How we paid off 21k in credit card debt

In a nutshell it took us 7 years to pay off 21 000$ in credit card debt and to save 55% of the cost of our home as a down payment. With the new year just beginning and so many people making financial matters like paying off debt and saving money a goal/resolution I figured I’d share our story and method with you all. It’s not the only “way” out there but this is what worked best for us and got us to our goal.

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I’m going to talk true blue numbers. Why? During the early days of our debt repayment journey I’d scour the internet looking for success stories to motivate us to keep on keeping on and more often than not I’d find stories explaining how debt was paid off without really talking about how much inflow of cash was involved. Taking home a six figure salary and repaying a 20k debt is far different than bringing home a 50k salary and paying back the same amount know what I mean?

For transparency reasons I’ll tell you straight that while Mer was working a full-time job and I had part time work we were netting ~ $36 000 yearly. That means that we were bringing home roughly 3000 per month or 1500 bi-weekly. We’re incredibly grateful that we both had paid stable work since there are people who unfortunately are unable to secure a stable income. The stability of our income is what really helped us create a plan and make our debt free lifestyle a reality.

For what it’s worth and because I’m a numbers nerd I checked what the average salary is in our area. Apparently as per google the average salary in this area is roughly 50 000$ after taxes which puts Mer and I at 14k below the average. In other words we were earning approximately 28% less than the average worker in this area combined.

How we found ourselves drowning in debt in the first place

Mer and I both brought debt into our marriage. We got married when I’d just finished my first undergraduate degree and hadn’t really entered the work force yet. I had roughly 5000$ of debt that was accumulated from tuition balances, text books and living expenses related to being a student without full-time work. He had roughly 6000$ of credit card debt and a hefty monthly car payment something around 650$ per month for another 2 years. In hindsight we should have communicated our debt repayment plans better and came up with an aggressive plan to annihilate this debt but we were young and thought we’d be able to figure it out once we got married.

Wrong.

After being married for 2 years, our debt spiraled out of control. I wish I could tell you that we accumulated that much debt by travelling or buying fancy things but that’s just not the case. I broke a tooth (2000$ that we didn’t have for a crown), the cat got sick (700$ emergency vet visit), winter tires blew out (900$ for new winters), an MRI (1500$ at a private clinic to avoid waiting 2 years), sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment for Mer (2000$ to avoid the 3+ year wait time in the public sector). On and on and on.

Every year was the same. Tax season would roll around and we’d vow to apply our refund to debt repayment and something would happen. The fridge went bust one year, another year the car broke down and yet another I had to have a cancerous growth removed that we had to pay for out of pocket.

We had no savings and no emergency fund which put us in a situation where we had to turn to using money we didn’t have to pay for the unexpected. Shit happens but we didn’t have the money to deal with it and the credit card debt spiral just continued to consume our lives.

The OLD Numbers

Way back in 2008 when we first started on our journey our numbers looked a little like this on a monthly basis (Scary hunh?)

At the time we really started to take our finances seriously- Mer’s truck was paid for and I was still a fulltime student pursuing graduate studies so I worked only part time.

*note: our car and renters insurance was paid yearly on credit because we were never able to save enough to pay it cash.

*note #2: My graduate school tuition was covered nearly 100% by scholarships and bursaries. Without this there was no way I would have been able to pursue my masters.

Credit Card #1 Minimum Payment 150.00
Credit Card #2 Minimum Payment 75.00
Credit Card #3 Minimum Payment 175.00
Rent 600.00
Electric 115.00
Phone Services 100.00
Internet/Cable 150.00
Gas 400.00
Food 600.00
Dining Out 500.00
Miscellaneous expenses (shopping, education, pet food, household cleaners, cash purchases we couldn’t didn’t keep track of) 400.00

Total:

3265.00

Approximate Net income: (Mer’s + Mine)

3000.00
-265.00

Scary as hell. We were basically racking up an extra 3200$ of debt every year we didn’t pay it down. Our finances were out of control and we knew we needed to do something but honestly had no idea where to start. Debt is so draining that you feel so consumed by the weight of its burden – we stalled and stalled until we got to the point where we knew something had to be done and we set up a plan we were comfortable with and stuck to it.

In theory, getting out of debt is easy – you pay back what you owe and you don’t spend money you don’t have on stuff you don’t need. So much easier said than done though right?

What we did and why it worked

1. Owned it. We avoided truly accepting our financial situation for years. Bills would come and we’d look at what we needed to pay without even pulling it out of the envelope. Why? We didn’t want to face the reality that we were digging ourselves deeper and deeper into debt. When we were finally ready and willing to take this on (a lot of this had to do with being in the right frame of mind to take on the challenge of paying off our debt) we sat down together with a pen, paper and calculator and basically went through our last 3 months of bank and credit card statements making a spread sheet of how much we spent on credit card repayment, food, utilities, insurance, miscellaneous and gas. What we discovered was terrifying – we were living way outside our means.

2. Consolidating our Debt: Some debt repayment plans encourage you to start paying off the smallest debt first while continuing to make the minimum payments on the others and then eventually snowball payments as you pay off each debt off. Although this makes total sense and probably works really well for some we decided to consolidate our debt and attack it as one payment instead of three. Mer called the credit card company and requested a credit card increase which was approved (not sure why considering the situation – maybe because we paid everything on time but never really made a dent in it) and so we piled all our debt onto one credit card.

3. Fixed vs Flexible Expenses. Our fixed expenses included rent and credit card payments. Essentially the only things that we couldn’t attack with our frugality plan were these two categories. Flexible expenses including gas, food and miscellaneous are the categories that we worked with which helped us get to our goal. We immediately stopped eating out (a post about how we broke that habit coming soon), we slashed our grocery bills to 75$ per week and stopped buying things unless we really needed to. Most of the time if we really needed something we’d buy it used because the amount of money you can save is really astronomical. Beyond this we actually assumed a new car payment on a used car. Crazy right? Well, the truck was starting to show its age with a number of costly repairs on the horizon and with rising gas prices we realized that it was costing us over 400$ per month to fuel our one vehicle (beyond crappy fuel mileage). We traded it in against a fuel efficient car which cost us 300$ per month and we were able to fuel it and pay for it for less money than what it had cost us to keep the truck driving.

4. Slashing Spending. We slashed everything we could. Like I mentioned above we stopped eating out, we slashed our grocery budget and started buying in bulk and using coupons. No more sodas or expensive snacks. I started cooking more and making things that we were able to make at home for a fraction of the cost. In the summer I would grow my own produce and freeze it to sustain us through the winter.We contacted our phone, internet, electric and insurance providers to try and score a better deal (in most cases we were able to lower our costs). We cut our cable and used only Netflix. We had to keep our internet because Mer needs it to work from home from time to time.

5. Rainy day fund. Some debt repayment plans encourage you to put everything you’ve got toward your debt. Although this probably eradicates debt quicker we opted to save a little extra for a rainy day fund. In my mind, it made no sense to aggressively repay debt without saving a little extra just in case. Part of the reason we were in so much debt in the first place was because we had no rainy day fund so we started to build up our savings. In the first year I think we managed to save a little under 3500$. It wasn’t a ton but coming from a place of zero savings we felt like we’d made a world of progress.

6. Sticking to it. This was the hardest part. There were times that we both felt like just throwing in the towel and saying efff it – let’s just live with the debt. Thankfully, we’d encourage and remind each other why we were doing this. Our goal was to start a family and buy our own property one day. It was hard – especially when it meant explaining why we were skipping a dinner out or not attending a party. We affectionately became labeled as “the cheapos”. Not kidding. Nonetheless, we stuck to our plan and never veered off path. Every month we paid our credit card company 1000$ to bring down our whopping 21 000$ debt – we treated that 1000$ like a minimum payment and made sure to pay our rent, debt and car payment above everything else.

The new numbers

This is what our budget looked like for nearly 3 years of our life.

* Our car and renters insurance was paid with the little savings we were able to accumulate.

Credit Card (17% annual interest, 2.5% minimum payment) 1000.00
Rent 600.00
Car Payment 300.00
Electric 115.00
T.V/Internet 60.00
Phone 100.00
Groceries 300.00
Miscellaneous (gas, medication, pet food, education, household products) 200.00

Total:

2675.00

Approximate Net income: (Mer’s + Mine)

3000.00
  +325.00

 

It took us just over 2 years to pay off our credit card debt and to build up a little savings.

Today, we’re 100% credit card debt free. We’ve purchased a home by putting down a 55% down payment (more on how we accumulated that money in a future post) and continue to live frugally. Sometimes excessively so.

So there you have it. This is what worked for us. There are a ton of methods out there that are just as effective. We simply found a plan that worked for us and went with it. Paying off large amounts of debt is possible – in our experience it takes a huge reality check, planning and dedication. Some days it seems like you’ll never get to the end of the debt repayment journey but eventually the day will come- one penny at a time.

Have you repaid debt? If so, what method is working/worked for you?

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Author: Jenny

I'm Jenny, a 30-something mama to 1 living child and 5 angels. I live in a tiny blue cottage in a small suburb outside a major Canadian city. I live here with my miracle baby Margs, my husband Mer, my pup and my 2 cats. I blog about a bunch of different things including parenting, frugal living and minimalism. Feel free to subscribe to my blog and follow me on instagram, twitter or bloglovin.

82 thoughts on “How we paid off 21k in credit card debt”

  1. so glad you shared- like i said before, we are working our way to be debt free! Dave Ramsay baby steppin’… sort of. I’m not taking it as hard and fast as the plan calls for, but I’m certainly attacking it more viciously than I’ve ever been motivated to before. Hoping to be completely debt free (Student loans included…around 40k) in under 7 years if we keep at it!

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  2. Great post! I had over $20K debt I had to pay off too and it was painful! I already owned my own home at the time and it took a few tries before I finally buckled down and got serious. Today I’m debt free, the house will be paid off in a few years and that weight of worry I used to carry around is gone. Such a relief!!

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  3. I’m working on paying off my car loan currently. I have a ton of student loan debt that I’m avoiding paying. I’m hoping to get a job that would lead to being able to have it forgiven after ten years. Student loans are THE worst.

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    1. I’m Canadian so I don’t really know much about how American student loans work but if I’m understanding correctly they get forgiven after 10 years? Can you explain that further? I find it so interesting.

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      1. Depending on the type of loan you have you can apply for a loan forgiveness program. If you work in the public service field for ten years and make 120 payments during that time you can apply to have your balance forgiven.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much for posting real numbers and how you actually did it. I’ve been trying/failing for a few years now and at one point we had a really good run going, but no savings = no safety for the unexpected. Your method makes so much more sense and can involve everyone in the house, not just me saying “No” to every non-essential purchase.

    The wife and I are in the right frame of mind now and we’re doubling down our effort to get our debt paid off. We have just over $34k including vehicles.

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    1. Best of luck!!

      I think part of the reason it worked is because we both agreed to live by our budget. There was never a time where either of us was saying “no” to something the other wanted because we made it our lifestyle and stuck through it.

      For us, it was essential that we start building up an emergency fund. It made no sense to heap everything toward the debt (although this probably doesn’t make sense from a numbers point of view) when something unexpected could come up and we had no way to really pay for it without resorting to accumulating more debt.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. wow, that is impressive! Good for you two for making a plan and sticking to it. I like your saving vegetable scraps for soup. I do the same thing with my “broth bucket” When i cook chicken or a roast, i pour the juices into my bucket. After it cools, i scrape the fat off, then keep the bucket in the freezer until i make soup. I also pour water used to steam vegetables in the bucket too. This makes a healthier (less salty and fatty) soup base. I also save the ends of a loaf of bread to make stuffing at Easter, Christmas, thanksgiving etc.

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  6. You guys did a great job! And you’re so right about unexpected illness and things breaking down causing so much extra stress and debt. We’ve cut down to the bone and, if cancer doesn’t make a return and nothing else decides to break down we should be debt free in about two years.

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  7. I can’t believe you had to pay to have a treatment for cancer! I’m from the UK (where the current government is stealthily selling off our NHS) and paying for essential healthcare is complete anathema. Well done for clearing all your debts, though, that’s an amazing achievement!

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    1. I actually had pigmented basal cell carcinoma on my face which delayed me getting treatment because I’d look at it and wonder if that “beauty mark” had always been there. When I got pregnant I decided to get it looked at – it just didn’t feel right. I called a local dermatology clinic and was told the wait time to see a dermatologist was over a year. I then decided to go to a private clinic (costs around 150$ and would be reimbursed to me because of insurance) and had the “mole” removed. Standard practice is to biopsy it and I was horrified to find out it came back as cancerous. The dermatologist told me I could wait to have it removed in hospital which could take up to 2 years – I was terrified and decided that I didn’t want to wait. Cancer is scary and although this type doesn’t grow quickly I was still terrified. I stupidly assumed my insurance would cover it (since they cover almost everything else) and was shocked that they denied my claim because despite a cancer diagnosis they saw it as a cosmetic procedure.

      Woah that got long. In a nutshell, it usually is covered but I feared waiting too long to have it removed.

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      1. Wow. But even so, I can’t imagine having to wait two years for the removal procedure for any cancer, that’s appalling. I’m glad you’re well now, though.

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      2. Our system is great – if you’re really sick.

        I suppose theirs a hierarchy and when it comes to non essentials the wait times are very high.

        The MRI for example we opted to pay out of pocket for because the wait times were so long. We were in the process of trying to get answers and hopefully have a child and waiting 2+ years at my age made no sense.

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  8. Wow this was really inspiring! I can never seem to knuckle down to really making a plan and sticking to it, and am constantly despairing at where on earth all my money goes.
    This might be the kick up the B-side I need to show me it really can be done if I put my back into it!
    It has been really lovely reading your blog overall, I look forward to reading your future blog posts!
    (Thanks for ‘liking’ one of my posts!)
    Emily

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    1. Glad you found in helpful and thank you for your kind words!

      Sitting down and analyzing the numbers was huge for us – it gave us a really really realistic and scary reality check!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Brilliant post!

    And thank you for posting real numbers. Back when my wife and I were trying to dig our way out of our own hole, we couldn’t find anything that included real numbers. Everything we found seemed to rely on some deus ex machina to pull off. We needed practical advice.

    I found myself nodding through soooo much of this. My wife and I got out of college without any debt, but the emergencies. Oh the emergencies. They never really stop.

    Funny thing is, we took a similar route. Consolidation, cooking at home, taking a long hard look at where the money is actually going, and figuring out how to live inside those means. It worked wonders. In the process we both discovered we love to cook, and have since passed that on to our kids.

    You made the right choice to set some aside for an emergency fund. This wasn’t really an option in our case. It was an absolute necessity. We never would’ve made it, otherwise.

    Congratulations, and again, thank you for writing this.

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  10. I guess I’m not the only one who’s a number nerd haha. I dont have debt (such as student loans, credit cards, or car), but since dating my bf (of almost 10 years), it is pretty much OUR debt now. He has student loans & credit card debt for work purposes. I think I dated him when his student loan started the repayment process haha -_-. Today, we are a single income household, no kids, and not married. Perfect time to tackle the debt now huh?

    Cutting down take out food + less junk food and cooking more at home really does help. I keep a budget binder for us since we moved into our first place together and I see just how big of a help it is! I really enjoyed this post because this is basically me in a nutshell, always finding ways to erase our debt.

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      1. It is! Not to mention, if you’re like me and loooove delivery from yelp, there’s delivery fee + tip and they have minimum. I didn’t know I was racking up roughly $300/month just on me alone 😣 now I’m back to meal prepping and tricking my mind to thinking it’s for the gym, but really it’s saving us money 😅. Whatever works right?

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      1. We were looking into Dave Ramsey’s debt free program. So we would have to start by building our savings and paying off the smaller debts. But I like the idea of consolidating our debts for fewer payments. There’s nothing worse than getting hit in all directions by automatic payments in your account!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. In most debt-repayment circles consolidating debt is a big no-no because in the long run you’ll be paying far more interest than if you take the snowball approach and pay debts off from smallest to biggest. But, for us it was really stressful to think about planning a snowball program because we would have been paying 3 payments monthly which just felt far more overwhelming than 1.

        We ended up splitting the 1000 payment into 2. So essentially every paycheck we’d pay 500$ towards our debt repayment – it sort of felt like we never had that money in the first place. I think that’s what really made us get to our goal since it became an automatic payment every other week.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Love this! My husband and I have tried in the past to aggressively pay off debt and we’ve done well… until one little thing tripped us up and we completely lost momentum. We’ve been back at it again for a couple of months and we just paid off our car – two months early!! Focusing on making that same minimum payment on the next smallest debt. Your story is definitely keeping me motivated. 🙂

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  12. I admire your transparency and determination in paying off debt. We paid our dues as well years ago.We are debt free but don’t own a house of our own yet. We are saving to pay 50% down in a few years. Our hope and prayer is to not try to catch up with the Joneses nor live like them.

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    1. Absolutely.

      We waited to buy our first home until I was nearly 35 and husband was 40 which is considered “late” in our circle but we didn’t care. We wanted to make sure that we were prepared financially to take on such a huge responsibility!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow!!!. I be 32 in June and my husband will be 33. Last year we bought out first home but quickly realized it was out of peer pressure and to keep up with the Joneses. Luckily we were able to sell it without loosing any money after owning for only 5 months. We learned our lesson and are ready to wait. I love small houses; they feel cozier and everyone is literally in each other’s faces (which is a beautiful aspect about family).

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  13. What an awesome story. I budget as well, but we haven’t broken the eating out habit. I haven’t had a cable bill in probably 15 years. That was the byproduct of a couple of layoffs. We found we really didn’t miss it anyway. Congrats on all the hard work paying off (literally)!

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    1. Thanks Robyn!

      We broke the eating out habit – it was hard but doable and now years later I can’t really say I miss it all that much. Well, maybe I miss the fact that I don’t have to prepare it and clean up. 🙂

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  14. Excellent read! I think it is great to share these types of experiences as too many of us find ourselves in debt. The first step is the hardest, admitting the debt is a problem. We also decided to consolidate our debts whilst many might not we felt the one repayment, whether true or not, was much more manageable. We still have a way to go. But stories like these are very inspirational. Massive achievement for getting on top of your situation!

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  15. Awesome! Congrats on getting out of debt and the huge down payment! We are currently working on getting out of debt, primarily using Dave Ramsey’s program. It is simple, but I like that about it. We are blogging for accountability and to inspire others. I will definitely follow you!

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  16. Hi! This post is very helpful! I agree that the first step is to accept it and i think that is the most difficult part. I am currently trying to be free of debt. Thank you for sharing this. I can actually use this as my own reference. I truly enjoyed your frugal living section!

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  17. Congrats on paying off your cards! It’s a great feeling. When I was in debt payoff mode I scoured the Internet for stories like this one too. I appreciate the transparency. Keep up the good work!

    Like

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