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When you're dealing with six figures of debt, paying it off, not only seems like an impossible task, but one of deprivation.

Today we're going to hear from one family on how they became debt-free while still enjoying life.

Dumping $100,000 of Debt as a Family

Getting rid of debt takes effort. When you're talking about an enormous amount, it absolutely is necessary to create a plan to get you out of it.

However, when you know, it's not going to take a year or two, like you see those articles online, how do you stay motivated?

You may wonder, is it even possible to get rid of your debt without sacrificing what you enjoy and love?

The answer is yes. Families can get rid of their debt by creating a sustainable debt-free plan. It takes a thoughtful approach, but it is possible.

Today's expert is here to lay out some key principles that made all the difference with her and her family's debt-free journey.

Toni Husbands, the creator of Debt Free Divas and the author of the The Great Debt Dump shares her family was able to pay off $100,000 of debt.

During our discussion, we get into:

  • how the debt snowball works
  • how to get your spouse on board with paying off debt
  • deciding where in your budget to cut back and what to keep.

I hope you enjoy!

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This interview transcription is edited for clarity and time.

Digging Out from a Mountain of Debt

Elle Martinez: With everything that happened in 2020, and then what this is the first week of 2021 is very eventful as well. The idea of financial security and getting your footing is on the minds of a lot of family.

Specifically one of those goals, as you know, I'm sick and tired of the debt we have and getting rid of them.

I want to jump in with that. Cause you and your husband, Colin paid off a considerable amount of debt. It was over a hundred thousand, right?

Toni Husbands: $107,000 in debt, consumer debt. I was like to remind, so that did not include a house. It took us seven years to do that.

Elle Martinez: Wow. I'm glad you share that information.

Cause I know sometimes I enjoy reading those articles, but you do after a while, get tired of seeing like I've paid off a hundred thousand dollars of debt in two years, or these dramatic stories, but many families the story is we came up with a plan and it took some time, but we got there.

First of all, I want to talk to you about how you paid off your debt. You use the debt snowball method, right?

How the Debt Snowball Works

Toni Husbands: I did and that was popularized by a Dave Ramsey, uncle Dave as I like to refer to him.

He's a little shorter for some people, but I can across his book in 2005 at a conference that I was attending with my mom, he was speaking there at that time.

And his book, the total money makeover. So I read his book and that's where I became aware of the concept of the debt snowball.

Just to explain it real quick, the debt snowball is basically a process where you list your debts in order of smallest to largest. You focus all of your available cash and pay your minimum on everything, but you focus all of your available cash on the smallest debt on your list.

And the purpose of that is that so that you can achieve quick wins.

Elle Martinez: Gotcha.

Toni Husbands: So you pay that one off and then you go down to the next smallest, once you're finished with that. Basically the amount of money that you're using to retire debt grows or snowballs.

As you start to take things off on your list, that snowball grows and you develop momentum and that's kind of what carries you on through the process.

Why the Debt Snowball Works

Elle Martinez: Okay, so you read this. What about it clicked for you and when you were paying off your debt? Did you make any adjustments to fit your family and your goals?

Toni Husbands: Before I came across Dave Ramsey, we probably were working on this process for some time. I had read other books, are there. There are a lot of different processes, a lot of different approaches.

I known about Suze Orman. I read about the automatic millionaire. Like I was intentional about trying to work on this problem.

At that time, we didn't even have that much that we, well, I shouldn't say that much. We had maybe about 40, 45,000 at the time, you know?

When I came across Dave Ramsey, that's when I had quit my job because we, although we had the debt, we were able to make the payments.

I think that was always our financial philosophy. Can we make the payment? Right?

Elle Martinez: I've been there.

Toni Husbands: We can make the payment. We can afford it. Right. Regardless, not looking at the total bill, but before we would, we would try different things.

We were both engineers and so we would create these like really magnificent spreadsheets with all of these colors and bells and whistles.

Then we would like put it on our, putting it in a folder somewhere and not look at it for three months, you know?

Probably two things that happened when I read Dave Ramsey, number one, we had to make a change because a third of our income was mine because I had left my job. We were starting the laundromat. So a third of our income just left and we had to be more intentional and more careful about how we were using our money.

On top of that, I think at this point, just wrote down everything that we had them start to look at it on paper. That was the big thing for me. It's like looking at it on paper.

I stopped with the spreadsheets. I just would write down everything, put it on my refrigerator and have it there in black and white.

We would look at it every day. We would have discussions about it, we would argue about it, but it was on the top of our mind. It was in the forefront of our mind.

It was something that we paid attention to constantly. I think that's one of the biggest things that really helped me to stay focused and not just come up with these fancy spreadsheets, Pat ourselves on the back. ‘Yeah, that was good' and then just not, you know, then kind of go back to our regularly scheduled, you know, and not in that, you know, continue to work on what we needed to work on. That was the big thing for me is like posting it somewhere where it was visible. Daily.

Elle Martinez: Yeah. I love what you bring out because I think that's not addressed enough, which is how do you find a sustainable plan that already is aligned with really who you are and what you want to accomplish?

Because You could have the perfect template for paying off debt or budgets, but if it's not you, or it's not close enough to you, you're just not going to keep it.

I have that same idea when we talk about like money management apps. People always ask me, well, what's the best one?

I was like, it's the one that you can actually keep. There's so many different options there. I might have a personal favorite, but what works for me, isn't going to work for someone else in their family. But with that, you have to come up with a plan to tackle it.

Finding Money to Pay Off Your Debt Faster

A big part of that is finding money within your budget. Again, this is something that's very personal because initially at least it's going to come out of your budget somehow.

For you guys, Where did that money come from? What was the hardest part that you had to change or adjust and what was the easiest one?

Toni Husbands: That's a great question. I will tell you that the hardest part wasn't actually the money part. It was the I would say mentality part because I wanted my husband to make all the changes. So I was like, ‘if you stop doing this and if you stop doing this', and can make progress, right?

Elle Martinez: Yeah.

Toni Husbands: I didn't need the cable, you know, you watch them mob package or whatever , so we cut that out. We'll be good. Right?

That was interesting too, because he was just like, no, and I will tell you too. He was not, he thought Dave Ramsey probably still does is a coop. He was, he was like, he's just trying to sell books.

He's very like analytical and critical. That's the engineering brain so getting him on board was hard, honestly. And it was good. I can say we, we, we debated, we had a lot of intense fellowship, right?

Elle Martinez: That's a nice way to phrase it.

Toni Husbands: We had a lot of discussions and honestly, I had to stop thinking about what he could do and what I could do in a way that didn't affect him.

There were things I do in my own hair, right? I started now that's a big one, especially in the African American community. We spent money on our hair.

I took to YouTube, you know hairstylists since, you know, I figured out how to do a lot of things at home and stretch the amount of time that I would go to a salon, you know, once a month or getting my hair braided all the time. Like figuring out how to do those things myself. Now I might not have looked like I just stepped out of a salon, but I was paying debt off.

Elle Martinez: You got to find that balance. Yeah. I got schooled by friends. I'm like, what? You just go to Supercuts, you get your hair done it cheap, you know? And they're like, no, not for us. but again, that's personal because in every situation, first of all, it's what matters to you, what matters most.

Everybody's going to be different, but for you to make that sacrifice and find ways to still fit that personal care in with your budget while still dumping the debt is really key.

Slashing Food Bills

Toni Husbands: Another one is cooking. You would think that would be an easy one, but I hate to cook.

I shouldn't say hate, but I don't enjoy the cooking experience. How about that? We lived at the time we lived downtown and a very cool little swanky neighborhood, lots of restaurants. And so we was just my husband and I, we would, you know, you can walk outside and go to this restaurant, go to this restaurant.

My husband loves to eat. I'm not that big on cooking. And if I didn't go, if I didn't cook, we would just go out or order in or something like that. We had a lot of options.

We were able to save so much money by going to the first of all, switching the grocery store that we went to. We stopped shopping in our little swanky neighborhood.

We found Aldi. That was a huge, at that point I was tracking it at 30% savings by doing nothing else but switching grocery stores.

I'm not a couponer or I don't clip, but you know, you have to do things that you can do that, you can be consistent about. I got over my grocery store snobbiness.

We thought I'll be 30% savings and food just right there. Cooking out how long save so much money over, going out to restaurants also better on your waistline to just, you know, just a side note.

Those are things that I had to kind of train myself and it wasn't, obviously it's not something that I didn't get tired or we didn't go back out, but we budgeted a date night or outside time, you know, smaller things, but not every day of the week.

Six days a week, we were cooking, we were eating inside. My husband doesn't care where he eats. As long as there was food in the house, he would eat now.

That was a way to make a change without, without forcing something that I wanted on him when he wasn't ready. I will say it probably took him about a year, about a year to actually kind of come on board.

When he started see like, Oh, we got rid of the first debt was $450 and that win being able to scratch that off was such a boost of momentum.

We were able to pay that one off and then the next one, and I would actually leave them up; checked off X off on my little sheet that I would print out every month.

We can start to see the progress that we were making and that was a source of encouragement and momentum.

Then he starts to kind of come around and like, okay, we can do then he volunteers to make changes on his own.

He's not being told I'm not his mother. Right. That was kind of the biggest, the hardest thing for me is like, this is a grown man, a fully functional adult, you know, he's going to make decisions.

Dave Ramsey, he has a saying those convinced against their will or have the same opinion still. Basically you can't make people do.

As he sees that I'm sticking to this, that we're making progress, he comes around and so now we're arguing about what we're going to cut versus about doing it or not doing it.

Elle Martinez: Improvements you get those steps you moving forward.

Toni Husbands: Right. I was like, ‘yay' behind his back, but that's okay. We'll argue about what you want to cut next. That's fine. Again, it took about a year to get to that point, but it was like continuous progress on my part in the ways and the things that I could do to show that I was serious about this.

Hitting Your Money Goals (While Still Enjoying Life)

Elle Martinez: Totally makes sense. There's so many good points I want to get into, but I do want to focus in on your husband, Colin, and you had different approaches.

I think we've talked about this before, where he didn't want to be deprived. That was one of the concerns, going debt free.

So how did you balance hitting that goal, becoming debt-free while still enjoying your life, because you have two kids. That time it doesn't come back.

Toni Husbands: Right. Yeah. One of the things that we definitely loved to and still love to do is travel.

What we would do is if we just, we wanted to go somewhere or something came up, you know, where there was a trip involved. We would just pause our debt, snowball. Okay. We decided we would pay cash for everything. So we would know we were no longer charging plane tickets and hotels and things like that. We would pay cash for it.

We still traveled throughout this. So that could possibly be why it took so long. So we would pause our debt snowball. We will go on our trip. We would enjoy ourselves. We would come home with no strings attached.

Okay. No bills following us. Then we wouldn't get back into the debt snowball after. We travel quite a bit, even now with two kids, we still, you know, pre COVID. We still two, three times a year small mini trips.

We take a lot of mini trips, but we have family in different parts of the country.

And then of course I just like to explore periods. So that's one of the big things that we would definitely do. We started to become tourists in our own city. There are a lot of fabulous things.

You've done this before. You've done the $20 [date night] challenge. Things like that.

We started to like really get into either low cost or free things. You hear a lot of the bad stuff about Chicago, but it's a very fabulous place to live. It's there's a lot to the cities. There's a lot of great entertainment, you know, like live music and downtown, the taste is free.

There's a lot of, especially during the summertime, a lot of things that you can do if you research and find things and pay attention. I was intentional about that type of thing too.

We have the festivals, the here, there, everywhere, dancing in the park, the free movies we would do all of that.

Yeah. Honestly, we still do. We still do things that are either very, that you pay for parking pretty much, or you can jump on the lesson, get there. We do that now with our kids .

We really have a pretty full dance card if you will, without spending a lot of money. The libraries have a lot of interesting speakers, the universities have a lot of very interesting things like plays that are, you know, five or $10.

We really had a very enriching experience and didn't spend a lot of money.

Getting the Most Out of Living in an Expensive City

Elle Martinez: Yeah. I, I love that. We are fans of the library too. I mean, besides picking up books, there's Storytime, there are crafts.

Now because of COVID, we can't go inside our community library, but what they did is they did like a Storytime walk around cause it's by a park, to get the kids engaged.

What I liked about your story is. A lot of people assume like ‘I live in a high cost of living area', so I can't do this. We almost put hurdles ahead before you even get started, but it does take effort, not going to lie.

Toni Husbands: Yes. It takes research and, and your taxes are paying for it. So I might as well.

Elle Martinez: You bring up a lot of good points. I know we scratched the surface, Toni. I'm definitely going to have to have you back on again and, you know, chat with you because.

You've already like got me thinking about so many different ideas, but for those that are interested in learning more about you, where's the best way they can reach out?

Toni Husbands: So you can reach out to me through my website, Debt Free Divas.

I'm also on Facebook, Twitter now, Instagram.

I'd love to talk with you, connect with you get you involved in the community of like-minded debt dumpers and support your journey.

Elle Martinez: Thank you so much, Toni. I appreciate you being here.

Toni Husbands: Thank you for having me.

About Elle Martinez

Elle Martinez helps families at Couple Money achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt, increase income, and building net worth. Learn how to live on one income and have fun with the second..