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What is the American dream? For many people, the American dream is growing up to be successful, having your own home, raising a family and pets, and to live happily ever after. In reality, to achieve the dream, it takes money and lots of it. Most people often borrow tons of money from banks to go into debt just to live that “American dream”. What if I told you that you didn’t have to do that? What if it is possible to still fulfill your dream and live happily without going into tons of debt? Well, meet Lindsey who was able to do just that. She and her family has a paid off mortgage with no debt since she was 25 years old. Her story will inspire you!
Hi! My name is Lindsey. I’m in my early 30s and I live in the beautiful woods of Arkansas with my husband and three sweet children. I’m a homemaker, homeschool mom, blogger of Big House in the Woods, and freelance writer.
My husband and I have been debt-free and mortgage-free since we were 25. We had a lot of fun on our debt-free journey and we’ve had even more fun living our debt-free lifestyle since then.
What was the turning point that got you to start your debt free journey?
From the beginning of our adult lives, debt has always made us uneasy.
However, unfortunately, I had to take out student loans to go to college. I remember a friend telling me not to worry about it. She said that after college, I could just pay $25 monthly for the rest of my life and there was nothing they could do about it.
I don’t know how much truth there was to that but I was not going to let that happen. Debt weighed on me heavily.
As a couple, debt was never in our game plan. We had a no tolerance plan for debt from the very beginning of our marriage.
However, we made a small exception for a mortgage. We knew that we could actually make money if we played our cards right. (That’s an interesting story. See below.)
We never wanted to be the people who were just ok with debt. We had no plans of ever making payments on vehicles, cell phones, or anything else.
I think it’s important to have a strong mindset about debt from the very start of your adult life.
Obviously, this stance can be difficult with a house. It can be very difficult to have enough cash for a house. However, a large down payment is attainable for many Americans. We took that route and created a plan to get rid of our mortgage as quickly as possible.
As a whole, debt sounded suffocating. We had a deep desire to get away from it!
What was your debt consisted of? How long did it take to pay off?
After college, I had student loans to pay off. I was a first grade teacher and I lived with my parents for one year so I could focus on paying the loans off. I managed to pay off all but $2,000 before my husband and I got married.
This was a huge accomplishment considering my low take-home pay! (I only taught school for 1 year.) After we got married, my husband paid off the final $2,000 of my student loans.
My husband had been saving for a house since he got his first job after college. He’s always been a saver and he’s never been tempted by “stuff.” He had a pretty big nest egg saved up by the time we got married. He had saved roughly $35,000-$40,000 in 2 years.
I quit teaching to be a homemaker once we got married so I was not contributing monetarily to our family budget.
A few months after we were married, the government offered a First Time Home Buyers Incentive. (This was circa 2009.) The deal was that you could get a rebate of up to $7,000 on your taxes IF you met certain qualifications.
The qualifications were pretty basic. One of them required that the home had to be your primary residence and you had to live there for at least 3 years.
We decided 3 years was something we could commit to. We began considering buying a house instead of losing money on rent each month. We found a small, inexpensive house as our “starter house” and devised a plan to pay it off as quickly as possible.
We put $30k down on a $73,000 house. We took out a mortgage for only $43,000 and we paid it off in 13 months.
What was your income range throughout the debt free journey?
13 months can seem fast but, before thinking we were insane, here is something important to note: Yes, my husband had a good paying job BUT I was and still am a homemaker.
So pay attention here… That means, I am not contributing monetarily to our family. On his own, he was making between $80k-$95k a year.
There are many families that make that much because both the husband and wife work, so, we aren’t embellishing. We are number crunchers who are very frugal!
Are there any specific things you did to help pay down debt? Habits, programs, tools?
Budget, budget, budget. And what we call “radical money saving techniques.”
To pay debts, you must first determine where you are currently spending your money and make a plan to cut back. We created a budget and posted it on the front of the fridge. We wrote EVERY expense on that spreadsheet and evaluated it each month.
If we got a little crazy one month and spent unnecessary money on eBay, Amazon, at the grocery store, etc., we corrected the mistake the next month. We consulted our budget daily and corrected spending mistakes.
Always remember: your budget isn’t your enemy. Consider your budget your friend. It isn’t restricting. It’s actually freeing. It’s like a written set of goals that prevents you from having to continually repeat them in your mind. With just one quick glance, you can stay on track.
Many people are in the position to save more money than they do, or pay off debt they have but aren’t willing to make the sacrifices needed. If you have big goals, then you have to make big plans.
Here is what we did:
No Paid TV Service
You read that right. No cable, no satellite, no Netflix. We have never watched much TV anyway since we consider it a huge waste of time, but when we did, we only watched what we could get with an antenna. We received about 13 channels with an antenna, and that was more than we needed anyway.
No Eating Out
Eating at restaurants is also a great way to waste money. In the past, people have tried to convince us that since they are single or have no children, that it’s cheaper to eat out than eat at home.
I say that’s a bunch of hooey. If that were true, then restaurants wouldn’t make any money. They are still in business because they are charging you more for the food than what it’s worth. Period.
Smart Date Night
This consisted of renting a movie from the library and watching it at home…because it was free…and fun.
No expensive phone plans
We have always looked for good but inexpensive pre-paid, no-contract cell phone plans. Over the years, we have changed providers to get the best deal. We get the same service, from the same towers, with the same data for about 25% of what other people pay for the same thing. Currently, we are using Red Pocket. We have found that they are unbeatable.
Also, we didn’t buy cheese for a YEAR! We decided that cheese, along with other types of food, was expensive and completely unnecessary. Crazy, but true.
We’ve actually saved over $180,000 (over a period of about 10 years) by doing crazy things like that.
Here’s the interesting part… We never felt deprived, left out, underprivileged, sad, or any other word you can think up because we weren’t living like every one else. In fact, we thought it was fun!
We liked being the ones accomplishing our goals. We didn’t mind seeing people drive by in their flashy new cars with their new iPhones because: (1) We aren’t impressed by flashy new things, and (2) We felt we were headed in a direction they weren’t, and we liked our direction better.
So, to clarify, our only “habits, programs, and tools” were: crazy self-motivation, a longing to be free, a budget posted on the front of our fridge, a heavily studied amortization schedule, and a deep desire to say “I told you so.”
How did you stay motivated throughout your debt free journey?
Our biggest motivation was the calendar. We wanted to see how fast we could pay off our debt. It was a challenge to us.
We wanted to be able to prove to ourselves (and everyone else) that we were crazy determined and we could pay it off rocket fast.
We had something to prove to ourselves. As a side benefit, it makes a great story now!
Has your life changed dramatically before and after the paid off mortgage and being debt free?
After we paid off our debt (student loans and a mortgage), we started saving for land and our dream house.
We stayed in that first little house for 3 years. After that, we sold it and bought a house that was a little bigger with the cash from house #1 and money we had saved. We paid cash for our second house.
While we were living in our second house, we were still saving for our dream house. After 3 years, we had saved enough to buy land and build our dream house WITH CASH! We sold that second house and used the cash from it plus money we saved and we built our Big House in the Woods on 5 beautiful wooded acres.
As a side note, we also bought 10 acres with cash in another part of our state after we paid off our first mortgage. We thought we were going to build there but plans changed. We still own that land too.
Was there anything you wish you did differently during the debt free journey?
No. Absolutely not. I would say we did everything by the book but, actually, I think we wrote the book (is that a saying?). We have always set high standards for ourselves and we’ve never backed down.
How does it feel to be debt free?
Being debt-free is amazing. We’ve been debt-free for a total of 10 years now. Since then, we’ve built our dream home with cash, we’ve been on 10 Caribbean cruises and many other vacations, and we’ve been saving for early retirement.
What is your next big goal in life now you have a paid off mortgage and are debt free?
Early retirement. We want the freedom to travel on a whim while we’re still young. Currently, our plan is to retire around 45.
What advice would you like to give for those reading this to encourage them?
It can be done.
A debt-free life is not out of reach if you make a plan and stick to it. We have accomplished a lot in 10 short years and we’ve done it on one income while having 3 children along the way.
I can’t help but shake my head when I see people with debt (mortgage, car payments, medical bills, etc.) yet they are treating themselves to manicures, concerts, brand new cars, vacations, shopping sprees, UTVs, season passes to amusement parks, etc. These are bad habits.
If more people took debt seriously and took considerable actions to pay it off, then they wouldn’t be in a bind when unexpected things happen. They would also have financial security.
You can live your dreams AFTER you have paid off your debt and built up financial security. For example, we have been on 10 cruises, bought 15 acres, built our dream house, bought vehicles we love, bought (and sold) two campers, bought two UTVs, etc. and we owe no one for any of it.
Know that it’s good to stand out from the crowd.
Just because everyone else is doing something, doesn’t always mean you should. When you have a goal to pay off your debt, it’s okay to say no to things or events that will end up costing you money.
It’s okay to swim upstream.
Everyone has different incomes, expenses, and situations, but saving and paying down debt should still be a priority. Based on your income and expenses, it might take you more time to pay down your debt, but in the end you still PAID. DOWN. YOUR. DEBT.
That’s a huge deal and it’s something you should be proud of no matter how long it took you. Always remember to keep your head up and your feet pointed in the right direction.
Along the way, make plans for what you want to do when you are debt-free. It’s good to dream! I wrote an article titled 5 Things We Did AFTER We Became Debt-Free. You’ll love it!
What are you doing now since being debt free and with a paid off mortgage?
We still practice many of these money saving techniques today. It’s a habit. We just can’t help it. However, we also enjoy it! We love dreaming about retirement in the near future.
We are enjoying our Big House in the Woods and watching our three sweet babies grow. And we jump on a cruise ship anytime we get a chance.
Something to remember…
We have the same “stuff” as everyone else.
We have a house, 2 cars, land, and a UTV.
The difference? Ours is paid for even though our household income is about the same as a lot of people.
Because we practice all of the money-saving techniques that I have now shared with you!
What an incredible debt free story by Lindsey! It goes to show that being debt free starts with a mindset. You have to decide to make changes in your life and take control of it. She and her family had a paid off mortgage and were debt free by 25 years of age, what an accomplishment!
We learned from Lindsey that in order to take control over your money and life, you need to budget! There are many budgeting tools out there that are free to use like Everydollar, Personal Capital, or Truebill. To keep track of your monthly income and expenses is such an important part of gaining control over your finances. Budgeting gives you an idea of how much money you have to work with to track your expenses, pay off debt, work towards getting a paid off mortgage, or invest.
Being in debt takes freedom away from you. The freedom to live the life you want without the constant stress of money pressure sitting on your shoulders is the ultimate goal that Lindsey and her family was able to achieve.
You can still live the “American dream” without going into debt. Lindsey showed us that it is possible to have a paid off mortgage and to be debt free just as long as you set clear goals, take control of your money, and live a frugal life while still having fun.
Stop by Lindsey’s blog Big House in the Woods to find out more useful tips about how she got out of debt and her debt free lifestyle.
Are you ready to start your own debt free journey? Get started by grabbing this free Debt Thermometer and join us in the free 5-Day Debt Free Bootcamp to pay off $500 worth of debt in your first month.