What’s the best way to pay off debt?
That’s clearly a pretty open-ended question…
But if you’re looking to get out of debt it makes sense to try and find the techniques that are proven to work – and that will get you to debt-free as quickly and easily as possible.
One of the reasons why paying off debt is so difficult is because it’s tempting to feel like you’re “missing out” on life when you devote your disposable income to debt repayment rather than enjoying life.
All around you people seem to be going on vacation, buying a new car or upgrading their home.
All this while you seem to be “free-wheeling” – and piling your money into something far less visible.
In other words, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone in your struggle.
Except of course you’re not. There are plenty of people who’ve paid off vast amounts of debt. They’ve been through the same difficult times you’re facing now. And they’ve come out the other side smelling of roses.
Today then I thought it would be useful to look at some inspiring examples other financially-savvy individuals getting out of debt.
Hopefully the stories below will not only provide you with inspiration that is it possible to become debt-free, but additionally provide some guidance and tips on the best way to pay off debt based on the experiences of others.
In total these 17 people have paid off over a million dollars in debt so they certainly know a thing or two about debt repayments.
Here are their stories…
How We Paid Off $54,500 Of Non-Mortgage Debt In 3 1/2 years
“Each day without payments is a day that adds to our savings and investments and, ultimately, enhances our family’s financial freedom.”
Bethany and Dustin Riechmann always had debt – but debt that was under control. It was when they bought a new house and got serious about decking it out that the debt started to mount up.
Starting a family was the primary motivator for paying off their debt – a process they achieved by following Dave Ramsay‘s debt reduction steps.
Less than four years later they were debt free.
How We Paid Off $36,000 Of Debt In 2013
“I think that focusing all our enthusiasm and money on one big goal is the main reason we had so much success in our first year of debt repayment. “
The ever-awesome Stephanie over at Six Figures Under managed to pay off an impressive $36,000 of debt in a single year. Their biggest tips for success were to reduce their food and housing costs, and then make their debt repayments the major priority.
How Does It Feel to Pay Off $100,000 Of Debt?
“It takes discipline and self motivation, and a lot of it. We tried many, many times to do it ourselves, but just couldn’t do it. I like to think of my debt relief provider as my “financial personal trainer.”
Travis Pizel had some serious debt no so long ago – six figures of it. Worse – this was credit card debt – not a low-interest debt like a mortgage.
That’s enough to cause most people sleepless nights – after all doesn’t such a massive amount of debt just look unsurmountable? How would you ever expect to that that amount of debt under control?
While it’s not for everyone, Travis’ secret weapon was the use of a Debt Management Program. These services essentially negotiate with your creditors to try and agree better terms for you in exchange for guaranteed regular payments. Be aware though that this is likely to negatively affect your credit.
How One Family Paid Off $118,000 in Debt
“There will be times you feel depressed over it, but remember the end result is going to outshine all that”
Amy Kroezen suffered from the classic problem of sizable student debts (plus a car on finance) but an economy lacking in jobs for someone with her skills. The thought of spending the rest of her life working for a low wage while paying down her debts didn’t appeal so she buckled down and made some changes.
They decided that the best way to pay off debt was going super-frugal. By downsizing their lifestyle they managed to live (just) on one income while using the other to pay down debt.
How I Paid Off $34,579 In Student Loans In Under 4 Years
“Whether it’s a raise at work, a higher starting salary or even getting a fee waived on my credit card, I always ask for more.”
Stephanie Halligan used five key strategies for getting rid of her student debt as quickly as possible. Firstly she “hustled” to earn extra income. She budgeted her funds to pay off her debt quickly and made this a priority. She also did everything possible to stay motivated during the journey.
However in Stephanie’s own words, it was being willing to go out on a limb and negotiate that really had the greatest effect on your debt repayment plan.
How I Paid Off $12,000 Of Credit Card Debt In 9 Months
“Whichever method you choose, make sure you have a plan”
Do you ever think that getting out of debt would be easier if only you earned more? Have you ever struggled with debt but decided to put off your payments until your income increases? If so, this story is for you.
You see, the wonderful part about this story is that the $12,000 of debt repayments were made by someone in the lower income bracket. In other words, here’s proof (if you needed it) that even low to moderate earners can still do some serious damage to their debt.
The success strategies Wendy used included refinancing her debts to a lower interest rate, use of the Debt Snowball concept for motivation and using side-hustles to earn extra cash where possible. While she admits that her rules may not work for everyone, the key is to at least have a plan to follow.
$157,000 To Zero In Three Years Flat: We Are Debt Free!
“No payment is too small to have an effect on your debt”
Maria Nedeva achieved what looked like an impossible task – paying off six figures of debt in just over three years. In order to manage such as impressive feat Maria used some seriously smart tactics…
She consolidated her debts to simplify her finances and reduce the interest she was paying, she dug deep into her budget to find painless savings (like changing utility companies to get a better tariff) and she set aside a small “treat” fund to avoid any feelings of being deprived.
How I Paid Off $30,000 of Debt in Two Years
“Savings just stopped being as important as becoming debt-free”
If you think that other people make paying off debt far too easy then Cait may come as a breath of fresh air to you. Even she admits that her journey to a debt-free life was plagued by mistakes and problems. And yet rather than using these as excuses to give up on her plans, they only strengthened her resolve further.
Cait says her big wins involved finding low-cost accommodation (moving in with family or housemates) and using the Debt Snowball principle to keep her motivated. However a key realization was that if your debt problems are serious – and you’re truly focused on paying off your debt as soon as possible – then this really needs to be your financial priority over almost anything else.
How We Paid Off $150,000 Of Debt In 5 years
“You cannot pay off your debt while you are continuing to go into debt.”
With six figures of debt from an unfortunate business failure, Myquillyn quickly found ways to save money and maintain motivation in order to get her debt under control.
In contrast to many of the debt repayment stories highlighted here, couponing became an important strategy to save money, thus freeing up extra funds to spend on debt repayments.
Finding other “side hustles” as a way to boost her income helped, as did carefully tracking and recording her progress to stay motivated.
However arguably one of the most important lessons that Myquillyn learned early on is that you need to completely distance yourself from debt when you’re trying to pay it off. Quite simply cut up the credit cards to avoid any kind of temptation.
How I Paid Off $100,000 In Debt (And How You Can Too)
“Go at your debt with reckless abandon. You are going to throw every cent you can at it, as often as you can.”
What I love most about Tony’y story is just how much energy he threw at getting out of debt. There were no half measures here – he literally seems to have focused every penny and every ounce of energy on paying off his debt as quickly and as ruthlessly as possible.
How? His strategies include seriously downsizing your spending, selling your unwanted belongings to make an instant impact on your debts, educating yourself financially and setting up an “emergency fund” for when (not if!) something goes wrong.
How I Paid Off $14,431 In Student Loans In 6 Months – BEFORE Graduating
“Take the temporary hit to your social life and find a second source of income that you can dedicate 100% to your debt.”
Depending on your point of view, Thomas Frank is either very lucky or has shown the potential of educating yourself when it comes to personal finance.
Whatever your thoughts when you read his story there’s one undeniable fact – he’s clearly a very smart guy who was willing to work hard to pay off his student loans before he even graduated.
How did he do it? He freelanced to earn extra income and then built a successful online business. That said, even he admits that the chances of business success online are slim so he recommends a far more conservative strategy – reduce your expenses and consider taking on an extra job to fund your debt repayments.
How I Paid Off $38,000 Of Debt In 24 Months
“I had a sort of maniacal enthusiasm about paying off my debt, I was crazy positive even though I owed so freaking much. “
When most people receive some kind of windfall it’s tempting to see it as “free money” to spend on whatever your heart desires. It’s perfectly normal to start thinking about trying out that new restaurant in town, finally landing that outfit you’ve had your eye on or treating yourself to a new gadget. Normal, that is, unless you’re Jordann Brown.
While Jordann followed many of the “ground rules” of debt repayment such as increasing your income and limiting expenses to maximize the funds available for debt repayments there are two elements that stand out in her story.
Firstly, she encountered considerable tax returns and insurance money that the average person would consider a “bonus”. Instead she used these funds to make an immediate impact in her debts.
Secondly, she managed to stay upbeat through the whole process which kept her sending those checks like clockwork. Time and again it seems that one of the biggest factors for success when paying off debt is self discipline and Jordann had it in spades!
How I Paid Off Over $50,000 Of Credit Card Debt
“Debt likes to keep you down, so you have to make sure you figure out ways to keep your head up.”
If you read personal finance blogs then Grayson Bell is probably a name you recognize. If not, do yourself a favor and subscribe to Debt Roundup – it’s a regular dose of motivation and actionable tips.
That said, Grayson’s story stands out for his willingness to make some difficult sacrifices in order to achieve his goal of a debt-free life. He didn’t just stop buying luxuries – he even cut out things that many people consider basic needs like cable TV. Heck, he even closed down a business to reduce his expenses.
What makes Grayson’s story so unique is that he used what he calls “celebration steps” to keep him motivated while paying off his credit card debt. He set “targets” for his debt repayments and whenever he hit the next level, he’d treat himself without guilt. By constantly having “treats” just over the horizon, Grayson was able to stay the course and eliminate $50,000 of debt.
How I Paid Off $14,000 Of Debt In Just 14 Months
“Without a struggle, there can be no progress”
Carrie Smith had managed to clock up $14,000 in debt from credit card balances and a car loan when she decided to get serious about becoming debt free.
To be successful she became what she calls “gazelle intense” – making paying off debt her number one priority. However even with this level of intensity, Carrie admits it wasn’t always plain sailing and there were periods where she thought she’d never succeed.
But succeed she did. She decided that the best way to pay off debt included setting deadlines to keep your motivated, cutting unnecessary expenses like cable TV and her gym membership and generating extra revenue from freelance writing. It worked – and she actually paid off her debt five months earlier than her projections.
Remember: paying off debt isn’t easy but it sure as hell is rewarding when you come out the other side.
How We Paid Off $45,000 In Debt In 45 Months
“It IS possible to pay off debt even when you’re not making very much. It just requires a lot of hard work and dedication.”
It was only a few weeks after they got married that Eric and Erika, together with Bentley the terrier, realized just how much debt they had together – a nausea-inducing $45,000 from student loans, car loans and credit cards.
But the last thing they wanted to do was to start off what should have been the happiest period of their lives while drowning in debt. So they postponed the honeymoon, took on extra work as freelance writers, built websites and used Dave Ramsay’s debt snowball technique to make ever-larger dents in their debt.
How We Paid Off $30,000 In Credit Card Debt
“Anyone can get into debt. It’s much harder to look at the behaviors that caused the problem and make positive changes”
The scary thing about getting into debt is that rather like putting on weight it can happen so slowly and gently that you barely notice it happening. Then one day you meet an old friend who comments on how you’ve “filled out” and you realize just how much weight you’ve put on over the last few years.
So it was with well-known and highly-respected personal finance blogger Kim Parr who admits that the route of her $30,000 of debt was simple lifestyle inflation. But once Kim and her husband had accepted the unpleasant truth they set to work.
They both took on extra work where it was available in order to pay as much as possible off their debts and they even made the unusual decision to sell their business and then invest the capital in a rental property that started to produce positive cash-flow almost instantly.
How I Paid Off $17,000 Of Student Debt In Six Months
“I saved myself from the “buying crap” mentality and directed my earnings into my debt. It worked!”
Kerry Taylor’s debt came in the form of student loans. What makes student loan debt hard to swallow of course is that when you leave college you’ve just spent the last few years living on such a tight budget that it’s tempting to go on a binge, spending your first few paychecks on all the things you’ve missed out on lately.
Not so for Kerry who decided that the best way to pay off debt was to continue living like a student even after graduation to keep her costs down and roll the extra money into getting out of debt. She had had the confidence – and good sense – to be willing to negotiate a higher salary than was initially offered, further adding to the money she had available for debt repayments.
However possibly the most impressive tactic she used in getting out of debt was simply avoiding consumer goods that she knew would only bring her short term pleasure. Instead she avoided the mall and set herself up for a lifetime of financial stability – something that’w worth far more than any gadget or home furnishing.
Conclusions (And The Best Way To Pay Off Debt)
If you’re currently paying off debt there are a couple of things to take away from the above stories.
Firstly, what you’re doing is unusual – but that’s a good thing. Too many people live with debt their whole lives – but what you’re doing is so much better.
Secondly, while you’re certainly in the minority of people, you’re by no means alone. Plenty more people just like you are getting serious about paying off debt.
It takes time. It takes effort. And it takes a lot of self-discipline – but oh boy is it worth it.
Each of the stories discussed above used a wide range of strategies from debt snowballs to moving back in with parents.
However the common themes running through most of these stories – which provides some guidance about the best way to pay off debt – are that people who are success at paying off debt manage to significantly reduce their expenses, increase their incomes in a variety of ways and keep themselves motivated by monitoring their debt and rewarding themselves from time to time.
Are you debt free? What were your biggest secrets to success?
Are you still paying off debt? What are you finding most challenging?
Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below…