Hi, my name is Kara and I’m in debt.

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by Kara Fleck

Kara lives in a small town in Indiana. She is the editor of Simple Kids. You can also find her writing about creative living at K.Elizabeth Fleck.

“We’re debt free!” The words I long to be able to shout out loud. Hi, my name is Kara and I’m in debt.

Some of you know me as the editor of Simple Kids, but today I’m going to introduce myself to you as a person living in financial bondage. Or, to be less dramatic, I am a person trying to become debt free.

Our journey …

My family and I are in a significant amount of debt. Six figures significant, actually. That’s painful to write.

I won’t go into details, but we did some pretty dumb things with money in our 20′s, both as singles and as a young married couple.  We’re spending our 30′s trying to dig out of that debt.

That is how I came to know Tsh: I was inspired by her family’s debt free story.  Her straightforward money advice was helpful and relevant. That was pretty major at a time where my debt free resources were some library books on frugality that seemed out of touch with the current times and we didn’t know anyone in real life who was debt free.

Thanks to Tsh I discovered Dave Ramsey. I shared what I was reading and learning with my husband Christopher and we agreed there was some wisdom there, but we didn’t really do too much about it. Things sort of ho-hummed along for a while, with us throwing a little bit of cash at our debt here and there but certainly not taking things too seriously.

And then in 2009 we hit rock bottom.

You can read the full story on my Rockin’ Granola blog, but here’s the grim picture in a nutshell:

  • a sweltering summer day
  • it was 90 degrees INSIDE my house
  • two very little kids with the chicken pox
  • our air conditioning went out

We were hot, sticky, miserable, and sad.  Thanks to living (less than) pay check to pay check for far too long, we had nothing extra in the bank account. No money to fix the air conditioning, no money for extra fans, no money for a hotel room for a temporary respite from the heat, nothing.

Our family was miserable, our children were suffering, and it was a direct result of our terrible money decisions.

Something had to change, and it had to change radically.  That was the turning point for us, our rock bottom.  Since then, we’ve paid off over $90,000 in debt. But we’ve still got a long way to go.

debtfreepiggybank

2013 So Far …

That was 2009. What do things look like for my family in 2013?

Things are different: we have an emergency fund (so we sleep better at night), we’ve paid off several smaller debts, we now use a cash budget, and we’ve got our irregular income tamed.  Christopher works all of the overtime he can, I do my share by writing to earn extra income, and we both work to keep our spending down.

Things are the same: we still make financial mistakes, we still struggle, we still get discouraged. The debt we have remaining is our larger debt in the form of school loans and the mortgage. There aren’t as many celebrations the way there were when we first started to pay off our smaller debts.  Sometimes I feel like we’re going to be on Baby Step 2 forever.

Successes

So far 2013 has brought us a few successes:

  • We recently hopped back onto the cloth diapering bandwagon.
  • We have been able to do some home repairs ourselves.
  • Bringing the holidays down a few notches has been good for us on many levels.
  • We recently gave our oldest daughter a budget and let her do her own shoe shopping. I was pleased to see her scouting out the ads and comparing costs. I’m proud of her and what she’s learning from our debt free journey.

Challenges

It isn’t all carnations and cloth diapers around here.

Recently, we have discovered that two of our family members have health issues which require a special diet. The entire family has adopted this way of eating (gluten free, for those who are curious). Our grocery budget had to be revamped and, with our zero based budget, we’ve had to wiggle other categories.

Speaking of wiggling the budget, our son is growing like a weed!  The clothes he just received for Christmas barely fit him.  With my daughters, this isn’t a problem as we have hand-me-downs, but my son is our only boy and I don’t think he’d be pleased wearing something from the bins of pink and purple in our kid clothes stockpile.  So, back to tinkering with the clothing budget I go, staying one step ahead of his growth spurts, which are coming more frequently than I had anticipated.  Thank goodness yard sale season is around the corner.

We recently were surprised with a major library fine, thanks in part to my disorganization. Luckily we’ve found some of the missing materials and our librarian took pity on us and is letting us pay in installments, but the library isn’t such a great “free” resource when I let things like that happen.

During our early Dave Ramsey days, our too-expensive-for-us-anyway vehicle went bye-bye and we’ve been driving a used vehicle, which isn’t pretty but gets us where we need to be. We started a sinking fund for a replacement vehicle. Now our current steed hasn’t been so trusty lately, so it is time to take that sinking fund and go car shopping, a potential financial temptation mine field.

DebtFreeKara

Living with debt can be a scary, shameful thing.  I don’t have to tell you that. I bet some of you are right there in the trenches with me. My hope is that this column will give us a chance to encourage each other, one real person to another.

I’m thankful to Tsh for letting me share our journey as a real family struggling to become debt free. I hope I can inspire and encourage those of you currently struggling with debt the way that Tsh and her family have encouraged me.

I’ll be back in a few months to update you on our progress and our challenges.

What about you? What has your financial journey looked like? What successes have you had so far in 2013? What challenges?

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