How This Millennial Paid off $21,000 of Debt in 18 Months - Above Average Adulting

How This Millennial Paid off $21,000 of Debt in 18 Months

October 3, 2017

Hi all! Today’s amazing/inspiring/motivating/kick-a$$ story is by Emily from Must Love Here. After reading about her debt-crushing-success below, head over to her blog for even more uplifting content and some awesome recipes from around the world. If you’re looking for some more Above Average money posts (including how to Save $10,000 in One Year) head here! Now enough talking from me. Put away the distractions, grab a notepad and get reading!

Meet Emily

I’m so excited to be writing to all you Above Average Adults about debt! Talking about debt and how to pay it off has become one of my favorite topics of conversation! That wouldn’t have been the case two years ago, when I assumed I would always have debt in one form or another. School loans, car payments, a house, big vacations (which I didn’t consciously think about as debt, but come on) – the list could go on and on. The reality is debt is a very prevalent and normal thing in our culture, so it was pretty easy for me to accept it as a fact of life.

Enter: My Now Husband

We had been dating almost a year when my then boyfriend told me about this guy he’d been listening to on the radio and suggested I listen in as well. That guy happened to be Dave Ramsey, the debt payoff guru himself. I had How This Millennial Paid off $21,000 of Debt in 18 Months - Above Average Adultingnever heard of him before, but apparently he was a big deal and pretty popular, and his radio show came in free podcast form so I could listen to it at work.

Dave Ramsey talks daily about the dangers of debt and encourages people again and again to get rid of theirs so they can actually enjoy their money. He wants you to be able to take care of yourself, your family, and others for a long time to come, and the best way to do that is to have expendable income. If you’ve borrowed money and therefore promised to pay it back, you have less expendable income to use for those things I mentioned a second ago.

The more I listened to the show, the more I bought into Dave’s teaching. I did want to be debt-free! Plenty of people had paid off their debt by following his plan – I totally could too!! And so I drank that Kool-Aid.

A student loan and a car loan put me at $21,000 of debt. My first budget showed I had negative $14 to spend, even with paying only minimum payments on those loans. Cue the tears – literally, I cried when I made that budget. Also, cue the budget cuts. Dave pushes people to pay off their debt quickly. Within two years is the goal for most people – and that almost always means sacrifice.

“If you will live like no one else, later you can live and give like no one else” – Dave Ramsey

Cutting down the grocery budget, the fun budget, picking up a second job, not taking trips or vacations – none of these are particularly fun or popular things to do but they are things that can free up extra money to put towards debt. And they’re things that I did. Because of sacrifices like these, along with dedication, and a lot of prayer, I was able to pay off every one of those $21,000 in 18 months!

Baby Steps

The Dave Ramsey plan can be boiled down to seven steps. These steps not only help you pay off your debt, but also show you the long-term path towards building wealth and living a life, financially free. He calls these steps his Baby Steps and they go like this:

  • 1: $1,000 cash in a beginner emergency fund
  • 2: Use the debt snowball to pay off all your debt but the house
  • 3: A fully funded emergency fund of 3 to 6 months of expenses
  • 4: Invest 15% of your household income into retirement
  • 5: Start saving for college
  • 6: Pay off your home early
  • 7: Build wealth and give generously

I highly recommend listening to his radio show and/or watching some Debt-Free scream videos on his YouTube channel. All of that is free and all of that is encouraging and helps answer questions that pop up along the way. He has books and other resources for sale as well on his website. He also has a free budgeting website called EveryDollar so he has all the bases covered for you to succeed!

Paying off this debt was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life, mostly because it took a long time and required sacrifice and dedication to the goal month after month. At the bottom of that hill it seemed like I’d never reach the top. But each budget became easier to create. And each month I got to see my debt pile get smaller and smaller. Sometimes only a little bit, but other times a lot. Can you imagine putting your whole tax return towards your student loan? That’s unheard of, right?? But that “extra money” really took off a chunk off that debt and was a wise choice to make. Cutting items out of my budget, like clothes and entertainment, wasn’t easy either. But dialing back my lifestyle was one of the biggest ways I freed up money to put towards my debt.

If you’re goal is to pay off your debt quickly you’ll very likely need to go without some things. Remember, this is only for a short time. Once you’re out of debt you can begin to enjoy some of that money again!

Higher Help

I can’t go much further without circling back to all that prayer I mentioned earlier. As a Christian, I have to acknowledge that it wasn’t only my hard work that got me here. God helped me out in a lot of ways through this. First of all, he gave me the desire and drive to work towards this goal, which was huge. Second, He provided me with an opportunity to work at a place where breakfast and lunch were provided. That kept my grocery budget very low ($100/month).

I’ve also had cool things happen, like getting back the amount of money I paid towards my debt in the past year. Before you think that came to me easily, I’ll tell you I got that money after my newly paid off car was totaled in an accident. Another cool thing that happened was getting to go on the Dave Ramsey Show and do a Debt Free scream! This opportunity was purely God at work. Out of nowhere there was a cancellation in their booked schedule and three-month waiting list right when my husband and I would be in Nashville. (You can watch that Debt Free Scream here!)

God has also helped me in less obvious ways. In learning to budget he’s taught me patience, perseverance and given me such a sense of confidence around my money. I cried when I made that first budget and came up with negative money for the month. But budgeting forced me to be more critical of my spending habits. Each month it got easier to determine what I could live without versus what I really needed and wanted.

I believe God wants to bless his children and I believe he blessed me throughout and even after this process. But remember, that blessing might come through a hard situation, or through character-building seasons like what happened to me. We might not even see that blessing ourselves, but changing how you see debt can impact your family and friends, and the generations to come after you.

You Can Get Out of Debt!

I said at the beginning that talking about debt and how to pay it off is one of my favorite things. If this is wrong I don’t wanna be right!! People need to know – you need to know that this is so doable! You can live without debt – without credit cards, and car payments, and someday without a mortgage (my husband and I rent right now). You can own everything you say you own! Yes, it will take time and work and sacrifice. But isn’t that true for so many good things in life? A healthy marriage, raising kids, getting an education in the first place – none of these are accomplished overnight! But each of them is worth the hard work.

Dave Ramsey talks all the time about what you have when you have no more payments – money! And with that money you can do things you haven’t been able to do before! Take care of your family, retire, go on vacations, be generous when people need help. Your goal for paying off debt should be way bigger than just paying off debt! If you’ve been waiting for a good time to get started, wait no more. Get started now and thank yourself, even when the sacrifice is hard! You can do this and the hard work will be worth it!


Do you have a debt success story? How about questions for Emily or questions about Dave Ramsey’s methods? Do you know someone who needs this method? Comment below and share!

How This Millennial Paid off $21,000 of Debt in 18 Months - Above Average Adulting

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  • Asha Thomas (@adventureswasha)

    I love the baby steps section! I definitely get overwhelmed because I feel like i have to do it all at once. But looking at it as smaller steps to do one after the other really helps!

    October 8, 2017 at 1:48 PM Reply
  • Lexie Day

    I loved this post, this past year I have made a huge chunk in my debt and have probably one more year to be debt free. Even though I am already working towards it and doing well I think I love reading these posts to keep me motivated and see how amazing it will be to be completely debt free!! I can’t beleive I have never heard of Dave Ramsey before so I will definitely be checking him out!

    October 18, 2017 at 5:45 AM Reply
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