How This Couple Paid Off $121,000 in Debt



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Paying down debt can be a daunting task. When the bills keep piling up and due dates get closer, it’s easy to get anxious and overwhelmed. However, DJ and Dannie, founders of personal finance blog Pennies to Wealth, didn’t let their feelings get in the way of obtaining victory over their mounting debt. With planning and determination, the couple paid off $121,000 in debt in less than three years. Here’s how they did it.

The Cheat Sheet: Tell us about your journey toward debt freedom.

DJ and Dannie: We’ve been working toward debt freedom for about 2.5 years now. Our financial journey started shortly after my mother passed away in 2015. We didn’t have enough money to buy plane tickets for her funeral, and at that point, we realized things had to change. The only debt left is $9,000 of my student loans. Dannie paid off her last debt back in 2017, so she’s already debt free.

CS: What was the debt from?

DJ and Dannie: Honestly, we were living a normal lifestyle by American standards. We had student loans, credit cards, car loans, and an RV loan to get rid of. Our credit card debt accumulated over time because we were living above our means on one income. We were also living paycheck to paycheck, so we would use credit cards to bridge the gap. We assumed we were doing fine, but minimum payments were all we could afford to put toward our debt, so we weren’t actually making any progress.

CS: What were your biggest obstacles?

DJ and Dannie: Our biggest obstacle was having to figure out everything on our own. Our families have never been very good at managing their money, so we couldn’t turn to them for help. Everyone we knew lived paycheck to paycheck, had debt, filed for bankruptcy, or didn’t have a budget. We turned to the internet to find the answers we would need to change our financial picture. Thankfully, Suze Orman was one of the first people we came across. We watched her show religiously and put her tips into practice immediately.

CS: How did you pay off more than $121,000 in debt?

DJ and Dannie: We sought out information on the best debt payoff strategies and used what we learned to get started. At the start, we cut out every unnecessary expense we were paying for. That meant getting rid of cable, no more visits to the hair salon or barbershop, and we stopped eating out as much. We completely changed our spending habits by creating, and actually following, a budget. This helped us make the most progress because we made a plan for our money and kept track of where it went.

For the expenses we couldn’t cut, we tried our best to reduce them. Since we live in the Bay Area, housing is by far our biggest expense. Toward the end of 2015, we decided to sell everything, move out of our rental home and live in an RV for nine months! That helped us save an extra $1,700 each month to put towards our debt. The last thing we did was increase our income. I received a few promotions and Dannie got a higher-paying job. We lived on one income and used the other to speed up our debt payoff.

CS: What are your individual net worth goals?

DJ and Dannie: We became very interested in the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement not too long ago. Because of this, we would love to reach financial independence by the time we get to our 40’s. Dannie is a human calculator and spreadsheet queen, so we’ve figured out exactly what we’d need to do to make that happen. $1 million net worth is what we’d like to reach in our 40’s and then we want to continue growing it from there.

CS: What advice do you have for people who are trying to dig out of debt?

DJ and Dannie: Our biggest piece of advice we can offer is: START. Wherever you are with whatever you have. It doesn’t matter how much debt you have or how small your income is. We all have our own obstacles to overcome, but you’ll never make any progress if you don’t start somewhere.

We are where we are today because we realized we had a problem and then we set out to fix it. Our motto is you can “pay off debt and build wealth—one penny at a time.” We live by that mantra because we’ve learned firsthand that every little bit helps along the way.

CS: Anything to add?

DJ and Dannie: The last thing we’d like to add is that personal finance is just that—personal. What works for one person may not work for the next. Seek out information and find what works for you, don’t settle for the popular opinion!

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