How I Paid Off $30,000 of Debt in Two Years

Before I explain how I paid off all of my debt in less than 24 months, I want to thank each of you for commenting on Wednesday’s post. I haven’t replied to many yet, but I read each and every one of your 52 “Congrats!” as they rolled in and I so appreciate you taking the time to comment.

Tuesday was a big day for me. I’ve spent the last two years and 50 some-odd paydays trying to wipe out my debt, and now it’s gone. But as I said in Wednesday’s post, I didn’t pay it all off the “right way” or the “easy way”. I stopped tracking my spending a few times, went (way) over too many budgets, and made one decision that could’ve been a huge mistake. Today, I want to explain how I paid off $30,000 of debt in two years.


In June 2011, I was maxed out with a little more than $28,000 of debt. I round that number up to $30,000 now, because of the amount of interest I likely paid in my first year of debt repayment. See, at the same time I started this blog and my debt repayment journey, I had just moved back in with my parents. Mom and Dad thought I was at home so I could pay for school and graduate debt-free; they had no idea that, on top of what I owed them, my credit cards were maxed and I was paying off two other loans.

At the time, I owed them just over $4,400 for tuition they had paid for me. Because they didn’t know how bad the rest of my financial situation was, I made my first big decision in my debt repayment journey: to pay my parents back first, while letting my credit cards sit maxed out at $6,500. And that’s exactly what I did. While making only the minimum payments on my cards and hardly saving a penny, I handed over huge payments to the Bank of Mom and Dad. And after just three short months, I paid back the last of what I owed them.

Looking back, it’s easy to see that paying that first loan off so quickly is likely what inspired me to continue with the rest of my debt repayment plan. I learned that sacrifices had to be made and that my lifestyle had to change, but I reaped the rewards almost immediately. And fortunately, even though I paid them back every penny in just three months, my parents let me stay at home for six. I took full advantage of living at home rent-free, by continuing to cut back on things I “wanted” and paying off a total of $10,000 by doing so.


On January 1st, 2012, I moved back out into my own apartment. And I’m not going to lie: I was scared sh*tless about doing so. I still had about $4,000 of credit card debt and I didn’t trust myself not to rack it up to its maxed out status again. So, I started trying all kinds of crazy things I now refer to as “Financial Fad Diets”. First, I decided to live off cash. I gave myself $110/week for food, gas, fun and small necessities. But then there was the week I had to pay almost $30 for a pack of birth control, which screwed up my whole budget. Yea, I gave up the cash diet almost immediately after that. Then I thought I would try to make a bunch of extra money by selling things I no longer wanted or needed. But then some chick tried to break into my apartment when I was home, and I decided it wasn’t worth it.

And then I did what could have been the stupidest thing of all: I took advantage of an offer to do a 0% credit card balance transfer. Seriously, I felt so stupid about this that I didn’t even blog about it! Sure, I had done the math and was confident I would be able to pay off the full balance before any interest accrued, but that calculation rided on the assumption that I would be getting at least a $2,000 tax refund. Anything less and my budget would’ve been ridiculously tight from then until July. So, you can imagine how happy I was to file and see that I would be getting back more than $2,700. I titled that blog post “The Game Changer”, because that’s exactly what it was. My 2011 tax return helped me reach a positive net worth and pay off my credit card debt once and for all.

Once I was free from all credit card debt, I became a little lost. I hit patches of debt fatigue, which is where a person grows tired of paying down their debt and just wants to have some fun. After a couple months, I finally made a new plan: to be debt-free before I turned 28. See, even though my credit card debt was finally gone, I still had two loans that I was chipping away at. For the first year of my debt repayment journey, all I did was make my regular payments on both of them – and neither was scheduled to be paid off until April 2014. But I knew that I could wipe them out before that. It just helped that I quit my job in September 2012 and moved to Toronto for a new one, where I then lived out the rest of the year paying only $600/month for rent. (I could write an entire blog post about how much my situation with Roomie helped me in 2012.)


Without a doubt, 2012 was the year I changed my life. I made some mistakes, in the process, but by the end of it I was definitely heading in the direction I’d hoped to be in. I started 2013 with only $6,500 of debt left to payoff and my new debt-free date was June 7th. Better than being debt-free before my 28th birthday (July 7th), I wanted to be debt-free before I hit the two-year mark of writing Blonde on a Budget. And as the date crept up, my desire to be debt-free took over the rest of my financial goals.

For starters, I stopped contributing to my Emergency Fund and RRSPs. It didn’t help that I also decided to move back to BC, which was another expense I needed to save up for, but savings in general just stopped being as important as becoming debt-free. My 2012 tax refund took another big chunk out of my debt, leaving me with less than 10% of my original debt. Then last week, when I realized I only had $495 left to payoff, I took some money out of savings and made my final debt repayment.

And now I’m here: at “Debt Zero” as many of you seem to be calling it. And it’s only May 27th! My savings accounts are looking pretty sad, these days, but they can only go up from here. On Friday, I’m going to get my first paycheque in my entire adult life where I won’t need to allocate part of it for debt repayment. I don’t owe anybody money. Well, except me. I owe myself money – $500, in fact, for what I took out of savings last week. But then my paycheques will be all mine.

So, for every comment or email I’ve received from someone who has wanted to know how I got out of debt, there is your answer. See? It wasn’t pretty. I wasn’t always smart. I just knew I wanted to live a life without debt, so I made it happen.

Onto the next chapter. :)

  • OMG! First off CONGRATS!!! I check in on your blog and so excited that you reached your goal early! I’m so glad that you’ve blogged your journey of ups and downs — and what you’ve learned — its really a great tool for others AND so inspirational. So excited for you and to see what comes next!!!

  • First off, congratulations! (Both on paying off your debt and on being a forthright inspiration to those of us who to do the same.)

    A few months ago, I switched my line of thinking from, “Ugh, I already have so much debt, what’s another $50?” to “I want zero debt and I want to live debt free for the rest of my life… like I used to… when I wasn’t stressed and panicked about money every single day.”

    Since then, I have paid my $15,000+ credit card debt down to $13,400. Granted, I’m still having flare ups where I buy things I want instead of toughing it out… but now I usually return those purchases. I’ve also pretty much stopped eating out or buying fancy coffees unless I’m stuck downtown or at a planned business meeting.

    I live in NYC where I pay $900/month for my share of an apartment. The first thousand dollars I make each month goes to rent. Poof! I’m also a writer and freelancer, so how much money I make changes every month. It’s a terrifying way to live, financially, even though it’s a fun way to work. So I’m looking for a job that will allow me to start making plans. I want to know how much I’ll have each month to pay this down so I can start saving and building up a cushion. As a freelancer, I’m working hard to line up extra jobs that will dump cash into my life… always remembering that about 30% of anything I make will have to be paid in taxes.

    I’d never carried debt until 2009 when I graduated from graduate school with dismal loans, right into the bleakest economy we’d seen for decades. I lived off my savings while I looked for work, then I ran out of cash, babysitting to buy peanut butter and jelly and pay the rent… and then I started using my credit card.

    I made a lot of financial mistakes, including taking out school loans in the first place, but I’m in it now, paying things down.
    Thanks for being a calm voice out there saying it’s possible when every other voice is yelling, “Buy! Buy! Buy!”

    Congratulations again!

    • I hope anyone who freelances, or who is considering freelancing, reads your comment. Thanks for sharing, Hannah! And congrats on moving your finances into a new direction. :)

  • Now that you’re out of debt, you’ll be able to start building a really solid financial cushion for yourself, and replenish your sad savings. :) My savings are looking pretty sad too these days, as I’m neglecting replenishing them until after I’m debt free. I think, once my student loans are paid off, I’ll take a brief debt repayment breather to shore up a few of the more depleted accounts, and then get back on the debt repayment horse to kill my $7,600 car loan before the end of the year. THEN, I’ll be stashing some serious cash into my savings.

  • Can’t wait to hear you’ve got plush accounts!
    We hit a big milestone last week too, and it’s going to be weird to see all the cash building up… weird but exciting!!
    Congrats on being where you want to be.

    • Ugh, I have a feeling that’s 6 months away (cushy savings)… but we’ll see, I guess! Congrats on paying off your mortgage, Anne!

  • Such an amazing story Cati!! You accomplished something many people don’t, I hope you are very proud of yourself :)

  • My husband and I have racked up some pretty good consumer debt…it’s not pretty. We bought our current house when we were so not financially ready, and that also put us in a bit of a pickle with paying bills with our line of credit. Yikes! We’re better now, but our debts are still sitting there. We’re more aware of the situation now, at least. We’re selling our house soon and stand to make a big chunk of change with the improvements and renovations we’ve done…and I’m a little bit conflicted. We could pay off most of our debt with what we’ll make, but it sort of feels like cheating. And sort of like we won’t have learned our lesson because it was “easy”.

    Anyway, your story is so inspiring! I wish I had found you while you were still in the midst of your debt repayment. I’ll be going through your archives anyway though. :)

    • Paying off your debt is not cheating – it’s getting yourself ahead! Do whatever it takes to get where you want to go. :)

  • Cait, you are awesome! Even with all your crazy ups and downs you still managed to reach your debt-free goal, and I’m super proud of you! You even hit your goal a few days before the one-year anniversary of my debt-free date — we are rocking it!

    Thanks for being so honest and sharing your entire journey. It helps to know that paying off debt isn’t easy, but in the end it’s worth it. I hope you enjoy your new-found debt freedom. Congrats girl!

    • Yesss, almost debt-free date blogging twins! Haha.

      Thanks for your continued support, Carrie. Can’t wait to see ya! xo

  • I only started reading your blog around October 2012, so it was really nice to get the whole debt story in one post! It’s inspiring to read that you’ve had setbacks along the way but still came out on top with your debt repayment! My debt is much larger then yours but I’m hoping to have it all paid off in 5 years for sure, but not so secretly aiming for 4 ;)

  • Wow, congratulations! You’ve become my inspiration! After my mum passed away March 2012 I started looking at my financial situation. I didn’t have any credit card debt, but I did still have 10 years to go with my mortgage. I’m on my own with a decidedly moderate income. I’ve been working 2 jobs for about 9 years (not as dramatic as it sounds – I love teaching music from home on a Saturday!), but looking ahead I knew I couldn’t carry on working all those hours if my dad was going to need extra care, etc. Then I got my statement from my savings account and realised that the annual interest I was getting in the current climate was peanuts. I rang my mortgage provider and we did some quick sums – if I stopped putting money into my savings every month (I have a reasonable emergency fund) and paid that money to my mortgage instead, I could pay it off in 3 and a half years. Which sounded pretty good to me. Then I did the best thing I have ever done in my life – I downloaded a copy of a loan management spreadsheet. Input the outstanding amount, interest, payments, etc, etc and it tells you when you’re going to pay off your loan. I spent HOURS on that thing. ‘So, if I pay off an extra £50 a month, no, OK, an extra £75 a month, yeah but what if I pay an extra £100 a month…’. It hasn’t been easy (and still isn’t) but at this point (not counting disasters, knock on wood) I’m on course for being about to pay off the mortgage in April next year – two years from the date I first made the decision to prioritise it. Every day I have to remind myself to watch my spending, not waste a penny, keep my eye on the bigger picture – but I’m excited too! Every month, every payment, is a step closer to being debt free! I’m so happy for you that you have made that final payment – hopefully by this time next year I’ll have done the same!!

  • Again, congratulations on paying off your debt! Also, and this might sound weird, but thank you for making mistakes and being willing to share them.

    I know whenever I screw something up – and this happens frequently – I almost cringe at the idea of writing about it on my blog. But, your courage gives me courage to keep trying even when I’ve been dumb about it. And then blog about it.

    Cheers to your Fiscal Fad Diets and your Ups and Downs. They’ve made you the person you are today and that person sounds pretty fantastic.

    • That doesn’t sound weird at all! Honestly, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nothing about what I’ve been doing is “inspirational” or whatever. I’m doing what everyone else does: trying to get by and then trying to get ahead. I’m just writing about it! Mistakes are made in all areas of life but, in my experience, we (as a society) are really scared to admit to financial ones. But everyone makes them! It’s time to share lessons and learn from each other. :)

  • I only started reading in October 2012 too, so thanks for the full recap! I’m glad I was here at the “finish line”!

    I’m excited to see what direction you take this blog now. :)

  • Hi, left my first ever comment on your blog on the last post – now I’ve read and understand how you made it to cashflow positive I’m even more impressed. Way to go!

  • Glad you are finally debt free! You are such an inspiration. I have years to go and I am so impatient, but have to remember there are no magical solutions. Just gotta keep going. Your savings will be back to normal in no time!

  • Congrats on being debt free! Not many people can pull that off (I have debt), especially in just two years.

  • It really was quite a ride, wasn’t it? I had almost forgotten about the crazy girl trying to break into your apartment! Hopefully you don’t experience the same lost feeling you had when you finished paying off your credit cards (I know that was an issue for me too). I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store for you over the next few months :D Congratulations again girl!

    • Bahaha… I will never forget about the crazy chick!

      I’m not worried about feeling lost now, just more concerned about how to budget – and most of that concern is because of all the weddings, travel, etc. I have going on this summer! It’ll be a very unusual few months for me, for many reasons…

  • Congratulations on this huge accomplishment! Not only are you “Debt Zero,” but by posting your experience and hard to work to make this happen, you are helping countless numbers of other people in similar situations as well.

    I help students get ready for college, but I am also on the board of an organization that lends money to young women going to college. We hope to help them get an undergraduate or graduate degree, but are very concerned when we see a girl take on debt without a clear plan to pay it back. We will be sharing your post!

    Good luck, you have a much brighter future ahead!

    • Thank you for your lovely comment, Claire! I hope this post can help some of the students you work with :)

  • I came across your blog a couple of weeks ago (I am very new to the PF community) and I have to say you have really inspired me to embark on my own journey to pay off all my debt as soon as I possibly can! I just wanted to say WELL DONE for staying motivated and determined throughout your journey, it is truly amazing, and THANK YOU for such an amazing blog! xo

  • Wow congratulation on your achievement. It is great to hear that you have been able to pay off your debt. You have done a great job in the last 24 months. I love to hear stories of people being debt free. As a Financial Planner and an Author of Financial Reset I want to congratulate you on your achievement. I have seen many individuals and families that were under the bondage of debt and the effect it had on their life. It is important for people to get basic financial literacy and thrive to live debt free. You are an inspiration to me and others that are reading your blog. Thank you for your contribution.

  • I just read your story on the G&M. I wanted to say congratulations and you should be really proud of yourself for accomplishing this very diffucult task.I hope that you will hang on to this wisdom and live a long healthy financial life going forward. There is a lot of temptations out there, but you will be glad you didn’t succumb to them. Amazing job!

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Queen B! I’m excited/nervous to see where life (and my finances) go next.

  • Congrats on working your debt down to zero! I am hoping to someday see that myself. I know my student loans are something I cannot tackle full on right now due to other consumer debt, but since finding your blog on Pinterest and periodically checking in for inspiration when I need it the most, I have started putting a budget into place since April and really tracking ALL of my finances – not just the bills I have to pay. I’ve learned that the small things here and there that you don’t keep your eye on are the biggest culprits of creating more debt. I am hoping to have all of my consumer debt paif off by June or July 2014. I did what you did with the 0% balance transfer and then received a LARGE credit limit and used it as my “emergency” money too often for things I really didn’t need (and sometimes for gas) but have since slapped my hand a few times over that. Now that I am back on track, I hope that I can keep using your blog as inspiration to keep moving forward and actually become consumer debt free so then I can worry about my student loans and my mortgage! Thank you again for reminding me that I am not the only person our age stuck in debt hell & that I can get myself out of it in a shorter time than I might think!

    • You are absolutely not the only person who is tackling their debt, Jenna. It’s just unfortunate that we don’t all talk about it more. It sounds like you know exactly where your finances are now and where you want them to be in the future. One goal at a time :) good luck! And thanks for commenting!

  • [I just knew I wanted to live a life without debt, so I made it happen]- I know it takes time and effort, Im going to make mine happen!

    Thanks Cait!

  • Congratulations! I can’t wait to be where you are. I’ve been stupid as well, but have more than double the damage. On top of OSAP, I took out $40,000 in student lines of credit. Worst idea ever. I don’t even know what it all went towards, but I basically have nothing to show for now.

    I graduate / start a new job next week. I’ve also started cleaning houses on the side to save up for debt repayment. Three weeks ago, I owed $1,200 on my credit card. Now I owe $0! It’s an addictive feeling, and I can’t wait to start allocating $3,000 a month toward my debt. The lines of credit don’t accrue interest until May 2014, so it’s a race to get as much as possible paid off by then.

    Thank you for being an inspiration!

  • I feel like I’m the brunette version of you. I paid off about $27kish in 18 months last year, I’ll be 28 this year!

    I just wanted to say congratulations and that I’m really happy for you.

    I’m in the process of getting in the groove of saving money consistently month to month. It’s funny because I feel like saving for my emergency fund is much harder then tackling all that debt!

    Keep this blog up, enjoy and I wish you further success!

  • Awesome job!! And happy 28th birthday!!!! Mine is in 10 days!! And I’ll still be in debt then lol but I’m working on it!

  • Wow, I just want to say congrats! & that I’m proud you paid all that money off. For the last year, i have been nothing but stressed & tired of my debt issue. I could almost say I owe about that amount of money & have no idea where to start! I could barely sleep because it is all i think about :( but your post has really made me feel a little bit better & gave me hope. Hehe thanks girl.

  • Wow, I’m so happy to have found your blog site! Ive paid off $25k in the past 2 years and have one LOC to go with a balance of $14,500. I think I’m in debt fatigue. I have enough unsecured investments (shares, TFSA) combined that I can pay this off and it would leave me with about $2k. Would you recommend I do this? I hate the thought of depleting all my savings, but at the same time, seeing the finish line is great too! I pay 5% interest on my loan and minimum payments are 2% of balance. I think what I’m afraid of is if i deplete my investments and rebuild again, what if i lose my job or an emergency comes up… Then im back at using my LOC again paying interest…. isnt this the cycle repeating itself? You thoughts would be much appreciated ! Thanks :)

  • Well done. I’m from Cape Town, South Africa and stumbled across your blog. Well done in getting your finances in order, huge achievement!

  • I just came across your blog and wanted to thank you for being honest about your struggles to pay off your debt. I think that you have discovered that being real and open about your financial difficulties has probably connected you to people you might not have ever met.
    It was brave and you deserve to be commended for your willingness to document your challenges openly.

    Your story is inspirational and motivational to others that are struggling financially. Good luck in whatever you do in the future.

  • Wow, what an inspiring story! I’m lucky that I still live at home, and don’t really need a credit card, but I can see how this might become a problem quickly. I have a number of friends who have just started to rack up considerable debt on their credit cards, but given I have no experience with managing debt it’s a little weird trying to give them financial advice. I will definitely nudge them gently to this blog. Thanks!

  • Wow congrats to you!!!

    Your blog keeps me motivated to pay off my $28, 000.00 student loan including interest.

    I just paid off 8 credit cards in 4 months totalling $1, 454.00
    I began July 6, 2013 and paid off the last three credit cards October 4, 2013.

  • Hi cait,
    Your blogs are a inspiration.
    Could you possibly tell me how to add numbers to your budget chart , it keeps saying a incorrect formula.

  • Truly awesome and really an inspiring story to motivate others. I have racked up embarrassing debt in the last 2 years and have been piece parting it to death on how I am going to pay it off in all these ways. I am just leaping and taking risk and paying straight forward from now on and letting your story be my guide. Thank you!

  • I’ve just found your website :) gosh I LOVE this post! Congrats on your Debt Zero moment – I know the congrats are rather belated! I really like your honesty on the times when you weren’t paying off debt the ‘right’ way or the ‘best’ way – I am like that too sometimes! And I certainly hit debt fatigue at the end of the last year. I cannot wait for the day of zero balances on my debt…I only have my personal loan to go! Anyway, great blog – inspiring!

  • I just found your website..I have been looking for a way to get out of debit as I seem to be in a hole I cannot control or get out of. I have tones of credit and I have tones of available credit, but I see a hole that is getting bigger and interest rates getting higher. I have decided to – what might not be a great ideal is to move all my outstanding credit to a lower interest line of credit.
    It will save me almost 12 points in interest. And from what I can figure out almost 30,000 in debit repayment over the next 200 months or 16 years! UGH!
    Now that could be reduced greatly by adding extra payments should I have extra money at any point and time.
    Some may say Im stupid for keeping my rrsp’s while having this much debit but my circumstances have changed quite rapidly in the last 12 months. I need to use my rrsps during the summer months when I dont have an income, because I dont work during educational holidays.
    Most think i can get EI well unfortunately i am part owner in a business that isnt doing well but that kicks me out of getting a penny from the government as far as EI goes. Even thou the company cant pay me a cent.
    I am now looking at items I may own that I can sell to reduce debit. Its hard to look at the things you have accumulated over a long period of time to find yourself in a situation where you need sell them.
    Its also hard to tell your kids you will need to work to go to college to fulfill your dreams. Saying no to my children isnt fun. I recently told my daughter no when it came to something she wanted in the grocery store. I have never had to do that EVER! It make me sick.
    I also feel liek Im trying to recover alone as my husband really doesn’t have an income right now he is living off rrsps from days gone by, since no one want an untrained IT guy that made it big for awhile. I think he hasn’t hit bottom yet because he still think he can pull something together. I am so glad we usually live our finical lives for the most part separate.
    Let that be a learning lesson to you ladies and gents, keep your money separate except one account where you put shared bill money. That way one of you can maybe help when the financial ship is sinking!
    You are so lucky Cait you found your freedom from debit now. I was debit free and then my life fell apart and I have way to much debit. Im in my mid forties and cant see how I will clear this up and have money for retirement. I pray I dont live like my parents on social SENIOR assistance every month, trying to live off 1200 a month.
    Thanks for letting me share.
    Ill be five year to retirement when I finally debit free!

  • Just stumbled across your page, and I must say that it is refreshing to see a young person speak so candidly about debt. It’s a taboo topic in this day and age, and my husband and I (43) are overwhelmed by debt. With a preschooler and another child on the way, I wish I had changed my negative spending habits from my 20s and 30s. While the amount of debt we have is probably less than many our age, it prevents us from being able to save for a down payment on a first home. I applaud you on huge accomplishment, and you should be very proud of yourself for learning to live within your means. Just to be able to sleep soundly at night knowing you owe nothing is something to aspire to.

  • I don’t know you but as a mother of 3, student, and small business owner, I’m very proud of you lol!!

  • Great story. Important to not allow your debt to take the snowball effect. With urgency, efficiently readjust your priorities and allocate your money accordingly. Spend and save your money wisely.

  • Congratulations on being debt free at last :) I am well and truly happy that i have come across your blog and no doubt i shall be using almost if not ALL your advice. Your budget template and focus is awesome and i thank you for sharing your experience. Atleast now i can sort of see a tiny glimmer of light at the end of this death by debt. You have helped me so much already. Thankyou so much xx and Good Luck with your future challenges

  • Everytime i fall off the wagon, I read back to this post or browse around your website. Such an inspiration… I cant wait until i can get to this point!

  • Congrats! It’s always inspiring hearing peoples’ stories about getting out of debt. About 7 months ago, my husband and I discovered Dave Ramsey and started tackling our debt. We’ve paid off a little over 21k so far! We have a lot more to go still, are hoping to have it all done within the next 3 years so we can start truly living life! Best of luck in the future!

  • Hi,

    Your story is so inspiring! I’m working now on clearing up my debt because I want to open a business and I need to clear up a few things. But i do have one question… as far as for your credit score… Did it immediately go up? or is it slowly getting to a good credit score?


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