Well Kept Wallet chats with Lauren Bowling, who obliterated over $8K in debt and even started a blog about it. Find out what she did to pay down her debt and stay sane.
How did you acquire $8,400 in debt?
I battled with credit card debt throughout college and graduated with $10K in debt when I left school in 2009. By late 2011, I was debt free and managed to remain so until I bought my first home in July 2013. I lumped a renovation in with the mortgage, but the renovation went crazy over budget (Thanks to a crook of a contractor and my own negligence as a first-time buyer!), so I put the $8,400 or so in renovation overages onto my credit cards.
Emotionally exhausted from the renovation, I ignored the debt and just paid the minimums for about a year until I decided to get serious about paying it off. Some of the money was on a 0% APR card, but the rest of the balances were quickly escalating because of all the interest.
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What did it feel like to have that much debt?
Honestly? Super embarrassing. I make a living out of teaching others how to be better with money and here I was committing the “ultimate sin” by carrying high-interest card debt. The debt was also a strong reminder of what a hard time I’d had with the renovation, the relationship I was in at the time, and it felt like a lot of unnecessary baggage I didn’t want to keep around anymore.
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How long did it take you to pay it all off?
I’m big on doing 30-day challenges on my site, so I began to brainstorm how I could make a “challenge” out of paying off all my credit card debt. Paying off all that debt in 30 days was completely unrealistic, but I began to dream about how I might be able to accomplish it in 90 days.
To help keep myself accountable, I decided to document my progress publicly on my blog, Financial Best Life. As a personal finance blogger, I didn’t want to fail in front of my audience, so that really helped keep me on track!
What resources did you use to help you through this process?
Good, old-fashioned, goal setting best practices, mostly. But I had to get super granular with it, and I tracked my payoff weekly, which helped a lot because I was working with such a short time frame. I also did a couple of other things I feel were key to my success.
- First I picked my goal, $8,400 and “reverse engineered” my goals from there. To pay that off in 90 days I’d have to pay $2,800 a month or $1,400 every two weeks.
- I put a small portion of my emergency savings toward paying off the debt (~$1,000) because I figured the debt was costing me more than that in the long term. (I also made sure I left enough in savings for actual emergencies.) It was also a nice jumpstart to my challenge and left me making $1,200 payments every two weeks.
- I used the debt repayment tracker that I now offer on my site as a way to track progress.
- I cut my budget to the bare bones and got creative with ways to make extra cash.
- To stay motivated, I also created a vision board which I’d never done before. It helped me articulate what I wanted my life to look like after the debt was gone.
Did you face any challenges along the way?
Mostly just fatigue. I was taking on extra work, and that’s basically all I did for 90 days. It also got harder and harder to keep saying no to friends and family who wanted to go out and do things. But hey, it was only for 90 days!
Honestly — It took up all my free time to focus on my big goal: making sure the cards got paid. Not having time or energy to do much else was the most challenging part, and I was definitely exhausted by the time it was over. But paying off debt on any time frame is exhausting, which is why I like the idea of accelerated payoff.
What were you doing for a living while you were paying off the debt?
I was working full time as a marketing content strategist for a great software company in Atlanta. I made $60K a year and was bringing home ~$3,800 after taxes each month. $400 of each paycheck ($800 per month) went directly to my debt, and the rest was used to pay my bills.
I was also relying heavily on my “side hustle” as a freelance writer, and earnings from my blog to make extra money to pay down debt. I made ~$2,700 each month on that after expenses, which is where the majority of the debt payoff money came from.
I did pretty much anything I could do to make extra side cash: selling items on eBay, babysitting, asking my friends if they needed work, etc. I even got paid to do a little voice-over work for a friend, which was fun!
How did it feel once you paid it all off?
It felt so incredible! Maybe even more empowering than the first time I paid off cards after college because the goal was so aggressive and I had to focus so completely to get it done.
I’d taken on so many new clients during my “challenge” who wanted me to continue working that I was able to leave my full-time job to work for myself shortly after I completed the challenge. I’d always wanted to be my own boss, and with the debt gone, there wasn’t anything holding me back.
What practical tips do you have for people looking to pay off their debt?
Start backward: look at your debt, set a realistic timeline based on your personality (Are you slow and steady or want to be aggressive?) and set a monthly goal. Also, even though you have to sacrifice your free time, side hustling is a fantastic way to bring in extra cash to pay off your debt faster. It can be addictive to put such large amounts toward your debt each month!