Episode 19: How Minimalism and Unconventional Living Helped This Family Become Debt Free in 4 Years

April 16, 2018

Quick Recap:

  • Jillian's Debt Story
  • Evil vs Awesome: Taxes
  • How Liz & Melissa Met: online (in a non creeper way) via blogging
  • Liz started blogging in 2014 at what is now Less Debt More Wine (formerly Friday Night Shenanigans)
  • Melissa started blogging in 2014 at Sunburnt Saver
  • Evil vs Awesome: Real Life Quidditch


The Show:

Picture this, you get married at 19 with $55,000 in debt. 5 Years later you're debt free with $100,000 in the bank.

Yes, debt free and $100k in the bank. While a lot of us may be older than 24, many strategies that today's guest used to become debt free and have a positive net worth are still possible to implement right now. 

Today, I'm thrilled to welcome Jillian Johnsrud of Montana Money Adventures! to the Accio Debt Freedom Podcast.

Jillian's Debt Story

I'd grown up under the poverty line and had decided I wanted to create more financial freedom. My husband on the other hand grew up very middle class and went to college and continued the middle class lifestyle even though he didn't have a middle class income.

He took on $35,000 in student loan debt and had about $10,000 of credit card debt. Which in his mind was like extra student loans. So that is what he brought in and I unbeknownst to me had about $12,000 in medical debt. I had been in high school and ended up in the hospital a little bit and all of that debt because I was 18 at the time, was in my name.

I thought it had been paid off, so I didn't actually learn about it until two years into our marriage. I got my first letter from a debt collector notifying me I owed all of this debt and was in collections.

What was the factor that made you decided to payoff the debt together?

Growing up, I'd had this stark realization that the more money you had, the more financial freedom you had, the more option you were going to have. 

I just saw that debt as the killer of all of our dreams.

We never had very large salaries, which is one of the reasons I was so adamant about getting this paying off. I knew we were going to have to be scrappy, we were going to just have to run faster in a sense.

So that first year we got married, we were still in college, we made about $12,000 that year and I was still really determined to work on paying this off. We moved into student housing, but then I realized that if we moved into a camper we would save $150 a month. Which isn't a tremendous amount of money, but it was the best option we had available. 

So we did that the entire first year we were married and by the end of the first year we were able to pay off a couple thousand dollars of the credit card debt.

That first year, we committed to gratitude and filled our lives with things that made us happy but that didn't cost money.

Looking back I can say that was a really hard year, but at the same time it was one of the best years of our marriage. It made the harder decisions a bit easier to deal with.

Moving Out of the Camper and Getting Roommates

After my husband finished his undergraduate degree, we had all this debt, so my husband ended up joining the Army. They offered to pay off all of his student loan debt, over three years. 

It wasn't easy to sign on to that, it was a year after 9/11, but it also seemed like the best option. So he signed up and we got stationed in Washington DC.

So that took care of all of the student loan debt, and while he was gone I moved in with family. We saved every penny and between that and a little bit of an enlistment bonus we had enough to pay off all of our credit card debt.

So we lived in DC and the first year we lived in a regular apartment, but they said they were going to raise the rent 10% every year. So we ended up renting a 4 bedroom house and got a roommate. It ended up that over the three years we had a roommate, we had two kids, that one choice saved us $25,000. 

We were ultimately able to negotiate the medical debt because it was so old, they said if we could pay it off in 6 months we'll reduce it in half.

After we paid off that debt we kept going, and we started saving. We just lived on his income and then saved all of my income. 

While there were downsides, there were a lot of upsides and we focused on those. 

I was never willing to give up on my dreams just because some things were inconvenient.

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Evil vs Awesome: Taxes


  • Could cost more living elsewhere


  • I've gotten a lot of bang for my buck with my taxes

Overall: Neutral leaning towards awesome

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What advice do you have for people paying off debt?

I think what has been the most helpful for us is being really intentional about journey together and planning together. 

Having my eye on a much bigger prize, made it seem less hard.

Part of paying off debt is the attitude. It's hard but it's worth it.

What made you start Montana Money Adventures?

We had adopted 3 kids, had 1 biological child, and then we found out I was pregnant. My husband was working full time and I had just stepped away from work and I had a bit of a mommy meltdown.

It made us realize we needed to rerun the numbers and come up with a plan B, plan B ended up being that we were taking a year off. We had done 4 mini retirements before this, usually 1-6 months, but this time we said we were going to do it for a year. 

So we were deciding what we wanted to do for this year, we created a laundry list of things to do and I wrote down something with writing and 6 months in, I decided a blog would be my something with writing. 

Do you receive pushback about your lifestyle?

From family and friends yes, this is such a critical skill. Whatever you set out to do and decide that this is really important to me. If it's a degree off the norm, there will be people who express concern or disappointment. Suggesting you should be more realistic or less ambitious.

But ultimately, that part of your life isn't open for negotiation and explain that not everything is right for everybody all of the time. 

The point of sharing specifics is to help people be more open minded and creative in imagining, what can you do. 

Sometimes it just needs to be the best option available. There is always going to be a downside and if you only look at the downside you'll cross every option off the list. 

Can you explain a little more about intentional living?

We're currently in a season of pivoting and figuring out what is our ideal lifestyle. There is an idea that I'm working on, it's how do we custom build our life so that we would never retire from it?

We are very intentional with our lifestyles in that the way we spend our time and the way we spend our money, match up with the things we say are most important to us. 

Evil vs Awesome: Real Life Quidditch



  • Whenever people find ways to gather with people they like and have fun
  • Especially when it costs no money

Overall: Awesome!

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Episode 19: How Minimalism and Unconventional Living Helped This Family Become Debt Free in 4 Years

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