How We Paid Off $123,000


Illustration of man kicking away debt ticking time bombPaying off close to $123,000 of debt in less than five years is a great accomplishment.  Remaining debt free for five more years is arguably even more amazing, but that’s exactly what Kandy and Russ Hildebrandt have done.

As the National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC) Clients of the Year from 2009, the Hildebrandts are now celebrating their five-year anniversary of being debt free. They are proof that overwhelming debt does not have to control a person’s life, and that unhealthy financial habits can be successfully overcome and replaced with skills that lead to a lifetime of financial stability. Kandy now echoes even more strongly what she said back in 2009 after becoming debt free: “When they tell you it can’t be done, don’t believe them.”

Reflecting on their journey, Kandy commented, “We can thankfully say that we learned our lesson well. Today we have our mortgage and one major credit card – which we use judiciously – and pay the balance in full each month. We have not paid a penny of interest for unsecured debt since completing the Debt Management Program through Family Means Consumer Credit Counseling Service, an NFCC member agency based in Stillwater, MN. That’s not to say that we haven’t been tempted, but when we think of where we once were financially and how hard we worked as a family to dig out, there is no going back to the bondage of debt again.”

In the years since becoming debt free, the Hildebrandts have faced the same economic challenges many other Americans have experienced. For example, even though the cost-of-living has continued to increase annually, they have not had a pay raise during the past five years. This required the Hildebrandts to prolong the cost-saving mentality that served them so well while paying off their debts.

The following are examples of cost-cutting measures the Hildebrandt family has continued to make use of during lean economic times:

  • Relying on window air conditioners for three years after the central air-conditioner could no longer be repaired;
  • Going without a second vehicle until the funds were available to buy another one with cash;
  • Utilizing thrift stores, garage sales, and online auctions have allowed them to buy used versus new and provide significant savings along with the satisfaction of finding a great deal;
  • Installing rain barrels to save on water bills during the summer months and using the water on the vegetable garden they planted, and
  • Periodically working double shifts in order to save on commuting expenses.

“Giving faithfully to our local church, living within our means, cutting back when we need to, providing first for the necessities, and accommodating our desires within a framework of delayed gratification are all things that still encompass our life after debt,” continued Kandy.  “While we may not be living the high life, we have all our needs (and even some wants) met, and more importantly, we possess the peace and joy that comes from living a well-ordered financial life.”

The Hildebrandts insist that there’s nothing special about them. Kandy’s advice to those facing seemingly insurmountable debt: “Anyone can do what we did if they embrace the help that is available through an NFCC member agency, and are willing to change their financial habits and maintain a “whatever it takes” mentality.”