We all have a risk meter — or a little voice in our heads that says, “This doesn’t feel right.” In 2010, I graduated from Boise State University with close to $30,000 in debt.
I remember holding that student loan bill and thinking, “Holy crap, that’s a ton of money! What the f*ck was I thinking?” That was the first time I heard the little voice talk to me.
Part of being an adult means claiming responsibility for your financial life. No one will stop you from racking up debt, and no one will help you pay it back, either. Trust me, paying back debt is not fun.
I’ve always loved the quote, “Most debts are fun while acquiring them, but none are fun when you set about retiring them.”
Maybe you have debt, and maybe you are feeling in over your head. My story might help you get some insight, inspiration and an action plan for how to pay off your debt.
Here is the step-by-step guide to how I paid off $30,000 in just 10 months.
Tune into your why:
I had a huge "aha!" moment when I realized I couldn’t take a job at a non-profit, and definitely couldn’t start my own business because I had debt to pay. The debt was making decisions for me, instead of me making my own decisions.
I wanted to be in control of my future. This became my “why.” Paying off my debt put me one step closer to regaining control of my finances.
My post-college values changed; I suddenly began valuing the freedom to travel, move wherever I wanted and having a net-worth. I would rather save $300 a month for a vacation than pay $300 a month for a student loan.
So, I knew I needed to say adios to the student loan payments as quickly as I could. Debt was not going to get me the freedom I wanted, which was the ability to save $300 a month to vagabond around the world.
Tip: Write your why on a Post-it note, put it all over your house, in your car, in your wallet and in your office. Words are powerful, and yes, your friends will laugh at you when they come over.
How I did it:
A vision is only as good as the plan behind it. This was the plan I followed that landed me my results.
I had just landed my first job as a staff accountant, and throughout undergrad, I worked as a nail tech at a spa. Instead of quitting my part-time spa job and working one job, I continued working at the spa.
This was not fun, as my “side hustle” was something I had dreamed about quitting for the duration I held the position.
My plan was this:
1. Reduce expenses to nothing.
Cancel the cable, cut the gym membership I hadn’t used in six months, reduce the data package on my cell phone (sorry, Instagram!) and temporarily say goodbye to seeing the inside of Starbucks. Live like a broke college student.
2. Write a budget and stick to it.
Don’t cheat yourself. If you create a plan, give it 100 percent and be all in. Budgeting isn’t that tricky. Write down your income, list all of your expenses and voilà, a budget.
Keep in mind that the more you sacrifice now, the sooner the debt will be gone. If you want abnormal results, you have to make abnormal sacrifices.
3. Live on my spa income (my lesser income).
The spa job put me through undergrad, so I knew it could sustain me for another year or two. It’s not always easy to live on much less than you make, but keep in mind, this is temporary.
4. Put my entire accounting check toward paying off student loans (my larger income).
Putting the bulk of my income toward debt definitely hurt, but I smiled every time I made a large payment on my student loans.
Big extra payments help you see the balance going down quickly.
I am a huge fan of focusing on one debt at a time and giving it all you got. We are visual creatures; we need to see progress, or we quit. Making an extra $50 payment on each of your debts will not get you the results you are looking for.
Equate this to weight loss; if you are working out five days a week and eating healthy, but you only lose 12 pounds over 12 months, you will likely not be as motivated to stick to your plan than if you lose 12 pounds in one month.
The same is true for personal finance. Focus on one debt at a time.
6. Sell everything.
I sold stacks of DVDs I hadn’t watched in years, books, knick knacks and furniture. I’m fairly certain my dog thought I was selling him next.
The added “zen” value of decluttering and selling my crap was pretty awesome!
7. Find inexpensive ways to have fun.
Working like a madwoman had its perks; I didn’t have time to spend money even if I wanted to. But, I did find that from time to time, I wanted some excitement in my life, so I got creative with my fun.
I would go for walks, have game nights at my house, have wine and watch the sunset on my patio, and just hang out my friends and family. You don’t have to spend money to have fun. It’s more about the company.
Remember, if you want abnormal results, you have to make abnormal sacrifices. You deserve your dream life; don’t prolong paying off your debt. Make the sacrifices now to live your dream life sooner.
I’m cheering for you!