This Couple Paid Off $47,000 in Debt Without Sacrificing Their Lifestyle

Money and relationships
Heather Comparetto
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We all know you should talk about money with your partner before you tie the knot.

But even if you’ve delayed this important chat, you can still make changes for the benefit of your finances — and your relationship.

April Vargo and her husband, Jason, live just outside of Chicago in Whiting, Indiana. Until recently, she was a public school music teacher; he works in appraisal services.

Vargo remembers that she and Jason didn’t fight when they were dating or engaged. But when they got married five years ago, their only sticking point was money.

“We looked at it two different ways,” she says. “I’m a saver, he spends, and we’re two different extremes.”

The question they had to ask each other: “How do we join together [financially] without it being World War III in our house?”

How to Tackle Finances Together

So two years ago, Vargo started researching budgeting and debt reduction techniques. She read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover and saw a video of the author speaking about his concepts.

“All of a sudden, it made sense. There was so much we could do,” Vargo says.

Instead of April dragging Jason into her savings scheme, she knew they’d make more progress if they worked together and were both invested in the process.

How do we join together [financially] without it being World War III in our house?

Vargo says the first step for couples in similar situations is to sit down and be willing to have a serious conversation.

“Lay it all out on the table — interests, goals — and start working on a plan,” she explains.

Then, figure out how to work together to meet those goals.

The couple began holding monthly budget meetings where they evaluated every expense, from the fun stuff to the necessities. By talking about each spending category, they could better decide what was important for them to be able to spend money on — and where they would be willing to cut back.

“Make sure you’re both comfortable with the plan,” Vargo advises. “Do something that makes you excited about it. Give yourself rewards.”

For the Vargos, paying off debt was a major goal. They made a spreadsheet of their different types of debt and brainstormed ways to pay it down.

The couple chose to focus on the debt with the highest interest, which naturally occurred on a credit card. They decided to snowball payments as Ramsey recommended, and put any extra money toward that card.

And their strategy is working: “Between car loans, mortgage payments and credit cards, we have paid down $47,000 in 1.5 years,” Vargo says.

Here’s how they did it.

Cutting Costs

Next, they looked at their expenses and true necessities.

One surprising place they found savings: their home security system. They switched from ADP to Simplisafe, which offered lower prices combined with additional features.

“Right off the bat, we were getting more for less money,” Vargo says.

The couple got rid of cable and instead got a smart TV that connected to the Netflix and Hulu accounts they chose to keep.

Vargo previously walked to work and now works from home; her husband’s company is based in Texas, so he works from home as well. Their two cars spent most of the time in the driveway.

They traded in both vehicles and purchased one new car — and now they only have one car payment to worry about.

“We ended up refinancing it later for a lower interest rate,” Vargo says. “It’s a higher payment, but we’ll be done with the payments in two years.”

They plan to keep the car for about 10 years, so they can maximize the time they’ll own it outright.

Yes, Foodie Couples Can Save on Groceries

How do you save money on groceries without scrimping on satisfaction?

“We’re big foodies. We love to eat,” Vargo says. “We weren’t willing to compromise on quality of life. We didn’t want to start eating canned beans and tuna fish all the time.”

Vargo said they eat at home five or six nights each week. They make a meal plan to anticipate grocery needs, but her big secret to hacking her grocery budget has been shopping at multiple stores.

She visits Aldi, Costco and local independent shops to cross off everything on her list. The local produce stand only takes cash, but she can get a whole box of produce for $5.

And if she can’t find the ingredients she needs? She heads to Whole Foods — but only for a few items she’s likely to use repeatedly, like spices.

Eating at home for these two is far from boring. They enjoy a date night every Friday, cooking a recipe they both want to try and having cocktails as they prep.

“It’s our entertainment for the evening,” Vargo says.

They’ve cut at least 50% off their grocery bill since they started getting savvy about their finances.

How They Save Money While Traveling

Since they like to take their small dog with them, the Vargos look for pet-friendly hotels and activities. This strategy also helps them save money.

“Sometimes boarding a pet can be more expensive than boarding yourself,” Vargo says.

They also look at their hotel as a place to sleep while they spend most of their stay out and about in a new city. Since they’re not looking for fancy amenities, they’re usually able to find cheaper accommodation.

By planning an itinerary and a sightseeing wish list, Vargo can check for discounts or coupons before they depart.

Just a little research before you go can make a big difference. Before they traveled to Las Vegas, Vargo caught wind of ticket kiosks across the city that offer discounted tickets for some of the most popular shows; she makes sure to share this favorite tip with friends and family planning to visit Vegas.

Are You Ready for a Financially Fit Marriage?

Inspired by this family’s success? Maybe you’re ready to set some goals for you and your beloved.

Vargo recognizes that meeting financial goals can be challenging, but doing it as a team can alleviate some of the stress of cost-cutting and lifestyle adjustment.

“It’s a lot easier doing it together,” she says. “Now finances are regular conversations [for us],” she says. “Not even a sore spot.”

Lisa Rowan is a former staff writer.