Today, I am sharing the first story in the Debt Free Inspiration Series. This is a great debt payoff story from Nicole Rule from The Greatest Worth. Nicole is the mother of four amazing kids who successfully paid off $100,000 in debt in just 26 months (90% percent of it being student loan debt). Below is her remarkable story.
I’ve written my debt freedom story before. But, every time I sit down to write it again more comes out! Change always happens in an instant – a choice is made, and transformation occurs. Our moment was more than seven years ago. My second child was three months old, and I was just about to go back to work in a hospital as a full-time physical therapist.
The thing is, my baby was barely napping, had agreed to eat from a bottle only twice in her short life and would only sleep if she was nestled in her baby carrier against my chest. Needless to say, I was super anxious about having to return to work. But, I had ZERO options. We NEEDED my income to continue to make ends meet each month. It was simple math – our debt payments came to $1000 a month on our balance of $100,000! That didn’t even include our mortgage and utilities and other regular monthly bills.
We felt powerless and without options. I felt out of control. My superpower (which can also be my Kryptonite) is my ability to take action when a situation feels out of control to me. It was NOT OK with me to not have options.
I’ve never actually been the mama who loved being at home 24/7, but I would have liked to have some options! My goal was to choose when I worked. To work because I loved it and wanted to, not because we needed the income to make ends meet. It might seem like a subtle difference to you, but it felt huge at that moment! It's the difference between liberty and tyranny. With financial freedom comes all kinds of options. And, at this moment, I wanted options more than I wanted anything else. I wanted to be able to say to my boss, “I need three more months of maternity leave.” I wanted to not NEED my income. I wanted to be able to make choices that felt good for my family and me.
THE MOMENT THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING
It happened the day my husband, and I first calculated our Net Worth and looked at the negative number sitting squarely on the $100,000 debt load. I saw that if we didn’t change the way we were living we would find ourselves in this exact same situation in 10 years. And in 20 years.
I realized the many, many costs associated with the reality of that negative number. We wouldn't be able to help our kids jump boldly into life because we would still be drowning in our own debt 15 years later. I wouldn't be able to follow my dream to start a business as the financial risk was too great. Our dream house was far-fetched if not impossible. Travelling, adventures, abundant generosity…no way.
Feeling so upset and frustrated with our choices was the very thing I needed to push me forward into our debt free journey.
Awareness. It started with honest awareness for us.
We created a budget. Sounds so simple, right? We started with an excel spreadsheet (I don’t think there were googles sheets at the time!) and have since moved to YNAB. Once we got really serious and started budgeting to the penny, using the zero-based budgeting method, everything changed! Because there’s no way to hide purchases anymore. Being so open and honest with each other was SUPER hard in the beginning, but I’m positive it has led us to have such a strong, healthy marriage now.
With some hard questions and thorough research, we decided that the best option for us was to hire a nanny for our children and start working 40-60 hours in the short term, so that in the long term I could be present for my kids.
We realized, in short, that we couldn't have it all, and we started living from those voluntary boundaries.
I moved to a full-time weekend job (Friday through Monday) AND worked Wednesdays, while Sam worked weekdays – we only needed a nanny M, W, and F.
It was a solution that met our financial goals – paying for childcare only three days per week – but it was hard for our family and hard for our marriage. We rarely had time together as a family, and we consciously chose to withdraw from communities and activities that were part of our life at the time.
Nothing was sacred, in the short-term. It was like a butcher shop for a while – hack, saw, cut. There were a lot of tears shed in those 26 months of working and scraping and sacrifice. We gave up pretty much any luxury you can think of during our debt payoff time:
- ALL vacations (we didn't even go camping during this time)
- Eating out
- Lunch out after church (SO much easier than going home and cooking)
- Church altogether (since I was working every Sunday)
- Gym memberships
- Nights out with friends
- Baby music classes (or extra baby extracurricular activities)
- Anniversary celebrations
- Birthday and Christmas gifts
We stayed home. A lot. It’s really not possible to sugar coat this. It was a REALLY, REALLY hard 26 months. But, we can do hard things. To get through it, time and again (usually after a good cry) I went back to our big picture vision and values for our life. I had to connect back to our “WHY.” If I didn’t, I pretty much wanted to quit every day!
THE JOURNEY WASN'T ALWAYS EASY
We struggled for a long time with the feelings of lack and deprivation when we first started out on our debt payoff journey. It felt like we were missing out on everything! We were always saying things like “we can’t go out with you because we’re broke” OR “It’s not fair that we have all this student loan debt and so and so doesn’t” OR “I wish WE could go on that amazing vacation.”
It was a really dark time for me because I was leaning into FOMO and comparison instead of into the truth of who I was. It wasn’t until we defined our Values + Vision and started working on our money mindset that our journey shifted. We began to see money as a tool to get us living authentically and without anxiety and fear. And something that can be used any way we chose. In short, we stopped being victims and started owning our journey. And budgeting became a tool to get us closer to our dreams. It became fun and beautiful!
THE CRUCIAL LESSON I LEARNED FROM MY DEBT PAYOFF JOURNEY
Don’t compare your life and your journey to others.
It’s crucial to find your own way. Especially with money. The best way to do that was through awareness and doing the deep work of defining your Values + Vision.
THE THINGS THAT HELPED ME THE MOST
ONE: I decided that hiding from my finances was not serving me or my future plans anymore! So, I chose awareness and the work involved in becoming aware of complacency and ease. Because, let’s be honest, this work is real and it is work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s SUPER fulfilling, but it’s work in the beginning!
TWO: I changed my money mindset. I talk about this ALL. THE. TIME. This step is often overlooked, and doing so sets folks up for burnout. What we say to ourselves about money in our life drives how we’ll interact with and approach money. It's important to know your money stories – the things you believe about money – and see if they are true or just baggage, or even wounds, from your past. See if those money stories are serving you in your quest to pay off debt, or become financially literate or to make a budget. Whatever your goal is, it’s crucial to stop and really question those things we’ve always told ourselves about money. Things like “I’m just not a money person.” Or, “I’m terrible at budgeting.” It's essential to change that negative self-talk into: “I haven’t spent much time learning about money. I’ve tried to make a budget before, and it didn’t work. I’ll try again and in a new way to encourage success. I am sure I can do this if I keep at it!” See how different that feels? When I shifted my money mindset towards a motto of money is abundant and beautiful and then created money affirmations to follow, I realized that anything was possible for me financially.
THREE: I defined my Vision and Values for my life and our family’s life. I’ve written our Values down and ended up framing them so that my husband and I and our kids see them every day to be reminded of why we make the financial decisions we make. Why we funnel more money towards vacations and away from buying toys every week! Like I said earlier, once we figured out how to do this process, it changed our debt free journey from one of torture and feelings of deprivation into one of liberation and hope!
THE REASON WE NEVER GAVE UP
Our “why” has always been to have options; to be able to make choices and take risks based on what we want for our lives, not on what we need to survive.
When I finally started listening to myself and my dreams, there became no other option but to change our financial habits, skills, patterns, and stories. Because, let’s be real, every dream we have has some sort of financial component to it. If I could figure out my money, I could figure out ALL my dreams!
OUR NEXT STEPS
It took us 26 months of strict budgeting and hard core sacrifice to pay off that $100,000! We are now four years post debt freedom and are working towards paying off our mortgage early so we can have even more freedom in the future!
I’m spending a lot of time and effort into building Greatest Worth – which is a place for women to find that living beautiful lives and managing their finances are NOT mutually exclusive! I truly believe that managing personal finances bring all sorts of beauty into our lives! This business is my heart and soul and feels like a message that is crucial in today’s world.
And, my husband and I are working to pay off our mortgage in the next five years. We’ve always had a dream to take a few epic road trips (North Carolina to Alaska anyone?!) and to travel overseas with our kids. These are part of our overall family vision that actually feels possible now that the debt is gone!
MY BEST PIECE OF ADVICE
Always define your Values + Vision. Your Vision is The Big Reason that you’ve decided to go on your own debt-free journey and it's the only thing that can sustain and fuel you during the hard times. It will keep you from succumbing to comparisons and to social media envy. It will keep you and your partner together and focused. It will give you something to explain to your kids for why you’re changing your spending habits. It will be a topic of conversation for your friends who come over for tea after the kids’ bedtime because you refuse to spend money on cocktails while you work towards your goal. It will be your North Star. The Vision that you can see so clearly will become a reality if you truly go all in. You got this!