Paying Off $36,176 in 15 Months: Heidi’s Debt-Free Testimony

Becoming Debt-Free

Today’s post is very special to me and I am excited to share it! It’s a little longer than usual but worth the read. When I co-hosted the Minsgame in November I was excited to see that my high school friend Heidi had joined! About halfway through the month she sent me a Facebook message sharing how she was aggressively paying down her debt. Other than Facebook, we hadn’t connected much since high school, and I was so excited for her. Just a few weeks ago Heidi accomplished her goal and became 100% debt free! She wrote a testimony of her journey as she hopes to inspire and empower others through her story. As I read her journey I found myself laughing, crying (I wasn’t aware that Simply Save was part of her journey!), nodding along in agreement, and laughing some more. Heidi’s energy and testimony are so human, so authentic, and so genuine that I believe we can all relate. I am so incredibly honored that Heidi is entrusting me to share her story on Simply Save.

Before you read: I’ve debated sharing my Debt Free Story. I was teetering on the line of “I want to inspire my closest family and friends,” and “It’s not their business – finances are way too personal.” I decided to go for it because it’s something I believe in. I believe everyone has the ability to get rid of debt and build wealth. We work too hard to not enjoy the blessing of money.

I paid-off $36,176 of debt in 15 months

The debt was disturbingly distributed between student loans, car payment, and credit cards.

The moment I got mad about the debt

To be honest, I’ve been trying become debt free since 2010. My great friend and ex-husband introduced me to Dave Ramsey. I thought he was crazy for getting on the Ramsey bandwagon, but then I saw there was something to the Baby Steps and Debt Snowball. I was hooked and we started to knock out our debt. But after our conscious-uncoupling (as Gwyneth Paltrow put it), I became distracted and didn’t take time to organize my new financials. I briefly said hello to credit cards again and threw financial common sense out the window.

Fast forward to the moment I decided to put on my big-girl pants. I’ve always wanted to buy an airstream and see the world from the front seat of my Toyota Tacoma (dream car.) One day, the passion for that dream was super strong. I took an entire Sunday to assess my financial situation and determine how I could make this work. The outcome was, “Heidi, there is no WAY you are even CLOSE to obtaining this dream. Keep dreamin’.” That feeling was so defeating. I continued to crunch numbers and learned that I would only be able to attain the “airstream-dream” if I was debt free. I was earning great money but it was all being tied up in debt. From that November 2014 day forward, I buckled-in for the ride. I decided that I work too hard to not spend it on the things that are important to me. I literally got mad. That was the fuel to my fire.

How I easily acquired the debt

Student Loan Debt

I went to a reasonable college. Thankfully I graduated with less student loan debt than the majority of American college grads. I was a Resident Assistant for 2 years, waiving my room and board costs. I also worked every single semester and summer in college; Home Depot, Michael’s, on campus, Family Services, bars, restaurants. To cap it off, my parents helped out in a big way each semester. I am forever grateful to them for giving me that gift. Regardless, I still graduated college with an $18k monkey on my back.

Car Loan

While working in Arizona, I was grateful to drive a company vehicle – it was a sweet van that I lovingly named “Gina.” When I was promoted to my next job in Houston, the car program was an auto stipend instead. So, I had to buy a car. I thought, “Great! As long as my car allowance covers the cost of a car payment, I can ring up the bill.” I purchased a 2011 Hyundai Sonata in 2012. Turns out $22k of debt would be in my name, regardless of the reimbursement program.

Credit Cards

We had a love/hate relationship. Mostly, I hated them and they loved me. I gave them up, but when a big purchase came along I would put it on the card and say, “It’s okay, my next paycheck will cover this.” I also used my credit cards for “Stupid Tax” such as speeding tickets, online memberships I forgot to cancel, supplies for side-businesses that never got up and running, etc.

When working on such a big goal it helps to know that there is someone else out there who gets it. Click To Tweet

How I went Bat-Sh** CRAZY on that debt

I made a plan (aka budget.)

For the record I don’t like the B word, it’s too rigid. “Plan” sounds more sophisticated.

  • At the time, Dave Ramsey had a “planning” tool called MyTotalMoneyMakeover – I used that. It helped me map out my income and outgo (They just recently launched an online tool called – give it a try, it is super user-friendly.)
  • After living and breathing that plan for a few months, I stopped “B-wording” because I felt I had a really good grasp on my monthly money cycle. I knew exactly how much I needed for living expenses and how much I would be able to contribute to the debt snowball.

I paid-off smallest debts first.

Paying-off each one gave me a feeling of accomplishment and motivation to keep going. It only made sense to pay the smallest debts first so I could experience this feeling often.

  • In February 2014 I used my entire tax return to pay-off a credit card. It stung quite a bit, but I know it was the right thing to do.
  • In March 2014 I dedicated my entire annual bonus to my car note. It was a punch in the gut. It did not feel good at the time but when I paid off my car in June 2014, the pain of giving up my bonus was gone.
  • My student loan was next. After freeing up over $500 of monthly payments from my previous debts that debt snowball was really rolling!

I downsized my abode.

When I moved to Austin, I felt the need to rent a 2-bedroom house in the most expensive zip code in Texas… just for the work-shed in the backyard. Although I enjoyed it, it was time to get out of there. I decided to move into a one-bedroom apartment in a high-rise overlooking the Austin skyline. Pretty good trade-off as I saved $300/month and enjoyed the lifestyle so much better. I bet you can guess where that extra $300 went.


Downsizing & Decluttering

I surrounded myself with my vision.

  • I became obsessed with knocking-out this goal. Every morning I would go straight to my whiteboard and assess how much debt I had left, when my next paycheck was coming, and where that paycheck was going (budget/plan.)
  • Dave Ramsey and I became best friends. I listened to his podcast on my weekly road trips to San Antonio and binge-listened on the weekends. I’ve also been to 3 of his events. (Once he said ‘Hi’ to me from his golf cart as he was getting transported to the event center. It was a dream come true.)
  • I followed personal finance blogs. Heather Shue, personal finance blogger of Simply Save, is not only a fellow cat lover, but we were also on the same page in terms of personal finance philosophy. Her daily posts of financial encouragement and saving tips kept me motivated. When working on such a big goal it helps to know that there is someone else out there who gets it.

I sold over 100 items.

You should see my Craigslist history page!

  • I made circles around my house for things I could sell: wall art, extra side tables, clothes, trinkets. Collectively it made a nice chunk of cash. Not to mention a fun challenge to keep my mind on this goal.
  • In the move I sold my most precious possession: a collapsible Porter Cable Table Saw. Although I was sad to get rid of it, this would only be a temporary parting from a hobby I love.
  • Through Simply Save I was introduced to MinsgameBOSS: a group of bloggers (including Heather) that created a minimalistic challenge to get rid of over 400 items in the month of November. This helped me stay focused as I was nearing the end of my goal. (The Minsgame was created by The Minimalists, we just borrowed the idea.)
Porter Table Save

Goodbye to the beloved table saw

I engaged in cheap hobbies.

Which is very difficult to do in a foodie city. I believe this was the lifeblood to my success. Without cashflow, it’s pretty hard to pay down debt. I said ‘no’ to many activities because I was working on creating my legacy. This is probably one of the most emotional ones for me. Everyone has their own definition of “embracing a city.” For me, it was exploring what the city had to offer, but didn’t cost me a ton of money: art festivals, downtown exploration, fishing, biking, hiking, photography, free hobby classes, interest groups, etc.

Without cashflow, it’s pretty hard to pay down debt. Click To Tweet
Becoming Debt-Free

Hooray! Debt free!

Was it worth it? … Is the Pope Catholic?!

I officially became debt-free on February 12th, 2016. I had been dreaming about that day for a long, long time. I had a concept of the emotions I would most likely experience, but I had no idea how it would actually feel. I feel Light. Accomplished. Raw. Blessed. Overjoyed. Relieved. Self-Loved. Empowered. To celebrate, my boyfriend and I went to a lovely restaurant. We drank hipster cocktails, enjoyed weird contemporary cuisine, and had an Oreo dessert the size of my head. Although he is always a complete gentleman and insists on paying, this one was all on me… in cash money. I felt like I was finally above ground and on the other side.

A Patriotic Moment

I must say, my attitude toward capitalism and big banks has grown to a level of disgust. I get angry when a cashier asks me if I want to save 5% off my purchase by opening a credit card. Or when my bank asks if I want to open a personal line of credit as an extra “savings account.” Unfortunately, we live in a culture that perpetuates “having-it-all” and makes borrowing acceptable. Going against the grain is not easy in the beginning, but it is worth all the sacrifice. We live in a great country – it really is the Land of Opportunity. In order to take advantage of that opportunity, you have to face the troll on the bridge. Punch him in the throat and move on.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that perpetuates “having-it-all” and makes borrowing acceptable. Click To Tweet

Closing Remarks from the Podium

Thank you to everyone who supported me, encouraged me, and rallied around me. Mom and Dad, Sarah and Odin, Andrea and Dan, Ted, Kaitlyn, Logan, Dave Ramsey, Tiffany, Sarah, Heather. I could not have obtained this goal without leaning on these people when things got weird.

Since becoming more educated about personal finance my dreams have adjusted. I’ve also realized how important it is to secure your future through building wealth. So while feverishly working my investment plan, I will no-doubt be saving to cash flow that airstream dream. (And I’m going all in – I’m going to totally trick that thing out.)

Lastly, as adults we carry a responsibility to build upon our family legacy by creating our own. My parents have worked very hard to build a future of opportunity for my sisters and I. They raised us to be givers, problem solvers, creators, free-thinkers, and productive members of society. I fully intend to carry that torch, and bless my own future family with the same gift. Amen.

We carry a responsibility to build upon our family legacy by creating our own. Click To Tweet

HeidiHeidi, 29, grew up in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. After earning a B.A. in Communication Studies and Spanish from Minnesota State University Moorhead, she moved from the tundra to the desert. 

Heidi began an exciting career in sales for a wine distributor in Phoenix, AZ. She learned the ropes of the business by starting as a Sales Representative, calling on grocery stores. Having demonstrated her leadership abilities and mid-western work ethic, Heidi was promoted to a Field Sales Manager, managing a team of sales representatives. During her first management experience, she enjoyed learning what motivates people, and found that getting results through others was highly rewarding. Eager to progress her career, she accepted a position as Fine Wine Area Manager in Houston, TX. Heidi was thrilled to become a Texan, and purchased her first pair of cowboy boots. She fell in love with the four Texas food groups; BBQ, Crawfish, Queso, and Breakfast Tacos. Through hard work and focus, Heidi landed her dream job in Austin, TX as Field Marketing Manager for the largest winery in the United States. The position allowed her to experience the business from a supplier’s perspective. Currently, Heidi can be found in Denver, CO immersing herself into the Spirits side of the business for an alcoholic beverage distributor.

Heidi’s career path is an example of hard work literally paying off. With more responsibility came salary increases; with salary increases came bigger dreams. She started to develop goals for the future that would require large amounts of money; buy a home, buy an airstream, retire a millionaire. One thing was standing in her way: financial debt. Heidi began to redirect her hard-earned income toward paying off her student loan, car loan, and credit cards. In February 2016, she put financial debt behind her. Heidi loves to share her excitement for personal finance and hopes to inspire people to reach their debt-free dreams.

Favorite hobbies: being an aunt, traveling, crafting, woodworking, metalworking, fishing, hiking, and financial planning.

Heidi can be reached by email:

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, Disease Called Debt and DIY Jahn*

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  1. Way to to 🙂
    I love woodworking, too and desperately want to own a table saw. “We live in a condo” my spouse always says. “who cares?” I say!

    • Yes!!!! “Who Cares”… I always said about my table saw. I would roll it out to the driveway and fire that thing up 🙂 I also enjoyed community classes when i needed to get a woodworking fix 😉

  2. I am so happy to have come across this post! Paying off debt is always on my mind because I absolutely despise owing money! These tips will hopefully help me become debt free too!

    • Great! I’m so glad you read the post too! Owing money is just the worst. But not everybody thinks that way… way to be different!!!

  3. The name Dave Ramsey gives me chills. My husband read all of those books and started implementing the steps. We’re debt free aside from our house, but he still wanted to use all the tips and cut all kinds of costs. It’s probably smart, and we’ve done it, but something about Dave Ramsey drives me a little crazy. My husband listened to his podcast and always wanted me to listen too. I did to appease him, and maybe some of it stuck because we definitely save more than we have before. I just refuse to credit Dave. Ha! Heidi’s story is amazing. That’s a massive amount of money to have paid off. What a wonderful feeling.

    • Ha! I know the feeling though. I love saving money and am working on paying off my house too, but I still want to enjoy life in the present. There’s a balance between living life and becoming a bit too frugal. You just have to figure out where that line is for you!

    • Thank you Meghan!!! And congrats on being DF besides the house! I agree with Heather, you do have to find what works for you. Personally – if found a message that resonated with me, and went all in. But I am also a huge fan about educating yourself. There are tons of personal finance “gurus” and bloggers out there that give great advice. Taking the “cafeteria” approach is a good way to go about it.

  4. Very inspiring as I’m looking to becoming debt free as well! Awesome testimony! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Love this!! Thank you for sharing. My husband and I only have student loan and house debt and have been making chunks of payments on both. I can’t wait to be in your shoes!

  6. This is inspiring.I am blessed that we do not have even an eighth of this kind of debt it inspired me to knock ours out too.

    • Thank you Jill! The best thing to do is set a plan, stick to it, and get your support system ready to support 🙂 You will learn so much about yourself in the process…and be so stinkin’ proud of yourself when you accomplish even the tiniest of goals (like training for a marathon – good luck, btw!)

  7. That’s awesome! The only debt I currently have is student loan debt and I am working diligently to pay it off.

    xoxo, Jenny

  8. OMG! What an amazing post. I’m usually not into reading posts about this kind of thing because I get really overwhelmed ( I have over $50K debt from student loans and my car). Then again, I know that at age 23, this kind of thing is common now days, sadly. I’m super inspired by this story. I would totally use my tax return toward my debt if I didn’t have a wedding to pay for!

    • Congrats on your upcoming wedding! There will be other tax returns to pay towards debt. Don’t get discouraged…you’ll get rid of that debt in time!

    • Congrats, Chelsea!! You’re right, that kind of debt IS status quo. We have to change that. But the fact that you are 23, and paying attention to personal finance is a huge accomplishment!! Have a wonderful wedding, and happy financial planning 🙂

  9. This is crazy amazing! The hubs and I are currently working to pay off our debt and it’s definitely a challenge, so I’m incredibly impressed with all that was done to pay off this amount of debt so quickly. Kudos!
    Nicole recently posted…Muffin BakingMy Profile

  10. Congrats, Heidi! This is incredible! So impressed with all your did in such a short time and inspired to jump on that band wagon and start paying down my own debt!

  11. Such an inspiring post and one I really needed today. I’ve been trying to get above ground with my debt too, but it has been hard since I’m a travel blogger, constantly on the road. I started my own freelance business and turned my blog into a business last summer, and I’m finally starting to make a wage where I can not only live but save too. I’m hoping to start paying off my student loans come May – here’s to financial freedom soon!

  12. This is pretty inspiring. I went through Dave Ramsey’s FPU class and even though we aren’t putting on any new debt we are not gazelle intense about our existing debt. Life keeps happening and we are moving like snails. I HATE it! Becoming debt free is like a far off dream. This is so motivating though!

    • Life happens and you are on a path…you’re leaps and bounds ahead of most! Hang in there, even the smallest progress is still progress!

    • Thank you Angie. I agree with Heather… life happens. I look back and say “i could have been DF if this didn’t happen, or that didn’t happen.” But I think the important thing is one’s attitude toward money. It sounds like you two are on a great path!! Keep chipping away. You can do this!!!

  13. What a great post! It is always inspiring to see someone that has achieved their goals to be debt free! Thank you for sharing Heidi’s story at the #SmallVictoriesSundayLinkup!
    Echo recently posted…Small Victories Sunday #55My Profile

  14. What an awesome and encouraging story!! Heidi’s enthusiasm for paying off her debt and for putting off fun things/purchases now to build her legacy is inspiring. I am Pinning it now!

  15. Fantastic story and kudos to you Heidi for sticking at it. I think one of the best lines in this story apart from all the savings was seeing what the city has to offer. That little change in perception is huge.

    I hope you get your Airstream and Tacoma amd enjoy them under your own terms.

  16. I feel like I picked up the ‘pay-debt-off’ torch just as you completed your debt pay off! Congratulations on making it there in February Heidi!

    Dave Ramsey is my constant companion on my hour-long commute to work 🙂

  17. 36k in 15 months is pretty damn easy lol. I make about 12k per month. If I ignore my bills I could pay 36k in about 6 months.

    This post fails to mention Heidi’s salary. Without that information all other numbers are irrelevant.

    • I’d argue that $36k in 15 months isn’t easy for most. The average American doesn’t make anywhere near $12k per month. I understand Heidi’s preference to not disclose her salary, but she does share in her bio that she worked hard and received several promotions throughout her career and debt repayment process. If she were making $12k per month I doubt she’d be selling her things on Craigslist and downsizing her abode. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  18. I like that Heidi jettisoned the word ‘budget’ and opted for ‘plan’ instead. For many ‘budget’ conjures images of receipts and spreadsheets and denial and tedium. ‘Plan’ implies a means to an end–debt freedom!–and so is far more positive and attractive. Language matters! 🙂
    Kurt recently posted…Seniors Have More DebtMy Profile

  19. Amazing story. Shows that if you can get into debt, you can also get out of it….although getting out takes a lot more discipline.

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