This is the first post of my Kick Debt to the Curb series. In it, I show you how to create and execute a debt payoff plan. This post highlights how I accumulated over $18,000 in credit card debt, how I decided to make a change, and how I paid it all off in less than 8 months.
If you’re struggling with your own credit card debt, I hope this series helps you finally tackle your own debt monster. Future posts will detail budgeting, making more money, debt payoff methods, and how to stay out of debt once you pay it all off.
Accumulating Credit Card Debt: My Story
When I think back to my days of debt, I can’t really pinpoint one specific reason why I ended up with balances totaling over $18,000. In my case, my credit card debt was accumulated through a combination of financial ignorance, a desire to have things I’d never had before, and a wee bit of denial.
A financially disastrous, murky soup of head-in-the-sand behaviors and overconfidence of my future ability to earn money led me to graduate college with a disgusting amount of debt.
The irony is, up until I signed that fateful first credit card application at my college’s student center, I’d always been a saver. I was also a hard worker. I had my first job with a paycheck at 11 years old, obtained my work permit at 16 for a glorious stint at a fast-food restaurant that helped me pay my way to France, and spent the summer before my freshman year working 90+ hours/week to pay for first-year college expenses not covered by scholarships.
Somewhere along the line, I was bitten by the consumerism bug, and I scratched that itch for a few too many years. Shopping, dinner/drinks out with friends, vacations, and frivolous clothing/beauty purchases were my jam.
Paying off my balance each month soon became a figment of my clouded imagination. While I always paid more than the minimum payment, I wasn’t paying off enough to keep the debt–and interest–monsters at bay.
Waking Up: My Financial Epiphany
I’ve read numerous personal finance blogs where the author(s) detail their own debt journeys. Much like them, I (luckily) had my own financial epiphany one day. Graduated from college and working a grueling, corporate job where I was making well into the 6 figures, I yearned for more. More income; more flexibility; more freedom.
During yet another unnecessary lunch outing, a colleague mentioned a free real estate investing seminar she was going to attend. Intrigued, I accepted her invitation to join, and I later set out to learn as much as I could about real estate investing.
Now remember (and boy, may I date myself here), this is before the days of Meetup, Pinterest, BiggerPockets, and the hundreds of other social media platforms that make it so easy to learn about investing, meet investors, and hit the ground running with real estate. There were books I could buy but finding information was a true art of digging, networking, and filtering out the garbage.
When it came time for the seminar, I had a reasonable amount of knowledge of beginning real estate investing, so I could comfortably follow along with all of the verbiage the hosts were throwing our way (this wasn’t the case of some attendees–Hello, deer in the headlights looks all around!).
On the Road to Financial Freedom?
What intrigued me the most was the idea of financial freedom through real estate. More than early retirement, it was a way to build sustainable wealth over the long-term while also providing income now.
Additionally, the words that truly struck a chord in me were one panelist’s rants about how you need to be free of all other forms of debt before deciding to take the plunge into real estate. Ranting for the win; I was hooked!
That night, I went home, dug out all of my latest credit card statements, totaled my debt, and felt utter shock when I realized my balances were in excess of $18,000. Eighteen. THOUSAND. Dollars. Holy Hannah, what had I done!?
I spent the next 5 hours pouring over websites, money forums (weren’t too many blogs back in that day!), and financial sites/resources. I had to find a way to pay off my credit card debt, and I had to do it fast.
The Snowball Method: Paying off My Credit Card Debt
After researching effective ways to pay off credit card debt, I settled on the Debt Snowball Method. I wanted a way to see immediate progress to keep myself motivated. I also liked the idea of crossing entire cards off the list of my debts I’d created.
According to Dave Ramsey, the Debt Snowball Method is as easy as:
Step 1: List your debts from smallest to largest.
Step 2: Make minimum payments on all your debts except the smallest.
Step 3: Pay as much as possible on your smallest debt.
Step 4: Repeat until each debt is paid in full.
Essentially, you roll your money from one debt to the next as soon as the smallest is paid off. Dave’s idea of this method being more about behavior modification rather than math really resonated with me.
I loved the feeling of crossing off another debt from my list. I built in small, non-monetary rewards along the way to stay motivated, which I’ll discuss in a future post.
Over the subsequent months, I sent every extra penny I had to my credit card debt. I ate and breathed debt payoff.
I slashed expenses, learned how to say no to social invitations without guilt, and I kept my nose to the grindstone. I even found ways to earn extra money.
8 short months later, I was officially credit card debt FREE. With all of my extra income not going to debt, I focused on maintaining the good financial habits I’d developed.
Next, I set my sights on real estate investing. The rest is history. Or at least future blog posts 🙂
How have you paid off your credit card debt? Have you tried the Snowball Method? Share any tips/tricks you have below!