This post is probably the most personal piece of content I’ve published thus far in my solopreneur business journey. I went back and forth (and back and forth) about whether or not I should post it, as it could be polarizing or it could cause for comparison. We’re all in different stages in life, so please don’t compare your story to mine.
I wanted to share this story because maybe it could cause a flicker of interest for you and bring up something you maybe haven’t considered an option as a way to finally become a small business owner.
Here’s my story. I hope you enjoy!
The One Thing I Did To Become a Small Business Owner (AKA Paying Off All Of Our Debt)
Oh, that debt monster. Debt is one of those things that not a lot of people talk about, but almost everybody has. Isn’t that interesting? Something that millions of people have in common, but to talk about it feels almost…impolite? Inappropriate? Improper?
I get it. I’ve felt that awkward “I don’t really want to talk about or acknowledge how much debt I have” feeling.
It’s funny, because by accident my husband and I became the “frugal friends” or the “debt-paying friends” with several sets of our friends in Wisconsin when we started our debt paying journey. I wouldn’t necessarily say we were frugal (I mean, we did go to Ireland during our debt payoff), but we certainly did sacrifice.
We’ve shared with many friends and family how we paid off our debt and it’s something both my husband and I have been passionate about since we started.
I want to share our story not to brag, but to show that normal, average people that make normal, average incomes can get out of debt. No matter how much you have, you CAN do it. I’m not saying it won’t be easy, but you can certainly finally slay the debt monster for good.
I also wanted to share our story because paying down our debt was truly what afforded us the opportunity to temporarily take a pay cut while I started my business.
Okay, so let’s get to it.
How We Started
First off, I’m not going to share the exact amount of debt we paid off. For one, I don’t see any reason to, as the amount has little to do with the method. Just know that it was a significant amount, including a mixture of credit cards and student loans.
If I’m being honest, Ryan really started us down the debt paying path. He had always tracked his expenses (even in college) and I most definitely….did not. I felt it was annoying to update an excel sheet every single time you purchased something. “What’s the point,” I thought. “I can see everything online in my checking account.” Boy, am I eating those words now.
Anyways, we hadn’t combined our finances until we got married, so after the whirlwind of the wedding, honeymoon, and the holidays, we finally sat down December 2012 and did a close up look at all of our debt.
We can both admit, that night was ugly.
Not in the fact that we were arguing at all, more so in regards to feeling totally overwhelmed. I can’t quite remember, but I’m sure I cried.
It seemed impossible. How could we ever pay all of this off? Are we still going to be paying student loans when our children are taking out loans? We discussed a lot that night and went to bed feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
Around this same time, Ryan had mentioned this guy named Dave Ramsey. He had said he had heard of him a few times and that he gives advice on how to pay off debt.
I wasn’t interested. I had heard that Dave can come off a little…brash and I do not respond to that type of teaching.
The Turning Point
Then my iPod was stolen from my car on my second day of work at a new job.
(I swear this is relevant). I never used my iPhone to stream music or podcasts. I had my iPod, why would I need to use my iPhone? I guess you can say I’m old school 😂.
Once my iPod was stolen, I had no way of listening to music besides the radio (uh, that gets old real fast with FM radio djs…am I right?) so I reluctantly started using my iPhone.
Ryan mentioned that Dave had a podcast that I could stream through my phone if I wanted to give him a try.
Uh…what’s a podcast? Nobody actually listens to podcasts, do they? (Jokes on me now because I listen to podcasts all-the-time now).
So eventually I listened. God definitely had a hand in all of this because I was very, very reluctant to change my ways. Guess all it took was a stolen iPod!
On his show, they do these segments called “debt free screams.” People call in or come into the studio and give their 5-minute debt story and then at the end they scream that they’re debt free.
After hearing several of those, it was like a switch went off.
“We could be these people.
We could pay off our debt.
We could scream “we’re debt free!!!!!”
We started furiously making budgets and building excel templates to track.
Ryan was the brains behind our Google Doc excel sheet and it has worked so well for us in the past three years. I’ve even shared the template with friends!
We actually had tried using multiple online tracking programs (Mint, Every Dollar, You Need A Budget) and we always came back to our homemade excel sheet. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
I share the background behind the story of me becoming a business owner because this is what it looked like.
We worked hard for 2.5 years to pay off all of our debt.
I’ll admit, it sucked at times. We had to say no to a lot of things. A lot.
While all of our friends were buying new cars and houses, we were renting a really crappy apartment driving cars made in the 90s.
While co-workers would go out for lunch every day, we’d be heating up our leftovers for the third day in a row, sometimes begrudgingly.
While friends would go to fun concerts, go on a shopping spree, or buy new furniture, we buckled down and barely spent any money going out.
Some people start a side hustle that they hope to eventually turn into a full-time gig. And it works for them. And that’s awesome. I know plenty of people who have done that.
I, however, did not do it that way.
While my previous job was not physically demanding, it was emotionally demanding.
I had a really hard time and some days it was hard enough for me to get up and go to the office. The idea of me having to work outside of my regular work hours (which often seeped into the evenings and weekends) was totally draining to me. I could not wrap my head around it.
So, I didn’t. We decided to focus on paying down our debt first. Would a side hustle have helped us pay our debt faster?
Would I have had a life? No, probably not.
And I value having a life outside of work. I value spending time with friends and family. I like sleep (just being real). So I decided against growing a side hustle at the same time.
So, fast forward to July 2015. My husband had been interviewing for a job in Texas. Never in my mind had Texas ever come up as a possibility but the more we thought about it the more we liked the idea.
He gets the job and then I have to quit my job in Milwaukee.
The stars aligned because the same month we moved down here to Dallas was our last month of debt payments. It truly felt like we were starting a brand new life in Dallas, because we were finally going to be debt free.
With quitting my job, we had to have the conversation of what’s my next career move?
Ironically, my salary was what essentially was paying our debt each month.
I realize that some could consider me “lucky” because I have a husband that is paid well and that we can survive on just his salary for a few months. And yes, that’s true. I would not have been able to go down this particular path at this time if it hadn’t been for us being a two income household.
But no one was forcing us to pay our debt.
No one was holding us accountable for 30 months as we chipped away at our mountain of debt. We could have said screw it hundreds of times and blew our money on something stupid.
But we didn’t. We committed to something and we stuck with it, even when it was hard. We didn’t get “lucky” we worked really hard.
Like all of my other blog posts, I would like to leave you with some pieces of advice or tips I’ve picked up over the last few years to help you start your journey in paying off debt, if that sounds like the right path for you.
#1 You have to know your why
Just like in business, you have to know your why behind paying off your debt. It is the one thing that keeps you going when you really want to give up.
Our why consisted of several things:
- I wanted to start my own business
- We wanted to offer a different life for our future children
- We wanted to have the option of me staying at home in some sort of capacity once we do have children.
Reminding yourself often of your why keeps you accountable. Write it on a post-it and put it on your fridge, on your bathroom mirror, wherever you need it to remind you.
Do whatever it takes to constantly remind yourself of your why behind paying off your debt.
#2 Do the debt snowball
Many people out there follow the rule of paying off the debt that has the largest interest rate. That makes complete sense, however that is not what we did.
We did the debt snowball, per Dave Ramsey’s teachings, and paid off our smallest debt first. The only reason to do this is to gain mental momentum. And boy, does it work.
Once you pay off your first debt, you feel on top of the world. You feel like you can conquer anything. Then you end up using that momentum to continue paying off debt.
I would highly recommend listening to his podcast or grabbing his book, The Total Money Makeover (affiliate link), to learn in detail his methods. It can be really eye opening and offer a different perspective.
Related post: My Struggle With Finding Balance As A Solopreneur (And What I’m Doing About It)
#3 Expect setbacks
There were several months in a row that we legit had to fix our two cars at least 4 times. My husband’s old car broke down almost for 4 months straight. It was ridiculous.
There is always going to be an unexpected payment that comes up. You may not be able to chuck a large amount of money at your debt mountain every month.
And that’s okay. You’re doing the best you can. Get frustrated and then move on. Do not let it set you back for good. Keep going. Which that leads to…@BrittneyLLynn shares the one thing she did to become a #smallbiz owner (it may not be what you expect!) Click To Tweet
#4 Keep going, even when it’s hard
About a year in, we had hit a lull. We were chipping away at one of our larger debts and it felt like our wheels were just spinning.
It was frustrating. It was difficult. I wanted to give up so many times. But that’s when you need to buckle down. That’s when you need to dig deep and find it in you to keep going.
I found listening to the debt free screams to be really encouraging when I was down. Hearing people pay off twice as much debt as I had and being able to relate to the feelings they had while paying off debt helped us to keep going.
#5 Know that a lot of your friends or family won’t understand
I’ll admit, we never encountered anyone who outwardly judged us for paying off our debt, so I consider us lucky.
There may be people in your life that will question why in the world you would do something like that. They may say things like,
“But student debt is good debt!”
“Everyone has a car payment!”
“Can’t you just go shopping this one time?”
This is all noise that can distract and derail you.
Student debt is not good debt. Student debt is still debt.
I can guarantee you not everyone has a car payment (we’ve never had one and hope to never have one in the future).
And no, sometimes you can’t just go on a shopping spree.
I don’t say all of this to be mean or judgemental, I’m just being honest. I think our society has slowly come to accept debt as a fact of life because so many people have it. But you don’t have to hang onto your debt.
You can buy a car with cash (We did, even while paying off our debt. Is it brand new? No, not anywhere close. Is it a safe, reliable car that gets me where I need to go? Yep.).
You can pay off your credit card each month.
You can make extra payments to your student loans (they allow it, I promise).
One of Dave’s common sayings is “live like no one else so you can live like no one else.”
That’s what you’re doing when you commit to paying off your debt. You are committing to temporarily living like no one else so then you can eventually LIVE like no one else with no debt. I’d much rather temporarily sacrifice to live like no one else in the future.
Related post: A Business Update: Sharing My Wins, My Struggles, And What’s Next
Whew. When I started writing this post I didn’t realize it was going to be 2,000+ words but I couldn’t edit any of the above out.
My hope is that if you’re wanting to start your own solopreneur business someday (whether it be part time or full time), you may consider paying off all of your debt as a way to get you there.
I’m so grateful that we took the time and paid off all of our debt. Life in some ways is completely different now that we’re debt free and in some ways the same. We still have bills to pay and our cars still break down but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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