Australian flag
It looks like you're located in Australia.
We have an Australian version of our website.

Please confirm your location and we’ll send you to the appropriate site!

Aloha, Debt. And, aloha, Debt!

Wedding vow addendum: “Always pay in cash.”

Today, we meet Chelsea who lives in Tri-Cities, Washington. She works in marketing and her husband is a mechanic and a teacher. The couple married in June, 2013, on a gorgeous beach in lush Hawaii. It was the wedding of their dreams … then reality hit. They were $215,000 in debt! Find out how they teamed up to fix their finances.


Jesse: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Debt Stories: Real People Beating Debt & Winning Financially.

Today, we meet Chelsea who lives in Tri-Cities, Washington, with her husband and their two dogs—a German shepherd and a chihuaha.

Chelsea’s job is in marketing …

Chelsea: I work at the visitor center in our community. It’s a non-profit. It’s a destination marketing organization and I work to bring corporate and government groups to our community.

Jesse: And her husband is a mechanic and a teacher …

Chelsea: My husband, has two full-time jobs, which plays into the whole debt payoff strategy. He is a mechanic at our local transit agency and he does that in the evenings. Then in the day time, he actually teaches local high school students how to work on diesel engines. He works 75 hours a week. Yeah, we’re always ready for the weekend by the time that comes around.

Jesse: And this is the tale of how they said “Aloha” to a whole lotta debt …

Chelsea: We were married in June of 2013 and I guess most of our debt really did come from the wedding. We got married on the beach in Hawaii. It was a beautiful ceremony and we were super happy.

Jesse: They were super happy but, Chelsea admits, their life at the time was also super pricey …

Chelsea: I was a little on the high maintenance side where I needed my reception dress and I needed my different pairs of shoes and that sort of thing. Then at the same time, my husband, he’s really into outdoor stuff and hunting and that’s a really expensive hobby. So kind of a mix of, I guess, life being a little out of control is what really started our debt.

We got married when I was 21. My husband, he’s a little bit older; I think he was 27 or 28. But he was always really good with finances and he had never had any sort of credit card debt. But he abides by the “happy wife, happy life” and that’s how we got to where we were, if that makes sense.

We had a really nice wedding ceremony. We had about 15 people from our family that came over and it was a beautiful day on the beach. So total we had it was about $29,000 in credit card debt. It wasn’t all our wedding, but a lot of it was from the transportation, I guess. Getting over to Hawaii and paying for our officiant and paying for everything that goes along with that. Then we also had about $28,000 in vehicle loans as well.

Jesse: While they don’t regret their Hawaiian wedding, Chelsea says that, if she had it all to do over:

Chelsea: I wouldn’t have necessarily changed a lot of the details. But I think that at that point we were young and we liked to go out, and I’m sure that we would have been able to cash flow a lot of this stuff if we would have just got our priorities right.

That and then the reception dress just didn’t quite work out the way that I thought it was going to. It never actually made it out to Hawaii. Then eventually one day, as a part of our debt repayment strategy, we had a yard sale and we sold it. So I would change that. I would have left that at the store and I would have worked on cash flowing.

Jesse: I won’t argue with her, there. Paying cash is always the way to go. Not only do you enjoy your splurges (big and small), completely guilt-free, cash also helps you side-step disasters …

Chelsea: We actually had a couple of those. The first one came when we got back to our community. We had a reception for our friends and family that weren’t able to make it to Hawaii. And as we were getting ready to pay the caterer, it became apparent that we didn’t even have enough available credit to pay this caterer.

Jesse: Yikes. Reality check, #1.

Chelsea: Yeah … a couple of those wedding cards got opened a little early, if you know what I mean! So we made it happen. We got it taken care of. We had a really nice reception, but I probably would do that a little different.

Jesse: So, Chelsea, then 21 and her husband 27 were married. Importantly, the reception caterer got paid. And then it was back to reality … beginning life as a newly married couple.

Chelsea: After our wedding reception happened, I remember it was either that weekend or it was the following weekend. We were sitting on our patio talking about what a nice couple of weeks we’d had. It had been one of those things where the financial part of it was just always looming. It was just always hanging out there and we didn’t really talk about it and we didn’t really think about it.

I said, what do you think about having to open our wedding cards early and spending that to feed our guests? He said, “It scared me.” And I did not like that at all. I said, I’ve looked at what we owe and to be honest with you, it’s really scary. It’s terrifying in fact because this is the kind of thing that ruins relationships. I’m sitting here looking at my husband of two or three weeks at this point and it scared me.

We had a really good conversation and we talked about exactly what we should do differently, and that’s when we really worked to outline all of our goals and exactly what we needed to do to get out from underneath those.

Jesse: That’s was an important first step—acknowledging their debt problem and deciding to do something about it, as a team. Next, they took action.

Cheslea: We downloaded this debt snowball Excel document where I outlined all of our debts. That was scary because there were… On this website that I used to download this, there were two different editions of the snowball calculator. The one, it was for ten creditors or less and the other was for 25 or more. Luckily, I have to tell you, we had 11 creditors, so I didn’t feel as bad as the people that needed 25. But still I as I was looking at this massive amount of debt, especially when you consider that we were young and our incomes were a lot less than they are now, it was really scary. But I’m totally an Excel nerd and I made some changes to the spreadsheet.

At that point, we were paying $1200 in interest per month. That was terrifying. Our monthly payment was $3,000 and that included $100 worth of a snowball. Including our house, our total debt, it was about $215,000. And that’s terrifying, too!

Jesse: Ouch. $1,200 in interest payments on $215,000 of debt when, at the time, Chelsea and her husband were only earning about $70,000 per year, combined.

Chelsea: A big breakthrough for us came when we took a lot of our credit card debt and we did a balance transfer to a 0% credit card. One of our cards, it was almost 20% interest, and we had $12,000 on that card. Were paying a lot in interest. Once we figured out what the 0% interest period was for, we actually basically did the math and backed it up from there. So if it was an 18-month interest period, then we took our balance and we divided it by 18. Once we did the balance transfers, we didn’t pay any additional interest at that point.

Jesse: So, good. They’d faced their debt, come up with a plan and they were sticking to it. Of course, even the best laid plans have a wrinkle or two.

Chelsea: I had a car that was totally paid for, I paid cash for it, and it needed more work than it was worth, even with my husband doing all of the work as a mechanic. Yeah. So we actually ended up in this time, since June of 2013 to now, we ended up paying cash for a car for me. total was about $15,000.

Then in that time, we also did our kitchen renovation and our bathroom renovation.

Jesse: Not bad. They’re paying down the debt and, even though they bought a car and did some work on their home, they didn’t backslide—they paid cash. And they were putting a lot more thought into their choices …

Chelsea: As we were looking through some of our poor financial decisions of the past, I figured out that my husband’s truck was at a really high interest rate and so we ended up because we had extra room in our snowball, we sold that truck and we purchased a new truck with zero percent interest.

With that now, we owe about $120,000 on our house and then we owe about $18,000 on my husband’s truck and that’s all of our debt.

Jesse: Phenomenal. They’re completely free from credit card debt.

Chelsea: With YNAB, we actually do use a rewards card for our everyday purchases and then just pay that off. But for now, we’re working to pay off our truck and then we’ll probably take a really cool vacation or something like that.

Jesse: As for their biggest outstanding debt, the mortgage, Chelsea says:

Chelsea: We did a refinance on our house when the interest rates were lower. The interest rates had gone down quite a bit so we refinanced last November. we took it from a 30-year mortgage down to 15. I think we make about $100 extra in principal right now.

Jesse: With so much to celebrate, Chelsea and her husband are considering a trip back to The Aloha State to renew their vows, except this time, they’ve tacked on an extra vow …

Chelsea: Well we’re talking about it for our five-year anniversary, and I think it’d be really cool to renew our vows. We haven’t exactly figured it out just yet but we know that if we do it, it’ll be cash-flowed for sure because we are never doing that again.

Jesse: “Always pay in cash.” … now that’s a vow that can help your marriage stand the test of time!

Through their debt-payoff journey, Chelsea and her husband have become quite discriminating … eliminating unnecessary spending and unnecessary clutter.

Chelsea: We cut our cable. We put our internet down to a lower package. And when we got back from our wedding, we had a bunch of really nice gifts that we had received from our wedding guests. We ended up selling a lot of the things that we had just hanging out around the house. I learned the art of Craigslist. I learned the art of the yard sale, and we got rid of a lot of things that we thought were necessary that we found truly were not necessary.

Jesse: They also watch their entertainment budget:

Chelsea: We really liked to go out and have a good time and we still do that. But rather than it being just a Tuesday night, now it’s more of like a planned date night type of thing. We cook at home a lot more and we just do whatever we can to be resourceful with what we have. Especially as my husband works so many hours, and I work full-time too, but focusing on him here, working 75 hours a week it’s important that because of the time that we’re giving up so that we can work, it’s important that we’re good stewards of the money that we’re getting in return for the time.

We’re watching every single transaction as it’s hitting our account. And we’re managing everything against the budget that we’ve set at the beginning of the month, or beginning of the week in fact. With that, we’re able to make good decisions that really align with our goals and where we want to see ourselves in the future.

Jesse: I can’t argue with that. They’ve put in some serious work hours to dig themselves out of the hole, remodel their home and pay cash for Chelsea’s car. It sounds like they’re truly appreciating every dollar.

Looking back, Chelsea is grateful for their beautiful wedding day. And, even though they faced a frightening amount of debt, they’ve come out on top. Their secret?

Chelsea: We just made it a point that if we were making the decision to spend money that we were on the same page with it and that has never steered us wrong.

Jesse: In money and in married life, you really can’t go wrong with teamwork.

Subscribe and Share!

If you enjoyed Chelsea's interview, subscribe to the YNAB podcast for more Debt Stories. Find us on iTunes, SoundCloud or wherever you get your podcasts, and please leave us a review!

Do You Have a Debt Story?

Wanna know what’s better than an amazing debt makeover story? Several debt makeover stories! If you’re a YNABer and you’d be willing to let Jesse interview you for a future episode, write to us at In your email, include a short paragraph or a few bullets about your financial hurdles and how you overcame them.

Related Articles
Aloha, Debt. And, aloha, Debt!