My $31,000 debt and how I paid it off in 3 1/2 years.
Debt is something that most people don’t want to think about, let alone formulating a plan to get rid of it. We live in a world where there are so many distractions, which allow us to forget about our debt worries easily. We happily push it aside for short term gratification in other areas. And it’s a cumulative process where it literally sneaks up on you until one day you realize just how much money you owe.
It is difficult to sit down, take an honest look at our spending and saving habits and then take the necessary steps required to become debt free. For most people, it’s going to take time and quite a bit of pain. But in the end, you’ll be so happy you did it.
Access to credit cards is relatively easy, and unfortunately, they are designed to make spending money as painless as possible. And paying back the money you’ve spent is also just as painless via — the “minimum monthly payment” option. However, as painless as this option may seem, it’s the worst decision someone can make, because it takes so much longer to pay down any of the principal. It’s sort of like comparing a 30-year mortgage to a 15-year. The quicker you pay off an interest-bearing debt, the less total interest you’ll pay. So, with credit cards – If you are pressed for cash, at least try to pay off more than the minimum payment each month.
So how did I get into a lot of debt in the first place?
I quit my job without having another one lined up.
In 1999, I left a 9 to 5 job without correctly thinking the matter through. I thought I’d find another job quickly. I was wrong! You should never voluntarily resign from a job if you don’t have another one lined up to go to. I felt I deserved advancement in the company because after all, I should have been the next in line to be promoted, and this was the normal company tradition. However, I soon realized that they would never move me up in the company. Being emotional and young I hastily gave my two-weeks’ notice. I didn’t even inquire to see if I would qualify for unemployment, let alone the other problems I would soon encounter.
The result of my resignation
- No job
- No Health Insurance
- No Vacation
- No Sick time
- Very little savings
- A car payment to make every month
- Not enough money to pay rent
- No unemployment to help cover the above
- Accrued credit card debt and no means to pay it
I went from having enough money to cover my expenses to not even having enough to pay the rent. I had credit debt that I had accrued by helping family members and even friends. I also got cash advances on credit cards to help in certain situations, which got me into even more trouble. I was actually not an irresponsible person, but seriously naive regarding finances.
How I got out of debt
One day I happened to be watching PBS, and they featured a show about a financial planner. It was Suze Orman. She was talking about money. I remember watching her before in 1999, but I didn’t pay too much attention at that time. Things had changed for the worst in 2001-2002, and oh, boy this time around I was interested, and I watched the show and started learning about financial freedom and the laws of money. The free talks got me thinking it may be possible to get out of the financial mess I got myself in and start a debt consolidation plan.
Some time went by, and I came across an Avon Booklet. I was looking to buy a couple of things, and there it was …. they were selling a VHS tape on Suze Orman. I had seen Suze Orman on PBS more than once by this time, and I was still looking at ways to get out of debt. I was procrastinating because I didn’t really know what steps to take. I bought the tape and watched it over and over.
My action plan.
I started researching companies for credit card debt management and signed up with one who could help me with the process. This didn’t mean I would not be paying my debt and declaring bankruptcy. I planned to pay back every cent I owed, and I did. The Debt Management Company rolled all the creditors into one single monthly payment, which was debited from my checking account. And they reassured me my credit score would not suffer, and I am pleased to say that it stayed the same throughout the process.
As you can see in the picture below, I was paying more than $500 per month off my debt, and toward the end, I was paying more substantial amounts on months when I had more money available. I would often skimp and save and sell things I didn’t need so I could pay off larger amounts of the debt.
Note: The Debt Management Group doesn’t seem to offer their services any longer, but there are other very good services available. You must do your diligence and find out what is best for you. Find the right financial qualified adviser.
Things that helped me pay off my debt fast:
I made a list of things that I was spending money on and the areas where I could cut back. Everyone has their priorities and know which areas in their life they can make necessary changes. Often, we don’t think we can go without certain luxuries, but everyone can find areas where they are wasting money on non-essential things.
- Find help – A Debt Consolidation Company helped me figure out a plan.
a) We negotiated with the creditors to get lower interest rates.
b) We figured out a monthly payment plan.
- I created an Excel Spreadsheet. This helped me manage my progress every month.
- Secondary income – I had both full-time and part-time jobs
- Determination. I had set the date that I would be debt free. Nothing was going to stop me.
- Coffee shops – Eliminated. It’s easy to spend $1,000 a year in these places.
- Eating Out – Eliminated. This can cost you several thousands of dollars per year.
- Cut lunches – I took homemade lunches to work every day and saved thousands of dollars annually.
- Vacations – Eliminated. No vacations until the debt was fully paid off.
- Parties + Gifts – I drastically cut these things to bare bones.
- A Weekly Budget – I created a weekly budget for all my spending and stuck to it as if my life depended on it. I never went over my spending limit.
I paid off all my debt between 2002 to 2006. I learned the importance of managing my finances the hard way. It was a difficult painful and challenging experience, but valuable lessons were learned.
Below are some screen shots showing how I tracked my payments in excel.
Working both a full-time and part-time job allowed me to make additional payments and speed up the process. It was not easy or comfortable working evenings and weekends, but as time went by and I was getting closer to becoming debt free, it became exciting because I was looking forward to making that final payment.
I am grateful for the free information on PBS (Public Broadcast Service) and Suze Orman’s discussion on financial matters, which helped me tremendously and set me on a path to managing my finances and never again getting into credit card debt. I can happily share that my only debt is my mortgage and anything I charge on my credit cards is paid off in full every month.
An Online Business for extra income
After getting out of debt I became very mindful that it is important, and essential to have a second source of income, so I set about looking for ways to make money part-time. I have worked full-time and part-time most years since paying off my debt. Today with the internet offering many online opportunities to make money, I have started my own online business. I wasn’t looking for a get rich quick scheme, rather a business that would provide me with monthly income over a long period.
I didn’t know how to set up an online business, so I did a lot of research into companies offering training and education on how to set-up an affiliate marketing business to work from anywhere in the world. It took me a long time to find a reputable company offering a well-designed training course and a reliable support system. Click here to learn more about it.
I hope this post helps anyone who may be in a similar situation.
Thank you for reading.