For most of us, debt is a necessary evil. Paying it off can be one of the most freeing, empowering accomplishments in the world, worthy of celebration. Mic's new series Paid in Full tells the stories of these triumphs, and just might help you figure out how to get to balance zero, too.
City/state: Las Vegas, Nevada
Amount of debt: $67,888.14
Type of debt: Student loans and credit cards
How long it took to pay off: 3.5 years
Jobs held while paying the debt: HR Professional
I'm a first generation Eritrean-American, and education is extremely important in our culture. My dad was always very frugal with money and worked six days a week, my mom held down two jobs for the first half of my life. Having a good work ethic and earning your way was always the motto.
I got into debt when I took out a student loan for my bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies and kept completely maxing out my credit cards. Taking out the student loan wasn’t a hard decision, because we are taught that we’re investing in our education — but the credit cards were a tough decision.
The interest on the credit cards was baffling and it really, really discouraged me from believing I could even get out of debt at all. I was very irresponsible and careless with money, thinking I had the rest of my life to pay it off. The turning point came when I started earning more with my job and realized I wasn't saving anything. I also recognized that I was running out of money before the end of the month, and it really bothered me that I had reached a point of recklessness.
To pay off the debt, I took on a very holistic approach to money management. I understood that the way I handled my finances was really a reflection of how I handled other things, so I went on a “life audit,” if you will. I took inventory of my spiritual life and my mental and physical health — pretty much my overall wellbeing — and asked myself how I wanted to live. I'm a Christian, and what the Bible says about money really resonated with me. In the future, I'd really love to be generous and wise with my finances — not to be a borrower, but a lender.
There were a lot of hurdles to overcome. It's really about mindset when you get down to the bottom of it. I implemented a lot of changes, some a little more radical than most people would consider. But I realized I didn't want to live like most people.
I really cut out or cut back on things I knew could wait: trips with friends, eating out, shopping. I had great mentors and accountability partners, and I checked my budget on a weekly basis. I also decided to continue living at home with my family instead of moving out (which ended up being the best decision) and meal-prepped. I still made time to enjoy things along the journey; I just planned for them this time.
There would be times where I went over budget or was really bummed I couldn't do something because of FOMO, but I realized that I was putting in the work now to have better peace of mind later. I started feeling confident when I paid off a credit card I had a very large balance on, with a very high interest rate. It was the first time I felt confident that I would succeed in my journey.
The experience has absolutely changed how I approach my finances. Because I'm a planner at heart, I still sometimes get a little nervous about big purchases. But I just remember that as long as I continue to steward what I have, I'll be able to steward what's to come. I feel amazing now. I pay cash for everything, and I feel confident and peaceful when I travel or go shopping.
If you’re trying to pay off debt, have grace with yourself and be patient. Once you take control of your finances, it can be the most empowering thing. Don't be discouraged — everyone's journey looks different and so should yours.
We’re looking for people to include in upcoming installments of Paid in Full. If you’ve somehow managed to pay off debt and want to tell us how you did it, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.