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How I Reduced My Debt by $10,000 in 6 Months

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By Alan Helman

Chances are incredibly high that, at some point in your life, you will have to deal with debt. Thanks to increasing tuition rates and decreasing summer employment, students are leaving college and university saddled with large amounts of debt. Then add in the costs of starting a family and buying a house and a car and…well, you see the problem. A lot of people who had dreamed of a life as an artist or a designer find themselves having to switch gears in order to handle this debt, and then falling into a depression when they look at the seeming impossibility of becoming debt-free.

When I graduated, the first thing I had to establish was that it wasn’t possible to pay off all my student debt at once, and looking at the full amount due almost gave me a heart attack. I told myself not to freak out; paying off the debt was possible. It would take some creativity on my part, and might require I change my way of living a bit, but the thrill of realizing that I wasn’t so deep in debt was certainly worth the life change.

Build a Budget

After a lot of research, talking to friends and professionals, I found that the best way to reduce (and eventually get rid of) my debt is to set a good budget and follow it. I determined how much money I brought in each month, then figured out what percentage of that absolutely had to go to standing bills like my mortgage, car payments, debt payments, etc. The money that was left over could then be apportioned to my remaining monthly purchases. I started with the most important areas: figuring out an amount to devote to food, an amount for gas (and transit fees, for when I took the train or might need a cab), and an amount for entertainment. I tried to leave myself with extra money in the kitty, because I knew a few things already:

1. Chances were high that I would break my budget in one area or another, especially when just starting out.
2. The extra money could be used to pay down more of my debt.
3. It’s always a good idea to try to accumulate a bit of a savings to safeguard against emergency situations.

There are plenty of online systems that can help create a budget, so I took advantage of that in my planning. The New York Times suggested some great apps such as LevelMoney or Billguard–these systems often come with fees attached, and that money would have to come out of the budget, but it was worth it in the long run. Apps like this provide a valuable service and, for me, were 100 percent worth the money. It might not be the same for you, so make sure you know what you’re getting into before you jump for a service.

Search for Sales

I found one of the best things about the Internet is that it makes looking for deals much easier. I no longer had to scour the newspapers and local flyers for the right coupons or stand in line for the huge sales at stores; everything was online where I could access it easily. Since I’d already budgeted for my Internet bill, it was simple. I discovered coupon apps, which led to some pretty great savings (or refunds and rebates) once I uploaded my receipt to the app. Other coupons could be saved on my iPhone, and then shown to the cashier to be scanned. Though the amount saved on each coupon seemed pretty small, it added up quickly. For beginners, the Toronto Star has a great list of sites and advice from people who are quite successful at utilizing this method.

If I needed a new electronic device or piece of computer hardware, I just made sure I found the best deals online. This simple act saved me hundreds, possibly even thousands of dollars. I was amazed at the plethora of things I could find coupons for on the net.

Increasing Income Creatively

I didn’t have the time or the energy to take on a second job, but this didn’t mean I couldn’t increase the amount of money I was bringing in. This is actually where I found I could draw on that creative side that I’d come to fear was lost forever. Thanks to online eCommerce sites like Shopify, I found I could create an online store of my own to sell my art, design and products bearing them. I was able to set up a shop that held my unique designs, choosing a price that I felt was fair while still competitive.

While I worked to pay the bills, my designs were finally online for millions to discover. With a little bit of effort in my spare time (dealing with the orders, creating product), I found I could actually, at least in part, live my artistic dream — and still pay the bills. I never had to be a starving artist.

If you think the idea sounds like a silly fantasy, like I did at first, you should know something: this is actually how new designers are approaching the market. Cutting out the retail store middleman allowed both for increased profit but also increased creative control, and even beyond that I came to the realization that the online market is much bigger than single retail stores. It’s quite serious; the Wall Street Journal has touted this method as “the new black.” Online sales are always on the rise, so this was the ideal opportunity to live my dream while still keeping a foot in the regular working world.

Very few people will live a life of complete leisure, never worrying about their income. But having a budget didn’t mean I couldn’t have nice things (or, you know, things). It just meant I needed to be a little more creative when it came to choosing how to buy things, and left me to explore other ways to make money. The biggest thing I learned was that it doesn’t actually have to be a huge effort, thanks to the wonders of the Internet and current technology. Six months later, and I’m that much closer to living debt-free. You could be too.


10 Comments

  • Reply TPol |

    By nate
    By Alan Helman
    ?
    Is this a new blogger or just a guest blogger?
    Is Stephanie ever coming back to the blog?
    Where is Hope?

    If Ashley were not such a good writer, I would have dropped coming to this blog long ago. It is no longer what it used to be.

  • Reply Laura |

    I thought the same thing. Ok post but some context would be nice. Guest blogger? New blogger?

  • Reply Cheryl |

    I agree. If not for Ashley there wouldn’t be a blog. I assume something pretty bad happened with Stephanie but what about Hope? I think life right now is too much for her also. Cheryl

  • Reply Jean |

    Ditto everyone else’s comments – and why is Jim’s profile STILL on the blog?

    Right now the only reason I keep coming back is to cheer Ashley on.

    • Reply Meghan |

      Jean-

      Thank you for mentioning Jim; with the way he ended up leaving and all the sketchy stuff in between it just makes me angry to see his picture up there. If I recall correctly, Jeffrey always says that changes to the blog get done through Nate, now Nate has been back to post what I assume is a guest post so hopefully he will read the comments and we can get him removed.

      I also love that Ashley has been so prolific in her blogging, it feels like I am cheering on a friend as she shares everything that is happening.

      I think the difference between Ashley and Hope right now is the way they handle tough times. Ashley is open and willing to talk through options without having a decision made. I feel that Hope may think that she needs to have a defensible plan in place before presenting it and there is so much up in the air right now and so many changes that there is not much she feels comfortable sharing, which I totally understand.

      Hopefully, we will eventually hear back from Stephannie, if only for a personal update if not a financial one.

      Cheers,

      Meghan

  • Reply juju |

    Life is just as chaotic for Ashley with her application deadlines, the toilet overflow issue and taking care of twin toddlers, but she continues to blog nearly every day. Ashley is the only one serious about getting out of debt and the only one giving any debt updates. I would not mind having another blogger, if not to at least give Ashley a break.

  • Reply jeffrey |

    There will be some changes taking place over the next few weeks to hopefully bring some support to Ashley. I will be making a post on it shortly.

  • Reply Kili |

    Hi Nate, hi Jeff,
    may I say… this is a very weird way to hear back from you.
    The topic what’s happening with the blog has come up numerous times in the comments and has never been replied to by you.
    I hope you’ll make your choices and plans a little more transparent to the reader.

    Hi Alan,
    as much as i like to read from guest bloggers i think there is more context needed…
    $10000 in 6 months doesn’t give me enough context.
    That’s like someone telling me “losing 20 pound in 8 weeks” – that’s a lot different if a 400 pound man is telling me this or a 160 pound guy…
    Will we hear back from you? If so:
    What’s the total amount of debt?
    What’s the monthly income?

    Cheers Kili

    • Reply Meghan |

      Hi Kili-

      I like your comparison for the $10000 in six months context. I agree, doing such a thing is impressive in any way, but is it due exclusively to the “side jobs,” a drastic cutting of expenses, or just extra cash left over every month that is now being allocated to debt?

      Personally, I think it would be interesting to hear more from Alan. Both as a male perspective and as someone who is working a “day job” and supplementing income with what would be a “dream job” if he could get by on it.

      I also agree that it would be nice to hear more from Nate or Jeff. There was a comment above yours that we would get a blog post shortly about it, but that was a week ago. At first I thought shortly meant a few hours, then a few days. Now I am beginning to think that since it seems something happened on the back-end (meaning Hope is suddenly back in full-force) that we won’t be hearing from them, again.

So, what do you think ?