Updated: May 24, 2021
Let me start by saying that everyone’s financial journey looks different, and there is no one-size-fits-all roadmap to financial freedom. Above everything else, the most important thing when it comes to becoming debt-free is consistency. Paying off debt is a long game and not for the faint of heart. It takes sacrifice, resourcefulness, dedication to your “why”—and sometimes, a side hustle (or two).
Yes, I’m single. No, I don’t have any kids. But before you tune me out, I think it’s actually more common to see married couples and families embarking on their debt-free journey together. Going at it collectively in many ways can actually be easier, both financially (more income) and mentally (built-in accountability partners).
But if I can do it solo, then so can you!
Now that my little disclaimer is out the way, here is what my journey looked like:
Back in 2017, I flirted with the idea of becoming debt-free when I caught wind of Dave Ramsey, a well-known financial advisor and radio host. At the time, I was inspired when he featured a young Black couple who had paid off THOUSANDS of dollars in debt. If I’m honest, it didn’t truly feel obtainable, and my lifestyle at the time (both financially and relationally) didn’t allow for the idea to truly take root.
However, it wasn’t until a major life event occurred that I was forced to finally take a hard look at my finances. Out of the blue, I found myself taking on the burden of legal fees that uprooted the familiar lifestyle I was used to living. Just like that, I was back to what felt like square one.
But here’s one thing about me: I’m resilient AF. In addition to that, I’ve also always been pretty good with managing my coins. So, this actually ended up being the “reset” that I needed (in retrospect, of course). One day, I was having a random conversation with one of my friends about our glow-up goals, and Dave Ramsey resurfaced again as we talked. Shortly after, I discovered Anthony ONeal, a financial expert and host of the online series The Table with Anthony ONeal. By this point, the idea of achieving financial freedom was planted at the forefront of my mind. As I soaked up knowledge, I would often think, “Man, could I seriously pull this off?”
Fast forward to 2019: a time where living debt-free became more plausible. I had begun to slowly increase my car payments and implement strategies that would ultimately help dig me out of debt. Things looked promising…then the next year, COVID happened, and all of our lives underwent massive change. Blessed enough to be able to keep my same job and pay, I ended up using the pandemic to truly focus on me: mentally, physically, spiritually, and financially. I finally decided to get serious and turn things up a notch.
By March, I had paid off my car. Now, one year later, here we are: I’m 100% debt-free! No student loans, car loans, medical bills, credit card bills, cell phone installments, NOTHING! I managed to pay of $53,422.00 in 26 months.
Here are 3 lifestyle changes I implemented that were major contributors to becoming debt-free:
Meal Planning + Optimized Grocery Shopping
I love food—good food, which is sometimes expensive food. However, in 2019, I had already eased myself into what I called “No-Spend Mondays” and eventually transitioned fully to “you got food at home” mode. In other words, I was cooking ALL of my meals.
I developed and stuck to a weekly meal plan schedule based on a budget of about $100 (give or take) to last me at least a week, sometimes more. This included breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, and dessert. I curated my meals, often either repeating them and/or basing them on ingredients or seasonings I already had. I also shopped at two different nearby grocery stores to get the best price for the items I needed. To aid my efforts, I’d look at weekly grocery ads to see what was on sale. I even downloaded the grocery store app for coupons and deals. Did I get tired of curating, cooking and eating my own food? Absolutely! But man, I’m SO glad I did.
Tip: Always, always have a grocery list before going to the store and most importantly, stick to it. You can also download apps like Ibotta to earn cash back on items when you actually DO spend money. You can use my code nalhnst if you decide to try it out.
Cut or Lower Expenses (As Many as Possible)
I scrutinized ALL of my spending habits and bills under a microscope, no matter how big or small. For example, I called my phone company to get my bill lowered and asked my credit card companies to lower my interest rates. I wore protective hairstyles for longevity, and cut out expensive beauty appointments—like manicures, pedicures, eye lash extensions, and eye brow waxes—for months. Beauty maintenance and self-care was (and is) still a priority for me, so I replaced my typical appointments with DIY self-care. While everyone was shopping like crazy during the pandemic, I saved my money. I figured that since no one was going to see me rock that new dress, makeup or accessories, why buy it now? Also, at one point, 2020 gave me serious apocalyptic vibes, so collecting new stuff was the last thing on my mind.
I knew the biggest challenge was going to be addressing my coffee habit. I started slowly cutting back, and eventually got down to a small or tall latte every other day. However, for my birthday, I was blessed: two of my best friends surprised me with a brand-new Nespresso machine!! I immediately put it to use and was able to slowly but surely wean myself off of buying coffee entirely, while still keeping up with my habit *wink*. Thank God for best friends!
Tip: Truly assess ALL of your expenses. Write them down or use excel. Include non-negotiables all the way down to those monthly subscriptions. Start to cut and don’t look back. Remember, this pain is temporary and the reward will be great.
Follow the Debt Snowball Method (“Gazelle Intensity”)
Once I cut my expenses, I applied Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball method, which involves aggressively paying on your smallest debt until it’s paid off, and then move on to the next. Doing this allowed me to celebrate small wins and significantly helped in keeping my overall motivation high.
Tip: It’s okay if you backslide here and there. The road to financial freedom can be slow and paved with “Murphy’s law”. Just remember your “why”. Also, there are so many people who are likely in less ideal financial situations than you, making it to the other side. This can be done!
I know this seems pretty simple and really it is. Consistency and sacrifice are truly the keys. It's about trimming the fat and finding the money to make it happen, even if it happens slowly. Although I soaked up a lot of information on my journey, it ultimately came down to crafting a plan that worked best for ME. This was crucial to my success, and will be to yours as well.
Overall, I hope this post encourages anyone who is interested in getting out of debt to take the first step. Make a commitment to yourself and help change your family tree. It’s not too late to be the difference.