We were focused on having a healthy, happy baby. I was eating better, walking more, and somehow made it through some major medical challenges with my sanity intact. My goals were to reduce my pre-baby stress, and my intention was to start my daughter’s life on a healthy path.

I dreamed of having her in my arms and at home, but we couldn't afford our home much longer.

I’ve been writing about personal finance for several years now, focusing on my own struggles to pay down debt.

Having more than $60,000 left in student loans, credit card debt, and medical expenses can be frustrating and embarrassing to lay out there for all the world to see. But I do it because I know that I’m not alone, especially among millennials, new families, and entrepreneurs.

I’ve previously written about extreme debt payoffs. From strippers to call girls, I’ve listened to these debt warriors make intense decisions to improve their financial health.

But what I haven’t admitted until now is that I am about to embark on an extreme debt payoff journey of my own.

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Making the Decision to Relocate

Our decision to relocate to lower our cost of living started with a talk. Our daughter had just had a birthday, and we were starting to look into mommy-and-me classes. My sister — a mom herself — gave me some great ideas, but when I looked at the price of four weeks of music classes, I felt completely dismayed.

It cost $140 for two one-hour sessions! Swim lessons weren’t any better. Even some library programs charged for their classes.

When we initially decided to live in Chicago, we knew some things would be out of our budget. At the time, we decided that the access to cultural opportunities would be worth the cost, but now we had a bigger issue: providing a better life for our daughter.

Using Remote Work to Live Cheaper

The pandemic has caused unforeseeable damage to the personal finances  of many Americans and has forced them to reconsider their cost of living. Many individuals, especially younger Americans, have been forced to come to terms with the fact that expensive city life is no longer attainable to them.

So, given the rise in remote work opportunities, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are choosing to relocate to cheaper places to live.

About 1 in 10 adults, between ages 18 to 29, have moved as a result of the pandemic, according to a report by Pew Research. The study also found that younger Americans were most affected by recent job losses and by the shutdown of college housing. Unsurprisingly, these were incentives for them to relocate.

This trend has been consistent over the past several months, which can be attributed to the fact that the pandemic showed people that remote work is viable, according to financial coach  Marco Sison of Nomadic Fire. There’s nothing to keep people from working remotely in places where rent isn’t necessarily so high.

In fact, many companies, including Google, Twitter, and Facebook, have implemented remote work as a part of their long-term strategy, Sison adds.

Let’s say you were living in San Francisco before the pandemic. If your job transitioned to remote work because of COVID, you are no longer required to be or live nearby. Now, if you wanted to move somewhere with a lower cost of living like Nashville, Tennessee, you would be cutting your monthly expenses by almost 50 percent, says Sison.

This can allow relocators to seek homeownership, build their emergency fund, or even help save for retirement in cases where it was previously unaffordable.

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Searching for Cheap Places to Live

Like many remote workers, knowing that I could work as a freelance writer from anywhere, my husband and I realized that we could live within our means more easily in a new location. So my husband began job hunting in those cheaper places to live.  When the time came to move, my husband interviewed for a job out in Wyoming, and he accepted the offer a few weeks later.

It’s going to be a big transition, from an urban metropolis to a small town in the mountains. But the pay increase, lower cost of living, and state tax incentives really sealed the deal. Now we’re going to take a leap toward debt payoff by moving to Wyoming.

Though I know how much we’ll pay for rent, phones, debt, and internet, I don’t know how much food will cost, or how often we’ll need to gas up our car — and I can’t predict what babysitters and pet-sitters will cost.

My New Budget

In order to adjust my budget to the reality of settling down in a cheaper place to live in, my goal is to use a zero-sum budget system. In other words, I’ll try to spend all of our monthly income by placing it intentionally toward bills, debt, and savings. That way, every single dollar has a purpose.

I will no longer sit on money for long periods of time, trying to figure out how to best use it.

I developed this strategy with the intention of paying off $20,001 of debt in one year. You read that right: $20,000 + $1.

This huge number came from doing a few trial runs of the zero-sum budget using paycheck estimators and our current Chicago expenditures. If we dedicate ourselves to living with less and making more, we can put aside $1,666.75 per month.

The Logistics of Moving to a Cheaper Area

Of course, uprooting our lives with a toddler has received plenty of pushback from family and friends. Some of them see us as being unrealistic — even crazy. What they don’t know is that the dream of being debt-free is worth everything to us.

We hope to make choices that aren’t determined by how much money we owe or when outstanding bills are due. And we want our daughter to see that you don’t have to spend a penny to learn or have fun.

As I sit in my living room, a pile of boxes surrounding me, I can’t help but to look optimistically toward the future. Our goals, intentions, and dreams may be extreme — maybe even a bit crazy — but for the next 12 months, we’ll be focusing on what matters: building a life together without the burden of debt. We hope that our lower cost of living will help us meet our goals.

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