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Debt Free Story of Erin and Steve’s $110,427 Debt

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We live in a society where it’s normal and encouraged to use borrowed money to sustain our lives. We often learn that it’s okay to get what we want NOW and pay it back later. This kind of mentality ultimately hurts us in the long run. What we often don’t realize is that the money we borrow accumulates interest that ultimately makes the lender richer not us! It’s time to flip things around by getting out of debt so that we keep more of our hard earned money back in our pockets. Today’s debt free story of Erin and Steve’s $110,427 debt journey shows us exactly how they were able to turn things around.

Erin and Steve at their favorite place in the world Empire, MI

Meet Erin and Steve! Erin, 35, is a Business Intelligence Manager and also behind WholeFitPlantBased on Instagram. Steven, 36, is a Brewery Cellarman. They are huge outdoor enthusiasts who love to camp, hike, mountain bike, kayak, paddleboard, and Steve is even learning to kiteboard right now. They are also both Vegan and very passionate about their health. Besides loving the outdoor life and being health conscious, they defeated over $110,000 worth of debt!

They were like any average American with loads of debt ranging from student loans, credit cards, and car loans. Having a whopping total debt amount of $110,427.87 cents to be exact. They didn’t look at that number and just give up, they decided to make a change and become debt free. Learn more about the debt free story of Erin and Steve’s financial journey and how they became debt free!

Debt Free Story of Erin and Steve

Erin Wisneski, 35 years old, Business Intelligence Manager

Steven, 36 years old, Brewery Cellarman

From: Spring Lake, MI

Total Debt:  $110,427.87 of debt not including the mortgage

Total Time to be Debt Free: 4 Years and 2 Months

1 |  How much debt did you have to start with? How long did it take to pay off? 

In March of 2016 we had $110,427.87 of debt not including our mortgage. This took us 4 years and 2 months to pay off. 

Debt progress chart provided by Erin and Steve

2 |  When did you first decide to start your debt free journey?

We officially started throwing extra money at the debt above the minimum payments in March of 2016. 

Someone at work had told me to look into Dave Ramsey’s method about 4 years prior to this when I told them about how much debt I was in. 

I looked at it but couldn’t find the right way to start.

After we got married and my husband changed careers I started looking at budgeting for the first time

We had so many dreams we wanted to accomplish for our lives and this debt was a huge hindrance to those dreams. 

We finally decided to focus on paying off our debt in March of 2016 after reading The Total Money Makeover

Using the Ramsey principles we quickly saved up our $1,000 Emergency Fund and then started throwing as much money as we could each month to the debt.

3 | What was your debt consisted of?

Steve’s Student Loan$ 1 K
3 Credit Cards + Private Loan
(Private Loan used to pay off a CC)
$ 17.5 K
Car $ 11 K
Erin’s Student Loans
(5 Private + 1 Federal Loan)
$ 81 K

I also need to add in that life happened during this time. 

We were able to successfully cash flow the following items in the past 4 years during our debt payoff

Vehicle Repairs

* Note this didn’t all happen at once. 
This “lemon” vehicle kept having issues
and seemed to always cost us
$1k or more to fix each time. 
We finally threw our hands and
gave up and replaced it in 2018
$ 12 K
Replaced the “lemon” vehicle with a used vehicle $ 15 K
Replaced Water Heater $ 500
New Washer and Dryer$ 400
New Roof (enforced by our condo association)$ 2 K

4 | What was your income range throughout the debt free journey?

We started at about $90k in household income in 2016.

Last year (2019) we had $125k in household income.

5 | Are there any specific things you did to help pay down debt? 


First, we tracked what we were spending money on.  This was eye opening as we really had no idea what all of our money was going to each month. 

After we tracked our expenses for a couple of months, we identified areas we could cut down or take out of the budget.

I also found a great spreadsheet template that allowed me to list all of our debts and based on our average monthly snowball payment, could predict when we would be out of debt. 

Originally the spreadsheet told us it would take 3 years to pay off this debt, but life happens and we had some unexpected expenses along the way, so it took us 4 years instead.

6 | Did you use any tools to help pay off debt?

For the first 3 years we used the Every Dollar App

This was a great starting point for us but it wasn’t perfect. 

Last year I discovered the YNAB app and this app really helped us make our final push. 

We paid off a lot more this year using the YNAB app than the Every Dollar App.

7 | Do you like the Snowball or Avalanche method to pay down debt?

At first when we had 12 separate debts to tackle I really liked the snowball method

This method allowed us to get some emotional wins that we desperately needed to stay motivated.  But when we were down to the last few debts we changed our method a little to what worked for us. 

We had to replace a vehicle in 2018 and I decided to shift paying off our car loan sooner so that we could more easily sell the old car.  

8 | How did you stay motivated throughout your debt free journey?

I would listen to the Dave Ramsey Podcast almost everyday on my commute to work. 

The debt free screams were really motivating, especially when people had similar incomes/debt as us.

We would focus on our future dreams and goals whenever we said “no” and remember the reasons we were doing this.

9 | How has your life changed from before and after the paying off debt?

Our lives have changed drastically

This debt free journey has really taught us that experiences are worth more than materialistic things. 

We have learned patience and simplicity. 

We don’t compare ourselves to others and try to focus on doing things and buying things that truly make us happy and add value to our life.

10 | Was there anything you wish you did differently during the debt free journey?

There were 2 things I wish we had done differently and differ from the Ramsey Principles.     

1 | I wish we had built a larger Emergency Fund first before paying off debt instead of only the $1000.  We thankfully have been very lucky to have never had to dip into those funds, but based on the current climate (COVID-19) I would feel less at risk than I do now.   

2 | I also wish we had been contributing to our 401ks during this time to at least get the company match.  We missed out on some free money and valuable compound interest time.

11 | How does it feel to be debt free or close to?

It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off our shoulders. 

I feel like we can accomplish anything we set our mind to. 

We are so excited for the future.  

12 | Would you like to offer any words of encouragement to other readers?

Paying off debt is not easy and there is no miracle pill to fix this. 

It probably took you years to accumulate the debt you have, it’s not going to go away overnight. 

It takes time, patience, and a lot of willpower. 

I encourage you to just take one day one step at a time

When life happens don’t throw your hands up and give up.  Move through the bad times and focus on your future life goals. 

You can do this.

And most important, try to surround yourself with people that support your dreams and goals.  Don’t waste your energy on other people’s opinions.  

It is truly amazing what anyone can accomplish as long as they put their minds to it and persevere. This debt free story of Erin and Steve shows us that anything is possible. They were able to dig themselves out of $110,427 worth of debt, how astounding is that?!

What we can learn from Erin and Steve is how important it is to set a clear goal, budget, and use the proper debt payoff strategy to accomplish the debt free life. Two key factors to keep in mind is to save a larger emergency fund before throwing everything you have at debt. Secondly, take advantage of compound interest and free money by investing in your company’s investment account (especially if they match).

Erin and Steve shows us that no matter how bleak things may seem financially, hold your head up and focus taking it one step at a time. Thank you both so much for sharing your awesome debt free story with us! Hopefully it will provide us with more encouragement and motivation for each of us to get through our own debt free journeys.

If you want to reach Erin or Steve, connect with them at WholeFitPlantBased on Instagram!

Ready to start your own debt free journey? Today’s the day to make that change in your life. Start with this free gift – Debt Thermometer and join us in the free 5-Day Debt Free Bootcamp to begin knocking out debt ASAP.

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