How We Got Motivated to Pay Off $40,000 of Debt Fast – with Regan and Ryan Whitlock

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There’s a moment in people’s lives when they decide it’s time to become debt-free. For me and my wife, Nicole, it was when we learned we were going to be parents. For some, it’s when they get married, and for others, it’s just when they simply get fed up with owing people money.

Today, I’ve invited a couple who recently eliminated debt from their lives once and for all. Ryan and Regan Whitlock recently paid off $40,000 of debt in 8 short months. We’re going to find out their motivation for crushing this debt, so others can find their moment and their reason for becoming debt-free.

Andy Hill: How did you accumulate the $40,000 of debt?

Regan Whitlock: We started our marriage with car debt. At that moment, we just didn’t realize that car debt was a debt.

That’s how we started, I never really had credit card debt until we got married, then once we got married, it was 4 months after that we bought a house and finances were a little bit tighter, and the credit card was very convenient. I actually had to get a credit card for work, and it made it very convenient to be like, “Oh, we need this or we’re running low. We’ll just swipe the card and pay it off later” which doesn’t always happen, unfortunately.

Then we bought furniture, again, another one of those where you’re like “Oh, we’ll just finance it, it’s fine, we need a new couch, we need a new one” even though we had a perfectly good couch and a perfectly good bed.

Ryan Whitlock: It was a lot of careless spending as a new married couple. We wanted all the new stuff for the house, the new stuff in general. We just were not really thinking about it, just swiping the card and then we found ourselves in a little bit of a hole.

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When was the moment you decided to pay off the debt?

Regan Whitlock: We’re a little bit hardheaded and sometimes it’s a little harder to get things through, so it wasn’t until we actually took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class through our church for the second time that it got through. The biggest moment was when we bought our house and the credit card debt really started piling up.

It was just a lot of life changes; we got married, we bought a house, we bought a dog. We were at that time kind of thinking about starting a family in the near future. It was that moment that we were like, “We’ve got to get this figured out because we’re struggling at the beginning of every single month and we’re pulling out of our savings or we’re using a credit card to do that.” I think that was the big moment when we decided we can’t keep living like this and living so stressful and tight.

credit card debt

Was paying off debt something that you were both on board with?

Ryan Whitlock: It was definitely not my idea. Honestly, I was not on board at first. I was perfectly content with the way that we were living. I just kind of had the mindset that I would have a car payment for the rest of my life, and I don’t know why, major props to my parents, because they’re really good with their finances, and I definitely wasn’t seeing a bad pattern from them. It was just this weird mindset that I had built up.

I was like, “Everybody lives with consumer debt, it’s just a part of life, that’s how it’s going to go, we’re getting by, and we’ll get pay raises as we move along in our careers, we’ll be fine. We can get nicer cars too, on top of that.”

I just had this mindset and honestly, it was going through Dave Ramsey the second time and going in with this situation, with all of this debt that really started changing my mind and hearing other people’s stories. We have really good leaders in the class that we went through, and they are very motivational and they really helped us get on track.

That’s what changed the mindset around, and then, of course, my beautiful wife here, she was constantly telling me, “We’ve got to do this, we can’t keep living like this”, and it was a combination of things, but to answer your question, I was not on board.

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Regan, how did you convince Ryan to get on board?

Regan Whitlock: We took Dave Ramsey’s class for the second time. The first time we were dating and he was kind of, “Whatever, I’m going to do it for you because we’re dating” still on that kind of “win me over phase”, I think.

For the second time, there had been a lot of life changes. We were married and it actually wasn’t this very seamless conversation, there was a lot of pushback, and it was more of me saying “We’re doing this, we have to do this, we’re going to do it, we’re going to sign up no matter what. It was a struggle at the beginning of every single month, our savings was going down rapidly. We didn’t save for a down payment on our house to not be able to live free and enjoy life.

I think that’s kind of the moment where we were like, “Okay, we’re going to do this” and even going in that first couple of weeks, I think he was still really resistant to it, and kind of like, “This is dumb, I don’t need to be here.”

Then, I traveled for work, and it happened to be on Tuesdays and he would be like, “I didn’t even want to do this and you’re going to be gone.” Without me being there, I think he got a lot more out of it, too. I think it was just kind of giving him the extra push that made it happen.

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Ryan, what are some of the things that you were worried about having to give up?

Ryan Whitlock: I’m a shopaholic, to be honest, I really am when it comes to clothes and when it comes to car parts. I’m a big car nut and I’ve got an old car that I’m fixing up, so I thought that I would lose that freedom to put money into my project car, and other things on top of that. I felt like there would be a strangle around my life and that my life would look different, like I wouldn’t be able to enjoy life, honestly.

It’s been the complete opposite. Through budgeting and looking at our finances, I’m still able to set aside money for this car and also we were able to pay down debt at the same time.

It’s just I wasn’t thinking about these things, I wasn’t thinking about the broad financial picture. Then when we finally did, I was like, “Oh, okay, well it’s not that bad, I’m not going to be living on the street, because we have no money because it’s all going to debt.” It was nothing like that, I was just kind of blowing it out of proportion in my own mind.

What as the first step you took to eliminate the debt?

Regan Whitlock: We started with the smallest step first and we created an Excel spreadsheet. I’m the nerd and I love Excel, so I put together that Excel spreadsheet that had our smallest debt all the way to the biggest, what the amount was, what that minimum payment was, and then what that debt snowball would be.

As we continued to pay it off, we were able to figure out what debt we’d pay off on what month of what year, which happened to be 2019. That was kind of our first initial step … “here’s where we can see that light at the end of the tunnel.”

I think that’s important to have that in pen and paper so you can see, “We don’t just have all these debts and we’re not just throwing money at it, but this is when we project to be done with each debt, and this is when we project to be done with all of our debt”. It really gives you that sense of, “I can attack this and I can tackle it without just having darkness and not know where you’re at.”

Did you increase your income?

Regan Whitlock: That was a big thing and we stayed consistent in that, which then our hard work, not only in tithing and trusting God with our money, but our hard work at our jobs, we both ended up getting pay raises. Ryan got a lot of promotions, I think he went through three promotions last year.

Ryan Whitlock: I was really working hard and there was something in the back of my mind. This was the budget, and there was a sense of motivation coming from that to perform better at work. On top of that it was just perfect timing in that I completed a project a couple of years ago and the company awarded me some internal shares that actually came due this year.

It was a very large chunk of money that we got in our pocket that we were able to allocate to debt. We definitely did get an increase in income, and I’ll also say that Regan took a lot of time out of her day to work on a side hustle, so she was bringing in a little bit of extra income as well that we were putting right to debt too.

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Were there moments when one of you thought the other was crazy?

Ryan Whitlock: We definitely had some moments throughout the process where we were not in agreement, especially when we were getting these big bonuses. I’m like, “You’re telling me that I have to put this amount of money to debt? There’s no benefit for me, I’m not getting something cool out of this, it’s going to debt?” We had some knock down drag outs in those conversations.

Regan Whitlock: Those were definitely hard because we both got two very large bonuses. My bonus was like twice as much as yours.

I put in probably 90% of my budget to it, but I also don’t shop, I just don’t care for it. There’s not really much that I want to spend my money on, I’m like, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with $1,000, that just blows my mind. What will I do with $1,000?” Ryan, on the other hand, is like, “I can blow $1,000 in a day, give it to me, I will do it.”

We got these two huge bonuses and so that definitely had moments of like, “I put this much money to it, because I work in sales, so I also get commissions every month, and so I put 75% to 90% of all of my commissions to debt as well.”

When he got that one big bonus, I was like, “You need to do this with it, it has to go here.” That took a lot of having conversations for him to say, “You get commissions consistently, you get this extra money all the time, and this is a once or twice a year kind of thing that I get and very rare.”

There were definitely moments of tension and frustration, but I also think it was times that I was like, “Hey, Regan, you waited a year for this bonus, Ryan, you waited two years for this bonus and it’s crazy how He works in the sense that His timing is perfect. Had Ryan gotten that bonus two years ago, none of it would’ve gone into debt. It just would have been blown.”

How did you celebrate paying off your debt?

Regan Whitlock: We looked at each other and when he paid off his car he went, “Boom.”

I was like, “Alright, onto the next one. Okay, high five, we did it.” Then when we paid off that final debt. I think there was a lot of nerves like, “Okay, are we actually good, are we actually settled in with all of our money?”We were sitting on the couch and we were just like, “and send.” We looked at it, and we looked at each other and we’re just, “High five” and then we were like, “So now what?”

I think we were in just immediate shock. Then, as it settled in, we ended up going on a nice dinner. Our anniversary was in May, so when we paid off our debt in June we actually went on a trip to Scottsdale and paid cash for it.

That was really fun. Ryan is obviously super into cars so we got to go to the car show he wanted to go to, and we were able to celebrate and be stress-free. We went on vacation, we enjoyed it and now we don’t have to stress about it.

Instead of just jumping directly into the next step not having a break, we just said, okay, for this month we’re not going to put that money into an emergency fund. We’re going to use this and we’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to enjoy this money just for one month, we’re going to do the things we want to do and then we’ll get back on track.

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I understand you’re going to be parents soon. Is that right?

Regan Whitlock: We are bringing our first baby into the world, baby Whitlock, who will be making his/her appearance in February. One of the things that we’re doing to prepare for it is building an emergency fund. Our goal is six months, but just like with debts, we celebrate little wins at a time.

We’re going to celebrate those 3 months, making that our goal. On top of that, we’re building a baby fund for us to accumulate a solid fund for that baby’s first year. It’s for those unexpected expenses until we really get our feet underneath us a little bit with the expenses of a child because we’re clueless. We know how to pay for a dog, but that’s about it.

Similarly to how we are paying off debt, the bonuses, the commissions, that money is going to the emergency fund and is going to the baby fund. We want to be as prepared as possible financially, so then when we have the baby and we have unexpected expenses, we can be prepared and not put ourselves and the newest member in any sort of financial bind.


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Author: Andy Hill

Andy Hill is the host of the Marriage, Kids and Money Podcast which focuses on helping young families build wealth. This 5-star rated podcast was nominated as "Best New Personal Finance Podcast" by Plutus. Andy's advice and personal finance experience have been featured in major media outlets like Business Insider, MarketWatch and NBC News.

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