I ditched $54,000 in credit card debt—and you can, too

How I paid off my credit card debt

I always considered myself good with money. I was lucky to grow up with parents who taught me to be financially responsible. They helped set me up with a checking account when I was a teenager—and I truly enjoyed keeping track of what I spent. I started off on the right foot. But that all changed when I moved to Los Angeles.

The credit card downfall

I was twenty-four, and my now-husband, JR, a professional stand-up comic, wanted to pursue an acting career, so we made the big move. I found a job teaching at a local college, but he was busy auditioning and getting an agent and didn’t have a steady income. We lived off my salary and entered the slippery slope of supplementing with credit cards. At the time, I had a good credit score and a lot of available credit in my name. We lived the high life, not paying attention to how much or why we were spending, or the debt building up in our names.

Confronting credit card debt with a three-step plan

After three years in Los Angeles, we made the decision to move back to our home city of Austin, TX. As we settled in, reality also started to settle in—in the form of credit card bill after credit card bill. Planning for the future was becoming more of a priority for us, and we wanted to save, but we found ourselves trapped paying off interest. I knew we were in debt, but I had no idea how much debt. It was time to confront it.

Step one: Understanding our debt

I created a spreadsheet listing out each credit card and its interest rate, balance, and available credit.


"We had a combined credit card debt of more than $54,000. I was horrified."


I felt guilty I had thrown away everything my parents taught me and embarrassed I let our credit card debt go to such an extreme. After my initial panic subsided, I knew this was a step in the right direction. I could now see the full picture of the problem, and we both got on board with making every effort we could to pay off the debt.

Step two: Pay off highest interest rate credit cards first

I organized the spreadsheet by highest interest rate credit card to lowest. We’d start at the top, pay those off first, and make our way down the list. It began with smaller goals at a time. If we could pay off $10,000, I’d feel better knowing we were making progress. Then it was on to the next $10,000.

Step three: Make some changes in our spending

We completely re-evaluated our spending habits. Any additional income—a bonus at work, a tax return, extra money in one of our checking accounts—went toward the higher interest credit cards. We also became pretty comfortable with hanging at home. We didn’t go out to eat. We didn’t buy unnecessary gifts. Vacations were put on hold. We didn’t go to the movies or concerts. We didn’t buy clothes. We lived a boring life, but we stuck to our plan and it was worth it in the end. In just a little under two and a half years’ time, we paid it all off. I felt strong and empowered watching the number shrink week by week, and pleasantly surprised at how quickly we ditched our debt completely.

Life lessons

To this day, I still use the same spreadsheet. We don’t allow ourselves to have credit card debt anymore and the only thing we pay interest on is our mortgage. Saving is the priority. We automatically deduct a certain amount each month to put in our high-yield savings account and in JR’s IRA. Additionally, each year when I get a raise, I increase my 401k contribution.

Confronting your debt can be scary and overwhelming, but if you make a strategic plan and stick to it, you’ll come out stronger on the other end. I don’t regret my debt. Paying it off was a lesson that completely changed how I approach my finances—and think about my future.

footnote Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey financial, tax, or legal advice. We make no claims about the accuracy or adequacy of this information. These materials may not reflect our view or endorsement. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances. Reproduction without explicit permission is prohibited.

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