Budget, Family Finances

Breaking the Chains of Debt

June 9, 2015
Breaking the Chains of Debt


Due to a bureaucratic snafu with Veterans Affairs, we had a pretty dark financial period in our life a few years back. After my husband got out of the Navy to pursue his Bachelor of Science degree, he used his GI Bill benefits to pay for his school tuition as well as our mortgage payment. He was working full-time and going to school full-time, but, without the GI bill stipend, we didn’t have enough money to cover the bills.

An important piece of paperwork, essential to receiving the benefits, got lost repeatedly within the great void that is Veterans Affairs. Because of this low-level error, we were left facing an 8 month period where we didn’t have enough money to pay the bills. It was either pay our bills, pay for gas to get to work, and pay for food on the table, or pay our mortgage payment. During this incredibly trying time, we weren’t even living paycheck to paycheck. We were living on borrowed money. We had to put our groceries on the 15.99% interest rate credit card just to feed our family.

It was a humbling, embarrassing, eye-opening eight months of asking friends and family for help, eating mainly from our garden and WIC checks, and wondering if the next month would be the month where we faced foreclosure and homelessness. Needless to say, at the end of the ordeal (when the VA finally fixed the issue) we had accrued even more debt on our credit cards than we had before the VA debacle.

Today, we are in a much better place financially, but we are still struggling to pay off debt from the credit card, our car loan, and a personal loan used to fix my husband’s daily driver vehicle at the time. During our first finance date last Friday night, my husband and I had a considerable discussion about our debt. Mainly, we discussed ways to limit our spending, increase our income, and put the difference towards the $16,172 we have in the red (not including our mortgage).

I have been reading several different personal finance blogs lately, and a common tool utilized in the personal finance community is to have a debt visual in your home that keeps you motivated towards your goal of paying down your debts. Some people like to use a picture like a thermometer to fill in as they pay down their debts. Others may use pennies on a scaleI love both of those ideas, but I wanted to have something pretty striking as a visual aid. I wanted to have something that would be a topic of conversation if someone came to our home.

Since our financial and personal freedom is so tightly bound by our debts, we decided to go with cliché but highly effective paper chains. Each link of our debt chain represents $100. The red links represent our car loan, the black links represent our credit card, and the brown links represent our personal loan. At the end of each month, we will look at the principle paid down on each debt and remove the links one at a time. We are hoping to have every last link of the chains removed in two years or less.


We are going to be making a lot of sacrifices, earning money through side-hustling, and putting every spare penny we have towards removing those awful chains from our den. We didn’t notice it at first, but we have a little sign sitting on the window sill that says, “Every day is another opportunity to change your life.” We felt it was a very fitting place for our debt visual.

We hate seeing so much of our income going towards credit debt and loans every month. We want to be able to save our money for emergencies, retirement, paying college tuition, and traveling. We want to be free to live our life on our terms again. The next few years are going to be a lot of hard work, but we are so excited to get started on this next chapter of our lives together. We want these chains of debt to break free one day at a time so we really can change our life. 

Are you facing considerable debt?

Would you consider placing a visual in your home to help you pay down those debts?

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  • Reply Breaking the Chains of Debt | DaddyNorm makes observations, and other pieces of information June 10, 2015 at 3:34 am

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  • Reply Kirsten June 10, 2015 at 9:42 am

    Our scale is actually quite large and takes up some significant space in our kitchen – the entry area for people who visit our house. There is no way to miss it. I am not hiding it somewhere else – I want folks to talk about it!

    • Reply ModerateMuse June 10, 2015 at 10:18 am

      I LOVE that scale, Kirsten! It’s beautiful, and definitely my home decor style. If I had a place for something like that I would have definitely gone that route for our visual. My 15 month old is also currently in his “destroy ALL the things” phase, so we had to pick something that could be put up high where he couldn’t reach it, haha.

      • Reply Kirsten June 10, 2015 at 10:22 am

        And our four year old has stools. She can reach and destroy anything! I had to plan around her, though telling her not to pick up the pennies (for fear she will put them on the wrong side) is also a challenge :-)

  • Reply Christina @ Embracing Simple June 10, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    Great visual to keep your goals front and center! We need to implement something like this too, I think it would be a great motivator.

    • Reply ModerateMuse June 10, 2015 at 4:54 pm

      It really does motivate you to cut your spending! It’s a daily reminder of what your goals are for sure.

  • Reply Jennifer @ WanderlustWallet June 10, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    Sounds like a harrowing 8 months! When we were paying off our car loan and my student loan, we didn’t use a visual that I can recall, but I think it’s a great idea. I also love your sign!

    • Reply ModerateMuse June 10, 2015 at 4:53 pm

      Those 8 months were some of the hardest months of our life together. I really fell in love with the visual idea from Kirsten’s Tipping the Scales of Debt post.

      I love that little sign too =] I bought it for my husband when he completed his last day of classes for his degree.

  • Reply Kayla @ Shoeaholicnomore June 10, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    Ok – as much as I hate debt, I LOVE your debt chains idea. Amazing!! I just might have to do this too. I think it would help me :)

    • Reply ModerateMuse June 10, 2015 at 7:32 pm

      I hate debt too, but I’m glad we came up with a plan to keep it at the forefront of our thoughts everyday. I hope more and more people realize that they can take steps to face their debt in a tangible way.

  • Reply Robin June 10, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    I love the chain! I know it represents debt and you probably want it gone, but it’s actually kind of cute!

    • Reply ModerateMuse June 10, 2015 at 7:34 pm

      Haha, it is kind of cute once you get past what it represents =] we didi try to make it as un-cute as possible by leaving the chains different lengths and picking an ugly color combination to make us want it gone sooner.

  • Reply Mindy V June 12, 2015 at 9:07 pm

    Kristi, this is such a great post and I think you are really brave for putting it out there. We too have quite a bit of debt and have recently instituted the cash envelope system to help us get control of our finances and pay off our debt quicker… but man is it hard! Why does everything cost money? Love the blog btw!! I’m having fun going through and reading all of your awesome posts 😉

    • Reply ModerateMuse June 12, 2015 at 9:18 pm

      Thanks, Mindy! The cash-envelope system is a great way to get out of debt and track your spending. I am totally with you, though. It really is hard to stay within the budget.

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