Paying Off Debt When You’re Dirt Poor


My husband was committed to paying off debt. The only problem was, we were dirt poor. No savings. Nothing of value to sell. A family of four living on roughly $46K a year.

I'll admit, when my husband told me his plan I had a very "Yeah right, whatever you say dear" attitude about it. I had taken care of the budget for years. I knew what our bills were. I knew that we lived paycheck to paycheck. What I didn't know was how he planned to make ends meet while paying off debt.

That was in 2016. Since that time, we've paid off over $43K in debt and put back six months of expenses into savings.

You can too!

Paying Off Debt When You're Dirt Poor @

Let me begin by saying that the debt payoff journey looks different for everyone. How much you owe and how much you can put toward paying it off will depend on a great many factors. I won't be talking about numbers as much as strategy and mindset today.

Before we started paying off our debt I had read a few stories about others who paid off debt by selling a car or cashing in some type of investment or using money from a large settlement or insurance claim. If you have access to things like that then by all means make use of those resources. But if you don't, then this information is for you. We started our journey with nothing of value except my husband's paycheck.

Step 1 to Paying Off Debt

We started by reading Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. Well . . . my husband read it and then convinced me to. I had heard Dave Ramsey's radio program and I didn't much care for the crass way he talked to people. I still don't, if truth be told, but I can't deny that his debt payoff system works. So, I highly recommend reading his book, even if you don't much care for his personality! If you can get your own copy, that's great. You'll likely want to take notes and highlight and refer back to it often.

If you have a local Goodwill or thrift store, it's a good bet that you'll find one there. Your local library should have one as well if you'd rather not buy it immediately.

After reading the book, do what it says!!

It really is a simple method. The challenge is not in how to pay off debt. The challenge is in sticking to it.

This isn't an overnight fix, and in the current age of convenience and "I want it now" and "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" (eyeroll), having the patience to see it through is by far the most difficult part.


Step 2 to Paying Off Debt

Next, you need to determine your WHY. Write it down and hang it on the wall if you need to, but know it well. That "why" needs to be well thought out and a good enough reason to see you through, because nothing about paying off debt is easy when you're poor. But it is absolutely worth the struggle!

For us, my husband was very convicted by what God says in His word about debt. We aren't supposed to owe people money. It's a form of bondage that compromises our ability to give generously to others and provide for our own family.

Think about what motivates you to pay off your debt.

Are you just tired of living paycheck to paycheck?

Do you want to invest for retirement?

Whatever the reason is, make sure it's a strong enough reason to carry you through when things get tough . . . because it will get tough.


Step 3 to Paying Off Debt

Trim your budget to the absolute bare minimum.

Trim it until it hurts, and then trim it more.

Dave Ramsey gives some example percentages in his book to use in setting up your budget. They were a great starting point but we found them to be higher than we needed. There were also some things listed that we didn't spend money on at all. Don't feel like you have to use his categories and percentages. They are just guidelines, not laws.

When you trim that budget, trim it to the bare bones.

Paying off debt requires huge sacrifices. You are going to be uncomfortable and inconvenienced, but it's only for a short time! Click To Tweet

For a long time—I'd say at least a year—we didn't eat out . . . at all. I made a plan for buying groceries as cheaply as possible, and we ate the simplest meals that I could make. We didn't buy new clothes unless what we had was torn or completely worn out or stained beyond fixing, and then we only bought from thrift stores or yard sales. We didn't decorate our house or even pay someone to repair things. We did the repairs ourselves (thank the good Lord for YouTube!).

In short, we didn't spend a single penny on anything that we didn't absolutely NEED, and there's a BIG difference between what we NEED and what we WANT (but that's a discussion for another day).


The Result: No longer dirt poor!

It's time for brutal honesty here.





If it were easy, no one would be in debt. But the fact is people like stuff. People want to have all.the.things even if they can't afford it.

Dave Ramsey has a saying that we have repeated hundreds of times since we started this journey.

If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.

For about 3 years, we lived like no one else, and it was HARD! By far the hardest 3 years of our lives together. There were days when I wanted to give up and just go back to living paycheck to paycheck again. But my husband was steadfast. He was determined, and he kept us on track even when I was about to derail.

Fast forward to today . . .

. . . over $43,800 in debt GONE

. . . $1,000 emergency fund in savings

. . . 6 months of living expenses in savings

We still owe some on our mortgage, but we are steadily chipping away at that debt while also looking into investments.


Final Thoughts

If you're living paycheck to paycheck and you want to pay off your debt, you really have to change the way you think about your life, the things you do, the things you buy, and the places you go. You have to trim away everything that isn't an absolute necessity. That is the only way that you'll ever pay off debt when you're already poor. When that debt is gone, you can start paying yourself instead of others.

One final thing to remember is that once you are committed to paying off your debt, do not create more debt!! Don't take out a loan or borrow money, don't use credit cards, do not spend money that you don't have!


In Summary

  1. Make a commitment to pay off the debt.
  2. Know WHY you are doing it, and make it a good, strong WHY.
  3. Read Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover book.
  4. Make a bare-bones budget and stick to it.
  5. Do not create more debt.


Are you living debt free? I'd love to hear your best tips!



Paying Off Debt When You're Dirt Poor @
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