The Starve & Stack Method: An Extreme Money-Saving Experiment for Couples

close up of couple holding hands
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Do you ever wonder how other couples pay off so much debt so quickly?

Like this couple who paid off $13,000 on a combined income of $28,000.

Or this couple who paid off $50,000 in debt and now lives on a sailboat.

Or this couple who paid off $35,000 in debt AND RETIRED IN THEIR 30s!

It seems impossible when it’s your own life, but I can tell you from personal experience that it’s totally doable. My husband and I paid off $78,000 of debt in two years, and the Starve and Stack method is one reason we were able to hit our big money goals.

Starve and Stack: How It Works

Don’t worry, there’s no literal starving.

The term “Starve and Stack” was coined by Nick Vail of Remove the Guesswork in a guest post on the popular personal finance blog, Budgets are Sexy.

The idea is that couples, especially newlyweds, combine their finances and live 100% on one income for 18 to 24 months.

You could either pay off debt or set yourselves up with a substantial nest egg that would grow exponentially thanks to compound interest.

Vail doesn’t recommend this as a way to save for a down payment on a house, which may or may not be the best investment for young people right now. It’s an opportunity to invest for your future early on and let the magic of compound interest work for you.

And the earlier you start investing, the less you’ll have to save in the long run.

The median household income before taxes is about $59,000 per year. So suppose a couple’s take-home pay after taxes is around $52,000. If they live off half of that (or even a little more), they could feasibly save $50,000 in two years!

If you have $50,000 in an index fund that returns an average of 6%, you’ll have over $287,000 in 30 years if you don’t add an extra penny to it. And if you continue to add $25,000 every year after that, you’ll be a millionaire in about 19 years.

Alternatively, if you have a $50,000 student loan with 6% interest and you pay it off in two years instead of 10, you could save over $10,000 in interest!

But How Do You Starve and Stack?

The elephant in the room is, how do I get my cost of living low enough to do this?

You’ll have to avoid the temptation of lifestyle inflation that comes with doubling your income. Moving in with someone doesn’t mean you deserve an upgraded car or a corner apartment. We opted for a tiny one-bedroom apartment we found through scoping out neighborhoods.

We also looked for free activities to have fun and ways to save on expenses we couldn’t completely cut out. Calling our insurance and phone providers at least once a year saved us big bucks on our monthly bills.

And if you can’t decrease your expenses any further, try a side hustle to make up the difference. There are tons of ways to make money at home in your your spare time.

Jen Smith is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She and her husband Starved and Stacked to pay off $78K of debt in two years. Find her on Instagram at @savingwithspunk for money saving and debt payoff tips.