How One Family Learned From Their Mistakes and Paid Off $20,500 in Debt

FamilyWhen I was growing up we never talked about money.

It just wasn’t a topic of discussion. Even now it is thought to be a taboo subject.

Have you ever talked about money with your friends? Nope, you just don’t go there.

For most people it’s a private thing. And I get it. Nobody wants to admit they’re bad with money.

My parents did everything they could to provide us with the best life possible. They had four daughters. My dad was a school teacher. My mom was also a school teacher but decided to stay home after I was born.

They raised four girls on a teacher’s salary and yet, I never wanted for anything. We usually got what we wanted. I remember shopping at Sears and Venture for clothing and wishing I could have more.

But the truth is I didn’t need more. We all had plenty. Plenty of clothes. Plenty of toys. Even awesome summer vacations! And when it came time for our weddings – we basically pointed at what we wanted and got it.

The Price of Not Being Thankful

Looking back I never truly appreciated how much we were given. I very rarely ever said thank you. I came to expect whatever it was I wanted. Truth is, I became spoiled.

My undergraduate degree was paid for, in full, by my two very hard working parents. That included expensive study abroad trips to Mexico and London. Because of my selfless parents, I left college with no debt. And then I messed up that “no debt” thing.

I got out of college and landed a little job at a non-profit. I made an entry-level salary, but still lived with my parents and thus had no living expenses.

Where did all that money go? I have no idea. I saved very little of it.

Creating Bad Shopping Habits

My husband and I got our first apartment. We paid $500 a month for a nice little one bedroom. I immediately wished it was a two-bedroom. Right off the bat it wasn’t good enough.

I remember going shopping and pulling out a credit card to pay for new clothes and shoes. I never wore the same outfit to work. I remember buying a Louis Vuitton purse on eBay for $400. I hid the fact that I’d done that.

Although my husband and I were not married yet, I was already dishonest about my shopping habits. I would put all the new clothes away before he got home then throw away the bags and receipts. It was a bad combination of irresponsibility and ignorance.

My husband was in nursing school, but he still worked part-time to help pay the bills. I sat down and tried to come up with my first budget.

I distinctly remember breaking down in tears at one point because it seemed like we never had enough. But we were constantly eating out and I was constantly shopping.

It never even occurred to me that my spending habits were contributing to our lack of finances.

Expecting Money Would Always Be There

I was so out of touch with money. I literally expected it to always be there when I needed it. I never worked in high school. I never learned the value of money. I never learned the value of saving.

I was one of those college graduates you hear about — wracking up debt and still asking their parents for money. I know everyone makes bad choices. But I feel like my husband and I have finally learned our lesson.

It was in August of 2011 that I knew we were on a path to financial destruction. We had just bought our beautiful new house. But in order to sell our old house we had to put thousands on a credit card to fix it up so it could be ready to sell.

It finally hit us that fall that if we kept spending like we had been our finances would quickly crumble around us.

I wasn’t necessarily out buying purses and shoes — we thought new carpet and new windows, and the new stove for the house we were trying to sell, were valid expenses at the time.

But now we know we never should have sold our house. We should actually still be there right now. Hindsight is awesome, isn’t it?

Learning Our Lesson

We’ve made mistakes. Big mistakes. But the point is we’re learning from them. Now we are in our new house and changes, big changes, had to be made to dig ourselves out of the hole we were in.

That’s when we found Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and it changed our lives. We made those new choices quickly. We are taking steps to make sure our consumer debt is gone because it’s like a black cloud raining down on you every day.

Whether it’s brown bagging it at work or saying “no” to new toys for our kids. It’s so hard but so worth it.

I participated in a debt movement twitter party the other day. The question was posed, “Do you pay off your credit card each month or do you carry a balance?” One person quipped back “If you can’t pay it off in full then you shouldn’t be spending.”

While I agree, I want to take a stand for all of those people who got sucked into the vicious world of credit card debt. I know I am not the only one to abuse credit.

I know I am not the only one who has had to learn their lesson the hard way. I know I am not the only one having to sacrifice our current desires so that we can pay off our credit cards faster and make a better life for ourselves.

Paying Down Credit Card Debt

We are so close to being credit card debt free. In August of 2011 we had $25,000 worth of credit card debt. Now we’re on our last one with only $4,500 left to pay. But we won’t stop there.

When my husband and I are done paying off our last credit card we will start on our student loans. I gotta tell you, the amount we owe sometimes seems never-ending.

I will be honest and tell you that I still break down sometimes. I still get overwhelmed because it seems like we will always owe someone.

When will our money be ours again? I just wish I had known. I wish I had understood what we were doing at the time. But we are where we are and I guess the good thing is — we’re trying to fix it.

My husband and I are not bad people. We’re not stupid either. At the time we thought we were making the right decisions. But now we know the difference between a good financial decision and a bad one. We’re doing this for our family. I want our kids to know how hard we fought for them to have a better life.

We have paid off $20,500 in debt with hard work and sacrifice. We’re on our way to financial freedom. Our future looks bright. Getting rid of debt is the best decision we’ve ever made together — besides having two cute kids.


Molly ShalzAbout the Author: 

Molly Shalz is a working mama to two beautiful and sweet boys born 21 months apart. Yes, she survived a stint of two under two! Molly began blogging in 2006 when she realized how much she missed writing. A blog seemed like a convenient space to continue journaling.

Over the span of six years, Molly’s blog has gained a loyal readership. She was a nominee in The Bump’s Best Working Mom Blogs . Her writing also earned her a coveted BlogHer Voice of the Year award.

She was recently listed as a “mom to follow” on Instagram by She continues to build her audience by writing passionately about her journey through motherhood while suffering with depression. She also writes about her journey to become debt-free. In her spare time, Molly is currently writing her first novel.

  • Andre Brown

    Wow! What a great post. I especially appreciated your sense of openness and candidness regarding your situation…past, present and future. I agree with your opening remarks about how so many want “money” or “finances” to be private. Yet, we talk to others about so many other things…fitness, relationships, work, etc. Why not get help with finances?

    I too appreciated your statements on old vs new habits. Your family is setting a great example for so many of us. Great post and thanks for sharing your story!

    • molly

      Thank you for reading, Andre! I’m so glad you enjoyed our story. I hope it helped motivate!

  • Guest

    Thank you for your perspective, Molly! I too am an educated, intelligent woman who never learned the value of money. I never wanted for anything as a child, and as such, never learned how to save and spend within my means. It’s been a hard lesson to learn, but I’m on track to get out of nearly $10,000 in credit card debt by the end of 2013.

    Looking back, I don’t even know how it happened. It was “just a few” purchases here and there. I could even rationalize them at the time. Then seemingly out of nowhere, I found myself unable to pay off my monthly balances. It never occurred to me that I had to change my spending habits to address the debt problem. Moving forward, I’m looking forward to being more strategic with our finances and saving for the things that really matter… like retirement, my children’s education and even family vacations!

    • molly

      I’m glad to know I’m not alone!

  • smoothstones

    Great job, Molly, on paying down your debt!

    • molly


  • Rebecca Trepanier

    Good job Molly!

    • molly

      Thank you!

  • erintheirishmama

    Great Job Molly….. Congrats! We are working on getting our debts under control as well…. It’s the world we live in today. The constant wants and if you can’t pay for it then charge it… We are definitely victims to that but are learning every day!

    • molly

      I know, Erin. It’s so so so tough to say no! I still struggle with wanting vs needing. But I’m learning to make better decisions every day.

  • Megan Hemphill

    Congratulations, Molly! My story sounds a lot like yours; thank goodness that I met my husband when I did. He’s slowly changing my spending and debt abuse habits and we are working our way out of debt (students loans are almost gone!). Thanks so much for sharing your story!

    • molly

      Yes, my husband is definitely a sounding board for me. He reminds me to make good decisions because he is the logical one!

  • Barb | Creative Culinary

    Timely post. My daughter is facing a severe health crisis and even with insurance it doesn’t begin to cover some fees; I’m not wealthy enough to cover them for her and the credit card is available. Has me wonder…how much of our nation’s credit card debt is directly related to our terrible health care system? Hmm?