I've paid off more than $8,000 of credit card debt so far, and I couldn't have done it without a free tool anyone can use

  • In 16 years, I took on more than $US23,000 of credit card debt.
  • When I decided to get serious about paying it off, my fiancé and I made a plan: First, we’d eliminate my smaller balances using the debt snowball method, then we’d use the debt avalanche for the remaining balances.
  • To keep track of my progress, I used Google Sheets, which I love because they’re simple, shareable, and keeps me accountable to my goals.
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In 2003, I got my first credit card in college, and went on to accumulate a little more than $US23,000 in credit card debt over 16 years. While my debt climbed, I stubbornly ignored it because I didn’t want to give up my lifestyle (and irresponsible spending).

That was up until six years ago, when I became a copy editor at personal finance company Bankrate. At that point, I finally faced my blind spots and since then, have gotten more serious – I’ve now paid off about $US8,000 of credit card debt in five years.

Since my fiancé proposed a few months ago, we’ve come up with a lofty wedding resolution: to pay off all $US23,000 in credit card debt by the time we say, “I do” in March 2020. Considering that’s only nine months away now, we came up with an aggressive plan and implemented some serious organisation skills.

Google Sheets has been an invaluable tool

That’s where Google Sheets comes in – it forced me to get real with myself. When working towards such a lofty goal, organisation is key, as well as simplification so you’ll keep coming back. I performed a full audit of all my debt and listed everything, including my school loans, car loan, and credit card debt.

First of all, I give all credit to my fiancé Johnny, who showed me how to fully utilise it. He formatted an online spreadsheet for me by creating several sections in my monthly budget using the above categories, as well as my other monthly expenses. Then, he created some simple formulas to show what I had left over after paying my bills.

While Google Sheets seems very simple, it holds a special magic with its formulas, which can be used to perform calculations based on the data you put in your spreadsheet. If you’re familiar with Excel, you know that each formula starts with an equal sign and must include a function, as well as the cell name or a range of cells to perform the calculation. You make your sheets easier to read by inputting titles, borders, cell shading, and other formatting tools.

Perhaps the best part about Sheets is that the spreadsheets are shareable and dynamic, something regular Excel isn’t. This naturally provides a powerful accountability system. I love that my husband-to-be and I can examine and update our various Google docs together, whether it’s for our individual budgets or various wedding-related spreadsheets (which are budgets in their own right).

Not only does it promote severe transparency, but it helps us work better together as a team. Plus, when we’re on there at the same time, it’s fun to see each other type little notes and carry on regular conversations that way.

Sheets keep us on track with our debt snowball-turned-avalanche

Now, Google Sheets can only do so much without an actual payoff strategy. My fiancé suggested the debt avalanche method, which transformed my mindset on how to use my money. The avalanche method, by which you pay your debts from highest interest rate to lowest rate (regardless of balance), is an especially appealing payoff strategy because over time, you end up paying less in interest overall.

However, before we could begin the avalanche in earnest, we started with a snowball.

The debt snowball involves paying off your smallest debt balances first, regardless of interest rate, in order to gain momentum to keep going. This was a temporary strategy that let me easily knock out five smaller credit card balances I had racked up (ranging from $US50 to $US350). Once they were paid off, we applied the avalanche method to the remaining, larger balances and have been doing that for several months.

Before I knew better, I used to pay only the minimum on credit cards, which roughly came out to $US364 a month across 10 cards. However, by using the avalanche method, I put $US915 towards my five remaining credit card balances every month for about six months. Starting in July, I will increase it to $US1,200 a month – which I can do since making my last auto loan payment a few days ago!

Thanks to Google Sheets, the avalanche strategy, and my fiancé, I’m on track to become debt-free.

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