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The story of how I found out I was pregnant was anything but picture-perfect. I was sitting on a cold bathroom floor with my sister — my husband thousands of miles away — with shaking hands holding the plastic stick that confirmed what I had suspected.
Still in shock, I immediately Skyped my husband, Christopher. I could tell he was trying to muster resolve with an encouraging, “We can do this,” but truthfully, neither of us was feeling too confident.
At 23 years old, we had expected to have more time to build our careers. We were newly minted college grads catapulted into a recession. Both teaching in inner-city, under-resourced schools, we had little more than a few gift cards between us and our net worth was deep in the red. I had $32,000 in student debt. Fortunately, my husband was privileged to have his college costs covered by his parents.
But the realization that we’d soon have to care for another human being (and the extra expenses for medical costs, diapers, food, clothes and *so much* more), was our wake-up call that we needed to tackle our debt — and fast.
We Made Debt Our Priority
We immediately cut out unnecessary spending and kept our necessary spending as small as possible. I only bought clothes at Goodwill, and we ate a lot of frozen Bertolli meals and rice. The two of us shared one old car owned by his parents, resisting the urge to buy a new one.
That first year, as my belly swelled, we threw everything we had at our debt. I measured our accomplishments by how close we were to our due date. Working constantly, we had little time to think about spending money. In about nine months, we had paid off over $20,000 by putting every dollar out of sight.
We Leaned on Family
While our pay-down plan was going well, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sustain working 60-hour weeks once I had a baby. I finished out the school year and gave birth to my daughter. After adding up the bills, we realized we needed to make a huge change. We swallowed our pride and asked my father-in-law if we could stay with him for a while, rent-free. This saved us $1,000 a month and allowed me to quit my teaching job for the short-term.
My husband kept teaching, but his salary was a meager $30,000. Our strategy? Pocketing as much as possible. We rarely went out to eat and created our own fun: Netflix with popcorn, long walks and spending time with our baby daughter. It was a sweet time for us, even with the struggles of living with our in-laws.
I Took on a Side Hustle
My in-laws' house wasn’t an option forever. To prep for the future and pay down our remaining debt, I applied to Craigslist writing gigs and began earning money writing resumes for career professionals.
I cranked out resumes any time I could — late at night and during my daughter’s nap time. I set goals to write two a day, which translated into $250 a week. I also picked up a few shifts as a physical therapy technician while my mother-in-law spent time with the baby. Within two years, with the help of my side gigs, we had paid off another $10,000 in debt and accumulated a $10,000 nest egg.
Moving Out and Onward
When my daughter was 2, we moved to North Carolina. My husband left teaching for an entry-level role in a different industry — the only job he could find — and we moved south to take advantage of the low cost of living. Our bills comprised our $930 monthly rent, $200 used car payment and our weekly Walmart trip for the essentials.
My husband put in long hours and began advancing at his start-up. Each time he moved up, we negotiated a significant salary bump. Within a few years, we were grossing $70,000 between the two of us and had knocked out the rest of my undergraduate debt.
Reaching Financial Freedom
Living on a small income for several years was difficult, but it also taught us that we didn’t need much to create sweet memories. At the same time, we were fortunate to have family who offered us the assurance of a safety net — an invaluable mental boost that we don’t take for granted.
For years, “hustle” was our middle name. That, plus negotiating raises, allowed us to leverage what we did have to finance a house. Now, another kid later, we make over six figures combined. We carry no credit card debt and are financing my husband’s MBA. We can laugh now at how our story started — pregnant and broke with a Skype call from overseas. But truth be told, we wouldn’t have it any other way.