How I Paid Off Over $50,000 Of Credit Card Debt and Changed My Life
It took four years of my life, but I was able to prevail. I stand in front of you today completely credit card debt free. Yes, I was someone who racked up a lot of credit card debt (add on top the over $25,000 in consumer loans) and only paid attention to the minimum monthly payment. My head was in the clouds and I was just enjoying the ride. Credit cards made spending easy and a little fun. I didn’t have to worry about paying it all back. It was someone else’s money, right? It wasn’t until I realized my minimum monthly payments were higher than my mortgage payment. That’s when it was time to get serious. It was time to smack back that debt and live a more financially sound lifestyle. The game was on and the debt was going to lose!
How I paid off $50,000 of Credit Card Debt – The Steps
There are many others that might have more or less credit card debt, but we all got into it for one reason. We spent more than we made. Simple and to the point. There might be many “reasons” why we get into debt, but it all boils down to spending more than one makes. It doesn’t matter if it is due to compulsive spending, medical bills, emergencies, or anything else. If you spend more than you make, then you will be in debt.
I have written a few times about why I got into debt. There were many reasons, but it all boiled down to me spending more than I was bringing in. I built a business, funded it with credit cards, bought a Jetski, and funded vacations on credit. I loved credit and it loved me. Unfortunately, our relationship was destined to fail. Credit cards allowed me to get things that I couldn’t afford and charge it to my future self. If I had known what I know now, I wouldn’t have gotten my first credit card in college. I would have taken the time to learn more about credit and use it in a wiser fashion. I can’t take back what I did with credit, but I can use that failure to teach me what not to do.
Step 1 – STOP SPENDING
This one may sound easy, but it is by far the hardest. You have to figure out why you are spending so much money. I was spending in order to fund my business, along with just buying things that I didn’t need. I was purchasing to satisfy my wants. It is time to figure out the difference between wants and needs. I took a hard look at my finances and realized that I needed a change. I shut down my profitable online business, stopped eating out, cut our cable, and created detailed grocery lists. To this day, I still take my lunch to work as a way to eat better and save a lot of money. These are the things that I did to stop spending money. Beyond paying your regular bills, you need to figure out where the rest of your money is going and cut off the spending. It may be harsh, but it is important.
If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend signing up for a service like Personal Capital or Mint.com. Seriously, both of them changed my financial life. While I started out on Mint, I moved to Personal Capital because it was easier to use and didn’t have all these ads irritating me. It even did a much better job at bringing in my investments (yes, I had them even while in debt!).
Step 2 – Pick Your Method
Once you figure out how to stop spending money, then you need to choose a debt payoff method. There are quite a few to choose from, but the two main ones are the Debt Snowball and the Debt Avalanche. If you want to know the difference, then check out my snowball versus avalanche breakdown. I chose the Avalanche method because it made mathematical sense for me (key note there!). I used my emotions to get into debt, but I wanted to take them out of the equation. By using the Avalanche method, I was able to save thousands of dollars worth of interest payments. That was my emotional win.
To be very honest, it doesn’t matter which method you choose. The only way you will get out of debt is if you choose a method. There are no winners here by choosing one over the other. If you choose something, you’re a winner! Remember that and move forward. I’ve even seen people start out with one method and switch. You can do it month by month. Just start today!
Step 3 – Stay on Target
Welcome to the next hardest step. Paying down debt is not easy and it will usually take some time. We all don’t have the luxuries to just pay off our debt in a couple of months. It will most likely take years. It took me 4 years to pay off my credit card and consumer debt (around $75,000). It took longer than some, because I saved along with paying down my debt. I worked hard to make sure I stayed on target. There are so many temptations that occur in everyday life, but you have to understand your goal.
Do you want to be buried in debt or would you rather have financial freedom? I chose financial freedom. Don’t be afraid to tell your friends or family that you can’t do something because you can’t afford it. You may not want to irritate your friends or family, but these are necessary changes. If they love and respect you , they will understand. Paying off debt is about you becoming a better person and more financially stable. You have to do what ever you can to stay on target. I made some simple changes along with harder changes to make sure I stayed on my debt payment plan.
Step 4 – Make Extra Money
You can only save so much, so there might be many times where you just don’t make enough money to accelerate your debt repayment. There are quite a few ways to make more money besides your full time job. I made money by selling things on Craigslist, selling on eBay, and freelancing on certain projects via Elance and Odesk. I worked hard each and every night to make a little extra cash that I could throw on my credit card payments. You have to think outside of the box when you are paying down debt. Think of something that you are good at and go see if you can make money from it. Don’t spend money to start a side business though. That would be unwise.
If you can’t think of ways to make extra money, then check out our making money section. This has articles about different ways to earn extra money. Here are some goodies…
- 6 ways to earn extra income
- 6 side hustles you can start for free
- 10 ways to earn extra cash in college
- 7 simple ways to make money this weekend
- 7 unusual ways to make easy money
- 7 interesting ways to pay down your student loan debt
- 5 innovative ways to make money with your car
Step 5 – Learn How to Save
As you can probably imagine, I wasn’t much of a saver when I was in credit card debt. Actually, that mindset happened before, but credit cards and spending just pushed savings to the back burner. I didn’t care about saving money. I was having the time of my life. I really wish I knew then what I know now. It hurts to realize what you did to yourself with your needless spending.
Just look at the power of compound interest. Goodness that’s some powerful stuff. I realized I was leaving money off the table for myself later down the road and for emergencies in general. I wasn’t saving much for retirement, wasn’t investing, and wasn’t socking away cash for emergencies. I was doing it all wrong. I had to teach myself how to save money.
Fast forward some years, I’m stashing cash for emergencies, I’m investing (here are my favorites), and I’m saving for retirement. I brushed off the “scared of investing” vibe and opened an Betterment account in 2012. It was the best decision I’ve made with regards to investing. They make it so easy a caveman can do it (haha, Geico!). I’ve recommended that service to anyone that will listen and some have. On top of investing, I opened a Capital One 360 account for savings and then learned how to bucket my savings (awesome technique).
It seems we really make saving money much harder than it needs to be. I have an entire section on this site dedicated to it. Saving money is really not that hard. We just have messed up priorities. We can’t differentiate between wants and needs and that needs to stop. Once I stopped using “need” for everything, I realized I could do without so much more and keep more money in my pocket. It’s all a mindset people. Change it and your financial freedom will follow!
Step 6 – Celebrate
Here was my most important step and one I think everyone should partake in. Since we know that spending money is very emotional, then we have to create celebration moments. I took the emotional aspect out by using the Avalanche method, but you can’t take it out entirely. So, in order to make sure that I stayed on my target, I created celebration steps. During times in my debt repayment, I would celebrate when I paid off debt to reach a certain level. If I paid off $5,000, I would go out and celebrate with my wife. Now, I wouldn’t go on a spending binge, but I would go out to eat and have a beer. I paid for that in cash, so I wouldn’t add it to my credit card debt, but it was important. Any time I would reach a new milestone, I would celebrate. This step kept me so motivated and allowed me to keep my head up. Debt likes to keep you down, so you have to make sure you figure out ways to keep your head up.
Step 7 – Continue Your Financial Education
One of the biggest motivational wins for me was when I started branching out and learning more about money. Before, I know how to make money and I surely knew how to spend it, but it wasn’t until I dug deep and learned how money affected me that I changed my financial life. It’s been three years since I paid off my last credit card, but I’m still learning. I have learned how to start investing and found some cool brokerages to use. I’ve found new tools to help me save (like Digit) and keep me abreast of my money (Personal Capital). I’ve found better savings products than just the typical bank.
The key is to never stop learning. While the concept of money is pretty cut and dry, there is always something out there to learn. Heck, there are over 800 articles on this site going through the different aspects of money. I will never stop learning and if I think I’ve learned it all, then I know I’m doing something wrong. If you don’t know something about a financial product you are seeking, then take the time to sit down and educate yourself. That’s the only way we can change our financial future. Knowledge will always be power!
Alright everyone, now you have seen how I paid off my $50,000 worth of credit card debt, plus another $25,000 in consumer loans. It was a long journey and a very hard one at that. I don’t wish debt on anyone, but it has taught me a lot about myself and how I handle problems. I took my debt by the horns and rode it right out of my life. I’m not afraid of credit cards anymore and in fact, I use one for all of my purchases (this one in particular). It’s not about being scared to use credit, but knowing how to use it wisely. It wasn’t the credit card’s fault that I used it, it was my own. I picked it up, I swiped it, and I didn’t pay it off. This debt was on me, but I fixed the problem. I know you can as well.
Do you have debt? If so, what is a step that you think is important to get out?