How I Ditched Debt: Lauren Greutman

Paying Off Debt, Personal Finance

In this series, NerdWallet interviews people who have triumphed over debt using a combination of commitment, budgeting and smart financial choices. Their stories may even inspire you to pay off your debt.

Aligning spending to values helped family tackle debt

Lauren Greutman, a spender, was ashamed to let her husband, Mark, a saver, know how badly she’d managed their family finances. They owed more on their mortgage than their house was worth and almost lost their home to foreclosure. When money ran short each month, they had to charge diapers and groceries on credit cards.

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The Greutman family

When Lauren found herself concealing $600 worth of new clothing in her car, she knew she had to own up, change her spending habits and attack the debt. It took two years to pay off. Lauren wrote about her experience in the book “The Recovering Spender” and shared her tips with NerdWallet.

What was your total debt when you started your repayment journey?

It was $40,000.

What is your total debt today?

We are currently 100% debt-free other than our mortgage.

How did you end up in debt?

I bought what I wanted, when I wanted it. I thought it was the “good wife” thing to do to take care of the money, but I failed to ask for help. I racked up $40,000 worth of debt behind my husband’s back and had so much shame.

This shame kept me from discussing it with him. We bought a house we could not afford, drove luxury cars and tried to appear like we had it all.

What triggered your decision to start getting out of debt?

I remember sitting on our bed one night, surrounded by a mountain of bills. Mark was numb, I was crying, we were both embarrassed and scared.

I was so sick and tired of keeping up with the appearance of having it all that I confessed [the debt] to him that night. It was such a dark and desperate time, and I saw no hope.

What steps did you take to reduce your debt? What resources or services did you use?

We sold our $225,000 house with an $1,800-a-month mortgage and moved into a small townhouse that cost $700 a month. This freed up $1,100 a month to pay down debt.

We canceled cable and sold one of our cars. We learned how to budget and communicate about money. I learned to use coupons and plan meals. We cut our grocery bill from $1,000 to $200 per month.

We’d only ever learned about budgets, numbers and coupons in a very dry, clinical and boring way. But when Mark and I made the heart connection by bringing values and vision into the mix, that’s when the breakthrough happened.

Did you make any other changes?

I started my website, LaurenGreutman.com, to help others in the same situation and earn extra income. I have an online course called “The Financial Renovation” where I walk people through how to get out of debt and enjoy life on a budget.

All the extra income from my website, book sales and courses went toward paying down approximately 50% of the debt.

How has your life changed for the better since you got out of debt?

I have so much more peace and freedom. I know where my money is going and I have so much hope for the future.

Since getting out of debt, my husband was able to quit his job as an actuary and come home to work with me on my website. I live a life with purpose and passion and love to pass along the information I’ve learned to others.

HOW TO TACKLE YOUR OWN DEBT

Lauren’s motivational tip: Make a list of everything you value in life. Then list all your spending from last month. Do the lists match? Get your spending in line with your values.

To deal with high credit card debt, one approach is debt consolidation, which rolls all your balances to one new credit card or loan with a lower interest rate, allowing you to pay off your debt faster and save on interest. If you have strong credit, you might be eligible for a 0% balance-transfer credit card. You can also check rates on personal loans for debt consolidation.

Jeanne Lee is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: jlee@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @jlee_jeanne.