Today I am very excited to be publishing a blog post from my new friend Heather. Heather and I connected a few weeks ago on Triberr and after exchanging a few fun tweets, Heather mentioned that she had paid off $30K in debt. I really wanted to hear how she did it and I thought you might enjoy learning about how she got in and out of debt as well. So please welcome Heather and please share her story.

The Lure

I was young, single, and living in DC during the Clinton years. I had moved from Montana to DC, so it was quite a change!

My social circle included interesting and amazing people like researchers for political figures, people who work for the State Department, CIA, FBI, staff members of Senators and House of Reps, and Embassy Row folks.

My friends and I hit the uber expensive bars, rented beach houses for the summer, took trips to Miami and NYC.

I dressed well, had a few pairs of great shoes, and believe you me, I have some pretty amazing memories!

The Reality

I racked up serious debt. I paid the minimum on my credit card because I was scared to see how much I owed, it was easier to ignore it.

Most of my friends made excellent money; they didn’t worry about $20 drinks. One day, a close friend admitted she was in debt and needed to reel it in.

For some reason, after ignoring my Mom, my gut feelings, the atrocious interest payment on my statement, I listened to her.

For the first time, I really looked at my statement and saw that I was 20K in credit card debt.

Having a friend helped make the change easier than facing it on my own.

Instead of going out, we would make dinner together and rent movies.

We still went to house parties and happy hours, but there were a lot of social events that didn’t make the cut anymore. The hardest part for me was learning how to say No.

The Plan

I got organized about paying my debt. The only way I was going to get rid of it was to have a plan.

Finding out what I owed

  1. Created a spreadsheet of everything I owed which was roughly 30K (20K card + 10k in auto).
  2. On a spreadsheet, I included a column of the interest rate and then sorted highest to lowest.
  3. I tracked my spending for 1 month to estimate my expenses.
  4. ‘Hard’ expenses: those that you cannot change and are usually a set amount. Examples are rent or a mortgage
  5. ‘Soft’ expenses: those that you can change. Examples are dry cleaning or going out to dinner

Paying down the debt

  1. If you can, get a conventional loan with a low interest rate and consolidate your debt. I wasn’t able to do this until much later in my payoff cycle because my credit was shot.
  2. If you can, transfer all debt to one or two cards. Sometimes there are specials offered by credit cards that are 0% on all transfers (the catch is you have to use the card for a small purchase).
  3. Call your credit card companies to have the interest rate reduced. If they won’t reduce the rate, then usually cancelling the card will get the customer service rep working for you.
  4. Stop using your credit card except for emergencies. I mean real emergencies like, “Oh crap I just blew a tire on this stupid nail at the hardware store.” Not the “oh I need a new outfit” emergencies.
  5. Plan to pay off bills in a way that works for you. In my case, I did not have a lot of self control in the beginning.
  6. After calculating expenses, I wanted to spend $600 a month in soft expenses so I withdrew $150 cash to use for the week. Some weeks, I spent all of it on clothes or going out and ate ramen noodles while praying I didn’t run out of gas. I was serious about the rule, once my weekly stipend was gone, it was gone.
  7. If I did not spend the full $150, I used it to fund the next weeks stipend. Whatever money I saved was used to pay off additional debt on my credit card. I got so good at this, eventually I lowered my weekly stipend to $100 a week!
  8. Pay credit card bill twice a month. Credit card interest is charged daily. Instead of making one monthly payment, I made two payments each month (each paycheck).
  9. Get help if you need it. If the debt is too much for you to handle, there are several great non profit organizations that can help you organize and pay down your debt. Be sure to research and work with a reputable company. This is not an easy way out, you still have to change the habits that got you into debt.

Today

After going through the hard mental changes of learning how to say no, adjusting my social calendar, and following a budget, I finally learned how to have fun with my new identity as a thrifter. Paying off the debt changed my life.

It took a little more than two years to pay off my debt and I learned how to make saving money fun.

It became a game to find out how little I could spend for an amazing outfit and brand name.

I enjoyed learning how to eat well on less money. I took up gardening because it was cheaper in the long run.

I focused on doing the things that I loved again; writing, photography, and running. The process brought out my authentic self. Don’t buy into the false credit card advertising. They’ve created this image that you can have the life you deserve (or be happy, a better person, etc, etc) by taking on debt but the truth is the illusion doesn’t bring real happiness.