Getting debt-free: Paying off 50k in debt by living in a camper

Would you live in a camper for eleven months to pay off debt? This couple did.

When Zack and Jen McCullock first got married they decided to begin their marriage in an unconventional way. They lived in a camper. The couple had around 50k in school and car loan debt and after having an honest talk shortly after their honeymoon about their financial future, they decided to tackle the debt. They discussed taking a drastic step to becoming financially free.

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They first cut expenses in as many areas as possible, but they knew that in order to experience the complete freedom they desired, as well as be able to pursue their dream of owning their own business, they would need to make a big sacrifice. That sacrifice came in the form of a 30-foot camper.

After making the announcement to friends and family, whom they say were completely supportive, they purchased a camper for around $3,000. They set the camper on a piece of land owned by Zack’s family, got rid of most of their possessions, keeping only a small storage unit with a few of their seasonal clothes and other small items. One of their few expenses included a monthly electric bill and they reduced evening activities to listening to podcasts, reading, and watching one of three available television channels.

Zack and Jen will admit that it wasn’t the easiest season of their life, but it was life-changing. Although they considered quitting at different times, they hung in there and succeeded in their goal. They paid off all of their debt in a little less than a year.

In this article, the couple share a bit about their journey, talk about the importance of financial freedom, and give a few tips on saving money.

Where did the idea of living in a camper come from?

The idea evolved from our original plan of living in a tiny house. We were going to live in a camper while our home was being built. However, after considering the cost of building a home (even a tiny one) we knew that we were putting more of a financial strain on ourselves. We decided to stick with the camper idea and use the money we saved to pay off debt.

Did both of you work full-time jobs during this time?

Yes, we both worked for nonprofits full time. We used the money we saved to pay off our debt.

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What was one of the hardest challenges that you encountered?

Downgrading. We kept only the essentials in the camper. Like, we had only two coffee cups there and kept a week’s worth of clothing in the camper. We put all of our clothes in our storage shed and would rotate items week to week.

How has being debt free impacted your life?

The biggest takeaway for us was that short-term sacrifices are always worth long-term gains. Making a sacrifice to pay off our debt by living in a camper was tough but it has ultimately fueled us starting our own blog and business where we get to talk about money with other millennials and give back to the community that gave so much inspiration to us. Not only that, I am now completing my graduate school degree and we are able to pay for it out of pocket. None of these things would have been possible if we were still in debt!

What is one thing you wish more people understood about money?

Ultimately, being good with money is all about self-control! Also, it’s okay for others to have different goals than you. If your friend wants to buy a brand new BMW and have a $40k car note, fine! I think we often get caught up in the idea that we need to keep pace with our friends when it comes to material things. Life isn’t linear like that and everyone has their own reasons for doing things. Take your own path. Set your own money goals and don’t worry if your friends are going on nice vacations, buying outrageous houses, just do what you know is right for you!

What are 5 ways we could save money without moving into a camper?

  1. Cut out cable – cable is the worst!
  2. Commit to only eating out once per week
  3. When you do eat out, skip the drinks and pick up a bottle of wine on the way home instead
  4. Visit your local library and pick up books for free instead of buying them on Amazon
  5. Buy home goods (toilet paper, cleaning supplies, soap, etc) at the dollar store instead of Target or Wal-Mart

What is one actionable step our readers could implement today that would drastically impact their finances?

Reduce the amount you spend each month and actually make a budget! If you don’t have a budget app you use, find a good budgeting app or use just download our free budget spreadsheet to start tracking your money each month. If you have student loan debt, we also highly recommend looking into refinancing — we wish we would have done that during our debt free journey which is why we support it so much on our blog.

Zack and Jen have been featured in both Forbes and Yahoo Finance. They hope to one day take their business on the road and continue their work helping others make more financially responsible decisions. You can gain more financial tips and free useful resources by visiting Zack and Jen’s website