Debt Destroyers: Embarking On A New Year


For 5 months now, we’ve been checking in with the participants of the Debt Destroyers and tracking progress made towards their personal financial goals. Reading the challenges and triumphs over those months has been incredibly inspiring, to say the least. Despite having individualized goals, the shared progress of each Debt Destroyer has proven that every step  (large or small) made towards a positive change makes a difference.

And even though January has become known for resolutions and fresh starts, their work over these past months has shown that change can begin as soon as the decision to take action is made. Whether that’s January 1st, August 21st, or today.

So let’s catch-up with the ongoing participants of Debt Destroyers and see how they did over the month of December. If you want to join the Debt Destroyers, find out more info at the bottom of this post!

IMG_8658_2Name: Abbey
About Me: I’m married, working, and a mother to one child. I work about 55 hours a week and I’ve recently decided to go back to school which has added an extra pressure in terms of finance and time.”
Goal: Pay off $20,000 in debt in one year.
Challenge: The problem is both my husband and I spend like we are making three figures each (not the case!) and don’t have a child. The time issue “allows” me to spend more unnecessarily. I take my lunch to work daily but I am easily swayed. Recent weight loss has also contributed to spending money on a new wardrobe.

What Was Challenging:

Keeping those credit cards in my wallet and not handing them to a cashier.

What Was Awesome:

I’m still celebrating paying off that credit card last month!  Made it through December without adding tons of additional debt into the mix.

brantName: Brant Gurganus
About Me: Software developer just passing two years in professional world. I also enjoy camping and hiking and assisting from time to time with scouting.
My Goal: Get out of credit card debt.
My Challenge: No credit card purchases, pay more than minimum using the biweekly payment plan.

Progress Update:
I’ve got my payments fairly high so I was particularly cautious with new payments (for anything) for a while to build up some buffer in the credit card account. I investigated once again reducing my Internet service, but my calculations based on the statistics in the router is that my current service level is appropriate to my usage so while I don’t see incentive to increase service, I also don’t see a gain in reducing service either. I did get a state park pass for this year though, so I’m hoping to spend more weekends at state parks and less at malls and in front of other temptations to spend money.


KatrinaName: My name is Katrina, but I often go by Trina.
About Me: I work as a support analyst and love spending time with those I love and my 2 dogs.  I love trying new things and would love to start traveling again!
My Goal:  
My goal is to pay off credit cards as well as medical expenses.  I’d also like to start saving up so I can set more aside in my savings account as well as budget better on the things I do enjoy.
My Challenge: 
 My challenge is to keep up my current action plan for eliminating debt, but more importantly to limit eating out to only once a week.  I’d rather take what I spend eating out and put it towards paying off debt sooner, and when you live in the suburbs of wonderful Chicago, it’s too hard to eliminate eating out all-together, so I’d like to limit what I do spend.
My Progress Update:

What was challenging:
What was challenging was probably the budget I’d set for myself.  I know now that I should have lowered my budget so that the rest of the month didn’t feel like a squeeze, it was doable, but it doesn’t mean that I should have done it. I did not miss that “counting down to payday” feeling. Next year I’ll start saving much sooner than the month before if I’d like to keep the same budget!

What was awesome:
December was awesome overall! And the awesome part was for the first time ever I made a holiday spreadsheet with my budget for each friend/co-worker/family member.  Which is kind of carried over from my November goal.  Looking at what I’d already spent for each person made it a lot easier to not buy a gift on a whim. I felt like I had a plan that I could stick to, and I actually did as far as the overall budget went.

lisaName: Lisa
About Me: Married, recently graduated professional with a Master’s Degree in HR which has left me with very high student loan debt. When coupled with existing debt, this has caused MAJOR changes in my and my husband’s lives.

Debt Breakdown:
$146k – Student Loans
$  98k – Mortgage
$ 49k – Vehicles (2)
$ 23k – Credit Card Debt

$  316k  – HOLY YIKES!!!!!

Life was going happily along until reality set in.  Yes, I made it to where I wanted to be in life, and now I can’t afford to live! This is NOT what I had in mind when achieving my self improvement goals.
Goal: 5 Years – Debt Free Including Mortgage.  From then on, we will pay cash for everything!

What Was Awesome:

The Holidays Are Awesome! Food….friends……giving…..receiving……food…….memories….holiday spirit…..counting blessings…………FOOD!!  Ahhhh….I love it all!

I came up with what I thought was a pretty awesome idea this year.  Instead of buying small gifts that are basically just mementos to give out to friends, I bought a package deal of a famous author’s book that is all about controlling and paying down debt.  I went on Facebook and offered it FREE to all my friends and family on a posting on my personal wall; all they had to do was reply PRIVATELY (not everyone wants people to know they need help) to receive a FREE copy as a Christmas gift from me.  All copies were claimed within a half hour!  This gift cost me $10 each, and I knew they wanted it because THEY CAME TO ME to get it.  I have also asked them to pass it forward after they read it. This is the best $10 gift I have ever bought anyone!  Think about it, what can you really get for $10 these days?  Financial freedom? Life changing knowledge? SOLD!  It is the gift that keeps on giving.  I also invited these folks to a FB group I created named “Money Matters” so we can help each other by giving money saving ideas, tips, tricks and support.  They all accepted the invite, and now we are a support group.  If you are on FB, come join us!  This is awesome!

What Was Challenging:

The challenge this year was trying to control costs of the move we are making to a mortgage free house, along with controlling the costs of Christmas at the same time.  However, I think I did a fabulous job, even with the book giveaway!  I did not let my spending get out of control, and that is very easy for me to do because I am a giving type of person.  I tried to make some gifts; re-gift some items I didn’t need; and sell things I no longer use to obtain Christmas money to buy more gifts.

I am proud of myself; I did not charge one single item this holiday season.  That is my largest gift to myself because it means I am learning better habits and changing my past behavior.  It means that I am on my way to financial freedom – even if it is years away.

New Year’s Resolutions:

1.  Lose 20 lbs. and keep at least 10 off.
2.  Lose $20-25k worth of debt this year
3.  Plant a garden and donate all the produce to the homeless through local churches (I dislike vegetables, but this is a way I can afford to help others)
4.  Plant a pumpkin patch and donate the pumpkins to local children’s services/orphanages for Halloween crafts.

1231348_10202256486075890_284286934_n (1)Name: Shelly

About Me:  I’m a single mother of a college student and about to become an empty nester except for the two cats we have. I am a Legal Assistant and I also work part-time at a retail store.

Goal: Pay off 15,085 of credit card and student loan debt. Also pay off about $8,900 worth of medical expenses from this summer. I would also like to build up a six month emergency fund, which will take a long period of time.

Challenge: Sticking to my food budget and using my extra income to make extra payments on the credit cards and medical expenses.

Progress Update:

What Was Awesome: Working part-time for a retailer has great advantages. I only spent $300 for all of the gifts I wanted to purchase. (actually only $150 my hard earned money, the rest was a gift card from my main employer)  The total price before coupons and all percent off deals, the total at the one store would have been over $500. I stayed well within my budget and I have a few dollars left to buy the cats some toys from Santa.

Accomplishments: I have stayed within my grocery budget this month. Simple to maintain now that I have my daughter pay for whatever she wants that is not on my list and goes over the budgeted allotment for the week.

Goal for Next Month: Rework my budget and reevaluate debt repayment by determining where to pay a portion of my bonus. Also, need to stay firm with making extra payments from part-time job.

Benjamin FeldmanName: Benjamin Feldman
About Me: I’m a writer at ReadyForZero. I like basketball, non-spicy food, and connecting with people both online and offline, including all our great ReadyForZero blog readers.
My Goal: Save at least 15% of my money every month so I can build a financial cushion and have a greater sense of financial security.
My Challenge: Stop eating lunch at restaurants and bring it from home instead.
My Progress Update:

What Was Awesome:
In terms of saving money, I had one big success: my roommate and I finally cut our cable bill, which means we’ll save a good chunk of money in the months going forward. As an alternative to cable, we’ll probably use things like Hulu and maybe Netflix.

What Was Challenging:
I was not very consistent about bringing lunch from home in December. This was partly due to things generally being busy, which made it harder to find the time to organize and prepare the lunches. Now that we’re in the new year, I will try to get back in the habit of bringing lunch from home.

DCIM109GOPROName: Roxie
About Me: 37 year old teacher who recently maxed out credit cards AND acquired a car payment all at once. I went from feeling financially free, and able to buy/do what I wanted to being back to the old days of living paycheck to paycheck and scraping together money for food. I’m also in a semi-long-distance relationship that requires me to spend more money than I have on gas. I went from one tank every 3 weeks to two tanks a week!”
My Goal: Pay off my credit cards.
My Challenge: To live within my paycheck. That way, when I work extra jobs and get some money on the side, it goes to paying off the credit cards, and not to “catching up” on my bills.

What Was Awesome:

Two days before Christmas I got approved for a debt consolidation loan that consolidates everything I have except my vehicle and student loans.  It’s through a credit union linked to my job, so the interest rate is lower than my cards and the base payments come directly from my paycheck.  For Christmas – EVERY credit card and small loan I had got a zero balance!

What Was Challenging:
Trying to get people to not buy me Christmas presents. I tried to explain that I don’t have the money to spend, but they wanted to get “small” things anyway. Those small things were $150-200 worth of stuff!  I had to buy something in return.  How do people get families to cut back without hurting feelings?

ClaireName: Claire Murdough
About Me: I’m a Bay Area native recently returned from a year living in/around Beijing. I like chocolate, gummy bears, chocolate covered gummy bears, and of course… writing!
My Goal: Going full force against my student loan debt while also pumping up my emergency fund.
My Challenge: No coffee out, no individual servings (yogurt, granola bars, etc).
My Progress Update:

What Was Awesome:
I survived the holidays!!! And stayed on budget-ish. Luckily, my family has a “secret Santa” approach to gift giving so we can focus on buying for just one family member. I’m sure that saved me quite a bit. I also reorganized a few of my long-term financial goals and strategically, I think my bigger financial picture will benefit. That took up an entire Saturday morning but I felt great when I finished!

What Was Challenging:
I’m currently on the hunt for a new apartment. That in itself isn’t so fun but all the costs involved are also tough to face. It’s a renters market in the Bay Area so prices are steep and the financial requirements can be pretty tough to meet!

Carrie from Careful CentsName: Carrie Smith
About Me: I’m a writer and editor for the blog Careful Cents (you can find my work here). I’m currently a nomad, living in Denver, Colorado for six months, then it’s off to who knows where. I like reading business books, chatting it up on social media, eating Mexican food and traveling whenever I get the chance.
My Goal: Double my freelance income in the next 6-12 months
My Challenge: Continue growing my business without working more hours (work smarter not harder)!

Progress Update:

Since I run my own business, my income was a bit lower than normal due to the fact I took time off for the holidays. I like that I can take time off when I want to hang out with family and friends, but this of course affects the bottom line and my budget. So it was challenging to find room in the budget to pay for all the events, gifts and last-minute flights. Thankfully, I planned ahead and was able to withdraw money from my “Holiday Fund” to pay for the gifts and trips to see family. That made it much easier — although watching my savings account decrease was tough. After all is said and done I was able to get through the holiday season with no added debt, and I’m ready to embrace the work for 2014.

Name: Tara Dee
taraAbout Me: I’m a marketing and communications consultant in Cleveland, recently freed from the painful hold of grad school. A 9-year journey through higher education has left me ridden with obnoxiously high student loan debt. I love all varieties of ethnic food, design, and totally geek out on urban planning issues.
Goal: I’d like to feel like I have financial freedom. As a first-gen college graduate I’m proud of my accomplishments, but financial security in my mind is defined by the ability to really prepare for the future. I’m not quite there yet.
Challenge: One of my loans (approx. $12,000) has a 9.75% interest rate. I’d love to pay that sucker off in the next year 🙂

What Was Challenging:

I’ve been sick, off and on, for about 2 months now. I’m starting to think I should buy stock in Kleenex. No joke. With being sick of course comes purchasing quite a bit of medicine and tissues, but it also makes me even lazier about cooking food. Though I do buy quite a few cans of soup 🙂 It’s also my slow season in terms of photo shoots. With the exception of a few shoots this month, things were pretty quiet as the holidays near. The job hunt hasn’t really picked up, either…

What Was Awesome:
After some soul searching, I think I’ve made a decision to avert my attention away from finding a full time job and toward growing my own business. Whereas my plan has been to work for a couple of years to gain experience, I’ve learned that emotionally I’m ready to jump in. It’s a big step, and one I’m very excited about– despite it holding some financial uncertainty. I feel like it’s going to be an incredibly exciting year coming up, though, and I’m really looking forward to pouncing on some of these financial goals!

Cait FlandersName: Cait Flanders

About Me: I write the personal finance blog Blonde on a Budget, which I started to chronicle my journey out of debt. By day, I’m the managing editor of a start-up in Canada. I’m also an avid reader, enjoy hiking and working out, and consume more coffee than most stomachs could handle.

My Goal: I want to save at least 25% of my income each month for the rest of the year, then build up my Emergency Fund to $10K by the end of next year. (Oops, is that two goals!?) Two years ago, I was maxed out with $28K of debt, so these are goals I never dreamt would be possible to achieve.

My Challenge: Stop giving in to cravings! I could save so much money if I stopped giving in to small cravings, like treats at the grocery store or magazines at the airport. (Doing this will probably help my waistline too!)

What Was Awesome: I successfully managed to stop myself from purchasing a single magazine, which might sound silly, but I’m a sucker for picking up 2-3 throughout the month. Throwing them into the recycling bin a few weeks later shows that they are truly a waste of money, and I’m not willing to waste anymore of mine!

What Was Challenging: Amazon lost one of my packages, which meant I had to purchase one Christmas gift at double the price in the store! It didn’t break the bank, but was just one example of how quickly the holidays can pull extra money out of our wallets

scottName: Scott Izu
About Me: I was a single income earner for my family for twelve years.
Then came divorce, one of the four deadly D’s (Death, Divorce, Disease, Disaster). Going through this has been a financial nightmare. Together, we had a net worth of $115,000 and only a year and a half later, I am in debt about $42,000.
I had drastically reduced my spending, living off very little. I still believe I am very blessed despite the challenges. I also believe strongly in living within your means.
For a while, I was fighting a ghost since my financial situation changes with each new hearing.
Goal: My goal is to start by living within my monthly income.
I believe God puts struggles in our life so that when we overcome them, we can comfort and help others so I would be happy to join the super league and share my progress!!!

Status Update:

What was awesome was that I am starting to get a little bit more organized, thanks to Google Docs.  I can track monthly expenses and keep on top of all the activities going on.

The challenge is to continue to focus on living within my means on a daily basis.  I view living within my means as a decision to consistently give back more to society than I am taking.  So the challenge comes in managing that decision, now that I have made it.  The unknown, of how long I will have to support two households, is a daily struggle.  However, I believe if I can do this, I will be strengthened for the future, so I am hopeful.

I am inspired to silently chip away, as in the book, “The Richest Man in Babylon.”

And a big welcome to the newest Debt Destroyer, Valerie!

Profile PicAbout Me:  I’m a 45 year-old working mom with one son and a step-daughter. I love my work in municipal government, where I have been employed for the last 14 years.

Goal: Pay off $26,000 in credit card debt by the end of 2014. In 2015, my car loan will be paid so the only debt I will have is my mortgage. My husband and I contribute the maximum towards our 457K retirement plans and will have pensions when we retire, so we are doing great with our future savings goals. In the last three months, I have consolidated all my debt with zero-interest onto two cards, established a realistic budget (trackable by spreadsheet), started paying with cash, and completely reigned in my spending. I don’t even use the vending machine at work for a $1 snack anymore!

Challenge: Totally changing my spending habits. I acquired the debt on my own through mindless spending and international travel before I re-married three years ago. I am extremely embarrassed by my debt to the point that even my husband doesn’t know about it. We both earn good money and I have worked out a detailed plan to pay off all this debt next year using my own income.

Check in next month for Valerie’s updates!

Way to go Debt Destroyers!

With a healthy dose of determination the Debt Destroyers are standing up to their debt – and coming out on top!

And now it’s your turn! Are you ready to join the Debt Destroyers Super League? If so, send an email to claire [at] and include your name, a brief description of yourself, your goal, and your challenge. We’ll include you in next month’s update!!

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