The average Canadian owes about $20,000 in non-mortgage debt. Adeola Omole owed more than three times that— $70,800— in mountains of credit card debt, lines of credit, a personal loan for car payments, and student loans.
Then she lost her job.
Coming to terms with her debt would mean changing her whole mentality about shopping, selling some of her possessions, and some big spending changes for her and her husband.
Watch: Consider an emergency fund before reaching for a loan or credit card. Story continues below.
Like many other soon-to-be lawyers, Omole had been working as an articling student at a law firm in Calgary in 2001. She told HuffPost Canada it was implied that after her 12 months of articling, she would be hired on as a lawyer.
"I was at this firm, and I thought things were going really well, the recession hit in the spring of 2001, and things were not looking good," she said.
"So the firm I was looking at, they basically let all of the junior lawyers go, and I was one of the ones they let go."
Omole said it was "quite a scary time" for her and her husband, who at the time was making $30,000 a year as a sales representative for Telus. She had been making $40,000 before she lost her job.
At the time, they were living paycheque to paycheque, with both salaries mainly going toward paying down their mortgage, with Omole's credit cards and lines of credit paying for all other expenses like groceries.
"We were sadly slipping away into further debt just by accessing all the credit that was available to us at the time until we couldn't do it anymore," she said.
"We were in our 20s, and it was a really scary time for both of us, because we had a mortgage, we had a ton of debt," she said.
"And we just didn't know how we were going to get by, because we were literally going paycheque to paycheque and still using credit cards to kind of tie us over at the time."
Every kind of debt you could think of, I had it.Adeola Omole
The turning point came when Omole called Visa to extend the limit on her card, on which she was already overdrawn. She was denied.
"And that was when I realized, 'OK, this is serious, we don't have an emergency fund, we don't have extra resources, we've been tapping into credit of all sorts just to get us by, we're hooped.'"
Omole said she owed nearly $30,000 on several lines of credit, $10,400 on a personal loan for her car, had balances owing on three credit cards and various department store credit cards, and still owed money on her student loans. All of that amounted to more than $70,000.
"Every kind of debt you could think of, I had it."
What she did about it
Her husband was still working, and Omole was applying for jobs left and right. But in the meantime, she made it her full-time job to read as many books as she could about how to get them out their situation.
"And that's what changed everything, and I started realizing, 'wait a minute. It's all about cutting, cutting.'"
"So we stopped everything. No going out to the movies, because obviously we didn't have cash. No vacations, no form of entertainment."
Omole said she cut their household food budget to $30 a week, and would buy tons of discounted food and freeze it, "out of necessity."
She and her husband sold one of their cars, and some of that money immediately became their emergency fund. She eventually found a job 18 months later in January of 2003 doing mergers and acquisition work for BP Canada and IBM.
But Omole said she'd constructed a two-part strategy about her finances at the start of 2002, the first part being debt repayment.
"I sold shoes— sadly I had a shoe problem— so I ended up selling a ton of my shoes, made about 200 bucks from it, I put that onto the debt. The vehicle was sold, put onto the debt. Sold some clothes, put it onto the debt. So any extra money we had, we were piling onto the debt," she said.
Since she and her husband had been living on one income, they just continued to do so, and she used her salary to pay things off.
"It was refreshing to have money, because we'd gone for so long without it, managing with my husband's money," she said.
She made her last debt payment in the first half of 2005, making her consumer debt-free in three years. Omole has since shifted careers to become a wealth coach, and has written a book about her experience and strategy, called "7 Steps to Get Out of Debt and Build Wealth."
How she stuck to her plan
Omole said it wasn't easy to stay on track. She said she had to "unlearn everything I had learned up to that point" about shopping and society's emphasis on instant gratification.
"I did these daily affirmations, and I'd write things on paper and I'd read it over and over and over again, tell myself why I was doing this, and discovered how important the mindset was," she said.
She also took control of her love of shopping.
"I started learning about investing, even while I was going through the debt elimination process, and I figured, 'let me kind of transfer this love of shopping [and] love of buying crap,' which is basically what I was doing," she said.
"I was buying lots of stuff that I didn't need, let me shift that into buying things that I do need."
So I kept reminding myself, I am doing this so that I can take full control of my financial destiny.
Omole said she saved all of her financial statements from 2001, and would regularly go back and look at them.
"It would make me sick, because I'd be feeling the same feelings I felt at the time, where I couldn't sleep, and it triggered some really negative feelings."
"I never wanted to rely on a credit card again for my financial well-being, and secondly, I never wanted to rely on an employer for my future, and that's what I was doing at the time.
"So I kept reminding myself, I am doing this so that I can take full control of my financial destiny."