In 2013, Will Parker found himself $24,000 in debt.
As Sarah Eadie at Simple reported, “There was no one catastrophic moment that put Will into debt. … He lived unaware of his means, and got used to living outside them.”
Before realising just how deep of a hole he was digging, Parker had picked up credit card debt and a pricey car lease. He also owed his parents money he had borrowed for graduate school.
Yet just as quickly as he wound up in debt, he clawed his way out. It only took him nine months and one day to pay back every cent.
Business Insider reached out to Parker and asked how he did it. Surprisingly, step No. 1 had nothing to do with his outstanding debt. Before making any payments, “I started my rainy day fund and set aside $1,000 right away,” he tells 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, he wouldn’t have to go into more debt to cover it.
Plus, getting started is half the battle when it comes to repaying loans, and this step acts as a simple, concrete starting point on your journey to a debt-free life. As Parker explains:
This step actually takes no work. You go to your checking account right away and you earmark $1,000 — and that’s your start. If you don’t have it, then maybe you have to go sell something, but chances are most of us have a little bit of buffer room in our checking account.
It’s the same thing with exercise. What’s the first step to working out? It’s not going out and buying new Nike’s or an Apple Watch. It’s going outside and just walking. That’s step one, but most people make the mistake in trying to figure out how to get to step one.
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.”
Of course, $1,000 isn’t an ideal amount to have in your emergency fund — many experts, including Ramsey, recommend setting aside at least three months worth of living expenses — but it acts as a sufficient temporary fund until you’ve paid off your debt.
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. It’s easier said than done. “You’ve felt that big win after paying off all your debt and you want to go buy a TV or something,” Parker explains. “But don’t party yet.”
After all, getting out of debt is just the beginning — if you fall into your old habits, you could be back to square one before your realise it.