Precious Ares and her wife Chaun knew they wanted to become parents, but they weren't expecting a variety of financial curveballs. Here's how they paid down $120K in debt to create a secure future for their family.

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When Precious Ares was 2, her parents divorced, and she and her younger brother were raised, for the most part, by their mother. "Being a younger, single mother, [my mom] didn't have that many resources available to her after the divorce, so she actually ended up moving into my grandmother's house," recalls Ares.

Her mom's game plan was to save up for a home for her family, and by the time Ares was in sixth grade, they moved into a three-bedroom house.

Seeing the financial sacrifices her mother made-from moving in with her own mom to taking on various part-time jobs in addition to her full-time position-left a lasting impression on Ares. "It really instilled the value of hard work, being able to really work no matter what your circumstance," she notes, adding that her mom "only had a high school diploma, but she didn't let that limit the amount of income she could bring in."

Ares' mom also taught her the value of home ownership. "She always told me it's good to have your own home," she says. "You don't want to rely on anyone else. Having a place that you can call home, having a place that kids can call home was very important to me, especially through my adulthood journey."

After taking out loans to attend college and kicking off a career in law enforcement, inspired by her grandfather and father, Ares married her wife Chaun and they purchased their first home in 2016.

"Having bills coming in, in addition to student loans and now incorporating somebody else's bills into my plan, I really was like, 'OK, I do not have a grasp on finances,'" says Ares. "I started to look for different resources to educate myself."

At the same time, the couple began family planning and discussing everything from fertility to who would carry their baby.

For two years, they attempted to conceive with IUI, spending $10K. They had a known donor who happened to live outside of their local area, so travel costs began adding up as well. They soon pivoted to IVF, which cost $30K. "We ended up having to take out a personal loan," remembers Ares.

But by Christmas 2019, the couple was thrilled to learn that Chaun was pregnant with a baby boy. Only months later, the pandemic began, and Ares left her position as a police officer and began working as a hearing officer. "I remember just being so nervous," says Ares. "I was like, 'I hope they hire me cause I have a baby on the way.'"

That concern was just one of many Ares had. "[I wondered], 'Am I financially prepared? Is everything gonna be OK?' It was just like this mixed bag of feelings and overwhelming emotion in so many different ways," she recalls.

The couple had a combined debt of $120,000, mostly from student and personal loans but also other consumer debt. It was something they wanted to take care of ahead of welcoming their son, and thankfully, they already had a routine in place that allowed them to strategize together. About a year into their marriage, they attended a couple's class on finances through SoFi, a personal finance company, and were inspired to have regularly set dates dedicated to "openly and honestly" talking about money.

"Sometimes we'll talk about upcoming purchases or sometimes we'll talk about past purchases that we've made and future plans," explains Ares.

The practice allowed the couple to get aligned on their financial goals while trying to conceive and later while preparing for the arrival of their son. They created a succinct budget, evaluating it with detail while holding both of their wants and needs in mind.

"The number one thing that we did was just downsize our lifestyle," says Ares.

The couple sold their home, moving into a free apartment that Chaun had access to through her job as a housing department administrator for California State University. They then put every penny they saved toward their debt snowball. "You pay off the lowest debt first, and then you use that payment to pay off the next highest, and you just keep going through them one by one," notes Ares.

They also cut out luxuries like going out to eat or extra haircuts.

Within a year, the couple was able to pay down their $120K debt. Now, they're focused on chipping away remaining public loan debt and saving for their ideal home. Here are Ares' best tips for making smart money moves in order to build the family life of your dreams.

Create a Plan With the Knowledge at Hand

Family planning can be unpredictable. "You just have to be flexible," says Ares. "Create a plan to the best of your ability to the best of your knowledge-whether you know your finances, your preferences, what you want, what you don't want. Then, after that, you just have to see what happens. And no matter what happens, it will work out for the best. I truly believe that."

Ares recalls her grandmother saying, "Don't push the river-it'll flow by itself." Although once unsure, Ares finally understands what that statement means. "It's that you can only do so much at a certain point," she explains. "Life just has to happen, and it'll flow naturally and beautifully in the way that it's supposed to."

And because the process of trying to conceive can be so emotionally exhausting, Ares recommends allowing the financial portion to take a backseat at times. "The priority is your emotional health and your partner's emotional health," she says. "It's not a perfect science, but there is an art to it. I believe that if you continue to work hard, continue to set out your intentions, it'll work out in the most perfect way for you."

Aim For Financial Freedom

Ares believes that sticking to a budget, paying down debt, and achieving financial independence allows you to be in control of your life and not feel limited. In her case, that freedom meant having the ability to plan for a family with her wife.

"When you have finances available to you, you can have resources and can make the choice that's best for you and your life," says Ares.

Do Your Best to Be Present

Although Ares and her wife will often discuss past expenses, she stresses the importance of being in the present. "Enjoy every moment of your life," she says.

She often reminds herself that their family is "doing so well and probably living better than most people in the entire world."

"Our lives have so much joy in it, even just in this moment," says Ares. "We have the most amazing son, and I want to enjoy and preserve every moment of that. Tomorrow's not promised."

Allow Your Family to Fuel Your Passion

Ares says planning her life around her family has definitely given her a confidence boost. "It just creates this drive and this fire and passion," she notes, remembering that she wasn't as committed to her goals as a single young person who lived at home.

But everything changes once you have other people relying on you. "My son is completely dependent on us," she says. "I'm driven by love. There's nothing that I wouldn't do for his future. It's just always a safety and a comfort that I want him to have. No matter how far he goes in the world, he always has home."