by Ashley Abramson
November 01, 2019
by Ashley Abramson
November 01, 2019
Accumulating credit card debt has a snowball effect: It's easy to keep swiping and not realize how much you're charging on credit cards, and how quickly little purchases can result in major interest charges.
In my family's case, mindless purchases and frequent minor emergencies resulted in $30,000 in debt over the course of three years.
After my husband and I moved across the country in 2016 and I stopped freelancing due to a chronic illness, we mindlessly charged most of our lives on credit cards. "We just have to get through these few months," we would tell ourselves, swiping away.
Fast forward to three years later, and we're crippled by $1,000-plus in credit card payments per month, something we're not proud of, and something we're making huge sacrifices to fix.
I'll be the first to admit that we haven't done a lot of smart things with our money since getting married in 2011, but recently, we have been making a huge effort to kick our debt to the curb.
Over the course of the last three months, we've paid off $10,000 on credit card accounts, bringing our total down to about $20,000 (not to mention saving hundreds on interest).
Of course, reducing unnecessary purchases, like Starbucks coffees and happy hours, can make a big difference in freeing up cash to pay down debt. But just like little purchases take time to accumulate into massive credit card debt, it takes a lot of time to pay it all off.
Our situation called for a more aggressive approach, so we've been employing a few bigger strategies to get financially healthy as quickly as we can.
One thing we do differently than most couples is living with one car. Since we live in the suburbs and not a walkable, urban area, it's not as easy as you would think.
We have two kids to run around frequently, and we tend to keep our schedules pretty full in general. But, we make it work, and we honestly don't miss a second car on most days.
My husband walks to a park-and-ride stop about a mile from our house (he loves the exercise) and takes an express bus to his office downtown during the week, and we try to align our schedules so when one of us is out, the other is at home.
Our sons go to different schools, but since my older one takes the bus, coordinating drop-offs and pick-ups hasn't been an issue.
I haven't calculated the exact savings, but living with just one car definitely makes a difference in our budget. Our van payment is $350 a month, plus about $200 in gas and $50 in car insurance a month, so based on those numbers, I would estimate we're saving close to $600 to $700 a month, if you include all the money we're not spending on incidental repairs and maintenance on an additional vehicle. All of that extra money can go toward debt, whether our credit cards or hefty student loan payments.
Because my freelance income can be sparse one month and bountiful the next, and because all of my clients have different payment terms, it can be really hard to plan a budget with the money I make.
To make things easier, and to attack our debt more intentionally, we've been living on my husband's income and using whatever freelance paychecks come in to pay off our debt. When my payments get deposited in our account, we immediately transfer the money to the credit cards.
It's definitely not easy to stretch my husband's two paychecks across our whole budget, especially since we had become accustomed to living a lifestyle we couldn't actually afford. We frequently ate out, bought more than we needed to at Target, and took last-minute road trips to entertain the kids, all of which are taking a backseat to our debt payoff plan.
Our small sacrifices seem to be making an impact; we have already made a considerable dent on our credit cards (so far, we've paid off the two cards with the highest interest).
But there's another perk to the progress we've made: Seeing our credit scores slowly rise is actually inspiring me to take on more work than I normally would to speed up the process even further. I'm doing more freelance work than ever, and it feels more purposeful than it ever has.
Once we get the credit cards paid off completely—we're aiming for the end of this year—we plan to try something even more surprising: not using credit cards at all.