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6 Strategies to Pay off Debt


Guest post from Erin of The No Drama Mama

When I was a little girl I remember bountiful Christmas mornings, but I also remember many occasions on which our lights or cable were shut off because of overdue bills. I remember the constant calls by debt collectors and being warned not to pick up the phone. All of it made an impression on me.

Although I didn’t make the connection clearly until years later, I got the point that we weren’t on a good financial path.

As an adult, I felt that as long as I wasn’t chased after by bill collectors, I had achieved some sort of financial success — but that was only one part of the picture.

It took enough mistakes with credit to make me realize that we would NEVER be successful without first getting out of debt.

Here are 6 surprising strategies that have helped us pay off over $20,000 of debt on one income:

1. Ditch The Debt Denial

Sometimes we don’t even want to know how much debt we’re in. That denial keeps us comfy and cushioned from our mistakes and allows us to play the “I pay the minimum balance” game, which keeps us focused on making payments instead of paying off debt.

The first thing you have to do is get real with yourself and your spouse. Lay it all out, every balance, every minimum payment and look at it. If that doesn’t get you fired up to see how much money you’re spending each month on stuff you already “own” I don’t know what will.

2. Find a Financial Guru

I looked to Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman for advice when I was first staring down our mountain of debt.

Get to the library and check out what the experts have to say. Follow them on social media. Follow their blogs. You’ll find helpful advice and inspiration to keep pushing you forward.

3. Get An Emergency Fund… Stat!

Why does Dave Ramsey tout this as Baby Step #1? Because life happens: cars need repair, hot water heaters go out, and unexpected trips to the ER are necessary.

We don’t know when or where these things will happen, but I guarantee you they are coming.

In our second year into paying off debt, we had both cars taken out of commission in the same week. Without savings, you’ll go running straight to credit to bail you out.

4. Start Small

It might seem counter intuitive to pay off the smallest balance first. Why not start with the highest payment or the highest APR? It’s because we’re creatures who need constant motivation.

If we go years before we see our first debt erased, most of us will quit before we get there. Get some quick wins by erasing small balances first and you’ll want to keep going.

Similarly, when you’re looking for ways to cut your budget, start small. Start by giving up things that don’t hurt so much, like eating out once a month, the manicure, or the subscription you don’t use anymore.

5. Stop Thinking that Saving Money Is the Answer (by itself)

You can save all the money you want, but if you don’t apply those savings toward your debt, it’s going to fall through your budget cracks and get spent on other things.

Put together a debt repayment plan. It will help you see at a glance what debt you have, what money you’ll use to pay it off and the time frame it’ll take you to do it.

If you love charts, by all means do those, too. Whatever motivates you will keep you moving forward during setbacks.

6. Get Excited!!!!

Looking at debt repayment as a chore will get you nowhere. I know it can be hard because it seems daunting when you’re in a lot of debt. It’s probably going to take you years to get out. However, you didn’t get in debt overnight, so can you really expect to get out that quickly?

Instead, try to find joy in it. I think of each debt gone as one less link in the chains that bind me and our family.

I know some people can’t even imagine what it would be like to be out of debt, but I URGE you not only to imagine it, but to know it’s going to happen. Let that thought take up residence.

How much debt have you paid off and how did you do it?

Erin Johnson, a.k.a. The No Drama Mama, can be found blogging at The No Drama Mama when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her otherwise three adorable kiddos. This frugal, “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow me on Facebook or Twitter for my delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails.

photo source

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  • I love this, especially the part about being excited! Every time we’ve payed off a debt, I felt a weight lift off me. It has helped me to think about how amazing it will feel to not have debt instead of thinking about how hard it will be to get there. We now only owe on our house, and having very little stress about money now makes the extra tight times we had worth it.

  • Kelly Cox says:

    The excitement over being debt free is amazing. I love that you included that part. I think that it takes something to look forward to to spur you onward when one is climbing out of debt. Press forward toward the prize!

  • Tamara says:

    Excellent post, especially the tip regarding small. Too many times people think they have to have enormous amounts of money to throw at their debt, but, just as with exercise or weight loss, beginning small and sticking with it is the key. STARTING is what one has to do; almost everyone can find four or five dollars extra during the month. Suze Orman many years ago gave this advice: Pay for everything with cash during the month and collect the coins. At the end of the month you most likely will have @ $10 that you can apply to your smallest debt. My husband and I did this and as time went by, we “found” other “extra” money to put towards debt.

    • Erin says:

      You’re so right Tamara, thinking you need to have lots of money to throw at debt can prevent people fro trying to get out of debt. If you see all those small amounts as important tools to slowly inch your way out, you’ll get there eventually, which is WAY better than not getting there at all.

  • Carolynn says:

    We paid off our credit card debt last fall. I don’t carry any credit cards at all now. I figure in an emergency if my husband isn’t with me, I can always get in touch should the need arise. Visa debit card works for on-line shopping.
    My biggest aide was my online banking, being able to set up small weekly automatic withdrawals & still try to make an extra when possible. We started with the smallest bill to get that done & over with first. I also did this for a savings account for Christmas gifts. If you can justify a daily coffee bought at a shop, $10 or $15 / week will add up quickly. You can always go in on the weeks you know you can’t afford to that luxury, or make changes so it’s biweekly.
    Seeing your control over your finances will give you such a high!!!

    • Erin says:

      Congratulations Carolynn on getting out of credit card debt! That’s an awesome accomplishment! Sacrificing small things is also a great way to save for Christmas.

  • Steph says:

    My husband and I went on a “debt diet” when we got married to pay of a personal loan, student loan, and credit card. When attempting to get your debt under control, it may seem like $10 a month won’t even put a dent in the amount that you owe. (It WILL put a dent in it! But it can be a daunting task to start.) I found that a good way to kickstart your efforts is to make the first payment a larger one. Sell a few things on EBay, participate in a children’s clothing consignment, babysit, cash in a jar of coins… whatever you can do to have a little extra to put towards that first payment. There’s a real sense of pride that comes with gaining control over your debt- even when it’s not fully paid off. Good luck, everyone. You can do it!

    • Erin says:

      I like your “kick starting” strategy. Just about to participate in a massive consignment sale for kids items in my area. Hopefully that helps kick start some other debt repayment for us.

    • Erin says:

      Love your kick starter ideas Steph! I’m about to participate in a large local children’s consignment sale and I hope that kick starts some of my debt repayment goals!

  • Nikki says:

    Great tips. I especially like the “Get excited”. It was until I changed my mindset to one of excitement and positivity, that I was actually able to stick to my debt reduction plan. Moving forward towards being debt free truly is exciting.

  • Harmony says:

    We were able to pay off more than $20,000 in debt during 2015! Our success was due to a combination of making more money through side hustles and saving money with a ton of little changes to our day-to-day life:

  • Jessica says:

    I paid off 20 thousand in 2 and a half years by getting a part time job. But now enough is enough and I’m quitting this job. I’m still in debt but hoping to work more in my full time job.

    • Erin says:


      You certainly sound like you’re headed in the right direction. Know that it’s going to take you some time to get out of debt. You sound like you’re really killing it, working two jobs so if you can’t keep going at that pace, which I totally understand, try to save more of what you do earn. It’ll happen if you want it badly enough. Just keep pushing forward, even if it’s only inches at a time.

  • Renee Bush says:

    I have debt up to my ears. I’m paying it off as much as possible but it seems like an end to know end. I see so much on how people have paid off thousands of dollars in debt in 2 years. Most of these people are married. I would love to read some information on how a single working mom like myself, who foots all the bills and take care of the household is actually able to pay off debt completely. On my salary, I’m pretty much living pay check to pay check with not much in between.

    • Erin says:

      Hi Renee,

      I just wanted to say that my husband and I paid off most of our debt in 4 years. I have no idea how people pay it off so quickly and I think for most it gives people the false impression that it’s supposed to be that easy. The truth is, if it were none of us would be in debt in the first place. It usually one step forward and two steps back. It can be very difficult when you’re living paycheck to paycheck. We are as well. I wish I had more info on how single moms can pay off debt. My best tip is to call all your bill collectors and ask for lower rates. You’d be surprised how often just asking works. I just saved hundreds on my heating bills this winter by asking them to match their competitors rates. You start by carving out every little piece of financial breathing room you can and it’ll get easier, but just no its not a linear path. There are ups and downs the trick is to just keep moving forward when you’re feeling disappointed with the progress. Good luck to you!

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