What Motivates You To Pay Off Your Debt? Zina Shares Her Story


Despite the common  goal of reaching zero, the road to debt free is different for everyone. With differing circumstances and even personalities, what works for one person in repayment isn’t guaranteed to work for someone else.

That’s why personalized motivators can be an effective tool against your debt. Not only do they help to fuel the (your) journey, they also connect you with the greater purpose of paying off your debt! Yes, it’s important to understand what the goal is but it’s also important to touch base with why you want to achieve it. Motivators can also add accountability and direction to your goal.

Headshot (2)That’s why we’re thrilled to share an interview with Zina Kumok, a young woman who has used personal motivators to guide (and accelerate) her goal of paying off $28,000 in student loan debt in just 3 years! She blogs about the journey on her site, Debt Free in Three and is slated to reach zero debt in November of this year. Read on to learn how she’s used accountability, prioritization, and travel goals to help her along the way!

What inspired you to pay off your debt in three years?

During my first job out of college I was often visiting my boyfriend who lived 3 hours away. I was living alone and found that I couldn’t really pay more than the minimum amount on my student loans. It killed me to think that I would have these loans for the next decade. Once I moved to the same city as my boyfriend (now fiance), I was able to put more money toward my loans. My “three-year” debt payoff plan is 3 years from the time I started paying them back (Nov. 2011 – 6 months after my college graduation).

Has the decision impacted other decisions/opportunities in your life?

zina.jpgIt’s tough to say. I went to Europe after graduation, when I was unemployed and not sure when I would find work. I went to Israel last year, and I’m planning another trip to Europe this year, as well as my honeymoon next year. So I’m still traveling, which I love, but I definitely eat out less and buy fewer clothes. I don’t feel like my life has been impacted in a bad way though. I feel like I’m more aware of what’s important to me – paying for classes, my hobbies, spending time with friends, traveling – and how to pay for that, as opposed to just buying “stuff.”

Were you always interested in your finance or was it something that you became more aware of as you grew up?

My parents always taught me about money, like what a mortgage means and about credit card debt. They were always really forthcoming and my mom used to listen to the “Dave Ramsey” radio show while we would drive back from my piano lessons. It was always amazing how he could help people who had thousands of dollars in debt. No matter their financial situation, he always had advice for them. It seemed to be really empowering that as long as you were knowledgeable about your finances, you always had control over them. Too many people let money control their life. As long as you educate yourself about money, you can feel confident about your future.

Do you follow a certain financial philosophy? Has it changed over time?

My goals are to save for retirement and any other major life goals (wedding, down payment, etc.) while being able to travel and live well. I don’t go out to bars all the time, but I am able to grab dinner with friends, support my hobbies, and even pay for $100 a month gym membership! It’s all about balance – that’s what my parents taught me. You should support your future self without making big sacrifices for the life you have now. Maybe I don’t get lunch out every day, but if I can afford dinner with a friend, then I feel good.

What’s one instance where you’ve felt completely on track with your goal?

I tend to be a worry-wart and a perfectionist, so I have a hard time giving myself credit when I’m on track with my goals. I am on track to pay off my loans by November – 3 years after my first payment. I still beat myself up for only contributing 6% my gross salary for my 401k (enough to get the employer match). Sometimes I have moments where I realize how lucky I am to be able to pay off my loans aggressively, save for retirement, and still be able to travel overseas, own a dog, and have a social life.

Does anything about the repayment process drive you crazy?

I’m a really impatient person and seeing the interest accrue daily is really frustrating. Mostly I just wish I could throw all my cash at my loans, but I know that wouldn’t be the smartest idea.

What type of thing is most likely to throw you off track?

It’s hard to stay on track with grocery shopping and my budget is fairly tight. I usually go over and have to cut back in some other areas. That and entertainment spending are usually the big budget breakers.

How do you bounce back from “slip-ups”?

I can be pretty hard on myself, but I try to remember that overall I’m doing really well. I feel like you need to stay positive when it comes money. Otherwise you’ll get discouraged too easily. Seeing my loans go down every month is really motivating and reminds me that no matter if I go over my grocery budget by $100, I’m still saving thousands in interest in the long run.

Do you feel supported in your goal?

Definitely. My parents were the first ones to tell me about personal finance and they’ve always been really supportive of my goal. My fiance is always frugal; we like to shop at Goodwill and cook at home to save money. But he also reminds me to spend it on things that matter. Some people don’t understand why I forego things like getting lunch out or grabbing coffee from Starbucks, but for the most part those closest to me are really supportive.

What would you tell yourself if you could go back and in time and talk to “you” from ten years ago?

As a 15 year-old I wasn’t doing too badly. It was when I got to college that I started shopping a lot, eating out all the time – generally all the things you’re not supposed to waste your money on. I spent hundreds of dollars eating out, that I wish I could take back.


What’s the number one thing you’re looking forward to the minute you pay off your debt?

I think about this a lot! I want to get my car detailed, take my fiance out for a nice dinner, maybe even splurge at Sephora! I’m also going to up my contributions to my 401k to 10% (I’m at 6% now, enough to get my company match) and beef up my emergency fund. I’m just looking forward to being able to have fun and still save responsibly.

Where do you want to go from here?

Ideally I will save at least 15% of my salary for retirement and be able to save for long-term goals, like a down payment for a house. I’ll have an 3-6 month emergency fund. I’d love to be able to go abroad often, like every 2-3 years. My family has always valued travel and I’m willing to be more frugal so I can afford to do that.

Inspiring insight from an inspiring blogger! We can’t wait until Zuna reaches debt free and don’t forget to root for her over on her blog.

In the meantime, what personal motivators have you used to help propel your debt repayment forward?

Image Credit: Nathalie Martin

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  • Charlotte

    “You should support your future self without making big sacrifices for the life you have now.” YES, totally agree!