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My Journey Out of Debt: How This Single Mom Paid Off $93,000 in Less Than 3 Years

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I remember it like it was yesterday: September 7, 2007. This was the day I sat down at my kitchen table and came face-to-face with my finances. My divorce had been final a few years prior, but I still felt as if I hadn’t made any financial progress. Fifteen minutes later, my fear was confirmed. I sat in stunned silence—for the first time realizing that I had amassed six credit cards and was in $92,514.54 worth of debt. I had officially become a statistic.

But I’m not alone:
• The average American household carries $18,654 worth of debt (not including mortgage)
1 in 7 Americans carries 10 credit cards!
The average household carries some $8,000 in credit card debt alone, and
Even as we press the reset button on the economy, consumer credit increased almost 2% this past October

Fast forward 3 years . . . and I’m now debt free! I started with one goal in mind—financial freedom—and ended with a common-sensical approach, outlined by Dave Ramsey, that others can use to get out of their own financial ruts.

Here’s the plan:

  • Step #1: (After awakening from my fainting spell) List out all debts from smallest to largest.
  • Step #2: Cut up your credit cards. Then exhale.
  • Step #3: Now close the accounts. Cushion the temptation to re-open your revolving credit accounts by putting away a small emergency fund for those inevitable rainy days.
  • Step #4: Begin paying off your debts one by one. (HINT: Start with from the smallest balance not the largest interest rate. This will make sense later.) Pay off everything except the house.
  • Step #5: Once consumer-debt free, revisit your emergency fund and take it from mini to maxi. Stockpile 3-9 months of living expenses.
  • Step #6: Now with extra discretionary cash each month, invest 15% of your monthly income into a retirement fund. (We’ll discuss the right investment vehicles later.)
  • Step #7: If you have kiddos, fund their college savings.
  • Step #8: Take leftover income and throw it towards your mortgage payment. Pay off your home early.
  • Step #9: Live in financial peace and give like no one else!

TODAY’S BITE-SIZED TO-DO:

Determine that you want to make a change. Then take inventory of all your consumer debt. Count it up—everything from your Victoria’s Secret store card to your car and student loans—and circle the number. Put that number somewhere in the open where you’re forced to see it every day. (Don’t worry . . . if you follow these steps, it won’t be there for long.) List your debts from smallest balance to largest balance. You should have two columns—one that lists the vendor name and the other that lists the balance.

Ex:

Every week for the next nine weeks, we’ll tackle another step and help you create your own journey to becoming debt free. I even took a few detours that helped to speed up the process and will share those along the way. Believe me . . . if I can get to the other side of the mountain, so can YOU!

Read the next post in this series, My Journey Out of Debt, Step #2: Tell Your Cash What to Do.

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24 thoughts on My Journey Out of Debt: How This Single Mom Paid Off $93,000 in Less Than 3 Years Leave a reply

  1. Nathalie Alonso

    Congratulations on achieving financial freedom! Paying off the smallest balance first makes sense to me. I’m 24 and I’m in the process of eliminating my debt by paying off one balance at a time, starting with the lowest (as opposed to sending smaller payments to every card). Getting a statement with a $0 balance is a great “pat on the back” and keeps me motivated to continue reducing my debt!

    Reply
  2. Natalie Sisson

    Fantastic achievement and what a great way to sum up the road to financial freedom. Looking forward to the follow up posts too – not that I have debt thank goodness and have just 1 credit card but I’m always 100% behind people who take a stand and reclaim their financials step by step!

    Natalie

    Reply
  3. Natalie MacNeil

    Courtney, thank you so much for sharing your personal story here on She Takes on the World. When I talk to women about why they won’t take the plunge and start their own business, debt is one of the top things holding them back. I think your story can inspire a lot of other women. Congratulations Courtney and I look forward to reading the rest of this series.

    Reply
  4. Courtney Wiley

    Appreciate the comments and encouragement, ladies! ‘Tis true that we hold ourselves back from grander opportunities because of debt. Besides the fact that I wanted to change my family tree, I also took this journey because I didn’t want to take a job for the sake of needing the income to pay bills. Now I’m able to operate in my passion and do what I love every day! To God be the glory. :)

    Reply
  5. Courtney Wiley

    I completely understand, Rishona! :) Having a big shovel definitely helps to tackle debt faster. But get this (and I don’t mind sharing this information publically): When I first started this debt-free journey, I was working in full-time ministry making $34,000. Yep, that’s less than the national average for an American household, which is around $45k. But I still hit that goal feeding 2 mouths . . . and so can you! Be inspired, friend! :)

    Reply
  6. 2morrowKnight

    Fantastic, and very, very inspiring! You did it in a very organized way. What you’ve done is very instructive for millions who are drowning in debt, and believe there are no solutions.

    Reply
  7. kim

    I love organized advice. We can get to overwhelmed by debt and try to sweep this very important issue under the rug. But your well stated advice helps one see more clearly how to approach debt. Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Dana Cortez

    I absolutely love this! Living DEBT free is a wonderful feeling, so I’ve heard. LOL!

    Remember also if you are in a higher income bracket, you do need write off’s or Uncle Sam gets it and he never pays it back w/interest so be careful and be smart!

    d.c

    Reply
  9. Courtney Wiley Post author

    You can do it, Dana! Join me on the other side of the fence. I promise the grass is greener (especially because it’s paid for!) :) It’s 2011 . . . no excuses, dear friend. :D

    Reply
  10. Roni Jenkins

    Wow- that $92K number is staggering, but something that many people now can relate to. Sad truth with the economy, but you have provided people with the common sense approach and proof that they too can turn things around. Way to go Courtney! Be proud.

    Reply
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  13. Studio

    Found your inspiring article Courtney and although it was a while ago you started to write these steps I can tell you my husband and I, along with my sister and her husband have all taken the first steps to eliminating our debts. I hope that you keep posting because I’m excited to read about what happens at Steps 5 and on! But I guess I have some time to get there before I’ve taken my monster debt down!

    Also, good tips with paying off the smallest debt first. It seems counter intuitive because I’ve always been taught to pay off the biggest interest rate loans first, yet by taking the smaller loans out we can put that extra monthly income towards our bigger, nastier loans. Besides the mental boast of eliminating a debt you are also increasing your monthly budget, therefore decreasing the amount you need in your cushion and increase the amount you put aside for the bigger loans.

    I hope my family and I find the motivation to stay on top of this, three years sounds like a dream deadline! 

    Kate Benson

    Reply
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  15. Tia Peterson

    This is inspiring since my major debt is my student loans and they are nearly that high. I’ve done the debt snowball once – it did help me but somehow I got off. Now it’s time to wake it back up again. I’m officially convinced!

    Reply
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  19. Steph

    LOVE the idea of paying down the smallest balance first…I can only imagine the massive feeling of relief in seeing a balance being $0. Our family is working towards that now as well as growing my business. I refuse to give up.

    Reply
  20. Kathrin Ivanovic

    I don’t have any credit card debt or a mortgage, but I have $210,000 in student loan debt. Building my business has not only allowed me to really demolish chunks of that debt but also build an emergency fund. My goal is to transition to consulting full time once the debt is paid off, which is such a great motivator to remain focused on the prize.

    Reply

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