Debt is not a fun topic to talk about. We much prefer to talk about things like how well we’re sticking to our budgets (even if it’s not true) or the strategies we’re using to pay off our credit cards (even if we keep charging more to them).

But it’s a fact of life. Regardless of the reasoning, whether it’s medical bills from an emergency surgery, poor spending habits, or something else altogether, a lot of us are in debt.

And it’s stressful. It makes you feel like you’re a failure. It can cause a strain on personal relationships when it comes to sharing finances.

But that’s why we like to talk about things here that are real. Like how I ended up with $20,000 in debt. And the actions I’m taking in real life to try to pay that down, slowly but surely.

How I Wound Up With $20K in Debt

I have never been great with money. I have some pretty toxic spending habits that I’m actively working to improve.

In the past, there have been many times where I’ve carelessly spent outside my means by putting things on credit cards, and it also means that things have been tighter than they should when I had big or unexpected expenses come up.

As it stands right now, I have $22,720 in debt across all of my loans and credit cards. My highest point was around $27,000, and I have made some progress in paying this down.

$4,707 belongs to my car loan and $3,704 belongs to my student loans. Here are just a few of the things that lead to the rest of that debt, which was racked up with credit cards:

  • I spent over $10,000 during my child custody case on my lawyer
  • Trips that I couldn’t afford but wanted to go on anyways
  • Emergency vet visits when my cat got sick
  • Car taxes
  • Stitch Fix boxes
  • Going out to eat too often
  • Moving expenses
  • Wax appointments
  • Car rental and car accident damages
  • Christmas and birthday gifts
  • Gym memberships
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And while I have definitely made progress over the years in paying this off, I have also had outrageous spending sprees that have counteracted that progress along the way.

I share this to let you know that you’re not the only one making financial decisions that might not be the best for you, but that others do the same, and we can all work to overcome these poor money habits and get to debt zero.

What I’m Doing to Get Out of Debt

While there have been times when I’ve been insanely overwhelmed with the amount of debt that I have, I currently have an exciting and promising plan of action that is helping me to feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

I’ll walk you through the steps I’ve taken, and what I have planned going forward, to show you a real life paying down debt strategy.

1. I got a job with better pay.

I realize this one is a bit privileged, and not everyone has the ability to job search and find success, but I highly recommend you look into other jobs in your field if possible.

I’d been at my company for three years, and I knew my boss just wasn’t going to pay me any more money. And while we had some great perks, what my financial situation needed was a bigger paycheck.

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It took me a good six months of applying to job after job, but I finally found something and was able to get a pretty big salary jump, which has helped immensely.

If you love your job or your company, look into negotiating a higher salary or getting a promotion to a higher position.

2. I freelance on the side.

While my better paying job has definitely helped, freelancing for extra income offers additional assistance. Everything I make from my side gigs goes directly to debt payments so that I can pay even more quickly.

There are tons of ways to make money online or by getting a part time or side job, so look into options in your industry or community.

Related: The Ultimate Guide To Making More Money

3. I put myself on a strict budget.

I do not use my credit cards at all anymore. I finally had to put myself on a strict budget in order to gain some momentum in paying my debt down. I was making little to no progress in getting out of debt when I constantly added to it.

Now I plan out how much I can spend each week in a money diary so that I know exactly where my money is going each week, but I still allot for entertainment expenses as well.

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4. I put my tax returns to my debt.

Each year, I put nearly my entire tax return to debt payments to remove a large chunk all at once. I’ve already gotten my taxes back this year and used them to completely pay off the remainder of one of my credit cards.

5. I got a personal loan.

My credit cards range from 14% to 28% interest, which means I end up paying a lot of interest in the end, on top of everything I already owe.

I started looking into other options, including a balance transfer to a 0% APR credit card, but after speaking to a financial advisor friend, decided a personal loan would be best. He essentially said that personal loans are just like credit cards, but with a lower interest rate.

I got a $15,000 personal loan with Upstart and was approved and paying off credit card balances within literally 30 minutes. My personal loan interest rate is just 8%.

This means I’m able to consolidate all of my debt into one single monthly payment, and pay even less in the end, which is absolutely a win-win.

Debt is a touchy subject, but I like to be real about my finances. I’m feeling pretty confident that I’m on the right track, but forcing myself to put aside my credit cards has definitely made a world of difference.

What are your favorite methods for paying off debt? What has worked for you in the past?