments at all?

Paying off debt certainly comes with a lot of sacrifice. At times, we did feel that we were putting our life on hold a bit. We knew that this was temporary pain for a long term gain, but it was still hard. We didn’t invest in a home, instead, we chose to rent. We didn’t invest in our side businesses much, so that we could pay off debt as soon as possible. That being said, we did make some decisions to “splurge” and even not make extra debt payments to that we could do something we wanted.

If you ask my husband, motorcycling isn’t a hobby, it’s a way of life. Admittedly, an expensive one. Our big “splurge” discussions were motorcycle related. Initially, we were intense with paying off debt. We even put our motorcycle up for sale. We owed $17k on it, it was worth probably $20k, so we figured we could at least wipe out the loan if we sold it. Any motorcyclist reading this understands how difficult this was. Let’s just say, the week it was up for sale I did a lot of number crunching. Eventually, we decided that since we could pay it off within the year, we’d keep it. Whew, what a relief!  For us, that motorcycle is freedom. It’s something we love to do and do together, so keeping it was a great way to ensure some reprieve from our debt slaying.

Our next tough decision was a cross country motorcycle trip. Gasp! A vacation while paying off debt?! My husband has been involved in an organization called Run for the Wall for years. It’s basically a cross country motorcycle ride from Los Angeles, CA to Washington, D.C. in support of our Veterans, Active Duties, POW’s and MIA’s. Supporting our military is something we’re both passionate about, and for the 2017 Run, we were honored to be part of the leadership. That means we had a nearly front row seat for a police escorted cross country motorcycle trip. Pretty much once in a lifetime, especially for me. It’s more difficult for me to get time off of work and somehow, I was granted the three weeks off to take the trip.

As you can imagine, a three week cross country trip is not cheap. We ran the numbers and had to take a whole month’s worth of extra debt payments to cover the trip. We weighed it out and decided that the trip would be worth it. We knew the consequences of our decision either way and understood that we’d be delaying our payoff. We took that trip in May and don’t regret it in the least. We will forever cherish the experiences and memories we now have because of it.


What’s something with your debt payoff that you did that barely anyone else does? What sets your story apart from others?

Oh man, this is a tough one! There are a lot of little things we did, sacrifices we made, tough decisions and all of that. None of that is probably all that different from others on a similar journey. I think all of those little things added up to us achieving our big goal so quickly. Plus, it gave us some character!

I’d say something unique about our story is that we chose to continue to give while paying off debt. Giving is an important thing for us and we continued to give at least 10% of our income because giving is a big part of our beliefs.

Sure, there were some tough patches where we would consider the amount we were giving and how that amount could impact our debt payoff. When you’re sacrificing and making tough decisions, it’s hard not to second guess things. But we stayed true to our goals and to our beliefs. Looking back now I feel that that giving helped maintain our focus. It helped us remember what’s important and gave us hope for our future.  We’re not just about building our wealth, we want to seek financial success so that we can give more too! Again, this decision wasn’t something many may understand but it’s something we stand by and are glad we did.

How much debt do you have? Are you trying to pay it off?

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Huge congrats to you, that’s a lot of money to pay off!!

    1. Thank you so much!!! It was well worth the hard work!

  2. Aaron

    I’m always interested to hear how people are paying off such a large amount in a short period of time. Sounds like they went at it pretty hard. I’d be interested to hear about the type of income they were/are bringing in as well because that is a large part of the process here too.

    Easier to pay off $100k when you are making lots of $$ and little expense (no kids, etc)

    1. Great questions! We are DINK (double income, no kids) and make pretty good money. We started rented and sold an asset (a condo) which helped a lot!! I had no idea that when I took out a mortgage at 19 it’d help pay for some of my education! We definitely got a lot of grief for that move but we can always buy investment property later…

  3. Love to read these kind of posts because are reals and everytime I find something really inspiring into them:D thanks for sharing!!!

    1. Thanks so much for your feedback!! We hope our story and stories like it are helpful to others doing something similar!! Best of luck to you!

  4. Thank you!! Yes, get that mortgage paid in full!! That’s so exciting!!

  5. That is incredible! We paid off our mortgage of about $240,000 but it took us five years, and I thought that was fast, 18 months is amazing.

    Having a crazy goal like this is super motivating. Its hard to explain that feeling but making sacrifices doesn’t seem nearly as difficult when you have a crazy goal you want to achieve.

    1. Congratulations on paying off your home!! That’s incredible! #goals You’re so right, seeing progress on your crazy goals make the sacrifices worth it!

  6. Thank you so much! We are renting now so a house will be next on our radar! Definitely worth it to pay it off early!

  7. Congrats on paying off your debt! I paid off about $28k in a little over a year and was soo happy, so I can only imagine how happy and proud you are.

    I love reading post like this because it is nice to see how other people paid off their debt, what their game plan was, what tough choices they had to make.

    Congrats again!

  8. Cindy

    This is such a motivational story! Congratulations on your success!

    We’re in the process of paying off debt right now, and I agree that budgeting and getting rid of credit cards are the best things you can do.

    It’s scary to cancel the credit cards. We relied on ours as a sort of emergency back-up in case we overspent – which we did. A lot.

    By stopping this terrible habit and sticking to our budget, we’ve managed to pay off $7,000 in debt in five months.

    We don’t have quite as much debt as you guys did, but I can’t wait until we reach that level of success and are finally debt-free!

  9. Tami @ Echodog Farm

    That’s amazing! But completely unattainable for me, as a single mom. 🙁

  10. That’s alot of personal debt. If you used blogging and affiliate marketing alone to pay all of that off, then that means you’re on track to make at least 10 million more in the next 5 years. Am I right? 🙂

  11. honky

    I don’t find your story to be overly engaging like these others do. You obviously come from a good background and have had financial assistance from your family or someone, you went to school and racked up loans (nothing new in america) and then you paid them off. The pace in which you paid them off shows that you had assets available to assist you and obviously good income to do so. You didn’t have to budget very hard when your income exceeded your debt load so much.
    So congrats on being a well to do kid that paid off some debt over 18mnths…but you are no example for the average american.

  12. Wow that is a ton! Inspirational! What is the income coming in to pay it off that quickly?!

  13. Wow, this is an amazing and motivating story. Thanks for sharing the details with us Sami. And thanks to you too Michelle for the chance to read about it on your blog! Great stuff the rest of us can learn from.

  14. Jools

    That’s an amazing amount of money to have paid off! Congrats!! I am trying to figure out ways to pay off my student loans. I wanted to try and make money off of a blog but I am just not a good writer. I am trying to find side gigs to do.