Debt Free Story: How one family paid off over $50,000 debt and paid cash for their house

Debt Free Story: How one family paid off over $50,000 debt and paid cash for their house


How One Family (5)


Today I am introducing the new Debt Free Stories series on Centsibly Rich. The series will feature stories of those who have paid off debt and how they did it. No better way to kick off the series than with Ms. Montana from Montana Money Adventures! Not only did her family successfully kick their debt to the curb, they also paid cash for their house, bought rental properties and built a nest egg to boot! Take it away Ms. Montana!

How one family paid off over $50,000 debt and paid cash for their house

When we married, Mr. Mt had $35,000 in student loans, plus over $10,000 on credit cards. He had started a debt consolidation program and was working to pay them down. I had just over $10,000 in medical bills, although I wasn’t aware of that at the time. I thought insurance had paid the bills, and wouldn’t find out till 2 years later that it went to collections.

Our breakthrough moment came when Mr. Mt received the statement that said how much his tuition repayment would be for the next 10 years. I wanted to cry.

Mr. Mt had earned his bachelor’s degree in Social Service Ministry and was planning on being a youth pastor for a few years. That starting salary was a whopping $20k a year. I felt so defeated. How were we going to be able to pay this off and do the other things we had dreamed of? Adopt kids, buy a home, and travel the world.

That first year we were married we moved into a travel trailer help to pay down our debt faster. Our only entertainment was the $1 movie theater, or grocery shopping. We were making slow progress beings we were both still in college. But we had started our journey.

Sometimes you have to look for creative solutions. We found ours at an Army recruiter’s office. The Army would give him the kind of job he was looking for (Chaplains Assistant) and pay off 1/3 of his student loans every year he served. He joined right after graduation.

We saved up every penny we could while he was in basic training.  By the time he finished we were able to pay of the remainder of our credit card debt. Things were starting to get better. We thought about buying a home. After having our credit run to be preapproved, I got my first collection letter.

It was a discouraging set back. It seemed like we were really starting to make traction.  After a lot of longs talks with the hospital about the confusion and just receiving my first bill 3 years after the fact, they lowered the bill. Thankfully we had enough saved up to cover it.

We were finally debt free, but we didn’t want to stop there. We still had big dreams. We kept saving aggressively. Our coworkers and friends thought all the frugal things were a bit odd. We rarely ate out. We carefully budgeted and tracked every penny we spent. Never went out to movies. While all the other young soldiers were buying new shiny cars, we were buying their older ones.  But it was working.

4 years after we married, not only were we debt free but had saved our first $100,000. All our coworkers were either broke or in debt, but we were gaining traction. We adopted our first son. We had a biological child. We moved to Europe, and travel through 27 counties.

It was amazing being debt free. We wanted to keep it that way.

So we set another crazy goal.

Pay cash for our first home.

I gave a personal finance presentation 2 years before we bought our home, and boldly told the audience that we were going to try to pay cash for a home. I had no idea if it could come to fruition. But we were going to do everything we could to get there.

In 2012 we bought our first home, with cash. It was a major milestone. We actually had so much cash left over that we bought our first rental property (we financed 50% of the investment property.)

Owning a 4 bedroom home, and now 2 rentals, we were able to adopt 3 kids in 2015. Of course fate is a funny thing, and that same year we found out we were pregnant.

Being out of debt is an incredible thing. Our fixed expenses per month are about $650. It’s enabled us to live out the life we always dreamed of. We were able to adopt, travel and own a home. Our net worth just blew past 500,000. This year we have been able to enjoy a full year of time off, and took a 6 week road trip.

Advice for becoming debt free

If I could offer any advice to other folks trying to pay down their debt it would be this.

  1. Live as frugally as possible, while enjoying life as much as possible. There is always a cheaper way to hit the same goal. Be creative. Find fun things to do that are free. Learn 10 recipes with rice and beans. We ate rice and beans every Monday, and it was a great way to try new recipes and save money.
  2. Don’t feel discouraged if people belittle your actions. We had a lot of friends with big student loans, and told all of them about joining the military. Not a single one liked the idea. When we lived in DC, after we had our first child, we got a roommate. It helped us invest TONS of money. None of our friends wanted to do the same. Mr. Mt never went out to lunch at work, and everyone kidded him.  All those little things grew into bigger things. It’s ok if the steps you’re taking seem little.
  3. It’s ok to dream big. It’s better to be a dreamer than a victim. We have faced a lot of setbacks and obstacles. But those don’t define us. Instead we set big goals, and worked like crazy to get there. Even if we fall short, we are still further ahead than those who don’t try.

I turned 33 this year. Honestly, I never would have imagined how much life we could to squeeze into these years. There is no fancy car or big house I would trade in exchange for all the good things that have happened. Being debt free was the catalyst that helped make it all happen. And I have no regrets about that.

Ms. Montana writes and speaks on personal finance topics. Creating a life filled with financial freedom, adventure and generous living is her passion. She lives in the beautiful Flathead Valley in Montana with her husband, 5 kids, 7 ducks and a dog named cheesy taco. They are currently taking a year long sabbatical filled with hiking, traveling, classes, home renovation and naps. You can connect with her on her blog


If you have a Debt Free Story of your own that you would like to share, please contact me!


34 thoughts on “Debt Free Story: How one family paid off over $50,000 debt and paid cash for their house

  1. Amazing story!!! Well done, MTs! Your story shows what can happen is perseverance is paramount. Congrats!!!

  2. Wow, awesome story! We also lived with friends after they had their first child, and it saved us both a lot of money. Thinking outside the box and being willing to go against the grain can lead to so much flexibility.

    1. Thinking outside the box is key. Everyone needs to find what will work for them. I’m glad it worked out great for both of you!

  3. Love hearing stories like this!!!

    Freeeeeeeeeeedooooooooooommmmmmmm!!!!!! (as Dave Ramsey would say) 🙂

  4. I love this story. How funny that you found yourself pregnant at the same time the adoptions went through.

    It’s been amazing to me how much more money I was able to save and invest just by choosing to live with roommates rather than spending more to have my own place. I feel like it wasn’t just an effective tool for saving money, but it has also been more fun for me to have someone else around. We still each had plenty of privacy in the confines of our individual bedrooms and bathrooms, but we also had someone to share the occasional meal with, to occasionally go socializing or kayaking with, and to me, having that “built in friend” has been such a big boost in having a more satisfying life at home after a long day at work.

    1. Even as an introvert, I love feeling close to friends. We use to live in a tightly packed community with apartment buildings (military housing overseas). Most folks hated it, but I thought it was perfect. A little bit of privacy, with all my friends close by.

  5. I love how you recommend not listening to the naysayers. When you’re forging a unique path, people are always going to question your decisions. We definitely deal with a lot of doubt from family and friends when it comes to our own plan to destroy debt and achieve financial independence. However, we had more than enough faith that our goals will come to fruition. It’s just going to take a lot of hard work over the next few years.

    1. Honestly I think the subtle criticize from bucking the trend is the hardest for us. But it was a choice between 1. Try to make everyone else happy and comfortable or 2. Live the live we were called to live. We really couldn’t have both. So we took the later.

  6. Great story! It’s really hard to achieve that debt free lifestyle…but once you do it’s amazing.

    Our first house was a multi-family property that paid for the cost of owning..then we got a roommate too who paid a small rent and half our utilities, which covered all our other living expenses.

    That really set us up for life! Debt free and no cost of living.

    1. That is awesome! I think that is a great route for most people to take.

  7. Great story Ms. Montana.

    I remember when I paid off my mortgage in 2012. It was the best feeling in the world to remove that debt burden.

    For whatever reason I now enjoy going to work more than ever because I am not dependent on the paycheck to pay down the debt I had previously accumulated. It was incredibly freeing experience.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. That is awesome. Not having a mortgage has been a game changer for us. It’s literally an extra $900 that we don’t have to spend every single month. I agree it’s more fun working, because that money can go towards fun or meaningful things. Not just paying interest. =) Congrats!

  8. That’s an amazing story and huge congrats on the adoption. My dad joined the Air Force as a way to support the family (I’m an Air Force brat) and my first car came from a “lemon lot” (I don’t remember the official military jargon for the resale lot) but we would ride our bikes their and look at all the hot rods, etc. being sold off for a variety of reasons.

    1. I’m convinced that the only reason more soldiers don’t retire millionaires are because of fast cars. =) We took a 6 week road trip this summer and stayed on an Air Force base for a few nights. So many new, fast cars. I wanted to pass out business cards for my blog at the gas station. =)

  9. Wowzie. This is incredibly inspiring. It makes me to angry to hear about how people everywhere are just thrown to the brink of disaster because of medical expenses. But you and your husband really figured it out and clearly mastered the magical financial combination of will power + long term perspective. You are so far ahead of the game, it is a beautiful thing. One thing I can relate to – the feeling of not being in debt. It’s a good one.

    1. I am naturally frugal. Mr. Mt isn’t, but he has me! =) Poor guy. jk

  10. What a great story! It is amazing that you so quickly went from being significantly in debt to having so much abundance financially. And you’ve been incredibly good stewards of those finances! Fabulous proof of the freedom that frugality buys. Thank you, MTs : )

    1. We feel so darn blessed! I grew up below the poverty line. And now it’s hard to count all the good things in our lives. It’s been a 14 year journey to get to this point, but I still think the best is yet to come!

    1. Thanks! It took 10 years of saving, but SO worth the wait. Having such a small monthly nut has opened up so many options for us.

  11. Wow, what a fantastic story Ms. Montana! It just goes to show how almost anything is possible if you are willing to work for it. Most people are not. Your frugal living has paid off in spades – congratulations!

    1. Thanks so much! Growing up in the wheat and cattle part of Montana was very formative for me. Such hardworking folks, with more grit than I’ve seen any other place. They are a constant inspiration for me. If they can get up at 4 am when it’s -30 below to saddle a horse and go check on the calves being born in blowing snow; well I can cook something from scratch at home vs getting take out. =)

  12. It’s great to hear about people not only saving tons of cash, but also doing everything they wanted on the way. Congrats Ms. Montana, great story!

    1. Thanks! It’s actually something really important to me. I feel like the seasons in life are so fleeting, and we just need to make things (the most important things) happen now, because we might not get another chance. I took a month long road trip coast to coast with my best friend 10 years ago. It was amazing (and incredibly frugal-the only way we could afford it.) But I’m so glad we did. She runs a big non profit now, and I have 5 little kids (and am no longer willing to sleep on the frozen ground!) There is no way we could do that same trip again. We definitely didn’t take the life deferred approach.

  13. I’m always trying to find new ways to save money. I need to try some rice and beans recipes next month. Great story.

    1. We just tried a new one that was really good, even all 4 big kids liked it! It was chickpeas(I found on sale for 50 cents a can), Indian curry spice, tomato sauce, coconut milk with onions and sweet potato (you could use carrots) over rice. It made about 10 servings for about $9. So yummy. There are probably a 100 ways to make rice and beans. We are still learning, and love it.

  14. “Live as frugally as possible while enjoying life as much as possible.” That’s a novel way to look at saving, and something that can’t be beat! It’s a great story and a prime example that life is all about what you make out of it. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks so much. It has been a heck of a journey. I’m so thankful for what we have accomplished, but also wouldn’t trade any of the great experiences we have had for a bit more cash now.

  15. Very cool story! Congrats on your frugal lifestyle and debt freedom!

  16. Fantastic story once again. This was part 2 to your M$M post which allowed me to really see how you did it. You show that income does not determine wealth. It is your habits that ultimately determine where you will head in life. There are so many free things to enjoy rather than spending money recklessly. I also enjoy your tip about learning to use the same food to make different meals. For me I love to do potatoes and ground beef with different flavors. Cheap and delicious!

    1. Ha, ha. Those did pair together well! It’s been a busy week, plus the Rockstar feature on our Monthly Nut Ratio. I’m glad you liked them! Well, tomorrow I am going to post my very first Net Worth update. So if you are just dying to know where we have landed after all this, check it out. =)

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