Debt Destroyers: Updates From February


Every month we check in with a group of individuals who are dedicated to paying off their debt and reaching financial freedom. They share their ups, downs, and in-betweens in our ongoing series, The Debt Destroyers. The added accountability is a great way to add motivation to a repayment plan and an inspiring way to see the positive impact of even small changes.

So how did the Debt Destroyers do over the month of February? Read on for their monthly update!

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 a focus on the positive for both of us. I was beaming because of the cash only perspective while my husband felt like he could have saved us a lot of money by doing it on his own. In the end, you accept it for what it is. We are both happy with the outcome.


What Was Awesome:
My husband and I took a trip that we were able to pay for with cash and have zero impact to our budget, the pay off cycle, and any other expenses.  It was a great three days!  Following this trip would be something that would normally be catalogued as “challenging”. My husbands truck completely broken down.  It wouldn’t even start.  He was quite upset because he had been unable to get it up and running before I came home from school that evening.  In the end, it had to be towed and repaired.  The water pump and timing belt had to be replaced.  Luckily, he already had the parts at home to repair it, he just hadn’t had the chance to install them, so our only cost was towing and labor.  This was also something that we paid cash for because of the debt repayment plan and our shared focus on not spending willy-nilly.  It would have cost less for him to do the labor, but in the end, the truck runs so much better than before.  He’s happy. I’m happy.  We’re not in a cycle of adding debt to old repaid debt.  Delightful!

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:
I filed my taxes so the most challenging part is budgeting that money before it even gets here so that I don’t spend it on something I’ll regret. The shopper in me *really* wants to buy a new DSLR camera…instead of tossing it at the blackhole that is my debt. But I keep focusing on how great it will feel to be out of debt and how it’ll be better to save towards that goal. Also due to a faulty phone, I almost ended up changing my phone plan so that I can have a phone I don’t need to charge every few hours, however it’d add another $16 to my monthly bill, so I decided that it’s not worth it though I’d really like to have a new phone!


What was awesome:
I got 2 alerts from ReadyforZero that I had paid off 50% on 2 different cards! That to me was AWESOME! I was getting a little worried about Valentine’s day mainly because my anniversary is the next day, but we ended up setting a price limit – which was perfect! I also used a lot of free printables for fun stuff to do – thank you Pinterest (as the ReadyForZero Community knows I love finding stuff on Pinterest!)!  I was even able to do some dollar store crafts for my best friends and stay on budget!

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:
February is the month that I discovered a second income source to help me pay my bills, or extra unexpected expenses. I am now working on a freelance basis doing project work on Elance as well as working my full time job. It doesn’t cost anything to get started and it has provided me with side income and hope. Many of the jobs are project related so I can take on projects ONLY when I want them. I love and need that control because I have a busy life. As I grow my reputation on there, hopefully I will get more jobs and be able to make even more money to pay down my bills faster.

What Was Challenging:
This is the time of year where we have a few extra expenses kick in such as license plates, income tax preparation, high heating bills, higher electric bills, etc., so the belt gets cinched ever tighter. Thankfully the Elance job pulled me through this month by paying those. It was a tough month due to bills and family health issues. Hoping March is better!

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.

What Was Awesome:
I reached the 50% mark of my student loan payoff since joining Ready For Zero.  I also changed my budget to help reach my repayment goals without making crazy cuts to regular living.  I had enough money saved and using a gift card bought 2 tickets to come after we drop my daughter off in Nevada.


What was challenging:
After I had the oxygen sensor fixed on my car in time to do the emissions testing, the engine light came on again only this time I need to have the catalytic converter replaced. Sadly, I couldn’t get my emissions completed and I don’t have enough in my emergency fund to get the work done.  I will just have to keep saving to get it completed soon.

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:
I’ve been continuing to focus on saving money on my lunches. While I haven’t always been consistent about bringing lunch from home (see below) I am glad that when I did have to buy lunch this month it was usually from Subway or a similarly priced store. While I’d rather make a meal at home and bring it to the office, I’m also okay with spending $5 or less for a very filling sandwich. I’m also glad that my saving habit came back this month after getting pushed aside by holiday expenses in December and January.

 What Was Challenging:
As I mentioned above, I haven’t been very consistent about bringing lunch from home – which was one of my main goals from the beginning of the Debt Destroyers. I feel like I’ve slipped a little bit in that regard. I think part of the problem was I got tired of the meals I was bringing from home (they were often the same). So maybe my goal for next month should be experimenting with some new dishes I can bring from home.

Shannon McNayName: Shannon
About Me: I’m originally from Ohio and new(ish) to the Bay Area from New York. I love reading, writing, volunteering, and football. I have a weakness for coffee and chocolate chip cookies.
My Goal: Stick to a spending plan that my new husband and I can agree on with a focus on saving for retirement and paying off student loans.
My Challenge: Pack my lunch daily and buy no more than one coffee per day.
My Progress Update:

What Was Challenging:
Before moving away from home in Ohio, I tended to be an emotional spender and I still see traces of that today. This month I came home to my apartment in San Francisco after a very long day at work and I was feeling worn out and cranky. When I got an email reminder from one of my favorite stores, I whipped out my card and suddenly made a large purchase (or rather, purchased a large amount of smaller items). It was over before I knew it and I was left wondering how I’d manage to find room in my budget to correct the error.


What Was Awesome:
While I thought about canceling the order, I only bought things I need – I just went overboard on quantity (won’t need to refresh for awhile!). I thought about why it happened and how I could stop similar impulse buys in their tracks in the future and ultimately realized I needed accountability. So the very next day I went to the bank and added my husband’s name on my card. Not so he would shame me – he wasn’t even upset about what I did – but so I would think twice the next time I get tempted. It’s a lot harder to rationalize when someone else sees the purchase before you have a chance to explain and I’m hoping that will allow me to talk some sense into myself before I go purchase crazy again.

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 am rocking my grocery budget lately! I looooove eating and experimenting with new recipes so I tend to go a little overboard on the extra ingredients. But this month, I really stuck to recipes that don’t that require a ton of new ingredients or pricey garnishes. Simple and flavorful – my new motto!! My two new favorites are:

  • Andouille sausage with roasted cabbage wedges and sweet potatoes… (~$1.45 per serving)
  • Fried polenta with parmesan, pan fried asparagus and soft boiled egg… (~$1.20 per serving)

What Was Challenging:
I spent much more on travel than I normally do. I bought flights for two short weekend trips (one to LA, one to Seattle) and my savings account really felt it! Surprisingly though, spending on the airfare helped me to turn down other expenses throughout the month. In the end, having something to be excited about was really motivating. It was a  stick and carrot kind of scenario but since I already knew that I would get to the carrot, I didn’t feel deprived!


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:
It wasn’t until about six months ago, that I started to really bounce back from the emotional and financial devastation caused from my divorce.  I am so thankful for the friends who have been there to support me.

The amazing thing about pain, is “No Pain, No Gain”.  It has a way of opening your heart and mind to things you never would have received before.  This month, I have continued to learn so much and start digging out of the cancer that is debt.

Since it was my birthday, I splurged a little and it was definitely challenging to not splurge even more.  I guess not having a Valentine was both Awesome and Challenging at the same time 🙂

Name: 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.

What Was Awesome:
I’m really pleased about being able to stick to my budget. My total expenditures for the month were $1,900 LESS than my income, which is an all-time record considering I was often spending that much (or more) OVER my monthly income in the past! Making spending decisions has gotten easier too. Before buying anything, I ask myself these questions: What’s the urgency around this purchase? If I need it now (like groceries or shoes for my son), then I proceed. If I don’t need it now, but it would cost more later and I was planning to get it anyway, then the answer is “yes.” For example, I have a budget for airfare for our annual summer trip. I wasn’t planning to purchase the tickets this early, but we got a great deal. The expenditure was not in my February budget, so I readjusted my total cash flow plan to accommodate the expense earlier than planned to save money (in this case, almost $400!) If I don’t need it now and it’s not in the budget, then it’s easy to say “no.” For example, I used to go to the theater a lot. This time I stopped myself from spending $84 dollars when I realized I don’t “need” to go, and it’s not in my budget! It sounds silly, but this kind of thinking is really revolutionary for me. There was a lot of mindless spending going on in my past, which explains how I got in this mess in the first place – obviously.


What Was Challenging:
I’m still tweaking my monthly budget. The original plan was very conservative with an extremely aggressive debt repayment plan. I’m discovering I need to make adjustments to account for unplanned expenses like the brake repairs to my car in February that set me back $530. When these things pop up, they throw a monkey wrench in my debt repayment plan, which feels discouraging. So far, I’m still on track, but I’m walking a very fine line to achieve my Dec. 2014 payoff goal date. Any other unexpected expenses will push that out to Jan or Feb 2015. I’m trying my hardest to hold the line on expenditures and not spend anything outside my budget and so far, I’m really proud of my progress! To pay off over $25K in debt in 13 or 14 months instead of 12 would still be an amazing success.

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

vivianAbout me: The name is Vivian Lee, and I’m a young professional currently working in San Francisco after completing college in Boston with a B.S. in Economics & Management Science. I previously worked in investment banking, M&A consulting, and marketing — I’m not too shabby at corporate finance! Calculating metrics for large clients, modeling an acquisition, analyzing portfolio returns for private equity firms? I’ve done all of those and more in my day jobs. But once you start talking about handling my OWN finances… well, all bets are off.

Goal: Pay off $15,000 in credit card debt by the end of 2015 while becoming more knowledgable about personal finance. I’ll be honest – I didn’t even know what a tax return looked like until a year ago. My parents meant well by managing my money and paying off my credit card in college, but it also meant that I graduated without any idea how the “real world” worked! I racked up $15,000 in credit card debt my first year out of college; most of that was from frivolous purchases and living above my means. After my debt is gone, I hope to become a more active investor by maxing out my 401(k) and consistently contributing to my Roth IRA accounts.

Challenge: Living in San Francisco is my biggest challenge. My salary is not horrible, but it’s definitely below the average income for the area. I grew up in Texas, so I was spoiled on cheap real estate and no state tax (really!) Adjusting to a much higher cost of living – coupled with upcoming student loans (getting a master’s degree) – has been really difficult. In addition, I’m horrible at budgeting (great at making them, terrible at following), so that will be a big challenge to overcome this year.

What was awesome:
I finally figured out what I want to do with my life! Instead of spending tons of money on chasing “prestige” and “trading up” with my jobs (I’ve held 3 in the past year alone!) I’m finally going to exit the rat race. I’m moving to a lower cost of living city (Austin) with my boyfriend and working a typical 9-to-5 office job to help pay the bills. Compare the cost of living (here’s a great calculator) in Austin with San Francisco, my current city. Yikes – my current salary here is equivalent to just above minimum wage there! On the side, I have a lot of entrepreneurial ventures that I’m starting to work on; will let you know how that goes!


What was challenging:
I moved to San Francisco only about a month ago and spend $3000 on the move (plane tickets, shipping, new furniture and appliances), plus the cost of rent for the month ($1900). I’ve been trying to sell back my furniture and look for a cheaper way to move back to Austin, but most of the expenses I racked up this month are sunk costs I can’t recoup. On top of that, a lot of it was charged to my credit card, so I actually ended up more in debt instead of paying anything off. Oops…

And a big welcome to our newest Debt Destroyer, Melanie!

MelaniePhotoAbout Melanie: Melanie blogs about breaking up with debt at and invites others to write breakup letters to their debt as well. She’s accumulated a total of 81k in student loan debt between two degrees, and has paid off 37k. Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. She enjoys art, travel, giving back and making obscure pop culture references.

Challenge: To make dinner at home at 6 times a week, and only go out to eat once a week. Going out to eat is my one weakness!

Goal: To be debt free!

Read Melanie’s updates in the next Debt Destroyer’s post!

Way to go Debt Destroyers!

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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