Our Journey To Debt Freedom: Cresting The Hill

The climb to debt freedom is just about complete in the Frugal household, and soon we’ll be enjoying the thrill of living free of the burdens of debt. While I recognize that roller coasters are an overused metaphor for life’s ups and downs, I can’t think of any other feeling to compare to almost being debt free. If you’ve ever ridden a tall coaster you already know what I’m referring to.

It is that feeling you get just before your car has crested the top of the roller coaster’s tallest hill. When everything opens up in front of you. When the long, anxiety-filled climb is almost behind you. It’s an exciting time, and oddly enough that euphoric feeling in the pit of your stomach is nearly identical to the one you feel just before sending in your final debt payment.

By the end of November, we will have crested that hill. A hill that has taken us over two years of blood, sweat and tears (well, at least a lot of sweat and tears) to climb. And as the landscape opens up in front of us, our only regret is that we didn’t get on the roller coaster sooner. We wasted nearly a decade when it came to finances. Yes, we accumulated some debt, but we committed no real financial sins. We just didn’t buckle down like we should have.

I’m not going to rehash how we wound up in debt, or the financial mistakes of the past, because I don’t want to miss the view from the top by looking back the entire ride. The point is, we are where we are, and how we got here has been important in shaping our personal finance belief system going forward.

That’s part of living with no regrets. You accept the mistakes you’ve made along the way as learning opportunities, and keep moving forward. So much of our lives is wasted rehashing over and over again the mistakes of the past, rather than living in the present, and planning for the future. Well, a couple years ago we decided enough was enough. We were sick of being in debt, and we wanted out. So we finally got busy making changes and stopped making excuses.

We developed a plan to boost my income. After dabbling in a number of part time job opportunities, and even resorting to mowing lawns on the weekends, I decided to try my hand at writing. Of the few people I shared this idea with, only my wife and my mom didn’t laugh out loud in response. They knew my passion for writing, and believed in me. One of the things I’m proudest of was that Frugal Dad did become a relative success before my mom passed away, so she was able to know that my perseverance paid off. I only wished she had lived to see us cresting the hill.

Getting the blog off the ground wasn’t easy. I had a $0 marketing budget, very little experience in the online world, and no friends or contacts in the field. I started with a brand new domain name, FrugalDad.com, rather than buying an established name with page rank and traffic. I bought a $5 theme, and had one of my new blogging buddies work up a logo (he’s gone on to become very successful at logo/graphics work for other bloggers. Check out his work at LogosforWebsites.com).

For the first year all I did was write an article every single day and comment on as many other blogs as possible. Some nights I stayed awake well past midnight writing the next day’s blog. Other days I woke up at 4:30am to answer emails, comment on other blogs, and try to network with others. It was an all-out guerrilla marketing assault! My plan was simply to out-hustle everyone else, both with my blog and at my full-time job – the two fastest ways I could increase my income short of selling my own plasma (believe me, I considered it).

In addition to boosting our income, we had to get control of the other side of our personal balance sheet. Our expenses were out of control. At the time we had two car payments, a small pile of credit card debt, student loans, and even medical debt left over from the birth of my daughter. We took vacations when we couldn’t afford them. We shopped when we didn’t have money. We were basically living paycheck to paycheck.

We decided to draw a line in the sand. No more increases to the monthly budget. If we signed up for a new membership, we’d have to cancel another one (or two) to offset the new expense. We started clipping coupons, and actually thinking about ways to save money on groceries. We stopped going to movies, and started using our previously underutilized Netflix account. I sold my beloved Chevy Silverado and drove a 19 year-old van. We basically committed ourselves to a frugal lifestyle at a time when living frugal was not yet very popular.

The result of all this hard work? We now find ourselves less than a month from being debt free. My wife and I have a new motto: “Never again.” Never again will we go back to owing money. Never again will we limit our opportunities, and our choices, by being servants to a lender. Never again will we be at the mercy of bankers’ whose whims exerted control over our lives with FICO threats, interest rate spikes and ridiculous practices such as universal default. We plan to make ourselves immune from such policies in the future.

Our hands are in the air. Our eyes are open wide. This is going to be a fun ride!

Photo courtesy of Hey Paul

Comments

  1. How exciting! I’ll be marking a milestone in November too, so I will definitely celebrate with you (though I do envy that you’re crossing into debt-free territory…darn cars).

  2. Very inspirational and proves it can be done. It takes hustle and hard work and networking mixed with a little bit of luck but def can be done.

  3. That is awesome. I’m happy for you and this motivates me to keep forging ahead. We have made strides in the last 6 months, but will eventually be where you are. I agree with “Never again will we be at the mercy of bankers’ whose whims exerted control over our lives with FICO threats, interest rate spikes and ridiculous practices such as universal default…” We have not had a car payment in 6 months and Never Again will either.

  4. Congratulations! Well done. It’s not an easy journey but so worth the effort. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is an amazing feeling. But just wait until next month…you’ll feel so light, instead of riding the roller coaster down the hill, you just might take to the sky!

  5. “And as the landscape opens up in front of us, our only regret is that we didn’t get on the roller coaster sooner. We wasted nearly a decade when it came to finances.”

    We’re just starting up that long hill to get to the top & we feel the same way. It’s hard not to think about “what if we had…,” but when that happens we remind ourselves of:

    1. We paid off our truck early (well, a few months early) and are taking that FULL payment and applying it towards CC debt.

    2. We started an EF earlier this year, which has already proved its worth when we needed to replace the water heater unexpectedly.

    3. We have a plan.

    That last one seems to be the most important part of becoming debt-free and financially responsible. Without we were just floundering around, living, as you were, paycheck to paycheck. We now have real GOALS to work towards. So although we are starting out late, we have started & took the big first step.

    Reading blogs like this is inspiring to those of us who are starting out on this journey. Congratulations, FD!! As my dad likes to say, “The good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise” we’ll be right there with you in just a few short years.

  6. Yours is an inspiring story, Frugal Dad. It recalls to mind for me the feelings that my wife and I experienced on the day we sent in the final payment on our mortgage (this was in 1996).

    If your experience is like mine, it won’t be all smooth sailing from this point forward. I say this not to be discouraging, but to point out what might be a basic reality of human life — it is a journey of ups and downs no matter how skilled one becomes at handling one’s money issues.

    What I believe today is that accomplishing a big money goal like paying off one’s debt does not so much solve all your problems as open you up to a higher class of problems. The old problems truly are solved. But solving them provokes you into taking on new adventures, which lead to new problems. You will continue to find yourself frustrated and stuck and in pain and in fear in days to come.

    That does not mean that your accomplishment described here is not of huge significance. What I think it means is that you have freed yourself to fight bigger and more important battles. Life will always be a testing ground. But in future days your energies will be focused on doing battle with things that you could not have devoted attention to had you not first conquered the overpending demons.

    So here’s to more pain and fear and frustration in your life!

    These things are a gift from a loving God. Had you not experienced the pain and fear and frustration that comes from overspending, you would not today be experiencing the feelings of joy and satisfaction and excitement that came from overcoming those negatives. It’s all about fighting the battle well; there is no winning or losing in an ultimate sense.

    Rob

  7. Congratulations! I know you’ve worked very hard to get where you are. I dabbled in blogging and soon found that I could not find time for a full-time job, a family and writing. I don’t know how you do it! Anyway, great job!

  8. Dude….

    This victory is going to leave a very sweet taste in your mouth for many many many years to come.

    It’s a huge victory. You’ve also modeled some great behavior for the little Frugalites at home.

    Well done sir!

  9. Congrats, FD! Just curious, is this all debts paid EXCEPT the house or INCLUDING the house? I have to ask, since like you I’m a Dave Ramsey fan, and I know there are two tiers (or baby steps) of ‘debt free’.
    It’s awesome that you’ve gotten rid of all your consumer debt. If you wiped out your mortgage, man, that’s 10 times more awesome. I’d be interested to hear how you did it so quickly (two years to kill off every debt? You must have skipped the beans and just had the rice!).
    In any case, again, well done. We’re debt free except the house, but that one’s on track to be gone in about 6.5 years. Hopefully it’ll be done faster as my income rises.

  10. Congrats Jason! Your story is inspiring and is a great example for others in similar situations. As my wife and I work on much the same journey, we draw encouragement from your writing. Thank you for that.

    Kudos and here’s to the future buddy… you deserve this feeling… revel in it!

  11. A huge congratulations to you guys! That is wonderful and amazing and such an inspiration to all of us that perseverance and frugal living really will get you to your goals. :-) Cheers and congrats!

  12. Congratulations, FD.
    I know from experience the joy of paying off debt. In March 2009 I paid off my last consumer debt and never again will I fall prey to the predatory practices of the consumer debt industry.

  13. @Sid and @Michael: We are in a unique housing situation now that my mom has passed away. We are moving back into our family home to help my grandfather. The house currently has a mortgage, and we plan to refinance it into our names and pay it off as quickly as possible.

    I’ve been reluctant to share specific numbers here are Frugal Dad. However, this drive to become mortgage debt free is so important to us, and I believe the risk eliminated from owning a debt-free home is so important to other families at this time, that I might just break my own rules and open up more to prove it can be done.

    The best thing about moving back to that house is the huge backyard – lots of room for our square foot garden this year! I missed having a garden last year, and look forward to getting my hands dirty in a couple months.

  14. freedom is a sweet thing. i have never really been in debt per se but the freedom a debt free life has permitted me is priceless. After reading stories of people enslaved by debt to such a point that they cannot enjoy the simple pleasures of life, i adopted that motto that you now sport- NEVER EVER!!. My freedom is much more important than keeping up with the jonness

  15. Congratulations, and welcome to the wonderful world of debt free. Getting here isn’t easy, but now that you’re almost moved in I know you’ll enjoy living here, there’s not many of us at the moment but those who do make this place our home know how great it is to live here, and always look forward to welcoming more folks in!

  16. Congratulations!!! My husband and I are currently on the steep climb to freedom from consumer debt. Only two student loans left and we’ll be there. I recently made a large payment on one of them and I think I experienced the feeling in your analogy firsthand.

    They should be paid off by April of 2010. I can’t wait to make my own exclamation of consumer debt freedom. Then all that’s left is that pesky mortgage!

  17. Just to play devil’s advocate…

    We are currently debt free including the house and have substantial savings. Only I don’t really feel the freedom that everyone talks about. The fact is, I still have to go to a job I hate. We don’t have enough money to quit working. (I’m 39.) To me freedom means doing only work you enjoy for the sake of the work itself.

    Of course it goes without saying that it’s far better to be out of debt than in debt.

    Just my 2 cents.

  18. From one writer to another, I applaud your revitalization of a tired metaphor. Being bipolar, I tend to refer to roller coasters and ups and downs pretty frequently. This article made me relive the sensations of anxiously lurching up toward the sky, pausing with breathless anticipation then plunging so fast that my stomach gets left behind. Well done on both your choice of words and financial success. I’m eager to see how the blog unfolds from the perspective of a free (of debt anyway) man.

  19. I have become a big fan of your blog over the last year. I will mark my debt free milestone on March 15th 2010. When I read your post today it refocused me yet again and I look forward to borrowing your motto “Never Again” Love it!

    Thanks so much.

  20. This is way off topic, but if you and Trent of “The Simple Dollar” are pals, I think he could use a little cheering up. He made some comments about not having kids that got lots of his readers riled up. You seem to be yelling “whee!” while he’s thinking “why me?” so maybe you can lend him a little bloggerly support.

  21. @Lenore: I caught part of that post from Trent, but decided to stay out of the fray. I’m blessed to have two kids myself, but don’t begrudge others for deciding to have kids or not. In fact, if people don’t want to be parents, I would rather they not become one. OK, back to regularly scheduled programming.

  22. Congratulatons FD.
    Today we picked up the title to our house. It has taken 15 years and 2 mortgages (we renovated the old house before pulling it down after 8 years and had to refinance).
    We paid our last payment on the mortgage in August. This was swiftly followed by an accident and a stint in hospital. Yes there were the health concerns but not financial. It was amazing to think that all our hard work and perseverance had paid off.
    There were times when we did not think we could continue our rate of payment – always paid a little extra. There were times when we thought my husband would lose his job like last October when the world seemed to be collapsing around us.
    We cut back our expenses, explained to the kids what was happening and why. We made it through. We are still on a serious saving plan but have allowed ourselves to buy a new TV.
    Our plan now is to boost our retirement opportunities

  23. WOW! That´s so cool! congratulations, you have worked so hard to reach this goal.

    I expect to be debt free on March´10 , at that time I will be making the last mortgage payment.
    It´s going to be so exciting that I can not wait.

    Greetings from Mexico

  24. FrugalDad…. Welcome to the club, you will never find a more satisfying experience!

    If you go through the same experience as I did, you will find the feeling of debt freedom gives you even further inspiration to not just coast down the other side but pedal even harder to begin accumulating wealth.

    After years of being behind due to debt we can now need all the momentum possible to catch up.

    More power to you and all the FrugalDad readers that are on the same track!

  25. Thanks so much for this post. I am a stay at home Mom and currently working on a website in hopes of eventually generating and income from it. I’ve got a long way to go — in fact I’ve taken a long break from writing anything due to some personal situations — but I’m ready to get back on task.
    I really enjoy your blog and look forward to your continued successes. You inspire me as we make our journey to debt freedom.

  26. Congrats FrugalDad! I’m sure it’s a great feeling to see how your efforts have paid off. I also love the picture of the Millennium Force. One of my favourite roller coasters!

  27. WOW this was a really cool post! it is so great to read “HOW” many people have traveled this road not many have shared the real nuts and bolts on how to accomplish paying off house and cc debt.I am lucky-blessed whatever word for being in this situation on paid off house almost done with cc debt and I can tell you the support and ralling from bloggers specifically Frugal Dad and a few others has been inspirational.Keep up the great work

  28. Awesome! You give us a heads-up if you’re going to call into Dave’s radio show.

    “Never again” is a great motto. There will be temptations. There will be great ‘opportunities’ offered up to you. As they are giving their pitch, just keep saying that in your head – never again, never again, never again….

    cheers!

  29. Congrats Frugaldad! Out hustling is key.

    Can you share a range of how much you make from this blog? If not, that’s cool.

    I’m just wondering what the upside is for other writers to continue.

  30. @Financial Samurai: I don’t mind giving a general range, but when people share specifics I think it sounds a little boastful. I earn mid four figures, monthly, before taxes and a few site expenses. I will tell you that my income more than doubled from year one to year two. The site income has been such a blessing in our road to debt freedom.

  31. FD – That’s really really great! I hear you on fearing to sound boastful, but when someone really appreciates another’s work, like I do your site, it just makes me very happy :)

    Thanks for sharing, b/c it’s important for those who want to blog for a living to have a benchmark to shoot for.

    Good luck against Furman…. do you guys need it?!
    :)

  32. Congratulations! Yours is a very inspiring and helpful story. I think I have been living for 2 generations now in cash loans and credit card debts. I’m now paying for my dad’s and my own debt but I am determined to break the chain. Thankfully enough the situation isn’t as bleak now as it was before. I have learned from the mistakes my dad made and with a bit of hard work, being free from debt is an apparent reality.

  33. CONGRATULATIONS! Job well done. I can only imagine your sense of relief of not feeling boggled down by credit card debt. I hope to reach this far myself one day.

  34. I’m so glad that I stumbled onto your blog! We too are ready for debt-free living. After losing our home to a short sale after my husband lost his job, and needing to relocate across the country, we’ve decided to try as hard as possible to save up enough money to pay for a house cash. We’ve been following Dave Ramsey’s advice, and are planning to pay off our last debt (our car payment) this year. Then we will put aside some money for our next car, and will begin to save for a new home! I work part time from home to make this possible, and while it’s a sacrifice of time and energy, I’m happy to do it if it will mean financial freedom for my family. Good for you and your family! :)

  35. I just wanted to write a note of congratulations because I know exactly how you feel. It’s great to finally reach the point of success. It felt funny at first, but my husband and I have definitely enjoyed our freedom.

  36. Congrats on reaching the top of the hill – it’s been a long hard climb up! I still remember becoming debt free a couple of years ago, and it is such a weight being lifted off of your shoulders. Congrats, and welcome to the club of those of us saying:

    “NEVER AGAIN!”

  37. Congratulation on both your soon-to-be debt freedom state, and the success of your blog site.

    I can personally say, I read your blog site practically every day!

    I’m in a similar scenario with respect to debt freedom, I’ll be debt free in February 2010. I’m still climbing the rails :)

    As motivation, I used certain milestones with my mortgage amount… I’m curious if you did the same?

    I can’t wait to read what you plan on doing with the addtional money that you’ll be able to save after your debt free. I’m starting to think of all the possibility already.

    They make my head hurt a bit… ;)

  38. I’ve been reading pf blogs for over a year but it so scary to take the first step for yourself. Your blog (and a few others )have helped me face the facts, no one is going to get me out of debt except me. The journey seems like it’s going to be hard but I’m ready. Thank You!

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