How I Paid Off $13, 000 of Credit Card And Student Loan Debt in 13 Months While Supporting Extended Family

When you decide to get out of debt, it can be challenging to figure out how which debts to prioritize paying off first and how to make extra payments on debt while covering other financial commitments. When I completed graduate school in 2010, I was facing almost $65,000 in private and federal student loan debt and $3,000+ in credit card debt, while trying to support my extended family and starting a professional career in engineering consulting.

After 5 years I was able to pay off $37,000 of debt, while investing for retirement and saving for a down payment on a home. Today I want to share how I approached my journey to dump debt, during the first 13 months working at my full-time job out of school. I had a starting gross salary of $52, 000  and financial commitments that included covering my essentials like housing and transportation, providing support to my family who had recently immigrated to the United States from St. Kitts in the Caribbean, and my long term and short-terms savings goals.

Prioritizing My Debt Pay Off

One big question I faced was, which debts to prioritize first? I knew that I had to dump any debt with double-digit interest rates, like my credit cards, as fast as possible, but I also wanted to make a sizable dent in my student loan debts.

I ended up using a combination of approaches including the debt avalanche (paying off debts in the order of highest interest rate to lowest interest rate) and debt snowball (paying off debts in the order of lowest balance to the highest balance), as well as, the snowflake approach (sprinkling extra payments on multiple debts).

My approach shifted throughout those 13 months, depending on changing priorities, like building up cash in an emergency fund, or whether I was moving to a new housing situation (I moved 3 times during this period) and the changing financial needs of my extended family.

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My Spending, Saving & Debt Payoff

What I am sharing with you are actual records of my spending during that time. I relied on my spending plan that I created in Google Sheets  2010 and 2011 to provide these figures, which are as close to what I actually spent since, I tracked my spending closely.

They represent how I spent about $38,000 of take home pay over a 13 month period, which did not include my pre-tax retirement savings, flexible spending accounts or paycheck deductions for post-tax retirement savings, life, long-term care and health insurance coverages.

The spending records are organized into three categories, Savings and Debt Pay Off, Essentials & Wants. Each month I list how I allocated my take home pay, within each of the three categories. I also include the percentage of spending for each category.

My Spending from November 2010 to January 2011

My Spending from February to April 2011

Debt Pay Off Spending Plan Feb 2011 to April 2011

My Spending from May to July 2011

Debt Pay Off Spending Plan May 2011 to July 2011

My Spending for August  to November 2011

Debt Pay Off Spending Plan Aug 2011 to Nov 2011

By the end of 13 months, I had paid off $13,526 of debt.  It felt great to accomplish that milestone, even though I also felt like I was holding on to my commitment to pay off debt by a thread, like when I had to spend extra money on moving costs and rental deposits twice, car repair bills and when my car got totaled after a tree fell on it during hurricane Sandy, and still meeting the changing financial needs of extended my family.

How do you allocate your spending and debt pay off? Have you had to balance your finances while helping out extended family?

If you want to learn about more strategies I used to pay off debt fast, check out this post: HERE

~Melisa Boutin
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