Debt Free

by Katy on July 22, 2013 · 54 comments

Although I strive for a debt free existence, life has a funny way of jumping in with a plan of her own. (Yes, in this analogy, life is a woman. A powerful, yet scrappy woman. We’ll call her “Katy.”)

“You say you want to be debt free, but how about I set you up with a mandatory $5000 sewer line and send your husband back to school for a mid-life bonus college degree? And while we’re at it, how about a brand new mini-van?”

But as of July 19, 2013, with the exception of our mortgage, my family is now debt free. No car payments, no consumer debt, no student loan, no nothing.

I switched from 8 to 12-hour work shifts to make this happen, turbo-charging my paychecks and giving us the financial wiggle room to pay down our debt at an accelerated rate. I kept a close eye on our checking account and transferred extra money towards debt whenever possible. I noticed that we tended to be lax about spending when our checking account appeared fat and juicy, so I kept the amount low. Even if that meant our finances appeared frightening.

“Yes, there’s only $114 in the bank, but that’s because we just transferred another $900 towards debt, and payday is tomorrow anyway.” (My husband and I each get paid every other Friday, which means that every Friday is payday!)

I continued to put money aside for our older son’s college fund. Earmarking any oddly earned income towards this goal. And since I blog, clean rental cottages for my mother and resell Goodwill finds, it’s amazing how fast this adds up. My husband and I also continued to contribute towards our retirement funds.

Now what?

College fund, college fund, college fund.

I know this should have been happening when the boys were babies, (compounded interest and all) but that simply wasn’t possible. Our fixer upper house, my husband’s photo studio and our minimal income kept us living paycheck-to-paycheck. The idea of a college fund was laughable.

So if you see us out and about, and wonder about our giddy grins, you now know why.

Has debt kept you from working towards your long term financial goals? Please share your stories in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen July 22, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Wooohooooo!!!! Isn’t it a lovely, lovely feeling??


Katy July 22, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Why yes, it is 😀



Free Money Minute July 23, 2013 at 7:38 am

Congratulations. You guys did what it took and you deserve the wonderful feeling.


Laura July 22, 2013 at 2:18 pm

I’m paying off my mortgage on Wed and will be completely debt free! I’m a 45 year old social worker, so my salary isn’t impressive nor is my retirement savings, but I feel darn good about paying my mortgage off in less than half the time of the loan term. Now all the extra I’ve been throwing at it can go towards saving for retirement and some fix ups I’ve been putting off.
Yay me!


Kristen July 22, 2013 at 2:40 pm

THAT is where I want to be…mortgage free. We’re going to start working hard on that now.


Missy Homemaker July 22, 2013 at 5:17 pm

What an amazing feeling that must be Laura! Congratulations.


kris July 23, 2013 at 5:42 am

That is wonderful! Congrats!!


marie July 23, 2013 at 2:14 pm

congrats, since refinancing last winter, I’ve been paying the old amount $60.00 more . Fiqure since, we payed it before, it will help paying this one down faster.


Diane July 22, 2013 at 2:20 pm

As you say…life often gets in the way. I have huge debt at close to 70 years of age due to 2 loans and credit card payments. A loan for a specialized school that saved my granddaughter’s life 10 years ago is the biggest hurdle….it was for many, many thousands. Like college costs! I had planned it out to have everything paid off by the time I was 73, but then life threw that curve ball….a natural disaster left me jobless and homeless and my most recent job ended when the local office closed down this spring. But, you just keep on, looking for the light at the end of the tunnel and finding the extraordinary in every ordinary day to make life a pleasure to live.


LazyretirementgirlJackie July 23, 2013 at 6:05 am

Diane, what a wonderful grandmother you are to have helped your granddaughter at a desperate time, and what a resilient spirit you show in the face of very very tough challenges now. You are an inspiration.


Maureen July 23, 2013 at 9:51 am

I have to say you are pretty wonderful too! Those are amazing hurdles to overcome. You are an inspiration.

On that note, Katy is an inspiration too. I will payoff my credit card by the end of the year and then tackle a loan for the next year.


Trish July 23, 2013 at 1:35 pm

I agree – helping your granddaughter is just a wonderful thing to have done.


tonya July 22, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Woohoo! Wonderful news. Congrats on your hard work and scrappiness, they paid off.


Rebecca July 22, 2013 at 2:33 pm

Congrats! It’s amazing how $10 here and $5 there really add up! What a great testimony to show that the extra work makes a difference.


Katy July 22, 2013 at 8:32 pm

$10 here and $5 there absolutely pay off!



Trish July 22, 2013 at 2:38 pm

We don’t have kids, and have paid off our mortgage, so we have been debt free for a few years. The panic now is saving for retirement – i HATE this. We started saving late in the day, and I gave up my horrible corporate job several years ago, so we are a bit behind. Hopefully we will catch up and be ok. Truthfully, I don’t know how people manage – we have a decent income, and are pretty financially conservative in our lifestyle, but it is still an effort to save enough for retirement.

The person I truly feel for is my brother. His wife, while a LOVELY person, is a total spendthrift. They sent their daughter to a hugely expensive culinary school (yes, that one) and I think they will be in debt forever from that. I watch their spending habits, but offer no advice (or criticism). They continue to pay for their daughter’s phone, even though she has a good job, and their 15 yr old daughter has a smart phone ( I don’t have a smart phone!). She also regularly gets mani/pedis and has gorgeous blond highlights. Their 18 yr old son is starting college in the fall.

I hate to watch the struggle my brother faces, as he worries about his debt. Thankfully he is in civil service, with a good income and the promise of a good retirement income. However, I could never live the way they do. But since I didn’t have kids, I feel it is unfair of me to judge, to say ‘I would never have sent my child to such an expensive school’. On the one hand, I think it is great that they were willing to sacrifice so much for their daughter’s future, but on the other hand, they could have gotten to the same point so much less expensively, and not have had crippling debt.


Molly July 22, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Wow! That’s fantastic!!


Sharon July 22, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Cheers from your fans! We are so proud of you, Katy.


Deb July 22, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Well done, Katy! I’m almost in the same place – debt free except for the mortgage. So I’ll be looking out for some tips and inspiration as to how to get the mortgage paid off 🙂


Bridget July 22, 2013 at 3:17 pm

We are trying to become debt free too! We paid off my student loan. My husband only has about 3K left on his. That will be paid off this year. Hopefully in the next few months.
And we have his car paid off. (My car is a lease and it’s brand new).

We have no credit card debt. (never had that).

So – yes – it’s a good feeling!


Crystal July 22, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Congrats, Katy! 🙂


Kelly July 22, 2013 at 4:03 pm

We are debt free No mortgage. Nada. It took of 30 years of marriage to get here – but it feels wonderful. We could have reached this goal earlier – but we fell prey to the desire to keep up with the Joneses in our early years. We bought (literally) into the lie that we needed bigger, newer and better. We have never regretted our decision to drastically downsize and simplify – and be debt free.


Mindy July 22, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Congratulations. That’s exceptionally amazing.


Michaela July 22, 2013 at 4:26 pm

I am 34, and I hope by next year to have my house paid off (I bought it when I was 20, if that tells you anything). Yes, I still have a car payment and some credit card debt – but I have been whittling that down along with everything else and most of that will also be paid off next year too. I had to put myself on a plan to do this about four years back, and its been hard at times, but I just keep pushing on. Being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel makes me want to ramp it up even more 🙂


Amy Dunn July 22, 2013 at 4:47 pm

We, too, are debt-free, happily driving old cars and buying when we need instead of when we want. Two years ago, we downsized our home and were able to pay cash for our new home. Best financial decision we ever made. And we’re now reaping the dividends with cheaper electric, heating and cooling bills, lower taxes and insurance, less maintenance. Two kids down and one to go on college costs so now we’re mostly, trying to supersize the retirement savings. Wish we had been as diligent in our 20s and 30s.


Allotment adventures with Jean July 22, 2013 at 5:06 pm

Congratulations. That is wonderful news, you are to be congratulated.


Missy Homemaker July 22, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Congratulations! We are also debt-free (except for a medical bill we pay $250 a month on for the next 3 months and then that’s gone too!). It’s a great feeling.


Bauunny July 22, 2013 at 5:58 pm

We paid off our mortgage in 13.5 years by paying every two weeks instead of monthly. That allowed us to sock away money for 2 college savings plans. Before the economic downturn I sometimes carried some credit card debt, but not much. Now it is so much simpler to be debt free and I am all about simple as I approach retirement. I drive a 10+ year old car that I love and hope will last another 2 years -I am so grateful that it has been so reliable while we have kids in college – a car payment would have been a disaster economically.


Jean July 22, 2013 at 6:19 pm

I was a single Mom for many years and so “college fund” was laughable for me, too–however, I do not in retrospect feel too guilty about this. I was able to help my daughter during her college years by her continuing to live at home (we have three major universities in our town), and paying her auto and health insurance, along with parking permits, student fees and some help with textbooks. She earned a substantial amount of scholarships and some grants, and yes, had to work to pay for some of her education. I think she appreciates her education a lot more than the kids who were funded by parents, and she graduated debt free, as opposed to many of her friends who are heavily in debt just with school loans.


Madline July 22, 2013 at 6:30 pm



Katy July 22, 2013 at 8:29 pm




Sheri July 22, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Congratulations on your milestone!

Yes, life certainly has a way of throwing a wrench into our plans. Our home was broken into and I was in a car accident within a 3 week span. I don’t appreciate the added financial burden brought on by another’s reckless behavior however, this too shall pass.

Our goal is to be debt free in 10 yrs or less. Just the thought of it makes me smile 🙂


Katy July 22, 2013 at 8:30 pm

What an awful week!



Karen July 23, 2013 at 2:59 am

Woo-hoo, Katy! Isn’t it freeing?

Am in the house fix-up and replace phase. No debt including house.

No college fund, either. We are what was referred to in the ’80’s as DINKs.


The Frugal Shrink July 23, 2013 at 4:55 am

Woo, Katy!!! Way to go!!! I also employ the “make the checking account look pathetic” trick as a way to not overspend. 😉 My only debts are a small mortgage and a large student loan although I’m nearly halfway through the student loan debt. Can’t wait to be debt free!


Trisha July 23, 2013 at 4:57 am

Katy, that is excellent! My husband and I aspire to be where you are in 10 years! Thank you so much for your candidness about frugality, it has really inpired us!


PoppyEcho July 23, 2013 at 5:35 am

I’m really happy for you, Katy! You’ve worked very hard; it’s truly impressive.

I am curious about many of the people here- why did you choose to put your money towards paying the mortgage instead of retirement? I have very limited income and its all hypothetical for me at the moment, but I have tried to read a few things about saving and they all say to try to build up retirement as a priority before you spend extra money paying off the mortgage. The only factor I can think of would be interest rates, if the amount you are making on savings is more than you are paying in interest, it would make sense to put money towards retirement rather than extra money for mortgage. Is it just a fundamental hatred of debt/idea of the security of owning a house that motivates you guys who have paid off or trying to pay off your mortgages before aggressively saving for retirement?


cathy July 23, 2013 at 10:47 am

We’re a bit older and have chosen to put money into our retirement accounts as opposed to accelerating paying off our mortgage. In theory, it sounds great to have your home paid for in retirement (which would lower your monthly expenses) but there are risks, too. In our case, we bought our house six years ago, so we don’t have a ton of equity. We also have two kids. The oldest will go to college in a few years. We’re not sure we’ll stay in this house once the kids are gone. Seriously considering downsizing. So, try to pay off the mortgage in the hope that if we sell we’ll make a nice profit or put more into retirement accounts so they’re earning interest now? It’s a calculated risk, though, since earning potential tends to decrease as you get older.


Elaine in Ark July 23, 2013 at 11:46 am

I don’t understand that, either. I bought my house 6 years ago because it was cheaper than renting (and still is). I never planned to pay it off – I’ll be dead long before then. When my dogs are gone, I plan to sell the house and become a renter again. Maintenance and upkeep are killing me, financially, and I can’t wait to get rid of this place. If I break even, I’ll be happy.

I plan to retire soon, and those plans do not include travel, golf, card club, shopping, eating out, etc. They do include simple living, family, and volunteer work.


Lisa July 23, 2013 at 12:26 pm

We are completely debt-free including the mortgage. We choose to put extra money towards our mortgage to pay it off faster, but we were also saving for retirement. Our plan always included living on only one income while the other went towards savings and the mortgage. In this way, we paid off our house in 6 years at 37 years of age. The way I look at it, paying off your mortgage is an instant savings of your interest rate + inflation (e.g. our interest rate at the time was 4% and inflation around 2% = 6%). If you can make more than 6% in your investments consistently then maybe you should concentrate on the retirement fund instead of the mortgage especially if funds are limited. It is a risk either way though and a choice (it could be our house is not worth as much when we sell it way down the road, but then if we had it all in investments they could take a hit at any time too). Having said all that, I do LOVE the feeling of security of having absolutely no debt.


Steph July 23, 2013 at 5:48 am

This is practically my exact situation! (How are you surviving spouse at college??) I also think you could help me generate some unique ways to bring in income. We are debt free but not sacing! Barely making the ends meet.


Steph July 23, 2013 at 5:49 am

This is practically my exact situation! (How are you surviving spouse at college??) I also think you could help me generate some unique ways to bring in income. We are debt free but not saving! Barely making the ends meet.


carol July 23, 2013 at 6:02 am

Paying off all debt was part of my retirement plan. The best-case scenario, of course, is to be able to both pay off debt and save for retirement. That said, I would never have been able to retire without paying off my mortgage first. That was my biggest expense each month and would have been undoable on my combined pension and social security. I was a single parent with modest means, as an elementary school teacher. Without a mortgage, I could afford to retire and am still able to save money. I helped my daughter through college, as it was important to me that she begin adult life unburdened by huge student loan debt. However, most financial advisors say that parents shouldn’t cut their own retirement funds by paying for their child’s college education. They point out that it is better for your children to have you be financially sound in your older years—the kids are young and have plenty of time to establish themselves financially. I think that you just have to weigh the choices and choose the path best for you.


Katy July 23, 2013 at 8:29 am

We are on track to pay off our mortgage by the time we retire, if not sooner.



carol July 23, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Great! Sooner is even better! 🙂 I did it 3 years early and then socked the same amount of money as the mortgage into retirement savings while I was still working.


Suzanne P. July 23, 2013 at 7:24 am

My husband and I are debt free other than our house payment but I recently resigned from a teaching job to be a stay at home mom (hopefully for the next 8 years). August will be my last paycheck and then we are falling off our own little financial cliff. I’m very nervous because though we have a little bit of savings it’s more for a drizzly day rather than a major storm. Also we will pay for all of our medical insurance which is the second highest bill we have after our mortgage. If anyone knows of some good budgeting resources please let me know. I have a lot to learn!


d July 23, 2013 at 9:40 am

Congrats to you, Katy! Well done! I am in the process of paying off my husband’s student loans, which is our only debt beside the mortgage. It’s slow going since we are a one-income family (he stays home with our daughter), and sometimes it feels like it will never happen. But I know I just have to stay the course, and eventually we will be out from under Sallie Mae’s thumb! Then those payments can go towards retirement, which will be a wonderful feeling!


Elaine in Ark July 23, 2013 at 11:23 am

I love reading your blog, and Kristen’s because you say things like “I should have…but it simply wasn’t possible”. I was stuck between a rocky “should” and a hard place “but…”, so now I have much less money in my bank account. I’ll be going into debt to get a newer car, but sometimes that just way things have to be.

I made the mistake of watching Suze Orman’s show the other night, and I sure wish I was living in her universe. She sure isn’t living in mine!


PoppyEcho July 23, 2013 at 3:00 pm

hear hear! I was also struck by the awesomeness of that line, and think Suze Orman has gotten a bit…extreme? militant? unrealistic.


Jennifer @ Little Blog in the Big Woods July 23, 2013 at 6:44 pm

Doesn’t it feel great?! Way to go!! We have been debt free for 3 years and just started saving for our kids college a few months ago. For us getting the 3 – 6 months emergency fund finished off was the hardest thing, we’d get close and other thing would pop up that we needed to buy, you know, things like a car or a washing machine. But now we are just saving up for fun stuff (as well as continuing to stash back extra for vehicle replacement as needed) like big vacations or a new to us fishing boat for the hubby!


tna July 24, 2013 at 6:56 am

For me the easiest way to be debt free is not to want stuff. I don’t want a house or a car or furniture, clothes, jewelry, stuff, stuff, stuff.
A man once told me K.I.S.S……keep it simple stupid.


Mary Ann July 26, 2013 at 5:17 am

My husband and I also couldn’t begin to save for college when my sons were young, but somehow it all worked out. One has graduated and the second graduates in December, debt-free. Hang in there, and remember – FAFSA form.


Amanda July 28, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Congrats! We were debt free except our mortgage for a while and it was lovely! 🙂


Krystal August 10, 2013 at 11:58 am


Just catching up and congratulations on being debt-free. It has been the goal that has kept my life most ideal (taking the job I want, traveling when I want, etc.) because I can with no payments (except the house)!



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