The Secret to How I Paid Off My Debt

Written on by Kathryn Lerro

When I read a Facebook post by my friend Sarah Spegal, in which she outlines the ways she paid for her $100,000 college education in record time, I knew I had to share her post with our Voice and Vision audience.

Sarah was happy to give permission to re-post her article because she feels “passionately about being debt-free and helping others get there too.” Although her debt was for education, the creative ideas she used can be employed to reduce debt of any kind.

Here is Sarah’s original post:

“A few of you have reached out to me directly to ask specifics about how I managed to pay off all my debt. There were lots of things I did that added up. These included lifestyle changes that were at times inconvenient and challenging and eventually helped me reach my goal. I want to share a few of them with you:

1. BIG PICTURE: I kept the big picture in mind and I set a strategic plan. Paying off that much debt takes YEARS. You have to think 5 and 10 years out and not let one year from now overwhelm you. The first and second and even third years feel like you’re throwing tiny little rocks at a brick wall that is never going to fall down. PRESS ON. The wall will fall.
2. CELEBRATE: I created countdowns and visual aids because they are fun. I celebrated in a small way every time I paid off another $1000. A lot of sprinkles were consumed. Celebrating small wins keeps you hopeful! This is essential.
3. SUPPORT SYSTEM: Friennnnnds. I could not have done it without the support of friends and family. I found people who weren’t annoyed when I texted them every month on pay day and said ‘I’M A LITTLE CLOSER!’ Those same people celebrated with me big time when I met my goal.
4. BUDGET & SAY NO: I created a budget and stuck to it. I tracked every receipt in a spreadsheet for 9 years. While my budget did include fun money, I said ‘no’ a lot to friends and at times I didn’t go to events that I would have liked to attend.
5. SELL STUFF & DOWNSIZE: I sold my car and took public transit for 5 years to reduce monthly expenses (obviously not everyone can do this if they have kids or their job requires a car). What else can you sell? How can you downsize?
6. WORK HARD & ASK FOR RAISES: I worked hard and asked for raises even though it was a bold move and a little scary sometimes (I got the raises I asked for!).
7. GIVE TO OTHERS: I doubled what I gave away to others – this equaled 20% of my income for the last year. This was a personal challenge God gave me while I was obsessing about money (or my lack thereof). It was an astronomical challenge. Huge. Hard. Stretching. Which is why I didn’t do it right away. Initially, I thought, ‘Then there won’t be enough for me!!’ However, after I took the challenge to give I got a ‘coincidental’ promotion and raise which led me to make double what I was making before. We reap what we sow. We can’t out give God (who has unlimited resources). When we invest in what is on His heart, he takes care of what is on ours.

I hope this helps! Keep plugging away. Get creative. There are many ways to make it happen. YOU WILL GET THERE! “

I followed up with Sarah to ask her a few questions.

How long did it take to pay off all your student debt?

“In total it took me [about] 10 years, as I started paying for my education before I took my first class (i.e. working summers before college to save, applying for scholarships/grants). I started university in fall of 2006. I worked all through college (30+ hours a week) and paid off my first year and a half of loans before I graduated. I finished school in December of 2010, so it took me a little over 5 years to finish paying off my debt.”

What was the amount of your educational debt?

“In terms of amounts, I had a number of scholarships and grants, so of the $100k, I probably paid $50k out of pocket. Approximately $35k is what I paid during the last 5 years.”

Are there any ideas that didn’t make it into your original post?

“One piece I might have written more on if I posted on the subject again is creativity. At one point in college I started my own cleaning business (side hustle!) to make extra cash. There was definitely a trade-off for my social life temporarily in juggling school / numerous jobs at once, but I do not regret it. It is also worth noting, I was very careful not to take on additional debt during this time (e.g. credit cards, etc.).”

Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share?

“Becoming debt free takes sacrifices, but [as] Dave Ramsey [financial expert/author/radio host] says, ‘Live like no one else, so you can live like no one else!’”

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