Interestingly, the business trip that started our whole debt-elimination journey ended up cancelled. Figures. But the fire that had been lit by that circumstance was far too hot to fizzle out at this point. I was determined and I was focused; we would start a savings account and then throw everything we had at our debt. I went into a Google-frenzy; searching and finding all sorts of personal finance articles/gurus/blogs.
My my my, the things I found. It seemed that for every true financial mentor that was out there, there were 10 more that were purely charlatans, masquerading as a financial know-it-all in the interest of making a buck. In these early days, I was drawn to Dave Ramsey. (Now before you start ‘flaming’ me with anti-Ramsey comments, go back to the beginning of that sentence, emphasis on ‘early days’). He had a simple approach, what he calls “Baby Steps”.
He begins with building a small emergency fund, and moving on to knock out debts one-by-one with the “Snowball Method”. For those who don’t know what the “Snowball Method” is, google it and come back. There’s plenty of people on the web who describe it much more eloquently than I could hope to. Moving on…
And frankly, this worked for us. We didn’t follow his plan to the letter, but he provided the basic framework as well as some motivational stuff to chew on. We saved up our $1,ooo emergency fund rather quickly. Then aimed our efforts towards our debt pile. It may not be as high as some, and it may look gargantuan to others, but we had about $40,000 in debt across a few credit cards, a couple personal loans, and an auto loan. This does not include our mortgage, which was about $400k at the time. (Even now, that number still makes me cringe.)
I’m an impatient person by nature, and this whole debt nonsense…well, I wanted to get ‘er done. Like yesterday. But where to begin? Well, there’s a few ways you can start the debt elimination process. Some start with the debt that carries the highest interest rate, others start with outstanding debts to friends/family, and some start with the smallest balance in order to get a quick, psychologically-satisfying win right off the bat. Unless you’ve already forgotten the very first sentence in this paragraph, you should be able to guess that we went with…the last option. I needed some quick results to keep my momentum up. Normally I’m much more strategic in how I approach problems, but in this case, my impatience won out. But oh how glorious those first few “wins” were. We started with the easiest one…a Capital One credit card with a balance of $1,500.
From that point, we moved from debt to debt, until we reached our last one, an auto loan for $15,000. However, let me step into the confessional booth and pull the curtain behind me for a moment. (Wait, is there a curtain? Or am I thinking of a photo booth?) Anyway…we weren’t perfect. We had moments of “we’re doing fantastic, I deserve a (fill in ridiculous materialistic item here).” But what counts is what you do MOST of the time, not what you do SOME of the time. So while we may have delayed our debt-free status by a month or so by squirrelin’ around, we got there eventually.
On April 19th 2013, we celebrated. We were officially debt-free (except for the mortgage, but that’s a whole other post…soon to come). Mr. Nickels took me out to my favorite high-end restaurant and we enjoyed a luxurious dinner…and paid with CASH.