Once upon a time, I paid off $8,000 in 90 Days. It felt herculean at the time (all the way back in 2015), but I buckled down and knocked it out because I really wanted it gone. Maybe you feel the same way.
But perhaps you have more than $8k in debt. Or, you don’t have time to side hustle or a large enough salary to make fast-as-lightning progress on your debt.
So, I wanted to learn about debt pay off experiences other than mine. I created a survey and asked other money bloggers how long they took to pay off debt, and from this data, I concocted an average.
Fifty money bloggers graciously gave their time to respond. While this is an average of a small slice of people who used to be in debt, I found it very insightful. Below are my findings and a handful of the best debt payoff tips from those who’ve successfully managed to become debt-free.
The money motivated pay off large balances
The overwhelming majority of respondents paid off over $20,000 in debt.
With this said, you don’t have to be in debt forever. It took the majority of respondents over 36 months to pay off, but 36 months only slightly had the edge.
Side hustles are still the best way to make major debt progress
So how did the money-motivated accomplish their debt payoff? Over 50% used the debt snowball method (paying off all balances smallest to largest.) 37% used the avalanche method (paying highest interest rate debt first.)
I’m hardcore team snowball, by the way. Snowballs FTW!
And how did the debtors accrue extra cash to build those snowballs and avalanches?
It’s neck-and-neck between side hustling and strict budgeting, with side hustles having the edge.
How long does it take to pay off debt?
By averaging out each the survey responses, the average length of time it takes to pay off debt came to 33.25 months. So, if you have a substantial amount of debt, figure on almost three years to pay it off.
Maybe three years sounds pretty good to you. Or, maybe you feel like I did and are just ready for it to be over. For those looking to accelerate the timeline, I’ve compiled the most unique tips from the respondents below!
How to pay off debt faster: The top 7 debt tips from 50 bloggers
36 months may sound ( and feel) like a long time. I get it. But what if you were to sacrifice for three years and then have the rest of your life to be debt-free? That’s pretty huge. But here's the thing: paying off debt quickly takes work. Jeff Rose, CFP® and blogger behind Good Financial Cents says it best:
“You can't pay off debt fast doing normal basic things. You've have to go above and beyond and be extraordinary with your budget. Sell your cars, downsize your living situation, take on a part-time job on the weekends (or evenings); basically do what most people aren't willing to do.”
Below are seven other ways to get it done.
Tip #1 – Prioritize your debt above all else
You can’t commit to a large financial goal like paying off all of your debt without true grit. I know this from my own experience, and I also know that in order to be successful you have to make debt payoff the numero uno and forget the rest. Youtuber Akevia Thomas says it best, “Prioritize debt. Sounds simple, but it’s easier said than done. You have to be 100% committed to that goal.”
And for those who are looking to put their “money where their mouth is,” Becky from Becoming Not Poor advises to budget the debt payment as the first thing out of your paycheck before you ever get to spend a penny.
For others struggling with where to start and how to make paying off debt the priority, Jackie Beck says “Make sure you’ve stopped borrowing. I know that sounds a little silly, but it's absolutely critical and so many people overlook it….quit borrowing.”
Tip #2 – Make visioning exercises part of your pay off plan.
I’m a fan of using a vision board as a tool to manifest. In my experience, it really works. Vicki from Women Who Money used a “financial mission statement” to stay focused, “Having my “why” staring at me on my screensavers and on the refrigerator helped ground me when I decided I needed to “treat” myself.”
Mark from Financial Pilgrimage echoes this sentiment, “Put your debt paydown amount in a place where you have to look at it every day. Ours was on a whiteboard on our fridge and it was painful anytime we took a step back and had to make an update to the number.”
Danielle Davis from Money in Matrimony also has a cool tip: visualize yourself on the day you reach your goal. “Picture the clothes you will wear along with how you will celebrate,” she says. “The more you use these techniques, the faster you will pay the debt off.”
Tip #3 – Find a way to track the debt that makes sense to you
A big part of my success when paying off $8,000 in 90 Days was breaking down my goal amounts into bi-weekly milestones and tracking my progress in a spreadsheet. And I’m not alone, Lance Cothern of Money Manifesto shared that a spreadsheet helped him and his wife pay off $80,000 of debt in less than three years.
And for those who hate excel, Heidi Nash of debtfreecharts.com likes tracking payoff visually instead of with numbers. “Use a fun coloring chart so you can really see your progress, it keeps up the motivation and pushes you to pay more off so you can color more in.”
Another fun tip from Emma Geiser of Nurse Fern is to map out your “worst-case scenario” end date. “I would not have been able to sustain the overtime and second job if I didn't know when I could relax.”
Tip #4 – Earn extra (also known as “old faithful”)
Some people will read this tip and roll their eyes.
“But I can’t side hustle because of (x,y,z).” And maybe they have a point. But “side hustling” is the most popular method to accelerate debt payoff for a reason. IT WORKS. “It doesn’t have to be anything fancy like digital marketing,” explains Brett Holzhauer. “Even a job as a waiter, waitress, or barista can really make a difference.”
“I remember reading frugal lists talking about cutting cable, lattes, Netflix out of budget. I already didn't have or buy those things,” recalls Colin Ashby of Rebel With a Plan. “So I instead worked overtime at my job and picked up extra income opportunities.”
And “extra income,” doesn’t have to be a side hustle either. Using unexpected “windfalls” of extra cash can also help to accelerate debt payoff. Even if you don’t get a bonus, the Millers on Fire blog used this simple tip with their debt goals: using the third paycheck from three paycheck months as an extra debt payment.
Tip #5 – Play around with how you pay off debt to keep things interesting
So you’ve prioritized the debt, visualized how you’ll do it, set up a tracker, and gotten yourself a side hustle. How can you continue to push yourself to pay more? Try pushing yourself to make a game out of debt progress. You can “set it and forget it” with your payments and if that works for you, then great. But we're talking about years here, so I'm giving you financial permission to play around with how you repay your debts.
“Determine your daily interest rate and aim to beat that,” Danielle Desir suggests. “Go above and beyond the minimum payment.” For those who don’t want to go as granular as daily interest, Joshira Maduro of Dreams Over Debt paid off his debt by calculating the monthly interest and aiming to beat that amount instead.
Ryan Luke of Arrest Your Debt recommends leveraging small wins to stay motivated. “For instance, if you're trying to pay off $100,000, reward yourself every $5,000 you pay off.” I like to recommend my 5% rule – spend no more than 5% of the balance you just paid off on a reward, but however it is you set up rewards make sure that they resonate with you.
“The number one tip that worked for me was to calculate what every expense cost in terms of time worked,” says Anna Barker of The Logical Dollar. “That is if I was considering buying something that wasn't an absolute necessity, figuring out how many hours (or days) of my salary that the purchase represented was a really good way for me to think about whether the expense was actually worth it. In most cases, the item went back to the shelf or out of the online cart.”
Tip #6 – Don’t discount your primary income stream
Side hustles aren’t the only way to pay off debt. Getting a raise at work can also help eliminate debt, especially if you automatically debit any increase to your existing balances. Shelley Stevens advice? “Kick ass at work and don't be afraid to switch jobs if your skillset is worth more to another company.”
While debt may seem like a silly reason to completely change jobs, consider this: people get the most income increase when switching jobs. Don’t leave if you’re happy, or have good job security.
….But if you’ve been thinking about making a change, more money to pay off debt is simply another line item in the “pro” column.
Tip #7 – Lower your interest as much as possible
Even if you’re unable to contribute any additional money to your debt each month, lowering the interest rate on outstanding debt still helps you pay it off faster. “If you have high-interest credit card, look into refinancing the debt by applying for a personal loan,” suggests Jerry Brown of Peerless Money Mentor. “By doing this, I was able to pay off $10,000 of credit card debt within three years.”
I tried to include as many tips above (there were so many good ones!) For those who didn't get quoted, a special thank you for making this post awesome and dedicating time to take the survey. Big thanks to:
- Val Breit @ The Common Cents Club
- Robert Farrington @ The College Investor
- The folks @ Due.com
- Melissa Thomas @ Melissa The Coach
- Yvonne Jimerson @ Redefining Posh
- Kathy Ngo @ Questionable Existence
- Alfredo Matos @ CashViewpoint.com
- Sherry Smith @ A Life of Financial Freedom
- Sahirenys Pierce @ ThePoisedLifestyle.com
- Monica Lam @ The Lucky Mojito
- Elisha & Joshua McGhee @ The Penny Lounge
- Steven @ EvenStevenMoney.com
- Maria Casillas @ Cash in On Change
- Jon Dulin @ Money Smart Guides
- Naseema McElroy @ financiallyintentional.com
- Mary @ Pennies Not Perfection
- The folks @ The Budget Mum Blog
- The Work at Home School
- The Piece of the Pie
- Average Joe's Financial Independence
- Kristin Stones @ Cents and Purpose
- Katie Oelker
- Tina Antrim
- Marcus Garrett
- Hope Financial