Austin and Tiffanie are a young couple at Life.Church who managed to take a few trips around the world while still paying off $55,000 in debt in four years. Yes, you read that right. But before you click away thinking there’s no way their story could ever be your story, know that it definitely wasn’t always easy for them. In fact, when they first got married, they were having to dip into savings each month just to pay the bills. So, how did they go from living in the red to being debt-free and living generously? We sat down to interview them on the You’ve Heard It Said podcast to discover how they learned to live the dream on a tight budget. Below are some highlights of what they said, or you can find the whole interview here and use it to spark a conversation with your friends, family, and LifeGroup.
Tell us about some of the places you guys have traveled together.
Tiffanie: One of my favorite places that we’ve ever been is Iceland, and it’s awesome. It’s super expensive, so we didn’t stay there very long, but it was really fun. … And then Turkey has been one of my favorite places we’ve ever been. It’s a blend of so many amazing things. Great food. Beautiful architecture. The people are amazing. So those are two of my favorite places that we’ve been together.
Austin: Yeah. I think I really love traveling to places that are totally different from the United States, where the culture is different, the weather is different—something that will really feel like a unique experience. So I tend to like places like China and Egypt.
You were able to travel while still paying off debt. How much debt did you guys have to pay off to become debt-free?
Tiffanie: We paid off $55,000 in four years. Honestly, when we started out initially, it just felt like it was so far away. And we definitely didn’t think we would do it that quickly. But it is really cool to be on the other side of it and to have margin now.
Austin: I think we would have been happy to pay off that amount in 10 years. That was our plan, you know. It was mostly my grad school loans, a couple of cars, and then some of Tiffanie’s undergrad loans, and we thought, yeah, if we could pay those off in 10 years, that’d be pretty awesome. But what you don’t realize is the momentum and the excitement that you feel as you start to pay it off. And then as you get into it, you just want to throw everything that you have at it. And so I think if you have a good plan, you actually end up doing it a lot quicker than you anticipated. At least that was the case for us.
Tell us about some of the things you had to sacrifice to make that happen.
Austin: I think about all the small things. Tiffanie and I eat most of our meals at home. We cook a lot, so we go out maybe once, maybe twice a month to a restaurant. We don’t have cable; we just have Netflix. … We don’t go out to coffee all the time. Small things can add up to $400 or $500 in your budget so quickly without you realizing it. But if you’re intentional about making sure that they don’t, then you have a good amount of money to put toward something that you’re really passionate about.
Tiffanie: … I don’t know if it’s necessarily a sacrifice, but we try not to give in to instant gratification, and we try to make sure that the spending decisions we’re making are ones we’re actually going to be happy with a week from now or a year from now.
Okay, so what do you say to people who hear your story and feel like there’s no way they could ever do that or that it wouldn’t work for them?
Tiffanie: You have to make it work for your life and decide what is important to you. For us, it’s important to spend time together and to take trips together. So that became a priority, whereas some people we know didn’t travel until they were done paying off debt. … So I would say, just set a budget for how much you want to spend, and try to stick to it. And you don’t necessarily have to follow a specific formula. I think that’s hard to do.
Austin: Yeah, I think for us, having a trip to look forward to honestly made some of the day-to-day sacrifices worth it. … And to go back to your other question, absolutely—there were times, especially at the beginning of our journey, where we looked at other people and thought, “There’s no way we’ll ever get to live that kind of life.”
I remember our first day of going through the Financial Peace University course, from Dave Ramsey. He talked about the baby steps, and the very first baby step is to save $1,000 for an emergency fund. And I remember thinking it’s going to take us 50 years to save that amount. … But then you get there, and you look back and realize—we made it happen. And what seemed really impossible at the beginning now seems like no big deal. Every step along the way has kind of been like that.
What are some mindsets you have about money that help you achieve your goals?
Tiffanie: Growing up, I thought that money was a resource that always would run out. And if you didn’t have enough, there wasn’t security. So for me, I’ve learned your security can’t rest on your finances.
When we were first married, Austin was working two or three jobs, and I was working as a bank teller. So, we were not making a lot of money at all. And I think I just had to learn that you can’t have your value and worth in your money, and you have to ultimately trust in God to provide. And over time, that’s grown into this idea that, the more that you’re given, the more you are now expected to give away. When we first got married, I was always thinking that we just need to have enough to make me feel secure. But now, I’ve learned that God brings that security. And when you do have more resources, then ultimately you’re supposed to give those away.
… And honestly, that scarcity feeling doesn’t go away because you have more money. It goes away because your mindset changes. It’s something I continually have to work toward in my mind. And I think that’s what generosity is all about.
Austin: Yeah, Tiffanie and I agreed from the day we got married that we would tithe together. We committed to that. It was something both of us had done before we got married. It was who we are. We believe Scripture is clear about that. And we’ve already seen God’s provision in our life because of that. So that was kind of the baseline, right? No matter what state our finances are in, we’re going to commit to returning to God that 10 percent. Then beyond that, there’s a verse that has kind of guided us:
The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller. Proverbs 11:24 MSG
And it’s not like God is a vending machine. It’s not like I put a dollar in and get $10 out. He doesn’t work that way, but I think God looks for people and for places where He knows that person’s going to be generous. And if I’m not generous with what I have today, why would I expect God to bless me with more?
… And again, sometimes it’s not even financial. Sometimes it’s all these other areas of our lives that He brings blessing to and favor to. But I truly believe that the Parable of the Talents is real and that we see that play out in our finances.
Tiffanie: Yeah. And I think something I’ve tried to remind myself of is that I’ve never regretted giving.
So we talked earlier about putting a value on the things that you spend your money on. So what value do you put on giving and tithing?
Austin: It’s the top line of our budget. That’s symbolic to say, “God, the very first thing that we do with our finances is honor You with them.”
Everything else after that—the travel, paying off debt, coffee, groceries whatever—that’s further down the list. And I believe that if we gave, and for some reason, we didn’t have money left over, God would still provide a way for us. And, to this day, we’ve never missed a bill, even when the math didn’t seem like it should add up. God has always provided. And that builds your faith. … So now, when I find myself having that moment of hesitation, or having a moment of fear, I go back to all the ways that He’s followed through with us before, and then it’s easy. It’s easy to want to be more generous.
And I think it’s important to note that, at that point in our lives, the income on our spreadsheet was less money than the expenses column, so we were in the hole every month, having to pull from very little savings. So the fear was real.
Tiffanie: Yeah, looking at that number, it was like, “Oh. So we get to eat or we get to give.” But every time, we never missed a bill. I genuinely don’t understand how we never did.
What final encouragement do you have for people who might be living in the red right now? What would you tell them?
Tiffanie: I would say start small and stay consistent. If you’re going to put five dollars a month toward debt, just do it and stay consistent. Like Austin was talking about earlier, the more you put toward it, the more motivation you’ll have to pay it off.
Austin: I would say first to make sure that your money is going where you want it to go. And if your faith is an important part of your life, if obeying God is something that’s important to you, make sure that your money is proving that. And I would say to remember that generosity is not about the amount. Scripture is super clear about that. It’s about the heart. It’s about what God is doing within you. Just look at the story of the widow in Scripture, right? She gives everything she has. The amount was nothing compared to what other people were able to throw into the bucket with no change in their heart. But that’s a story we’re still talking about today.
So no matter where you’re starting, you have the opportunity to honor God and to make a difference. God multiplies what we give. It’s like the story of the fishes and the loaves. It’s not about the amount; it’s about what God can do through your obedience and through your generosity. And that builds your faith in such a big way. So you might feel like you’re not even making a dent in your debt right now or that your giving is so small, it’s not even making an impact. But that’s a human perspective. God’s perspective on things is so different, and He will change your heart and hopefully allow you to see the impact that your giving has.