How to Be A Minimalist Debt Destroyer

I have the great fortune of bringing you an excellent guest post today on How to be a Minimalist Debt Destroyer. This post was a joy to read with real tough decisions being made to absolutely obliterate debt fast – 11 months specifically! I received a lot of value of out it, so I know you’ll enjoy it!

If you enjoy this post, be sure to check out more of Zack’s work on his site Your Money Your Freedom.

How to Be A Minimalist Debt Destroyer

The term minimalism gets thrown around often. It’s a popular term by most standards that continues growing in popularity, according to Google Trends at least.  At the core, minimalism is the practice of intentionally choosing to prioritize the things we value highest and striving to remove or minimize everything else.

In theory, being a minimalist is romantic. Enjoy the things you love most, get rid of the rest. In practice, it is not that easy.

To give you a concrete example, when my wife and I got married in 2014, we had accumulated roughly $50,000 of student loan and car debt. Newly married, we decided that prioritizing our finances was something we wanted to focus on. We made a plan to reduce our lives and focus on the few things that were paramount to us.

At the time we weren’t striving to become more minimalistic directly but we ended up learning and practicing some of the same principles.

In reality, we lived pretty simple lives already. We had a one bedroom 750 sq ft apartment in a historic neighborhood in Oklahoma City. We liked our lives and enjoyed where we lived but in order to reach our goal of becoming debt free, we wanted to make major changes to our living situation.

 To do this, we decided one night during a date night, that we were going to purchase a camper and live in it until we payed off our debt. We didn’t intentionally pursue the idea to become minimalists but we were inspired by the tiny house movement that was happening at the time.

I’m not going to lie, some part of me was after the Henry David Thoreau – Walden story. It seemed romantic to live simply for some time to figure life out.

In the book, Walden, Thoreau says,

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

We wanted that. The biggest fear we had to get over was just “doing something different” than the norm. But we decided to take the leap anyway.

We purchased a camper we found on Craigslist for $3,400. Nearly emptied my savings at the time.

We were planning a new journey. It was exhilarating.

Luckily, we worked out a deal to rent out a plot of land on some family members land for a decent monthly price. We installed a hook up where we could connect our power and we were set. We sold a lot of our stuff on Craigslist, Ebay, and LetGo.

Deciding what to sell and what to keep was one of the more stressful parts of the transition.

We donated a lot of our old clothes to Goodwill. I felt better about giving things away rather than selling because all I had to do was drop things off at the donation center. At least it was going to someone in need.

Once we sold all the nonessentials, we had to decide what to do with the rest of our furniture that we wanted to keep while living in the camper. We had things we didn’t want to sell, so we decided to find a cheap storage unit where we could stash the rest of our stuff.

A storage unit served us two purposes, it allowed us to keep our most valuable things safe, and it also allowed us an overflow for storage of essentials like seasonal clothes.

In the camper, we had a small closet that could fit 15 or 20 shirts. We also had three small drawers each for other items like underwear, socks, and pants.

We had room for a week’s worth of clothes, that’s about it. This forced us to find outfits that could be interchangeable without having to wear the same outfit more than one time in one week. Choosing between my 10 favorite shirts was not easy.

The same story went for just about every household item we owned with multiple sets. From the kitchen to the bathroom, to the living area; we had to pick only our favorite and most valued items to have in the camper with us.

This “purging” if you will, was an exercise of necessity, not just luxury. We didn’t have space in the camper for all our belongings. We didn’t have space in the storage unit for unnecessary things either. Altogether, we found this hard but very freeing. We were getting rid of things we knew we hadn’t used and probably wouldn’t use.

“…for my greatest skill has been to want but little.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

We decided we would only live in the RV for as long as we needed to pay off our debt. The idea crossed our minds to take it on the road after but we decided we’d be ready to have a real house by then.

To determine how long we were going to live in the camper, we did the math backwards and figured out it would take us 11 months to become debt free, so that was our goal.

When we bought the camper, it was in decent shape, but we wanted to invest some sweat equity into it to make it feel like home.

Remodeling The Camper

(Photo: Zack creating trim for the countertop)

Older campers tend to have a lot of wood and dark colors, so we wanted to brighten it up. We used bright white paint, bright curtains, and other things to make it feel more modern.

Before Camper Remodel

(Photo: picture of camper when we bought it)

We worked on the camper for a couple of weeks pre-move in and invested a few hundred bucks of paint and sweat. It was well worth it.

Camper After Remodel

(Photo: After new paint and a couple days of hard work)

The process of purchasing the camper and fixing it up was fun. We reminisce about this time and call it the honeymoon phase.

We faced a few unexpected challenges living in the camper. Things like making sure we remembered to change the propane tank every two weeks so we could cook and have heat in the winter were critical. This was often easy to overlook. Inevitably, we had a few cold nights.

We also survived a near direct hit from a tornado, severe ice storms, and blazing hot summers.

Tornado Damage

(Photo: Zack standing near a downed tree that fell feet from the camper caused by a tornado)

We continually reminded ourselves that we were choosing this path, that it didn’t pick us.

We had to learn to appreciate the simple things in life and to keep things in perspective. Our hot water tank would only heat up enough water for about a 5-minute shower. It was challenging, but it wasn’t life threatening. Putting things in perspective helped us. “So many people around the world don’t even have access to clean drinking water” we often said to ourselves…

One of the most important things for us was to remember why we were going on this journey.

Each day that passed that presented struggles we reminded ourselves that in 11 months, we’d be debt free.

Our “why” was critical to our success. About six months into living in the camper when we almost called it quits. Things just seemed to pile up as life happened. We were both working full-time jobs, commuting about a 45 mins one way to work, things just caught up to us.

We nearly called it quits…. But we stuck with it. And we are so glad we did. We ended up paying off all $50k of our debt and selling our camper for nearly 3x what we bought it for. It was a nice exit payout for all the hard work and sacrifice we went through living in it.

More importantly, we learned a lot about money, life, and simple living during those 11 months. I wouldn’t consider us minimalists, but we like what we learned throughout the process of minimizing our lives to get out of debt.

The main takeaway for us and for others considering how to get out of debt or to improve their financial life is this: just take action. Do something that takes you out of your comfort zone.

You may not be able to live in a camper, but you can take steps towards reaching your financial goals in other ways.

One of the things we learned is that having a “rich” life isn’t all about money.  Being “rich” does not mean you’ll be happy.

In our culture of consumption, it’s easy to forget that we don’t need much to thrive. Hopefully, our example will serve you in creating your life of financial freedom.

If we can pay off $50,000 of debt in 11 months by living in a camper, you can set a plan, too.

Camper After Moving-In

Camper After Moving-In

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

^^DD here – Such a great post from Zach! Be sure to check out more of his content on his site: Your Money Your Freedom

7 comments… add one
  • Ryan @ Just Another Dollar Jun 11, 2017, 6:45 am

    Awesome story! Some days I wonder if we should cut deeper into our lifestyle and truly sacrifice to pay off our debt faster. The minimalist attitude fits in with how we live; being mindful and intentional with everything we do in life has improved our well-being over the last year. Thanks for sharing!

    • Zack Jun 13, 2017, 12:54 pm

      Ryan,

      I think it’s worth considering. We were inclined to take drastic measures but not everyone sees the value in that or can do what we did. To each his own.

      I will say that it was one of the best investments we made in our marriage and financial life. The minimalist lifestyle is very intriguing.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      -Zack

  • Frugal Mainer Jun 11, 2017, 11:03 am

    Terrific story. However, it is also important to remember that serious intention and focus in needed/ One thing that many people don’t realize about Thoreau’s time in the woods is that his mother lived in town and he not only took his laundry to her to wash them, she cooked many of his meals. He also lived alone….

    • Zack Jun 13, 2017, 12:49 pm

      Frugal Mainer,

      You are right. Thoreau was not in the woods for financial gain. He had the perspective that he’d learn about life and purpose by living deliberately. It’s hard to compare our journey to his, as much as I wish it could! 🙂 We did learn a bit about the struggles and the improved outlook on life by striving to live simply for some time, though. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      -Zack

  • Mrs. Adventure Rich Jun 11, 2017, 11:17 am

    What an inspiring story! I like the honesty and transparency… it wasn’t all sunshine and fun to transition to a camper home, but between the ability to be flexible and have a positive outlook (focusing on their goal!) is commendable. Keep up the good work, Zach! And thank you for featuring, Matt!

    • Zack Jun 13, 2017, 12:50 pm

      Mrs. Adventure Rich,

      Thanks for the kind words. It was a fun journey.

      -Zack

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