How I Paid Off $24k of Debt in One Year

How I Got Here

I knew where I wanted to go to college since I was 15 years old. It was a given. I wanted to go to an expensive private school. The brochure said that their tuition wasn’t as expensive as most colleges, so I kept telling myself, ‘Hey, I’m getting a deal!’

I don’t regret my college decision. I got a fantastic education, made lifelong friends, and gained so much necessary experience to go out and get a great job after graduation. But I have a lot of regrets surrounding student loans and assuming they would take care of me.

But, I took out loans without understanding the true cost. There was a disconnect. I figured that I’d live in the moment now and then I’d jump that hurdle when I get there. I also didn’t think it would be difficult to pay off. I had a couple of scholarships, so I figured that had to decrease the price to a place where it wouldn’t sting so much.

Discovering the Problem

After graduating college, I sat down and calculated exactly how much I owed—something I should have done long before I graduated. I couldn’t believe the number I was staring at in the end—I owed almost $134,000.00!

I didn’t expect there to be so many zeros. This wasn’t going to be something I could pay off in a couple of years like I thought on a small minimum payment. My minimum payment alone was huge. According to my calculations, without factoring interest, the loans could take me between 12-15 years to pay off if I just stuck with the minimum.

I had to play a little exercise and imagine how I pictured my life in 12-15 years. I pictured a house, a dog, maybe a husband and a family. The thought of paying for an experience from my 20s when I was in my 30s made me feel sick. I had to figure out how I could pay these off faster.

Getting Started

So, I rolled up my sleeves and started researching how I could get these paid off as quick as possible. I found some programs where if I work for the government or for certain non-profits for ten years, I could apply for loan forgiveness. But even then, the forgiveness wasn’t guaranteed, and I didn’t want to wait ten years.

As my 6-month grace period came to a close, I could feel my first payment breathing down my neck as I braced myself for the first payment.

It was then by divine providence that one of my favorite podcasts, The Catholic Feminist Podcast, did an interview with a young woman named Amanda Teixeira. Her message about finding hope in debt, attacking it with a Gazelle intensity, and gaining financial freedom tugged at my heartstrings. She explained how she and her husband, Jonathan, paid off about $25,000 in debt in less than 12 months. She shared how they were able to cash flow two adoptions (later 3) and a move to another city without going into debt. And now they were helping others do the same through their new company WalletWin.

I signed up almost immediately. This young couple seemed to have the answers that I needed and seemed like they were going to cheer me on the entire step of the way. They were kooky and fun, but they were amazing teachers. I raced through the modules of their main course eager to get started.

Gaining Momentum

When my first payment rolled around, I was already practicing keeping and maintaining a monthly written budget, giving every dollar a job; I was listening to Dave Ramsey on the radio and nearly bursting into tears when callers would do their “Debt Free Scream”; I was saying no to going out if it involved spending money, and accepting evening and weekend babysitting jobs allowing me to throw every extra penny towards debt.

At the time, I was working for a small Christian nonprofit in one of the most expensive cities in the United States. It was difficult to make as little as I did and be paying off as much as I was, but I did.

In my first 5 months, I paid off over $15,000 in debt. Out of my initial $134k, it didn’t seem like much and I really had to force myself to put it all in perspective. Most people barely payoff that much in a year but I did it in almost half the time.

Check out this clip from an interview with Jonathan and Amanda! View the full interview here

Getting Hit With the Unexpected

At the end of August, I learned that the company I was working for was under some financial strains and decided to let me and eleven others go.

They gave me a generous severance, but my debt snowball came to a screeching halt. I learned a lot of very valuable money lessons in the month and a half I was unemployed, which I will write about in another post.

I was lucky and found new employment right before my severance ran out, without having to touch my emergency fund.

Regaining Momentum 

Once I was employed and stable again, it was off to the races on paying off my loans. I was annoyed that I lost two months of debt snowballing (I just paid the minimums those months), so it was easy to find the motivation to rev the engine back up.

As of today, I have paid off about $24,000 and I am very proud of that number.

Looking Ahead to 2019

My goal for next year is to get my overall $134k down to five figures, which I estimate I can probably do by summertime (maybe sooner). Once I do that, I think that the fire I have to get this paid off will only grow stronger.

I’m also hoping to build my personal brand and freelance operation and funnel everything I can from that towards debt in addition to the babysitting and side hustles I did in 2018.

I know I’m not alone. Every year, hundreds of thousands of students are graduating college with student loans are feeling the exact same things that I felt. So, I’ve decided to document that journey.

Once every few months, I’ll give an update on how my debt snowball is coming along and what kind of progress I am making.

A big lesson I’ve learned through it all is that debt is not the master of me. I’m bigger than my debt. It may be big, but I had a choice to make; I could either be afraid of it and be satisfied with paying the minimum payments well into my 30s, or I could look it dead in the eye and not let it control me and my happiness.

If you want to learn more about WalletWin, my journey, or paying off debt, please feel free to contact me or leave your comments below.

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