In 2013 I reached a very big goal. I finished paying off ALL my credit card debt and back taxes. I had this debt for between 5-8 years but I really didn’t start working on eliminating or getting out of debt until 2010. It is just me, living on a modest income so I really did not think I could pay off my debt in just a few years time. I did not suddenly start making a lot more money. I actually made less 2 of those years. (Being self employed, my income is always changing). I simply began to use the money I was making more responsibly.
There are a lot of reasons why I had so much debt. I was only employed part time for about 8 months several years ago after losing my full-time job (before I began my Tupperware business), I did not save up properly for paying my own income tax when I first became self employed, I couldn’t get affordable health insurance due to pre-existing conditions and incurred a good chunk of medical bills, I had a problem admitting that I was single living on one income and could not afford to do the things my married or financially better off friends could do and I sometimes would buy things when I felt lonely or just saw too good of a deal to pass up. (I still struggle significantly with the latter one, I mean who can pass up a great deal!) I also did not get in that deep of debt overnight or even in a few months. It kept building over the course of about 5-6 years.
Whatever your reasons are for being in debt, the stress and guilt and shame of carrying that debt around is just not worth it. I learned a lot from the past 8 years of living in debt. I wish I could say I am totally debt free now, but I still have 1 personal loan to finish paying off. I am on track to pay it off by 2016 though using some of the same methods I am sharing in this post.
Here’s how I Paid off over $22,000 of Debt in 3 & 1/2 years on 1 Modest Income:
1. I had a debt intervention and faced my debt. I sat down and added up the credit card balances and all the debts I owed. The total number was a astounding! It was almost more than I made in an entire year! I made myself actually look at my income vs my expenses and true amount of debt I was in. Before that I was living in denial as I never looked at (or wanted to know) my actual total debt number. I was paying a little on each card, transferring balances and still using my credit cards. The day I really added it up and looked at it I had a breakdown. I cried the ugly cry. I felt so ashamed, so guilty and so burdened. I had not been a good steward with my finances or possessions. I had to come to grips with the fact that I had a spending problem and a debt problem and face it head on.
2. I had to decide to do something about it, stop making excuses and to live my life differently. Many people say they want to be debt free or financially stable. In fact, that was one of my main life goals and a big reason why I decided to be self-employed was so that I could create my own financial future. Like Dave Ramsey says, “You have to live like no one else in order to live like no one else”(or something like that). I had to stop saying I wanted to be debt free and stop making excuses for my debt. I had to start living like someone who wanted to be debt free. I didn’t go all crazy and sell my car, stop eating out or stop buying new clothes. I just started making better choices and thinking more about what I was doing with my money. As a Christ follower, I was extremely convicted about being a good steward with my finances and possessions. I was not an overly materialistic person, but I did often use shopping, travelling, spending money on things I did not need to fill a void in my life or make me feel better about myself. I had to have a heart shift along with a mindset shift on possessions. Whenever I would want to buy something or go do something I would have to stop and think about the long term consequences of spending that money. Sure, it would make me feel good for a moment but I could take that $100 and put it towards my debt and be debt free maybe a few weeks sooner. Being debt-free and financially stable/independent became more important and fulfilling to me than spending $ I didn’t have and trying to impress people I didn’t need to impress.
3. I created a Spending Plan and tracked every dollar going out and coming in. I used a simple Excel spreadsheet to create a Spending Plan & an Income vs Expenses Tracking Sheet. I do not like the word “budget”. It just feels too restrictive and depressing to me. Mentally, a “spending plan” makes me feel like I am more in control of my money and still able to spend it – just spending it responsibly. In my Income vs Expenses Sheet I include my estimated income for the month and then a list of my regular monthly expenses, amount to put towards savings and extra to put towards my debt. I also included bonus expenses like family birthdays, holidays, Eye Dr. Visits, annual car registration renewals and so on. Each month I record the date I pay each expense and the amount. This helped me make sure all the bills were paid on time and keep track of any extra money left or if I needed to make more money to cover the bills that month. If there was a bigger expense coming up, I would create a savings plan to make sure I had the money in advance for it so I did not end up having to use a credit card. This is such a simple solution and something I still implement today to help me stay out of debt.
4. I contacted my credit card companies to see if they would work with me on lowering my interest rate & increasing my minimum monthly payment. A few of the companies were willing to do this. Lowering the interest decreased the total amount I would be paying back. Increasing the minimum monthly payment meant that I would have to make a certain amount of payment each month which would help me pay it off faster.
5. I transferred some of my balances to cards with a 0% interest for 12 months on balance transfers. The credit cards with higher interest that did not want to work with me, I transferred to other cards with 0% interest for 12 months on balance transfers. This saved me even more $ by not paying that 10-24% interest and it also gave me extra incentive to pay those smaller balances off within 12 months before the interest kicked in.
6. I cut up all of my credit cards except one. This helped me not be able to use the cards in stores or even shopping online. I did keep one card that had the lowest interest rate and a lower credit limit in case of emergencies. Many people will actually cancel their cards. I had read that doing this was bad for your credit score, so I only cancelled a couple of them. I still have several credit cards but only one that I use. I make sure that if I use it that it is only for emergencies or that I can pay it off within 2 months. When travelling I do not like to use my debit card or carry a lot of cash for safety reasons. There is a time and place for credit cards as long as you control them instead of them controlling you. If you feel like you can’t control using cards then by all means call and cancel them all once they are paid off.
7. I still spent money on things I should not have spent money on but within reason and with a limit. This might sound like strange advice, but I knew if I totally cut myself off from splurging from time to time or from going out with friends that I would be completely miserable. I gave myself a certain amount of “Misty money” each month that I could use towards anything at all that I wanted, a cute pair of shoes, getting my hair highlighted, going to the beach for the weekend with friends… Depending on my income & expenses for the month, it might be $25, $50 or $100. By having that amount in my budget I never had to use my credit card for those things and I did not feel guilty for spending that money on myself.
8. I set a realistic goal of when I wanted to pay it all off. When I got serious about paying off my debt in 2010, I set of goal to have it paid off before October 2014. This would give me roughly 4 & 1/2 years to pay it off. Then I figured up how much I needed to pay each month total to reach that goal.
9. I kept track of how much I had paid off and how much was left to pay off. This made me see just how much of a difference I was making on tackling my debt mountain each month. As the total number got smaller it fueled me to keep going. It almost became like a game. Any extra money I got I would see which card I could apply it to so I could get it paid off faster or get it below a certain dollar amount. After 12 months I had put a huge dent in my debt pile. When my debt went under $15,000, then $10,000, then under $5,000 and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, it just felt amazing! This made me want to work even harder and I am proud to say I reached my goal a full 10 months earlier than I originally planned!
As a side note, I did read (or start reading and never finish) several books about finances and getting out of debt. I also signed up for and started Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, not once but twice. I never finished it either time. Dave has some great tips though I do not agree with all of his methods or suggestions. I guess I just had to get to the point where I was really sick of the debt and truly wanted to be a better steward with my finances and possessions. Then I had to figure out what would work for me, my personality, my income and my lifestyle to be able to pay off the debt.
The bottom line with getting out of debt is that you have to decide you are sick of it and to make choices that better reflect the life you want to live in the future and not just in the present. I cannot tell you the load that has been lifted off of me since getting all this paid off. I was still able to live a normal life and spurge a little from time to time. I was still able to pay off a huge amount of debt in a short amount of time on just one modest income. I continue to keep up with my Spending Plan and track all my income and expenses. It was a lifestyle change that I am very proud of and plan to stick with. I am on track to be completely debt free by 2016. I am also starting to build up my retirement and savings account now too and have set goals of having certain amounts in savings each year.
I know that if I can get out of debt that anyone can! Don’t give up if you are fighting the debt monster too. Just make better choices and begin living a wiser lifestyle!
What about you, have you paid off a large amount of debt or are you working to be debt free too? Or are you ready to tackle your debt mountain too? I would love if you would leave a comment with your thoughts or advice below & share this post on social media too. Thank you!