When Leo Jean-Louis, an occupational therapist, tied the knot with Faith Jean-Louis in 2017, they had a debt of $211,000 between them. Their debt ranged from student debt to credit card debt to personal loans.
“We had no idea how we were going to pay it off or how long it would take us, we just knew we couldn’t stay there,” Leo, who is Haitian American, noted on Acorns CNBC.
Leo and his wife, a pediatric nurse practitioner, have within 2.5 years paid off their $211,000 of debt, in addition to $13,000 interest. They did this without earning six-figure salaries. They are now focused on building generational wealth, changing their family legacy and working towards becoming millionaires.
Just how did the couple manage to pay off their debt and set their finances towards becoming millionaires? Leo said he and his wife got on the same page about early finances. According to him, he and his wife discussed money values and approaches to money since fights about money are one of the leading causes of divorce.
“Those conversations weren’t always easy but they were definitely a key part in us building a strong foundation,” he said.
Aside from being on the same page with their finances, they also established their own path towards achieving financial freedom. Leo said initially, they were overwhelmed by their debt situation. However, they decided not to start with the numbers but rather why they wanted to pursue financial freedom.
“One of our biggest reasons was making sure that one day, our kids wouldn’t have to dig themselves out of six-figure student debt like we did,” he said.
Another reason they wanted to pursue financial freedom was Leo’s mother. She single-handedly raised him when his father passed away. At the time, Leo was just seven years old.
“Our ‘why’ was the driving force behind the change we wanted to make. It was the core source of our motivation and a reference point whenever we felt like giving up or breaking our budget during our debt-free journey. By starting with the end in mind, we were able to reverse engineer and see exactly what we needed to do to get there,” he said.
The first step they took was to bring all the income they earned to the table and decide together as a team how best to use it. They adopted zero-based budgeting, where one gives every dollar a purpose so they know where 100% of their income goes.
“Budgeting allowed us to see how quickly we would be able to reach our goals and whether or not we needed to make any adjustments,” he said.
The couple also decreased their expenses by focusing on the “big three” which are: housing, food, and transportation. They kept their housing expenses below 25% of their monthly take-home pay. They also carpooled to work to keep their expenses lower.
In addition, they avoided eating outside by packing their lunches to work every day and cooking dinner at home 90% of the time. “All of these were small actions that ended up saving us thousands of dollars every year,” he said.
While cutting back on expenses, they were also looking at the income side of the equation. Between the two of them, they worked five jobs — their primary jobs and three side hustles.
“My wife’s side hustles included babysitting and providing overnight infant care to newborns. I picked up a per diem job in my current profession as an occupational therapist at the local hospital,” Leo explained.
Within a year, the couple began to enjoy the fruits of their labor. They made $66,000 from side hustle income before taxes. The second year, they made $40,000.
By November 2019, Leo and his wife became debt-free, outside of their mortgage. And when the pandemic struck, they were able to save and invest $127,000 in 2020 despite dealing with some reduced work hours and the uncertainty that came as a result of a global health crisis.
For the first time, they were able to build a six-month emergency fund. They also recently closed their first rental property and Leo is planning to retire his mother in the next three to five years. The couple also started the Freedom Is A Choice Movement to teach millennials how to become debt-free.