Hi, we're Hunter and Sarah, a husband-and-wife, luxury wedding photography team. We’re also educators, helping other photographers build profitable and sustainable photography businesses.
Hey friends! Earlier this Spring, Hunter and I announced on Facebook and Instagram that we are now 100% debt-free! When we got married in June of 2017, we had just over $27,000 in student debt. As of early April, less than 21 months later, we became 100% debt free!
When we posted that on social media, we had an overwhelming outpouring of congratulations from friends and past clients alike, which we were sincerely touched by and SO grateful for! However, we also had lots of people reach out to us and ask for details. “How did you do it?!”, “Have you written a blog yet?”, “When are you going to write a blog about how to get out of debt?”
We hadn’t planned on starting this series until later this month or next, but we’ve already had so many people thank us for the first three steps in this series that we’re so excited to finish it this month! So without further ado, here it is: our story of how we paid off $27,000 in student loans in less than 2 years!
All the way back in April, in Step 1 Hunter gave us a very important message: when it comes to climbing out of debt, our mindset is half the battle. If you don’t have the right mindset yet, don’t forget to read “Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey! In Step 2, I talked about the basics of building a budget. Be sure to do that if you haven’t already! And in Step 3, Hunter shared about the magic of “Extra Dollars” and how they’re your only real tool for getting out of debt.
But what do you do if you make your budget and realize that there aren’t any Extra Dollars? Or what if you want to pay off your debt even more quickly than your current budget will allow? Well, you have essentially three options:
The first and easiest option is to sell something. If you have things laying around your home that have monetary value and are just gathering dust (especially newer electronics, instruments, collectable items, etc.), sell those suckers on eBay or FB Marketplace! Don’t emulate Jake Peralta, the main character of NBC’s “Brooklyn Nine Nine” (one of our favorite shows right now), who is tens of thousands of dollars in debt, but owns four full-sized massage chairs (“They don’t make a massage couch, Gina!”).
Although selling things you aren’t using is the easiest step, it probably won’t make a very large dent in your debt. The way that you’ll most likely crush your debt is by lowering your expenses. Start by paring down all of your “flexible expenses” we mentioned before. If you commit right now to reducing spending by $50 each on groceries, on eating out, on clothing, and on entertainment each month, then you’ve just freed up $200 per month to crush that debt!
Sometimes, you have to get serious to lower your expenses. Maybe it’s time to get rid of that 2019 car (and it’s hefty monthly payment) in exchange for the 2011 version, at least until your debt is paid off. Or maybe you have to put off the international vacation for another year and put those thousands toward your debt instead.
For Hunter and I, we skipped the luxury downtown apartments with floor-to-ceiling windows, exposed brick, and original wood beams (*heavy breathing*) and went for the 350-square foot micro-apartment that used to be a two-car garage. You read that right: we live and run our business full-time from a space no larger than the average American garage. Do we envy some of our friends who live in sweet places downtown? Sometimes, for sure! But do we envy their monthly rent that’s at least $700 more than ours? Nope! Not one bit!
By the way, this absolutely doesn’t mean that your life has to be miserable while you’re paying down debt. Hunter and I have kept a weekly date night since we got married (just like his parents have done for the last 29 years). However, it might look a little different than some of our friends. We typically only go out to a nice dinner about once per month. The rest of the month, it’s either Bodos (a local bagels shop famous for their delicious $3 bagel sandwiches), or we just cook at home but “date night” things up by avoiding work talk and spending more intentional quality time together.
If you already keep your expenses low and still don’t have many Extra Dollars to throw at your debt, you only have one more option: increase your income. Get out there and hustle! If you have to drive for Uber or deliver pizzas in the evenings two nights per week for the next 18 months, isn’t that worth being debt free at the end of that time? What about doing some freelance work related to your main career?
You guys probably know how busy Hunter and I are, and even we were able to pick up a side-hustle last year hosting an AirBnB for some friends. They own a second home and wanted to generate income with AirBnB, but didn’t have time to generate the listing, coordinate with guests and handle all the cleaning and turnover. Since turnovers are typically on weekday afternoons, we knew it wouldn’t disrupt our photography business, and it’s been a huge part of generating some Extra Dollars to pay down debt!
Next time we’ll talk about some additional strategies to make the most of your newly-found Extra Dollars, but for now, get out there and make some!
Until next time,
Sarah + Hunter