How 5 Women Paid Off $10,000 or More in Debt

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Here's a staggering dose of reality for you: 80 percent of Americans are in debt. So, if you feel like you're drowning in student loans or credit card balances, you're not alone. Life can be expensive, and it's easy to think that "paying for it later" on your credit card is a solution to managing expenses.


We're here to tell you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Here, five women, who paid off debt ranging from $10,000 to $80,000, share their experiences, tips, and advice, and, perhaps most importantly, they explain how they're living a much happier life without the weight of so much debt.

1. Be independent when making money decisions.

"I was $80,000 in debt. My wake-up call was realizing what a bad financial situation I was put in with my ex. I will always be in charge of my own money going forward. It's okay to manage, make decisions, and remain independent in your own money decisions whether you are single or married. I started paying my debt off by working hard and getting side jobs when I could from tutoring, odd and end jobs, selling products from around the house online, etc.

"It took me about four years to get out of the divorce debt. To stay debt-free today, I maintain my own money, use coupons, and buy when I really need something -- not whenever I want." -- Sonja F., Santa Clarita, California

More from The Stir: Your Ridiculous Money Issues Are Probably Killing Your Relationship

2. Your self-esteem should not be based on money.

"I was a single mom and that in and of itself was a contributing factor to approximately $27,000 in debt. The biggest mistake I made during those years was that of comparing myself to others. Without a doubt, the two biggest reasons for my debt were two separate, two-year long layoffs. My unemployment benefits were very small and only lasted for six months. After I was blessed with what I thought at the time was the 'job of my dreams,'  it still took me working three part-time jobs and close to four years to become debt-free.

"When I agreed to marry my now-husband, the icing on the cake was the quick sale of my home just three weeks later. Not only was I debt-free, I was able to 'bring money to the table.' I have been happily married -- and debt-free -- for seven and a half years. We've always been in agreement that if we cannot pay cash for something, we either don't buy it or we save for it. 

"The biggest takeaway experience for me has been to realize my self-esteem is not based on what I do for a living, how much money I make, where I live, what kind of car I drive, how much I weigh, or any other superficial means people try to find their self-worth through." -- Mary K., Missouri City, Texas

3. Make small lifestyle tweaks for big changes.

"I was in over $10,000 in debt from years of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world: New York City. I was not living above my means per say, but no matter how much money I was making, the bills kept rising, and it was hard to keep up with inflation. When I decided to buy a house, I began to realize how bad of shape my credit was in and that there was no way I would get approved for a mortgage with so much debt. I made it my goal in 2015 to completely free myself of credit card debt. I paid it off by making a few lifestyle changes. Less dinners out, more groceries.

"At the same time, once my regular monthly bills were paid, I would put as much as I could on my credit cards using the Snowball Method to pay them off as quickly as possible. By paying off the smallest cards first, I found that to be more rewarding and kept my momentum going for the next card. It sounds easy, but it wasn't.

"It really takes a lot of focus, and you have to be mentally ready to pay off your debt before making it a priority. It took me a little under a year to be completely debt-free. I have been debt-free for a few months now and am about to make an offer on my first house." -- Nicole B., Minneapolis, Minnesota

More from The Stir: 6 Smart Ways to Finally Set Up That Emergency Fund

4. Always have an emergency fund.

"I was $28,000 in debt -- all from student loans. My wake-up call was when I made my first payment and realized how much money I was paying in interest. I was only making about $28,000 a year and my debt payments were about 20 percent of my take-home pay. I hated forking over so much money, especially when half of it went to interest. I started small, only putting $10 extra toward my loans. But any time I had extra money, I put it toward my debt. Christmas presents, birthday gifts -- everything went toward my loans. I earned some money on the side and stuck to a strict budget. Getting a new job and lowering my living expenses helped me put even more money toward my loans. It took me three years to get out of debt. I've been debt-free since November 2014. My husband and I have an emergency fund with six months' worth of expenses." -- Zina K., Denver, Colorado

5. Make a budget -- and stick to it!

"I got out of debt about a decade ago -- and I owed between $7,000 and $10,000. I mentioned my debt to a friend in banking, and she was shocked. She was surprised because I was under 30 and didn't own property, yet owed $10,000 and basically had nothing to show for it. I consolidated all of my credit card debt into one loan from the bank, at a lower interest rate.

"I made an old-fashioned budget, mapping out my bills and necessary spending (like the heat bill), and then, I stuck to it. Every month, I had a certain amount of money to spend on things like rent, fuel, groceries, prescriptions, and entertainment. If I didn't have any 'fun' money left in my entertainment budget for the month, I did low-cost things like board game nights at friends' houses. It took me about one year to get out of debt. It has been more than 15 years since I was in debt and now I own a condo!

"Every month I stick to my budget, no matter what. I also have a savings line in my monthly budget, just to make sure I have some padding in my account. Always pay your credit card off every month. If you can't do that, maybe you shouldn't own a credit card at all. Track everything. You'd be surprised at how things like dining out, and going for a coffee, add up." -- Tiffany A, Vancouver, BC, Canada


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