Today's post is by a new friend of mine, J, from Millennial Boss. J is a woman working in technology by day and a blogger and podcast host by night. She also hosts Fire Drill podcast, where she interviews young people who have done amazing things such as retire in their early thirties, quit their jobs to travel the world, and become millionaires through Airbnb.
Three years ago I was in $96,000 of debt.
I was dating my now-husband and we owned an expensive house together.
We bought a house bigger than we could afford and filled it up with furniture bought with 0% interest credit cards. I also bought an expensive SUV, just because.
We both still had student loans and I was in graduate school at night, paying thousands in tuition each month.
Between the two of us, we were in $89,000 of debt, not including our mortgage.
On top of that, my parents had nearly $7,000 of debt from Parent Plus loans that they took out in their name for my college education. I felt responsible for paying them back too.
All of this totaled nearly $100,000 in the hole.
When I first added up how much we owed, I was shocked. I was finally making a good salary at work but when I looked at our debt, I didn’t feel like I was doing well financially.
In early 2015, we decided to buckle down on our finances.
I used Mint to determine our spending problems. For me, I went to Chipotle multiple times per week for lunch. I had spent nearly $800 on Chipotle the previous year. Similarly, I found I had spent nearly $1,000 on coffee at Starbucks.
My husband and I also spent a few thousand dollars combined on travel and shopping. I decided all of these extra expenses had to go if we were going to achieve our goal of paying off our debt.
Cutting back on travel was the hardest part. We lived across the country from family and friends and typically went home a few times per year and we ALWAYS went home for Christmas.
We decided that year to not go home for Christmas. I remember hearing the disappointment in our parents’ voices when we told them we weren’t flying home.
I also remember how sad I felt on Christmas Eve when my husband and I made dinner together just the two of us. I had put a festive tablecloth on the table and we made a delicious meal, but we both were missing our friends and family and wanted to be home.
What kept me strong in those moments though was the inspiration that I received from bloggers online. I had read every single post on nomoreharvarddebt.com (which is written by a guy who paid off almost $100k of debt in 10 months).
In one of his posts, he talks about not going home for Christmas that year and how hard it was. He paid off his debt though and the struggle was only temporary.
Stories like that made me strong and inspired me to keep going.
I also dealt with a lack of support from friends when I was paying off my debt.
One of my best friends from college was getting married and had her bachelorette party near me. I wasn’t a bridesmaid but I was still part of the group that was attending.
I chose to stay in my house in the suburbs instead of going in on the expensive downtown Airbnb that they were all staying in. I drove into the city each day to meet them and left late at night. I thought everyone was okay with me doing that but as it turned out, they were not.
One of my friends texted me some pretty intense things, about how I was a disappointment to the bride and was being selfish for not going in on the Airbnb.
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At the end of the weekend, I saved $500 by not going in on the Airbnb and all of the associated costs that came with it. I could see that because the expenses for the weekend were published in a Google Drive Sheet so everyone could see what they owed.
It was hard to know I disappointed my friends and I still feel guilty about it, but I know I made the right choice since I am now debt free. We’re still friends today and have not talked about it once since.
Besides cutting back on expenses, I also worked on increasing my income. I attended a Women in Tech conference late in 2015 and made a connection that led to a great job with a big increase in salary.
We moved to a different state for that job and downsized significantly from a 4-bedroom house to a 1-bedroom apartment. We sold all of our furniture on Craigslist and took the $4,500 cash we made and put it towards paying off debt. I also sold my car at this time and started taking the bus to work.
The last step was paying my parents back the $7,000 for my college education. I did that in early 2017.
Two years after starting the process, I was debt free.
It felt so good!
And it still feels good!
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My goal now is to achieve financial independence with the goal of retiring early. I am learning how to save my money in various tax-advantaged accounts so I can have more freedom and flexibility for the rest of my life.
I host a podcast about achieving Financial Independence where I talk to amazing guests who give me ideas about travel, money and living a more free lifestyle. I hope to someday be like the people I interview.
Overall, I would encourage anyone in debt to just buckle down and do it. It feels so amazing to not owe money and it gives you more choices in terms of where you live and what you do.
I’m very grateful to have the opportunities I do today because I eliminated my debt.
In a nutshell:
1. Cut back on expenses.
2. Downsize if possible.
3. Increase your income with a side hustle.
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What have you done to pay off your debt?
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