This post was inspired and sponsored by Domain.ME, the provider of the personal domains that end in .ME. As a company, they aim to promote thought leadership to the tech world. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
When we got married, my husband and I didn’t have much more than some basic pieces of furniture and a roof over our head. We both were part-time employees, working low-paying jobs on our respective college campuses. And thanks to paying (aka charging) most of our wedding related expenses ourselves, also had over $8,000 in credit card debt as well as tens of thousands in student loan debt.
Our financial situation would only get worse before it got better.
Living in Poverty
Over the next few years we added more student loan debt as we worked to finish earning our bachelors’ degrees. As we graduated college, unemployed, we welcomed twin daughters. We decided to move six weeks after their birth across the country, with what remaining money we had, in order to live (rent free) with my in-laws for two months as my husband searched for a job.
My husband’s first teaching position was at one of the lowest paying high schools in Indianapolis. In that first year in Indianapolis, we were so poor. Almost all of our furniture – a love seat, two chairs, one crib, dining table and chairs, TV stand, and patio chair – was donated to us from friends and acquaintances, as well as our dryer.
We eventually acquired a washing machine for $60 off Craigslist, which was a huge stretch in our budget. Until then a family from church, graciously picked me and my twins up so I could do laundry at her house. We only had one vehicle and it was a gas guzzler (’99 Chevy Tahoe) and unfortunately, gas prices were very high that year, and the commute a good 25 minutes. Plus, the vehicle continued to need expensive repairs. We scraped by and decided to move to a location closer to work for his second year of teaching in order to save money on gas and commute time.
A few months into his second year teaching there, however, he was in a major car accident on his way home from work, which led to medical bills, physical therapy, loss in wages, and a car loan. The high school then only offered a part-time position for what would have been his third year of teaching, prompting him to go back to school instead, where we accrued more student loan debt in order to pay for life and his master’s degree.
Towards the end of his first year in the master’s program, we had another child. Upon graduating from the Master’s program, we moved to Texas so my husband could start working on a PhD program, which prompted us to take out student loans, again.
Living Poor is Rough
The first six years of our marriage were marred by financial worry, financial stress, financial difficulties. For years we struggled to stop accruing new debts, pay off old debts, and somehow still enjoy our everyday life.
We somehow managed to make all the necessary minimum payments on our loans and debts, keep food on the table and a roof over our head thanks to the amazing generosity of friends, neighbors, church members, strangers, and family members, as well as various government assistance programs, Income-Based Repayment plans on our student loans, church welfare at times, and major thrifty living.
We went without cell phones for years, as well as a dishwasher, a microwave, a full-sized couch, date nights, new clothes, and eating out for various lengths of time. We received gifts of secondhand clothing to clothe our growing twins and secondhand toys to entertain them. We couponed to stretch the $200ish dollars of food stamp money we sometimes received, and were glad to be on WIC, though we still spent money out of pocket every month on groceries and other necessities every single month.
We always made sure to faithfully pay our 10% tithe to the church as we knew it was only by God’s grace and wisdom that we weren’t coming up overdue on bills during these six long years.
How We Escaped Our Revolving Debt
We finally escaped from all our revolving debt, aka our credit card debt and car loan, a year before my husband finished his Master’s Degree.
Because my husband went through the terrible ordeal of a car accident that broke his sternum, totaled our one and only vehicle, left him unable to work for more than two months (causing him a decrease in pay for the rest of the year), and took a very long time to fully heal from, we were eventually freed from revolving debt.
It’s was God’s unique (and painful) way of answering our prayers and our pleas to help us overcome our huge, omnipresent burden of thousands of dollars of revolving debt.
Until the settlement came though we continued to pay off various debts, like medical bills and a car payment, and added more to our credit card balances.
More than a year after the accident, we finally received the settlement money, and wisely used it to free ourselves of these heavy monthly financial burdens, paying off all of our credit card debts, our entire car loan, and even bought a second vehicle in cash. We picked up a few other items we had been going without like a microwave, too.
But, before too long, what remained was gone too.
When you aren’t bringing in much income as a full-time student, part-time employee, and are living off student loans, as a family of five, the money goes quickly if you are avoiding using credit cards, and no one else is bringing in any money.
We used the last of our remaining money to move us across the country to Texas, where my husband took out his final student loans as he began work towards a PhD in Mathematics Education.
How We Escaped Poverty
Living in Texas is more expensive than living in Indianapolis. Rent is higher. Sales tax is higher. But, my husband’s income is higher too.
Although he has to pay his tuition out of pocket every semester, my husband has an assistantship with the university that pays him more than he made when he was teaching high school in Indianapolis full-time, but he now only works 20 hours a week. Considering we don’t have those pesky minimum credit card payments or loans to pay on anymore, it feels like a lot more than before.
His first year in the PhD we took out student loans as we rebounded from the big move and settled into a new place.
But, this last year, for the first time, ever, we didn’t take out any student loans and paid for his tuition ourselves.
In fact, we plan to never take out another student loan again over his remaining two years of school.
We are also, finally, paying off my student loans from my undergraduate degree, and paying off our interest accruing credit cards in full every month, avoiding their use altogether as much as possible.
For the first time we actually have savings. We actually have two savings accounts, one for emergencies, and another for tuition and school fees, both of which we are adding to every single month, and almost never have to touch (other than to pay tuition).
We have never been this wealthy in all of our married life.
The Secret to Our Escape from Poverty
In August 2013 I began what would be the secret to our new financial security. I had felt prompted by God to do so, though I had such a small glimpse of how it would change our future and our lives.
I began a blog.
Okay, technically, I already had a blog which my husband actually had started when we first were married, but I decided to invest into the one I had (this website you’re currently on) and to try my darndest to actually make money from it.
I didn’t see a single paycheck until February 2014, but then the money, and my stats, started to multiply, quickly. By the end of 2014, I had earned a part-time income.
In 2015 I earned a meager full-time income, barely less than my husband earned from the university.
This year, in 2016, I will surpass my husband’s earnings from this blog.
My self-employed business that has been our financial saving grace. It is only because of this business that our family has finally broken free from poverty level income.
I started this business venture with the hopes of earning a few extra hundred dollars every month, because even that much would be a tremendous blessing and help to our growing family. Little did I know how much money I could earn!
My husband and I cannot believe that between the two of us we make this much money. It seems surreal. Like a crazy dream.
How can we possibly make and have this much money?
For years it wasn’t very realistic for me to work outside the home. With a degree in Visual Arts, every position I could land would likely pay entry level wages of about $10/hour. I applied to several over the years, even working two weeks at an Adidas factory, and two months part-time grading papers. I even had a few art commissions! But, the lack of transportation (aka two vehicles) and adequate childcare, as we didn’t have grandparents to watch the kids for free or anything, meant it wasn’t a great fit for a long time.
I needed something I could do from home if I really wanted to help the family finances, something I didn’t have to pay childcare in order to do.
I had been writing on whatsupfagans.blogspot.com for a few years already. We began it shortly after we were married, while we were still in college, before we were even pregnant with our twins. It was supposed to be a way for our family in other states to know what’s up with us. But, we always kinda did what we wanted to on the old blog, having fun writing about whatever. I was fairly consistent about writing and updating on it, when I began to toy with the idea of monetizing it.
My friend Katie Clarks of ClarksCondensed.com was a blog reader of mine, though we hadn’t actually ever met in person (and still haven’t!). She thought I was a good writer, and told me that I had potential, and that I should go for it.
With spiritual confirmation that the time was right to invest the money to buy my domain name and pay for hosting services, I figured out how transfer my content from Blogger to WordPress.org and set it all up, without having to pay anyone (because we were poor, remember?). I figured the investment I made, which locked me in for two years of hosting and domain registration, wasn’t much if after a year or two I still hadn’t made anything, or made that money back.
Obviously, I was hesitant and super skeptical, but willing to learn.
Three years later, I understand why the time was right. It takes time to build up momentum, traffic, writing skills, tech know-how, and monetization techniques needed to be successful write a blog and be an online influencer. Three years later and we can pay tuition with cash, which is important because my husband can’t take out any more money in student loans. So, my income, which has built over time, has been able to pay for his tuition, and then some. It’s allowing my husband to earn the degree he desires to have the career he desires, forever boosting his vocational options and earning potential.
Blogging has completely changed our financial life.We still have our various financial hang-ups and really do need to budget well and make sure we’ll have enough for all the expenses we have now, as we have to pay for things we didn’t have to before, like health insurance, our fourth child, and tuition.
And obviously, we still have a huge amount of student loan debt. But, now we have a real plan for paying it off, because of blogging.
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I make no promises about whether or not you’ll succeed at blogging, but I do promise you that if you don’t try, it isn’t a possibility. And in a few years, you could be like us – escaping poverty and making a better future for yourself.
What have you done to change your circumstances?
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