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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas and a Debt Free New Year!

Seasons Greetings,

Debt as of 06/09/2012:  $92,645.00

Debt as of 12/24/2014:  $0.00

Total Debt Paid Down:  All of it baby!

Well, in the words of the Grateful Dead, "What a long, strange trip it's been."  We started this journey two and half years ago the day we got married.  I wish we could tell you that we had this planned to be done the day before Christmas, but we didn't.  There was actually a time not too long ago that we weren't even sure that we could make it by January 1st (which was our goal).  Check out this picture Em took on the student loan website after our last payment!

This has undoubtedly been an incredible experience for both us.  It has taught lessons of money, savings, wealth, what success really looks like, humility, and faith.  Looking back on this two plus year long lesson, this was the right step.  No matter where life takes us. The lessons don't end here. We have new goals and challenges we are working on now.

We hope that, if nothing else, our story gives you hope. We understand the despair of debt and finances. However, we also understand that you can achieve anything you put your mind to. Two teachers paid off almost 100,000 dollars of debt in two and a half years. Anything is possible with hard work, determination, sacrifice, and faith. Know that you can do this. Know that there is always hope.

We also hope sharing our story publicly with you will help you and your family with your own money goals.  In the meantime, if you have a question or just need some support, please don't hesitate to contact us through this email:

"God must have loved ordinary people, because he made so many of us...but everyday ordinary people do extraordinary things." - Coach Jim Valvano

In Christ,
Bryant and Emily

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Back to Basics

Season's Greetings,

Debt as of 06/09/12:  $92,645.00

Debt as of 12/12/14:  $1,981.19

Total Debt Paid Down:  $90,663.81!!

When Bryant and I were about to get married in the summer of 2012, we decided it would be a good idea to total our debt and see what our financial future would be shaping into. I can clearly remember the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness when we sat in my parent's basement and came up with the number $92,645 as our total. I can also remember this small glimmer of excitement in what a challenge it would be to pay it off as quickly as possible. Call us crazy, but we like a challenge.

Yesterday morning, as we made a debt payment, I can't quite explain the amount of HOPE we had in reversing our numbers. We no longer were facing over $90,000 dollars in debt...we had now paid that much off. I also cannot tell you the amount of joy and excitement shared between us as we realized we are almost done. We have almost finished this. 

While this has all been hard, it has been a blessing in our marriage to accomplish this together. If nothing else, it has helped develop us into a solid team. We have so much hope and joy about what our future holds. We also are filled with excitement because, barring any unforeseen circumstances, we will have this done by the end of 2014. 

So many people ask us how we did it. It all started with prayer, Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, and a budget. While we think the Financial Peace course is beneficial, we have never completed it. We purchased Total Money Makeover for $3.99 off eBay and we went from there. So today's post is a simple back to basics. We are giving you the steps of how we paid off our debt and how you can do it too. 

1.  Hard Work, Sacrifice, and Determination – You could put a lot of other things in this one as well. Team work, commitment, setting goals, etc. The purpose of putting this one first is that in order to pay off large amounts of debt, you have to be committed to working hard. There is no quick fix to debt. If you are going to pay it off quickly, you have to be willing to sacrifice things you want and say no a lot of times. You also have to be focused and committed to following through.

"You must plan your work and then work your plan."

--Dave Ramsey

2.  Make a TIGHT budget and STICK to it – The greatest payments we made on our debt came from the budget. Once your snowball gets rolling, you can really tackle your debts. However, that requires saying no to a lot of other things in the budget. We don’t eat out and we don’t buy new clothes. That works for us, but wouldn’t work for people with growing children. You have to make the budget that works for you and your family. We also do a new budget each month to account for that month’s expenses.

3.  Pay with Cash and Use the Envelope System – It is much harder to give your cash away than to swipe your debit card. That emotional attachment to your cash will make you less likely to spend it. The envelope system also allows you to really control your spending. Once an envelope is empty, that line in the budget is done for the month.

4.  Sell ANYTHING you don’t need - We have sold a lot of things. Ebay, Craigslist, and Amazon are excellent resources for selling things. Between big things like furniture to small things like CDs and DVDs, we have made hundreds of dollars selling things. It has all gone towards debt.

5.  Find extra ways to make money – We have both found ways to make extra money on the side. There are so many options out there. One great way to do this is to pick up any extra jobs on the side. Look into extra income opportunities and use that money towards debt. It can be exhausting to work after you get home for a full time job, but it is worth it in the end.

6.  Roll Change – If you pay with everything in cash, you will have a lot of change leftover. Save it in a jar and deposit it once it accumulates. Put that towards debt.

7.  Use EVERYTHING extra towards debt – If you really want to pay debt off quickly, use everything towards it. Tax refunds, birthday money, Christmas money, etc. It all goes towards debt.

8.  Pick Up Extra Jobs – Bryant is the music minister at our church on top of his full time job as a teacher. That is a part time job plus a full time job.  His teaching job could be two full time jobs!  He has done whatever he needs to do to accomplish our goal. It takes hard work and determination every day.

9.  Find out if you qualify for federal debt forgiveness programs - $5,000 of our debt was taken away because of a government loan forgiveness program. If you are a teacher, check to see if you work in a Title 1 school. They will forgive up $5,000 or more of debt if you work in certain jobs.

10.  Accountability – For us, we had that in each other. We held each other accountable and did this as a team. Find people to hold you accountable. You will need it. This isn’t easy.

11.  Know this isn’t easy, but you CAN do it – So many people have said to us, “I could never do that.” Yes, you can. You may not do it as quickly as we did, but it is possible for anyone who puts their mind to it. It just takes commitment and hard work. If you aren’t satisfied with where things are in your life, do something about it.

12.  Prayer –For us, we couldn’t have done this without praying through it over the last two and a half years. Hear us when we say that this is hard. However, also hear us when we say that this is ABSOLUTELY worth it. It has strengthened our marriage and taught us great lessons in goals, discipline, ambition, and hard work. Praying through this process and leaning on the Lord is what has ultimately sustained us through this journey.

In Christ,
Bryant and Emily

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Rockin Around The Christmas Debt Tree

Season's Greetings,

Debt as of 06/09/2012:  $92,645.00

Debt as of 12/06/2014:  $4,469.77

Total Debt Paid Down:  $88,175.23!

We haven't posted in awhile, so we wanted to give you a quick update on our progress in the debt journey.  Not much longer in 2014, so we're cracking down as we get into the holiday season.  We have a big push to get to our New Year's Day goal of $0.00!!

"Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence."

Vince Lombardi

Merry Christmas,
Bryant & Emily

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Don't Quit.

Hello November,

Debt as of 06/09/2012:  $92,645.00

Debt as of 11/02/2014:   $7,931.17

Total Debt Paid Down:  $84,713.83!!

"Just Win Baby."  "Just Do It."  You've probably heard all of these sports mantras before and so have we.  I mean they're great on t-shirts. However, in the real world, is it really that easy?  Maybe it is, but it's also just as easy to give in.

I heard today's title from a colleague the other evening who was instructing a small group of students to do just that: don't quit.  In a test driven educational society, that might have been the best advice I've heard from a teacher in a while.  Emily and I are so close to ending this two and a half year journey that it hurts.  We basically have wanted to to quit and just say, "Well, we got pretty close."  We are so ready to buy clothes, go out for dinner downtown, plan trips for us and with friends.  On top of that, we would love to be able to give back more to the things and people we love.  There is even the next step of planning for our future, although it's really hard to even see that right now.  

Currently, we are not even on track to hit $0.00 by January 1st, 2015.  So what is even the point . . . at this point?!?!?  It's funny and even harder to explain, but the closer we get to the end the harder it becomes!  Tom Petty's words once again ring true:

"God, its so painful
something that's so close
is still so far our of reach."

The best answer we actually heard in a message this morning.  No matter what happens in our life or how long this takes, it has purpose.  It has changed our lives and definitely helped and strengthened our marriage.  However, we really have no idea how far that purpose stretches.  It is cool to see small glimpses of it though.  Whether it's a friend sharing a small change they made in their life to combat their debt, or even an in depth email from someone saying they weren't sure they could ever change their lives with money.  We are no Dave Ramsey's and don't claim to be. However, we have slowly come to realize how sharing this witness has personalized this story for so many people in our lives (many we don't even know, but they are important just the same).  To flip the story, you are keeping us going.

In the meantime we are going to keep budget cutting where we can.  We are going to keep saying "No" to things we want.

We are also taking on new opportunities. If you follow our blog, you know we are healthy people who eat Paleo most of the time. However, eating clean alone was not getting us to our health goals. We recently got introduced to Advocare and had an outstanding experience with their 24 Day Challenge. Therefore, we are now promoting the products ourselves. If you ever want more information on how to take control of your finances and your health, please ask us about it. The first person we coached through the challenge lost 12 pounds and changed their lifestyle.

We are at mile 20 of the marathon and our legs hurt (a marathon is 26.2 miles if you're not a runner). We're just going to keep our heads up, smile, and take it one step at a time until we finish.  We hope you do the same.

In Christ,
Bryant and Emily

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Home Stretch

Debt as of 06/09/2012:  $92,645.00

Debt as of 10/12/2014:  $9,673.55

Total Debt Paid Down:  $82,971.45

When Bryant and I sat down and totaled our debt about two and a half years ago, we dreamed of the day we would have a single digit in front of the number that we owe. Today is that day.

While we still have a ways to go, $9,000 feels like nothing in comparison to $92,000. This is our home stretch.

Our tip today is this. You can do anything you set your mind too. We know what it feels like to be suffocated by money. We know what it feels like to be weighed down by debt. We get the feeling of wanting a house, shopping, eating out, traveling, a future family, but also to be feeling hopeless because of money.

We don't know where you are at in your life or what stage you may be in. However, we do know have the ability to change your circumstances if you're not happy or content. There is hope for your future. It requires a lot of hard work, sacrifice, a tight budget, saying no to things you REALLY want to say yes to, and accountability. For us, it also required a LOT of prayer.

If you feel suffocated by money or hopeless, reach out to someone.  You're more than welcome to email us if you have questions or just need someone to listen.  We've been there. We get it. We don't judge anyone. Whatever you do, take action. We all have debt or baggage. It doesn't help anyone to hide it.

We know we couldn't have done this without encouragement from people along the way. We are hoping to finish by the end of 2014. It will be a push, but we like a challenge.

In Christ,
Bryant and Emily

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Taking Small Breaks to Break Free from Debt

Grace and Peace to You,

Debt as of 06/09/2012:  $92,645.00

Debt as of 09/30/2014:  $11,063.76

Total Debt Paid Down: $81,581.24

We've been needing to get a post up for sometime now!  Since our annual fall break is upon us, Emily and I decided to get something down this week.  In the spirit of breaks, this post is about that very subject.

We are always working hard at our debt goal at every turn.  We look to save money in every budgeted category from gas to groceries.  We look for ways to increase our revenue or extra income.  We do our job.  Come on now, can we take a break?  The answer is yes, but it depends on what your debt goals are.

Of course, no matter what debt goals or budget you have, we promote just that very fact:  have them.  Our goal and pay down system is very aggressive.  It's probably more aggressive than most.  However, it is worth noting that we have met people along they way who are more aggressive than us (try going on a complete Ramen noodle/vitamin diet)!

OK, so you have a budget.  You can build in breaks.  We are currently on a fall break with our education jobs.  Now are we taking a trip to Key West or Destin, FL?  Well, no, but we did set aside some money to go out to eat, take in a movie, and go hiking.  Now could this money help reach our debt goal just a little bit faster? It is true that it would, but this small amount is worth the sacrifice to be able to reward ourselves with some albeit small, but important experiences together.

Back in August, Emily surprised me with tickets to a concert of one my favorite music artists who is playing out of town in November (btw:  she bought those tickets with online earnings).  After looking at the destination and time involved to get there, we decided to make a long weekend out of it.  Again, are we slowing our progress a little?  Yes.  I maintain that it is because we have a budget that we are able to plan for these breaks.  We know where our money is going and therefore can direct it where we want.

Now you can't spend whenever you want or do whatever you want.  If you did that you wouldn't make any progress.  You can look at what we've paid down and decipher for yourself that we've said no to a lot of things in the past two and half years.  There is a famous quote from 20th century music giant Nadia Boulanger that goes like this:

"To study music, we must learn the rules. To create music, we must break them."

For me, you can apply this to your budget and life.  There are times when you can take a break.  Maybe your favorite music artist is in town and they don't come through that often.  Maybe your favorite sports team, pro or college, has reached the championship for the first time in awhile.  By all means go, but if you're going to take a break in your budget you must first have one and learn it's rules.  Have a plan and follow it.  Then when your life presents one of those "once in a lifetime opportunities" you can free the money to make it happen.  Keep paying and saving!

"Wake me up when September ends."

--Green Day

In Christ,
Bryant & Emily

Monday, September 1, 2014


Grace and Peace To You,

Debt as of 06/09/2012:  $92,645.00

Debt as of 09/01/2014:  $14,207.32

Total Debt Paid Down:  $78,437.68!

As the Labor Day Weekend Shows wind down, we are continuing down the debt trail.  Making great progress but pushing hard up against our deadline of debt free by 2015.  Regardless of that outcome, the closer we get the more folks seemed to either be amazed or confounded by our lives over the past two years. We thought we would include some frequently asked questions (FAQ's) and comments we get when we talk to people about our debt and how we're getting rid of it.

1. How did you get started? First and foremost, we made this decision together before we got married. It is so important to be on the same page about this if you are married. If you aren't in this as a team, it will cause arguments and strife about money. We have been in this as a team since the first day and never fight about money. Emily bought "The Total Money Makeover" by Dave Ramsey from eBay. It cost about $3. We have never completed a Financial Peace course. We started following Dave Ramsey's baby steps outlined in his book and that has gotten us here.

2. Do I have to be married to do this?  No. However, you may have to seek out another avenue for the accountability aspect. This could be in the form of the Financial Peace Class or through a trusted friend/family member. Preferably someone who has their finances together or maybe going through the same debt free journey.

3.  You guys must make a ton of money...No, we are both teachers. Enough said. We have just learned to live within our means. For us, that means saying no to a lot of things that we had grown accustomed to before we started watching our money. You can do this whether you make $20,000 a year or $100,000 a year. It all comes down to a budget and how you spend.

4. How hard is it sticking to a budget? Honestly, it can be extremely hard. The best thing we can recommend is writing down your budget every month. Also, use cash all the time. It is a lot more painful to hand over your cash than to swipe your card. Another thing is to add in things to your budget that make it easier to stick to. We budget in date nights each month where we can take that money and spend it however we want. Have we occasionally slipped or gone over budget? Sure we have. However, since we are in control of our money, we are able to afford a special date night out or going over budget once in a while.

5. Will you finish by the end of December? Honestly, we don't know. As of right know, we are on track. However, looking at the numbers, it will be extremely difficult to make that goal. We welcome all prayers from you as we walk through the next few months with that goal in mind. No matter what happens, we are committed to our debt free goal until it is realized. Our plan is for that to be in December. However, our plans are not always the ones that are correct.

6. Do I have to do this as fast as you all?  Absolutely not. Even if you started adding $50 to your minimum payments each month, you are working to get out of debt. We made the choice to do it as quickly as possible. That choice is not right for everyone. We had to face the reality of how much we would pay in interest on $93,000 of debt and we did not want to live that way.

7. I could never do it.... Yes you can. A personal note from Bryant: There was a time in my life that I never could have done this. However, through my faith in God and my loving wife, I am more in control of my money and really my life than I ever have been before. It has changed how I view wealth, success, and happiness. It has also made me appreciate and be thankful for everything that I do have. I used to be that person who said, "I can never do it." I am here to tell you that you can.

8. Has it been worth it?  Hell yeah it has. Some people on the outside view us as crazy. That's fine. Honestly, we don't care. We own our cars. We have no credit card debt. We have not fought about money in our marriage. We have eliminated all but one student loan. We are setting ourselves up to be in Hawaii next year. We are setting up our entire future to be able to do whatever we want and retire at an early age. We will be able to live and work on our own terms.

9. What has been the best part? For Emily: How good it has been for our marriage to lock arms and take something on as a team. To feel a little more freedom with each payment. To be months away from having the freedom to travel the world with no debt holding us back. For Bryant: To be in control. Not living paycheck to paycheck. Having a plan and sticking to it.

In Christ,
Bryant & Emily

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Online Earning Resources

Grace and Peace to You,

Debt as of 06/09/2012:  $92,645.00

Debt as of 08/09/2014:  $15,957.93

Total Debt Paid Down: $76,687.07

As we continue in our debt journey through summer, we wanted to share some ways that we have been able to pull in in extra money over the last two years.  These sources are all online and none of them give you a lot of money quickly. However, if you put in the time and effort required, they will bring you in some additional income. 

A great piece of advice before signing up for these, create an email address that you do not use. For example, our main email address is through gmail. For these websites, we use an email address created through another site that we never check. That way it keeps our every day email from getting any spam. 

1.     Swagbucks – This website has been the biggest online earning tool for us. It is a website that gives you online dollars for searching, watching videos, taking surveys, and doing special offers. Emily spends some time on this website each day and can make about $50 a month from it. We NEVER do anything on there that requires money. We only do the free videos, surveys, and searching. If you take time to learn how the website works, it can make you some additional money each month. In the destruction of debt, every penny counts. Here is the link if you are interested in this website:

2.     Upromise – This is a website that gives you money back after you make purchases. We have made about $300 off of this website in two years. You could make much more if you shop a lot online. However, due to our budget, we do not shop much. This website works by clicking on a store’s link off of the website. For example, if I am buying something online at Target, I click on Target’s link on the Upromise site. After I make a purchase, I get 5% back of how much I spent at Target in an Upromise Account. You can put that directly towards a student loan or get a check cashed. You have to be signed into your Upromise account to have the purchase count.

3.     Viewpoints – You review products and get points. The points add up and you can exchange them for Amazon gift cards. While this is not cash, it allows us to buy things we need off of Amazon for free. This really helps out when we need gifts for birthdays and Christmas.

4.     Cash Crate – The only thing we use this site for is surveys. You get money for completing surveys on the website. Once you hit $20, they will mail you a check. This one takes more time because the surveys are longer. There are other options to do on this website as well, but we only do the surveys. Here is the link if you are interested:

5.     Checkout 51 App – Our sister in law recommended this app to us. It has different grocery items listed each week. If you purchase that item at the store and snap a picture of your receipt, it gives you a certain amount of money for it. Once you get to $20, it will allow you to cash out. We do not use this as much due to eating Paleo. A lot of the food items listed are not Paleo foods, but you can still have success with it.   For example, if you drink regular milk, you can get 50 cents back on a gallon of milk each week. It would definitely be worth it if you buy the food items listed.

6.     Receipt Hog App – We just learned about this app recently. You can upload any receipt from a grocery or convenient store. Once you earn a certain amount of points, you can get an Amazon or Paypal gift card. This one will take time to earn money, but it is worth it to snap a picture of your grocery receipt and get money back.

7. Bing Rewards - You can earn points through searching on Bing. We use this as our main search engine. Once you accumulate enough points, you can cash them out for multiple things. This is one of the easiest ones because you just use their search engine when you search the web.

These websites definitely all take time and effort. However, they are worth it if you are willing to learn how they work. They have definitely helped us pull in extra money on the side. The positive thing about all of these is that you can do them when you have time from the comfort of your own home and laptop.

Please continue to pray for us as we try and finish our debt goal of $0.00 by December. We are so excited about our progress each day, but are also so ready to be done!

In Christ,

Bryant and Emily Adler

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sometimes This Just Sucks!

Grace & Peace To You,

Debt as of 06/09/2012:  $92,645.00

Debt as of 07/20/2014:  $18,512.79

Total Debt Paid Down: $74,132.21

Well, if you're wondering about the blog post title, it is our reality setting in once again.  We appreciate everyone that's supported us through this project, but sometimes it sucks.  We hope our message, if nothing else, has at least made you think.

Our tip for today is that following through on your debt promise isn't easy.  If you decide to do it, you better make sure you and your family are in it for the long haul.  It's not all cupcakes and rainbows people!

Here's a glimpse of our "Pay Down Our Debt" weekend.

We finished our first week back at work from vacation. So here we go.

Friday Night:

Go out to eat?  Nope, we spent it at home cooking dinner together (that part is really not all that bad) and then we watched a red box rental. We rented Thor 2. Was it good? We don't know. We were both so tired from inservice week that we feel asleep and missed a half of the movie.

Saturday Morning:

Raining.  When you choose not to spend money, the rain falling in the morning seems a little more depressing.  Go out to brunch or coffee at Panera?  Nope, we're paying down debt.  Homemade pancakes and coffee at home (again, really not that bad).  After breakfast, though, it gets interesting.  My wife remarks that most of her clothes have holes in them, as do mine.  "Hey honey, do you want to go shopping?"  Nope, we are paying down debt. So we meal planned and made the grocery list, but we had to make sure that it stayed within $100. That is our grocery budget for a week.

Bryant goes to three stores (Kroger, Aldi, and a local market) to keep us within the budget. Emily stays home and does a free workout on the internet. On a side note, Fitness Blender is a completely free website that has about every workout you can imagine. It is incredible and is currently what Em uses every day she does not run...which is also free.  Here is their link:

This is all followed by a cheap lunch of sandwiches, apples, peanut butter, and pickles.

Saturday Afternoon:

Bryant takes a nap. Emily watches Netflix. Netflix is $10 a month and is what we use instead of cable. Bryant gets up from nap. One more Netflix show, in which Emily falls asleep, and on to making dinner in. If you are counting at home, this is our 4th meal made in this weekend. However, if you are looking for a cheap date night, pick out a complex recipe and cook it at home together. Have you ever tried to cut a spaghetti squash without chopping off your fingers? Try it and get back to us. That in itself is a $4 adventure date that requires massive team work and some YouTubing.

Saturday Night:
Eat the spaghetti squash meal and watch Hitch on Netflix.


Breakfast is two pieces of toast. Then it is church followed by leftovers at home. Bryant goes to work on a music project that might be a potential revenue stream. Emily stays at home and gets ready for her first week back with students.

While this process is not glamorous and we definitely feel temptations of spending, we know we are one loan away from being done. The most important thing for us is that we got quality time together because we are in this together. When we look back on the weekend, was this really that bad? Is that what we were fearing by choosing to pay down our debt quickly? We have learned to live within our means. We have also talked multiple times about how, through two years of marriage, we are happy.  Build a strong foundation for your marriage and be intentional about sticking together. It's not easy for any of us, but it can be done.

In Christ,
Bryant and Emily

Friday, July 4, 2014

Eating Healthy on a Budget

Grace and Peace to You,

Debt as of 06/09/2012:  $92,645.00

Debt as of 07/04/2014:  $19,176.38

Total Debt Paid Down:  $73,468.62

One of the hardest parts of the budget for us is the grocery list. When we originally started doing our budget, we tried to only spend $60 a week on groceries. However, we only did that for a few months before we changed that number to $100. Even moving it to $100, it is one of the areas we struggle to stay within budget. The reason for that is we really like to eat healthy. In January of this year, we actually started trying to eat mainly a Paleo diet.

Why Paleo?

Emily is a migraine sufferer and her headaches started to get much worse this past year. She was having 6 – 8 migraines a month. That is really difficult to manage with a teaching career. Therefore, we decided to make a change in our diet and see if that had any impact on frequency of the headaches.

Paleo, also known as the cave man diet, is basically no processed foods, wheat, or dairy. We started this in January of last year. Our meals mainly consisted of meat, vegetables, and fruit. There are also a lot of breads you can make with almond and coconut flour. We started this diet in January and Emily has not had to take her migraine medicine since then. It has done wonders for her health.

The hardest part of this is that meat and produce are the most expensive things at the grocery store. Sadly, in our country, the cheapest foods are the most processed and worst for you. So we have had to figure out ways to eat Paleo on a budget. We recently purchased The Paleo Kitchen. It’s an amazing cookbook and where we got most of our meals this week. You can also check out the author’s free blog,, for outstanding recipes.

We plan out our meals weekly. Here is a snap shot of our meals for this week:

Sunday – Cereal
Monday – Dinner with Bryant’s mom.
Tuesday – Grilled Chicken and Stuffed Mushrooms
Wednesday –Rosemary and Sun Dried Tomato Meat balls and Broccoli
Thursday – BBQ Grilled Chicken and Asparagus
Friday – Hamburgers (No Bun) and Sweet Potato Fries
Saturday – Steak and Asparagus

We purchased this week’s meals in $105. We only went over budget $5 and still ate pretty Paleo based diet this week. We try to throw in one or two cheap nights like cereal or breakfast for dinner. That allows us to eat healthier the other nights. We also always cook enough to have leftovers for lunch the next day. That way we don’t have to spend any extra money on lunch. Meal planning is the other essential because then you don’t impulse buy at the store or during the week.  It also takes the stress off each day of trying to come up with a meal after work.  

It’s also important to note that we still have non Paleo meals or modifications to the diet.  Bryant is a runner and needs carbs for workouts.  He will still have bread or sandwiches during the week.  Whether you choose Paleo or something else, I think where most people fall short is trying to go “cold turkey” from the diet they’ve been on to something new overnight.  We believe the smarter strategy is to try and incorporate changes slowly and find what works for you and what doesn’t.  You will be more likely to stick with small changes overtime that grow into bigger lifestyle changes.  The alternative is usually trying to change overnight, sticking with it for a week, and then binging back into your old patterns dropping the healthy changes.

Here’s where we shop to get the best deals:

Aldi – Buy your produce here. It is good quality and about $1.00 - $1.50 cheaper than Kroger/Food City. We also buy any condiments there.  A big bottle of mustard there only cost $0.69.

Trader Joes – Things like coconut oil are actually cheaper at Trader Joes than at Kroger/Food City. Meat is more expensive but higher quality. If we save money on the grocery a week, we will buy meat the next week at Trader Joes. We hope to do more of our shopping there after we get out of debt.

Kroger – We buy our meat from Kroger and anything else we need. They run really good deals early Saturday morning. You also have a bigger selection and less of a crowd.

The grocery budget is still a work in progress. Health is so important so we forgive ourselves some when we go over budget here. 

Happy 4th,
Bryant and Emily

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Grace & Peace To You,

Debt as of 06/09/2012:  $92,645.00

Debt as of 06/26/2014:  $19,695.28

Total Debt Paid Down:  $72,949.72

We are very fired up about the progress we're making!  Like the US Men's National Team, we're limping in but going through to the next elimination round of our debt payoff.  An interesting stat about the debt numbers you see above is that when we began two years ago, the $92K number was made up of eleven different debts. These included student loans, car loans, a medical bill, and a credit card bill.  Today's debt number consists of one student loan.  That's all that's left!  We're on our way to reaching our goal of posting $0.00 by the end of December 2014. 

Today's money saving tip is about:  Envelopes.  We didn't event this system, but we sure use it!  The system is fairly simple.  You budget a certain amount for each category. For example, we budget $400 a month for groceries. Then, when we get paid, we pull $400 in cash and place it in an envelope labeled "Grocery". When we need groceries for the week, we pull a certain amount from the envelope. When the envelope is empty, we have no more to spend on that category for the month. This prevents us from impulse buying and randomly swiping our card. It also allows us to know where every dollar we make goes. With the exception of gas, we hardly ever use our debt cards for payment. We have a gas budget, but we really like to pay at the pump. Our envelopes consist of the following: Grocery, Date Night, Miscellaneous (which includes clothes, haircuts, etc.), Entertainment, and Extra Earned. The extra earned envelope is one we try to put money into each week. We also have a tax deductible receipt envelope since we are both teachers and can claim money spent on our classrooms.

We obviously have other lines in our budget, but most of those transactions are done online.

This system may seem a little tedious. However, we have found from personal experience that it really helps you control your spending.

Many people use a file folder for their envelopes, which is how we started. We recently decided, as a visual motivator, to post it on the wall in our dining room. It has almost become our debt freedom/dream wall. It includes our envelopes, running total of debt payments for the month, and our debt payments from the previous month so we can try and beat it each month. The newest addition to our wall includes a map of Hawaii. We put this up to begin planning our trip for next summer, but mainly to keep us focused on what we're working towards. The last thing you may see is a quote written on a piece of paper above the board. It is from one of Bryant's favorite singer songwriters, Scott Miller. It simply reads:

"If you're not going to make your dreams epic, why bother to dream anything at all."

In Christ,
Bryant and Emily

Friday, June 13, 2014

Our American Dream

Grace & Peace To You,

Debt as of 06/09/2012: $92,645.00

Debt as of 06/13/2014: $21,959.38

Total Debt Paid Off: $70,685.62

We recently celebrated our two year anniversary. Originally, we had hoped to be done with our debt by that day. While we did not achieve that goal, we are celebrating being $70,000 less in debt. Our new goal is to have our debt completed by the end of 2014. 

The road to debt freedom is certainly not an easy one. It is a marathon, not a sprint. When we first started, our intensity was high and the journey was fresh. Two years in, the journey can be exhausting and, at times, very demoralizing.

A few months ago, Emily and I came to the realization we would not meet our two year goal. We started to contemplate stopping our debt journey and putting it on hold to save for a house. That is one of our big life goals. While we would still pay on debt, we were thinking about slowing down and putting more money towards a home. It was something we were seriously thinking and praying about. Isn't that the American Dream? House, white picket fence, 2 kids, and a golden retriever?

Our prayers were answered in the form of a friend who works in the financial education field. He was familiar with our story and what we are trying to accomplish. When we shared our thoughts on stopping to buy a home, he offered a different perspective on the "American Dream." He said he believed what we are doing is the "American Dream"...being debt free. He broke down our situation and reaffirmed our plans for the future. Here are some things that changed our perspective from that conversation:

1. Your American Dream can be different than what society tells you it should be. Don't be defined by what the masses tell you is standard. 

2. Just because you are out of college or there is a 3 in front of your age doesn't mean you're behind the rest of the world if you don't have a house, kids, etc. Live your dream, not someone else's. Rather than focusing on what's not there, focus what you have and how it can enhance your life. Our lives are not defined by not having a house yet. 

3. Figure out what you want and what makes you happy. Don't change it based on what society says is normal. For example, society would tell us at 28 and 32 years old, we should have a house and kids by now. We don't. Do we want a house and children? Absolutely. However, our goal right now is to spend the first years of our marriage becoming debt free and traveling together. If you already have those things, we are not saying that you are wrong and we are right. It's okay and normal for everyone to have different goals. What we are doing is abnormal and seems weird to a lot of people. We believe it has strengthened our marriage and has been the right path for us. We are not saying it is the right path for everyone. No matter what your situation is, if you are hampered by debt then we would encourage you to take a look at your life. How is the debt defining you? Is money holding you back from what makes you happy? Our dream is to travel together the first few years of marriage and to set up a good future for ourselves and our family. Debt was holding us back. Therefore, we had to reexamine how we lived and make changes to reach those goals. 

4.  Our New American Dream: Being debt free. Living and working on our own terms.  Holding all 52 cards. Choosing how to spend our time and money!

In Christ,

Bryant and Emily

Sunday, June 1, 2014

How We Save

Grace and Peace to You,

Here are our latest debt totals

Debt as of 06/09/2012:  $92,645.00

Debt as of 06/01/2014:  $23,500.30 

Total Debt Paid Down:  $69,144.70!!!!!!!

Yes, America, we are getting closer!  The first date listed is our wedding day.  When we started we set a goal at being at $0.00 for our two year anniversary.  While we have made tremendous progress over the last two years, it is very clear that we will not make that goal.

However, we do not view that as a setback and it only makes us hungrier to finish!  We have been very blessed over the first two years of our marriage and can only be thankful to have the opportunity and blessing to live our lives in this way.  Many of you have asked how we are doing it.  The short answer is a lot of patience, sacrifice, prayers, and discipline (the last one mainly coming from my wife:).  The rest of this post is a list of how we are able to make the progress we have in our finances.  Feel free to comment or contact me through the blog if you wold like to hear more on one of these.

  1. Budget:  You have to push a pencil and see what you're getting each month for income, bills, spending, and of course what is your debt.  We actually do this the old fashion way in a notebook, but there are plenty of online templates for setting up a budget.  The biggest part in this is knowing and having control over where every dollar you earn goes. That includes the change in your purse or car. If you really want to know the truth then turn on Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and look at last month. Our budget is done month to month because every month has different expenses to account for. We list our bills first and then take care of the fixed expenses.
  2. Sacrifice:  We don't eat out (other than one date night per month that is budgeted).  We don't shop.  We don't really go out with friends (this one has been especially hard for me).  I can't tell you how many things we've had to say no too with friends.  Even though it is tough, it's amazing the feeling you get when you have control over your life and money.
  3. Meal Planning:  We set our meals a week in advance on a calendar.  Each meal is designed to make leftovers for the next day for lunch.  We split a smoothie each day for breakfast.  In total we live on about $100 per week for food.  This one may be a little different for you if you have kids, but the planning aspect of this one is huge.  This also saves us time and stress of meal planning through the week, not to mention we've actually gotten better at cooking!  I owe this one all to Emily. Check out our cool meal calendar (you can't see it but written in on the days are what we have for dinner that night):
  4. No Cable:  This one wasn't as hard to let go of as you might think.  We only have wireless internet for our jobs through our provider.  We use Netflix and Hulu which are very cheap for monthly subscriptions.  A friend even gave us a digital antenna which gives us the major networks.  I'm telling you even after this we may not go back to cable.  Very thankful that the World Cup is being streamed on all ESPN/ABC though:)!
  5. Extra Earned: Where can you bring in a little more money each month? There are online earning sites that we use that will bring in a small amount (every penny counts in the debt battle). We use Swagbucks and Bing Rewards for extra income each month. We roll our change. We use all the extra money we get towards debt. That includes birthdays, Christmas, tax returns, part time job, etc. 
  6. Ebay and Craigslist:  "Declutter" your life!  We recently downsized to a smaller apartment to save money on rent. In that transition, we realized we had a lot of stuff that we didn't even use. Therefore, we sold it all on Ebay and Craigslist and made several hundred dollars in the process. You would be surprised what you can find to sell if you look around your house. 
  7. Reward Yourself: It's important not to forget yourself and your marriage in this process. We give ourselves a date night. We give ourselves fun money that we can spend however we choose. We save for vacation each month. We celebrate each time we pay off a debt. We are still doing a small trip for our anniversary. 
Most importantly, we do all of this as a team. It is certainly not easy. However, it has strengthened our marriage to lock arms and work towards a goal together. We can honestly say in two years of marriage that we have not had one fight about money.

"Live like no one else now so you can live like no one else later." - Dave Ramsey

In Christ,
Bryant & Emily

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Taking Inventory

Grace & Peace To You,

Debt as of 06/09/2014:  $92,645.00

Debt as of 05/03/2014:  $26,391.21

Total Debt Paid Down:  $66,253.79

I feel like having more money will make my life better.  Yes, you read that right.  If I'm honest with you then I have to say that thought goes through my head daily.  We are in the final third of our debt pay down process and really we both think about money all the time.  I'm beginning to think this is going to be the hardest part.

It's so close we can feel it, yet we are no where close.  All I can think about sometimes is all the "things" we want to do when we get out of debt:  vacations, shopping, eating out, . . . you know the list! Sometimes I even contort my brain into feeling like we are already out of debt.

 Of course money doesn't buy happiness.  Easier said than done.  I'm not going to even get into the Donald Sterling situation, but will say that he could pay off our debt with one bank transaction and I'm not sure want to be him.  I asked Emily if she wanted to be Kim Kardashian . . . I mean we would be rich and could pay off our debt faster?  I cannot print her response :)  OK, I'm going to go a little further back for one of those great E Hollywood celebrity downfall stories.

Do you remember Stanley Burrell?  We have been studying him in my History of Rock class as part of our hip hop unit.  Not only did MC Hammer bring us parachute pants and make tall lanky white kids from East Tennessee try to imitate the dance moves on his video.  He also underscored that if you have a million dollars and spend it all, you are still broke.  If you have a million dollars and spend two million, you're broke and a million in debt.  If you don't pay the IRS then Mr. Smith will find you.  Not sure how Hammer is doing today, but I hope he is making his own peace just as we are trying to do.  He was rich, but I'm not sure it made his life better.  Maybe it did because the "U Can't Touch This" video still looks like a lot of fun.

It's never about the amount of money, but always about how you use the money you have.  Over the past several weeks we have encountered several events and chance meetings that have made me take inventory on our life.  It is from those chance encounters that I have drafted this list of ten reasons that being out of debt that will make us RICH.  None of them include a mansion or a fancy car.

Top Purchases When We Are Out Of Debt

1)  Living and working on our own terms.
2)  Being content with what we have.
3)  Being able to visit our family whenever we want.
4)  Being able to give to others.
5)  Being able to buy the groceries we want at the stores we want!
*still perplexed as to why it costs more to eat healthy in this country
6)  Being able to work fewer extra jobs so we have more time to spend together.
7)  Owning a home.
8)  Being able to buy a grill for that home.
9)  Starting a family.
10)  Traveling.

We are still in debt.  We are still getting out.  We will still struggle with the darkness that it brings, but we will succeed.  We have a great life and I'm very thankful that God has given it to us for however long we have it.

Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em,
Emily & Bryant

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Student Loans

Debt as of 06/09/2012:  $92,645.00

Debt as of 04/06/2014:  $29,926.25

Total debt paid down:  $62,718.75!!!!

Grace & Peace to You,

Whew!  It feels good to be in the twenty thousands, but not even close to what $0.00 is going to feel like.  Thank you everyone who reads this blog and has given us kind words of support along the way!

Today's post is more of a response to a family member of ours from Memphis.  I love these folks and affectionately refer to my in-laws who live in the far west of Tennessee as the “Memphis Mafia” a name taken from Elvis’ inner circle back in the day.  The question she posed was, now that we are quickly approaching $0.00, if given the chance to go back in the past would we borrow money again to pay for school?  So we will try to give our insight on the two dreaded words that affect most of America’s college graduates:  Student Loans!

If you don’t know already, most of our starting debt number was due to student loans.  It’s funny I’m always quick to tell people, “Yeah, we weren’t credit card crazy . . . I mean ours is mostly student loans,” like that somehow makes it OK.  I mean, like we’re better than someone else because our debt has a different name.  Yeah right!  One thing to keep in mind is that no matter what your starting point is you shouldn’t feel ashamed for why you're there.  No one is better than you and debt sucks no matter who you are or what it is.  You should only be ashamed if you have the knowledge to fix it, but don’t do anything about it.

Anyway, back to student loans.  Were our student loans worth it?  Since we were asked that question Emily and I we have tossing it back and forth amongst ourselves over dinners in the house this week.  The following points are what we’ve derived from those conversations:

1.  Borrowing (Student Loans) should be your last resort.  If you are a prospective college student you should literally run down every scholarship, Pell grant, work-study, summer job, etc. you can find, period.  You can pay and work your way through school.  It just takes a little effort.

2.  You don’t have to run out and go to college the first year after you graduate.  Are you ready to go to college?  Some people are and they should go.  Looking back on my days at the Alma mater, I don’t really think I was mature enough to handle college.  Now I’m not saying spend five years wasting time and life, but there is nothing wrong with working and saving for a year to get ready to go to college.  Maybe it takes two years.  Maybe take a couple classes at a time.  Heck, I had a friend who took a year off to work in some abroad program and learned to speak fluent German.  Do you think he regrets taking a year off before hitting higher education?  

If you’re not ready for this major life choice, then don’t enter into it...especially borrowing a ton of money to do it.  You don’t have to jump into the local state school just because “everyone else is doing it and it seems like the what I’m supposed to do.”  Have the confidence to say, “This may be the right choice for other people, but it’s not the right choice for me right now.”  It’s hard to have that kind of confidence at a young age, but I hope you can find earlier than we did.

3.  College is essential.  Now, there is plenty of research out there, as well as common knowledge, that say having a college degree will better prepare you to get a decent job in today’s world. An individual can succeed into today’s world without a college degree.  Some folks have taken that road and done very well, but it is often a much harder road to success.  Success for us is living and working on our own terms.  We’re not quite there yet and we went to college.

4.  Do you really need that degree from Cornell?  Look, lets be realistic. If you didn't earn a major academic or sports scholarship through high school or don't have the financial backing from home, then maybe you shouldn't go $200,000 into debt for an out of state degree you could get at a state school.  Now I'm not trying to crush anyone's dream, but if you didn't knock it out of the park in high school, are you really going to do a 180 and become a young scholar?  Those people are out there, but most of us will fall into our repeated patterns and this time it will cost us.  You need to take a serious look at the following questions:

               Where do you want to attend school and how much would it potentially cost?
               Is it for a specific degree program?
               Is that degree program offered somewhere closer for less?
               Is this degree going to lead to a job that will support you after school? (That’s a big one)
               Could you knock out the first two years at community college for less?
               Are you even ready to go to college?  I mean don't spend $10,000 dollars to go party and play video games for a year.  You could stay at home and accomplish both and save some money.
               Do you even have a plan?  
               And please don't pick your college based on the football team, basketball team, or marching band.  That last one might seem nerdy, but I know people who have done it!  Now if you're a music major and the school has a good music program (plus an awesome marching band) then go for it and get a scholarship!
5.  Lastly, sometimes loans are inevitable.  Again, this should always be a last resort.  The loans we took did help us help us attain the degrees and the jobs we have today.  To answer the question at the beginning of the post, I think we would both answer: Yes, we would have taken the loans again. However, that picture would look a lot different:

• We would not have taken more than we needed.  When we borrowed for our loans, we took way too much and spent recklessly.  It’s scary sometimes how easy it is to take money you don’t have and sink!
• We would have worked in the summers and through college to pay cash for as many things as possible.
• We would have been proactive on chasing down the free money that is available.  Not all scholarships and grants are based on grades!  Scrap for every dollar people.
• We would have attended a school or community college closer to home for 2 years to commute and save money on housing and basic courses that transfer if we needed too.  There is nothing wrong with knocking out basics or living at home right after high school.  You will have plenty of time to live in an apt. or on your own.

Keep paying and saving!

In Christ,
Bryant & Emily

Monday, March 31, 2014

Paleo Bears

Debt as of 06/09/2012:  $92,645.00

Debt as of 03/31/2014:  $30,267.48

Total Debt Paid Down: $62,377.52

Grace & Peace To You,

Yes, you did read that latest debt number right!  While we are not quite yet in the "home stretch," we are definitely in the final leg of our debt pay down schedule!

I'm also happy to tell you that this is the first post that I am officially "typing" through the help of my wife's elementary school's online typing program.  The name of the program is:  Big Brown Bear.  The readers of our old blog Big Bear Budgets should appreciate that!  If you're wondering (and I know you are) I'm currently at 26 words per minute on level 2.  This is proof that you can teach an old bear new tricks!

One of the great blessings of this journey is that we cook almost all of our meals at home.  While neither one of us were inept in the kitchen, I would not consider Emily or myself a great cook before we got married.  Living on a budget has forced us both to get into kitchen armed with cookbooks & online recipes!  While our home is not a 5 Star French Riviera restaurant, we do crank out some pretty decent and healthy meals.  Here is one of our new favorites that we had last night.  It is from PaleOMG.  This is a great site if you're into this cooking and diet.  While we would probably consider ourselves more "Primal" (again, these are crazy health nut terms) than "Paleo" we use this website a lot and love the meals.

Fully Loaded Citrus Marinated Chicken Lettuce WrapsCook time20 minsPrep time1 hour 20 minsServes: 3Ingredients
  • 3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • cup orange juice 
  • juice of 2 lemons juice of 2 limes
  • tablespoon chili powder
  • teaspoon smoked paprika
  • jalapeño pepper
  • minced 1 minced garlic clove 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon black pepper
  •  pineapple guacamole
  • to garnish 6 strips of bacon
  • Sir Kensington's Chipotle Mayo or homemade chipotle mayo 
  • butter lettuce, for wrapping

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

2. Place chicken in a gallon resealable bag or in a deep dish. Add orange juice, lemon juice, lime juice, chili powder, paprika, jalapeño, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix well to coat the chicken and place in the fridge for an hour to marinate. 

3. While chicken marinates, make pineapple guacamole. 

4. Once guacamole is made, place in the fridge to chill. Place slices of bacon on a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Put in oven an bake for 15-20 minutes, or until bacon is cooked to preference then set aside for later. 

5. Remove foil. Place chicken on baking sheet and into oven for 15 minutes (discard marinade), then turn on the broiler and cook for 3-4 minutes until the chicken has browned on top and is completely cooked through. 

6. Place a couple pieces of butter lettuce on a plate, add chicken, top with chipotle mayo, bacon, then then guacamole and enjoy!

Recipe by PaleOMG - Paleo Recipes at

Keep Paying and Saving!

In Christ,
Bryant & Emily

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Laundry Detergent

Grace & Peace To You,

Debt as of 06/09/2012:  $92,645.00

Debt as of 01/18/2014:  $37,713.73

Total Debt Paid Down:  $54,931.27

Snow Day!  Yes, folks a random snow day from out of nowhere has given me a chance to catch up on the blog.
A member of my Running/Strength/Conditioning/Triathlon Staff contacted me several weeks ago after reading one of our posts.  Now if you wondering how I have a training staff for my amateur sports adventures let me clue you in.  These people are friends (who are former athletes and coaches) that I freely solicit advice from.  They receive no monetary compensation for their advice and only receive the glory and pride of watching me finish somewhere in the bottom half of several hundred participants in local races.

Anyway, this coach, who we will call T.J., asked me how we are saving money and are able to pay down the debt at the rate we are.  Great question!  We have made many sacrifices and do many things, but will start you off with something simple.  We make our own laundry detergent.  Yes, you did read that right.  Why (you may ask)?  Have you seen the prices for detergent?  While walking through Target with Emily, I scanned the prices for 1.5L and the 3L sizes in most of the name brands i.e. Tide, Gain.  They range anywhere $8 (1.5L) to $10-13 (3L).  Now this wouldn't be that bad if they lasted for awhile. However, they don't.  When they say 32 or 64 loads they mean if you will get that many if you fill the cap to the 1 line on the cap.  How many of you do that?  If you were single and only washed your clothes that might work.  If you are washing for 2-5 (or more) you need the 2-3 line on each load. The detergent will go fast and then, before the month is up, you're spending around $10 for more detergent.  I have to credit our West TN cousins a.k.a. the "Memphis Mafia" for showing us this money saver!

This is nothing new and I'm sure there are many resources out there better than this blog who can tell you how to do this.   Just jump on your Google Machine and search "homemade laundry detergent" and you can see a million   However, as loyal readers of our blog, we will share with you what we do and know and you can take it from there.


Homemade Laundry Soap

1/3 bar Fels Naptha or other type of soap, as listed above
½ cup washing soda
½ cup borax powder
~You will also need a small bucket, about 2 gallon size~

Grate the soap and put it in a sauce pan.  Add 6 cups water and heat it until the soap melts.  Add the washing soda and the borax and stir until it is dissolved.  Remove from heat.  Pour 4 cups hot water into the bucket.   Now add your soap mixture and stir.  Now add 1 gallon plus 6 cups of water and stir.  Let the soap sit for about 24 hours and it will gel.  You use ½ cup per load.

*each time you get a cup for a load you will need to give the container several good stirs.

Now, we are both teachers and while we have a weekly laundry load, our line of work doesn't require to much heavy washing of our clothes.  If you are in the construction business or some other outdoor line of work, you may need to supplement some of you wash load with a store bought detergent.

The best thing about this process is once you buy the ingredients listed above they will last for awhile.  We literally haven't bought laundry detergent in our a year and a half!

We hope this tip helps you save some money.  Keep paying and saving!

In Christ,
Bryant & Emily