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How We Paid Off $50,000 Of Debt In 4 Years On A Lower Salary

Limited income and hefty debts make life burdensome. But your willingness and smart planning can create the possibility for a debt-free future.
Choncé Maddox
July 9, 2024
How We Paid Off $50,000 Of Debt In 4 Years On A Lower Salary

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Paying off debt with a lower income and a budget that’s already tight can seem challenging. But it’s entirely possible and there’s still hope with the right mindset and strategies. Choncé Maddox shares her story of paying off a sizable debt with her husband.

When my husband and I got married in 2016 during the middle of our debt repayment journey, I knew I wanted to have a debt-free wedding so as not to add to our existing balance. So we planned and budgeted to handle all of the costs with our own cash and family gifts. While this was a relief, we still each had our own debt that we brought into the marriage. 

By 2014, I had $20,000 of student loan debt and a $10,000 high-interest car loan that I had already been working on paying down. My husband had about $6,000 in credit card debt, a $5,500 car loan and some student loans as well. So all in all, our total debt amount was around $50,000.

Before meeting my husband, I struggled to make ends meet as a single mom making $15 per hour. We were a few years out of college and he worked at a bank for a few years making $17 per hour. But we still lived paycheck to paycheck and worked hard to increase our income once we became a blended family. 

One of the most important things we agreed on was that we didn’t want to be weighed down by consumer debt and even though the odds seemed stacked against us, we wanted to pay all of our accounts off for good. 

How To Get Out Of Debt On A Low Income (Like We Did)?

We paid off our consumer debt in 2018 and had nowhere near a six-figure income at the time, but we were able to pay off $50,000 of debt by following these key steps. 

1. Peel Back The Rug

We all have areas of our home that we tend to skip over or forget about when it comes to tidying up. It was the same with our finances. When I got serious about paying down debt, I realized there were blind spots and aspects about our situation that I wasn’t fully aware of. 

So we peeled back the rug to expose all the ‘mess’ in a figurative sense. Shortly after getting married, we sat down and laid out all our debts in a Google spreadsheet to get organized. 

I wrote down what we owed, who we owed, the minimum monthly payment, and interest rate. I even called my student loan servicer to find out how much interest I was being charged daily. This new knowledge gave me clarity on just how serious our situation was and motivated me to come up with the following ways to get out of debt.

Choncé Maddox and her family

2. Change Our Mindset

When I was single, I worked to change my money mindset and identify areas where I was thinking and operating out of scarcity or lack. Money was hardly ever talked about positively in my household and budgeting was often seen as a bad thing. 

I had to rewire my thoughts to see money as a tool and budgeting as a way to regain control of my spending. When getting out of debt, I challenged myself to view debt as something that didn’t have to be a normal constant in my life. 

After meeting my husband, I realized we had different financial habits and mindsets too. He was a bit of a spender, but I was committed to living frugally and throwing every extra dollar toward debt. However, I got burned out quickly. I then realized how pacing myself and setting small goals could be just as effective as well. 

So we both compromised but remained firm on the fact that we could and would pay off our $50,000 debt total. Changing our mindset and getting on the same page was crucial for staying motivated and tracking our progress with this goal. 

3. Budget For Debt Payments

Budgeting for debt payments came naturally after changing our mindset. I went from thinking I couldn’t afford to get out of debt, to actually trying to find a way to make room in our monthly budget for an extra payment toward my car loan. 

My car loan was around $233 per month and at first I budgeted to round up my payment to $300 per month. Paying an extra $67 per month may not sound like much, but it taught me that I could afford to budget for extra debt payments and created the habit of paying more than the minimum.

Soon, my husband and I were searching for ways to put extra money toward the credit cards and student loan debt too. We sat down each payday with our budget planner book that I purchased on Amazon and updated our expenses while planning for future costs and debt payments.

4. Commit To A Frugal Lifestyle

Living frugally was another key to help us pay off $50,000 of debt in around four years. When wondering how to get out of debt on a low income, this should be your primary solution. Since we both started out with lower incomes, we knew we’d have to cut back on everyday expenses to free up more money for debt payoff. 

We decided to live like cheap college students even though we weren’t in college anymore. We shopped at thrift stores and bought clothes on clearance only when it was needed. We also took lunch to work most of the time, canceled unwanted subscriptions, shopped around for better insurance rates, and found free and cheap entertainment in our area. 

My son was between the ages of four and eight during our consumer debt payoff journey and we loved taking him to free events at the park district and taking advantage of ‘kids eat free’ deals at restaurants. I also found free or discounted summer camps through the YMCA. Then, my husband and I both coached his youth basketball team for a season which was really fun and allowed our son to play for free. 

Most importantly, we decided to keep renting our affordable but basic two bedroom apartment. I could have moved closer to my job at the time and really wanted to have a dishwasher in our kitchen, but chose to sign another lease at our current apartment because the rent was much cheaper. 

5. Earn Extra Money

After we mastered sticking to our budget and committing to a frugal lifestyle, we focused on earning extra money and this helped speed up the debt repayment process. I kept thinking about how to get out of debt quickly and it really can come down to a numbers game when you’re trying to make additional payments. 

Even though I was only making $28,000 per year, I had the opportunity to earn a $400 bonus each month at work. Most months I earned my bonus and put the money directly toward debt. 

I also started working on the side as a freelance writer and virtual assistant. I was able to earn an extra $1,500 per month on average. In addition to working at the bank, my husband picked up driving for Uber and Lyft on the side. He mostly drove nights and weekends and earned around $800 per month.  

6. Remain Disciplined and Focused

Finally, we prioritized staying disciplined and focused on the end goal which is the best way to get out of debt. Being able to live frugally and comfortably on our current income allowed us to funnel any and all extra money toward debt. It was tempting sometimes to buy other things with our extra money and sometimes we did treat ourselves or go to restaurants. 

However, I also practiced a method I still use today. It’s called paying yourself first. Each time we got paid, we’d sit down and discuss our finances and upcoming bills. At that time, we’d immediately send money to extra debt payments so it was out of the way. 

Then, if something fun did come up later in the month or an unexpected event occurred, we could spend a little money guilt-free knowing that we’d already contributed to our debt repayment goal. I didn’t stress myself out if I ended up going over the grocery budget by $30 or stopped to buy a coffee from Starbucks during the week. 

Those little purchases do add up, but they didn’t make or break our ability to repay debt since we remained disciplined and consistent for the most part. 

7. Wiping Out Our Balances

With the extra income, I was soon able to start making double and triple payments on my car loan and ended up paying it off in 18 months. Next, we paid off my husband’s credit card debt and car loan and then started working on the student loans. 

Paying off our consumer debt made me feel that a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. Every sacrifice we made was worth it but what I truly value is the habits and lifestyle changes we learned that are still maintained today. 

If you have debt and want it gone or are wondering how to get out of debt on a low income, it’s certainly possible. Adopt a mindset to see this as a possibility and commit to a plan that allows you to break down the details of your situation and begin chipping away at the balance step by step. 

Ready to learn how to use a budget to meet your financial goals whether it’s saving, paying off debt, or building a retirement nest egg? Join our newsletter to receive money tips and proven strategies along with our free budgeting ebook.

FAQs

When trying to get out of debt on a low income, it’s important to go frugal. Start with tracking your spending. Then cut-off all the expenses that may be unnecessary – eat at home, find cheaper alternatives when shopping, get rid of unused subscriptions, etc.

Start with paying off the smallest debts, continue this momentum and move towards the bigger ones. Remember simply living frugally won’t work, you actually have to pay your creditors to reduce the overall debt. Every month, make sure you’re paying off a certain amount as per your capacity.

This is a wise thing to do. However, it’s also a source for building a good credit source. Only use your credit card in extreme emergencies. Also, make sure you pay off existing credit card debt for a good record.

Choncé is a Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI) and freelance writer from the Midwest who loves to encourage open discussions about personal finance with her writing. Her writing work has been featured on sites like Busines Insider, LendingTree, Fox Business, Barclaycard and the New York Post.

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