I Tackled My Debt. You Can, Too.

I tackled my debt. You can, too.


There are a lot of four-letter words that pack a punch, but none quite like d-e-b-t.

Being in debt is one of the most stressful experiences I’ve ever gone through, and I’ve jumped out of a plane on a first date (true story). I remember so vividly looking at my bank statement and seeing in big, bold letters that I owed $5,000 worth of credit card debt. Now, I know that’s a relatively manageable amount of debt— especially when compared to the average amount of student debt in this country— and so I was, frankly, lucky. I’m not going to say that the numbers don\’t matter, because they do. You won’t hear me saying: \Whether it\’s $5,000 of debt or $30,000 of debt, debt is debt. It\’s the same! It is all hard!\ That’s naive and not helpful. But at the time, I wished someone would be open about their debt and how it was affecting them, so I hope I can be that voice for you— the voice I really needed to hear when I was in debt.

When I thought about my debt I felt ashamed, embarrassed, guilty and, honestly, insecure. I felt like I knew better, and getting into debt was a personal failure. If you\’re feeling this way right now, I can tell you all day long that you are not alone and being in debt does not mean that you failed. However, I can also tell you that these words may feel thin until you actually get that debt monkey off your back. At least, that’s how I felt.

I knew that the only way to get rid of the icky feeling of having 5,000 big ones hanging over my head was to rid myself of it once and for all. “There’s no time like the present,” I thought. It was a Wednesday, in the middle of the month. Rather than wait until the first day of the next month, as some people might have done, I jumped right in. No excuses.

Here’s what I did in four steps:

1. I acknowledged my debt. I wrote it down on a sticky note and stuck it to the top of my computer screen: $5,000. I was already obsessing over it anyway. Having a physical reminder of the hole I had dug for myself gave me some clear head space and kept me motivated to pay it down. I would cross out the number every time it got smaller, which was extremely gratifying. It felt the same way it does to cross something off your to-do list.

2. I set a deadline. Being in the news business, I was all about deadlines. I knew that if I was going to stick to a repayment plan—any repayment plan—I had to set parameters around it. Otherwise it would be too easy to dip back into the pool for “needs” like new work clothes or non-work-related airfare. I gave myself two years, which worked out to $2,500 per year, about $208 per month, or about $7 per day. Looking at my debt in those terms started to feel much less intimidating. I mean, $7 per day? That’s one glass of wine with dinner (less than one glass if you live in Manhattan!). I could do that, no problem. It seemed way more manageable in little chunks.

3. I put myself on autopilot. Through my online banking portal, I set up an automatic payment of exactly $208. This meant that every single month, the money came out of my checking account and went right toward paying down that credit card debt. Because I didn’t ever see that money, I found that I didn’t really miss it (and I didn’t even have the option to spend it on something else).

4. I reminded myself why I was doing this. Every time I was tempted to skip a month’s payment so I could buy myself something or have a night out, I reminded myself what I wanted to be doing with that money in the long term, like starting my own production company, and getting a two-bedroom apartment. That kept me focused. In fact, by the end of about a year and a half, I was so pumped to just be done with it that I upped my monthly installments to $308 per month (I kept the 8 bucks because it felt easier to stomach than a round number—in the same way you feel like $102 is no biggie, but $100 hits different). I ended up debt-free a few months ahead of schedule.

Remember this…

You may be surprised by the most common mistake people make when paying off their debt. It’s not that people consolidate their debt in the wrong way, or make mistakes when submitting payment: the biggest mistake people make is that they don’t get started. So put some time on your calendar this afternoon to tackle that debt monkey. Let a friend, or let us, know that you put this time on your calendar, so that you have a bigger chance of staying accountable. Don’t forget: you got this.