„It took that long because I did it while still living my life,” said Courtney, who got married and gave birth to her first child and was at one point the sole income earner for her family in those eight years. „We built things into the budget so I felt this freedom to still live my life.”
„The first thing you have to do is you have to be honest with yourself,” said Courtney. „So for me, that meant pulling out all of my credit card statements and all of my student loan balances, and really looking at where I was at, and making a plan.”
With that foundation in place, Courtney spent the next nearly eight years paying off $50,000 in student loan debt and $12,000 in credit card debt
Courtney works on what she calls a zero-balance budget, which means that she directs each dollar in her paycheck to a specific location.
„Every month, a week before payday, I can actually view my paycheck, so on that day, I rebuild my budget every single month,” she said. „I look at what I have coming in versus what I have going out and I tell every dollar where to go.”
Courtney said she made sure that even while she was focused on paying off her debt, she allowed herself to continue to live her life.
„I was honest with myself, and I made a plan, but I made a realistic plan,” she said. „You have to allow yourself to go to that lunch celebration with friends. You have to allow yourself to buy yourself a new top every now and again.”
Courtney loves to travel, for example, so she created a special travel savings account that she directed money to each month. She said this allowed her to still travel while being financially responsible.
„If I want to go somewhere, I look at do I have enough in that travel account to go,” she said. „If I don’t, then I don’t get to go.”
A few years into her debt-paying journey, Courtney said she was able to consolidate her loans into one payment, which made it easier for her to track and pay off the loans.
Courtney said she kept herself within her budget by learning to plan ahead for major events, like birthdays and holidays and vacations, instead of putting those expenses on credit cards.
„Whereas I always wanted to treat the holidays as an emergency and put it on my credit card and just make it rain in various stores, all of a sudden it was like, 'Oh, I should be putting away money every month to get there and then look at what I have at the end of the year and look at what I can afford to do for people,'” she said. „One of the years, during my debt payoff, I made all of my Christmas presents for my friends and family.”
„I continued to make minimum payments on my other [credit cards], but I really focused on that one because I wanted to feel accomplished,” she said. „And when I paid off that first credit card, I remember, it felt so good.”
„It started to feel like, oh, I can do this I can make headway,” Courtney recalled. „Just with every little benchmark, it felt so great and so exciting.”
Everybody has student loan debt
„I truly lived with this mindset that everybody lives with debt. „Having had that conversation with my now-husband, I started to think of money differently.”