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Financial fast: Local couple reveals secret to starting the year right

FARGO — For 10 years, Rory Martin has been "fasting."

While most might assume fasting involves refraining from food, Martin, 61, partakes in a different kind of fast — a spending fast.

During the first month of the year, Martin and his wife, LeAnn, accept the challenge they refer to as the "January fast" where they refrain from spending money on anything other than fixed expenses and essentials.

The retired Fargo resident was first inspired to save money in April 2006. After receiving his tax refund and using it for a down payment on an apartment and the first month of rent, he had $200 left to his name. With credit card debt, a car payment and student loans, he knew something had to change.

"I came up with a simple budget," Martin says. "I got paid every two weeks, and when my checkbook reached $200 (remaining), I stopped spending. If that was one day or a week before my next paycheck, I stopped spending."

The "checkbook fast" — as he called it — slowly gave way to something bigger. Come Christmas, he found he wasn't going any deeper in debt but he wasn't getting ahead. If the concept had worked so well between paychecks, why couldn't he refrain from spending for a month?

So Martin gave it a try.

"At the end of that month, I had paid off my Christmas bills, my credit card and had money in my savings account," Martin says. "It made life a lot easier for that next year."

Martin continued the tradition each January, but when he got remarried, he knew the concept might not work with someone else. His new wife was skeptical at first but after seeing the results at the end of the first month, she suggested they take it a step further and roll February into the fast.

"Now for the last 5 years, we've been doing a January/February fast," Martin says. "This February we cut our grocery bill by 40 percent. With all bills paid and money in the bank, we are planning our summer vacation guilt-free."

Debt snowball

Martin began selling his belongings to pay off his debt faster, but he attributes the bulk of his success to Dave Ramsey's debt snowball method.

"It was the reason I was able to retire at 58," Martin says.

According to Dave Ramsey's website, the debt snowball method advises participants to list their debts from smallest to largest and make minimum payments on everything except their smallest debt. Once that debt it paid off, participants take the money they were paying on the first debt and roll it into the payment for the second smallest balance. And so, the cycle continues.

"The further out you get, the faster the debt starts to disappear," Martin says. It was with this method and undeniable discipline that Martin was able to eliminate all of his $45,000 of debt in 6 years.

"I started having extra money and was able to start investing," Martin says. "We're totally out of debt. We don't have a car payment. We don't have a credit card payment. We don't owe anything — all because we were able to get ahead on all of that."

A better life

Being debt-free has given the Martins more freedom in their choices. "Now our decisions are based on 'Do we really need this? Do we want it?' versus 'Can we afford it? How are we going to make that payment?' We don't have to do that anymore," Martin says.

Now that their debt is paid, the Martin's newest inspiration behind the January/February fast is the opportunity to travel.

In the coming years, Martin and his wife will fly to London for her daughter's wedding. With LeAnn having lived in Australia previously, the couple also intends to make a trip back to the island nation to visit friends.

The best part?

"It's all going to come out of money we're saving from this January/February fast," Martin says.

For those struggling with debt or finances in general, Martin encourages them to give the January fast a try.

"If what you're doing now isn't financially working, what's one more risk of something not working?" Martin asks. "It's a lot more fun being out of debt than being in debt. It's such a good feeling not owing anybody anything."

Alexandra Floersch

Alexandra Floersch has worked for Forum Communications since February 2015. She is a content producer and photographer who enjoys writing about finance, fashion and home.

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