Managing Money

How My Wife and I Paid Our Large Debt

a file folder for debt becomes a folder for saving money after paying it all off
Written by Zack McCullock

We paid down $50,000 in less than a year with these frugal living tips.

As a personal finance blogger and digital marketer who runs a successful company that works with businesses all over the U.S., I’ve learned that money is an important topic, no matter if you’re talking to a small business owner or a recent college grad.

There are a lot of ways you can go about saving money, whether it be to cut back on eating out or cutting the cord on cable. How do I know? My wife and I decided to get serious about our finances a few months after we got married and ended up paying off $50,000 of debt in just 11 months.

By implementing some simple yet powerful principles, we began our debt payoff frenzy and started down the path of financial freedom. Below are a few tips that we learned on the way and a few takeaways you can use too.

Save more than you spend

One of the secrets to paying debt off fast is to use the 80/20 principle to reduce your largest expense. We decided that we’d hack our housing — keeping a roof over your head for free or close to.

We did this by moving into a camper for a year to pay off all of our debt and save up money for traveling the following year. You can use this same strategy to exponentially increase your progress — whether you are paying off debt, saving or investing.

You don’t have to be crazy and move into a camper like we did. Here are some other ideas:

  • Move to a city or part of town with cheaper rent
  • If you travel a lot for work, rent your house or a room on Airbnb
  • Move in with a roommate or parents for a set period
  • If you have a car you never use, sell it for a cheaper one with no payment or refinance it with a company like RateGenius

Once you’ve figured out how you’ll cut back, start planning how you’ll tackle your debt.

Do you need to pay down debt but don’t know where to start? Check out our step-by-step guide.

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Consider refinancing your loans for a better rate

We learned that focusing on big wins early can help create momentum. If you have student loans, one of the fastest ways to reduce your payments and save on interest rates is to refinance.

Refinancing your loans sounds complicated but there are companies that make the process very simple. In less than 15 minutes you could save thousands over the life of your loan payments. It can’t hurt to look into refinancing your debt to see if you get a better interest rate (especially with rates rising soon).

Don’t wait until the Fed raises rates so high that you wish you would have refinanced when they were low. Whether you have credit card debt, a mortgage, or student loans, refinancing can be a great way to save a ton of cash each month.

Negotiate insurance, medical bills and cut recurring expenses

Another great way to save some cash is to look into your recurring monthly bills.

Look at things like your cell phone plan, your insurance, and your subscription services. Call your insurance provider or cell phone company and negotiate a lower rate.  If you tell them you’re thinking about switching to “XYZ” competitor’s plan because they have a better price, they might give you a lower rate.

You can also negotiate medical bills.

Call the hospital and clinic and tell them you’ll offer 50 percent of the total immediately (assuming you have the cash to pay now) and they’ll likely take it. If they don’t, stop paying your bill for a month or two and then negotiate. I’ve done this, and it works.

Lastly, look into getting rid of your low-priced subscriptions for a season. Try doing without Audible, Hulu or Netflix – it’s not as hard as you think to live without these. If you still use traditional cable, consider switching to cheaper alternatives like Roku or Apple TV.

Stop spending all your money on Amazon

It’s easy to get swept away in buying books, gadgets, and those things that have been on your watch list for months (especially if you have Amazon Prime). Amazon knows that the ease of ordering and the speed in which you get their products is key to getting money out of your pocket.

Did you know Amazon Prime actually loses money on the free shipping? It’s true. But of course, Amazon has a reason for their losses: They know it brings in loyal customers.

Instead of splurging on Amazon this month, browse their site for books. But instead of buying them, save them to your cart and go to the library. This way you still see the reviews, but don’t have to pay for them in the end.

Buy secondhand items

This is perhaps one of my best secrets to saving money. I’ve saved thousands over the years shopping at thrift stores, Craigslist and Facebook marketplace. You can find huge savings on everything if you know what things are worth. You can also use these platforms to make extra money. In fact, we sold our camper on Craigslist after we lived in it for 10 months. The crazy part is that we sold it for nearly $4,000 more than what we bought it for because we renovated it.

About the Author

Hi, I’m Zack. I am an entrepreneur and personal finance blogger that helps millennials optimize their finances. Learning to optimize money helped my wife and I pay off $50,000 of debt in just 11 months. We now travel more, run a successful marketing business, and are debt-free.

When I’m not working on the blog, I’m probably riding my mountain bike or watching a YouTube video trying to learn a random skill. Head to the blog and get a free copy of our new guide: The Millennial’s 7-Step Guide to Financial Freedom.

About the author

Zack McCullock