How we saved $1800 in one evening to put toward our debt repayment (And how you might be spending more than you think on fast food)

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Why are we looking at our debt again?

My wife and I sat down this weekend and had a talk about our future and we thought of things we someday wanted to have as part of our lives. Things like:

  • Having a baby
  • Owning a house
  • Making a town our home
  • Being closer to our parents
  • Finishing grad school (for me)
  • Raising our family

Having a baby was at the top of the list in every scenario, but the biggest problem is: all of these require us to be at least a little bit out of debt (and maybe a little older, we are still young, but it’s time to start thinking of the future before we regret it!)

I like my job, Chelsi likes her job, and for now, it works best that my job pays for the housing because it means more money toward debt.

We decided that it was time to reconfigure out budgeting. As you all know, we’ve been working on repaying our debt for about a year, but we haven’t been working as hard as we could be. We’ve decided that if we want to have kids before we are 30, we need to start working hard now to get there. So, taking another look at our budget was a necessary step.

How did we save $1800 a month to put toward loans in one evening?

At this point, I’m sure you’re asking how we saved so much money to put toward loans in only one evening. The answer is simple and is possible for many people (but maybe not everyone, and we are grateful that it is possible for us).

Remember, our debt is at $188,094.9 at the moment and we are aggressively fighting to have it paid off in 2 years.

We took our salaries and figured out the math. I make less than 30k a year (which, with housing, is actually pretty great pay). My wife makes just over 40k a year. So together we are a little under 70k pre-tax pay. We are not great at the whole tax-math thing, but we know that each of my wife’s checks is around $900 every two weeks and each of mine is around $700 twice a month. Insurance and retirement accounts are taken out of these checks.

We looked at our monthly bills and compiled them. We also cancelled the ones that were frivolous and that, though we enjoyed them, did not need them. We kept Netflix and Hulu though because we have to be able to do something in the evenings!

We had credit card minimum balance payments for both of our credit cards, a cell phone bill, Hulu and Netflix, TBB, our car payment, our car insurance, Advocare (for spark that fuels our lives), and our renter’s insurance.This is not counting payments on student loan debt.

And the trick we used to gain $1800 per month toward student loans? We decided that we only needed to use my salary to survive. Which means every penny of my wife’s salary is going toward student loan payments.

Is your mind blown? Ours was. This means over $23,000 toward loan payments a year. It also means that we are surviving well within our means on my checks alone (which total around $17,000 annually). The question then is, where was the $23,000 going before we made this decision? How did we lose $23,000 toward fast food, restaurants, and Walmart trips? Ugh.

Is it actually possible to live on one income in this economy?

Well, we decided to total our budget into my two checks and check it out. I get paid on the 15th and the last day of each month. Each of my checks is around $700. So we took our bills and arranged them by date needing to be paid on excel.

The ones due from the 1st-15th of the month were put into the “First Check” category which counted as the check I received on the last day of each month.

The bills due between the 16th-end of the month were put into the “Second Check” category which counted at the check I received on the 15th of each month.

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The totals were $403.94 for the first check (which we rounded up to $430) and $354.3 for the second (which we rounded up to $480). The reason for the excess? Any extra month from our bill payments stays in our checking account to save us from overdraft fees. Once it hits $150, we take out $100 and put it directly toward debt. So, the extra does us good.

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How do you keep within the budget? Don’t you ever accidentally spend the excess you put in there for debt?

Well, that’s where the next trick comes in. We decided to use Dave Ramsey’s debt repayment system – the envelope system. This is our first time implementing something like this, and so far so good. We calculated (or rather, let excel calculate) what we had left in each check after our bills were taken out.

This left us with $270 for the first check and $220 for the second check. Then we thought about what we absolutely needed to buy in any given two weeks. After bills, the only necessities were groceries and gas. Simple, right?

There are two of us and we once in a while have friends over for meals. We also have a puppy we need to feed, but she doesn’t eat a ton. So, not a huge expense for groceries. We decided right away that groceries would also include cleaning supplies, pet supplies, bathroom supplies, etc. For this, we allotted $150 in the first check and $125 in the second check.

Then we thought about gas. We sometimes go on visits to our parents and family and once in a while go on trips to somewhere two or three hours away. However, we have a great trick for getting gas for cheap (our last tank was filled up on less than $20 and around $1 / gallon – yes, you read that right – I’ll write on that soon, don’t you even worry)! So, we allotted ourselves $50 for the first check and $50 for the second check.

So, that left us with $70 for the first check and $45 for the second check. After thinking for a minute, it was easy for us to decide what to do with this. We needed an account in our budgeting for fun money. In the picture below, this is labeled Restaurant. What this account is for is: everything we can’t afford in our other accounts. We use it for things like:

  • restaurants and fast food
  • arts and crafts supplies
  • gifts
  • costumes
  • new clothes
  • new books

And more! The thing with budgeting is that if you don’t give yourself wiggle room, you’ll break the budget before you finish the week! Giving ourselves money to have fun with made this budgeting possible.

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We went to the bank with my first check in hand on Saturday. We deposited our $480 and withdrew $220. That’s our secret – it has to be in cash. Using a debit or credit card is too easy – it’s like the money isn’t even real. Cash however, is simple. If you have the cash, you can spend it. If not, you can’t. And we decided we were no longer allowed to use debit cards unless we are stuck on the side of the road in an emergency.

We separated the $220 into three envelopes: Groceries: $125, Gas: $50, and Fun Money: $45.

What if you don’t use all the money you allotted yourself?

Well, that’s the beauty of this system. The way we have it set up, we should be making some pretty great loan payments for however long we use this system. How it works: Every time we spend money from one of the envelopes, we take the change (any change) and put it in our change jar. This is how we save up for our vacations (definitely worth it – never deny yourself travel because you’ll regret it when you’re older) and you never notice that the change is even gone!

So, once our vacation change is taken out, we continue using the money until the next check comes in – and here’s where it really takes off: the money in the envelopes does not roll over into the next 2 weeks. Let me repeat that so you truly understand: When we get a new check, every single dollar leftover from the last check goes straight into loan repayment. If we have $5 groceries, $7 gas, and $15 fun money, it all goes straight to paying back loans and is replaced with new cash allowances from the most recent check.

And it never hurts to have an extra $27 to put toward loans. Think of how much interest that saves you?

What do you do with the other income you have, then?

This other income, my wife’s, is used solely for repaying debt. There is, however, one occasion that we are allowing ourselves to use this income for and that is for our annual birthday party for the two of us. Our birthdays are three weeks apart so each year we take a trip up to Minneapolis and spend a 3-day weekend there to enjoy our birthdays. This year, we will be using one of my wife’s paychecks for this expense, but next year we will budget it in accordingly (we only started this budget 4 days ago, so we didn’t have time). We have allotted ourselves the $900 and we will enjoy it and any extra will go toward our debt.

The rest of my wife’s checks until the end of 2015 have been placed already and we hope to have one credit card paid off by the end of this year. We wrote down the date we will receive each check and where that check will be going. Of course, any extra will also be put toward debt using the stack system, but we’ll write about that another time!

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Notice the slot for Emergency Fund payment? That’s important too! But we’ll write about that another time too so don’t forget to stay tuned!

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13 Replies to “How we saved $1800 in one evening to put toward our debt repayment (And how you might be spending more than you think on fast food)”

  1. Never thought of trying to live within one income, great idea. Our rent is what gets us every month so you are so lucky yours is paid for, great job with this!

    1. Thank you! I appreciate your comment. We are definitely lucky to be able to live off one income with our rent paid for, but the way I see it for others – my rent is pre-drawn from my paychecks (which is why I make so little), so depending on housing expenses, it may still be possible. Perhaps you should look into what you can do to minimize spending! If you ever need help, just let me know! 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  2. This is impressive! I have to agree with you when it comes to wiggle room. You have to allot *some* money for that or else you do end up going over the first week. My husband and I had to set up a budget with only $50 wiggle room a month (it was truly all we could afford at the time) and it was so tough living such a tight budget – but it does pay off in the long run!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kristen! Wow, I imagine it was tough to live with only $50 wiggle room – but like you said, it’s definitely possible and it pays off in the long run. It’s tough living paycheck to paycheck, but if it means we can get out of debt 20 years faster (or more) count me in! I don’t want to pay on my education forever. I’m sure most people agree. I’m glad that you were able to set a budget and get to a better place – would love to hear your story someday!

  3. Good for you guys!!! We have a ton of debt we’re working to pay off too using Dave Ramsey’s snowball plan. Always good to redo the budget and cut what you don’t need!

    1. That’s great!!! I have been reading a lot about the Snowball plan and the Stacking plan, both are great to pay off debt! What I saw was that the snowball helps you feel good about paying off debt which helps you stick to it and the Stacking helps you pay it off quicker which is nice. I think we’ll use a combination of the two! We have a long way to go, but we’re on route! I would love to keep up with your story too! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  4. Love your goals and how you and your wife are working as a team to attain them. We recently got back from Disney with our family and we saved for just over a year for it. We put aside $100/month into a travel fund, had multiple yard sales, my little girl had a bake sale and then I put my earnings from a side job that I have into it. It was challenging, but I was so proud of how we set a goal and worked for it, that it didnt affect our month-to-month costs and I loved that my kids were involved in the process. I am a SAHM and we are on a fixed-one income a month budget and there are defintally areas I could save in. We have some credit card debit that we are working towards paying off, so are thinking through that now. One other thing that has helped us is when we get tax money refunded, we pull out money for Christmas, a long-term savings plan and our kids college funds. The rest goes to debt. That way, we have saved money in appropriate places and Christmas is covered so when it rolls around, we arent scrounging! Good luck to you guys!

    1. Thank you for your comment!! It definitely helps when married couples work as a team. I see so many plans fall apart because people don’t work together. It sounds like you and your family do a great job working together and that’s so wonderful to hear!It’s also inspiring hearing you pay off debt and save for vacations on one income with you as a SAHM. Eventually, when we have kids, I would like to be a SAHM, so we are working on paying off some debt to make that possible – also, great ideas for tax refund! Thanks for sharing and good luck! Feel free to keep sharing your story here, I’d love to hear!

  5. This is SO impressive. It is amazing that you and your wife have committed to aggressively attacking your debt. I’m also impressed that you all have made the necessary changes to live off one income. I think that is such a great idea. Unfortunately our rent and having two car payments over $300 each keeps us from doing this. However, we will probably be getting rid of cable when our contract expires and I’ve been contemplating making aggressive car payments so that one can be paid off.

    1. Thank you, Roxy! I really appreciate your thoughtful comment here. It’s definitely a hard decision to put away an entire income toward debt, but it’s been worthwhile for us. With two car payments, that can be really tricky. However, if you work to pay those off as quick as you can, then you can try the same thing! Getting rid of cable makes a HUGE difference – I wrote a post on it if you’re ever interested. 🙂 You can do this! It’s hard, but it’s worth it. If you ever need help, support, ideas, or even just a listening ear, let me know! 🙂 Thanks for stopping

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