For Melissa and Sean Machoff, the path to paying off $127,000 of debt in the Bay Area led to Sean’s mom’s house.
Moving in with her, and back to Sean’s childhood home, wasn’t the easiest choice for the newlyweds, but it was an attractive option. They were grappling with a high cost of living and a mountain of debt, which was mostly student loans, plus some credit card debt, car notes and a loan they took out for their wedding.
When they tallied up their debt and saw the six-figure total for the first time, Melissa Machoff, now 30, was floored. “If my jaw could physically drop to the floor, it would have,” she told MarketWatch.
While she realized the amount of debt might seem “normal” to some people, because of how normalized debt has become in U.S. society, it did not feel normal to her.
“This is not how I want to live… just giving these people half of my paycheck all the time,” she recalled.
Melissa worked at a data storage company, where she had steadily grown her salary over a decade there. Sean, 36, was a project manager with a side hustle in graphic design. On their off hours, they ran a podcast together.
At the time, they were paying $1,500 a month for their share of a three-bedroom, two-bath house they lived in with two roommates.
Sean’s mom was in a three-bedroom house by herself, and Sean was already stopping by regularly to help her out. Moving in made sense for all three of them.
When they did, the couple cut their housing expenses to $600 a month, saving money not just on rent, but on utilities. At first they spent like crazy, going to music festivals and traveling. They were newlyweds, after all. Then they got serious about paying off their debt.
They cut back on entertainment and travel, but it didn’t feel like they were making huge sacrifices.
“We went out a little less,” Melissa said. “We went on fewer vacations than we would have, but it wasn’t that crazy as far as cutting down.”
They started with Dave Ramsey’s Debt Snowball Method, though they felt the recommended $1,000 emergency fund was much too low for a place like the Bay Area.
They paid off credit cards and Melissa’s student loans before starting on Sean’s student debt, at that point switching to Ramsey’s Debt Avalanche method, which encourages paying loans from the highest interest rate to the lowest.
Along the way, Melissa started chronicling the couple’s journey on Instagram. Instead of choosing a cute name for her brand, “I said, what is something that I do say a lot?” And that is how Fckdebt was born.
With social media, Melissa realized she could reach a lot of people who were not in the finance realm. “We should have been taught this,” she said. “Why am I barely learning this now, at this age?”
The content included net worth updates, notes of encouragement, and breakdowns of their trip expenses. “They can see that you’re still able to go out and do stuff,” Sean explained. There were also plenty of middle fingers (which Sean designed) to show the world how they felt about their debt.
The Machoffs said moving in with Sean’s mom helped them put up to $6,000 a month toward their debt and cut in half the time it would have taken them to pay it off.
They spent three years living with her before moving out into a 400-square-foot apartment of their own. The rent is $1,800 a month, utilities included, and their only roommate is their dog, Sir Michelangelo.
With their debt total down to zero, the Machoffs began to think big. Melissa wondered if she could retire by 45.
“If we were able to get out of debt in 2 years, in 15 years, what could we do?” she said excitedly. “I’m not even ready for it!”
Brian Quist contributed to this story.