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How We Paid Off $18,000 in Debt in 18 Months

Dianne Bright
Courtesy Michael and Sherrie Lloyd

When Sherrie and Michael Lloyd first got married, they had nine credit cards between them, and they were piling up significant debt. Six years later, this southern California couple has two kids under the age of four and they're debt-free with a healthy savings to boot. Here's how the Lloyds managed this remarkable turnaround.

The cause of debt

The Lloyds had accrued some medical bills from Sherrie's two pregnancies and Michael's appendicitis. Then, two years ago, the couple decided to buy a house, but they underestimated the cost of homeownership. While they had no problem paying the mortgage and utilities, they hadn't factored in unforeseen expenses—they needed to pour money into foundation repairs, roof issues, and a leaky shower. While they were able to get the medical bills under control, the home repairs added up fast. If you're trying to get your debt under control, you may want to break these money saving "rules" that experts don't believe in.

How they paid it off

After signing up for a six-week class called Financial Peace—they found it through their church; it's based on the best-selling Dave Ramsey's Complete Guide to Money—the Lloyds were inspired to take charge. Sherrie says the class taught her to see that "you can't use your money for the future when it's tied to the past."

Using Ramsey's financial principles, they first saved up $1000 for an emergency fund. Then they consolidated their nine credit cards down to two and employed Ramsey's "snowball" approach by paying off their smallest debts first (most of their medical bills) before tackling the larger amounts. Their final—and toughest—step was to transfer their remaining debt—$18,000—onto one interest-free card and then give themselves an 18-month deadline to pay it off. It might be more doable than you think—these money saving tricks can help you save $1000 in just one month.

Why this worked for them

The effectiveness of the Lloyds' financial plan came from their ability to see progress right away. By paying off $1000 in credit card debt per month, Sherrie and Michael could actually see the debt going down. They also tackled their problem as a team. "In a marriage, you're in it together—both working toward a solution together," Sherrie says. Since Michael is the tech-savvy one, he created a chart using Microsoft Excel to plot out their budget. They could see their monthly expenses clearly: Mortgage, utilities, phones, cars, plus the accelerated $1000 credit card payment. They also allocated $100 per month into savings to build up their emergency fund, and the remaining balance had to stretch itself out to pay for other expenses like food and gas.

Courtesy Michael and Sherrie Lloyd

What they sacrificed

To make this happen, they had to give up a few trips. Rather than charge airfare to visit family on the east coast, they decided to save up airline points and go at a later time. It also meant saying no to certain luxuries, like eating out and going to the movies or amusement parks. Instead, they took their kids to free community events. They saved money on the kids' clothes by getting hand-me-downs from friends. The couple says their sacrifices were worth it in the long-run. "Know your priorities and what's important to you. For us, it was important to figure out our goals and pay off debt," Sherrie says. She quotes one of Ramsey's bits of wisdom: "Adults make a plan and stick to it, and children just do whatever they feel like doing." Going forward, their "adult plan" is to put aside three to six months of living expenses into savings to avoid unexpected expenses or a job loss sending them back into debt.

How this could work for you

Finding financial peace is not just a fairy tale or a nice story for someone else, writes Dave Ramsey on his website. Just remember you're not alone; there are resources that can help you get back on track. "Everyone deserves to feel confident about their finances," reports Credit Karma, a company that supplies tools, education, and opportunities to get out of debt and improve your credit score. And take advantage of these tips for living debt-free here.