*This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure here for more info*
I remember the first time I listed all of my debts. I was dead broke and living off $30 after paying all of my essential bills yet somehow had to make that stretch until the next paycheck.
If broken was a person, it was me.
My debts totaled $34,907 and seeing it all laid out on an Excel spreadsheet made me sick to my stomach. To a low-income 24-year-old mom it seemed more like six figures and I remember feeling like I had somehow failed my daughter.
The vision that I had for our lives definitely did NOT include me crying after I put her to bed because I didn’t know what the next day would bring. I owed it, not only to myself but to her to push the limits and give this debt payoff thing a try.
With nothing but a little mustard seed of faith and a vision, I started my official debt-free journey in September 2016 and I became debt-free on November 5th, 2020!
Here’s how I did it:
I got super specific
If you’re not specific about what you’re trying to accomplish then you’re going to get extremely overwhelmed. This is because you lack focus, making it difficult to spend intentionally.
Yep, I’m talking about goals here!
Although the main goal is to get out of debt, depending on the amount you owe and your income, it may be so overwhelming that you don’t even start! Who in their right mind wants a goal that’s so big it feels impossible?
Breaking up a long-term goal into smaller chunks not only makes it more manageable, but it also helps you to feel as though you’re making progress a lot faster.
Throughout my journey, I would focus on something simple such as, “I will pay off $250 in credit card debt this month.” Accomplishing that goal made me feel like I was making progress and gave the motivation I needed to keep going.
I leveraged all extra money
This was a game-changer for me!
While side hustles are great for increasing your debt payments, I do understand that not everyone wants to fill up their free time with another job. We live in such a “hustle” society that it may feel like this is the only way to go, but it’s not! And I’m proof.
As a single mom of 2 trying to build her own business, I only had so much free time I was willing to give. I knew that I had to find a creative way to pay off my debt faster, so I started seeing extra money as a strategy.
- Tax refunds
- School checks
- Settlement checks
- Stimulus checks
- PTO sellbacks
- Checks from wrecks (yep, I sure did)
- Just whatever!
Since I was never a high earner, applying anything extra I got to my debts allowed me to make up for lost time and it put me that much closer to my end goal.
If you’re confused about how much of your extra money to apply to debt, I often used what I call the “70-20-10 allocation.” This is when:
- 70% goes to debt
- 20% goes to savings
- 10% goes to personal use. Because we don’t do deprivation over here!
I followed a budget!
If you don’t know where your money is going then you will NOT reach your goal of debt freedom! It’s just not possible unless you somehow manage to hit the lotto. But even then, it’s only a matter of time before you find yourself in the same exact spot.
Following a budget allows you to maximize your income and control your expenses. You're making your money go to work for you, versus your money telling you what you can do.
I like to think of budgeting as a way to both discover and fund your true values. You must make your expenses fit within your income so whatever doesn’t serve you and your goals will quickly stick out like a sore thumb. You include what is valuable to you and get rid of anything that does not.
By following a strict budget, I knew how much I could safely apply to my debts and often tweaked my expenses to increase the amount. If you don't have a budget, I recommend grabbing my Budget Boss eBook as it will walk you through:
- The different budgeting methods
- How to create your unique spending plan
- Ways to discover money hidden in your expenses
- How to budget with variable income and expenses
- Ways to stick to your budget
I avoided lifestyle creep
Lifestyle creep is the silent killer of financial dreams because we are often unconsciously falling victim to it.
When your income increased, did you suddenly feel as though what you had wasn’t up to par so you got something “better?”
This could be anything from:
- A new car
- A more expensive apartment/rental
- A cell phone plan with more data
- Better appliances
- New memberships
I fell victim to this so many times! Then, I was wondering where all of the “extra money” I was making went.
Spoiler: It went to more stuff!
Once I realized what I was doing, I made a conscious decision to keep my expenses relatively the same no matter how much my income increased. This way, whatever extra money was coming in was literally extra money and I could apply it to my debt payments.
Following a budget truly helped me keep my expenses under control because I gave the increase a specific job.
I monetized my skills
So, I made a list of all my skills and interests then wrote down how I could possibly monetize each one. Writing has always been my thing, so I decided to see how I could make money from home using that skill.
After browsing through my good ol’ pal Google, I found that freelance writing was a thing, and after a week or so of trying to find opportunities, I started writing for Writer4hire.org! This allowed me to bring in up to $400 extra per month ($200 most months) and put my debt payoff on turbo.
When I got pregnant with my secondborn, I used this side hustle to save for maternity leave and to help pay for childcare expenses so that I didn’t have to lower my debt payments!
It was extremely beneficial to my journey, and once I got to a point where I didn’t need it anymore I threw down my side hustling hat.
I stayed consistent
I know, this doesn’t sound like a really valuable tip but it is the most important! With consistency comes results, but staying consistent on a debt-free journey proves to be extremely challenging. This is why so many people quit!
There will be times when things seem to be moving at a snail’s pace.
You're going to get sick of limiting yourself to the finer things in life.
There will be plenty of times when you get bored.
Nonetheless, you MUST remain consistent to get to the finish line. And whether you realize it or not, continuing to pay off debt even when you don’t feel like it is making it a habit. You need this habit!
It is the habit that will kick in while you battle the unwanted emotions of this journey. Think of it like being on auto-pilot until your motivation kicks back in.
The road to debt freedom is not always super quick, and it’s far from easy, but it’s extremely rewarding. No matter your circumstances, I truly believe that everyone is capable of paying off debt.
If you’re serious about improving your finances, I help single working women maximize their 9-5 income through the use of a goal-based budget. Learn about how we can work together here!