How This Blogger Paid off $27,000 in Debt in 17 Months

Tana Williams and her husband erased five figures of debt in about a year and a half, thanks to tried-and-true strategies like budgeting and building income streams.

Written by Rebecca Safier / October 4, 2022
Tana Williams and her husband
Tana Williams

Quick Bites

  • Although paying off debt probably won’t happen overnight, you can speed up the process through careful budgeting, increasing your income and other strategies.
  • Cutting expenses can help you funnel more money—in the form of extra payments—toward debt repayment.
  • The debt avalanche method of targeting high-interest loans can help you prioritize which debts to tackle first.

After paying for college, cars and other life expenses, Tana Williams and her husband Kevin found themselves more than $27,000 in debt.

As her finances kept going deeper into the red, Williams decided she needed a plan to get rid of this debt and take control of her financial situation.

“I became really laser focused on paying off debt,” says Williams.

From reading personal finance books to following a strict budget to increasing their income, Williams and her husband did everything they could think of to get out from under their debt.

In the end, their efforts worked: They off their credit card charges, student loan debt and car loans in just 17 months.

Inside this article

  1. Turning their finances around
  2. Taking steps to tackle debt
  3. Improving 'money communication'
  4. Enjoying a debt-free life
  5. Find what works for you

Turning their finances around

Williams faced a number of big expenses over the years that caused her debt balance to creep up. She owed more than $9,000 in student loans, $13,500 in car loans and $3,200 in credit card debt.

As Williams saw her balances piling up, she started to feel like she was teetering on the edge of financial disaster. She wanted to step back from the brink, as well as start saving money in an emergency fund and investing for the future.

With the impending arrival of her first child, Williams committed herself to turning things around.

“When I was pregnant with our first child, it helped to light a fire under us to get our ducks in a row,” says Williams. “We wanted to knock out that medical debt, credit card debt and student loan debt.”

Taking steps to tackle debt

To achieve her goals, Williams started educating herself on the fundamentals of personal finance. She followed personal finance bloggers and read books by Dave Ramsey, Suze Orman and Gail Vaz-Oxlad. Then, Williams took what she learned about budgeting and debt repayment and put it into action.

1. Following a budget

First, Williams created a budget to track her monthly cash flow.

“We started using a budget so that we could track where our money should go, rather than where it went after the fact,” says Williams.

Specifically, she found a budgeting workbook that broke down the budgeting process into 12 weekly challenges. Each week, she and her husband took steps toward overhauling their spending plan, such as pulling together their bills and setting up an emergency fund.

According to Williams, this structured approach helped her stay organized and motivated with weekly wins.

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2. Cutting expenses

After setting up their budget, Williams looked for ways to cut their expenses.

“We did things like getting rid of cable, switching to a pay-as-you-go cell phone provider and shopping at Aldi's for cheaper groceries,” she says. “We bought used cars from Hertz and used tax [refunds] to pay off debt.”

When it came to saving money, no effort was too small.

“I even did some crazier stuff, like use a free cake mix I received for a focus group test as one of my kid's birthday cakes to save money,” says Williams.

They didn’t make all these changes at once, but rather spaced them out over time.

“[These changes] weren’t just within a month of each other,” says Williams. “That would have just been overwhelming.”

3. Making more money

Williams realized that cutting expenses could only take her so far, so she also took steps to make more money.

“I picked up tons of freelance work as a web developer to help tackle our debt,” she says. “We sold items through yard sales and online as well.”

Williams also started a blog called Debt Free Forties to share her progress, stay accountable and set up another income stream.

“I'd been toying around with the idea of a blog for a bit, and I love the idea of helping others,” she says. “It felt like it was in my wheelhouse already, since I was a website developer at the time.”

Williams used her blog to share reports on her debt repayment and earns some passive income from it every month.

4. Using credit cards less

By setting up a budget, Williams and her husband were able to stop overspending on their credit cards. They also made it a priority to pay off any credit card balances before interest charges were tacked on.

“There was no way we were going to get hit with all that accumulated and delayed interest,” says Williams.

Plus, they made it a point to remove their credit card information from certain websites so they wouldn’t be tempted to overspend.

“We locked our credit cards away and removed them from Amazon or other websites we frequented to make it harder to use them to accrue more debt mindlessly,” she says.

5. Paying down high-interest loans

When you’re juggling multiple debts, it can be tough to decide which one to tackle first. Williams decided to use the debt avalanche approach, which involves targeting the debts with the highest interest rates first.

“That helped us to focus on those higher interest debts like credit cards,” she says. “Once one was paid off, we rolled that payment over to the next card or debt until we were done.”

Eventually they focused on paying off their student loans, which were at the bottom of the list since they had a relatively low interest rate of 3%.

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Improving communication about money

Along with transforming their approach to money management, Williams and her husband also learned how to communicate about their finances.

“I think the biggest challenge is when you're not always on the same page with your spouse,” she says. “While [Kevin] was all for debt repayment, he sometimes felt like it was deprivation, whereas I felt like it was laser focus on our goals.”

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By communicating about their shared goals, they were able to make progress together.

“If you're all about debt payoff, but your partner isn't, sit down and talk about it,” says Williams. “Explain why you're passionate about it. Chances are they don't realize all the benefits to paying it off, and how it can really help you change your life. Also, listen to them as well—if they have concerns or doubts, work together to get through them.”

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According to Williams, it helped to celebrate their wins along the way and still set aside some money for small vacations and birthday celebrations.

“Don't forget to reward yourselves as you hit smaller milestones,” she says. “It's a great motivator!”

Enjoying a debt-free life

Now that Williams and her husband have tackled their debt, they’re able to focus on long-term goals like saving and investing.

“Our personal finances have changed a ton,” she says. “Every month, we automatically put money into 401(k)s, IRAs and 529s for retirement as well as our kids' education.”

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They also built an emergency fund that could cover three months of expenses in case they lost their jobs. Plus, they’re able to pay for vacations in cash instead of charging them on credit.

“Now, our financial management feels much more proactive, rather than reactive,” she says. “We get to do whatever we want with our money, and that's an amazing feeling.”

Find the debt payoff method that works for you

When it comes to managing personal finances, everyone’s situation may look different. Based on her experience paying off debt, Williams shares her advice for others who want to pay off debt or improve their money management.

Try different budgeting methods

First, Williams stresses that the budgeting strategy that works for one person might not work for another.

“If you try one budget and it's not quite right, try another,” she says. “Sometimes it can take a bit for one to click and work with your family dynamics and personality.”

Plus, she says that budgets are not meant to be set in stone, but rather may need to be adjusted from month to month.

Increase your income

Williams also recommends focusing on increasing your income whenever possible.

“Every extra dime counts and while it's small, they build up into something big over time,” she says.

Whether you take on a side hustle, pursue a promotion at work or go after a new job, your efforts could lead to more income and accelerated debt repayment.

Focus on mindset

Williams also stresses the importance of developing a strong, proactive mindset.

“Sometimes the struggle isn't cash flow, but the money story you've been taught and need to rethink so you don't fall back into it,” she says.

If you’re feeling defeated or struggling to find motivation, Williams recommends trying mantras, reading books or talking to someone about your struggles.

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Build a support system

Finally, Williams emphasizes the importance of a support system when you’re paying off debt.

“You're going to have setbacks,” she says. “I can't tell you how many times we started and stopped before it finally stuck.”

Surrounding yourself with people who have similar goals can help you push through roadblocks, she says, even if these are people you find on the internet.

“Join Facebook groups, read books, listen to podcasts,” says Williams. “Having that daily influence and other people going through the same thing can be a great support system, as well as a reminder that you're not alone in your journey.”

About the Author

Headshot of personal finance writer Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca has been writing about personal finance and education since 2014. Formerly a senior student loans and personal loans writer for Student Loan Hero and LendingTree, Rebecca now covers a variety of personal finance topics, including budgeting, saving for retirement, home buying and more.

Full bio

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