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A couple who paid off $224,000 in less than 3 years credits reaching their goals!

In the summer of 2017, Leo Jean-Louis, an occupational therapist, and his now-wife Faith Jean-Louis, a pediatric nurse practitioner, got married, combining their debt for a total of $211,000 between their student loans and credit cards. That number gradually increased to $224,000 because of interest.

In order to maintain their debt payments, the couple had a minimum monthly payment of $2,200 between the two of them. At that rate, it would take them 15 years and cost them $125,000 in additional interest to pay off their debt. They knew they couldn't feel fully free until they were able to get that out of the way.

After returning from their honeymoon in Greece, they decided to tackle their debt and pay it off as soon as possible. They didn't initially know how many years they could cut out. But, two-and-a-half years later, they found themselves debt-free. Now, they have a blog, Freedom Is A Choice, to help others get out of debt.

Here's how they did it

They determined the 'why' factor

"We started with our 'why' because we knew we needed something more than a number to keep us motivated along our journey," Leo told Insider. "And so we started with an end in mind. Once our vision was clear, the choices and the decision became easier to pursue."

Their main motivation was to be able to pass down generational wealth to their children. Leo and Faith didn't want their kids to start their lives off financially behind or in debt like they did.

A second reason was to achieve financial independence, which meant not being confined to a strict 40-hours-a-week schedule and being able to travel and spend more time with their kids.

They figured out how much they owed

Faith was still in school when the couple met, and hadn't looked at her debt numbers as a whole; Leo was familiar with how much he owed.

When they married, they sat down and laid out Faith's various debts on an Excel sheet to find their overall debt number. Knowing what they were up against was a big part of understanding their end point.

They started budgeting

As newlyweds, they didn't have a good sense of what their combined budget would look like. So they started talking about their bills, figuring out what they could cut out and what expenses could be combined.

They started packing their lunches, which saved them about $3,600 a year. They carpooled to work on the days they were working on the same side of town, which saved them approximately $3,000 a year. Cooking dinner at home became the new norm. And, since they were both busy, cutting cable was easy, which saved them approximately $720 a year.

They implemented the zero-sum budget, where they assigned a task to every dollar earned, and they used the budgeting apps The best budgeting apps of March 2021Whether you want to get a handle on your finances or build a budget with your partner, here are our picks for the best budgeting apps Read more Mint and Ramsey Every Dollar to track their cash.

"We knew what our money was doing because we told it what to do," Leo said.

They got side hustles

After they ran out of things to cut from their budget, they turned their attention to income. Leo and Faith had five jobs between the two of them while they were trying to pay down their debt — their main jobs and three side hustles.

They leveraged the skills they already had to take on additional jobs: Faith babysat and took overnight nursing shifts, while Leo picked up shifts at the hospital as an occupational therapist on weekends and holidays.

Between the two of them, their first year of side hustles in 2018 brought them an additional $66,000. Their second year brought in $40,000. They made sure it all went towards debt.

They paid their debt off in a certain order

To tackle their debt, they started by paying those with the highest interest rates while making the minimum payments on all other debts, known as the debt avalanche method.

But Faith couldn't see the progress as quickly as she wanted to, so they eventually switched to the debt snowball method, where you pay the smallest debts first before moving to the next smallest amount, while paying the minimum on all others.

The snowball method became a major part of Faith buying into the process because she could see quicker results as the small loans were knocked out entirely.

"Seeing those quick wins was a big psychological boost for her," Leo said.

They also kept a freedom meter, which was a giant poster thermometer where they would cross out each debt as it was paid off.

In November 2019, they became debt-free (aside from their mortgage).

In 2020, they were able to re-allocate their monthly payments and saved and invested $127,000. They piled up $46,000 in savings, then put a total of $81,000 into a 529 account for their son's college tuition, their 401(k)s, their Roth IRAs, and their combined Health Savings Account.

debt-free. Now, they have a blog, Freedom Is A Choice, to help others get out of debt.

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