In 2015, I was focused on having a healthy, happy baby. I ate better, walked 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 her life healthier. I dreamed of having her in my arms and at home.
I've been writing about personal finance for three years now, focusing on my own struggles to pay down debt. Having over $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.
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But what I haven’t admitted until now is that I am about to embark on an extreme debt payoff journey of my own.
It all started with a talk. Our daughter had just turned 3 months old, and we were starting to look into mommy-and-me classes to do together. 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. And even some library programs charged for their classes.
When we decided to live in Chicago, we knew some things would be out of our budget. The access to cultural opportunities would be worth the cost. But now we had a bigger issue: providing a better life for our daughter.
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Searching for Cheap Places to Live
Knowing that I could work as a freelance writer from anywhere, my husband began job hunting in cheap places to live. A few months ago, he interviewed for one out West, 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.
While 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. I can’t predict what babysitters and pet-sitters will cost. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try.
My New Budget
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.
This is with the intention of paying off $20,001 of debt in one year. You read that right: $20,000 + $1.
I came up with this huge number after 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.
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The Logistics of Moving to a Cheaper Area
Of course, uprooting our lives with an 8-month-old 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.
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. And having found a cheap place to live. We hope that our lower cost of living will help us meet our goals.