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The high cost of keeping up with the Joneses

In late 2004, Kim Parr and her family upgraded their lifestyle with a brand new home in a rural area. As an optometrist with a higher-than-average salary, it seemed like the natural thing to do. After all, Kim's husband had a secure (albeit lower-paying) job in education and their combined household income was finally in the six-figure range. They had earned it.

Unfortunately, the Parrs soon found that their new home needed much more than a roof and four walls. In fact, it desperately needed landscaping -- things like sod, trees, a sprinkler system, and fencing. Of course, their new yard required a certain amount of upkeep so they had to buy all kinds of lawn-care equipment, including a John Deere riding mower.

Those empty rooms needed furniture too, but garage sale finds weren't going to cut it in their brand new home. Of course, other expenses began to crop up as well, including things like hardware, curtains, and decorations.

But that wasn't all. Once they bought their new house, they splurged for shiny, new cars and chose to upgrade into a newer, shinier model every few years. Then there were things like mountain bikes and skis and trips to Las Vegas or Denver, along with whatever else the family wanted. From a distance, it looked like the Parrs were living the dream.

When the Joneses are broke

Despite outward appearances, the Parrs had a dirty little secret. In addition to perpetual car payments and $70,000 in student loans, they had managed to rack up almost $30,000 in credit card debt in just a few short years. "We just financed everything because we thought we could afford the payments," said Kim.

At a certain point, according to Kim, they had so many payments that all of their income was going toward them. They knew they had to change, so they did. Kim and her husband sat down together and created a plan to tackle their debts one by one. It all started with Kim taking a second job and funneling every cent she earned toward each balance until it was gone. They also created a budget and cut out any extra expenses that weren't furthering their goals.

The Parrs paid off every cent of their consumer debt over the course of a few years, and now they're debt-free aside from a small mortgage. She now blogs about her journey toward early retirement at ( get it?), and says she's much happier than she was when they had all the "stuff."

"Life is so much better without consumer debt," said Kim. "We worked hard to earn a good income. The difference now is that we have a purpose for that money, and it feels so much better to watch our net worth grow instead of seeing all the money go toward debt."

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