How I Eliminated My Debt in 6 Months
Marilyn is a young veterinary technician in a small animal practice in Ohio. Her husband Ben “works for the government, with low pay but great benefits.” They ended up with $30,000 in debt. It may seem like a small amount of debt compared to vets who may owe 10 times that amount, but let’s not forget the difference in income.
Marilyn accepted to openly share her battle with debt with the Vet Financial Summit community.
“My parents had always been really bad with money when I was growing up. They lived paycheck to paycheck. They were always in turmoil. I saw them struggle and didn’t want to go down the same road. Ben’s family was very similar. His Mum’s house had to be foreclosed…
Ironically, we were headed down the same path as our parents. We had no financial education whatsoever.
We were living in the moment. We went out to eat all the time. We gave money away to support our parents. Debt radically changed my personality and who I was as a person. Debt was robbing me of my happiness. I was a slave to my bills.
We had 10 credit cards – all maxed out. We had 6 major cards, and 4 store cards (Macy’s, Kohl’s, TJ Maxx and JC Penney). In addition, I had large medical expenses – paid with plastic.
We had 2 car loans. Mine was for a Volkswagen Rabbit. Nothing fancy, but I bought it brand new. I followed my parents’ mantra: ‘When you buy a used car, you buy somebody else’s problem.’
My husband’s car was bought used, but he had a habit of buying car parts to work on his car…
The only “good news”, I didn’t have any (expensive) hobbies, simply because I was working all the time…
We also had 2 separate bank accounts, which made it easier to hide things from each other.
All in all, we were $30,000 in debt.
I felt trapped. I felt like I was sinking. I just didn’t know how to get out of this horrible situation.
I was grumpy and miserable in my personal and professional lives. Ben was not in a much better place. He was cranky and short. We were fighting about money all the time.
Meanwhile, I knew that one of the main reasons people get divorced is because of finances… and we were newlyweds!”
“The pivotal moment for me was that I couldn’t afford a nice gift for a cousin’s wedding. It was embarrassing. At the wedding, we opened up to Ben’s aunt and uncle. We knew they were good with money. We told them candidly that we were having a hard time with our finances. And we asked them what made them successful.
They generously enrolled us in a weekly program with Dave Ramsey, the financial guru, called Financial Peace University. We received his book The Complete Guide to Money and a workbook.”
“Dave Ramsey says personal finance is 20% knowledge and 80% behavior. We knew we had to acquire new habits.
About 2/3 of the attendees dropped out. But we stuck to our commitment. We were driven. We did exactly what we were told. Here is a laundry list of everything we did:
- We started saving $1,000 as our “starter” emergency fund.
- They said we should sell everything we don’t need – so we did. We sold a bunch of stuff we didn’t actually use: wedding gifts, decorations, furniture. We sold pretty much anything that wasn’t nailed down.
- We combined our bank accounts.
- We started to account for every dollar we had.
- We created a budget. To this day, we still sit down every other week for our budget meeting. This is when we make sure every dollar ends up where it belongs.
- Ben took a second job at a restaurant, and I started pet sitting after work.
- We lived very frugally. We basically lived on rice and beans. No more eating out!
- We developed new habits, including self-control.
- We implemented the debt snowball. Every time we paid off one credit card, we cut it up. Our plan was to eventually use all of those pieces of credit card and create a collage out of them. To be honest, we’re still working on the collage… It will represent both a house and traveling.”
“The Dave Ramsey program worked as advertised.
Within just 6 months, we were officially out of debt!
It was an amazing feeling of relief. I could feel the stress and the anxiety lift off. I thought to myself: “I will never do this again.”
My happy, outgoing personality was restored. It was such a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.
Ironically, we were so concerned about debt that we barely celebrated our victory!”
“These days, we are on the next step of Dave Ramsey’s “7 Baby Steps” program (see below), which is building a true emergency fund, with 3 to 6 months of expenses.
Then we’ll start saving for a house.
We don’t have credit cards anymore. It’s our choice. We pay everything with cash, check or debit.
The only drawback is that we don’t really have a credit score but we’ll really only need it when we buy a house. There are ways to work around it.”
“In hindsight, there is no question that this program saved our lives. It gave us hope where we were desperate.
It was a game changer.
When we have completed the entire program and we’re financially more stable, I’d love to help others get out of debt and organize their personal finances.
I feel bad not being able to offer nice gifts to friends and financial help to our parents. But I do it for a reason. As Dave Ramsey says: ‘Live like no one else, so that one day, you can give like no one else.'”
Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS
Meredith Jones, DVM
Co-Founders of Veterinary Financial Summit
Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps Program
Step 1: Save $1,000 in your starter emergency fund.
Step 2: Use the debt snowball to pay off debt (except the house).
Step 3: Save 3–6 months of expenses in an emergency fund.
Step 4: Invest 15% of your household income in retirement accounts.
Step 5: Save for your children’s college fund.
Step 6: Pay off your home early.
Step 7: Build wealth and give.