Here's How We Crushed $30,000 in Debt (While Also Saving for a Wedding)

No tricks. No gimmicks. We paid off our debt in 16 months with nothing more than discipline, sound financial decisions, and a bit of grit.

How I paid off $30,000 in debt while saving for my wedding
Updated July 11, 2024
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I got into debt from years of financial ineptitude. Ignorance, really. Spending money I didn’t have on stuff I didn’t need. I wasn’t trying to sabotage my finances — I honestly didn’t know better. 

Upon getting engaged, my wife and I decided to lay our cards on the table. We had talked honestly about our finances before, but this was the first time we sat down to look at exact amounts. She brought about $10,000 in credit card debt to the table. I had $17,500 in student loans and a balance of $3,500 across my credit cards. Now that we had an actual number to look at — the debt became real.

Our debt wasn’t an abstract thought anymore. With our wedding 16 months out, eliminating that $31,000 in debt became a goal. The moment we looked at each other and decided to get rid of it, everything changed.

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How we paid off our debt while saving for our wedding

I became obsessed with everything personal finance. I bought book after book — from Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” to George S. Clason’s “The Richest Man in Babylon.” We couldn't get enough of Dave Ramsey and his radio show. I scoured the internet, reading articles, blogs, and stories of people who took on similar feats.

I also knew just researching the subject wasn’t enough — it was time to put my newfound knowledge into action. We were getting ready to embark on two of the biggest financial adventures of our lives, and we needed a solid plan. Otherwise, our goals to both save for our wedding and get out of debt would likely never materialize.

Neither of us had paid off debt before, let alone $31,000 of it. Nor had we ever saved with an actual goal in mind. How we spent money was what really needed to change. Neither of us had the slightest clue how much we were spending each month or if the money we were bringing in was enough to cover it.

Here are the three primary steps we followed to take control of our finances and achieve our dream:

Step 1: Setting a budget

Once we set up a budget, everything began falling into place. Although it was tight, it was doable. We began telling every dollar where to go versus allowing money to control us. We saw where every penny went, where money was wasted, and where we could make cuts.

We started with the budget template in the back of Dave Ramsey’s “The Total Money Makeover.” We also incorporated the “envelope system.” This meant everything we bought, we paid for in cash. This cash was divvied up between a slew of envelopes, all labeled in black marker for each expense: “Gas,” “Groceries,” “Matt’s spending money,” etc.

Since we were all cash, we decided to shred our credit cards. Although a bit dramatic, we weren’t just chopping up our cards, we were chopping up our debt as well. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with credit cards, there was something wrong with how we used them. Until we knew we could be trusted with one, it didn’t make sense for them to be accessible to us.

The first month of tracking our spending gave us insight into exactly how much we needed to set aside for essentials — gas, groceries, utilities, etc. It also allowed us to identify wasteful spending. Tweaks were made, and our budget became more refined over the months. Eventually, our budget turned into a fully customizable spreadsheet I built in Excel (which we still use to this day).

How I paid off $30,000 in debt while saving for my wedding


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Step 2: Paying off our debt

Once we knew exactly what we needed for our essential budget, we were able to calculate how much we could throw at debt each month. I picked up a second job to bring in more money, which was an enormous help. Every penny I earned from that side job went toward our debt, but we knew we needed to have a more strategic approach to debt elimination.

As I researched more about personal finance, the debt snowball and debt avalanche methods kept popping up. Both made sense, and both had their benefits. We just had to figure out which method of debt repayment was best for us.

Debt snowball

The debt snowball method is a debt-repayment strategy that targets your smallest debt first. It focuses more on the psychological aspect of debt repayment, allowing you to achieve small, quick wins that act as continued motivation. The process is simple and straightforward:

  • Step 1: List your debt in ascending order.
  • Step 2: Make the minimum payment on each debt.
  • Step 3: Any extra money not assigned to other expenses goes toward the debt listed first (smallest), along with any money left over at the end of the month, until that debt is paid off.
  • Step 4: Roll that entire payment into the second debt in line while maintaining minimum payments on all the rest.
  • Step 5: Repeat Steps 1-4.

By the time we paid off our smallest debt, we were heavily invested. The motivation we got from quickly paying off one of our credit cards was exhilarating, but the big debt was costing us too much in interest. So we decided to give the debt avalanche method a go.

Debt avalanche

The debt avalanche method has you target the debt with the highest interest rate first — the ones that end up costing you the most money in the end. Here’s how the debt avalanche method goes:

  • Step 1: List your debt in descending order.
  • Step 2: Make the minimum payment on each debt.
  • Step 3: Any extra money that isn’t assigned to other expenses goes toward the debt listed first (highest interest rate), along with any money left over at the end of the month, until that debt is paid off.
  • Step 4: Roll that entire payment into the second debt in line while maintaining minimum payments on all the rest.
  • Step 5: Repeat Steps 1-4.

While paying off each debt using this method took longer for us, it was much more financially impactful. In time, we paid off $31,000 in debt and saved a lot in interest that we would otherwise have paid using the debt snowball method.

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Step 3: Saving for our wedding

The wedding was 16 months out, and with our budget in place, we started saving. We knew if we stuck to our budget, we could set aside what we needed for our wedding ($15,000) while continuing to pay off our debt. Even though reaching our savings goal didn’t seem likely at first, the numbers said we could do it. Motivation would have to take us the rest of the way.

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We had three goals to hit while saving for our wedding — a photographer, flowers, and our honeymoon — so we opened up a separate savings account for each. Tracking our savings was easier this way, as we knew exactly how far along we were with each particular goal. If nothing else, it also kept us inspired to see each account grow. Some online banks will also allow you to create vaults within your account to make saving for multiple goals very simple.

We also treated saving as an expense to ensure our savings goals weren’t secondary. They wouldn’t be something we contributed to with whatever money was left at the end of the month. Instead, every time we got paid, the money we budgeted went directly into our savings.

How I paid off $30,000 in debt while saving for my wedding

16 months later — the day we celebrated

I had $1,000 left on one of my student loans the day we got married. It wasn’t zero, but we did an incredible job, if I do say so myself. We celebrated one of the most memorable moments of our lives right off the heels of one of our biggest achievements. To say this felt amazing would be an understatement.

In the end, we paid off $30,000 in debt in 16 months while saving $15,000 for our wedding. We started the next chapter of our lives with more control than we’d ever dreamed of. And what I took away from the experience is something I could never forget.

What I learned that can help you too

Debt sucks. The feeling of owing someone is unpleasant, and it’s always in the back of your mind. When you decide to disentangle debt from your life, don’t assume any one way is right. Try different methods and see what works best for you.

My wife and I attacked our debt very aggressively until it was nearly gone. While this helped us pay it off sooner, we sacrificed our happiness, too. And when you strip away your happiness, paying debt and saving becomes nothing more than a chore. That can take a toll on you — and can also cause you to give up on your goals. Instead, consider creating a budget that allows you to make progress toward your goals while still enjoying your life.

Paying off the majority of our debt was one of the most exhilarating things we’ve done, but the challenge of it was especially important. It taught us things we didn’t know we were capable of doing. But most importantly, it changed our relationship with money.

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Matt Miczulski

Matt Miczulski is a personal finance writer specializing in financial news, budget travel, banking, and debt. His interest in personal finance took off after eliminating $30,000 in debt in just over a year, and his goal is to help others learn how to get ahead with better money management strategies. A lover of history, Matt hopes to use his passion for storytelling to shine a new light on how people think about money. His work has also been featured on MoneyDoneRight and Recruiter.com.