Our Financial Detour: How Budgeting Freed us to Follow our Dreams

Hello! I had the pleasure of meeting Dan and Lindsay McKenzie back at Glacier National Park. When I heard about their new budgeting program I asked if I could share their story with my audience.  Dan and Lindsay McKenzie are full-time traveling RVers from Colorado. They have been seeking adventure together for 10 years now and have…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: February 28, 2018

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How we eliminated $300,000 in debt with one simple toolHello! I had the pleasure of meeting Dan and Lindsay McKenzie back at Glacier National Park. When I heard about their new budgeting program I asked if I could share their story with my audience. 

Dan and Lindsay McKenzie are full-time traveling RVers from Colorado. They have been seeking adventure together for 10 years now and have done a lot of international traveling, including living in Costa Rica. Before starting their blog, Follow Your Detour, and taking the leap into their dream lifestyle, they first made it a priority to get out of debt and save money. Through their detour, Dan and Lindsay have grown more passionate about pursuing their dreams and leading a fulfilling life. They created a budgeting program called Finance Your Detour in hopes of helping others achieve their own dreams. They love that RVing allows them to bring along their two dogs and be in nature as much as possible. You can usually find them on the river fly fishing, hiking to sunset spots, or at the local brewery. Below is their story. Enjoy!

It’s funny how a single word completely changed our lives. 3 years ago we were living in a suburb of Denver. We were building the so-called “American dream”.

This included purchasing a 3 bedroom house, a brand new car, and starting to accumulate nicer junk than the junk we had brought into our marriage after college. We were also starting to earn more money after 5 years into our careers and after achieving our Master’s degrees. We were finally feeling “established”, as they call it.

And besides the occasional “is this really the life we want?” discussion, which typically led to an argument, we were “happy”. We were still taking a few trips a year and even though it wasn’t the amount of travel we had always dreamt of, it was still more traveling than most people we knew were doing.

Up until this point, we had lived abroad in Costa Rica, backpacked through parts of Europe, splurged on a bucket list trip to Thailand, and more! So why did we feel like that wasn’t enough?

Besides, we had both reached our 30’s and it was time to “settle down”.

Our bucket list trip to Thailand!


So we did what we felt was the next step in life…

We started trying to build a family! “We got pregnant our first try”, they said. “It’ll happen when you stop trying so hard”, they said, 6 months later.

“Based on the biopsy results, it’s just not going to be medically possible”, the doctor finally said after 2 long years of trying, testing, hoping, stressing, and more emotions than we had ever felt in our lives.

The life we were working so hard to build seemed irrelevant at that time. We chose our home based on the visions we had of children running around. We had also worked so hard to get settled into our careers in order to offer the stability necessary for raising a child. So after receiving the diagnosis that Dan cannot reproduce, it felt as though our life had come to a screeching halt.


Then it hit us…

We realized this was just a “detour”…and that is the word that changed our lives. This wasn’t a dead end for us. It was just a roadblock that required us to take a different route than we had planned. A path that deep in our hearts, we knew would someday make sense and lead us to a destination that is much greater than we could have chosen ourselves.

That’s when we started our blog, Follow Your Detour. We began to realize that everyone faces detours in life. Sometimes they are disguised as tragedies and sometimes they are self-imposed because a change of course is needed. Detours are unexpected and unplanned, but wind up being the road that leads to growth, fulfillment, and destiny.


Let’s talk about money now

Okay, you might be wondering where finances come in to this story. So, we’ll cut to the chase. Once we picked ourselves up and followed this detour, we began taking risks we never knew we’d be confident enough to take. It started with moving across the country, changing jobs, quitting a dream job to explore new passions, and now traveling full-time and chasing our dreams.

Before we could do any of those things, we had to address the fact that we had over $300,000 in debt. Between our mortgage, car loan, $75,000 worth of student loans, and various credit cards, we were drowning. Then to top it all off, we racked up around $20,000 worth of medical bills from our fertility testing and procedures.

Additionally, we were making more money than we ever had, yet never felt like we were getting ahead. At the end of every month, we’d have no clue where all our money went. We were hardly saving anything and even though we were paying on our debt, we weren’t seeing any progress.

Ultimately, we came to the sad realization that we had spent all this money on building “status” and purchasing material things that weren’t bringing us true fulfillment.

We knew that in order for us to follow our detour, we needed to make big changes with our finances.


Our Financial Detour

The first step we took was completing a finance and budgeting class. This class taught us the importance of getting on the same page and approaching our finances as a team. At the time, Dan was the only one who was somewhat aware of how much money we had coming in and where it was going. So our first priority was to get Lindsay involved in the process.

We then began having monthly budgeting meetings. We both committed to showing up, being engaged, and having open and honest discussions about our monthly expenses. We also, for the first time as a team, created financial goals and a plan for accomplishing them.

Our primary goal was to eliminate our debt as quickly as possible, while avoiding additional debt at all costs. To accomplish this, we began tracking every single expense we had. We identified areas we could cut back on or eliminate, which freed up more money to put towards debt every month. For example we cut cable and Netflix, lowered our cell phone bill, and cooked meals at home more often.

Not rocket science, right?

At our monthly budget meetings, we would plan ahead for each month using specific spending categories. This helped us stay on track with our goals and ensure that we were saving and paying off debt every month, no matter what. We started aggressively paying off our lowest amount of debt and worked our way up to the highest.

At first, it was challenging. We didn’t do so great, to be honest. Over time though, we got better at the process and we started seeing more and more benefits of consistent budgeting. Not only were we starting to reach our goals, but our marriage was being strengthened, and we no longer felt guilty or uncertain about purchases.

Fast forward 3 years later and we’ve eliminated all that debt.

Diligently budgeting each month, along with the profit we made from selling our home and renting instead, allowed us to reach our debt payoff goal. It took a lot of sacrifice. Not only did we have to cut back, but any extra money that came in unexpectedly (pay raises, family inheritance, etc.) went straight to debt. There were times we could have spent the money on a trip or contributed to Dan’s technology gadget addiction, but we kept our goals in sight.

Nothing we could have purchased would have brought us the same satisfaction as being debt free.


Our tool for success

One of the struggles we faced was finding a budgeting tool that fit our needs. We tried several apps and programs, but none of them aligned well with the process that we’d been using in our budgeting meetings. Many of them were too complex, old-fashioned, or cumbersome and just didn’t work for us. More importantly, they didn’t allow us to be fully hands-on with our spending and tracking. Some were so automated (for example, connected to your bank account) that you could simply “set it and forget it”, taking the most important part of budgeting, the process, out of the equation.

Dan, being the Excel nerd that he is, decided to create a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet, while very basic, meshed well with our budgeting process and that’s when we started seeing great results. Our little ol’ spreadsheet, is truly what helped us not only eliminate our debt, but also save up a comfortable safety nest.


So here we are today…

We’re living our dream lifestyle of full-time travel, even though we currently make less money than before. Thanks to our budgeting process, we felt free to take the leap into full-time RVing and had the peace of mind to allow Lindsay to quit her job in order to start our blog.

Our home on wheels, “Wanda”

The number one question we receive through our blog is, “how do you afford to travel full-time?”

And even though our friends and family have been asking to see the spreadsheet for awhile now, we finally realized that we needed to share it with the world. We had gained so much faith in this spreadsheet that we felt confident it could help others too.  

The spreadsheet has now evolved into what we refer to as a “tool” because it’s much more user friendly, dynamic, and visually appealing than it once was. However, we knew that the tool alone wasn’t enough. We didn’t gain the financial peace we have today using just the tool, but rather through the mindset, the intentionality, and the commitment that must go along with it.

Therefore, we created “Finance Your Detour”, a 4-part online program that teaches the same budgeting process that we used. The program includes the budgeting tool, along with tutorials for using it successfully, as well as video lessons and worksheets to help you implement your own budget meetings. You can get more information about Finance Your Detour here.

Finance YOUR Detour

If money is keeping you from living your dream lifestyle, or if you’re in the same situation we were three years ago, it may be time for you to start taking control of your finances, too. The idea of having a budget can sound daunting or restrictive, but we found that it was actually the complete opposite. It has absolutely changed our lives and has inspired us to help others experience the same freedom we are receiving from managing our money every month.

Ready to learn more about Finance Your Detour? Click here. Plus, with the coupon code MSOC15, readers can get 15% off the program.

We aren’t sure of where our detour will lead us, but we’re so grateful we took the time to get our finances under control. Eliminating debt, saving money, and managing our spending has given us the peace of mind to take risks and freely explore what the future has in store for us.

What do you think of budgets? Do you have debt?

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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. So kind of you to say! Thanks for reading and for such a nice comment!

  2. Sean @ Frugal Money Man

    $300,000 in debt & paid off in 3 years!?!?

    Way to freaking go! Thank you for sharing your story, and highlighting how getting on the same page with your spouse financially is one of the most important steps in cleaning up your finances. My fiancée and I were similar in that we were making money, but it wasn’t really growing our financial value. It was kind of just staying stagnant. Then I read Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover” and the switch flipped!

    We got all of our finances together and began viewing our money as 1. It held us more accountable to each other, and now we are building wealth in ways we never dreamed of before.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you so much! We definitely agree that getting on the same page is step #1. Dave Ramsey was also a huge inspiration for us. Thanks for reading and congrats to you and your fiance as well for such an accomplishment!

  3. You guys are to be commended for your accomplishment! And I truly believe that more people would benefit from seeing unexpected changes (i.e., detours) as gifts if they opened their eyes to the opportunity before them.

    I was also thrilled to read that I’m not the only one that prefers Excel over some of the budgeting apps out there! In fact, I took a break from my own budgeting spreadsheet analysis for January to read your story.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. This made us smile! Thank you so much for such encouraging words. We appreciate it more than you know 🙂

  4. Mrs. Picky Pincher

    I LOVE the phrase “Follow Your Detour.” Hubs got a big setback at work today and I was trying to articulate this concept. I am so sharing this with him. Great job, you guys!

    1. Aww this makes me so happy to hear. It’s all about perspective. We will keep your hubby in our thoughts as he navigates his own detour! Thanks for reading and sharing it with him.

  5. Ellen B

    As a retired CPA, I know first hand how important budgets are for planning and financial success. All too often, individuals find budgeting time consuming and a waste of energy, but, as you have shown, budgeting has a big payoff in more ways than one. More people should use budgets at least as a guide. My husband and I are preparing to begin our full-time rv’g journey and have already created our budget. We consider it a financial map that compliments are travel map. Thanks for the great article and enjoy your detour!

    1. Thanks for reading Ellen!! You should connect with us on social media or email us at contact@followyourdetour.com so we can stay connected and hopefully meet up on the road. We love meeting other full-time RVers. Plus we’d be happy to help you with the transition in any way you may need. We love it and love sharing any tips with others.

  6. I really enjoyed this post. I love how their story is so relatavle yet inspiring!

    1. Thank you so much for reading and for such a kind comment Daniella!!

  7. All in all, budgeting is even easier as a work from home CEO who’s transitioning from side hustle to full time webpreneur, because they are unmarried, no kids, and doesn’t need to spend money and be over the top trying to have the newest cars, outfits or anything. They can live simple on a fixed budget and quietly build wealth in humility.

  8. Thank you for your inspiring story!! I found it both helpful and similar to our own experiences. My husband (also an excel nerd) and I are on a quest to pay off debt and break away from our full-time jobs that have stopped bringing us joy. We found out we were unable to have kids as well and it changed our perspective. Now, we are creating a new path through our garden website and podcast and desire to travel in our RV. Thanks again and safe travels!

    1. Oh my gosh, I just saw this comment and had to say hello!! You guys should email us so we can keep in touch and follow your journey as well. We’d love to someday meet up on the road. Shoot us an email at contact@followyourdetour.com so we can connect!

  9. Hi mates, its impressive piece of wriing on the topic
    of tutoringand fuly defined, keep it up all the time.