How We Paid Off Six Figure Debt Without a Budget


A famous quote by Tony Robbins says, “complexity is the enemy of execution”. We can all think of an example of where this has been true in our lives. Take exercise for example. Everyone has an opinion on the best workout routine. Some experts say cardio, others weight training, then there’s yoga, and cross fit, and on and on. Before even getting started there’s so much information that many don’t even start. Can the same level of simplicity also allow you to pay off debt or invest without a budget?

Humans are really good at making things more complicated than needed. The book, “The One Thing” by Gary Keller tells us to ask ourselves one simple question. “What’s the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” I find myself asking this question in many different aspects of my life, including personal finance.

Read through most personal finance blogs and many will say that budgeting is an essential part of any financial game plan. I agree that some people need a budget to stay disciplined. With that being said, budgets can be complex for simple-minded people like me. I’d much rather save my brain space for more interesting things than trying to plan out if I need a haircut that month.

Paying Off Debt Without a Budget

There are times when you will need a strict budget, at least for a while. If you are living paycheck-to-paycheck with no savings and a lot consumer debt, then you are going to have to be more precise. In this situation, every dollar really does matter until you can build up some savings and pay down debt. If this sounds like you, then you’ll need to budget at first.

When You Don’t Have to Budget

Throughout our debt pay off journey we never had a budget. In the Dave Ramsey world this is considered blasphemy. Even without a budget we were able to pay off $200,000 in debt in seven years. Now, I’ll fully admit that if we did have a budget it may have helped us stay more focused. Of course, that would be dependent on if we actually stuck with it.

Knowing our tendencies, there’s a good chance we would have become frustrated with the constricting nature of a budget. I didn’t want to keep receipts, write down every charge, and feel guilty about buying the $5 frozen lemonade when I’m at the zoo with the family. I’m also not sure how good it would have been for our marriage if I was nit-picking every purchase made by my wife (and vice-versa).

The Alternative

If you are in a situation where you do have some disposable income to save, invest, or paydown debt, then you may be able to simply the way you manage your finances every month. The best name I’ve heard for this method is the “anti-budget” with credit given to Paula Pant at

Below is a step-by-step approach if you decide to go this route:

Step 1: Track Your Spending 

Wait, what? Isn’t this just budgeting? Well, kind of. Here’s the thing, you have to set a baseline when you’re starting out. Track your spending for a month or two. Don’t judge yourself or even do anything differently than in past months. Just write it all down. Having a baseline will allow you to determine the current gap between income and spending so you can develop a plan.

Step 2: Automate Your Payments

Now that you’ve tracked spending for a month or two, it’s now time to set up your automated payments. This will be the key to success if you use this approach. First determine how much you plan to save or invest every month. Pull this money immediately out of your primary checking account and move it to a savings or brokerage account. Even better, see if your employer will allow you to deposit money directly into a different account. This is called paying yourself first.

After paying yourself first, it’s now time to automate your bills. I know there are a lot of them. Heating, cooling, water, sewer, insurance, phone, internet, day care, groceries, gasoline and on and on and on. Where you can, automate payments to immediately pay bills as soon as you are paid. This may take a few months to sort out. Sometimes you can call and negotiate your payment dates.

For bills that don’t cleanly fall on the date you get paid, you can hold back and wait until the next pay day to make the payment. For expenses that don’t have a clear pay date such as groceries, consider taking the money out of your account immediately and putting in an envelope. We generally used this approach for any monthly expenses of $100 or more.

The key here is to get any regular expenses out of your bank account as soon as possible.

Step 3: Spend the rest

Again, many individuals do not have the luxury of saving/investing, then paying bills, and then having extra spending money. This method is going to require that you have a gap in you income and spending. When you first start out, you may not have much if anything in the “saving/investing” or “spend the rest” category. However, as you pay down debt, reduce expenses, or increase your income there is opportunity for extra money here.

As our family’s income has increased we have put 80-90 percent towards out debt payments and 10-20 percent towards “spending the rest” (otherwise knowns as lifestyle inflation). To build wealth you have to continually look for opportunities to save more than you earn, and eventually invest the difference.

This then gives us the freedom to spend the remaining money on whatever we want, guilt free. After a few days of getting paid we usually know exactly how much we have left to spend on everything else including outings with the kids, trips to the hardware store, convenient store purchases, and a variety of other smaller purchases. In many people’s budgets this is referred to as fun money, we’re just getting to the number in a different way.

Paying Off Debt Without a Budget

We used the anti-budget approach over the last seven years to pay off all of our debt, including the mortgage. I’m not suggesting that this approach will work for everyone. In fact, given the depressing statistics regarding the number of individuals who live paycheck-to-paycheck, this approach may not work for most.

For others, simplicity may keep you in the game for longer. If you are struggling with the complexity of a budget, consider paying yourself first and then automating your bills and other expenses.

We realized early that budgeting wasn’t for us. It felt too constricting and we didn’t want to feel guilty every time we decided to go out to eat, got a haircut, or made an small impulse purchase. As long as we had money in our account after paying ourselves and expenses, we should be able to spend the rest guilt free even without a budget.






Money Advice for Recent College Graduates


Dear College Graduate,

Congratulations! You did it. You now have a fancy piece of paper saying you are skilled in your college major. For the past twenty years you’ve been in school to prepare you for your life ahead. You’re moving from a world where failure is punished, creativity is often limited, and all that really matters is the grades you get on a test or paper. You’ve learned to navigate this environment successfully if you’ve made it this far.

You will now be entering into a world of unknowns. A world where you can’t get by on intelligence alone. To become successful, you’ll need to take calculated risks, learn from failures, build effective relationships, and thrive in a world where the exact path isn’t laid out for you.

Money Advice for Recent College Graduates

I remember being in your situation. It can be terrifying. I graduated without any professional internships or other relatable experience. Getting interviews weren’t usually a problem. However, there was always that awkward moment when the interviewer started asking about my relatable experience. Without any experience I stumbled through the responses and the interview often ended shortly thereafter. Continue reading “Money Advice for Recent College Graduates”

Fourth of July, Paying off the Mortgage, and FinCon


When I started this blog a little over six months ago it was primarily to stay motivated while paying down our mortgage. Paying off debt is really boring and something needed to be done to keep from doing something crazy like buying a new house we didn’t need. Like most bloggers, I came out of the gate full steam and have since slowed a bit. I’d like to attribute that to the summer lull, work being busy, life with two kids, coaching two baseball teams, and a variety of other excuses. The reality is that we have time for anything we want, just not everything. This is a whole other topic, so I’ll digress at this point. Regardless, I am learning so much blogging, developing relationships with other like-minded individuals, and am so excited about attending FinCon in September.

My favorite thing so far about blogging is the community of personal finance nerds like myself who are focused on spreading financial literacy and improving the financial lives of others. Getting people to think differently about money will require an army of content providers to make a small dent when faced with the competition of billions of dollars in targeted marketing dollars everyday. This small but mighty militia definitely seems up to the challenge. Continue reading “Fourth of July, Paying off the Mortgage, and FinCon”

Moving From Two Incomes to One


My wife made the call to her principal last week. “I’ve decided to take a few years off work.”

After a 30 second phone call it started to become real. We were officially moving from two incomes to one.

As a tenured middle school teacher in a good school district, this decision did not come easy. There were many discussions in our home leading up to this moment. We went out to dinner a few weeks back. Kicked back a few drinks and discussed the pros and cons.

If possible I’d love to be the one to take a few years off. However, we’re not in position yet where we could live off just her salary. My wife went back to work a few weeks ago to finish out the current school year. I was fortunate to be able to defer some of my paternity leave until she went back. For two weeks I had the opportunity to drop our pre-schooler off every day, then my new little buddy and I ran all around town together. It was both exhausting and rewarding. I loved every minute of it and am glad my wife will have the opportunity to do the same during the next several years. Continue reading “Moving From Two Incomes to One”

How We’re Teaching Our Preschooler About Money


Financial Literacy Month

With April being Financial Literacy Month, I wanted to share a few things we’re doing to teach our preschooler about money. These techniques are not new or groundbreaking, though already seem to be having a small impact after only a few months. I could go on about the benefits of financial literacy in general. It needs to be taught more in schools. And if schools aren’t going to make it a priority, then it’s up to us parents to ensure our kids grow up to be smart with money.

Our children will likely grow up much better off than me or my wife when we were younger. With all the positives that come with their situation, there are some negatives as well such as a lack of appreciation and entitlement. I want to give my kids a great life, but don’t want to spoil them. That’s why we’re trying to get an early start to teach financial literacy in our house. The following are a few examples of how we’re teaching our three year old about money.

Spending, Saving, and Giving

A few months ago we started paying our three year old a commission of five dollars per week to complete four chores every day. The chores include making his bed, feeding the cats, picking up his toys in the living room, and cleaning his room. Every day that he doesn’t complete a chore he is supposed to lose one dollar. Continue reading “How We’re Teaching Our Preschooler About Money”