By Laura McMullen
Chances are that you and most people you know have debt, and few of you are discussing it -- let alone blogging about it. But some people are opening up about this sensitive subject online, discussing their specific debts, how they accrued them and the travails of repayment.
These blogs can help readers discover debt repayment tactics and, perhaps as importantly, provide emotional support.
"There are thousands of success stories online of those with varying incomes, expenses and challenges," says Monica Louie, owner of the blog Our Debt Free Family. "Surrounding yourself with success stories of others who have conquered their debt can help you realize that you're not alone."
Here, Louie and two other debt bloggers share their stories and advice for getting out of debt and staying positive:
Monica Louie, Our Debt Free Family:
The Debt: When Monica and her husband, Mike, started their debt repayment plan in August 2013, they faced $320,000 in debt, including a $230,000 mortgage. Since then, they've paid off about $160,000.
The strategy: Monica and Mike followed the debt snowball plan, meaning they paid off their separate debts from smallest to largest. The idea behind this popular strategy is that erasing those first few debts early will motivate you to continue your long-term repayment plan. For the Louie family, that meant paying Mike's $13,000 student loan right away, then working their way through Monica's student loan, then their home equity line of credit and finally the mortgage. To afford these payments, the Louie family aggressively cut costs, particularly on groceries and gas. They also sold whatever they could online and through garage sales. They sold Mike's motorcycle and car, the latter of which they replaced with a cheaper vehicle.
The budget derailment: "Life gets busy, and when it does, sometimes I don't stay on top of updating our budget like I'd like to. One instance was after our daughter was born in December 2013. We were focusing on welcoming our new addition while giving our toddler the attention he needed. Combined with the sleepless nights that come with a newborn, all that added up to neglecting our budget for several weeks. We were in survival mode of making sure we were all cared for and fed each day, and while we didn't spend a lot during that time, feeling behind on our budget made our repayment plan feel like an overwhelming task. But the best thing to do is to dive in and take the time needed to update it. Now, not knowing where our money is going makes us feel uneasy, and we always feel better once we've faced the truth about our spending, whether good or bad. It gives us a place to move forward from."
Monica's advice for staying positive: "There have been a few times since then when we've gotten off track. But each time we do, we take the time to face the numbers and recommit to our goals. During the months when we aren't able to pay more than the minimum toward our debt, we continue to focus on how it will feel to be completely debt-free and keep moving toward the next month. We know that by being intentional with our spending and staying focused on our goal, we'll get there eventually."
Brian Brandow, Debt Discipline
The Debt: In June 2010, after years of living beyond their means, Brian's family hit rock bottom: $109,000 in debt and five maxed-out credit cards.
The strategy: First, Brian and his wife learned all they could about personal finance and debt repayment through blogs and books. Then, they set up a debt-management plan with their local credit union, which helped them negotiate with creditors and reduce interest rates. Finally, they cut their spending. The family stopped eating out, canceled luxuries like satellite radio, and got used to saying "no" to social requests that came with a price tag. Brian's wife, Lynn, also returned to work. With these adjustments, Brian and his family were able to pay over $2,000 a month toward their debts. By September 2014, the family was debt-free.
The sacrifice: "We had to cut back travel for almost four years, and that meant my wife didn't have the opportunity to visit her family. That was tough on her and difficult for me to not be able to fix it for her."
Brian's advice for staying positive: "Getting out of debt will be hard work. It will take sacrifice, but focus on your life after debt to stay motivated during debt repayment. Planning and communication even while still in debt can help reduce stress, fights and anxiety."
Amanda Page, Dream Beyond Debt
The debt: After declaring bankruptcy to clear her credit card debt, Amanda still faced $47,554 in student loans in January 2015. Fast-forward to February 2016, and Amanda was debt-free.
The strategy: Each month, Amanda paid as much as she could afford, often several thousand dollars, toward the principal of her student loans. Along with a strict budget, Amanda was able to aggressively tackle her debt with the extra income she earned through several side jobs and contract work. She also sold items and literally pinched pennies -- well, rolled quarters.
The low point: "The first time I seriously tried to pay off my credit card debt, I woke up one morning, excited to make a big payment on one balance. I pulled up my account online only to find that overnight my interest rate had ballooned. I was going to make a $300 payment, but after the interest rate rose so drastically, that was only going to cover my interest. I felt really hopeless. All the progress I'd made fell apart, because I started charging stuff again. It felt insurmountable, like the system was really rigged against me. Three years later, I ended up unemployed and scrambling to make ends meet. I wasn't sleeping. I had constant anxiety. To make a long story incredibly short, I declared bankruptcy. Yet, I was still $48,000 in debt due to my student loans."
Amanda's advice for staying positive: "It would do a lot of people good to know that they're not alone, and there's not anything to be ashamed of. You can use your debt to build your own triumph story. Use it to build your self-esteem instead of drain it. And don't underestimate the value of support. Be it a therapist or the personal finance blogging community, find someone, or someones, who will sincerely cheer you on. I'll certainly be applauding your efforts."
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