I saw a wonderful article by Business Insider about Jessica Elberfeld, who paid off over 100,000 in student loan debt, and I decided to re-create it using my story. You can find Jessica on her blog, Oh These Student Loans, or on Twitter, @OhStudentLoans.
Budget of a 29-Year-Old Who Paid Off $80,000 in Debt
In 2016, Simone Dennis got mad.
The 29-year old had been slowly paying off over $65,000 in student loan debt since August 2014, nearly a year after she earned her graduate degree in Public Health in 2013. She was using a relatively modest pace, but when you add the extra $15,000 in debt she had for a car and medical bills, it was going to take her a long time to repay the $80,000 she owed.
By 2016, she was so mad that she only paid off $20,000 of the debt that she realized her modest plan was not working out. It seemed like the perfect coincidence when a co-worker shared his success using the Dave Ramsey method. Studying the approach of Ramsey, she learned that it often takes anger to inspire action. Simone got angry.
She fine-tuned her budget and her lifestyle to put as much money toward her debts as possible — $2,700 or more per month in addition to the minimum payments. She worked a part-time job managing the front desk of a yoga studio, sold her gently used clothing to local thrift shops, sold used books online, and tried any other creative way to make cash. Ultimately, she realized her greatest tool was the income from her full-time job working as a Health Policy Analyst. She put most of her energy and effort into earning annual bonuses and promotions. Her hard work paid off and she was able to increase her income by $25,000 during her journey.
She even tried some of Ramsey’s unpopular methods to get out of debt fast. At one point she paused her 401(k) retirement contributions to boost her income and aggressively attack the debt.
In May of 2017, she brought home $4,880 between her two jobs. Here is her spending for that month, comparing the money she spent with her allotted monthly budget:
Note: This budget does not include Simone’s non-taxable healthcare costs. It also does not include her car and rental insurance costs because she pays them annually.
Simone admits that the toughest place for her to keep down costs was housing. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and valued living alone in a safe and secure building rather than being uncomfortable. She previously lived in a $800 per month apartment during the first part of her journey, but that living situation turned out to be a costly nightmare. She realized the benefit of living in a more reliable home. Since so much of her income went towards housing expenses, she knew she had to decrease expenses in all other areas. That is exactly what she did.
Simone Dennis, celebrates paying off $80,000 in Mexico
After getting angry in January 2016, she finished paying off her debt in August 2017. Nearly three years after she first started her journey in 2014. Now that she is done repaying her loans, she has since saved up for her fully funded emergency fund and increased her 401(k) contributions to 15%. Her work matches up to 5% of her contributions in an employer-sponsored retirement account.
She also learned the value of living debt free from listening to Ramsey. She has an ambitious goal of continuing to live debt free and hopes to be able to buy a home using cash in the future. Considering how determined she was to get out of debt, the odds are in her favor.