In 2012, Bryant and Emily Adler totaled up their assets and debts.
They owed $US92,645.
“We were excited about getting married,” Bryant remembers, “but we had all these goals. We wanted to travel, and we looked at this huge number and thought, ‘How are we ever going to do that?'”
Emily recalls being inspired by friends who used a Dave Ramsey course to pay off their own debts — the same friends that she and Bryant reached out to when they decided to tackle theirs.
“When we totaled our debt, we were just kind of like, ‘We don’t want to live this way. We don’t want to be defined by this,'” Emily says. “Contacting these people and saying, ‘How do we start? Help us!’ was a big part of our success — just having that accountability to people who had been through it.”
The Adlers had about $US79,000 of student loans, plus smaller car loans, medical bills, and credit card debt.
To start eliminating it, they used Dave Ramsey’s Snowball Method, which encourages people to pay the smallest debt first, then use the emotional boost from that success to tackle the next smallest, and so on until every debt has been paid. Emily ordered his “Total Money Makeover” and used it to guide their process.
“We made a spreadsheet of our debts and listed them from smallest to largest,” Emily explains. “We started with the smallest and went from there — although we tackled the car payment before another, smaller one, because the interest rate was so high we wanted to get rid of it. When we paid each debt off, we just stuck that minimum payment onto the next one.”
The Adlers tackled their debt aggressively, to the point where they put any extra cash at all, like a holiday gift, towards their debt, and didn’t allocate a dollar to buying clothing. “By the end of it, we were wearing clothes with holes in them,” Emily shares.
She found the strict shopping limit one of the hardest parts of the process — that and the disconnect from other people who didn’t understand the urgency of paying this debt. “Having to say no to people who didn’t always understand what we were doing was really hard,” she says. “Some people didn’t and don’t agree with what we did.”
Bryant also found the social aspect of their lifestyle to be the hardest adjustment. “We didn’t really have a social life, whether it was going out with friends, going out to eat, or going to the movies,” he says. “We didn’t do that kind of stuff without gift cards. There was really nothing outside of work, and that was tough on me, having friends in town and having to say no, I couldn’t do things.”
While Emily teaches elementary school, Bryant is a high school band director and was able to take a second job in a similar capacity at his church.
“Football is really big in the South,” he explains. “In marching season, we would practice Tuesday and Thursday nights, plus Friday night games and sometimes Saturday band competitions. The church job added Wednesday night and Sunday morning.” The extra money he earned went to the debt.
Two and a half years after beginning, the Adlers made their very last debt payment on Christmas Eve 2014. They documented the project on their blog, The Adler Debt Project.
To celebrate, they plan to go out to a nice dinner, and take a trip to Hawaii this summer.
Bryant will keep his second job, and the money that had previously gone to their debt will bulk up their grocery budget, finance their vacation, and mostly go straight into savings. Next year, they plan to buy a house.
Despite the difficulty, Bryant and Emily say it was worth it and that anyone can follow in their footsteps. “There’s always hope,” Emily says. “We know what it’s like to look at your finances and feel hopeless, and like there’s no chance for you. But you can change your circumstances.”