The Agony and Ecstasy of Getting Out of Debt

February 15, 2021 Updated: February 15, 2021

Dear Mary: We’ve just received notice that the rent on our three-bedroom house is going up from $950 to $1,200 a month. We were struggling before, so we really can’t afford the increase. We have looked at an apartment community, where our rent would be around $850 a month.

I found another home that could be a great permanent family home. This one is a rental, but with an option to purchase. The monthly rent on this house is $1,250.

We have huge student loan balances, and our credit isn’t that great. Should we move to the cheaper apartment, opt for the house with the higher rent and option to purchase, or just stay where we are? Thanks for your advice. —Henry

Dear Henry: If you are already struggling to make your $950 rent each month, how are you going to handle $1,200 a month—with or without an option-to-purchase clause?

Have you looked carefully at the conditions and terms on that option? Typically, included in those terms is that a portion of the rent you pay each month will be credited against an undetermined purchase price, if and when you are able to buy. That could be a small amount, like $25 a month.

Given the information you’ve given me—even if that option to purchase appears favorable—I would advise you to go with the $850 apartment, provided you keep your moving costs to an absolute minimum.

You need to be seriously cutting expenses, not adding to them. Lower rent plus a strong commitment to go on a spending diet should give you the boost you need to get your debts paid in the next two or three years. Then you’ll be ready to start saving a down payment so you can begin looking for a home to buy.

Dear Mary: It’s been years now since my husband and I finished a debt repayment program offered through our local Catholic Charities, based on your philosophies and book “The Financially Confident Woman.” In two years, we paid off tens of thousands of dollars of debt that would have otherwise taken decades to repay.

When Catholic Charities was contacted by several large businesses and a local hospital about starting a program for all their employees, they asked me to spearhead this project. I agreed as my way of showing gratitude for what we have received.

I want you to know that between you and Catholic Charities, my life has been permanently changed. My husband and I now truly enjoy the love of each other and our three beautiful children. Thanks for changing my life and making frugality something not to be despised. God bless you. —C.L.

Dear C.L. Your letter made my day! I am so proud of you for your great accomplishment of getting out of debt. Thanks for being such diligent “students” and putting into action the simple plan you found in my book.

Dear Mary: It’s been nearly a year since I wrote to you. I was in despair about our financial situation. Because I shared the bad news, I want to share the good news, too. Since then, we sold our home (the biggest reason we couldn’t reduce our expenses further) and purchased a condominium.

This reduced our mortgage payment by 25 percent. We put 40 percent down on our new home, paid our $21,000 credit card debt in full, and have cash reserves to cover three months of basic bills and living expenses in case of emergency.

This is the first time in our marriage that we have been debt-free, and it feels great. Thanks for encouraging and supporting our desire to live debt-free. Your guidance and encouragement to do the hard work changed our lives. —Vivienne

Dear Vivienne: I recall your first letter and how things did look nearly hopeless. Yours was one of those desperate situations that required drastic measures. I know that selling your home was a very difficult decision, but I believe you did the right thing by scaling down.

I am so happy for you. You have warmed the cockles of my heart, which I must admit came as a bit of a shock. I didn’t know I had cockles.

Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, “Ask Mary.” Tips can be submitted at This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living.” Copyright 2021