What to (Really) Expect on Your Debt-Free Journey

What’s the process really like when you’re paying off over $100k of debt? Today we get into the habits and mindset changes Toni and her family made during their debt-free journey! 

Debt-Free Journeys: Different Paths and Strategies

I love a good debt free story. I enjoy seeing others work hard to get rid of the credit card, student loans, car loans, and other debt that is weighing them down. 

I also know personal experience is not always fast or even a smooth process. For us, it began with getting on the same page with how we wanted to tackle it. Then there was the reality of the numbers. 

My husband has his first post-grate job and I had a part time internship. With time, we found our rhythm and knocked it out. 

I’ve also had quite a few episodes on this podcast and on Couple Money sharing people’s journey, including Toni Husbands.

What I loved about her story is that it wasn’t a ‘We paid off ‘$100,000 in year and half story’. 

Which in all honesty, I enjoy watching and reading too, but when that's the main narrative being shared, it’s a bit discouraging because they tend to gloss over key details. 

When you dig into the article, you can see that both are earning six figures or I’ve even seen where parents chip in for them to buy a house in an expensive city. 

My problem isn’t with those details, but the fact that it gives the false impression of how easy it is to become debt free. 

In many cases, it’s a commitment and in that journey not only are you freeing up your finances because you don’t have that debt anymore, but you’re opening up options. 

In this episode we are discussing a lot of the nuances and struggles that can come up. We’ll get into:

  • Some of the hurdles and challenges she had to overcome 
  • Which habits helped and what she would do differently
  • Opportunities that opened up now that’s she’s dumped her debt

Let’s get started! 

Resources to Dump Your Debt Faster

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Note: Interview is edited for clarity and length.

Starting Your Debt Free Journey in 2022

Toni Husbands: I'm looking forward to what 2022 has to offer and how we can make the most of it.

Elle Martinez: Yeah. I'm glad you say that. Anytime we can make a change is good, but this time of year, a lot of people that's on their minds. They've hopefully had a nice winter break. They could relax their friends and family, but they're looking forward to accomplishing something, especially when it comes to finances.

I think last two years for many families has been a case of let's just tread water. Let's just not, In a worst situation. But they're ready to tackle on, especially debt. That's one of the top three goals every year.

I've had you on the podcast before, and you're like my debt expert buddy.

Toni Husbands: Right, right.

Elle Martinez: Yeah; because you've been through that. You and your husband paid off over a hundred thousand dollars of debt.

One of the things I wanted to point out, which is I find amazing, first of all, that's a huge amount, but second of all, I think you're like most people, it was not an overnight, we paid it off in 12 months story.

So for those are just listening for the first time. Do you mind kind of doing a high level review of that debt-free journey?

The Bumps and Hurdles When Becoming Debt Free

Toni Husbands: Sure. Sure. So you're exactly right. It was not an overnight process, took us seven years to do that. And that was all encompassing of creating that mindset shift.

It took us, it took us a minute. I'd say at least 12 months to even just get on the same page that we both agree that we should be doing this. And we paid off $107,000 of debt over that time, but we didn't start with that much money. Right. We didn't start with that much debt, which kind of shows you like we were making progress and then life would happen or maybe a decision would be made and we will take on more.

Then we would make progress and then something would happen or a decision will be made and then maybe some more debt was, you know, so it was kind of a, it was a rollercoaster.

So while it wasn't a straight shot from a to Z like I said, there was a lot of wind rows. There were some pauses, there was, second guessing and reflection all of that, all of that in there. But the one thing that I'm, that I'm very thankful for on this side of the experience that we didn't stop.

There's a, there's a classic quote. Somebody said, I love it. It's just like, you haven't failed. It's just success in progress.

So that's the thing about wherever you are in your process, whether you started, I feel like it's kind of like that about paying off debt, losing weight -wherever you are in your process. Just remember you're not where you were at when you started.

As long as you just taking that next step, taking that next step. I think even sometimes it's you mentioned, you might feel like you've been treading water for a little time. Sometimes it's like mentally necessary to just kind of press pause, just press pause and just smell the roses for a bit, you know, or breathe for a bit.

Go through the process of getting out of that. So sometimes it just, either things happen to you or decisions that you make and, and it sounds good in the beginning, but you might hit my feet. I might have, yeah. Might have a different result, you know, further down the road. Each time, like you've learned from it grown from it, you've experienced something.

Maybe one person in our case, maybe one person wants to do something other didn't, but there wasn't, you didn't have the details at the beginning to say like, feeling like this is not a good idea, but I don't necessarily have like the facts to back it up.

So we just do it. It turns out not to be such a good idea, but guess what both of you now know you don't ever have to have that argument again. So it's just, it's a process.

That it is a process that we'll get through it. Each experience is another lesson learned and I'll will make you smarter, make you stronger for the end.

And eventually you will be sitting on the side of the podcast telling Elle how you paid out of it, how you cut out.

Don't Let Comparison Rob Your Family of Joy

Elle Martinez: Yeah. I love hearing, you know, when people reach out emails or social media about that success, and it doesn't matter if it took them a year or took them seven or however long. I am so excited for that.

I love you brought out some really good points. First off, you know, when, whenever I share a story on the podcast, my idea is that I would like to give models with people's stories, take ideas from it, rather saying, then giving them a map saying heal. This is the plan. You have to follow it.

Exactly because we are all starting out in different situations for some, they are maybe newly engaged and now they're in, before they get married, they have get their finances squared away. That's great.

Maybe they've already been married and what they're doing, isn't working, you know? And so now there's baggage w whether it's financial or even how they approach their money, that they have to undo first and then, you know, focus on that.

So our journey are going to look different because we're starting at different places and then we all have different goals, the following. So I love how you address that.

Sometimes we're making fast progress, we're going up that hill and sometimes we got to pause or go down.

Exactly. Cause it's all tied together. Right. There isn't a perfect budget. There are some great tools out there. There isn't like this one path that's going to make sense because we're in situations where maybe you mentioned, and this happened with us. We weren't exactly on the same page with the how.

We had an idea, like, okay, definitely want to pay off the debt, but the how the pace at which to go with. Also give yourselves grace for that. As you figure out a budget that you're both happy with, especially with families.

Staying Motivated to Pay Off Your Debt

Elle Martinez: Now that you're on the other side at any point while you were paying off this huge amount of debt, were you frustrated either at the speed of it or even the process of it?

If so, like how did you stick with it?

Toni Husbands: So, yes, yes, yes.

So, hello. Good question. I think that number one and most important for me in terms of sticking with it. It's like celebrating small wins, celebrating and appreciating small wins. So when you pay that first thousand dollar credit card off, that's a win, that's a milestone, and don't like the little that something, or when you pay the first 500, whatever.

Maybe it's I haven't overspent in the last 30 days, whenever you see changes or progress, like celebrate those, appreciate those.

One of the things that I did. So we were still kind of using just basic spreadsheets and printing it out. And I would print out my budget and put it on my refrigerator. Then after the month was over, I would file that. Over the over time I built kind of a nice little. File folder of budget sheets.

I would actually go back through and look at my budget sheets to see progress. And it was like for me, therapeutic to see cross offs or little notes that we had made, okay, we can do this or whatever. I would start to see my list. I had listed all of my items and my debt items in a little section and I had a whole section and I would see those numbers shrinking.

That would, especially in the times where things were not so dynamic because, paying $400. Oh on, $40,000 of debt in the beginning it's like trying to, I'm looking at last now. So trying to move the snow with a star, something like that.

doesn't seem like it makes me feel like it doesn't feel like it, but you look at that over over months then years and stuff like that, then you can kind of remind yourself like, oh wow. Even though I'm feeling like this is kind of slow going. When I look back at where I started, because I have this record and we can even do that now with our tools.

Go back and look at your history, you know, pull up your go back and look at your progress and all the graphs and all the pie charts and everything, all the nice colorful tools and stuff like that.

Look at that history and, and reflect on that and just remember like, wow, I haven't, I'm not where I want to be, but I'm not willing to start it much further beyond where, where I've started. So keeping a records, but even maybe journaling, the system journaling and go back and read that.

Breast you were about not being able to stay on budget and now you're budgeting in your sleep. Those things are, even if you can't necessarily see them or maybe you can't touch them and in a physical sense, but that's still like concrete progress.

That mindset shift on Monday just to the point where now I can even see this in my budget sheet. Where my husband started to come on board and so now you see more of his notes on the budget sheet. Whereas before he was just like, I don't agree with this, but now he's like making, then once we got out, we were still arguing about how to approach, our finances and you can start to see more of his notes and stuff like that.

That was another milestone for me. I would don't minimize even small wins. Those are going to be huge fuel for your momentum or just your mental sanity or your personal motivation.

Cause it's going to take some of that. You have to figure out what it is that you can keep yourself motivated to go because the debt, I don't want your snowball list or however you doing there, you know, there, there might be an extended period of time. And so how are you going to keep yourself going and, and, and excited and do stuff around about continuing to make that progress in each of them? For me, it was looking back at my budget.

Elle Martinez: Yeah. I love that. I never would've thought like how powerful journaling could be cause we're all different. Some of us are visual, our mutual friend, Michelle she loves the vision mood boards, like establishing that and tracking progress with that, but journaling is also a great one.

It sounds like you've picked up some really good financial habits as you're developing that muscle and paying off. What habits have stuck now that you're this new phase, you're more on the investor side and which habits or mind shifts did you have to make because now you're no longer paying debt and you're investing?

Toni Husbands: Good question. I will say honestly right now, the habit that I don't even struggle with anymore. Recognized thing needs versus once that's something I don't struggle with at all anymore, or I don't allow the temptation for the shiny new thing, because I am thinking now about, okay, so I can go.

I spend my money and basic my heart on time on this shiny thing, that'll look nice and Instagram photos, or I can stay focused on, the goal right now, which isn't investing.

We're having a save more and invest more, which again, they don't have immediate payoff. You know, like it's not something I can touch. I'm not buying a piece of property every month, right? I'm not buying something here or I don't know what the next thing is, but I know that I'm going to want to do something. So I have more of a focus on using my money or diverting my money to things that are going to build wealth versus spending for trinkets that don't have any long-term value.

Now there are some things that I like to eat , like travel. I like to do so those are things like, I plan for makes sure that we're doing with cash. That we can pay cash for it that I'm not traveling with strings attached. Cause I like to say I'm not coming home and having to worry about how I'm going to pay the bills later.

I think the thing I think about too is I don't want to be in that place.

I do that. I don't want to be in that place where I am burdened by debt. for me, that was a sense of, it was stressful, you know, source of anxiety. I don't like that anxiety. I like the the options. I feel like doing, like investing money or buying property or thinking about, oh, I'm buying this and my children will one day be able to benefit from this.

Those are the things that give me like joy and a sense of freedom and like even creativity.

Having to spend on things are items that are just going to pile up interest in it terms of debt or, or that I'm going to have to be kinda juggling or, or shifting or borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Like that was not an existence that I enjoy at all. I don't want to go back down that road.

I think those are kind of the things both the positive and I'll say the thing I want to avoid that kind of keep me in this place now wanting to maximize and be super, super efficient with the money that I have.

You know, it's like, we only have this, we have a finite amount of time and, years of energy, I don't want to like maximize it. And I don't want to spend that time. Yeah. It's enough. I don't wanna spend.

Elle Martinez: Yeah. I agree with you and you brought up something interesting, like opportunities. COVID and the financial fallout, depending on where you were; if you were in a good financial spot, I've heard from a lot of people, new opportunities, or they took advantage of opportunities.

On the other side of unfortunately seeing where they were just at the beginning and their employers put pressure on them to kind of leverage that they had to keep their job. And maybe they made decisions that they felt didn't put their families interests first.

So for those listening and they're at the beginning of their journey, I'd love to maybe share some encouragement for them.

Now that you've paid off that weight, got that debt off your shoulders. What opportunities have opened up for you because of that?

Toni Husbands: Okay. Oh, I left my pursuit. So we have in the last, I'm going to say five or six years, maybe a little bit more in the last five or six years. Been real estate owners for about probably not going on 20 years now.

We've had real estate, but in the last maybe five or six years, we've really started to Think about developing a portfolio portfolio and we're like rental income and would become a major passive income source for us.

One of my goals is to achieve a financial independence. Basically financial independence is where your passive income exceeds your monthly living expenses. And and so we have Dell delved into some things that I never would have thought before. We've obviously started adding to our real estate portfolio from a perspective of rental income, but we've also taken advantage of the opportunity to save and build a patch so that we've been able to like purchase real estate purchase houses and flip them.

That was something that I did in 20 maybe 2018. I bought my first home water for cash and then,

Elle Martinez: wow, that's a big accomplishment.

Toni Husbands: We flipped it and we were able to sell it. Now I will say in that experience, we didn't make a profit in the actual transaction. What that transaction did was give me the confidence to know that I had like assemble a team and going, cause I know nothing about construction.

I'm not even interested in like swinging hammers. That's not something I'm interested in at all, but the idea of acquiring property, fixing it up and then adding that to our portfolio over to income is something that was a good thing.

The next year from that experience that we've made no money from, I think we on paper, we lost $5,000 from that experience. We ended up purchasing another property and two years later, I think we made 70,000 from that.

Those experiences have come because we, number one, freed up my our cashflow to do some different things with, and also just Taking that, that burden of stress of worrying about finances off the table.

Now we're now some creative ways for adding to our bottom line. After that experience again, and I say just meeting the people that I work well with on, on renovating houses has led to now we've purchased talk about the opportunities that happen in as a COVID.

I probably wouldn't have thought about that had not everybody come home and been remote. So we ended up moving to a vacation town, which is about eighty miles outside of the city that I currently live in. We bought a property that our teaching right now, we're in the process of renovating it now to turn it into a vacation rental that number one we can use when you want to come up here, because this is a nice place, but also that pays for itself and also generates it.

We're looking at the passing it on so that we can accomplish our goal of financial independence. So these are some things that when we're not stressed about finances.

We're not fighting each other about finances. So just whether to buy a place here or where to buy this place, so those are the kinds of the base that we have now.

Right. It's about progress about like how are we going to build wealth? How are we going to provide for our family? How are we going to leave a legacy, for our children's children, which is something that is definitely very important to me.

Those are the discussions we're having now because we're not bogged down in. You know, do I pay my car note or did we pay our chase bill and we pay it, you know, or do, or do I buy some little shiny thing to make me feel okay for, you know, make me feel a little bit better for, for the next 30 days, but then I have to keep up the notes on it.

You know, those are the types of things I'm looking at now, purchases that will put money into our packet versus taking money out.

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Music and Photo Credits

Music in this episode was provided by artists from Audiio.