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How To Pay Off Debt (Even If You Have An Irregular Income)

Taking a full, deep breath was impossible…. With the way my chest squeezed tight and worry furrowed my brow.

I punched in the numbers into my husband’s old Ti-48 calculator again, sure I had made a mistake.

It was right. My expected income for the month was $873 less than the bare minimum I needed to pay every bill on time. My stomach churned and squeezed tightly, making me want to throw up.  

How was this going to work out? Why did we get married right at the beginning of my slow work period?

 What could I do? There’s no way, I’m going back to my parents or his, two months after getting married, asking for help.

Thoughts raced through my head, scrambling to find some sort of answer to the money shortfall.

You CAN pay off your debt even if you are cash-flowing other things!! It is entirely possible!!

And then there was the debt

 All $7,662 of his student loans, my car payment, and a credit card, carrying the balance of my beautiful round diamond, surrounded by four teardrop rubies, that I wore proudly.

But I didn’t like that I was now paying for it.

Not much considering the average debt, but it was was good 20% or more of my entire income that first year of our marriage!

 It felt like such a heavy weight crushing my chest to my spine.

On top of everything,  there was a tuition payment coming up in one month for my husband’s school. I certainly didn’t want to take out even more school debt!

Just the tiniest sliver

In fact, there was the tiniest sliver of a hope deep in my heart, that somehow we could pay off all our debt by the time his graduation came around and he could graduate debt free.

Despite that speck of hope, a paralyzing fear rose up and started to choke me, overwhelming me, forcing tears to slip out and down my cheeks.

Not this time

Deep down, a strong wave of fierce determination billowed and welled up. I am not going down without a fight. My fists clenched with resolve.

 Whatever it would take, I AM going to provide for my family. I’ll figure out a way.

Regardless of the debt looming over me with a dark shadow, or tuition payments coming fast at me like a barreling freight train, or my income on a crazy roller coaster ride, changing each month...

I am going to figure out this budget and how I can pay off debt, so I can see my husband graduate debt free.

Paid off Mortgage

The foundation for my story was set early on when I was growing up. My parents did not have a lot of money in the early years and I remember how my mom stretched the money as far as she could to make ends meet. Both my dad and mom hated being in debt and they worked so hard to pay off their home mortgage early, which they did by the time I was 13.

After they made the last payment, mom was so tickled when a lender would call to offer a better interest payment on the mortgage. “So, you can do better than 0%?” she would gleefully say. One guy fell for it and replied, “Better than 0%, I guess that means we would have to pay you.”

My grandparents, who lived through the Great Depression, and several other people influenced me strongly with the ideas of working hard and saving up money until you could afford to buy something without going into debt.

I got my first real job when I was 16 years old so that I could drive my parents’ Toyota Cressida that had no AC. I  did not care that the car only had 4/40 AC (4 windows down going 40 mph); I had wheels and just had to pay for insurance and gas.

Instead of fixing the AC, I started saving every dollar I could in order to go to Hawaii for my senior trip. Another thing that I was excited to do once I had steady income was to start sponsoring a little girl in Ecuador as a way to give back to God and show my thankfulness for His provisions.

College, graduation and a car loan

Thankfully, my parents were able to afford my college tuition when I went out of state studying sign language interpreting, however I still had to work through college in order to afford my living expenses.

I started budgeting during this time because I had to, but sitting down and actually working on a budget was always very stressful for me. Money was so tight and sometimes I did not know if I would make it to the end of the month.

As I graduated college and moved home in time for my sister’s wedding, I had to start carrying a credit card balance. I simply had not prepared to save for moving expenses. That first year home was really difficult as I struggled to get work as an independent contract sign language interpreter in a new city. The challenge of trying to get enough work to pay off my credit card and to pay my parents back for expenses accrued during my senior year was very trying.

I had to field comments from my well-intending family that maybe I should get a real job instead of interpreting. When I sat down to work on my budget, I’d have to fight waves of panic. I did not have enough money to really make ends meet, much less to be able to move out of my parents’ house.

You CAN pay off your debt even if you are cash-flowing other things!! It is entirely possible!!

How was I going to get anywhere in life?

Bank balances did not always match my balances on Quicken and transactions were often missing. I hated doing a budget, every part of it! I only made a little more than $8,000 that year.

The following year, a garbage truck had a run in with my parents’ truck (that I was driving) and tore up the side of it. The accident started discussions that I should purchase a vehicle for myself. When a friend wanted to sell his car, my dad jumped on it and said I should buy the car. I found myself at the credit union signing a ton of papers, taking out a car loan for $8,250 and feeling a just little freaked out at borrowing that much money.

Yup, I was normal with a car loan, money to pay back for school, no savings, not enough money or a good plan to really get ahead and hating every moment of it! Looking back, it would have been nice if my parents had been more proactive in encouraging me to save for a car and to pay for one in cash instead of taking out a loan.

Wedding planning and school loans

Work had finally started to pick up quite a bit, which was good as Jeremy and I were talking about getting married within a year. We officially got engaged at the end of December 2007 and started planning for our wedding for May. As Jeremy was gearing up for another school semester of engineering classes, he realized that he was not going to be able to work and juggle school at the same time, so he left his job.

He was not sure how he was going to pay for his classes and he looked into getting a loan with having me as a co-signer. I was nervous about it, having never had taken out a school loan before. Gratitude overtook me when the loan did not get accepted. We talked about it and decided to take some of the money that I had been saving for the wedding to pay for his tuition at the community college since it was soon to become ‘our’ money anyways. Thus was the start of paying for my Hubby’s education.

Do you want to read the rest of the story? Head here. 

(Photo credit With All My Heart Photography)

This post was shared at Simple Lives ThursdaysThrifty Thursday, and Friday’s Blog Booster Party. 

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About the Author

Hi! I'm Charissa. I was able to pay off all my debt, pay cash for my husband's education, and build up my savings-all because of using a budget. I love to share all the budgeting tips I've learned with you so you can have a successful budget too! Read more...

Holly Craw
2015-01-03 15:20:24
Bravo,Charissa! You are off to a great start on your blog! Very well done with great stories and pictures.
Charissa Q
2015-01-03 21:45:47
Thanks Holly, I am glad you like the blog and thanks for stopping by!
Angi @ SchneiderPeeps
2015-01-19 19:30:49
You are going to be soooo glad you don't have student loans! We spent the first 10 years of our marriage with my hubby getting his undergraduate and 2 Master's degrees - debt free. We have had a freedom that many of our peer have not had. I'm excited to read the rest of the story! Thanks for sharing with us at Simple Lives Thursday; hope to see you again this week.
2015-01-20 11:49:35
Angi, Thank you for the encouragement! I am glad already that we do not have any loans, but will be more excited when my husband graduates and there are no payments! It is nice to know that there are others who were able to pay for school without loans. Did you cash flow your hubby's education? I am looking forward to contributing regularly on Simple Lives Thursdays. Thank you for commenting!
Angi @ SchneiderPeeps
2015-01-20 13:59:40
Well, I helped but husband was the main breadwinner as we had 4 of our 6 children during that time. We joke that he squeezed a three year degree plan into six because of the children. It was hard but so very worth it.
2015-01-22 17:32:53
My hat is off to you, I can not imagine trying to put my hubby through school with four kids running around!
2015-04-12 02:50:09
That was a good insight into the background of your budgeting and momentum for going forward. There is only one more day that this party is open. It is always hard when you are in near the end of a party so if there are not many more posts after yours it would be good to repeat this next Friday along with part 2. I don't normally encourage repeats, this would be an exception. Kathleen Fridays Blog Booster Party
2015-04-12 17:41:04
Kathleen, thank you for the invitation to post again next week. I would love to share this post and Part 2 with you next week. Thanks!
Vickie @Vickie's Kitchen and Garden
2015-06-22 19:13:33
A great story and you will love not having the student loans! Thanks for sharing this at the #HomeMattersParty
2015-06-23 11:10:04
Thank you Vickie! Yes, it will be very nice to have my husband graduate without needing to keep school in mind every month with a payment.