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We paid off over $50,000 worth of debt in 10 months in 5 easy steps and you can do it too!
Have you ever felt like a hamster running in a wheel?
You work, work, work, but by the end of the month, you have no idea where all your money went? Or you feel overwhelmed by credit card bills, medical bills, student loan bills, and more?
Feeling stressed because you have to work at the job you hate to put food on the table, not having freedom to do what you truly want, constrained by finances and never ending bills, not being able to go on nice vacations because you don’t have money or credit.
That is exactly how my husband and I felt & were living life up until September 2018.
We consistently worked and earned money, yet the bills just kept on coming and it felt like there was no end in sight.
We started with $127,229 worth of debt
When we first started this change in our life, we had a total of $127,229 debt with a combined income of $120,000-$130,000 a year! We pretty much had an equivalent of almost a whole year’s combined salary worth of debt.
Yes, I know it’s insane!
This is life.
And no, we didn’t have a super fancy car or anything to show for it really.
Over time, small purchases here and there build up until one day you realize you’re really deep in the hole and don’t know how the heck to get out.
In case you’re wondering our debt looked like this:
- 8 credit cards = $31,511
- 1 Car Loan = $2,439
- 2 Medical Loans = $236
- Student Loans = $72,216
- 1 Personal Loan = $10,827
- 1 Personal Loan from Family = $10,000
Total = $127,229
See guys, nothing special.
A huge chunk of it was our student loans and a lot of it made up our 8 credit cards.
Despite us having over $127,000 worth of debt, in 10 months we knocked out $50,000 and in 24 months we got rid of over $100,000!
On top of all that, we still traveled and went on fun trips and vacations.
I want to show you that paying off debt doesn’t have to be a scary or miserable process.
I’m sure you’ve heard of people having to eat rice and beans, never stepping foot inside a restaurant, or never going on vacation. Well, that’s not what we did and I’m here to show you that you can achieve the debt free life without having to sacrifice the things you love.
If you’re ready to start your own debt free journey, grab this free debt thermometer to use and enroll in this free 5-day Debt Free Bootcamp to finally be debt free!
Finding Your Motivation
Before hunkering down and getting serious about paying debt, you’ll need some motivation.
What is driving you to want to be debt free?
Find some reasons that’ll help to motivate you along your own debt free journey.
When we first got started on this journey, I wanted to be debt free because I wanted to achieve financial independence and ultimately retire early. I was tired of feeling stressed about finances, having to use credit cards for everything, spending money like nothing but still feel like I had nothing to show for it.
How about yourself?
Are you exhausted from working so much but after payday there’s nothing left for you to enjoy? Wouldn’t you like some financial freedom? Actually see money in your bank account start stacking up instead of over drafting all the time?
Reasons To Be Debt Free:
- Go on Vacations Without Worrying About Money
- Gaining Freedom
- Gaining Confidence in Yourself
- Having Control Over Your Life
- Not Having to Live Paycheck to Paycheck
- Not Paying Hundreds or Thousands in Interest to Banks
- Keep Your Hard Earned Money in Your Pockets
- Taking Control of Your Life and Finances
- Setting a Great Example For Your Family
- Enjoy Life by Spending More Time With Loved Ones
- More Options to Do What You Want With Your Life
- Retire Early
- Go on Vacations Without Worrying About Money
- Start Your Own Business
The list can go on and on.
Most importantly, in order to begin the debt paying process, you have to commit to the process and not give up.
Motivation is key, that’s why it helps to first identify why you truly want to be debt free. This will help you focus more on achieving your goals.
Reasons to Get Out of Debt
We have to break the mentality that having debt is okay.
When we have debt with creditors, it comes at a price.
Sure, lenders may sell you on the idea that you can get what you want now and all you have to do is pay a small minimum payment on it every month but it’s all deception.
Interest. It can work for you or against you.
If you borrowed money from banks then it’s working against you! If you invested the money then usually interest is working in your favor.
So let’s see why it’s so important to get rid of debt, especially the ones with high interest rates.
For example, as mentioned above I had 8 credit cards totaling $31,511.
If I paid the minimum payments on all cards and only paid $1,200 a month at a 28% interest rate, it would take 42 months to pay with an additional interest of $17,752.
So it went from what I owed of $31,511 to $49,263 over 42 months. That’s a ridiculous amount of money to be paying to banks.
The scary part about having debt is the more you have of it, the larger the interest grows against you. Resulting in longer pay off times and more money spent paying interest on these loans.
Having lots of consumer debt can be overwhelming as the monthly payments keep growing and growing. At some point it’ll feel suffocating.
That’s why it’s so important to tackle debt as soon as you can, before it gets a hold of you and your life.
We’re Taught That Having Debt is Normal
We live in a society where we’re bombarded with ads, movies, shows, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook where there’s a lot to be envied about.
People having the time of their life on vacations, driving the best cars, having the nicest clothes, pampering themselves at salons, having the best tech or equipment.
Society tempts us to go and buy the things we want like NOW and don’t worry about paying it back right away.
Americans in Debt
According to Nitro College,
- Baby Boomers: 80.9%
- Generation X: 79.9%
- Millenials: 81.5%
Crazy isn’t it? How did this society get to that point where more than 3/4 of the population has some form of debt?
Unfortunately, I’m part of the Millenial statistic. But you know what, I’ve decided to finally do something about it. What about you?
It’s never too late to start your own debt journey to reach financial success. With the right mindset and persistence, you can achieve any goal you set your mind to.
Don’t you think it’s finally time to take control over your life and money?
If you’re ready, let’s check out how to get started on your way to financial freedom!
Step 1 – Creating Your Plan
Have you ever gone to a new destination without a map or directions? No right? You need a plan, directions, or a map to get you where you’re going. To reach and attain your goal of paying off debt, you need a plan and guidance to get you there.
First you need to get an idea of what you’re working with by listing all your debt and use budgeting as your road map to help you achieve the debt free life.
List Your Debt
This is the first step in this process and very important baseline. It was the first thing we did to get this ball rolling.
My husband and I sat down and listed ALL our debts. We had:
- 8 credit cards = $31,511
- 1 Car Loan = $2,439
- 2 Medical Loans = $236
- Student Loans = $72,216
- 1 Personal Loan = $10,827
- 1 Personal Loan from Family = $10,000
- Total = $127,229
My mouth dropped to the floor and I almost gave up right then and there.
Words can’t describe what I felt, the feeling of hopelessness, overwhelming, anxiety, and stress all bunched up into one when I saw that $127,229 number.
So one key factor that helped us move forward was to not fixate on that number. Just look at what’s ahead and focus on one thing at a time.
It’s like when someone is walking a tight rope or in a high place, people always say “DON’T LOOK DOWN…”. Why? Because if you look down, you’ll freak yourself out! If you look down, the fear or terror will petrify you!
So..if you’re planning on going forward with your own journey, get an idea of everything you owe excluding the mortgage and don’t stress about the total.
Remember, it’s just a number. It doesn’t define who you are. All that matters is what you decide to do from that point forward.
The first step is very simple. It shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes to do.
List all your debt from the smallest balance to the biggest balance, excluding your home mortgage. Debt will consist of credit cards, store cards, car loans, medical loans, personal loans, student loans, pretty much anything you owe.
This list is so important because it serves as your map and guide. It will show you exactly what debt you need to tackle. When you see the total amount of debt don’t panic. You’ll get through it.
Next is the backbone of the entire process and will help ensure you stay on track and take control of your finances!
Create a Budget
Budgeting is the most vital step of the debt paying process and will give you the directions to get you to your goal.
Creating a budget will allow you to take control of your money. Directing the money you earn to go exactly where you want it to go.
The budgeting method I use is called the Zero Based Budgeting System where you plan your expenses based on your monthly income. The ideal zero based budget will have a zero balance because you gave each dollar an assignment for the month. See example below.
Essentially, a budget allows you to keep track of your money every month.
The amount of assigned money should equal the amount of income.
In the example above, the income of $4,000 is equivalent to all the expenses of $4,000.
A budget is a plan set by you to assign each and every cent to where you want it to go.
Technically, savings is not an expense but you are planning the income to go to that category so for simplicity purposes, it falls under your expenses.
Tip: Budget’s may not be perfect every month, unexpected expenses occur. So adjust accordingly!
Budgeting will allow you to see exactly where all your money is going and it will also help you save for future expenditures such as trips, weddings, emergencies, etc.
Most importantly, budgeting will help give you an idea of how much extra money you will have (after all necessary expenses) left over to throw at your debt!
Budgeting needs to be done on a monthly basis so it helps keep you on track of your financial goals and help pay off debt. We started budgeting back in September 2018 and still continue till this day. If it weren’t for budgeting, we wouldn’t have been able to pay off over $100,000 in 24 months.
Alright, now that you have all the right tools to start, you need to build a nice little cushion before throwing all your money at the debt.
Step 2 – Build Your Emergency Fund
Having a nice emergency fund will ensure you have a cushion in case something unexpected comes along like becoming jobless or getting injured. You can never predict the future so it will be necessary to have something in place to be prepared for emergencies.
After a proper budget, you’ll be able to see if there is extra money left over.
Before throwing 100% of that extra money you found in your budget at debt, save 50% of it towards an emergency fund if you don’t have one already.
Why, you ask?
No one can predict what tomorrow will bring.
Anything can happen
You may feel like your job is the most secure but in all actuality, do you know 100% something won’t happen that can cause you to lose your job or get injured tomorrow?
What will happen to you and your family if you lost your job or got hurt?
I remember when I was a little girl, my grandfather worked in construction. One day he didn’t come home after work. The next time I saw him, he came home with crutches.
Turns out he fell off a scaffolding and caused him to injure his hip preventing him from working that job ever again.
It’s a pretty severe situation but things can happen and you can never be too sure of what tomorrow brings.
So please, put money towards a savings account until you have enough where you feel comfortable in case anything were to happen. Aim to get your 1 month of expenses saved as soon as you can, then shoot for the ideal 3-6 months worth of an emergency fund.
Have your emergency fund grow interest
For emergencies, it’s always a good idea to have cash either in your checking or most preferably a high interest savings account. That way, if anything goes south, you can pull money out immediately.
With the economy the way it is now, savings rates are going down. Looking around, the highest interest rate savings account I found was for Axos Bank a part of Nationwide. They’re offering 1.05%.
It’s an equivalent of gaining $105 a year with a savings of $10,000 or $536 after 5 years.
Put your money in a High Yield APR Savings Account from Nationwide / Axos Bank. They’re offering 1.05% of interest which is the highest around. Sign up here at Nationwide / Axos Bank to lock in that rate.
Also, keep in mind that you generally don’t want to keep anything above a 6 month worth of savings in your savings. You may be able to accrue better interest else where like mutual funds or other fairly safe investment choices.
How You Should Save For an Emergency Fund
When we first started our journey, we already had 3-6 months of expenses saved. Thanks to a Personal Loan we took out years prior.
If you’re just starting out and don’t have anything saved, don’t worry. It’s all about taking one step at a time.
You can still pay off debt while saving for your emergency fund, why not? Just because you should save your money for emergencies doesn’t mean you should hold off on any debt payoff progress.
Dedicate 50% of extra money you can scrounge up from your budget to your savings and throw the rest of the 50% towards debt.
Let’s say after budgeting you found an extra $500. You would take $250 and put it into savings and take the rest of $250 to target your debt.
Keep in mind that the sooner you can set up an Emergency Fund, the faster you can throw 100% of your money at debt.
Having an Emergency Fund in place definitely helped speed up our debt paying process. We were able to throw 100% extra money we had and targeted towards the debt.
How to Figure Out How Much To Save For an Emergency Fund
You may be wondering how much you may need to save up.
First we need to figure out the essentials of your lifestyle. Essential categories are what you need to get by without going homeless, hungry, or delinquent with bill payments.
- Car Payments
- Payments to Lenders (minimums)
Add all those payments up and multiply that by X3-X6. There you’ll have an idea of how much to save for the Emergency Fund.
After having enough in savings to make you feel comfortable, you can now put 100% focus on paying off debt. That’s what we did and it’s worked for us.
Read More: 5 Tips to Build Your Emergency Fund Fast
Now, here comes the fun part of this whole process. You ready?
It’s time to start crushing debt, here’s the method that we used and was so effective for us.
Step 3 – Crush Debt With The Snowball Method
The one method we used to help pay off over $50,000 in 10 months was the Snowball Method. Basically, you start paying debt with the smallest balances first and work your way towards the larger balances later. This method was really effective for us, plus it provided a motivating element because you actually saw progress month after month.
There is another method called the Avalanche Method. In this method, you would attack debt with the highest interest rates first. We had 8 credit cards when we started off and as you may know credit cards have awfully high interest rates of over 20% APR. Plus our credit cards had high balances so we didn’t really want to tackle something so large to start with.
For us, the Snowball Method was our choice and it was awesome in helping us knock out our debt so quickly. Your situation may be different, maybe the Avalanche Method may work for you. Pick a method that you feel comfortable with and can stick with it for the long haul.
After 10 Months of Using The Snowball Method We Knocked Out:
- 8 Credit Cards = $31,511
- 1 Car Loan = $2,439
- 2 Medical Loans = $236
- Chris' Student Loan = $4,987
- 1 Personal Loan = $10,827
- Credit score in the 800's
- Total = $50,000
So, this is how the Snowball Method works…
You are essentially rolling your minimum payments over every month once you have paid off each debt.
Let’s look at the example above.
The first month you budgeted and had an extra $300 left over. You paid off Credit Card 1.
Next month, you will take the minimum ($40) you were paying for Credit Card 1 and apply it to the next item down the list which is Credit Card 2. Now you will have $40 more to throw at Credit Card 2. Let’s say you were able to pay off Credit Card 2.
The next month, you will roll over the $40 from Credit Card 1 and $50 from Credit Card 2 to the next item which is Medical Loan. Now you will have an extra $90 to apply towards the Medical Loan.
That’s why this method is called Snowball Method. Once you pay off each debt item, you take the minimum payments and it keeps rolling over to the next debt item essentially growing in size. The further you get along this process, the larger the amount of payment you will have to apply to the next debt.
By the end of the 10 months of applying the Snowball Method, we had a rollover amount of $1,600! Now we apply that amount each and every month towards our 2 remaining debts consisting of 1 student loan and 1 personal loan from family.
For us, the Snowball Method worked extremely well in helping us crush our debt. Make your own Snowball debt list with the free printable HERE.
Step 4 – Make Extra Cash $
This is also an important way to speed up the debt paying process. How fast you want to pay off your debt is totally up to you! Our method is “slow and steady wins the race!”
When we first started the debt payoff, I worked extra jobs and my husband picked up driving for UBER during evenings and weekends but we actually ended up burning ourselves out. We realized that busting out butts trying to make more money was making us even more stressed out.
It’s important to realize that your debt payoff journey is going to be a marathon. It’s going to be difficult to make it to the finish line if you burn yourself out.
That’s why, patience is key.
However, the rate at which you’d like to pay off all your debt depends on what you’re willing to endure. Some people take up side jobs to earn extra cash to use towards debt. That’s fine and all but make sure you’re not stressing yourself out in between.
To discover some new and easy ways to pick up a side gig, check out the article below.
Besides picking up extra side jobs, there are quick and super easy ways to get a bit of extra cash in your pockets. I’ll be going over a couple of sites I use to earn some free cash on my free time without having to work extra jobs.
Make money with survey sites
Survey sites are a great way to earn some extra side cash. Some of these survey sites also offer tons of ways to earn points which can be redeemed for cash and gift cards.
Swagbucks is a fun site that allows you to take surveys and polls, answer questionnaires, play games on your phone, shop online through Swagbucks’ site to get points, redeem points for buying certain food products, complete daily goals, enter competitions, try out apps, watch videos, sign up for free trial services, scan your receipts, and refer others.
I use Swagbucks to try out different games and earn points. So far, I’ve earned over $100 just by playing games and taking surveys.
For the points system, think of every 1,000 SB as $10. So in my case, I have 21,130 points which is $211.30.
Get paid to take surveys online with Survey Junkie. For every 1000 points you’ll get a $10 gift card or cash via PayPal. During your spare time you can complete these surveys to make some money here and there.
On top of simple surveys, they even offer phone surveys which can pay $5-$100, Test some products to make $5-$50, and join focus groups that pay anywhere from $25-$150.
Realistically, you can expect to make anywhere from $3-$10 a day. If you make $10 a day for 30 days straight, that’s $300 a month. Not too shabby.
InboxDollars is another survey site where you can take surveys/polls, watch videos, play games, search the web, get cash back by shopping online, and even get paid to clip coupons through InboxDollars. They have paid out over $50,000,000 so far to millions of members.
Ultimately, making money on the side will definitely help you along your debt free journey. If you make $100 more this month, that’s $100 more you can throw at debt. Most importantly, be patient and find the right work & life balance when you’re trying to get out of debt.
Besides earning a bit of side cash, there’s another super easy way to get more money each month. You can simply find savings which can leave you with hundreds of extra dollars per month.
Step 5 – Find Savings
In 10 months, we found over $10,000 in savings!
So what does that really mean?
$10,000 saved is $10,000 more in our pockets. That’s a lot of money isn’t it?
I’m going to show you how you’re able to find thousands of savings too.
Make adjustments in your budget
Have you started a budget yet?
If you track your spending for the month, you’ll see how much you spent for each category like food, utilities, and other expenses.
Depending on how much you spent, you can make adjustments.
For instance, in our budget we were spending nearly $1,000 on food. Just food alone!
You may be thinking woah, they must be a big family. Actually it’s just me and my hubby.
It turns out, getting lunch from restaurants or even those $5 Starbucks drinks all add up plus groceries.
Try tracking how much you spend on food, you may be shocked.
So, what we did to fix this spending was to eat at home more and pack our lunches instead. Now our food budget for the month is $500 (including restaurants and groceries).
To save even more money I use cash back apps to scan my receipts. So, I’m not a big couponer at all. I just don’t have the patience to sit there clipping coupons or scroll through circulars. That’s why I just stick with cash back apps to earn money back.
I use apps like Ibotta, Fetch Rewards, and Receiptpal to get cash back.
I love Ibotta, it’s so easy to use. Prior to a grocery trip, I’ll pick the items I plan to buy on the app then upload the receipt once I’m done shopping and get money back into my account. The money can then be redeemed via cash through Paypal or gift cards from Amazon and others
Ibotta has all your main grocery stores like Kroger, H-E-B, C-Town, Aldi, Foodtown, Randalls, SHOP ‘n SAVE, ShopRite, Stop & Shop, Sprouts Farmers Market, Target, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, and so much more.
Did you also know that you can turn receipts into points which turn e-giftcards? I save all my receipts now and scan it into ReceiptPal. It gives me points which I can later redeem for e-giftcards. Who doesn’t like free money?
Types of receipts to scan:
- Gas receipts
- Restaurant / fast food receipts
- Shopping receipts from any store
- Service receipts
- Nearly any type of receipt
For every receipt you submit, you’ll get a punch for your card. If you scan 4 receipts, you’ll get 100 points. Once you fill up 5 cards, you will get multiple entries into their sweepstakes for $250. Also, Receiptpal will give you random chances to get entries for their sweeps.
Level 1 – 2,200 points = $5 Amazon gift card
Level 2 – 4,000 points = $10 Amazon gift card or 9,250 for a $25 Amazon gift card
Level 3 – 17,250 points = $50 Amazon gift card or 32,250 for a $100 Amazon gift card
Fetch Rewards App
Fetch Rewards is another easy app you can use to earn cash back to redeem for gift cards or magazine subscriptions. Fetch Rewards has over 256 brands that they work with. For instance, if you went grocery shopping and bought anything from brands like Tropicana, Cheerios, Hellman’s brand, and over 250 others, you’ll get points when you scan your receipt.
Once you get enough points, you’ll redeem them for gift cards at Amazon, Target, and others or get free yearly magazine subscriptions.
Another great feature about this app is they accept non-grocery item receipts too. However, you’ll get most of your points with your grocery receipts.
Get free gift cards to give out for birthdays or holidays and you don't have to spend a dime.
Use the code 7JKFH when you sign up to Fetch Rewards and you’ll get 2,000 Fetch Points ($2.00 in points)
You can also refer others and earn 2,000 points ($2) yourself and your friend/family will earn 2,000 points ($2) as well.
Negotiate, switch, or cancel
Another way to get some major savings is to take a look at how much you’re paying for certain services.
For instance, did you know that you can find a different electric provider that will slash your bill in half?
That’s what we did. With a little bit of googling, you can shop around for different electric companies.
Some companies will also negotiate with you depending if they have promotions going on, it’s always worth a try.
Bills you need to evaluate:
Cable TV alternative
Streaming service that lets you watch your favorite channels live, all seasons, plus unlimited DVR just for $20 a month.
Sign up for free here at Philo and try it free for 7 days. (That’s what I did before cancelling the cable)
Stop being impulsive
This is one huge factor that can keep you from saving a lot or makes you spend tons of money.
Have you ever felt a little down and decided to go on a shopping spree to lift your spirits? It makes you feel better for the time being but you don’t realize how it’s impacting your wallet.
Or how about when you’re shopping at Costco and you see a deal for that large screen TV so you decide to buy one even though you don’t truly need it at the moment.
Yes, we’ve all been there.
This is really an important part to keep more of your hard earned money in your pockets.
Next time you go shopping, try to put those blinders on and stick to what you were planning to buy.
It’s funny, my husband used to always say I needed those horse blinders because I would always wander off to buy other things we didn’t need.
Tips to stop being impulsive:
To get out of debt, you don’t have to never buy the things you want. It’s actually all about timing.
Our motto is to get out of debt and have more money in your pockets without having to sacrifice.
So that means, if you want that $1,000 TV, $500 bag, or $200 shoes then go for it! But, save up for it instead of buying it on the spot when you feel like having it.
You can still have what you want but you’ll have a plan for it instead of being impulsive.
Have Fun Along The Way…
It’s been 10 months now and it feels as though paying off over $50,000 so far has not been as bad as I thought it was going to be.
It’s all about implementing the right strategies.
Acknowledge your debt, create a budget, set up an Emergency Fund, use the Snowball Method or Avalanche Method to pay debt, make extra money, and find savings where you can. All these tips can also help you get on your way to knocking out debt too as it’s worked for us.
Most importantly, don’t let paying off debt consume your life. Sure, the more intense you want to be with it the faster you’ll get out of debt. It’s totally up to you how to handle that task.
It’s important to know that becoming debt free may not happen overnight but that’s okay. It may have taken years upon years for all that debt to stack up so it’s probably going take a bit of time to get rid of it.
The key to keep pushing through the process is to find your own balance. It doesn’t mean you have to give up all your favorite things in the world just to reach this goal.
It’s about being mindful of how you’re handling your money now. If you still want to go on vacation, go for it! But with budgeting, you’ll see how it’ll affect your progress.
We still make it a point to go on vacations. Now, we use travel cards to score free flights, hotels, and a cruise. We’re not getting ourselves into debt anymore, now we use only 1 credit card for all our expenses and pay it off in full. This is possible because now we’re being responsible with credit.
You can find out how we’re able to score free trips now. Have credit work for you instead of against you.
Remember, to come out successful on this journey, don’t deprive yourself of having fun and treat yourself once in a while, it will help you reach the finish line!
Check out my latest debt progress…