In 2015 I was fresh out of my MBA program and fresh in $154K of debt.
I’ve been on my debt free journey for a year now I’m paying it off by living a minimalist lifestyle and listening to Dave Ramsey on the daily. I realized I would never be able to live the life I wanted with debt hanging over my head, so I decided to pay it off and document my story. I don’t want to spend my time kicking myself for taking on the debt, but instead learning from my mistakes and planning a brighter future because of it. I’m living small and chipping away one paycheck at a time. I hope you enjoy my story!
A Lifetime of Debt
My debt story began at 16 when I got my first credit card in the mail and maxed it out the same day at the mall. That habit stayed with me and peaked during my post college life. I was misusing credit worse than ever. I moved to Washington, DC and experienced a whole new type of spending. I was the definition of “keeping up with the Joneses,” and $200 on a night out was a regular occurrence. By the time I was 23 I had managed to rack up $17K worth of credit card debt. I remember the day I added up the balances on all of my cards. I realized I wouldn’t be able to make even the minimum payments on half of them with my upcoming paycheck. I spent the next year aggressively paying off debt, but the cycle continued. Every time I would pay off a card my brain told me that I was responsible enough to use it and I would run it right back up again.
Around 24 I hit a rut in my career and jumped at the chance to get my MBA. I had a ton of debt, but I was young and impulsive so off I went to sign my name to $90K more. As a part-time student I wasn’t eligible for any grants or aid through the school so I knew I would have to reach for the stars during my job search to pay back my debt. It was a huge risk but I was young and stupid and decided to go for it.
After I graduated I was lucky to land a six figure salary in banking. The job was in a much cheaper city so I took it as sign to make a plan to pay off my debt. I don’t remember the exact time I was introduced to Dave Ramsey, but after I moved I read the Total Money Makeover and started formulating a budget. My first step was to add up all of my debts and assets to get a clear picture of where I stood. I stared at the numbers almost bursting into tears. I had $14K worth of credit card debt and $140K in student loan debt. Oh yeah, I had also never started saving for retirement so my only asset was my car, a 2005 Honda. I was 27 years old and -$154K in the hole.
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Around the same time I started following the Dave Ramsey plan, I found minimalism. I fell in love with the lifestyle. I’ve always been interested in the concept of living with less but I never really got it because I’m a born and raised spender. Minimalism changed the way I view myself and material possessions. I realized that living with less can be very freeing. I’m still working on completely downsizing, but I’m worlds away from where I was in my early twenties, financially and mentally.
For a while, I doubted my choice to use Dave Ramsey’s method because the finish line seemed so unattainable. My family and friends kept telling me to just put my extra money in the stock market and not worry about paying it off because everyone had debt. I created a few scenarios in excel and showed the outcomes of paying off the debt ASAP versus paying it off over 10 years and investing what was left over. I realized that I wouldn’t be happy until the debt was gone. I knew that I would feel trapped in every job I had for the next decade because I had a $1,500 monthly payment to worry about. I would never be able to quit and start my own business or even save for a house. I decided that Dave was right. His plan was my ticket to freedom and I didn’t care what everyone else thought was right. I got myself into this mess and I was going to get myself out.
My Escape Route
I used my signing bonus to fund an emergency fund with $1,000 and knocked out baby step one. In the first five months of my journey, I paid off the $14K in credit card debt by adhering to a strict budget and eating my weight in beans and rice. I also refinanced my student loans with a private lender to get a better interest rate. I had a short period where I faltered and took on more debt (I know, I know!). We all make mistakes! The debt was for my Invisalign treatment and I’m now close to paying it off.
I’ve significantly downsized my lifestyle in order to free up as much as possible to go towards debt. I went from living in a luxury one bedroom apartment for $1,800 a month to a $600 a month studio. I’ve given up a dishwasher, microwave, washer/dryer, air conditioning, and a new car, all in the name of paying off debt. I no longer get my nails done. I wait eight weeks in between haircuts instead of six, and go to Super Cuts instead of the salon. I’ve eaten more tuna sandwiches than I can count and peanut butter has become one of my main food groups. When people ask me to go out for drinks/dancing, I always agree but sip a club soda for free. Those are a few of the things I’ve lost chasing freedom but the things I’ve gained have changed my life in ways I never expected.
I’ve gained a sense of control over a part of my life that for years made me feel powerless.
I’ve realized that if I want something I CAN get it. Most importantly, I’ve learned that the only thing standing in my way is myself. I’m 28 years old, digging myself out of 12 years of financial mishaps, and vowing to never go back because I don’t want to die with heaps of unpaid debt left for my family. I hope you’ll share your story and follow along with mine at brokeasb.com
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All of us have a story to tell about personal finance, and I created the Meet Millennials series so that anyone can share their story with money. Talking about money has been considered taboo in the past but we are here to change that.
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