This Mom Paid Off a Huge Debt 19 Cents at a Time—and You Can Too

We frequently get asked how we’ve paid off over $118K debt since April of 2008.

I so wish that I could respond that we had a magic fairy wand that took everything all away and I’m willing to share it with you. Or that I have a secret four-step formula that will carry your worries (and your debt) away.

Or … that we discovered a diamond mine in the back yard. (This is a historical reference to a significant speech that I taught about when I TA-ed a U.S. History class in grad school. Brownie and 1 milllllliiioooonnn bonus points if you can name it).

Or that we received an anonymous check written for the specific amount that we owed (which I literally used to dream about but don’t anymore; more on that another day).

Or that companies wrote off the debt that we had (nope, still paying 100 percent of what we owe).

Those would all be cool stories.
But they’re not out story.

Our story is much, much more boring than that. We’ve literally nickel and dimed our way to over $118K paid off in a little under four years. We’ve lived simply. We’ve lived on a budget (which is waaaay less than we make). The King of Free does have good income (hence the incurring of a great amount of student loan debt owed to the Evil Sorceress Sallie Mae) but not oodles and gobs. So, he took on a second job. And when that didn’t cut it, he took on a third. He’s my hero. Swoon.

I coupon, make our own laundry and dishwashing detergent, rarely buy clothes, shoes and the like. The King of Free hasn’t eaten at a restaurant in over two years and the Princesses and I only do if we have a gift card or a great coupon or someone else is paying (love you, Mom). We’ve abandoned hobbies for the last three-plus years. We don’t go to the movies unless it’s free. We rarely have date nights. We get books at the library and play board games at home. We’re not martyrs. We love living like this.

And we pray. A lot.

But it dawned on me tonight while on a quick trip to Meijer, another way we’ve been able to pay off debt. Since we’re in the last ~120 days of our debt slaying journey, we’ve decided to ratchet things up an even more frugal notch (which is probably crazy level for most of society). “No extras” is the mantra of our next four months. So as I zipped through Meijer picking up some meds for the King of Free, my eyes wandered to 90 percent-off Christmas items in the center aisle.

I love me a good bargain. Always have, always will.

And what should jump out at me but $0.19 placemats that would be great in our kitchen. They were cherry red which is great for Christmas but also for our kitchen. They were plastic—easy to clean and great for the girls. And it would be less than $0.80 for all four.

What is a Queen to do?

But alas, I am not the Queen of Really Cheap, I am the Queen of Free. And I knew that technically even though it was less than $1, this was an “extras” sort of purchase. I already have awesome placemats that I love (holla Lady Amber!) and we don’t need it.

Bottom Line: It was a want, not a need. It was indeed an extra.

And even though it sounds utterly ridiculous to most, I walked away without the $0.19 placemats. You see, if you can say no to $0.19, you can say no to $1.90 and $19 and $190 and even $1,900. Saying no is the most challenging, and yet most successful, way to pay off debt.

I’m gonna be just fine without those placemats. And we’re going to be about a $1 closer to paying our last student loan payment. It’s not complex, but it’s not easy.

The principles in this post helped us pay off $127K in debt. You can read our story of how to pay off debt in Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After.

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Cherie Lowe
Since 2008, Cherie Lowe has been confidently wearing a plastic crown and encouraging others to dream big dreams. Together with her husband, Brian, Cherie paid off $127,482.30 in a little under four years. She scribed the ups and downs of their "debt slaying journey" on her popular website, More than anything, she longs for others to know that there is hope for getting their finances under control. Her new book, Slaying the Debt Dragon , was published January 2, 2015 and is available wherever books are sold.