As I sit here today, sharing this story about paying off over $52,000 in debt in just 7 months, I shake my head.
The reality is – the only way to pay off $52,055.15 in 7 months is to slip into the massive hole in the first place!
In this Epic Guide, we go through his exact playbook including the self-talk and psychological mind games he had to play with himself to succeed.
As I look back to how it happened, it makes me cringe. I want to bury my head in the sand.
But the experiences of our past shape who we are and while I don’t wish it upon anyone to get into incredible five figure consumer debt, it made me far more responsible than any class ever would.
Let me paint you a picture.
The year is 2011 and life is awesome.
I’d been married to the love of my life for just a few years and we wanted to celebrate our wonderful life together. We were like newlyweds those first few years and we tried our hardest to live the American Dream.
Looking back, our little dream was turning into a nightmare.
In just 3 years, we were successfully able to rack up $52,055.15 in consumer debt because we just spent, spent, and spent some more. And then some more.
- We took cruises and vacationed in the Caribbean… (on Credit Cards)
- We bought a brand new luxury car… (after we drove by a Car Dealership and liked the one on display)
- We bought a new house… (with two mortgages because we couldn’t come up with the down payment to qualify for only one loan)
- We enjoyed expensive jewelry and name brand everything… (because we thought we were so sophisticated)
We were that fun couple that looked like we had it all figured out. We truly believed other people wanted to be like us. Hey, from the outside looking in we were rich! Then, we even were blessed enough to have our first baby boy.
How could life get any better?
We had it made and nothing was going to get in the way of the life we deserved. We had worked so hard to get here and you bet we were going to enjoy it.
We started believing our own hype. This is how people lived.
Then, in one single phone call, it all came crashing down. It was the Spring of 2011 and I was at work, at the fire station. My wife called me and said we didn’t have money to buy groceries. I was in shock.
It was a Wednesday and payday wasn’t until Friday.
We were out of money.
We were broke.
We were embarrassed.
We felt ashamed.
Life finally caught up to us because we had too much debt.
When we put our consumer debt on paper, the paper read back:
(I felt like throwing up)
That phone call was literally our wake up call.
We made it through and, after a little soul searching, we decided things needed to change.
We needed to start paying attention to our finances and get rid of debt forever. We knew if we couldn’t even afford ourselves now, how would we ever be able to afford the life we truly wanted in the future?
So we created a plan, implemented it, and never gave up.
The results were amazing.
No, actually they were epic!
We completely changed our ways with our money and over a short time we declared we were debt free (minus the home mortgage).
We went from paycheck to paycheck (and broke but not knowing it), to rolling up our sleeves and paying off that much debt in seven months!
I know it sounds unbelievable… but I’m going to give you the step by step script or what you can do to get out of debt too.
Epic Guide to Getting Out of Debt
Here’s the script:
- Determine How Much Debt You Have
- Two Paydown Strategies – Debt Snowball vs. Avalanche
- Squeeze the Budget
- Sell Your Crap
- Make More Money
- Persevere – Never Give Up
- Get The Spreadsheet
Finally, some exceptions.
1. Determine how much DEBT you have
This may seem easy, but follow along with me for a moment.
Debt is anything you owe to someone or something else.
This doesn’t just mean credit cards and student loans. This is a mortgage or mortgages, medical debt, car loans, title loans, money you owe your annoying brother-in-law, and even money you may owe your bookie. If there is anyone or anything you owe money to, add it up and put it on paper. Ouch, I know.
You may be under the same mindset that if I just don’t look at it, then it won’t be that bad.
Look at it, let it sting for a moment, and then breathe. This is a tough step, and if you can get past this one thing, you have an extremely high rate of becoming debt free.
2a. The Debt Snowball Method
The Debt Snowball method works because it causes us to focus on our behavior with money versus the math. You may not like ignoring the math part, I honestly didn’t like it either. But if math was the problem you wouldn’t be in debt in the first place.
Think about this for a second: When you were signing up for that credit card, did you say to yourself, “I cannot wait to carry a $15k balance on my credit card at 24.99%”?
No, of course not. Math isn’t your problem, your behavior with money is.
Change your behavior by doing the Debt Snowball.
How to Set up the Debt Snowball
Line up all of your debts (except your mortgage or mortgages) on paper from smallest to largest debt owed andignore the interest rates.
Remember, interest rates are math and math isn’t your problem.
Then, make minimum payments on everything and allocate every extra dollar you can at the very top debt (your smallest).
Attack, attack, attack, and get rid of that first debt forever. It should be your smallest, which means it will happen pretty quick.
After you do this, close out the account, and roll all the money you were throwing at the top one and snowball into the one right below.
This will repeat all the way down your list until all your debt is wiped out! The reason this works is because when you start feeling some wins, you get motivated, and when you get motivated, you win!
2b. Debt Avalanche Method
I know there is always going to be someone who simply cannot ignore the math.
Not to worry, I have come to expect it and therefore have a second (less favorable) option for you math lovers. It’s called the Debt Avalanche Method.
It’s very similar to the snowball, however now you’re going to line up your debts from largest interest to smallest interest. The reason I don’t recommend this one is your larger interest payment may be also be a larger balance. This means it may take a while to pay off and in my experience, people tend to give up if they don’t feel a quick initial win.
Your call here, but I still recommend the snowball method.
3. Squeeze the Budget
When you are paying off debt, you must be laser focused. Being in debt is like being in prison. For some, it may even feel like solitary confinement. Paying down debt will require some sacrifice.
Either way, your goal of becoming debt free means you get your freedom back. What would life feel like if you no longer had to send out your hard earned money in the form of payments? What would it feel like if you woke up and you were debt free? #awesome
Look at your Budget and start separating the wants versus the needs… and be honest!
You may love the NFL Sunday Ticket, but I promise you don’t need it. You may want to buy $300 purses with V’s on the side, but you don’t need them either. Start squeezing that budget so you can throw more of your hard earned money at your debt.
Once you are out of debt, I promise you can always go back and buy all that
crap stuff because you won’t be making debt and interest payments any longer.
Also, your next date night may need to look like a Microwaved Hot Pocket and a RedBox DVD Rental.
If this happens to you, congratulations! You’re on your way to debt freedom sooner than you had planned.
When we look back at how much we squeezed our budget, we realized we actually went to scorched earth. No cable, no restaurants, no vacations, and no more impressing strangers at the stop light in our luxury car. We were on a mission to get our lives back. Every month it became a game to see how much we could cut back. People thought we were crazy and I often agreed with them. We were crazy to stay in debt another second and it was time to start living again.
4. Sell Your
You will be surprised how much crap you have and how badly other people want it.
You can (and you should) sell everything you can on sites like eBay, Craigslist, and you may even want to do your own garage sale. Stuff that you may call garbage, will become treasures to others, and then will become money to throw at debt!
Remember, stuff is only stuff. You aren’t going to miss it as badly as you think, and you can go out and buy morecrap stuff once you are debt free.
Sell, sell, sell, and pay off debt like a boss!
5. Make More Money
We just talked about trimming that budget so we can allocate money towards your debt. However, what if we attacked this debt from both sides? Create some extra income in your life and throw all of that at your debt too.
Don’t have any ideas? Here are 68 ways you can make extra income right now. I promise there are at least 5 of them every single one of you could do. If you’re serious about debt freedom, then you may have to walk a few dogs or clean a few pools. Hard work really does pay off (debt).
6. Don’t Give Up
Expect it to get hard.
Your friends are out there “living” and you’re eating Top Ramen and walking dogs. I get it – I was there too. But, remember that little light at the end of the tunnel you always hear about? Well, I am here to tell you it is there and it is brighter than you can ever imagine.
One thing we did was create a debt thermometer (download a simple version Jim made for you, right click and save). It’s just like those charity drives where they show the amount raised as a thermometer, except ours was for debt. As we paid off our debt, we would color in another section so you could physically view it and see it on a daily basis. We hung it on the refrigerator at first but then moved it into the medicine cabinet of our room because we realized everybody was coming into our house thinking we were weird enough. 🙂
Also every time we paid off one of our debts, we celebrated the win. It was small, just a tiny tiny little celebration which meant maybe going out to eat, having a glass of wine or another small celebratory kind of thing.
Finally, we didn’t do this but one thing we’ve heard good things about is doing it with someone else. When two people or two families are trying to get out of debt together, it creates a little competition… and competition isn’t a bad thing when you’re trying to win with money.
One of the best days of your life will be the day you finally pay off that last debt. All the times your family and friends called you a bunch of weirdos, the times you had to say “no” to vacations, or thought of your spouse saying “It’s not in the budget” one more time, will be worth it.
Don’t give up, stay focused, and you will eventually finish. Tired of it taking so long? Go back over steps 3, 4, and 5.
Every rule in life has an exception, which means there are some exceptions to paying off debt.
Rule #1: Pay the IRS first – No matter whether you use the snowball or avalanche, put the IRS debt as priority number one. These guys can be a little ruthless and you want them out of your life as soon as possible.
Rule #2: Put Title Loan and Rent to Own Debts right below the IRS – The reason is because the interest rates are often 300% or higher. Yes, you saw that correctly – 300%. There is a reason why these slimy people are actually referred to as predatory lenders. Get these guys out of your life as as soon as possible.
Rule #3: If you owe money on a 401(k) loan, you cannot add extra payments to them. The only way to pay these off is to pay the agreed upon payment each month or to write them a check for the entire balance. When you get to this debt, make minimum payments and start socking away money in a separate savings account until you have enough to pay it off in full.
The No-No’s of Paying Off Debt
Don’t take out a HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) to pay off Debt.
The interest rate is of course going to be lower, which will be the selling point for the banker trying to get you to bite. It’s a terrible plan.
Most of your debt will likely be unsecured debt (credit cards, student loans, medical debt, etc.). If you don’t pay it, they can’t take anything away from you. The credit card company can’t really take back the dinner you bought in 2008 on your credit card, right?
However, if you take this unsecured debt and move it into your family room (i.e. on a HELOC), it now becomes secured debt. You know what happens when you don’t pay your mortgage and HELOC payment? The bank will foreclose. You will lose your house.
And also, don’t believe the banker when they tell you that you’re paying off debt with a HELOC. It might be a lower interest rate but you’re just moving debt from one bucket to another. The debt is still there and your behavior hasn’t changed at all.
Don’t take a loan against your 401(k) to pay off Debt
This is another horrible idea. One of the smartest people on planet earth said this:
“Compound Interest is the 8th Wonder of the World” – Albert Einstein
When you pull money from your retirement, you are turning off the machine. The machine is the compound interest, which is making you money while you are sleeping. Leave that money alone and come up with one of the 68 Side Hustles from above to create extra income to throw at debt.
It’s time to Stop Reading and Get Started
We went from paycheck to paycheck and then paid off $52k in 7 months because we had a plan, implemented it, and never gave up.
It was hard, it was embarrassing at times, and it was 100% worth it. It’s not complicated because it’s really only 5th grade math. It’s our behavior that has to change for this debt to go away. You are right on the edge of doing something amazing that will catapult you to a life of financial success that thoseother rich people seem to have.
Lastly, I will leave you with this. A few years back, Forbes Magazine did research on the 400 wealthiest people in America. When surveyed, three out of four of them say getting out of debt and staying out of debt was the most important thing to do with money. They are the richest 400 people in America. If you don’t want to listen to this lowly blogger, listen to them 🙂
Get The Spreadsheet
If I’ve finally convinced you that the way out is right in front of you, then I want you to know you’re not alone. Put your email in the sign up box below and I will send you the budget spreadsheet I used to get out of debt. I’ve given it to thousands of people just like you and helped them overcome their debts… it’s doable. And it will cost you nothing.
Get out of Debt and start living again,
Chris Peach, Money Peach