How We Paid Off Over $20,000 Of Debt In 2015

There are two simple ways to improve your finances: spend less money or increase your income.  Our extreme goals require extreme effort, which is why one tactic isn’t enough . . .  we do both.  Our progress in 2015 was due to living frugally and hustling to earn extra money.  We were able to pay off more than $20,000 in debt between our credit cards, two mortgages, and student loans – during the same year that we had our third baby, took extended maternity/paternity leave, and put a new roof on the house.  How did we do it?



We’ve all heard of the suggestion to skip expensive latte’s (whether or not we follow the advice).  The reason that we were able to save so much is with the number of different ways that we lowered our expenses.


How We Saved Money

No Cable: We watched basic television (yes, with an antennae) and other shows and movies with Netflix.

Cut Back On Eating Out:  No stopping for coffee on the way to work and no eating out for lunch.  We cut back on fast food and skipped happy hours.

Switched Providers:  We made the change to Republic Wireless from Verizon (saving $100 per month).  Also, we switched internet providers (saving $25 per month).

No Baby Formula: Trey was exclusively breastfed (almost one year now!).

No Hospital Co-Pays:  We didn’t have to pay anything out of pocket for the birth of Trey because we had been contributing to a Health Savings Account.

We Cut Our Own Hair

Consolidation Loan: We moved our highest-interest rate credit card balances to save on interest.

Firewood: We have an awesome wood-burning stove.  Mr. Smith collected a bunch of firewood and chopped it all up.  It has been a pretty mild winter, but the wood helped keep costs down when it did get cold.

Vegetable Garden: We enjoyed fresh vegetables over the summer and canned tomatoes for winter.  We used extra zucchini in our brownies.  We used crabapples to make jelly and hard cider.

DIY Roof:  Mr. Smith didn’t do the complete tear off all by himself, but he helped and that saved us quite a bit of money.

Homemade Bread: We save over $200 per year by making our own bread.  And it’s super easy with our handy-dandy bread maker.

DIY Car Repairs: Mr. Smith has done an awesome job taking car of the cars this year.  We ran into some issues that could have really set up back.  Instead, he studied up with YouTube and shopped around on the internet for the best prices.

DIY Christmas Presents: I spent hours making special gifts for my family, friends, and teachers.  Tre tradeoff?  We didn’t have to spend much money.

Daycare:  We have used creative scheduling so that the youngest two only go three days per week.  I work from home one day per week.  With regular help from different family members, I get a few hours of work done that day and make up the rest of the time over the weekend or on evenings.  Mr. Smith stays home with them one day per week and tries to get us caught up on chores around the house.

A Frugal, Joint Birthday Party for Goofball and Tornado

Clothing: Mr. Smith and I are on our third year of not buying any clothing.  The kids only wear hand-me-downs, with a few items purchased from consignment sales.  He may need some new work clothes this year, but plans to visit thrift stores to keep the costs low.


How We Made Money

Mr. Smith:  As a salaried employee, I have to look for outside work to increase my income.  In comparison, my husband is an hourly employee so he can put in some “overtime” at his job.  He has gone in to put in a few extra hours here and there, on evenings or over the weekend.

Tutoring: I have a great side job doing online tutoring a couple of times per year.  It was one of the reasons that I was able to stay out of work for four months after giving birth to little Trey.  I took on a lot of extra students and ended up making almost as much as the monthly salary for my primary job.

Swagbucks: This site allows you to earn gift cards or Paypal transfers by doing things like watching videos or playing games.  I earn enough credit through this site to buy all of our diapers, big boxes of granola bars, and even a few $25 Paypal transfers straight to our bank account.  The total amount was over $600.

Blogging/Freelancing: I did one sponsored post in 2015, which really just helped with the costs of operating this blog.  The AdSense earnings are adding up, but I haven’t reached the payment threshold of $100 just yet.

InstaGC:  I didn’t do as well with this site in 2015.  They seemed to do away with the “clicks for pennies” that used to pop up around midnight.  I have found a new way to earn money with InstaGC, which will be the subject of an upcoming post.  Total for 2015: $25

Inbox Dollars: This is site is similar to Swagbucks, but is more focused on surveys.  My earnings in 2015 have put me sixteen cents away from the $30.00 payment threshold.  I’m looking forward to receiving a check in the very near future.

Shopkick: This app allows you to click for credit and do a type of scavenger hunt in stores.  I earned $12 in Target gift cards during 2015.

Ebay:  We made approximately $130 during 2015 by selling a few handcrafted items (a super easy DIY project with a good profit) and some random stuff around the house.

Perk:  I earned $35 in Amazon credit just by letting videos play on my phone at night.


New Plans For 2016

We need to ramp up our efforts in 2016 if we want to meet our goal to pay off all of the remaining credit cards.  We plan to do this by increasing revenue from all of our side hustles.  I’m hopeful that with new readers and increased content, this blog will start to generate some of a profit.  Also, I want to do some freelancing.

We never had our big garage sale in 2015 due to being busy with a new baby.  We just need to make the time to organize all of the stuff in both of our houses (we have a lot being stored at the rental property).

I have been getting better at crochet.  More importantly, I really enjoy it.  My plan is to start selling my creations through a variety of venues (other than Etsy).  The crochet is not super-profitable, but it doesn’t feel like work to me.

It feels like we’ve really settled into a good, frugal routine.  We’ve implemented the changes necessary to help us do even better this year.  I won’t be taking four months off from work this year.  And we’re always on a mission to out-do ourselves, finding new ways to save more money and increase our income.


Dear Debt,
Your days are numbered.
Yours truly,
The Smith Family


How We Paid More Than $20,000 Off In Debt In One Year



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    1. Thank you. I love how the bread maker saves us money and you never have to run out to the store to grab a loaf! I definitely don’t have time to make it by hand, but our machine is so easy to use.

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