Overcoming Financial Setbacks: Lessons Learned On The Path To Becoming Debt-Free

Published on June 26, 2024, 4:36 pm
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Ever feel like debt is crushing you? The constant worry, sleepless nights, that nagging feeling you will never get out? Now, imagine paying off that $184,000 debt in about four years and finally finding financial freedom. Sounds great, right? Let me share my journey and the lessons I picked up; these tips might just help you hit your financial goals, too.

The Beginning of the Debt Spiral

Some may ask: How do you end up with $184,000 in debt? It is easier than you think. A better question: “Why is carrying so much debt so normal?” I found myself buried under a mountain of it, and here is the breakdown:

  • student loans: $120,000;
  • credit cards: $28,000;
  • car loan: $30,000;
  • miscellaneous installment loans.

I lacked financial literacy. While I knew the basics—work, bank account, spending money—I did not understand how to manage money or make it work for me. I had no clue about debt’s cost and the speed of accumulating interest. I was ignorant, and I spent more than I earned. Then, a medical crisis hit, followed by job loss, too. The end result: My finances were a mess.

For so long, I avoided facing reality. It was too uncomfortable. But listen, you must confront financial problems head-on. Ignoring them only makes them worse.

The Turning Point

December 2018, my “Come to Hallelujah” moment. I felt weighed down and ashamed about my debt. The high monthly payment on my Wells Fargo credit card (over $400, mostly interest) felt unsustainable. Something had to change. I needed a plan to start paying down my debt.

Setting My Own Money Rules

I set financial rules tailored to my goals and lifestyle. These rules helped me balance saving with debt paydown:

  1. Save 20% of any cash influx (tax returns, bonuses, business income spikes) into my emergency fund.
  2. Cover all upcoming expenses.
  3. Apply any surplus to the smallest debt (using the debt snowball method).

Following these rules made paying back thousands of dollars less painful. It did not feel like all my money was going to debt payoff since some went into savings.

Organizing Debts with a Spreadsheet

I found a free debt reduction spreadsheet that became indispensable. It provided a complete picture of my debt and calculated how long it would take to pay off based on my chosen strategy and monthly extra payments. This visual tool was a game-changer, helping me stay focused and motivated.

Using the Debt Snowball Method

I kicked things off with the snowball method. Have you heard of it? I discovered it after Dave Ramsey made it famous. This financial tool involves lining up your debts from smallest to largest. Then, you attack the smallest one with everything you have got while making minimum payments on the rest. It is all about momentum.

As soon as I saw those smaller debts disappear, I felt like I was making progress. And trust me, seeing those balances hit zero was a huge motivator.

Taking Advantage of Balance Transfer Promotions

Next up, I tackled my high-interest Wells Fargo credit card. The interest was brutal, so I jumped on a zero-interest balance transfer promotion. Suddenly, my biggest debt was manageable. No interest meant every dollar went straight to the principal. However, it is important to note that these promotions come with fees and expiration dates. So you need a solid plan to pay it off before the special offer ends, or you will be right back where you started.

Learning to Budget with You Need a Budget (YNAB)

December 2019: That is when I found YNAB. This tool changed everything. YNAB’s four money rules gave me a structured way to handle my finances. I set monthly spending targets and tracked my debt payoff progress in one place. It made my financial journey clear and organized—no more guessing, just clear numbers and clear goals.

Overcoming Challenges

Every journey has its bumps. Mine was no different. The biggest challenge was shifting my mindset. First, I had to let go of the guilt and shame about my debt. Forgiving myself for past mistakes was crucial.

Staying disciplined was another battle. Sometimes, I wanted to splurge or use my money elsewhere, but I had to remind myself that paying off debt was the best investment in my future. The temptation to think there was something better to do with my money had to be overcome. It was totally worth it.

The Results: A Debt-Free Life

By August 2022, I had wiped out over $184,000 in debt. Monumental, but that wasn’t the only win. Check these milestones:

  • positive net worth for the first time ever;
  • bought my first house in 2020;
  • maxed out Roth IRAs;
  • opened and regularly invested in a traditional brokerage account.

These wins? All because I committed to becoming debt-free. It shows you can turn your financial situation around with dedication and a solid plan.

Lessons Learned

Going debt-free taught me some invaluable lessons.

It’s Never Too Late to Start

No matter how deep you are, it is never too late. Every small payment counts. Don’t let the total amount discourage you; just keep moving.

Consistency is Key

Paying off debt is all about consistent effort. You will face setbacks and obstacles, but stay focused and keep pushing. Persistence is everything.

Know Your Numbers

You cannot escape debt if you don’t know your financial standing. Know what you owe, to whom, and the interest rates. This knowledge helps you make informed decisions and spot opportunities to pay off debt faster.

You Need a Budget

A realistic budget is essential. Track your income and expenses. Find areas to cut back and allocate more towards debt repayment. Your budget should guide your spending, not your bank balance. Every dollar should have a job.

Saving is Just as Important

Debt repayment is crucial, but so is saving—for emergencies and future goals. Balancing debt repayment with saving builds a secure financial foundation.

Celebrate Every Milestone

Celebrate your progress. Every small win on your debt-free journey matters. It keeps you motivated and pushes you forward. Recognize and reward your efforts.

Matt Mayerle, personal finance editor at CreditNinja.com, reinforces this sentiment: “The journey to becoming debt-free is challenging, but every small victory along the way is a testament to your progress and commitment. Celebrate these milestones to stay motivated and focused on your ultimate goal.”

Financial guru Dave Ramsey once said, “You must gain control over your money, or the lack of it will forever control you.” This quote resonated deeply with me throughout my journey. Taking control of my finances felt empowering and reaffirmed my belief that I could shape my financial future.

Financial Education: My Secret Weapon

Listen, being clueless about money got me into this mess. So, I got smart, educated myself, and became a financial badass.

Books. Articles. Blogs. Online courses. Podcasts. Anything that talked money, I devoured it.

Suddenly, compound interest was not just a fancy term. Investing early? No longer a vague concept. Credit scores? I knew the game. I even learned how to pick stocks and build a diversified portfolio.

Knowledge is power, my friend. The more I learned, the more confident I became. My financial future? It was MINE to shape.

With every new concept I grasped, I felt a weight lifting off my shoulders. Empowered, I charted a course toward prosperity, one lesson at a time.


Getting out of debt is tough, but the payoff is huge. You need discipline, a solid plan, and the grit to keep going. My journey proves it’s never too late to start, no matter how much you owe or how long you have been in the red. You can take control and achieve financial freedom with steady effort and a clear financial picture.

Ever wonder, “Should I pay a charge-off in full or settle?” The key is making informed decisions. Evaluate your options, know the impacts, and pick what aligns with your financial goals. Your debt-free journey begins with one step. Make that step today.

Jonas Bronck is the pseudonym under which we publish and manage the content and operations of The Bronx Daily.™ | Bronx.com - the largest daily news publication in the borough of "the" Bronx with over 1.5 million annual readers. Publishing under the alias Jonas Bronck is our humble way of paying tribute to the person, whose name lives on in the name of our beloved borough.