Paul Spoon and his wife had dreamed of buying a house. The first step? Getting out of the $93,000 mountain of debt they were buried under—a “monster” of a burden, as their financial adviser put it.
“We were thinking about the future,” Spoon says. “We had this goal of wanting to buy a house at some point in time…But we would have been uncomfortably leveraged.”
So Spoon and his wife, Alex, made a plan: “We sat down and talked through the decision to commit to paying this off before we do anything else,” he said. Millions of Americans are in a similar position; earlier this year, the total debt owed by all Americans crashed through the $4 trillion mark. Many are like the Spoons, with the majority of their debt consisting of student loans.
But the Spoons owed even more than most graduates; though Paul Spoon held only a little after leaving college early, Alex graduated owing more than $90,000 — well more than the average. “It was a big pile of debt,” Spoon said. For many, that debt can linger and accumulate, and it can be a struggle to make a dent in such an imposing figure. But here’s what makes the Spoons unique: The Nebraska couple not only managed to knock out their massive debt—they did so in just 18 months.
“It felt supremely satisfying,” Spoon said. There are no shortage of strategies for paying off debt—so how did the Spoons do it? According to the 32-year-old software engineer, there weren’t any secret tricks or complicated strategies to wipe out their student loans; on the contrary, the couple adopted a simple approach: Be as frugal as possible, keeping expenses down while putting as much of their income as they could toward eliminating the debt.
As Spoon tells it, he and Alex aren’t big spenders to begin with; “naturally frugal,” they live in Nebraska, where the cost of living is relatively low, have “cheap hobbies,” rarely go out to eat, and eliminated expenses like cable. They don’t have kids, so didn’t have childcare expenses to worry about, and are careful about their shopping. They “set a budget, and stuck to it,” as Spoon recounted in a popular Reddit post in 2017.
It can be difficult to stick to such a prudent plan. But, Spoon said, the couple was able to hold to it because they were on the same page — something he said was “critical” to knocking out the debt and something he recommended to other couples facing what he and Alex were up against.
“My wife and I were 100 percent aligned and equally committed,” he told Men’s Health. “We could keep each other in check.”
Of course, everyone’s circumstances are different, and other individuals and couples may have complicating factors that the Spoons didn’t face. “At no point we were in real danger,” he said of the debt they had. “We had a pretty good income, relatively speaking.”
But, he said, there are lessons that anybody could glean from his journey. For one, he said, make a plan: “You can’t stick to a budget if you don’t have a budget.” For another, “challenge your assumptions” about what expenses you deem necessary, and cut costs where possible.
It’s also important to be strategic in your approach to loans with different balances and interest rates—and to what will benefit your longterm career prospects. And finally, couples facing debt should be “transparent” with one another about their debt and their plans, he recommended. “Make sure everyone involved is aligned,” he said. It worked for him.
In 2017, eighteen months after making their plan, the Spoons had cleared out their $93,000 in debt—and were able to buy the house they’d wanted to get.
“We were absolutely psyched about it,” Spoon said.
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