How we paid off our debt

Learn how Canadians achieved their financial dreams and how you can too. This is the first instalment in our seven-part series entitled “Making it Happen.”

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From the December/January 2013 issue of the magazine.

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If you talk to anyone who’s ever led a full and happy life, they’ll tell you how important setting and achieving goals is to their success. But the truth is, with hectic lives and little time for reflection on our long-term goals, we often tend to drift financially.

That’s why MoneySense decided to ask readers who have accomplished key financial goals in their lives to share their personal stories with us. Readers like Janet McCauley of Taber, Alta., who divorced her husband, paid off both their debts and went on to buy her own home earlier this year. You’ll also hear from Fritz Wyssen and his wife Krystal of Quesnel, B.C. They began their marriage 14 years ago with only $1,500 in their pockets, yet through hard work and frugal living were able to pay off their mortgage by their mid-30s.

All the people we spoke to deserve top marks for identifying their goals, working towards them during good times and bad, and coming out the better for it. The key thing to remember is no financial goal is too small. It’s those small financial goals we set for ourselves along the way to the big goals that give us the confidence to persevere. We hope the personal stories that follow will motivate you to achieve your financial goals, too. Read on and be inspired.

“We paid off $54,000 in consumer debt in three years”

Kyle Wray, 36 Sarah Wray, 34 // London, Ont.

When Kyle and I met in October 2004, he was 28 and I was 26 and we both knew within months that it was forever. In 2006, we got engaged, bought a condo together and started planning our wedding. Even though Kyle’s parents gave us a gift of $5,000, we soon realized we hadn’t saved enough on our own to pay for the wedding. So we went off to the bank and got a $12,000 loan. What morons we were when I look back! I mean, who takes out a loan for a wedding? We did.

By January 2008 we’d been married six months and were maxed out on our credit. Kyle and I sat down one night and set up an Excel spreadsheet to tally it all up—car loans, wedding loan, credit card debt and student loans—and were shocked to discover we owed $54,000 in consumer debt, apart from our mortgage. We talked about money for the first time and concluded that what we wanted most was freedom from debt.

That was our brutally real starting line. So I started researching articles and support services for debt freedom online and came across Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s website. She has support groups across Canada, where people can talk about their struggles with money. We joined the London Gail Club and it was the best thing that ever happened to us. Every month a dozen of us would meet in a coffee shop and share our debt struggles and tips with each other. One girl was into couponing so I even learned about that.

Our strategy was to live on Kyle’s $60,000 income from his job at the University of Western Ontario while my $60,000 income as a youth counselor was put towards the debt. We tracked our expenses and used Gail’s snowball debt-repayment method that had us putting $3,500 a month towards the debt with the highest interest rate first—in our case the credit cards. Once that was paid off, we paid down the student loans and finally the line of credit, which had the lowest interest rate. Every month Kyle and I had a money meeting to keep us on track. When I was laid off in September 2011, I used my severance money to beef up our emergency fund and pay off the last few thousand dollars on our debt.

That’s why on November 2011 we were debt-free except for our $100,000 mortgage. We were so proud of ourselves and I wasn’t worried about being temporarily out of work because I knew we could cover expenses with Kyle’s salary.

Was it difficult at times? Yes. The key was having a financial support group and letting our friends and family know we were having financial struggles. But we really didn’t miss out on any fun. Instead of going out for dinner, we had potlucks at each other’s houses and played board games. If we wanted a small vacation, Kyle or I worked a few extra hours to pay for it. The key for us was learning to live on less. Living on one income and using the second income for debt repayment and savings worked for us. It also helped that both of us were on the same page. It took Kyle a couple of months to get on board but when I showed him how it was working and how our debt was progressively declining from month to month, he was sold, too, and we’ve never looked back.

More from the “Making it Happen” series:

How we paid off our debt
How I started and sold my business
How I thrived financially after divorce
How I built a solid portfolio
How I became a landlord
How we paid off our mortgage early
How I graduated without student debt

8 comments on “How we paid off our debt

  1. Is this serious? Paying off a $100,000 mortgage and a $54,000 debt with a $120,000 income? Give me a break. I'd like to hear from people that hit closer to home for me living on less than $50K a year combined with 3 kids in tow…. If you're drowning in debt with a 6 figure income you need to give a serious look at where you are blowing all that money. More focus on retirement less focus on keeping up with the jones'. Good grief.

    Also we had a very nice wedding for less than $4K, I seriously don't see how $5k doesn't cover it. Too many people trying too hard to keep up appearances. (married in 2007)

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  2. Well said, Candace. This article is a joke.

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  3. It feels good as a financial planner when you see people achieving their "zero debt goals". I feel the debt snowball method is not the smartest way to reduce debt because you end up paying more interest. People following debt snowball method and achieving success is largely due to the fact that our finances are more driven by our behavior than our knowledge of personal finance. We want to see quick results and it is effective in achieving that.

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  4. We paid off our debt using the Debt Snowball method and it worked great! It really gave us the motivation we needed to make serious progress.

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  5. In Canada, are you folks able to catch "Dave Ramsey" on the radio there? It is REALLY really inspirational to hear stories of people paying off debt, saving money, and basically "being smart" when it comes to handling finances.

    Regarding Kyle and Sarah's story, even though the numbers on their spreadsheet probably appeared shocking, just the mere act of objectifying it by putting it ON a spreadsheet helps take away some of the negative "ooh this is scary" emotions, doesn't it!?!

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    • Dave used to be on the radio here, but for some reason, he is no longer on that station. You can, however go to his website: daveramsey.com , and listen live to him weekdays from 2pm-5pm eastern time.

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  6. Paying off just $10,000 in debt will take almost 30 years if you only make the minimum payment each month.

    Jane

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  7. Look after the pennies and the pounds (or dollars) will look after themselves is every bit as apt today as it has always been.

    Making a plan and taking action is what it is all about and anyone who does this to move out of debt should be applauded.

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