Paying off debt can be overwhelming. Where do you even start?
Below, find seven smart choices real people made to start — and finish — their debt-payment journeys.
Kathleen Elkins contributed reporting to this post.
Jessica Elberfeld created a budget
Since graduating from college in 2009, Jessica Elberfeld has paid $104,182.42 out of $113,000 of student loans.
She told Business Insider she had always made her loan payments a priority, but didn't create her budget until 2015, when she exported as much transaction data as she could from her online bank statement into an Excel spreadsheet.
She combed through six to nine months of her spending history to average how much she spent in each category per month, and then made that average her budget. Every night, she inputs her receipts into her spreadsheet in weekly increments. If she goes over in one area, she'll course-correct the next month. This way, she can devote at least $2,230 a month to her loan payments.
In November, she'll have paid her full balance and will be loan-free.
Bryant and Emily Adler created a 'debt snowball'
In 2012, Bryant and Emily Adler totaled up their assets and debts and found they owed $92,645.
To start eliminating it, they used Dave Ramsey's Snowball Method, which encourages people to pay the smallest debt first, then use the emotional boost from that success to tackle the next smallest, and so on until every debt has been paid. Emily ordered his 'Total Money Makeover' and used it to guide their process.
'We made a spreadsheet of our debts and listed them from smallest to largest,' Emily explains. 'We started with the smallest and went from there -- although we tackled the car payment before another, smaller one, because the interest rate was so high we wanted to get rid of it. When we paid each debt off, we just stuck that minimum payment onto the next one.'
Two and a half years after beginning, the Adlers made their very last debt payment on Christmas Eve 2014.
Will Parker set aside money for emergencies
In 2013, Will Parker found himself $24,000 in debt.
Business Insider reached out to Parker and asked him how he did it. 'I started my rainy-day fund and set aside $1,000 right away,' even before making any payments, he told Business Insider.
It was a choice inspired by personal-finance expert Dave Ramsey, Parker says. The idea was that if an emergency or unexpected big cost arises, then he wouldn't have to go into more debt to cover it.
If you can't set aside $1,000, 'Start somewhere,' Parker emphasises. 'Maybe $500. The important thing is getting in the practice of doing something that you're not used to doing.'
Once he was completely debt-free, Parker spent the next six months building up his rainy-day fund to cover four months of living expenses.
Lauren Bowling found ways to increase her income
When Lauren Bowling set a goal to pay off $8,000 of debt in 90 days, she knew just cutting her expenses wasn't going to help her find the extra $1,600 a month she needed. She writes:
'I was already saving as much as I could from my full-time paycheck, so I turned to my side hustle as a freelance writer and marketing gun-for-hire to ramp up extra income. I hassled a few clients I hadn't heard from in months. I sold my pride got on Elance and found a handful of new (and surprisingly well paying) clients. I thought about new streams of revenue for my business, and so I started offering blog coaching for beginner bloggers and businesses.'
She also sold some of her unwanted possessions on eBay, did a voiceover gig, began offering sponsored (paid) content to brands on her blog, and opened two new checking accounts for a quick $300 jolt.
Three months later, she was able to hit her goal.
Anna Newell Jones separated her spending into 'wants' and 'needs'
When Anna Newell Jones realised she owed $23,605.10 of debt in 2009, she decided to take drastic measures: a year-long spending fast.
To kick off her year doing the fast, Jones laid out her needs and wants on her website, And Then We Saved. She needed rent, utilities, mobile phone without internet, necessary groceries, low-cost gym membership, medical costs, inexpensive photography exhibits for her side business, car payments and gas, a bus pass, and boxed hair dye.
She eliminated everything else.
Granted, Newell Jones's approach is extreme. But her decision to distinguish the money she spent on things she wanted versus things she needed could work for just about anyone looking to save a little more cash.
Kevin Shryock did his research
When Kevin Shryock and his girlfriend Becca realised they owed $52,000 of debt, they were shocked. 'Since childhood I'd dreamed about becoming super successful and rich,' he wrote on Business Insider, 'but here we sat, debt up to our eyeballs. I didn't feel rich -- I felt lost.'
So, he turned to the experts.
'I asked for finance books at Christmas and studied at the library. I read books by Dave Ramsey, Robert Kiyosaki and Jim Cramer. I found simple strategies to tell my money where to go instead of wondering where it went, like budgeting, getting out of debt, staying out of debt, living below your means, and building an emergency fund.'
In less than 18 months, they were debt-free and had saved an additional $20,000.
Frank Thomae moved to find a lower cost of living
In 2014, Frank Thomae and his wife, Lissette, were $46,000 in debt. So they left.
They'd been living in Montreal but dreaming of travel, so they set off, with their debt, on an open-ended trip starting with three months in Prague. Frank was retired from his job as the CFO of a Canadian exporter, but Lissette was able to keep her marketing job, work remotely, and earn $125,000 a year.
As they left Prague for Thailand (and then Croatia, Budapest, Romania, and South Africa), they realised their cost of living was only a fraction of what they'd paid home in Canada, and being able to earn money while living on less, their debt was eliminated in only two years.
Again, travelling the world is extreme. But moving to find a lower cost of living is an effective way to buoy your savings quickly -- even life coach and personal finance author Tony Robbins recommends it.