How I Ditched Debt: The Budgetnista

Anna Helhoski
By Anna Helhoski 

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In this series, NerdWallet interviews people who have triumphed over debt using a combination of commitment, budgeting and smart financial choices. Their stories may even inspire you to pay off your debt.

Five years ago, blogger Tiffany Aliche was saddled with $55,000 in graduate student loans, $40,000 in credit card debt and $200,000 from a defaulted mortgage. She paid down $260,000 of that debt and is now a financial educator, author and owner of The Budgetnista, a blog aimed at providing women with financial guidance. Here’s her story, related to us via email.

What was your total debt when you started your repayment journey?

Tiffany Aliche

Tiffany Aliche: Five years ago, almost $300,000 total.

What is your total debt today?

$40,000 in student loans from grad school.

How did you end up in debt?

I was a victim of a scam that left me $35,000 in credit card debt. I also lost my job during the recession and was unable to pay my mortgage, so I defaulted and eventually lost the home due to foreclosure.

What triggered your decision to start getting out of debt?

I had to move back home, back to my middle school bedroom. It was a humbling experience. It forced me to re-evaluate my life and take action toward a better one.

What steps did you take to reduce your debt? What resources or services did you use?

I stopped using my credit cards and only used cash. I used the snowball method to [pay] off my credit cards. I gave up my home and enrolled in a repayment program for my student loans.

How has your life changed for the better since you got out of debt?

I travel, I’m less stressed and make better choices for myself. I also used my experience to build a business to help other women do the same.

Prioritize to pay off your own debts

Like Aliche, you might have multiple debt sources. The snowball method Aliche mentioned, in which she paid off her lowest debt amount first, is best for people who need to achieve short-term goals as motivation. But paying off your highest-interest debts first — the debt avalanche method — will save you the most on interest over time and erase debt even faster.

Your payoff plan should throw extra cash at debts such as high-interest credit card debt and allow you to make regular payments on your tax-deductible and lower-rate mortgage loan or student loans.

Once you’ve prioritized your debts, make your monthly payments easier to handle. You can use debt consolidation to roll several high-interest debts into one with a lower interest rate. Consider a 0% balance-transfer credit card or a personal loan as consolidation options. Use a personal loans calculator to see sample interest rates and possible monthly payment amounts.

Anna Helhoski is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @AnnaHelhoski.

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Aliche.