The Debt Free Charts Story
I've been asked many times about how Debt Free Charts got started. So here is the story.
In 2006 we were the typical paycheck-to-paycheck couple with two little kids, no savings to speak of, and a few credit cards. We were never big spenders, didn’t finance new cars or go on fancy vacations on credit. We thought we were responsible and doing just fine.
Then my husband lost the job we thought would be forever stable when his position was eliminated.
The only job he could find fast (without a huge commute) meant a 60% pay cut.
We had no money in savings, no emergency fund, and a serious emergency on our hands.
We were thankful that we had a line of credit on our house, that was intended for a kitchen remodel, but we ended up using it to stay afloat for 8 months.
When Bob finally found a good job locally, we had racked up $38,000 in debt. Ouch. That was nearly a year's take home pay. How on earth would we ever be able to pay that off?
This goofy family picture was taken just a couple of months after my husband got that good job. We were putting on brave faces for our kids, trying to act "normal", but we were shaking in our boots.
We found we could barely keep up with the minimum payments, and were beginning to freak out. If you've felt that panicky feeling about money then you know what I'm talking about, your mind races, you feel on the verge of tears most of the day, and worry becomes constant.
I started Googling and reading everything I could on getting out of debt, and settled on Dave Ramsey‘s babysteps. It was working, but it was so painfully slow. We had a very small shovel still, I was couponing like crazy to stretch Bob's paycheck as far as I could, but it felt like slogging through mud trying to attack a mountain with a toothpick.
I was getting depressed. I had to find something to inspire me, as watching the numbers made me feel worse. I mean, really, there doesn’t feel like there is any difference between $38,000 and $36,000. So I went looking for some sort of chart to fill in. All I could find were spreadsheets and thermometers, neither of which held any inspiration.
So I tried to make a chart for myself. The first one was just a big rectangle that I marked with lines to fill. Boring. Then came the idea to make it big words to fill in. I put DEBT FREE on it, and bingo, that was the magic!
Suddenly I was motivated to fill in those words, to figure out any way I could to fill in another line. I didn’t know why it worked, but boy did it work! I could finally SEE that we were making progress and it almost became fun!
Somehow the daily scrimping and sacrificing didn't seem so bad anymore.
I put that chart up on the fridge and pretty quickly my husband was totally on board, especially when he saw how much we had already done.
What had felt like an impossible mountain before became possible, one line at a time.
Once I made that first chart, and saw how much it helped us to stay motivated, I shyly shared it in an online forum (this was all pre-Facebook groups). I posted a photo and offered to create one for anyone who wanted to try it (I was filling in the numbers for them digitally). I got many requests, and emailed lots of charts. Then I figured out that I could just leave the numbers off completely and let people fill them in by hand. So I uploaded the blank chart to the files section of the forum.
Then something amazing started happening. Someone asked if I would make a chart that said CAR LOAN. So I did, and uploaded it to the forum files. Then came a request for a CREDIT CARD chart, and STUDENT LOAN and more and more.
Eventually I had 10+ charts, and so many people were raving about them in the forum, that I thought I should put the charts somewhere that was more accessible for everyone, so people could share them with their friends who weren't in that forum.
I put them on a blog. A really ugly blog (as you can see this screenshot from the WayBack Machine in 2010). But hey, it worked.
The number of charts climbed to over 20, and for a while I was able to keep track of how many of each were downloaded with a jury rigged setup with Dropbox and a weird counting website.
The charts were accessible, we got out of debt after about 3 years, and then I forgot all about them.
I’d occasionally get a request for a new chart, but I’m embarrassed to admit I just filed the requests away and ignored them. I was homeschooling my kids by then, and just didn’t want to take the time to bother with the charts. So the blog just sat there, ignored, while I focused on my kids.
At some point the counting website disappeared, so I no longer could see how many charts were being downloaded (and I never thought to keep my own records, doh!).
Then Dropbox changed their file sharing rules, and all of the sudden every link was broken. No one could download the charts. I got email after email about the broken links.
In December 2017 I decided it was about time I moved the charts to a more secure system, so I set up a new website, and went looking for photos from people who had used the charts that I might be able to use on the website.
I went to YouTube and found a few people who were sharing their debt free journeys and using the charts. I was thrilled.
Then I went to Instagram, which I barely knew how to use, and imagine my surprise when I found a hashtag #debtfreecharts and hundreds of images of filled in charts! I nearly fell out of my chair. I called my husband over to see them all. We both just stared and stared. We had no idea.
So, that was the day I started the @debtfreecharts profile on Instagram and the first post was announcing the new website that was almost ready.
Seriously, Instagram changed our lives almost overnight!
I started commenting on posts with the charts, and I was amazed at the reception.
I asked what new charts would be helpful and got a rush of new requests. So many requests that I released a new chart every day in January.
Here are the first nine images I posted on Instagram in December 2017.
18 months ago I would not have believed any of this possible, it wasn’t even in my wildest dreams.
Oh the many BLESSINGS that have come from our struggles. God used it all for good. Whatever your struggles are right now, in time you will see that they were the seeds that opened up a whole new world of blessings for you.
Thank you all so much for your support, it has been such an honor be be a small part of your journey, I am forever grateful.