Why this couple made it their mission to begin marriage debt free
In just 16 months, they managed to pay off $30K in debt while saving another $15K for their wedding.
Our new series highlights success stories from real people who’ve managed to dig themselves out from under a lot of debt in a short time. Answers are edited for length and clarity.
- Name: Matt Miczulski
- Age: 32
- Profession: Writer at personal finance site, FinanceBuzz
- Debt amount: $30,000
- Type of debt: Student loans and credit cards
- Time to payoff: 16 months
- Payoff strategy: Debt snowball, then debt avalanche method
About 16 months before my wife and I got married — almost immediately after getting engaged — we decided we wanted to begin our marriage debt free.
It was a bold plan, as neither of us had any real understanding of how to properly manage money, but we were set on seeing it through.
How much debt did you have?
At the time, our combined debt totaled $31,000. Our debt was composed of student loans and a handful of credit cards that, while they weren’t maxed out, we did carry balances on from month to month.
I had roughly $17,000 in student loan debt and about $4,000 spread across a few different credit cards — my wife brought about $10,000 in credit card debt to the table.
Did you have a mortgage or car payment at the time?
My wife and I rented, and neither of us had car payments at the time. I had paid my car off about a year earlier.
What was your job and financial situation at the time?
I had recently started a new entry-level job in data management for a medical device manufacturer, and my wife was an account executive for a management consulting firm. At the time, I was making around $32,000, and my wife was making around $52,000.
Why were you so determined to start marriage debt free?
Right around the time my wife and I got engaged, I had sort of an “aha” moment. Maybe it was the engagement and starting a new chapter in our lives that did it. I had never been great with money up until then and made the conscious decision to change my behavior. My wife felt the same way.
I also have a tendency to get completely absorbed in things. I obsess over whatever it is I’m interested in at the moment and spend countless hours learning what I can about it. In this case, it was personal finance and debt repayment. So once I started down that road, I had all the determination I needed.
You mention you weren’t great at managing your finances. What empowered you to start now?
Getting married was an opportunity to start fresh. Ultimately, it was the catalyst I needed. I finally truly understood how irresponsible I was being with my money, and once I had that realization, I wanted nothing more than to avoid carrying my past mistakes into this next stage in my life.
What steps did you take to pay off your debt?
Not knowing where to start, I began reading as much as I could on personal finance. I read stories of how couples with far greater debt than we had paid off every penny, often in incredibly short amounts of time. It was inspiring, to say the least. And now we wanted our debt-free story.
We dived in and started paying off our debt using the debt snowball method, throwing every free penny at our smallest debt first. I built a budget spreadsheet so we could track exactly how much money we were bringing in and spending each month.
To get us to our goal faster, I took on a second job painting hallways and vacant apartments at my apartment complex.
We paid off our smallest debt within a couple of months.
Having all the motivation we needed to continue hammering down our debt, we switched to the debt avalanche method.
Paying off our most expensive debts would save us the most money in the end, and that was a no-brainer for us.
In the end, we paid off $30,000 in debt before our wedding. Simultaneously, in those 16 months we also saved $15,000 for our wedding and honeymoon to celebrate.
While we had about $1,000 left on one of my student loans on wedding day, we still considered it a win.
Since you’ve paid it off, do you have other debt you’re trying to tackle next?
My wife and I relocated a couple of times since getting married, and because of poor planning on our part, we accrued some more debt in the process. We moved to Chicago and then to Florida within a couple of years — from not needing cars to needing cars. So a majority of that debt is in vehicle financing. While it’s not ideal, it’s the situation we’re currently in. The only thing we can do is continue to learn and grow from our mistakes.
How do you think starting marriage debt free helped your relationship?
To be honest, it initially had a negative impact on our relationship. We took our debt repayment to the extreme, limiting our spending to the bare minimum. While it’s necessary to cut out frivolous spending when trying to dig yourself out of debt, it’s also crucial to enjoy life along the way. Not only is it a great way to stay motivated, occasionally rewarding yourself for your hard work and sacrifices, but it’s also necessary to stay sane. At least, that’s the case for us. But again, it was another learning experience.
There’s no doubt the entire process brought us closer together. There’s nothing more bonding than sticking two people in a challenging situation where they have to rely on each other to get through to the other side.
What did you learn from this experience, and how are you using these strategies to help you stay on top of your finances today?
It completely changed how I view money. Previously, I would spend my money before I even earned it. The future me would be responsible for having to figure out what to do about it. Now, I’m deliberate about how I spend my money. In other words, I buy the things I truly value and avoid spending on things that I don’t really care about.
Are there any other details you think can help shed light on your story?
One of the most crucial things to know about debt repayment is how important your mindset is. You have to be honest with yourself and confront the mistakes you’ve made in the past, which put you in this situation in the first place. Otherwise, it’s going to be very difficult to break the habit and step in this new direction.
Digging out of debt and taking hold of your finances requires you to change your mindset and your habits. It’s hard work, but, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Nothing worth having comes easy.”
What advice would you give to others?
If I could give three tips to someone trying to dig their way out of debt, it would be this:
- Fully commit to getting out of debt. If it’s not a priority, you’ll treat it as such. It’s easier to fall back into debt than it is to get out.
- Find ways to stay motivated. Debt repayment is no easy feat. Although you have to bring in more money than you’re spending, 90% of getting out of debt is mental. It takes sacrifice and a complete rewiring of how you think about and how you treat money.
- Make sacrifices, but don’t deny yourself happiness. My wife and I took our debt repayment to the extreme and forgot to pay attention to our happiness. It drove a wedge between us, and although we were working toward an incredible goal, we were bitter about it. Make room in your budget every once in a while to reward yourself for a job well done. Find a balance between paying off your debt and still being able to enjoy life.