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!
Over the past five blog posts, Hunter and I have talked through the basics of our debt-slaying methods: get motivated, make a budget, set aside money (ideally a lot of it) each month, then begin a debt snowball to crush your debt. If you’re anything like Hunter and I (and we understand that many people are not), those early steps may have been a bit exciting!
Motivation is high, and you’re finally going to take paying off debt seriously. With a budget, you finally made some room to make it happen, and your spirits soared as you think about what life after debt will feel like. Hopefully you even sold a few things or reduced expenses, at least on paper, and feel like you’re up to the challenge of living more simply. Maybe you even made that first payment beyond your minimum monthly interest payment, and were happy to take that first step.
But believe it or not, that was the easy part. Now comes the real challenge: sticking to your plan month after month. Setting up your budget and doing the math on the debt snowball was like putting on your running shorts and tying your sneakers. But now it’s time to actually run the marathon. Yes, those first steps were crucial (you’d never finish a marathon in jeans and flip-flops), but just putting on running shoes doesn’t make you a marathon runner. Neither does making a budget one evening magically make you debt-free. It’s going to take some discipline.
So how do you stay motivated month after month? How can you decide right here, right now, that even if paying off debt takes the next year or two, you won’t give up and steal those Extra Dollars for other things? Well, Hunter and I found that celebration is a huge part of staying motivated, and setting and achieving small goals along the way is a crucial part of that celebration.
For example, each time we would pay off one of our loans (we had six total, each with different rates and balances), we would go out for a nice date. Like we shared earlier in the series, living on a tight budget meant that most date-nights were celebrated over a meal we cooked together at home, or over a meal that cost us $10 or less. But each time we paid off a loan, we’d go out to a nice restaurant in town, even if it meant using an entire month’s worth of eating out money. We splurged, and it helped us feel like we had really accomplished something and were really making progress.
If you set and celebrate small goals like this, it’ll give you something to look forward to at each step of the journey. Make your goals true to who you are: maybe it’ll mean letting yourself purchase something you’ve had your eye on for a while, or going on a trip you’ve been saving for. Bonus points if the reward is inexpensive, like a beautiful hike and picnic in the nearby mountains, or crashing with friends for a cheap beach weekend.
On top of small goals, make sure you keep your eyes on the final prize as well: being 100% debt free (outside of your home)! Imagine the freedom of knowing that you’re indebted to no person or company anymore. Imagine how much stress will be relieved knowing that your education or car or other purchases are owned 100% by you, and are no longer “on lease” to you from their previous owner or a bank.
Also, keep in mind another important fact: if you’ve executed everything in this blog, by the time you crush your own debt, your Extra Dollars payments towards your debt will likely be hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month. This means that once you’ve paid off all your debt, you can now direct those Extra Dollars towards whatever you want!
Maybe you’ll save those Extra Dollars for a few months and go on a huge extravagant vacation with your closest friends or family. Maybe you’ll begin saving more aggressively (or for the first time) for your future in a retirement or college savings plans for your kids. Maybe you’ll do like Hunter and I are doing, and save those newly-freed Extra Dollars so you can make a down payment on a home one day. If you have a home already, you could even make extra payments on your mortgage and own your home long before the 30-year mark. And of course, you can spread some of those Extra Dollars back into those recreational funds that you’ve been so conservative on since you started this journey. No more Ramen noodles and pinto beans for date night!
No matter how you chose to celebrate being debt free, keep in mind that you’re working to be a part of the small minority of Americans who are totally debt-free! Keep up the good work!! And as always, comment below with any questions or comments. How have you stayed motivated along the journey to becoming debt free?
Good luck, debt crushers!
Sarah + Hunter
Wedding Photography & Photography Education
Charlottesville, Virginia and Beyond