Paying down debt

Carrie Rocha didn’t set out to be a get-out-of-debt guru. She just knew that her own family finances were a mess and they needed to eliminate their $60,000 in debt.

After successfully wiping out what they owed in two and a half years, without a windfall, Carrie wanted to share the tricks she and her family learned along the way and started pocketyourdollars.com, a deals and couponing site that the mom of two runs in Maple Grove.

One thing led to another and now Rocha has written her first book: Pocket Your Dollars: 5 Attitude Changes That Will Help You Pay Down Debt, Avoid Financial Stress, and Keep More of What You Make, published by Bethany House.

After their 30-month journey to financial freedom, she realized that there were five financial attitudes that set them on a destructive financial path. How to combat those unhealthy attitudes became the foundation of her book. But their debt-free journey began years ago with an overseas vacation.

Equally committed

Carrie’s husband Marco is from Brazil, and they’d always dreamed about living there one day. But on a trip to visit his family, they realized their lousy financial habits would make it difficult, if not impossible to achieve that dream.

“We had this whole conversation. ‘Do we really want to live here or not and what would it take?’” She said that “tasting that component of one of our life dreams” gave the couple the itch to change their spendy ways.

The couple had the luxury of being equally committed to their debt-free goal, but it wasn’t easy. In addition to the nuts and bolts of paying down debt—cutting coupons and cutting back, the saying no, the return to cash—was the emotional underbrush that had to be cleared away.

Like many couples, Carrie and Marco fell into financial roles in the household. Carrie was the police and overall money manager and Marco was the spender. “One person always feels like they have to ask permission and the other person is always having to say no. It just creates this yuck cycle,” she said. To combat that, the couple started money meetings, where they discussed financial priorities. “We’d sit down and say ‘What do we foresee we’re going to spend money on over the next three months, six months, one year.’” Each person would have a turn prioritizing how to spend money on bigger ticket items. “I felt like for the first time I was actually able to hear him,” she said.

They employed a popular method of debt-payoff called the “debt snowball,” where you pay the lowest balance debt first and once that’s gone, you apply the money that went to that payment to the next debt, and so on, until the money you are putting toward the debts has grown like a snowball rolling down a mountain, and the debt is crushed.  

Practical conversations about spending money and the snowball method helped the family pay down their debts in the midst of the housing boom, from 2006 to 2008.

But attitude change was the critical puzzle piece that helped them stay out of debt during the Great Recession.

Rocha said they stopped thinking, “If I only had more money.” “The reason that it’s so important is that when we operate with this mindset that ‘My financial life would change ‘if’—insert magic potion—[then] we’re pushing it into the future. We’re constantly making excuses to start. That’s why it’s so important to say ‘Stop’ and say ‘Wait, we’re not waiting for the next tax refund, Christmas bonus, or pay raise. What if we said the money we had in our hands right now is enough for us?’ That was really revolutionary in our thinking.”

While friends and family were upgrading and super-sizing, they kept their town home and shared a car. By the time they were finished paying their debts (aside from their mortgage), the housing bubble burst, the recession struck, and Carrie started her website to help families work their way out of debt the way her family did.

Pocketyourdollars.com is now a full time job. She employs the equivalent of 2.5 full-time employees and is frequently interviewed on radio and TV about money saving and deal seeking.

The Rochas have two young children. Like most parents, Rocha is determined to instill healthy financial habits. “We explain why and how we earn, save and spend money. Much like you might have your child with you in the kitchen as you bake, explaining how to use a recipe, measure brown sugar, and crack an egg, we talk about what a budget is, what we are saving money for, and why mom and dad work. It's created an interest in my kids about money.”


Kara McGuire is a personal finance writer and a St. Paul mother of three. Send comments, questions and story ideas to 
kmcguire@mnparent.com.