In February 2012, Kelsey Folmar became a vegan.
“After nine months, I was like, ‘I can do anything!'” the 27-year-old Texan remembers.
After tackling one major project, she turned her attention to the next: her husband’s student loan debt.
Folmar and her husband Kendan were high school sweethearts who were married in 2010. “I knew he had student debt, but I wasn’t really tracking it because I wasn’t married to him,” she explains.
The day before her wedding, she joked that she couldn’t wait to marry into $US16,000 worth of debt. “I made that joke, and six or eight months later, I got a letter from his school and we logged online — and realised it was actually $US24,000,” she recalls. “That night I’m pretty sure we both cried.”
They started hacking away at the balance after he graduated in 2011.
Although money was always tight while they lived in Austin, they made their debts a priority even while each of them earned no more than $US13 an hour working for an online education website and a water-testing laboratory.
By the time Folmar turned her full attention to the debt in 2012, the grand total was about $US17,000.
After watching a TED Talk by Adam Baker called “Sell Your Crap, Pay Off Your Debt” and his documentary “I’m Fine, Thanks,” about Americans living in debt, Folmar signed up for Mint.com, an online budgeting tool she’d heard about from a friend.
“By the end of the night, I had all of my accounts set up,” she says. “I was already starting to see where we were screwing up. I asked Kendan: ‘How much money do you think we spent on food last month? $US500? $US600?’ It was $US1,200!”
After a few months of making their minimum payments of about $US184 a month, Folmar used a tool to figure out how long her current payments would take to eliminate her debt — and realised that it would take a decade. “Some people are fine to do that and that’s good for them, but I didn’t want that burden for 10 years,” she explains. “I had other goals.”
So they started paying $US300 a month, and realised they didn’t feel much of a pinch. “We started talking about every purchase we made,” she says. “Even today, two and a half years later, we still talk about anything over $US30 other than groceries. Any fun item needs to be discussed. I know it sounds insane, but it worked really well.”
The month after that, they bumped the payments up to $US500. Then $US1,000. Then $US1,200, even though Kendan was still earning $US12 an hour.
At first, they paid the loans equally, but transitioned into Dave Ramsey’s snowball method, which eliminates the smallest debt first and works up from there. As they started making progress, Folmar began to track their journey on her blog, The Little Red Journal.
In 2013, after a year of diligent payments, they picked up and moved home to the Houston area, where Kendan was able to find a job as a chemist in the oil and gas industry paying nearly double his previous salary, and Folmar found work as a copywriter in the same industry making $US28 an hour. They were able to rent Kendan’s cousin’s spare bedroom for $US400 a month and put $US2,700 a month to their loans.
“In April 2014, I set a goal that by the time I’m 27, I want to have those loans paid off,” shares Folmar. “I turned 27 on April 18, and we made the last payment on the 10th.” They had paid the bulk of their debt in less than 18 months.
That June, they found out that they were expecting a baby, and set the goal to save $US16,000 by November to buy their own home. They were in their own place that December, and are expecting their daughter in February.
“The other day I was on Mint and said to Kendan, ‘You pulled $US40 out of the ATM?,’ then realised it was a year ago,” Folmar says. ‘That’s the kind of banter we have now. That’s the only way we’ve managed to pay this debt off.”