Living Debt Free

As we were thinking through the idea of retiring early, we knew one of our must-dos was to pay off debt. Thank goodness we had minimal debt to start with…so the challenge wasn’t too daunting.

Over the years, we’ve watched others who retired early or were just generally good with their money and taken notes!  Here’s what we learned and implemented in our own financial lives:

Student Loans

We’re both very blessed to NOT have student loans.  We both had scholarships and worked during college and came away debt-free.  We know from talking with our friends and family that you can’t ask for a better way to start out your work life.  We have friends with $1,000+ monthly student loan payments.  That means they have to earn $1,250+ pre-tax to make that monthly payment. Painful.  Very painful.

Advice we received along the way: We can’t remember where we heard this advice, but we’ve shared this with our son and others. Your total amount of student loans shouldn’t be more than what you think your eventual annual salary will be.  As an example, if you think you’re going to be an accountant making $100,000 per year, your student loans shouldn’t climb to more than $100,000.

Auto Loans

We’ve taken out loans when we were able to get a killer interest rate.  For example, when we bought our Honda, the dealership gave us a loan with a 1% interest rate. This was a no-brainer: nearly FREE MONEY!  We took the loan and then ensured we made payments on time each month.

When we weren’t able to get such a low-interest loan, webought a good used car and doubled-up on payments to ensure we paid off the carmuch earlier than the normal 5-6 years.

Advice we received along the way: Keep your cars as long as you can.  Buying new cars every few years means you’ll pretty much always have a car payment, higher property taxes, and higher insurance bills. For Holly, this means keeping a car 8-9 years. For Carter, this means driving a car until the wheels fall off and he can’t conceal the rust holes with bumper stickers anymore.

Credit Cards

Neither of us has had a credit card balance in more than a decade.  We use our credit cards to get points, but we pay the balances off each month.  We literally have our credit cards set up on auto-draft to pay the statement balance each month.

Advice we received along the way: Be deliberate about the date you select to make your monthly credit card payment.  Pick the date based on your paychecks and other bills to minimize the pain!  Most credit card companies allow you to change your payment date at least once per year.


From the minute we got married, we set a goal to pay off our mortgage as quickly as possible.  That meant for four years we paid an extra 25% on our monthly mortgage payment that went directly to our principle.

In the end, we decided to get rid of our mortgage altogether and downsize to a home so small it’s considered a vehicle for titling and taxes!

Advice we received along the way: One of our mortgage lenders suggested we finance our home with a 30-year mortgage, but make 20-year payments.  For example, if the 30-year mortgage payment would be $2,000 per month and the 20-year mortgage payment would be $2,500, pay the extra $500 per month that applies directly to the principle.  This approach allows you to make the extra payment when possible. You’re NOT locked into a higher monthly payment, and it provides flexibility when you don’t have the extra $500.

In addition to the professional advice we’ve listed above, we follow our own rules:

  • Don’t spend money before we have it.  For example, we know we’re likely going to need a different travel trailer in the next 5 years.  We’re working our side-hustles (Lyft for Carter and online sales for Holly) to build a balance in a separate account for a trailer.  We also know we want to take a 6-month trip to Europe, so we’ve got a separate account for that too.  The balance is slowing building!
  • Use bonuses, commission payouts, and extra paychecks to pay down debt. We lived on the income we earned from regular paychecks and used extra income to payoff debt and then build our savings.
  • Don’t be embarrassed to live simply. We tried to keep up the Jones’ for 40+ years.  We bought a huge house we didn’t need, toys we could have done without, etc.  At first, we were embarrassed about living in a 700 square foot trailer.  But, now we love it and tell everyone we can!
  • We ask ourselves “if everyone else in the world had it would we still want it?” For example, if everyone in the world had an Apple watch…yes, we’d still want one.  Another example is Carter’s drone.  He just had to have it, but now he wishes he’d never bought it.  He talked about that thing for 3 years and has only used it once in the last 12 months.  Trust me, we’ll be busting it out during our summer adventure whether he wants to or not!

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