How we paid off $80,000 of debt in 2 ½ years

How we paid off $80,000 of debt

I think we can all agree: Debt sucks.  No one wants to be drowning in debt or stressed out about money, but somehow, almost all of us end up there.  Students loans, credit cards, vehicles, mortgages, etc… It’s easy to get into debt, and it is so hard to see the way out once we’re there.  Debt becomes our new normal.  We work more hours, get more jobs, and then buy more stuff.  It’s an awful cycle.  Many people start to think of the price of new items in terms of monthly payments, rather than how much the total item costs.

Just talking about it makes my chest feel heavy.  We all prize freedom, yet where is the freedom in debt?  Proverbs 22:7 says, “the borrower is servant to the lender.”  Some translations use the word “slave.”  Doesn’t it feel that way?  We are slaves to our lenders – and if they don’t get their payments each month, we have even bigger prices to pay as a consequence.

But why are we even talking about this?  Isn’t everyone up to their neck in debt?  Isn’t that just the norm?  What’s the point of getting out?  I mean, all this stuff I’m in debt for is supposed to make me happy, so I’ll just keep buying it.

Now, I am not going to say that everyone should always avoid all debt at all times. I believe that when you weigh the options, some things may actually be worth getting into debt over – like education, or your home.  Different people are in different circumstances and have different desires.  So I’m not going to sit over here on my high horse and pretend like I have the answers for what everyone should do.  It’s totally your money, and it’s not my place to judge what you do with it.  Really.

But for those of you who WANT to get out of debt, know that it IS possible.  And you may be able to become completely debt-free faster than you think.  So I’m going to tell you how we paid off $80,000 of debt in 2 ½ years.  For real!  And it’s not because we have big paying jobs.  My husband is a teacher, and I am a stay-at-home mom.  We are NOT swimming in cash over here.

2 ½ years ago, we built a house.  Our new mortgage ended up being about $133,000.  2 ½ years later, we are down to $53,000.  Here are 9 things that helped us get here:

  1. Create a Budget

If you don’t have a budget written out, do it now.  Do.It.Now.  You may think you are doing an OK job of keeping your spending under control without one.  I can almost guarantee you’re not doing as good a job as you think.  Track your spending – EVERY penny – and see how much you need for each category.  Then cut it down (please don’t cut down your tithing, if that is something important to you) and set goals.  Continue keeping track of everything, and adjust as needed.  It may take a few months for you to get a handle on exactly what your numbers need to be, but start the process now.  It is AMAZING how much little things like fast food can add up to.  Take your lunch to work and save $150/month.

There are a ton of free budget templates online.  Here is a simple worksheet I found: Budget Worksheet Form

If you’re a spreadsheet person, like me, you can make your own, or maybe use one of these: 10 Free Household Budget Spreadsheets

  1. Make it a Game

Have fun with this!  Challenge yourself!  Saving money and cutting back does not have to be dreadful.  I feel like it’s a fun contest to see if I can beat myself by spending less in certain budget categories each month.  Make goals and visualize your “why” for getting out of debt.  What would you do with all that extra money, if you didn’t have those monthly payments??  Go on vacation?  Retire early?  Give more? Spend more on your hobbies?  If you are a super visual person, you can even create a “vision board”  with pictures of your goals to remind you of why you are tightening up now.  As Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else now so later you can live like no one else.”

  1. Stop Spending Money on Stuff You Don’t Need

Do you really need cable TV?  No.  It’s really expensive and it rots your brain.  (Okay, to be fair, I am no stranger to binging on Netflix.  But at least it’s WAY cheaper!)  Get a cheaper cell phone and plan.  We use Cricket Wireless.  We have awesome service, decent smart phones, and pretty cheap plans – with no contracts or extra fees.  If you have cell phones, ditch the landline.  Do you have magazine subscriptions you don’t read?  Waste of money.  Don’t eat out so much.  We maybe go out once a month, including fast food.  If we go out more, it’s because we somehow got it free.  It’s healthier to eat at home, it’s way cheaper, and facilitates family time better.  When you do go out, use a coupon!

  1. Spend Less Money on Stuff You Do Need

When was the last time you shopped around for car/home insurance?  Or internet service?  Sometimes you can save a lot by switching, and it’s so worth the time on the phone to find out.  Buy less clothing, and when you do need it, buy used.  Resale shops can have awesome stuff for WAY cheaper than retail.  Even when you combine sales and coupons, new clothes are usually way too expensive for my taste.  This goes for adult and kids clothes, including shoes and accessories.  Most people have way too many clothes in their closets anyway, so just stop buying stuff (even cheap stuff) unless you need it.

  1. Sell Your Stuff

Go through your house and get rid of stuff.  Be brutal.  Believe me, you won’t miss it, and you’ll love having the extra cash.  Do your kids really need THAT many pairs of shoes, when they refuse to wear anything but their favorite pair anyway?  Do YOU need that many pairs of shoes?  No.  Declutter every room from top to bottom and you’ll have a cleaner house and more money.  Win, win!

  1. Search for Deals

My husband is awesome at this.  Just yesterday, he came in and asked, “Do you want pizza for dinner?  It’s free.”  Combining coupons and his awesome deal-finding skills, we fed our family of 5 with carryout pizza for 58 cents, and had leftovers, and I didn’t have to cook or clean.  *swoon*  He speaks my love language.  His favorite go-to site for finding deals is Slick Deals.  He also checks out all the grocery ads and we stock up on sales – like meat, cheese, and blueberries – all which you can freeze for later.  I don’t coupon a lot because I think it turns out being a waste of time and money a lot.  But I do use coupons for diapers.  I use Amazon Prime to get deals on toiletries and vitamins.  We almost exclusively go to Aldi for our groceries, because it is cheap and quick and awesome.  I am in love with Aldi.  We participate in kid’s clubs and birthday clubs at local libraries, restaurants, bookstores, etc.  These can get you coupons for lots of different free activities and foods.  Searching for deals can take extra time, but it can save you lots of money, and give you the ability to do things free, like eating out, that you may be cutting out of your budget.

  1. Do Free Stuff

You can still have fun and experience lots of things without spending lots of money.  Go to community playgrounds.  There are lots of free places to hike and picnic too.  Places like Home Depot and Lowe’s have free workshops for kids and adults.  Museums have free days.  Libraries have tons of free programs for all ages.  Go for a walk or a bike ride around your city, neighborhood, or riverfront.  Some communities have free splash parks, or pools for summertime fun.  Communities and businesses offer free events all the time, so just get out there and search for them.  You’ll gain new experiences and have lots of fun – for no money at all!  Remember to pack your own lunches and snacks!  😉

  1. Get a Side Hustle

There are always side jobs you can take on to make extra cash.  Your time is valuable, so you don’t want to take on ALL the jobs, but it can be super helpful to earn even $20 a week extra.  Tutor.  Clean a house.  Mow a lawn.  Babysit.  During the time we have paid down so much debt, I started growing a direct sales business, which helped a lot.  Just make sure you don’t waste your hard earned money; instead…

  1. Take Your Newfound Loads of Cash and PAY DOWN THAT DEBT

It is SO much fun to see the principle balance on your loans decrease.  It’s like a party every month.  Many wise financial advisors say to work hard to pay off your lowest debt first.  Then take all you were paying on that loan (the payment amount + whatever extra you were paying) and put that as extra on the next lowest until it’s paid off.  Then take all that money and put it on the next, and so on.  Your debt will fall off faster this way, kind of like a snowball!

Then CELEBRATE because you are DEBT-FREE!!!!!!  You CAN do this!!!!

What are some of YOUR favorite money-saving tips?

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Salads in a Jar – for only $1 each!

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I love salads in a jar.  They take all the prep out of lunch, and they are so yummy and healthy.  I’ve had a few people recently ask me about how to make them and what to put in them, so I thought I would break down our latest at-home salad in a jar “party.”

When I first heard of salads in a jar, I thought I wouldn’t like them.  I have never been much for trying new foods, and I never used to put many toppings on my salads.  I also didn’t think I liked many different dressings, and thought I would get bored quickly if I made several.  I finally agreed to try out a salad in a jar party – where everyone brought their own jars and greens, plus 2 toppings to share.  That way you get a large variety of toppings to choose from, without having to buy it all.  I left with 7 salads.

They.were.awesome.  The first one tasted so good, I couldn’t shovel it in my mouth fast enough!  I sometimes ate more than one a day, and they were gone fast.  My husband snuck a few bites too, and loved them.  I went to another party to fill up, and then decided we should try making them at home ourselves.

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Our only concern was cost.  Would it be more expensive to buy everything ourselves, and would items go bad before we could use it all up?  Well, we have now had 3 of our own “salad parties,” and I’m happy to say it has worked out so well!  We like being able to stay at home, completely customize our salads, and even our kids have tried out some new toppings.  Not only will I share with you how to make the salads, but I will also share the cost of making them.  They come out to be about $1.00 each, and we have a great variety!

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As for how to make the salads, it’s super easy.  If you don’t already have mason jars, you’ll need to get some.  The wide mouth jars are easier to pack.  I’ve also seen people use recycled mayonnaise jars.  You can get creative here.  To start building your salad, put the dressing in first.  Just put in as much as you use on a normal salad – maybe 2-3 tablespoons.  Then add in toppings that you don’t mind getting wet.  Maybe sweet peppers, onion, carrots.  I like to put my broccoli and tomatoes in here because it mixes those flavors with the dressing, but some people may not like it if those get soaked.  Once you’re done with fruit and veggies, add in any nuts and cheese.  Lettuce comes last, so it doesn’t get wet.  Done!  Easy peasy.

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I don’t follow any recipes.  I just throw in whatever sounds good.  You can do a southwest salad with spicy ranch, beans, corn, peppers, onion, and cheddar.  You can do a greek salad with tomato, olives, onion, and feta.  You can have a fruity salad with vinaigrette, or something more traditional with ranch, carrots, and broccoli.  Get creative and try new things!  I thought I didn’t like onion very much, but I put red onion in every single one of my salads now.

salad 2

We bought almost every item at Aldi.  I love love love Aldi.  It saves me tons of money and time and sanity.  I no longer have to coupon, and my groceries are cheaper than ever.  The quality is great, and I don’t have to go anywhere else to buy food.  We do, however, make an occasional trip to other stores if they have incredible deals – like when Schnucks had a deal on Kraft salad dressing for 98 cents each.  They have it going again this week (June 29-July 5).  All other items were from Aldi.  Here is my detailed price list.  I have put “x” (times) and “/” (divide) after each price to say how much we used during this “party.”  From experience, I know the leftover items will be used before going bad – whether that be in more salads later on, or just to eat throughout the week.

We made 17 salads out of this.  We have lots of toppings left, but this used up all of our lettuce.  (Those marked by * are estimated prices, but I guessed high just to be safe.)

Artisan lettuce $1.99 x2 = $3.98
Iceberg lettuce head $0.69 x1 = $0.69
Blueberries $1.29 /2 = $0.65
Mandarin oranges* $1.49 x1 = $1.49
Strawberries $1.49 x1 = $1.49
Feta $1.79 x1 = $1.79
Red onion $1.89 /4 = $0.47
Black beans $0.59 x1 = $0.59
Baby carrots $0.99 /2 = $0.50
Sweet peppers $1.89 /2 = $0.94
Broccoli $1.69 /2 = $0.85
Corn $0.48 x1 = $0.48
Peas* $0.99 /10 = $0.10
Slivered almonds $2.99 /10 = $0.30
Sunflower seeds $1.99 /10 = $0.20
Tomato $0.99 /3 = $0.33
Cheddar* $1.69 /4 = $0.42
Dressings (6) – Kraft $0.98 (4), Aldi $1.29 (2) – estimating using half = $3.25

TOTAL cost of items used = $18.52

Divided by 17 salads = $1.08 per salad!

I was even surprised by how cheap it was.  You may spend a little more or less, depending on what toppings you choose.  These salads are so good, and can save you so much money.  You can bring them with you on the go!  Take them to work, bring them in your cooler to the ball field, or eat on a picnic.  Eliminate some of your out-to-eat costs with these salads, which are probably healthier (and tastier) than your regular option!

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What are some of YOUR favorite salad toppings?

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Easy, Nutrient-Packed Summer “Dinner” – plus one of my favorite smoothie recipes

Easy Summer _Dinner_

Summer is in full swing at our house.  My teacher husband has finished almost all of his summer work, and we are loving having him home with us!  Our days are full of sun, water, playgrounds, and sidewalk chalk.  We still get in a few household chores here and there, but we’re mostly in the business of making memories right now.  That doesn’t leave a lot of time for me to make dinner.

Okay, let me rephrase.  I hate making dinner, and this is my current excuse to get out of it as much as possible.

Even though I don’t like to cook, I dislike overspending on food even more, so instead of going out or ordering in, we have to get a little creative.  Or lazy.  But I like the word “creative” better.

We drink smoothies year-round at our house, but we make them even more during the summer.  They are a creative and yummy way to get veggies, fruit, protein, and all kinds of healthy and yummy things into our kids, and ourselves, without much effort.  We love to pack them full of things we wouldn’t normally eat, and mask it with the flavor of berries.

Often times, our summer “dinner” will consist of a nice big smoothie, a cheese stick, and a handful of pretzels.  Those last two items can be whatever other snacky items you have on hand that you can convince yourself have some kind of nutritional value at all.  It’s summer.  Rules are flexible.  The kids are happy that dinner completely consists of “special treats,” and I’m happy because dinner took me all of 5 minutes to make.  Plus, they can keep on playing outside and graze.  We’re all out there together, so it still counts as valuable family time!

Here is one of my favorite summer smoothies to make.  It’s yummy, and full of healthy things like protein, fiber, omega-3, calcium, magnesium, potassium, healthy fats, and antioxidants.  This easy drink really is a filling meal that packs an awesome immune-boosting punch!  We made this yesterday.  It was perfect timing, because we had extra watermelon and a banana that both needed to be used up fast.

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Watermelon Blueberry Smoothie Recipe

2 cups watermelon
1 cup frozen blueberries
3 cups fresh spinach
½ cup plain yogurt
½ avocado
1 banana
2 tablespoons chia seeds

Throw it all in your blender, and blend until smooth!  No need to add any more liquid – the watermelon will take care of that!

This recipe filled up our whole blender, but ended up only making about 3 ½ cups of drink.  That sounds weird, looking at the amount of ingredients above.  But I promise, it did.  I could have packed my spinach cups tighter, but then I’m not sure if it would have all fit in there!

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If you don’t like something in it, that’s okay – just omit it, or switch it out with something else.  Before you decide omit it, though, maybe you should just try it.  You may not even notice it’s in there!  You can also add in other items too.  That’s one of my favorite things about smoothies – you can just throw in whatever you have around the house, and it ends up tasting awesome (almost) every time.  Some of our other go-to smoothie items are: strawberries, peaches, mango, carrots, broccoli, kale, flax seed, greek yogurt, and orange juice.  I have friends who put all kinds of weird things in smoothies – like cucumber and cilantro.  I haven’t branched out into that arena yet.  But who knows – I might sometime!  For now, I’m excited to be getting so many healthy things in my body without having to taste it.

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What is one of YOUR favorite smoothie recipes?

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Gym Memberships Are a Waste of Money (and other fitness lies I used to believe)

 

Gym Memberships Are a Waste of Money high

I am a budgeter.  I haven’t always been a saver, but marriage totally changed me, and now I love the game of trying to see how much money I can save.  I have a math degree and a business degree, and I love playing with numbers.  I can happily get lost in spreadsheets for hours.  I know, I’m a total nerd.  But don’t quit on me yet!  You just have to know that I don’t like to spend money on unnecessary things.  And gym memberships are COMPLETELY unnecessary….right?

I mean, there are tons of free workout videos on YouTube.  Do you enjoy yoga, tae bo, pilates, or even Zumba?  I can rent just about any kind of workout DVD from the library for free.  I have two legs of my own, that can run wherever they want, whenever they want.  I even had a treadmill at home, so I could run or walk when the weather was bad.  Who needs a gym?!   They are expensive and don’t offer anything I can’t find for free by myself, thank you very much.

There was only one tiny problem.  I NEVER did any of those things by myself.  I would finish one DVD session (maybe…or maybe I wouldn’t finish, since no one was stopping me from quitting, and I was already really tired anyway), and then never use it again.  I would try to run, but then quit after feeling some knee pain, or maybe just because it was hard.  But who needs to workout that hard, anyway?  I’m not training for anything, and I have kids to chase every day!  “My kids are my cardio!”  I used to be confused by the question on the form at the doctor’s office that asked if I exercised regularly.  Surely no one normal actually does that, right?  Carrying laundry baskets up and down stairs must count, so “Yes.”

I’m not exactly sure how anyone twisted my arm enough to actually try going to the gym.  My crazy sister-in-law said she goes to classes at the gym sometimes and loves it, but she is a do-er.  I’m more of a chill-at-home-er.  Pack up all the kids, put on spandex, and make a fool out of myself in front of a bunch of strangers, all while I’m not allowed to quit because there is an instructor in the room?  No, thanks.  BUT, she had a guest pass.  A FREE one.  And since I love free, and I love my sister-in-law, and I honestly wasn’t getting anywhere fast on my own, I decided to try it.

Can you guess what happened?  I fell in LOVE.  I mean, head over heels.  So, here is my list of fitness lies I used to believe, including, “Gym memberships are a waste of money!”

 

  1. Gym memberships are a waste of money

They totally aren’t!  They are completely worth every penny, and more.  I get FREE childcare.  EVERY.SINGLE.DAY if I want.  It’s like they are handing out sanity cards.  I have accountability, access to amazing facilities, and a ton of class options I LOVE that I could never have gotten on my own for free – hot yoga?  Amazing, but can’t do that at home.  TRX?  Body Pump?  Power Cardio?   All amazing classes that utilize extra equipment that you can bet I would have never spent my hard-earned money on to have at home.

  1. I will look like a fool and everyone will be judging me

Okay, you might look like a fool.  But you know what?  Everyone will be loving you.  Chances are, you will all look like fools together, and you will all be more confident and loving because of it.  In my group exercise classes, we celebrate looking like fools together.  We laugh.  We make sexy faces.  We pose.  We dance.  We have FUN.  If you are an introvert like me, those things might scare you a little bit.  But believe me, you won’t be alone, and it really isn’t scary.  It really is actually awesome.

  1. I’m too fat/weak to go to the gym

Um, that is the dumbest thing ever.   That is WHY you NEED the gym, and that is why EVERYONE ELSE is there too!!  I think I had this image in my mind that everyone at the gym would be perfectly sculpted and well-proportioned.  Well-proportioned doesn’t even have anything to do with going to the gym, but in my mind, all the bodies were perfect.  I was so wrong.  Sure, you will meet a few of those (but here’s a secret: they are normal people just like you).  But the majority will be perfectly imperfect, just like you.  Your instructor might even have a little extra around the belly area, just like you.  But you will all learn to work hard together, and get stronger and healthier together.  It really is beautiful.

  1. I’ll be alone and it will be awkward

I hope you’ve realized by now that the gym doesn’t have to be like this.  I never feel awkward at my gym.  On the contrary, it has taught me to be more secure and confident in the me God has created and beautifully designed.

  1. I’m being selfish by joining a gym and leaving my kids with total strangers

Being an active participant at my gym has been one of the BEST things I could have done for my kids.  They love the child watch area, where trained professionals care for and teach them in love while I work out.  They see momma making health a priority, and that is so important.  My gym offers kid’s classes, so they actually get to participate in things like Kid’s Yoga, and build healthy habits now!  There is also a splash pad and kid’s swimming pool at my gym, and this has contributed to momma’s sanity and unending fun for my kids more times than I can count.  Plus, our gym offers all sorts of sports and lessons for kiddos, which we get a discount on since we are members.  The gym is NOT just for me – it is for my entire family.

  1. The only reason to join a gym is to lose weight

That was my original reason for joining.  I have GOT to lose this extra baby weight, amirght?!  1.5 years later, I have lost ZERO pounds.  I’ve really started to believe that weight is ONLY a number, and doesn’t matter as much as I thought it did.  I have less fat, and more muscle, and I just try to ignore the scale.  But it has been more than that.  I work out to literally feel better – endorphins, anyone???  Yes, please!!!  I am healthier, more confident, and have more friendships because I go to the gym.

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Are you convinced yet??  If not, I have FREE guest passes!  😉  We love our Y!!!!

What are some fitness lies that YOU are working to overcome?

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Who is the Modified Mommy? …And why you should be one too

Hi, I’m Angie!  I am the modified mommy, and this is my blog.  Together, you and I will explore marriage, parenting, budgets, fitness, and homemaking.  Life has taught me that things don’t always turn out the way you thought they would.  Sometimes life throws you curveballs, and you have to learn to roll with it. But through it all, the most important lesson I’ve learned is that God’s plan is better than mine.  Every day is a blessing, and I’m learning to adapt and find joy in every part of life!

Before I got married, I pictured my future life as a stay-at-home mom, completely relying on my husband’s income to support our family.  I would happily follow a color-coded cleaning schedule, joyfully prepare home-cooked meals every night, and have a steaming hot love life to boot.  I was going to submit to my husband’s authority without question, lead a couple’s Bible Study with my leadership-gifted hubby, and DIY the heck out of every part of my life.  I told myself I would read lots of books, wake up early every day, and produce obedient, genius children who would never dream of throwing a fit at the grocery store.  *I’ll pause here so you can get a good laugh in.*

Boy, has my life been flipped upside down.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I’ve learned that it’s okay not to fit into some stereotypical mold.  It’s freeing when you stop trying to be somebody else.  And I’ve learned a secret that I’ll let you in on…NOBODY fits that mold.  I’m not even sure who that “somebody” was that I was trying to be.  But I have a feeling we all have tried to be a certain “somebody” at one time or another.  God has beautifully created each one of us uniquely, and the diversity is extraordinary.  It’s beautiful.  So let’s celebrate it!

Does that mean I don’t clean, cook, or work hard in my family life?  Of course not!!  But I modify.  I am learning about my unique gifts from God, and modifying my original expectations to fit my natural leanings, desires, and callings from Him.  Over and over throughout different areas of my life, I hear my fitness instructor (and friend), Jessica, in my head: “You can modify, but you can’t quit!!!!”

For example, I always dreamed of the day I would send my kids off to the private school I attended, and then felt the calling to homeschool.  WHAT?!  I don’t like crafting or routines, and I’m terrible at follow-through.  “You can modify, but you can’t quit!!!”

Or when my third child was born and surprised us all by having one normal leg & one extremely short leg with a tiny two-toed foot.  We wondered if and how he could ever walk, run, and do the physical things our other kids enjoyed so much.  He has taught us over and over, “You can modify, but you can’t quit!!!”

So, here we are.  Adjusting when we need to, but not giving up.  There is so much freedom in this, and I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned as I’ve “broken the rules” over and over again!

Need to provide budget-friendly and healthy meals for your family, but hate to cook?  …Modify; don’t quit.

Love fresh food and flowers, but have a brown thumb?  …Modify; don’t quit.

Have early-rising kids, but function better as a night owl yourself?  …Modify; don’t give up!

 

God bless you, and I appreciate you following along through this journey!  I hope you will be blessed beyond measure!

What is something YOU would like to modify in your life?

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