Most of us have some experience with debt, whether that’s a mortgage, student loans, or a credit card balance.
In fact, a survey from MagnifyMoney found that over 42% of Americans hold an average of nearly $US11,000 in credit card debt, specifically.
But not everyone wilts in the face of owing thousands, and we can name names.
Here, we’ve highlighted insight from normal people who paid their way out of the red.
How much debt he paid: $US81,000
How long it took him: Less than 3 years
One trick he used: Getting a clear picture of his debts by gathering all of his info in one place.
You can't fix what you don't know, so I had to get very clear on all of my loan details, including all of the debt balances, lender information, interest rates, and the required monthly payment amounts and start dates.
The best ways to find all of this information are via your loan statements and a credit report. When I ran my first credit report, I found two additional accounts that I thought were closed that were not, so it's important to do this on an annual basis.
I put all of my loan information on a spreadsheet that I regularly updated, which allowed me to get a clear picture of what I owed and how to attack it.
How much debt she paid: $US23,600
How long it took her: 15 months
One trick she used: A spending fast.
'A spending fast is where you spend money on the basics needed to live. It's created by structuring a wants and needs list, which is personalised by each specific person's priorities in life,' Anna Newell Jones explains.
Jones laid out her needs -- 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 -- and eliminated pretty much everything else.
How much debt they paid: $US24,000
How long it took them: Less than 3 years
One trick they used: Trying an online spending app to see where their money went.
When trying to eliminate her husband's student loan debt, one of the first steps Kelsey Folmar took was signing up for spending tracking tool Mint.com.
'By the end of the night, I had all of my accounts set up,' she says. 'I was already starting to see where we were screwing up. I asked Kendan: 'How much money do you think we spent on food last month? $US500? $US600?' It was $US1,200!'
'The other day I was on Mint and said to Kendan, 'You pulled $US40 out of the ATM?,' then realised it was a year ago,' Folmar says. 'That's the kind of banter we have now. That's the only way we've managed to pay this debt off.'
How much debt he paid: $US89,040
How long it took him: 2 years
One trick he used: Calling his providers to negotiate his rates regularly.
'I made a habit of routinely calling my insurance, credit card and phone providers to look for cost-saving opportunities,' writes Leigh Fletcher on LearnVest, who decided to eliminate his debt when he and his wife considered becoming parents. 'At first, I would just pick one while driving to work or at lunch and spend perhaps just 15 to 20 minutes on the phone, but I soon started making appointments in my calendar -- once a year for most services, or ad hoc when I received an abnormal bill.'
'I literally saved hundreds -- if not thousands -- by making sure I understood new pricing plans or giving more information to insurance providers to get lower premiums based on new details,' he continues. 'One time I saved $US150 on a phone bill that had gone over by simply calling, making a case for my loyalty with the company and explaining aspects of the usage I hadn't understood. Another time, I saved about $US300 on insurance just by getting a quote from another company and bringing it to my providers.'
How much debt they paid: $US30,000
How long it took them: Less than 2 years
One trick they used: Transferring their remaining balance to a 0% interest card.
After paying half of their debt, Kim and Jim Parr made a 0% balance transfer, which allowed them to pay the remaining $US15,000 without incurring any interest.
While Kim doesn't recommend balance transfers for everyone -- 0% interest is usually an introductory rate, and if you don't have that balance paid off by the time the rate expires, you could get hit with massive interest -- they had 12 months to pay off the balance before the interest kicked in, she explains, 'and I knew that unless there was a catastrophe, we'd be able to pay it off.'
How much debt she paid: $US8,000
How long it took her: 90 days
One trick she used: Turning her focus to earning more instead of spending less.
'I've always been a huge proponent of the idea that penny pinching is an absurd waste of time,' writes Lauren Bowling on her site, L Bee and The Money Tree. 'Sure, saving money is good sense, but spending hours and hours of your precious time to bargain hunt and only slightly lower your bottom line? Ri-dic-u-lous. I make more hourly than I could ever save by bargain hunting.'
Bowling 'turned to my side hustle as a freelance writer and marketing gun-for-hire to ramp up extra income,' she writes. She got back in touch with former clients, nabbed new gigs on Elance, and started offering blog coaching. She even starting selling things she no longer wanted on Ebay and offered advertising space on her blog for the first time. She opened two new checking accounts and put the $US300 bonus payment she received toward her debt.
'Basically, anything I could do to bring in extra dollars, I did,' she writes.
How much debt he paid: $US52,000
How long it took him: 16 months
One trick he used: Researching expert advice to devise his own debt-payment strategy.
'Since childhood I'd dreamed about becoming super successful and rich,' Kevin Shryock writes. 'But here we sat, debt up to our eyeballs. I didn't feel rich -- I felt lost.'
'I asked for finance books at Christmas and studied at the library. I read books by Dave Ramsey, Robert Kiyosaki, and Jim Cramer,' Shryock continues. '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.'
How much debt they paid: $US20,000
How long it took them: 14 months
One trick they used: Breaking their overwhelming goal into bite-sized pieces.
'Our main strategy was to set small goals for ourselves, and then to knock them out for the emotional boost that comes along with a zero balance,' writes Michelle McDowell. 'We took the essential first step of building an emergency fund of $US1,000, which provided a buffer against unexpected expenses (the very kind that in the past had us reaching for our credit cards). We attacked the small balances first, and then moved onto the larger ones.'
How much debt he paid: $US110,000
How long it took him: 2 years
One trick he used: Looking for free alternatives instead of spending on goods and services.
Part of the Elders' extreme savings plan involved brutally cutting every corner possible. Elder said his mantra became 'Is there a free alternative?' Every time he could have spent money on something, he would ask himself that question and almost always come up with an answer.
For example, when he needed a ladder to paint his house, he borrowed one from a neighbour. When he and his wife wanted to go to the movies, they watched one online. And, they went to the park for picnic dates and had friends over for happy hour. When asked if he ever splurged, Elder laughed and said, 'No. It sounds cheap, but it worked.'
How much debt they paid: $US92,000
How long it took them: 2.5 years
One trick they used: Paying their debts from smallest to largest.
Bryant and Emily Adler began eliminating their debt by using 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 book, '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.'
How much debt they paid: $US109,000
How long it took them: 4 years
One trick they used: Getting help from a debt management program.
When Brian Brandow realised their local credit union offered a debt management program, he gave them a call.
On their behalf, the credit union called their credit card companies, consolidated their debt, and reduced the interest rate. 'On one card, the rate was 18.5%, and they were able to reduce it to 1.5%,' explains Brandow, 'so a lot more money was going to debt as opposed to interest.'
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