Five months into my first full-time job in a new city far from home, my first student loan payment came due. Staring down at my first bill, it was shocking and overwhelming to see the total balance! And interest was accruing rapidly! I realized that I needed a plan if I didn’t want to be paying off my past for my entire adult life.
Spreadsheets, Calculations, and Sparkly Pens
I whipped out my spreadsheets, made some calculations, and crafted a plan to pay off my loans in a few years. Loans that were totaling over $20,000.
But I knew a spreadsheet wouldn’t be enough. I needed a visual to remind me of my goal. So grabbing a piece of lined paper from one of my school notebooks, I drew an outline of a thermometer. In sparkly gel pen, this chart needed some pizazz, I wrote my projected debt-free date. Then I taped the paper on my closet door.
Every two weeks, when payday came, I would rush to my laptop to make another payment on my loans. Then, I’d take the chart off my door and line, frantically coloring in a line. In those early days, it seemed like I was making little progress. But Instagram voices in the debt-free community encouraged me to stay in the game.
Don’t do debt free alone
As time went on, I hacked away at my debt. The debt-free community became my constant support. I kept seeing more and more people in the community post photos of charts keeping track of their debt.
These charts were inspiring. Some posted charts only ¼ colored in, celebrating 25% payoff of a single debt. Others posted their completed charts to celebrate debt freedom. The odd thing was, all the charts were the same! I wondered where they came from. Over time, one debt-free blogger tagged the culprit: @debtfreecharts.
I followed Heidi’s account and came to appreciate her down-to-earth approach. Her idea was simple: help people visualize their progress, and they’ll be more likely to persevere. I began to believe her as I took my own homemade chart with me from move to move, and clear across the country.
I slogged through debt payoff. In a three-year time span, I met with: a job loss, two major moves, a pandemic, a totaled car, and several minor emergencies. I even took on more debt in the form of hefty medical bills. Some days, it seemed like the needle would never move; like I’d always have debt, and that it was impossible to get ahead. But looking at my chart I could see the progress I made and found the motivation to keep going.
I grew to love the debt-free community and began to engage with others who were in similar situations. Heidi and Debt Free Charts would pop onto my feed when I felt ready to throw in the towel. She posted images of walls covered with charts, representing dozens of debts vanishing. I thought, “I don’t have it so bad.” She posted photos of smiling families celebrating debt freedom and I knew that's what I wanted for my future family.
She posted encouragement along the way. Most of all, she and her community made me feel accompanied. Yes, none of my friends were doing what I was doing, and yes, there were hard days on the journey—but I wasn’t alone.
Bye Bye Balances
May of 2020, I crunched the numbers and found out that I could be debt-free by October, but only if I hustled to get there. Knowing I needed an extra bit of motivation I finally ordered my first chart. I chose the original, the first one I had ever seen, with those coveted words sprawling across the page: “DEBT FREE.”
Armed with the newest tool in my arsenal, I hustled harder than I ever had. I sold jewelry and household items. I couponed. I saved money like a madwoman.
Finally, on October 30, 2020, by the grace of God, I made the last payment on my last of seven debts. The privilege was mine, I was coloring my last line! It felt surreal. Three years of work had led to this one moment. And I would never have to be in debt again.
You may be feeling like I did: overwhelmed, anxious, and a little hopeless. The mountain of debt waiting for the attack. But let me tell you a secret. Thousands of people have done this before you, and thousands of people are on this journey with you now. Today. And someday soon you’ll be coloring in the last line on your last chart to pronounce to the world that you’re DEBT FREE.
Wherever you are in your journey, you can do this! It takes a little elbow grease and a lot of encouragement but you will conquer this mountain.
You can find the "DEBT FREE" chart Rebecca used here for FREE to help you in your debt free journey.