As I sit here typing today, I have now reached a pinnacle that many of you have already attained. Folks, I am now FORTY years old. (aka. over the hill) How does that make me feel? No different than yesterday, honestly. But, it does make me think ahead to the next forty years and where I want to be. You see, I am a goal setter, and work hard to achieve them to the best of my ability. I felt compelled to share with you today the best gift I could have ever given myself for my fortieth birthday – to be debt free. (consider yourself warned that this is going to be long, but so worth it)
I come by my drive to achieve honestly. My family has an extensive line of people who worked with such tenacity to get somewhere in life. Both my parents came from families who don’t quit, who fight for what they have, and never give up despite their circumstances. I don’t know any other way to be, so I am very thankful for who they are and what they mean to me.
When I graduated high school I went on to a local branch of a state university and my parents generously paid for everything. That summer before attending, I became a Christian and realized in a more profound way the saving grace of Jesus at 18 years of age. Talk about life changes! When I decide to do something I go full bore – no turning back. At this point, I had also been dating my high school sweetheart, JC, my now husband. He was integral in leading me to Christ even though he was a baby believer himself. Not to mention I was a year ahead of him in school.
The second year of school my parents bought a condo for me at the main campus of the university and I prepared to go. What I didn’t know was that my heart was slowly being pulled in a different direction. I started classes living in the state capital, which alone rocked the world of this country girl. But more so I felt that I was headed the wrong direction. I broke my parents heart when I told them I didn’t believe I was supposed to be at that place. They let me come home and graciously let me find my way.
MY OTHER HALF
I took the next year to work and seek the Lord though it was so very hard as I felt like I had let everyone down. I clung to Scripture and felt the Lord leading me away from everything I ever knew, but into a glorious new world. During this time, JC had started to attend a local college, a highly sought-after school noted for its stance in the academic world. JC is the smartest man I know, really. Not just for picking me (hee hee hee), but truly has a gift.
He excelled in every academic area he tried, and ended his year earning highest award in languages like Greek. And also excelled in sports where he was state ranked in track & field, and also a basketball star. However, at this same time he too felt a pull from the Lord in a different direction though he had no idea where.
By the end of JC’s freshman year he had decided to leave the scholarship he had earned to his school and cause a wound in his parent’s joy as well. Neither one of us liked causing such friction, but felt the call to do so. During that year, both of us were on our knees praying and asking for the Lord’s guidance for our future. Both seeking a school where God would want us, but we never talked to each other about where we would go. Why? We wanted to see if God would lead both of us in the same direction.
To make this shorter, after that long year, we both felt a call to the same school out of state, both of us applied, and both accepted without knowing what the other had chosen. That’s scary stuff, right there. Not just because of the unknown, but this Ohio born and raised gal was headed to Georgia. Say what?? The funny thing is, we both planned to go, but had no way to pay for it since we had both given up the means we had to fund our education before. We were trusting and waiting.
It wasn’t until a few weeks before I needed to leave (if I was going), that I got a call from Toccoa Falls College that someone had donated $5000 on my behalf so I could attend. I fell to my knees in tears thanking God for such a huge blessing. This moment was real and I can relive it over and over to this day. Funny thing is JC got that same phone call. Simply surreal, I tell ya.
I prepared to leave my family and everything I knew to follow God’s leading. It was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. I had never set foot on the school campus, didn’t know anyone there except JC who was going too. It wasn’t until we pulled into the campus that I knew I was right where I should be. I cried and was overjoyed at the peace I felt, which was crazy to me because my home and family were so very far away. There is much I could fill in the gaps of how God worked, but I’m trying to keep it short.
My first semester went well with trials and errors, but then came the second semester and I was at that point of not knowing how to fund my next part of the year. I had always been taught to debt free and believe animatedly in doing so. However, I felt God had led me to this point and I couldn’t just quit with so much on the line. JC felt the same and we both signed for our very first loan. I still remember the day and the, “What did I just do?” feeling.
Fast forward to our graduation after a two more years of school and loans, and newlyweds after the first year of attendance. We both graduated with honors, he top in his class with every award you can imagine, and I top in mine. Such a blessing! His degree is in Biblical Languages (he rocks Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic – the dead languages), and I am an Interpersonal & Organizational Communication major with minor in Business. Big surprise, right?
JC felt called to continue his education into a Masters, then Ph.D. to pursue teaching. We left to move on to the next stage of schooling, and life threw some curves at us. There was a break in schooling which led us back to Ohio where I became pregnant with our first child and left me unable to work. Those loans we had accrued needed paid and we struggled to keep up. Kinda belittling when each year we paid large chunks off at a time beyond the normal payment.
When I was pregnant with our second, we bought a home so that instead of paying rent we were earning equity. During those first months of homeownership and about 4 months into pregnancy, I came down with pneumonia, which led me to the hospital where I picked up a staph blood infection. I spent 11 days in ICU fighting for my and my daughter’s life and nearly lost the battle. That kinda thing will make you rethink your next steps in life. More debt was accruing and we were still fighting to keep ahead.
Our goal was to remodel our home and sell to become debt free. We tried for over 4 years to sell with well over 150 showings in just one of those years. I am not kidding. That many people came through my house and we had so many near misses. Me with 3 small children and I was wore out feeling that God had shut the door and we were beating on it.
We decided to call it quits and stay right where we were. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I decided to finally claim my home as my own and begin decorating as I wanted to and not worry about resale. During that time, we had many difficulties and blessings: two more children joined our family, but also kissed our sweet baby girl a heart-wrenching goodbye and another baby not long after. Again, these things set us back financially emotionally, and wee are aching to be debt free.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
It was also in this time 4 years ago on Mother’s Day that I had had enough. I was tired of being ignored for various reasons and I signed up for a blog. I HAD NO IDEA WHAT I WAS DOING. The idea of cell phones, computers with social media appalled me. I would be just happy as a barefoot bumpkin homeschooling my kids, tending my garden, and keeping home. Believe it or not, I am a foodie with a heart for nourishing your body from the inside out. But…I needed to do something. I had been either nursing my babes or pregnant for over 10 years and had such a chasm in my life for a span of four years with the loss of our babies. Plus, we needed the money.
Countless hours I poured in to learning code and design. I began blogging just because I felt I had something to say. However, I knew it had to be profitable in more ways than one. That gap between when my babies died left me a huge hole and this is how I chose to fill it. We had a financial need and this was the only way I could figure out how to earn while staying home with my children. My Etsy shop was already up and running while I tried to sell bags, purses, and dolls. That didn’t work with me because I really hated the idea of being a machine that turned out the same product over and over. My creative brain was suffocating.
It wasn’t until I saw a free dresser on Craigslist that I thought…hmm…I could fix that up and sell it. I have always been into painting and redoing things for my home, including working for a few years on paint crew during college. We had no money and I took a chance at giving it a go. That thing sold within a day and the delight I felt at being able to head to the grocery store with several hundred dollars just floored me. God is so good.
Mind you, JC is still his brilliant self, and is setting aside everything he has dreamed of to keep his family fed and in a home. We both have repeatedly asked God why we are still here, why is JC at a job that is not only unfulfilling, but not making use of any of his gifts. I am slowly learning more of why, but question it all often.
From there I went on to find many more free or cheap items to redo and sell in order to be debt free. JC and I have worked hard to give our family what it needs, but also trying to keep improving our situation. I continued to learn more about blogging and building my brand. Pouring myself into my kids for homeschooling during the day. Then in early and late hours working to grow the business and blog. All the while “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford played in my head
At this point we were making the most minimal payments on our loans because that’s all we could do in our efforts to be debt free. After a year or so of blogging I became pregnant again. I had the same issues as before with a subchorionic hematoma, but trusted God to see us through. Our little girl couldn’t wait to meet the world and came 6 weeks early. That led to a 3 week stay in the NICU at a hospital over an hour away. That meant more setbacks, and blessings as well. She was my healing balm for sure. Full story HERE.
When I received a renewal letter for my bare minimum payment plan back in January of 2015, I made a commitment to myself. After 15 long years I had only been able to pay off about $2000 of my debt. That’s even after all I had sent in excess of regular payments in years prior. All because I couldn’t knock out the interest that accrued. That to me was disgusting and unbelievable – that’s it!! I am going to pay off this $11,000+ debt by the time I am 40 – which was in 18 months. I took on freelance work, new sponsors, and worked and worked and worked.
My children took on my chores for me so I could work while they cooked meals. They actually love it and I have to ask to cook sometimes…hahaha. JC works full 40+ hour work weeks as well, then after hours wraps and ships our furniture and sends out orders. He also teaches our oldest his Algebra II before leaving for work in the morning to help with the school workload. Then, he comes home to do his daily work around the house and we begin again.
It is with great pride I can say that we paid that loan off two weeks before my birthday. I wasn’t excited about it. Actually I was angry, but at the same time so very thankful. I felt, and still do, feel that I sold away my life, my time with my children, and time with my husband. We are solid as a rock, though, and praise God in every situation. I can hardly believe that I have been able to more than double my own income in such a short time. It’s an absolute blessing to be debt free…just amazing…and only done with my family, my team.
And, as many of you know, our children are even working on projects of their own to build their savings and live debt free. The find a project piece, purchase it, rework it, and sell it all for their own benefit. What a blessing it is to see them growing in leaps and bounds. At least we can see them learning from our mistakes.
You may also know we have been remodeling at the same time, all debt free. So not only are we able to continue to earn, but have been blessed enough with a surplus to continue in our endeavors. We work on our home in those tiny bits of time. When people ask why we are not done yet, I have to sigh. They truly have no idea of how limited our time is, and that’s okay. For instance, our kitchen has had the supplies to be completed for over a year, but we can only work when we can.
Or how about when people are hateful to me in criticizing my work? I want to reach through the screen and poke them in the eye sometimes. Those words hurt. I would love to blog just for fun instead of income, and get back time to being the mom and wife I used to. To be truthful, I am tired of my house being full of 6 or more extra pieces of furniture and inventory. It feels like we live in a warehouse. But, I also take a minute an look at all the love I am surrounded with and thank God I am able to do what I do. I can only ask that He will continue to give me strength. So many of you shower us with love. It’s a funny mix of emotions, that’s for sure.
For future’s sake, I have more debt for JC’s schooling to tackle. Lord willing we will take care of that soon too. Most importantly, I want to thank you for reading to this point because you helped me earn by doing so. Thank you to those who purchase from my online shop, or share my work in various ways. It all helps us to keep on keepin’ on. I give huge thanks to all my blogger friends for their awesome support, to the sponsors that have found me worthy of sharing their products, to my extended family for being there for us, and to my God for refining me in the fire.
I am at a point where we need to make some decisions. Our growth in business and blog are so awesome that keeping up is a challenge. We need direction for the next steps. If you could say prayer for us, we know it will be heard. We have already seen how God can move mountains and know He will continue to do so. I am also on a mission to improve my health. I am in the worst shape of my life from working hard, sitting and creating, and that’s gonna change too.
I am so happy to say that all debt (home equity loan, both student loans, and credit card are paid off. That’s over $38K paid off. woot! However, I have also paid down $20K on our mortgage and aim to be debt free before I’m 50 years old. whew!
My entire point of sharing our debt free journey with you is to:
- inspire you to not give up – you CAN DO IT!
- show love to others because you never know what they are going through
- lean on the everlasting arms of One who is there to guide you.
Ages ago as a teen, I picked a Bible verse to be my sort of motto. It’s found in Mark 9:23: “All things are possible to him who believes”. My family and I are living testimony that those words are truth. Being debt free is the best gift ever.
To get these DIY tips & tricks in your inbox, be sure to sign up for my newsletter. Until next time!