Why I Rarely Talk About Our Debt Free Journey

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My family’s journey to becoming debt free won’t make the news. It won’t become a book. It isn’t the type of story you scream about on The Dave Ramsey Show.

Why I rarely talk about our family's journey to a debt free life.

Honestly I don’t even like talking about our debt free journey because when I do mention it I can tell it makes people feel uncomfortable. It leaves them grasping for words. There instantly becomes this awkward pause in conversation when I mention it.

In fact I am only sharing it here today because I feel God tugging at my sleeves asking me to talk to you about the importance of handling financial windfalls well, and I can’t seem to write a word about it without first telling you our families story. How we have handled financial windfalls both well and poorly, and what we have learned from our mistakes, and our successes.

If I had to put our debt free journey into a sentence this would be it: My family is 100% debt free including the house today because people died.

Yes that statement is blunt, but making inheritances smell like flowers in spring time isn’t something I can do.

Don’t get me wrong I am so thankful for family members who paid their bills and left no debt unpaid. For family members who left behind life insurance policies to cover their funeral expenses and more. For family members who thought to pay off their homes in full before they passed away so proceeds  from the sale of their homes could be enjoyed by those left on earth.

But it still hurts. I never forget the day the inheritance check came from my mother’s estate, I was crying so hard as I took it to the bank that the bank teller had to wait for me to stop sobbing to explain what I wanted to do with the check. She even had to go searching for tissues so I could dry my eyes enough to see the forms I was signing.

In that moment all I could think was “God, would you take this check and just let me spend one more day with my mom”.  I know I will see her in heaven one day, but on that day all I wanted to do was exchange that check for another day with her here on earth with me.

But I couldn’t. What I could do however, was make sure I used the financial gift she left me wisely. To make it count. I knew what I wanted to do. My husband had been working 60 to 70+ hours a week for years to pay our bills. I wanted to give our family the gift of a dad and husband who was home more.  I knew to do that I needed to reduce our monthly bills and the only way to do that was to reduce our debts.

Our lives before we became debt free

First let me tell you our debt wasn’t high to begin with, we had around  $5000 in car loans, $10,000 in student loans and $60,000 in a mortgage. Roughly $75,000 in debt including the mortgage, or $15,000 without. Not large debt numbers, since we have always been thrifty people who have lived on a budget, refusing to carry a credit card balance from month to month. Our month to month payments were  right around 25% of our take home pay before overtime and the second job. These numbers sound conservative, comfortable even but we had a few challenges.

One challenge was we wanted children raised in a home with a full time mom present. My husband is an RN, a good job, with good pay, but still one job in a two income world is hard.

We had also been paying cash for me and one child at a time to make the 3000 mile trip to my mom’s several times a year during her 4 year battle with cancer, and that wasn’t cheap.

These trips had left us paying minimum payments only on our debts, which was a first for us in many years of our marriage. They also left us unable to fix a home that was so badly in need of repair the ceiling was falling on our heads (well thankfully just the dining room table and no one was hurt).

I knew my inheritance check was coming months before it arrived and I spent the time praying to God about how use to wisely in a way the would best benefit my family and honor my mother.

Our Plan To Become Debt Free

Our plan ended up being a bit crazy, but  it worked. With my inheritance check  from my mom I bought a  $9,000 home, paid off the rest of our student loans and our small car loans.

The plan was to renovate and then move into the $9000 home. Once moved we would fix the home we currently had mortgaged. In the end we were going to decide which one we liked best, and sell the other to pay off the mortgage and be 100% debt free.

With no debts we would have lowered our expenses enough for my husband to quit his second job and work a 40 to 50+ hour week ( there is hardly an RN position out there that doesn’t require you to work some overtime). The children and I  would see him more and yet our family could still be able to live life thrifty yet comfortably.

The plan sounded great but those who have renovated before would have seen our error right away. We were not at all realistic about the cost of renovating two homes. Our money ran out just as the first home was finished.

We were moving into our newly fixed paid in full home and trying to figure out how to raise the cash to fix our original home when my maternal grandmother died. She left the share of her estate that should have been my mother’s to my sister and I.

With a grieving yet grateful heart I took the money my grandmother left me and set aside enough to fix our original home, as well as pay off its mortgage while we were working on it, and the inheritance stretched just far enough to buy a 3rd home for $15,000 and fix it up to rent.

We were now 100% debt free with 2 rentals.

Yes I know our debt free story should end there BUT it doesn’t.

Make sure to  read part 2 of our debt free story where I share our $40,000+ stupid tax story, what we learned from it, and how we became 100% debt free again and plan to stay that way.  

I mentioned two  Dave Ramsey terms  in this post, so just in case you don’t know who he is, Dave Ramsey is the author of The Total Money Makeover as well as Financial Peace University and his talk show The Dave Ramsey Show. He shares wisdom on getting out of debt and staying out of debt. You can check him out at Dave Ramsey.com.

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Comments

  1. Loved reading this. I’m debt free too — not because of death but because my dad would KILL me if I had debt lol, but I really appreciate your honesty and your openess. And I LOVE Dave Ramsey, I pretty much live for him lol, but he has so many incredible tips to help live an abundant life.

    Great Post!

  2. Victoria, this is a most important story that needs to be told. There are so many valuable messages in your journey to becoming debt free and it should not be kept silent. I applaud you for listening to the “small voice” that we hear at various times and following through. I understand how bitter sweet this journey is but it makes me even more determined to get rid of our mortgage that dangles like a sword over our head. I am looking forward to the next post.

  3. Cliff hanger! Darn! So, we had a quasi-similar situation happen for us. My husband was in a car accident, and the settlement from the accident helped us finally be rid of our credit card debts, and buy two nice (but still used) cars. I wish I could say it went further than that, but with life, and my husband then going back to school, the money leftover slowly disappeared. We still have student loan debt, a LARGE amount, but do hope to get rid of it over the next coming years the old fashioned way of budgeting and hard work.

    • Yes, I hate cliff hangers too so I originally told our story in just one post but it was getting to be 2000+ words long! So I was forced to split the post or cause people to get tired fingers from scrolling down further and further. LOL. I hope your husband is okay now.

  4. I just wanted to say that I too had a similar moment. I checked my account balance online early one morning and saw that the entire amount of my deceased father-in-law’s pension had hit out checking account. Over and above enough to pay off our house. My husband is an only child and I am as well. He was 35 at the time and I 33. With the same thoughts…if we could just have him back. I am sorry for your loss Victoria. I am thankful the Lord laid this on your heart to talk about. I have a feeling the next part will be helpful for me.

  5. I’m very sorry for your loss.

    This is also how I became debt free, my father died. Often, if student loans come up, mortgages, I just nod my head and don’t say a word. I don’t want to lie, but I don’t want to tell anyone either.

    Thank you for sharing your story. Yours is the only one I have read about being debt free for this reason. It’s not a good feeling, but nice to know I am not the only one who isn’t comfortable discussing it.

    • Sorry for your loss as well, and thank you for sharing your story. I haven’t heard of another person getting out of debt this way, and I know their must be others. Yes it is good to know I am not alone.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story. What a testament to your mother that you committed to managing your finances wisely!

  7. I’m so glad to have stumbled across a random pin of your post. Our story is similar but not the same. The loss was not of life but of a career and lifestyle we had lived together for 10 years. My husband was discharged from the military after 14 years of service. We received a large pay out because his injuries preventing him from being a soldier (he can still do his job as an LPN) were all service related. Although the transition to “civilian” life has been challenging I grateful for the events that have occurred. While I would not ever want to relive them or see someone else go through them, I wouldn’t change the past. Instead I try to accept that what happened then was to benefit us now.
    Gratefully my husband received a comparable job outside of the army and for a month we received 2 pay checks. However, without his injuries we would be short the money that allows me to stay home with our kids, as he wouldn’t be getting a va payment.
    As much as I like reading the stories of personal sacrifice to get out of debt, they are not encouraging to me because when we tried doing that ourselves (prior to our family reset, as we call it) we were unsuccessful. Finding your story is encouraging and I know it has to be encouraging to others.
    Thank you for taking the time to share the impact someone else’s sacrifice (your mother and grandmother) had on your family financially. It can’t be easy, but I hope sharing it with others has given you memories of them that make you smile.

  8. To me it doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you do. You used the money very wisely, not many people have that discipline!

  9. Good for you! What a wise use of an inheritance. I am sure your mother and grandmother would be very proud. And I think calling the show to scream “we’re debt free” would be awesome…..can’t wait till we can do it! Donna

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