How I paid off my student loans in half the time

FullSizeRender (1)

Yes…you read that correctly. My student loans are completely paid off five years after graduation! For a girl who literally feels anxious just looking at numbers, this was a huge accomplishment. I’m no financial wizard…in fact, I could have paid my loans off even sooner if I had been more disciplined. But today I’m sharing with you what I DO know: that if I can pay off my loans, you can too! These are the main steps I took to achieve this goal!

Live below your means:

One of the basics of financial planning is that you should be living off about 80% of what you take home. For me, 10% gets tithed to my church, and another 10% goes to savings. The remaining 80% is used to pay expenses. I used Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps as a guide. Once I had saved up $1,000 for emergencies, I stopped saving and started putting that 10% toward debt. I have never skipped tithing a paycheck since Andrew and I have been married, and the Lord has always been faithful to provide. Having an emergency fund in savings ensures that if unforeseen expenses arise, you won’t have to go into credit card debt to cover those expenses.

Set a monthly budget:

I’ve found over the years that the best way to track my budget is by month rather than by paycheck. If I try to track it further than that, I get overwhelmed. But if I track it paycheck by paycheck, it doesn’t give me an accurate view of how far each paycheck needs to go. My natural tendency is to look at the balance in my bank account and think that all of it is spending money. (Yes, I realize that is idiotic but that’s just what we’re dealing with here.) To avoid overspending, I check in with my budget weekly. I am much more careful with my spending when I see each transaction coming out of my account versus going weeks without looking at my finances and then being shocked at my balance. I also save non-essential spending (anything I want but don’t need) for the end of the month so I can be sure everything has been paid. I personally don’t use the Dave Ramsey cash envelope system for two reasons: 1) I keep up with my banking better by being able to see every charge recorded online. 2) Heaven forbid if my wallet is stolen, I can cancel my debit card. I can’t replace all my cash.

Learn financial discipline:

This is the big one, and unfortunately no blog post can make you change your spending habits. I woke up at the beginning of 2018 and realized I was so tired of paying on a student loan for a degree that wasn’t giving me much return on investment. Don’t get me wrong, I loved college and I’m so glad I went. But in the five years since I graduated, I have not once gotten a job that required a bachelor’s degree. It just didn’t make sense for a large portion of my income to go toward something that wasn’t reaping me tangible benefits. That was the fire I needed to set a goal of paying my loan off within the year.

To make that happen, I took on a second part-time job and dedicated 100% of my income from that job to my loan. I realize that is not practical for most people, but bear in mind that prior to this I had a three-day-a-week part-time job. So if you have a full time job, you are definitely making more money than I was with both jobs combined. To make my income go farther toward debt, Andrew paid all fixed expenses (rent, bills, car insurance, etc.) out of his income. When he lost his job through the military, this got tricky, but we just kept doing our best. Each month, I would budget extra tight for each category, and then at the end of the month, I took everything left and put it toward my student loan. This was in addition to my regular monthly payments. There were months that were more difficult than others, but by staying consistent, I ended up paying off my loan over the course of 2018!

The biggest piece of advice I can give is that if you want to pay off a debt bad enough, you will sacrifice other things in order to do it. We canceled our cable. I didn’t buy clothes all year except with my Christmas money, after I already knew I would meet my goal. I didn’t buy any home decor. We didn’t go to the movies or do any major traveling. If there was something I wanted, I asked myself if I was willing to subtract that amount from what I would pay to my loan that month. The thought of having that loan paid off was so much more rewarding than buying whatever I wanted in that moment. I also worked my butt off, many times working six days a week juggling two jobs to make extra income. If you are a two-income household, see if you can possibly live off one income for a period of time and use the other income to pay entirely toward debt. That season of living small will be so worth it if you can eliminate some of your debt.

Obviously if you have children, this will look different for you. You can’t just not buy your kids clothes for a year. If you don’t have kids yet I would really encourage you to buckle down on debt before they arrive, because the expenses that come with kids are unavoidable.

Keep in mind that we are not a debt-free household. With Andrew’s salary loss last year and me working part time jobs, we definitely incurred debt for his education. But that didn’t discourage me from knocking out my education debt, and it motivated us to avoid any additional debt from credit cards. I’m going to stop there before this gets any longer. I know this post was really general, so let me know if you have any specific questions! The moral of the story is: with discipline you really can reach tough financial goals and come out celebrating on the other side!

My Favorite Valentine’s Day Traditions

Valentine’s Day has always been one of my favorite holidays. Now, lest you think that’s because I always had Cupid’s arrow pointed at me, let me assure you that I was single every Valentine’s Day until I met Andrew.  So why do I love it so much? Maybe it’s because pink is my favorite color. Maybe it’s because I’m super girly and love all things heart-shaped. Maybe it’s because I’m a 90’s kid and I have so many childhood memories of picking out my Valentines and painstakingly selecting the right one for each person in my class. (You had to play it cool and give your crush a really neutral one and make sure to give your best friend the cutest one.) Whatever the reason, I’ve always looked forward to February 14th. Today I’m sharing some of the traditions that have made this day fun whether I was single or in love.


Exchanging small gifts

Every year until I was out of college, my mom would give us little presents on Valentine’s Day morning. It was something to look forward to, especially in high school when most of my friends were dating and I was team Forever Single. She continued the tradition by sending me care packages in college full of candy and other little treats. A gift doesn’t have to be expensive to brighten someone’s day and create a lasting memory!

Galentine’s Day

Some of the best Valentine’s Days I’ve ever spent have been with girl friends. One of my favorite days ever was in college when a floor-mate whose grandmother lived near campus opened her home to us on Valentine’s. We all got dressed up, she served us a home cooked meal, and we just hung out and talked late into the night about dating horror stories, what was going on in our lives, and everything else under the sun. Valentine’s Day is a great excuse to plan a girls’ night and get dressed up without any of the pressure of having plans with a significant other.

Rom-com marathons

I know this is super cheesy and cliche, but Valentine’s Day is all about embracing all that good stuff! Rom-coms are popular for a reason. They put you in a good mood. When so much of our entertainment is scary or stress-inducing, it’s nice to just sit and watch two people fall in love while hi-jinks ensue. Some of my favorites are 13 Going on 30, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, He’s Just Not That Into You, Legally Blonde (a rom com but also one of the greatest movies of our time), and 27 Dresses. For bonus points you can watch the rom-com Valentine’s Day if you really want to get festive!


Heart-shaped donuts

If the phrase “heart-shaped donuts” doesn’t make you happy, I don’t know what to do with you. This became a tradition for me a few years ago. Andrew and I had been dating for six months, which is kind of the turning point in a dating relationship if you ask me. We were on our way to Dunkin Donuts for breakfast, where we got heart-shaped donuts. On the way home, we re-ignited a big argument that had been causing strain in our relationship. We realized that no matter how much we talked, we weren’t going to agree. I told Andrew that even though we disagreed, there was nothing that would make me break up with him. He realized in that moment that there was no reason he would break up with me either. That night he went home and started ring shopping. Ever since we got engaged and he told me his side of the story, I’ve celebrated Valentine’s Day with heart-shaped donuts. P.S. Despite my experience, if you’re trying to get a ring, I don’t recommend starting a fight.

Wearing a cute outfit

Real talk: I’m a grandma trapped in a 28 year old’s body. And just as Grandmas bedeck themselves in themed vests and sweaters every holiday season, I am never one to shy away from a festive outfit. 4th of July? I’m wearing red, white, and blue. Christmas? I’m gonna rock my red flannel at all the functions. And for Valentine’s Day? I’m sporting something pink, girly, and fun. I really believe that simple things, like putting together a cute outfit because you love holidays, go a long way in putting some joy in your life. Plus, if you look good, you feel good, and that affects your whole mindset for the day.

I hope these traditions will inspire you to celebrate Valentine’s Day, or at least not dread it. How are you celebrating this year? Do you love this holiday or hate it? Let me know in the comments!

What Quiet Times look like for me


First of all, what is “quiet time?” When I use that term, I’m referring to time spent praying and reading the Bible. I was very involved in my youth group in middle school and high school, and that’s when I really started to put my faith into practice. My youth minister always taught me that as a Christian, it’s not enough to just go to church on Sundays. For your faith to really grow, it’s vital that you spend time with God on your own. Quiet time has looked different for me in different seasons. It’s also the area of my walk with the Lord where I have struggled the most. I wanted to share with you what has worked best for me through the years. If this is something you’ve never done but would like to start, I hope this post will give you an idea of where to begin. If you too have struggled in this area, I hope this post will be encouraging.

The Summer Project Quiet Time

In college, I was part of a student ministry called Cru. Through that organization, I went on a summer mission project where, removed from all distractions, I participated in bible studies, had a summer job, and met for discipleship with a mentor. I came back the following summer as a student staffer. In our schedule, we had times blocked off on many days where we would have “dates with Jesus.” We went somewhere and just got alone with God and prayed, journaled, listened, and read the Bible with no time crunch. Needless to say, those were some of the most profound quiet times I’ve ever had. I have such sweet, vivid memories of those times and it was in that stillness that God spoke to me through His word, through the voice of the Holy Spirit, and through other people I was around. There are two pieces of wisdom I’ve taken away from those experiences:

1) If you really want to hear God’s voice and cultivate the ministry of the Holy Spirit in your life, you can’t expect him to shout through the noise. Sometimes you have to fight the busy-ness and carve out time to just be with him. When you seek out God’s presence, he will speak to you.

2) Not every quiet time is going to be profound. When you practice a discipline over a lifetime, not every single day is going to feel like your world is being rocked. I struggled for a long time feeling like my day-to-day quiet times were inadequate, and I ultimately let that discourage me from doing them at all. But the truth is, life is not a mission trip, even though we are on mission. There are going to be distractions and responsibilities that make time with the Lord something you have to fight for. But it’s those little moments that build up and create space in your life for the Holy Spirit to speak and work. Time with the Lord on the days you don’t “feel like it,” or the days that are busy, or the days where you don’t know what to pray…that is the spiritual discipline that sanctifies and builds a faith you can lean on during the hard days that will inevitably come.

Reading through the Bible

In seasons of my life where I have a bit more margin and can dedicate more time to Bible reading, I read through books of the Bible. I’ve found that for me personally, doing things like a Bible in a year reading plan are not as fruitful because they start to feel like homework. I get really discouraged and get so focused on getting all the material in that I’m not reflecting on what I’m reading. If you are a person who is motivated by a challenge, those types of plans may be just the thing you need to get excited about reading the Bible daily! For me, it works better if I just choose a book of the Bible to focus on and read through it without giving myself a time frame.


I am not a morning person AT. ALL. I have honestly tried and it’s just not the way I’m wired. With that being the case, there are seasons where the thought of diving deeply into the Word first thing in the morning feels very daunting. Some seasons are busier than others. This is where I have found devotionals to be helpful. I prefer devotionals that have a lot of substance and are more a commentary on the Scripture reading for the day rather than just a pithy little pep talk. In choosing a devotional, pay closer attention to the focus on the Bible rather than who the devotion is being marketed to. I’m not trying to read Chicken Soup for the 20-something-newlywed-cat mom’s Soul. I want something that really focuses my mind on God’s word and illuminates it in a way that gives me practical application.


I know writing in a journal isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but I can honestly say that for me, journaling changed the game. My mind is always racing, and I battle a lot of anxiety. Writing out my prayers has helped me to stay focused, and it has been a sweet way to reflect on answered prayers. I also use my prayer journal to take sermon notes at church, so everything the Lord is teaching me is all in one place. What tends to work for me is to read and pray in the morning and then journal in the evening when my mind is more clear and I can reflect on the day.

I know that got a little long, but I hope this was helpful to those of you who are trying to cultivate this discipline in your own lives. If you fall into that category, what resources have been helpful to you? What has worked and what hasn’t worked? I’d love to hear from you here or on Instagram!

My Favorite Thrift Finds

I’ve always been drawn to things that had a life before me. I’d much rather search for something secondhand than go buy it brand new. Thrift shopping is like a treasure hunt. I love the feeling when you happen upon something that you know is a major score! Today, I’m sharing some of my favorite thrift shopping finds in hopes that they will inspire you to go on your own treasure hunt!

Tooled leather handbag



I quite literally dug this bag off the very back shelf of a junk shop in Paducah, KY-my hometown. It’s worn around the edges, but that just adds to the character! Tooled leather is often created by hand, so you may need to be willing to pay a little more for finds like this than other items.

Pink cowboy boots



These rare petal-pink Laredo boots are one of my favorite finds ever! These came from a junk shop in Bowling Green, KY. I went to school at WKU and my friends and I spent so many weekends out perusing all the amazing thrift stores Bowling Green has to offer. Anything that reminds me of something I used to have for my Barbie dolls makes me happy, and pink cowboy boots definitely fall into that category.


Wooden dresser

I technically can’t take credit for this find. My husband pulled this cutie out of our neighbor’s trash. (We are but humble rednecks, after all.) One of the drawers was broken, but with a little elbow grease from Andrew and a little paint from me, we converted it into our entertainment center. I found these knobs at Hobby Lobby and I based our living room on this color palette. You know what they say…one man’s trash is another man’s living room furniture.


Blue and white dishware

I decorated our kitchen in blue, white, and copper. Almost all of our decorative dishware has been thrifted or handed down by family. Keep in mind that if you’re looking for something specific while thrifting, you will likely have to collect it little by little. There are so many patterns of blue and white dishware, and your collection will look more cohesive if you choose a few similar styles. I tend to like floral motifs and scenic patterns, like Courier & Ives. There are also Oriental styles and fine china patterns. Remember that your colors won’t match exactly unless you find a whole set, but you can get very close!

Gap denim jacket (and other brand-name clothes)


This Gap denim jacket is just one of the brand-name staples I’ve found at Goodwill. The key to shopping smart at Goodwill (probably a whole separate post) is to only buy something if you know you’ll get lots of wear out of it. Otherwise, it’s not really a great find. I’ve found Gap, Old Navy, LOFT, and great vintage pieces by searching Goodwill.

I hope seeing some of the treasures in my thrifting trove has inspired you to get out there and find the potential in something secondhand. Let me know if you have any questions about anything I’ve mentioned! What are your favorite thrifting tips? Where do you have the best luck? Let me know in the comments!

The Best Books I Read in 2018

The Best Books I Read in 2018





What’s the first thing I do when I move to a new city? Sign up for a library card! We live right across the street from one of the library branches here in Lexington, which is kind of a dream come true for me. Seriously. I’ve always loved reading, and I love wandering through the aisles searching for a new book to get lost in. These are the best books I read last year! Reading is good for your brain, it teaches you so much, and for me personally, it helps calm my anxiety before bed. I hope this list will encourage you to get to your local library and discover some new reads!

The Complete Sherlock Holmes


I’ve loved mysteries since I was a third grader devouring Nancy Drew books. This year I realized I’d never read the Sherlock Holmes stories. So, in true Ashton fashion, I decided to read them all…in chronological order. I fell in love with these stories as so many thousands of readers have before me. The tales range from the strange to the macabre and everything in between. The real magic of these stories is, though, is in their warmth. Even though Sherlock works on problems that involve crime, there is something so comforting about his and Watson’s friendship. When I closed the page on the very last story, I felt sad that I was leaving the warm hearth of 221B Baker Street, and I know I’ll return to these stories for years to come.

Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox


If you think you know Marilyn Monroe, think again. I first became interested in Marilyn when I watched a documentary about her in high school. This book dives deep into her background, her relationships, and the era in which she was living. She truly was a fascinating and, in many ways, tragic person who deserves to be remembered for her talent. If you’re interested in her at all, this book is definitely worth a read. It opened my eyes to the hardships she came from, the twisted world of the Hollywood studio system, and the undeniable “it” factor that Marilyn had in comparison to other actors. Also, before I read this book I didn’t believe any of the Kennedy conspiracy theories about her death. After reading it?? They totally did it.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats


This story was so engrossing, and it was unlike anything I’ve read recently. The narrative unfolds little by little, eventually coming full circle to a poignant conclusion. A girl’s father goes missing and she tries to find him using the very little she knows about his background. I can’t really say much about the plot-line without giving away spoilers, but if you like suspense, reading about other places and cultures, or if you’re a sucker for a tragic love story, you’ll love this book.

And Then There Were None


I read several Agatha Christie novels this year, and I loved them all. This one takes the cake for suspense. Her stories always have a twist ending and I never saw this one coming. It is a true suspense-thriller masterpiece, and I love that such stories were written by a woman who was living in an era where women having their own career pursuits was far from commonplace. If you love mysteries or suspense, you have to read Agatha Christie. I promise you’ll be hooked.

There you have it! My hot takes on my favorite reads of 2018. What were your fave books this year? What’s on your reading list for 2019? Let me know in the comments!

When the Plan Changes


I met Andrew the summer before his senior year at Murray State. Before he would officially ask me to be his girlfriend, he sat me down to tell me about his future plans. He was applying to dental school and planning to enlist in the Navy for the Commissioned Officer program. I was impressed that he even had a plan, let alone a good one. He wanted to make sure that I knew what I was signing up for if I dated him. I was already head over heels for him by this time, and the Navy would allow me to travel the world like I had always dreamed. Needless to say, I said yes to being his girlfriend. Over the next several years, we began to build a life around serving in the Navy. Then, one day-as happens in so many lives that are going according to plan-the phone rang.

In the summer of 2018, we got a very abrupt call that Andrew would be receiving a medical discharge from the Navy. To make a long story short, a very minor medical issue was detected during one of Andrew’s Navy physicals. After doing everything we could to plead our case, it became very clear that a discharge was unavoidable. I’m leaving out a lot of detail, but suffice it to say it was a very stressful time in our lives. We were confident that we had made the right choice in joining the military, and it was so confusing when God closed that door. We also felt like we were scrambling, having received this news during Andrew’s fourth year with very little time to make alternate plans for after graduation.

View More:

So, for those who are keeping up with The Cudes, Andrew is no longer in the Navy. He has been accepted into a residency program with the University of Kentucky, which means we will be living in Lexington for at least one more year. We both feel so much peace and gratitude about that now, but we didn’t feel that way when we first got that phone call. Serving in the military was not just a way to pay for dental school. For Andrew, serving in the military was his dream. We know there are much worse circumstances out there. We’re grateful for God’s re-direction. But this was the biggest curve-ball we had been thrown as a couple, and it represented the death of a dream we had for our life together.

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m a girl who likes a plan. In seasons of my life where that plan is taken away, I feel so lost. The years between graduating college and getting married were so tough for me, because there was no clear-cut path. Even though I “know” I am never in control, I tend to forget that fact until I am confronted with the reality all over again. I feel like God has been gently yet clearly reminding me of the truth that He alone is in control and knows what is best for my life. Even things that seem good from our human standpoint pale in comparison to the glory of His plan for us. I don’t know what circumstance you are in, and I know there are many circumstances FAR worse than what we have been through, but I hope it’s comforting to know you’re not alone. My prayer is that the Lord would continue teaching me to hold my plans with open hands, to find peace and rest in my lack of control rather than fear and strife, and to trust Him as a sovereign Lord and generous Father who gives good gifts. Maybe you need to pray that, too?

What wisdom has God given you in this area? What Bible verses have been helpful to you? Let me know in the comments here or on Instagram and I’ll share those verses on my Instagram story so we can all be encouraged!