Episode 18: Matt Spillar on Paying Off Debt On a Normal Income

April 9, 2018

Quick Recap:

  • Matt's Debt Story
  • The budgeting tools Matt and his wife use
  • What really motivated them to pay off their debt
  • How Matt and his wife paid off $15,000 of debt in 10 months, while making less than six figures
  • Evil vs Awesome: Taxes
  • Matt Spillar's three pieces of advice for someone paying off debt
  • What Matt likes and doesn't like about Financial Peace University
  • What inspired Matt to start blogging
  • Evil vs Awesome: Real Life Quidditch


The Show:

Have you ever looked at your debt and then your income and thought, there’s NO WAY I can ever pay off my debt quickly on this income! I need to make at least $100,000 to pay this off! Well, today’s guest not only has tackled $40,000 in debt, but he and his wife also paid off $15,000 in debt in 10 months making under 6 figures combined!

Oh, and they also invested during this time, too.

Sounds impossible right? Today we’re talking with Matt Spillar of the blog Spills Spot and he’s going to tell us exactly how he did it!

Matt's Debt Story

We had $40,000 combined in student loans and midway through this payoff process we got a car loan as well. Though we were focused on just our student loans.

We graduated in May 2013 with $40,000 in student loans combined and we started to think of it as combined even though we were just dating at the time.

We got married in September 2014, but really it was a combination of a lot of different factors that contributed to us being able to pay it off so quickly. 

First, our biggest focus was that we enrolled in Financial Peace University at our church, which is Dave Ramsey's program. It gave us the foundation to start learning these skills and gave us the motivation to take this debt seriously and to start paying it off quickly. 

It was a team effort where paying off that debt was our biggest focus so any spare dollar we had, we were throwing it at this debt. 

It started with the motivation and it continued with starting to budget together and tracking our expenses closely. Before we weren't budgeting because neither of us was earning a lot of money so being on a variable income it was difficult to budget each month.

I finally landed a full-time job, with a regular salary which kick started our budgeting efforts and so we were able to start making consistent progress month after month.  

Their degrees

We both went to Fresno State, and that was where we met. My wife got a degree in child development and I got a degree in business marketing. So my degree has a greater earning potential, but my wife is doing what she loves. 

So we have no regrets about going to school and taking out the loans. However, we knew that we didn't want to hold onto these loans for a long time, we wanted to get them paid off quickly so we could move on in life. 

Did you use any budgeting tools?

We started with just a spreadsheet, but eventually we signed up for Mint. I'm a huge fan of Mint now. It's been a game change for us. It has helped to get us on the same page, given us visibility into all our accounts, and I love that everything is automated. 

With budgeting, everyone had different opinions on what works best for them, especially in the personal finance community. Some people prefer YNAB (like Liz) and others love Mint (like Melissa). 

What made you really want to pay off your debt?

The motivation came from learning that debt should be taken seriously. The reason we thought it needed to be taken seriously is because, debt is very restrictive. Debt feels like a weight, the student loans felt like a weight on our shoulders, it felt like a burden.

It restricts your budget, so every month if you have debt payments you're making, those dollars have already been allocated towards making those minimum payments and you don't have the option to spend it a different way. 

For example, if you want to spend less on groceries one month, you theoretically could, with minimum payments on your debt you can't. There is no choice.

We also have a lot of long term goals we're working towards, a family, travel, retirement, etc. We knew paying off this debt quickly would be able to give us the most options in life. 

How did you pay off $15,000 of debt in 10 months, while making less than six figures?

The $15,000 was all student loans, we were making minimum payments on the car loan as well during this time but I don't include that in the $15,000 we paid off. 

What ramped up the process for us was a lot of things clicked at once.

I have a side hustle that I work in the summer with a minor league baseball team, so those extra paychecks we put all those towards our debt. Also, we were both working full time, we had built up an emergency fund so we weren't having to also put money aside into savings.

We had about $7,000 in savings, so we didn't stick to the Dave Ramsey plan in that sense. Mainly because we live in a high cost of living area, so we didn't feel comfortable with just having $1,000 saved.

So once we had that savings built up, we were able to put all our extra money in that 10 month span towards our debt. 

We were able to balance things well, we don't have an expensive lifestyle and we found ways to cut back that didn't feel like sacrifices. 

We love to cook at home, we cut cable, we negotiated car insurance, we switched our phone plan, all of these little choices combined into savings and instead of spending it we allocated it towards debt payment. 

Having a teammate in this when the going was tough was really big for both of us. 

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Evil vs Awesome: Taxes


  • Hate to do them
  • $31,000 conference tables


  • Part of living in such a great country
  • Tax dollars mostly go towards  good things

Overall: necessary evil

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What advice do you have for someone paying off debt?

A few pieces of advice, one, set the goal. It's hard to make progress if you don't know what you're aiming for. So make a goal of what you're working towards and know why you want to accomplish that goal. 

Second, start tracking your expenses. If you don't know where your money is going, it's impossible to make progress.

Third, don't do it alone. Have friends or family that you talk to about your goals and why you're trying to achieve this.

Can you tell us more about Financial Peace University?

So Financial Peace University, is like you said, Dave Ramsey's program. It took place at our church. So we went each week and listened to a lesson and then we would talk about it. There are also workbooks that you use and follow along with, but it's basically for people that are in debt or wanting to learn more about the basics of personal finance.

For us, it was big in putting that foundation in place about learning why paying off debt was important and learning ways to pay off that debt. Really learning in order of how to go about it all. It can be very overwhelming when you have all these goals you want to accomplish, so he has these 7 baby steps and he talks about focusing on one baby step at a time which makes turning your finances around much more attainable. 

You mentioned you don't agree with everything Dave Ramsey says....

So overall I think his program is a great source for starting out. However, once you start to learn some of the basics and once you start to get your finances more put together I think there are certain modifications that may make more sense for you.

So earlier, I talked about building up a larger emergency fund. He also talks about not using credit cards, but for us we got really good at paying it off in full every month and so using them for the rewards is great for us.

Another difference that we have is that Ramsey recommends waiting on retirement savings until you're debt free and for us our employers offer a 401(k) match and we wanted to take advantage of that. It's free money and we didn't want to lose out on years of compound interest.  So we do save for retirement.

A couple of other small differences we have, is that he makes homeownership out to be this thing that makes perfect sense for everyone, but right now we live in the Bay area and owning a home is not possible for us. We are content with renting and it going to be a while before we look at buying a home. 

He also talks about saving up for kid's college, and right now we're still undecided about how much we'll assist with our future kid's education. We'll be putting more towards retirement instead.

What inspired you to start Spills Spot?

I've always liked to write but I had never done it in a personal setting. So what inspired the blog was really it was a place where I could write and explore writing. 

It started with just writing about personal finance, it was a new passion. The original goal was to use it to build a portfolio to help me get a job, but it turned into so much more than that. I became passionate about helping others with personal finance as well. 

A lot of this information is stuff we have to figure out on our own through trial and error since it's not taught in school.  

Evil vs Awesome: Real Life Quidditch



  • That could be fun
  • Up for anything that gets people outside
  • Especially if there is beer involved

Overall: Awesome

What do you think?

Thanks for joining us!

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Matt Spillar from Spills Spot chats about paying off debt, even when you don't earn a lot of money.
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Matt Spillar

Thanks again so much for having me, I had a great time chatting with you both! 🙂

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