I'm warning you: this is the nerdy post.

And it's absolutely essential. In fact, it's the key to how we paid off our house in 2.5 years.
For all you free-spirits out there, READ THIS POST. Don't tune it out. Let it motivate you and inspire you! You can do this. Trust me, if I can do it - you can too.

In summary, there were 4 keys to our success:

1. Live on less than you make.
2. Follow Dave's baby steps.
3. Stick to your monthly budget.
4. Use the Envelope system.

 I'll happily walk you through why each of these was vitally important on our journey.

As I mentioned yesterday, when we first got married, I was still a student in college. Which meant we were a single-income household. Even still, we were committed to living on less than we made. No matter what, we would save at least a few hundred dollars a month. The budget was tight, and we were living in a very old, very small apartment for $490/month. No air conditioner, no dishwasher, and no washer/dryer units. (Only a ghetto little coin laundry next door. Complete with scary camel crickets.) We could have chosen a nice apartment and maxed out our budget with no wiggle room, but we chose not to. And that is what made all the difference.

This was where I started my business: in the glamorous guest bedroom of a tiny old apartment on the side of the mountain. And I wouldn't trade it for anything.

The key was this: as my business grew, as Will got a raise, as our income increased.... our budget didn't. When our income increased from $37,000 to $100,000 over 4 years, we still lived as if I was still a student and we were a single-income family! (You do the math - you CAN pay off your house in 2.5 years that way!) We saved like crazy, and never increased our lifestyle. (Well, except for Winston. He was a lifestyle increase. A large, 135 pound lifestyle increase.)

We always lived well below our means.

The best advice I've received in personal finance is to take one thing at a time. Multitasking in your finances can be quite overwhelming, which is why Dave's baby steps are so helpful. They are practical steps to follow in order, and they are best conquered if you tackle each one with intensity. Not sure what these steps are? Glad you asked! (For a more detailed description, click here.)

Will and I were extremely blessed to enter into marriage with no debt. What a crazy blessing! I'm learning more and more that is so incredibly rare. (Shout out to Grandpa Gene, Grandma Neva, Dad and Mom for paying for our education! We love you!) So when we got to Step #2, we skipped it and moved along to Step #3. But in the meantime, something happened -

We grew an intense hatred for debt.

We saw it trap our friends, put family members in bondage, hold others back from their dreams, and literally put fear into the hearts of many. Debt is debilitating. We got so fired up, so passionate about this, that we decided to be gazelle intense about our finances in general. Instead of intensley tackling debt, we were tackling our future house! We wanted to have a mortgage for as little a time as possible.

(And yes we skipped Baby Step 5. No need for that one yet!)

Ohhhh, the budget. My mind immediately goes to me and Will, sitting at our kitchen table, my head in my hands whining, "are we through yet?" like a responsible twenty-something year old. Oh the patience that man has! If it weren't for his love for numbers and budgets and nerdiness, those meetings would have been a mess.

In all seriousness though, the budget is the key. The numbers have to work. You must "spend every dollar on paper" before the month begins. Every single dollar gets a name. Yes, even a haircut, even dogfood, even your car's property tax, even birthday gifts. And guess what?  When there's no credit card to catch your blunders, you make it work. You have to! And that's exactly what we did.

Please, please, take this seriously. This is where we get sloppy, people. This is where it's easier to "fudge" or change the numbers to make it work for you that month. "It's not a big deal if I spend a little more on clothes this month." YES IT IS! It's a big deal every time you change the budget, especially if your spouse doesn't know about it! We pinky-promised and spit-shaked that we would not change the budget at all unless we had a conversation about it first. So take it seriously, people. If you don't, you'll be right back at square one, and you won't reach your goals.

I love the envelope system.
I hate the envelope system.

Basically it works like this: the items in your budget that are best paid for in cash (IE: Clothing, Groceries, Gifts), you put in your envelope system. Each category gets it's own envelope. You fill it with cash when the month begins, and when you run out, you run out.

No exceptions.

I love the envelope system because it keeps everything organized. When I use cash, I don't need to keep track of receipts. It simplifies my life! And I love glancing down into my envelopes and knowing exactly how much I have to spend for the rest of the month. It paces me. It keeps me on track. And it's also much harder to spend cash than it is to swipe a magical card.

I hate the envelope system because sometimes the envelopes would run out of money. (Not that I had anything to do with that.) And sometimes those envelopes would be empty, but we would still have a week or two left in the month! Those were the hard months. We would have the most hodge-podge meals you've ever seen. (Hello frozen broccoli and peanut butter sandwiches!)

And get this: we didn't have a "Restaurants" envelope. I told you we were gazelle intense! We had a "Food" envelope primarily for groceries, and if we had anything leftover at the end of the month, we would use that for eating out. I made budgeting into a game, and I was always so excited when I there was leftover cash!

All in all, I truly do believe that your personal finances are 80% behavior and 20% head knowledge.  I realized that I had to stop blaming my "free spirit" or immaturity or hate of the budget meetings. The bottom line is, I am responsible for my own choices. I am responsible for my attitude. I am responsible for my behavior. And when you can own up to that and still make hard, right choices, the reward far outweighs the sacrifice.

The question is, are you ready to sacrifice for a short amount of time in order to reap the rewards for the rest of your life?
"Live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else." -Dave Ramsey

And that's exactly what we did.