This guest post is by Heidi Ifland Nash
Our story is not unique in how it begins. We were very “normal”.
We were the typical American couple, no budget, consuming all of our income each month, and using credit cards to buy and pay for the things we didn’t save up for.
We weren’t frivolous, didn’t finance new cars, didn’t buy fancy electronics, didn’t spend a lot on clothes or go on European vacations (even though most of our friends were doing all of those things).
What we did do was charge small things, go out to nice dinners because “we deserved it,” buy gifts at Christmas and birthdays, plus we had all the inevitable yearly expenses that somehow managed to sneak up on us every year, like property taxes and car repairs.
We limped along like this, never completely falling, never making any progress for more than 10 years.
Things began falling apart in late 2006, when my husband lost the job we thought would be forever stable, and we had zero money in savings. We fell back on a line of credit we had, and every month wrote ourselves a check so that we could cover all of our bills and minimum payments. When my husband finally found a good job six months later we were $38,000 in debt (not including the mortgage).
Charting the Course
That year I found the Dave Ramsey book The Total Money Makeover and managed to get a copy from our local library. I devoured it, and finally had a clear picture of how stupid we had been with our money.
When we started to climb that mountain of debt, I wanted something that I could put up on the fridge and see at a glance how we were doing. I tried a thermometer but it was just too boring for me, so I had the idea to make a chart of the words “Debt Free.” It helped us so much! Just seeing those words get filled in had a huge impact on us. It took three years to pay it all off, but we got out of that mess and now have more savings than I ever thought possible.
I made that first chart around 2008 and it helped us so much that I shared it in an online forum, and started making charts by request in that group. After about a year I decided to put them all up on a simple website so anyone could access them, not just the people in that forum.
It seems so simple, even a little cheesy, but it really does work, especially if you are a visual person like I am. You see your progress, not just in numbers on a spreadsheet, but in big words that you are filling in as you move forward. Seeing how far you’ve come spurs you on to win. It’s incredibly inspiring. It gives you that boost of pride in what you’ve been able to do, and helps you see that you can do it, you can become debt free!
Another amazing, yet unintended, benefit is that putting a chart or two up on your fridge can really help get your spouse on board too. I’ve heard that several times, how just seeing the charts got the whole family on the same page.
The charts work by tracking your balance. You divide your total debt by 50 (the number of lines to fill in) and that is the amount that each line on the chart represents. So if your debt is $5,000 then each line is equivalent to $100. You would then write a value on the side of each line, e.g. $0, $100, $200, $300 and so on. Each time you make a payment, or add to your savings, fill in the chart with a colored marker. I like to use one color per month, so I can see at a glance how I’m doing.
It’s been so wonderful to see the charts helping so many people the way they helped us, the feedback has just been incredible. I get comments all the time on how much it helps. Comments like “I’m OBSESSED with these charts!,” “Debt Free Charts is one of the best things to happen on the debt free journey,” “So motivating to color this baby in,” and “I love these charts so much. You wouldn’t believe how great it feels to pay a bunch of money so that you can color in a line.”
Debt Free Charts Wall of Fame
I’ve seen so many people post photos on Instagram of their filled in charts that I started putting their chart pictures on my website, you can see them on the Wall of Fame page on our website. (If you’d like to get your finished chart on the Wall of Fame page, you can email a photo to Heidi at email@example.com or use the tag #DFCWallofFame on Instagram.)
Right now there are 45 completely free charts for helping you get out of debt (if you are doing Dave Ramsey’s plan, the free charts fit Babysteps 0, 1 & 2). Plus there are also more than 200 charts and coloring pages for your savings goals — from saving a big emergency fund or funding your Roth IRA, to saving a down payment for a house or family vacation. Those charts cost $2 or more.
I’m trying to give away 200,000 free charts, and that is how you can help me. Go get your free charts at www.DebtFreeCharts.com and help spread the word. Happy coloring!
Heidi Ifland Nash is the creator of Debt Free Charts, a simplest yet effective tool to keep you motivated to reach your financial goals.
For more tips on becoming debt-free:
How I used a competition to pay off debt
In over your head with debt? Here’s how to find help
Use the Money Coach for free finance tips
8 easy ways to improve your fiscal health