As part of our campaign and contest, Life After Debt, we searched high and low for the best debt repayment stories out there. We even featured some stories from our own clients, including how four of them paid off almost a quarter of a million dollars in credit card debt. But we also wanted to feature another awesome group of people, specifically personal finance bloggers.
If you’re familiar with this community, you know that these are some of the most financially-savvy people out there and many of them have shared their own stories of achieving financial independence after paying off significant debt. Our list here includes some who are still on their journey, some who are debt free, and even some who have never had any debt to their name. We’ve also included a few who aren’t technically “personal finance” bloggers because they had compelling stories. At the end of the day, “Life After Debt” means something different to each of us, and we want to gather as many perspectives as possible.
#1 Making Sense of Cents
If you’ve ever read our blog, you know that we have a real beef with student loans and are constantly encouraging people to pay them off early. Well, our first debt-free story comes from someone who did just that. Michelle over at Making Sense of Cents managed to knock out the $40,000 that remained after completing her undergraduate and graduate degrees.
What’s really great about Michelle’s story is that you can track part of her payment history and look back at her original game plan. While she admits being a few months behind her goal payoff date, it’s still awesome to see how far she came. She also gives some great tips about prioritizing interest rates and earning extra money to put toward the debt.
And her expertise is not just limited to student loans. She talks quite a bit about running a successful side business, along with a variety of other financial topics. Be sure to follow her @SenseofCents.
#2 Debt RoundUp
Grayson over at Debt RoundUp learned some tough lessons about credit. Between a credit card he got in college and a business that he built in order to pay off the card balance, Grayson was juggling a lot. His business was going well, but the economy took a turn for the worst and in his own words, Grayson made a few “bad investments, plain and simple.”
But you know what? As his debt approached $50,000, he still never gave up. He crunched the numbers and came up with a financial plan that allowed him to dig his way out over the course of several years. He was obviously resourceful along the way, and the best part is that today he continues to share his story and all that he has learned with others.
Learn from Grayson by following him @DebtRoundUp.
#3 The Paleo Mama
Who’s hungry? Jackie, also known as the Paleo Mama, has an awesome site jam-packed with deliciously appetizing Paleo recipes. I mean, were talking about everything from bone broth to pumpkin pie in a cup. And sure, go ahead and make caveman jokes about the Paleo diet. You know what else cavemen didn’t have—debt!
And it’s in that spirit that Jackie and her husband buckled down to pay off $27,000 in six months. They took a hard look at their spending and came up with a great list of cost-cutting ideas. It worked for them, and now they continue to help spread good food and affordable recipes with others. Zucchini brownies, anyone?
#4 Get Rich Slowly
No conversation about personal finance is complete without mentioning one of the leading, most well-respected blogs out there—Get Rich Slowly. The site provides “Personal Finance That Makes Sense” and was founded by writer J.D. Roth.
J.D.’s personal story about having debt for 20 years is powerful, primarily because of how realistic it is. To him, debt had become “normal,” and it was used for everyday things like clothes and cars. But after purchasing a home, when the finances got really tight, he began to feel squeezed. It was in that moment that the light bulb went off. He began to research personal finance and then tackled his debt by cutting costs, increasing his income, etc. (the usual suspects).
Of course, J.D. was successful (that’s part of what has made him so well-known). And now that he is debt free he has given us another perspective. To him, Life After Debt is the “third stage of personal finance.” It’s an area where you can do things that weren’t possible before and do them without the consequences you would have encountered before. It’s the ultimate reward for people who believed in “delayed satisfaction” or were willing to “live like no one else” so they could enjoy luxuries and freedom later.
Of course, it’s also a time to invest and to continue cost-conscious habits and decisions, but perhaps it’s more about freedom and autonomy, more about enjoying a lifestyle and mentality that weren’t possible before.
Be sure to follow all the recent news from the Get Rich Slowly team @GetRichSlowly.
#5 Frugal Portland
Kathleen O’ Malley runs the Frugal Portland blog, where she encourages her readers to save more money (up to 50 percent!) and think critically about what it really means to be frugal. As the name suggests, she passes on great info to her fellow Portlandians, but her budget-conscious advice is universal.
As for her personal journey from debt, Kathleen hunkered down to pay about $20,000 in credit card debt after an investment gone wrong. And she knocked out student loans and a hefty car payment too, for a total of around $40K.
She did this in just about five years, but the impressive thing is that she actually owed more in debt than her annual income when she first got started—so that five year timeline is incredible!
You know what else is incredible? Her Twitter feed. You can (and should) follow Kathleen @omalleyk.
#6 G.E. Miller – 20 Something Finance
Frustrated by a lack of employment prospects and the reality of the expensive post-college lifestyle, G.E. Miller decided to take a stand and find creative ways to increase his savings and overall quality of life.
That’s when he hacked his finances to minimize his costs and get rid of all his debt. From a budget wedding, to selling his car and biking instead, to ditching a PPO for a HSA, G.E. made a ton of creative, yet effective decisions. Not only did these keep him “debt free” but they enabled him to save around 85 percent of his income and put him well on his way to achieving the goal of financial independence.
You can follow him as he continues this journey @GE_Miller.
#7 Blonde on a Budget
Cait is the writer at Blonde on a Budget, and her struggle with debt is pretty inspiring. In fact, she started her blog to keep track of her progress and to get some accountability, and over the last few years she has come a long way. From being maxed out with 28k in debt in 2011 to celebrating Life After Debt in 2013, Cait made some big moves in a short time.
Now, Cait shares her experience and wisdom with others. The Canadian based blogger hopes “to inspire girls and women everywhere to take control of their lives and achieve financial independence.” And, her message and advice is spot on for anyone looking for tips to improve their day-to-day financial situation.
She continues to share her goals, progress, and a plethora of tips. You can (and should) follow her at @blondeonabudget.
#8 And Then We Saved
Anna, the brains behind the site And Then We Saved along with The Spending Fast®, is all about being smarter with your money to save more and spend less.
Anna wrote up a great post in early 2013 about life after debt and what’s so “different” about it. She reminds us that once that burden is lifted, life immediately becomes simpler. You can relax, keep more of your money, and control a bigger part of your day-to-day life. When you get to this point, your life is filled with possibilities again. In her words: “When you don’t have the weight of debt hanging over you, you get to breathe easier and dream a little.”
For more stories and inspiring ideas, follow Anna at @AndThenWeSaved.
#9 Empowered Dollar
Stephanie Halligan is the artistic mind behind Empowered Dollar, a humorous and informative personal finance site that encourages users to “Crush Your Debt.” Stephanie makes some pretty awesome comics depicting battles with debt “monsters” along with formulas and how-tos for debt repayment.
Her own story is awesome too, although less comical. In less than four years she paid off her student loans, which totaled almost $35,000! She did so by taking additional side jobs, negotiating higher salaries and better credit terms, and allocating her resources wisely. It’s with these strategies that she was able to, you know, fight her money monsters.
#10 The Frugalette
The idea of going “from fancy to frugal” is fascinating. Admittedly, Isra, the blogger at the Frugalette, lived a more privileged life than most. With well-to-do parents and a carefree upbringing, she had the lifestyle (and possessions) that many of us daydream about. But later in life, she realized that this lifestyle was not sustainable on its own, and she decided that financial stability and frugality were more important.
Her story is impressive because not everyone would have been humble enough to realize they were in trouble. Not everyone would have been willing to sacrifice the perception of keeping up with the Joneses and the fancy comforts she had become used to. She did it, along with her husband, and put over $56,000 of debt in the dust!
#11 Narrow Bridge
Eric at Narrow Bridge Finance offers up another inspiring look at student loan repayment. He worked full-time in college and tried to get ahead on his payments, but still had about $40K in loans after attending private school.
Thinking ahead, Eric set a goal date to be debt free and then calculated the monthly payment he would need to accomplish it. He even added a little more to this monthly payment total and then stuck with it each month. The self-discipline paid off, because Eric knocked his loan total to zero and began making big plans for a mortgage payoff, maxing out his IRA, and increasing his investments.
Speaking of investments, Eric has a lot of great financial resources on his site. Be sure to check them out and follow him @narrowbridge.
#12 The Debt Myth
$147,000 is a big number. But it’s exactly what Jackie Beck, writer at The Debt Myth, repaid. Sure, some of that includes her mortgage, but $52K was still consumer debt. Super impressive.
Jackie worked through a credit counseling agency, and over the years of her repayment she learned the skills necessary to manage money and repay debt all by herself. She’s now an advocate of the DIY approach, particularly the debt snowball because of the psychological edge it creates. In fact, she’s even turned the debt snowball into an app.
You should read all the details of her story, because it’s one of the best out there.And, be sure to follow her @thedebtmyth.
#13 Careful Cents
As her blog’s name suggests, Carrie is “careful” and calculated in her approach. That’s how she paid off $14,000 in just over a year, and it’s how she operates her successful business.
Once she got rid of her debt she was able to find autonomy, leaving behind a (likely lucrative) accounting job to pursue her own work as a writer, community leader, and consultant of sorts to other businesses and sites.
So here’s to autonomy and entrepreneurship—two things made possible for Carrie after paying off her debt.
Check out Carrie @carefulcents.
#14 Broke Millennial
Erin, also known as Broke Millennial, has an interesting story about “Life After Debt.” What makes it interesting, you ask? Well, her whole life has been debt-free. Sure it’s rare, especially for someone who attended college (no student loans—nice), but it’s her reality.
If you read Erin’s posts you will learn that money management and frugality were values passed onto her at an early age. What’s so great is that she carried those values and lessons with her and continues to put them into practice each day.
You can learn from her too by following @BrokeMillennial.
#15 My Alternate Life
The next Canadian on our list, Jordann of My Alternate Life, doesn’t sugar coat what it feels like to be debt free. Sure, it’s a relief, but it’s also a stepping stone to more financial goals. In her post about becoming debt free, she talks about the emergency fund, retirement account, and down payment she wants to establish. It’s a great a reminder that we need to stay focused on the next goals and remember that finances are a marathon, not a sprint. And, of course, we can’t overlook the awesome fact that she repaid over $38K in two years!
Follow Jordann @myalternateblog.
#16 Yes I am Cheap
Yes I am Cheap has to be one of the most honest and down to earth blogs out there. It’s about a woman who hit a few bumps in the road but isn’t willing to give up. She also isn’t willing to settle for bankruptcy and is instead tenaciously pursuing her debt.
The great news is that she documents her journey and shares it with others, which means each month you can see how she is doing on her path to paying off over $100K. And, yes, she’s definitely making progress; just this year she has brought down her debt total by almost $14K and that’s on a part-time job!
For Yes I am Cheap, “Life After Debt” isn’t a currently available luxury, but it’s the goal that fuels each new day.
It’s inspiring stuff and you should follow the story @yesiamcheap.
#17 Monica On Money
Monica shares a great story that covers how she made savings a priority and was able to pay for her MBA without taking on debt. That alone is pretty impressive (Way to avoid student loans altogether!), but Monica continues to impress with personal finance tips and advice for her readers.
Our favorite post from Monica is her 50 ways to become debt free (no surprise there).
Give it a good read and then follow Monica @monicaonmoney.
#18 Penny Pinchin’ Mom
Tracie’s debt free story follows her ups and downs along with her discovery of true financial awareness and her changing attitudes toward debt. When Tracie was young, she tells us that she found herself in a position where she needed to file for bankruptcy after acquiring significant debt.
Years later, after marrying and vowing to avoid a similar debt situation, she found herself owing 37K. But this time it was different, as the debt came in the form of auto loans and a home equity loan.
These had seemed like “normal” debts that everyone had, but Tracie came to realize that even these were burdens that she wanted to avoid. That’s when she and her husband began to budget strictly, cut costs, and make extra payments toward their debts. In just over 27 months, they had knocked it out entirely. Her perspective on debt had changed forever.
A big part of their cost-cutting came from shopping, looking for deals and using coupons. And Tracie’s skills here allowed her to launch the Penny Pinchin’ Mom site, where she continues to pass on her knowledge to others. You should follow her for deals @PennyPinchinMom.
#19 Eventual Millionaire
Some kids want to be President, others firefighters, and some, like Jamie, just want to be millionaires. Her site, Eventual Millionaire is designed for people who are working toward that goal. Not necessarily today or next year, but one day. With an entrepreneurial spirit, her blog covers everything from business failures, to tips to increase efficiency, to marketing topics, and she hosts interviews with big-time leaders in this industries and niches.
But you know what? There was a time when she had about $70K in debt, and her story of overcoming it is pretty awesome! From getting rid of an expensive vehicle, to selling a lot of stuff online, Jaime and her husband slowly brought down their debt total. They even managed to work it out so she could stay at home with their newborn for an extended time, and she was even able to eventually quit her job to pursue some new interests. It’s amazing how much freedom and flexibility she was able to find once the debt was gone.
Check out her full story and be sure to follow her @eventualmillion.
#20 Tiny Homes and Jessica Atcheson
Debt can sometimes be chalked up to our inability to distinguish between needs and wants, which leads to unnecessary spending. And sometimes, even when we can afford the “wants” we are really only doing so because of the influences placed on us by a consumerist culture.
A perspective that is far too uncommon is one that makes the connection between debt and consumerism and one that places being debt free as a minimalist ideal, rather than something that is strictly “conservative.” In other words, life after debt is a simple one that promotes fairness, allows us to avoid “corporate exploitation,” and can be in accordance with progressive ideals.
Now, I don’t mean to sound political, and the story isn’t “mine” to claim. But Jessica Atcheson wrote a great post (no longer published as of early 2016, unfortunately) about how debt, and even what we do when we are debt free, is driven by a consumerist culture. Here’s to the life Jessica advocates for: “Less debt. Less stuff. More life.”
Read her story and then follow her @jlatcheson too.
Another great student loan payoff story comes from Kevin at Thousandaire. Within four years of his graduation in 2008, he was able to knock out over $33,000 in his student loans. His post about repayment reminds us that student loans can be obstacles to other life goals. Maybe it’s getting married; maybe it’s saving for retirement, or buying a house.
Kevin reminds us of the important “20 percent down” goal for a home, and knocking out your student loans can be a great first step in working toward that goal. Especially if your interest rates are high, you will be doing yourself a favor by knocking them out and saving up for a mortgage with a lower rate.
You should check out more of Kevin’s posts and follow him @iAmKevinMcKee.
#22 Engaged Marriage
We’ve written about the tensions between debt and marriage before, and Dustin over at Engaged Marriage shares a similar perspective. His site aims to give married couples the resources they need to have a more wholesome and pleasant relationship. And of course, getting rid of debt is one major step in working toward that type of marriage.
Dustin and his wife Bethany had come into about $54,000 worth of consumer debt, through vehicle, furniture and appliance purchases.
They began looking into ways to address the issue and improve their personal finance habits. When they received good news of a new addition to the family (a little one on the way) they say that “really got their attention.” At that point, debt repayment became a top priority and they would go on to rid themselves of all 54K. Here’s to financial stability, enjoyable relationships, and responsible parenting. All great parts of Life After Debt.
Follow Dustin and Bethany @EngagedMarriage.
#23 20s Finances
Corey at 20sfinances teaches his readers about ways to manage the financial challenges that face people in their 20s. These tend to revolve around topics like career advice for those just getting started, paying off student loan debt, and starting an investment portfolio. It’s a great site full of useful info for millennials and anyone looking to make smart financial moves.
Corey’s debt free story is a lot like Erin’s over at Broke Millennial. You see, he’s never really had debt and even came up with a way to avoid it in college and while earning his Master’s. Sure this involved working more than some of his classmates, but that work allowed him to avoid high monthly payments and interest rates, giving him the all-important “flexibility.”
You should read more about what he’s doing with this flexibility and how his advice can help you make smarter financial decisions. Follow him @20sFinances.
#24 The Frugal Farmer
Rick and Laurie at The Frugal Farmer give us another great and unique perspective on debt. They are still in the midst of their repayment, and their story is an inspiring one to follow.
Not only are they de-complicating their finances, but they are also de-complicating their daily lives, getting back to the basics. As the name suggests, they moved from the suburbs to a farm, where they pursue (and blog about) sustainable ways to live that might seem a little old-fashioned and tedious to us city folk. But by embracing what they call a “Great Depression” lifestyle, they are able to make monthly gains toward their debt-free goals.
Join them as they continue their journey, and you’ll learn about humility along with some great tips to improve your overall frugality. Follow them @TheFrugalFarmer.
#25 Budget Blonde
The second self-proclaimed budget-savvy blonde on our list is Cat, a well-known freelancer in the PF community who also (of course) runs her own site.
Her story about paying off credit card debt is important, because she was able to successfully balance two contradictory goals: pay off the credit card debt and build an emergency fund. After 18 long months of repayment, she was able to push her credit card balances down to zero and begin focusing on her other financial goals. It’s a great and realistic story that everyone can follow.
Speaking of following, keep up with Cat @BudgetBlonde.
#26 Money Manifesto
Of course, we had to work in one more student loan repayment story! Lance over at Money Manifesto worked with his wife to achieve a pretty impressive financial feat. Together, they paid off $80,000 in under three years. In general, it sounds like they followed the most efficient repayment method, by prioritizing the highest interest rates first. But, admittedly, Lance and his wife had to be flexible and prepared for the unexpected.
They had quite a few ups and downs, including a few distractions, but in general they kept their finances moving in the right direction. At the end of the day, they worked to increase their income and maximize how much of that income could go toward their loans. The result is that they have one less payment to make each month, which leaves plenty of room for the other financial goals they will be working toward. Lance puts out a ton of great financial advice on his site, so be sure to check it out and see what he’s up to on Twitter @Money_Manifesto.
#27 Eyes on the Dollar
An optometrist writing about money. That’s an awesome idea and there must be a good pun to use here. But Kim has already come up with a great play on words in her tagline: “20/20 Financial Vision.”
Kim’s story is about how she and her husband knocked out $30,000 worth of credit card debt. What’s great about the story is that it sounds like Kim had been down this road before but was never quite able to make “debt free” a lasting habit. But this time, it “clicked.” It’s pretty clear from her story that she knows what it takes to stay out for good. One of the biggest takeaways I got from her post was that we shouldn’t be concerned about how we are perceived and keeping up with the Joneses. We need to have confidence in our financial decisions, even if they aren’t always socially popular, because we’ll be setting ourselves up for the most successful long-term future, while those who spend excessively might find themselves in a very real mess.
For more clarity and insight follow Kim @eyesonthedollar.
Now It’s Your Turn
If you aren’t inspired by these stories, then you should probably check your pulse! These are great tales of empowerment and recovery, and we are grateful that these writers have “put themselves out there” in order to share with all of us. If you’re pursuing freedom from debt, we would love to be a part of your journey. It all starts by signing up to speak with a counselor for free. You’ll get a free credit score, credit report review, and tons of personalized suggestions to help you achieve your goals.