How I Paid Off $14,000 in 14 Months and Became Debt Free

Celebrate Freedom

As of May 29, 2012 I officially became debt free!!! I shared a lot of my progress here on this blog with all the ups and downs along the way. But there’s still more to the story.

In March 2011 I finally faced the harsh reality that I was over $14,000 in debt, had no savings and my financial life was out of order but I didn’t know how to fix it.

Then I asked myself “How did I make this much money and always be so broke?”

While I enjoyed my job (working as an accountant no less), I still felt like a hamster on a wheel; like I was just treading water. So I made the decision to become debt free, make a game plan and turn my life around.

My Debts

  • Credit Card #1: $1,833.17
  • Credit Card #2: $909.12
  • Car Loan: $11,342 (original cost was $16,575 but I put money down)

Total: $14,084.29

Total Debts

My Income

  • Full-time job: $37,072
  • Bonuses/side jobs: $5,000

Averaged $3,496 per month or about $42,000 per year (click here for details)

My Get Out of Debt Plan

I attacked the credit card debt first, because they had the highest interest rate and its unsecured debt which makes it riskier. Plus they were smaller balances and it was easier to start small and work my way up.

My initial reasoning for being debt free was to stop paying all my money to banks and credit card companies. I have a rebel streak in me and got sick of people telling me what to do with my money.

But after the year went on, I found other inspiring reasons to live a debt free lifestyle. One of the driving forces was to create a solid freelance gig on the side and be able to travel while working virtually anywhere.

That’s the motivation behind this blog. I really enjoy being a personal finance freelance writer, and this blog has given me a platform to be accountable to all my career and financial goals.

Step 1: Creating a difficult but attainable timeline

I made double payments on my auto loan, and tossed any extra money towards it throughout the year. I even worked at H&R Block for a couple tax seasons at nights and on weekends to make extra money.

But then, in November 2011 I got even more serious (some call it gazelle intense) and created a new debt goal. My mantra for the new year was “Make 2012 Epic” and I desperately wanted to become debt free.

So I began using ReadyForZero and after inputting my loan and payment information, it gave me a payoff date: December 21, 2012.

At first that date seemed very reasonable. I planned to make double payments, and put any extra side income or savings towards the loan balance. However, I gained momentum as I saw my debt decrease and I revised my initial goal to July 2012 – which took some serious motivation and sacrifice to hit.

Step 2: Making the necessary sacrifices

As you can see, by looking at the numbers, I paid off $14,000 in 14 months with gross income of about $42,000 per year. Which means I was only living on two-thirds of my income. It was rough in the beginning – let me tell you.

But once I viewed the budget as a spending plan and had more control of where my money went, I learned to love living below my means. Here’s some of the things I gave up to make it happen:

  • Cable TV
  • Gym membership
  • Tanning/salon visits
  • Vacations and traveling
  • Dining out at restaurants
  • Going to the movies

I’m not a big shopper so going to the mall isn’t something I had a hard time giving up. But the most difficult for me was the TV and going out to movies. I love watching shows and relaxing in front of the television.

But I realized those activities were a big hindrance to my time and production, and kept me from reaching the debt free lifestyle I wanted to achieve.

Step 3: Finding time and creating more income

To go along with my New Year’s anti-resolution, I spent a lot of my time marketing myself and my skills, so I could raise my income more. I cut back on my expenses as much as I could, and now it was time to maximize my earning potential.

Like most people, I didn’t think I had enough time to work another job. But what I discovered is, if it’s your priority – you make the time. And since getting out of debt was my priority, everything else came second.

My social life and sometimes even sleep took a backseat to reaching the ultimate goal. My dedication paid off and I added over $500 per month of income with freelance writing.

Step 4: Staying motivated and celebrating small wins

The journey to getting out of debt was a long one. You may think $14,000 isn’t a lot, but when you’re looking up at that mountain of debt, just try to tell me how small it is – because it feels enormous.

I also had to make this journey alone, with no partner or spouse to help me through the bad times. Honestly there were a few days I wanted to quit, but the blogging community and readers helped me through it. I can’t thank you enough!

One of the most important things I did, was celebrate the small wins. Even if it was just finding the courage to keep going, I rewarded myself in a small way. Some of you might be more intense than I was and be able to pay off your debt faster (more power to you!), but there were times when I needed to be human and take a break.

The point is, I knew with my determination and discipline I’d accomplish my goal. And if it took a few extra days or weeks to keep my sanity, then I felt that slowing down was qualified.

How I Paid Off $14,000 in 14 Months

There are many other strategies I implemented while becoming debt-free and tons of awesome financial tools I used along the way (which I might expound on later, maybe in an upcoming ebook). But when you put all the elaborate plans and gadgets away, the biggest tool in your financial arsenal is YOU!

There’s no secret formula or magic sauce. Your decision to get out of debt and your application to that process, is the only thing that will determine your success or failure.

That’s what I finally learned — after years of living with debt and trying to take control of my money — I was both my biggest obstacle and greatest motivator.

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About Carrie

Carrie Smith is the owner and editor of Careful Cents. She helps serious solopreneurs and full-time freelancers earn more money in less time, through systems and financial organization. She's been featured in The Huffington Post, Glamour Magazine, Kiplinger Finance and several other business websites. In May 2013 she quit her full-time accounting job to pursue entrepreneurship and blogging. You can find her on Twitter or Instagram @carefulcents.


  1. Great post, Carrie! It still amazes me what you did. That’s some serious self-control and will power. Good on you!

  2. This is a very inspiring post! I’m only six months into my debt freedom journey, it’s great to see what I can look forward to down the road! My only question for you is: what’s next?

    • Finding out what’s next is what I’m currently working on. And not to be cryptic, but you will have to stay tuned to my blog to find out more. Mostly because I’m still finding out myself :)

  3. I think self control comes through being desperate and seeing success in your actions. It’s interesting to see just how you became more and more fired up as you saw traction. Tracking your progress along the way and positive self talk look like they were huge for you.

    • That’s exactly right @209c61862817632de11bd3fe814f571d:disqus I kept myself motivated and on track my using visuals like debt graphs and inspirational quotes. Reading stories from other people’s debt experience helped a lot too.

  4. Congrats Carrie!!  This is an amazing feat.  Doesn’t it feel good?  When my wife and I got married we had a total of $18,000 in debt between the two of us.  With the same dedication you showed we were able to pay it off in just over a year.  The sacrifices you have to give up are hard, but they are worth it in the end.  Great job!

    • That’s great news @twitter-469796484:disqus and a much deserved congratulations to you and your wife too! The reward in the end definitely makes the sacrifices worth it.

  5. Way to go…it sounds like you were determined to be debt free, and nothing was going to get in the way of that goal. Your story is inspiring.

  6. So awesome… you put me to shame, I think I need to kick my own ass again.

  7. There really is no secret formula or magic sauce. Everyone tries to get to the finish line in different ways – what matters is that you finally got there! You’re an inspiration to many, so I hope you are proud of yourself because you earned this milestone :)

    I would have to say that celebrating small victories are a must. I’ll be implementing this list once I have the huge burden of student loan debt on my shoulders. Once again, congrats!!!

  8. Shannon_ReadyForZero says:

    This is so exciting, congrats on reaching your goal!  Your determination and focus are truly inspiring!

  9. Celebrating small wins is important. If we only celebrate the big wins, there are too few parties. 

  10. Congrats! I’m so jealous.

  11. Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if there were a magic sauce? Wine usually tends to make things worse… :P

    This is a great post, Carrie. You are such a hard worker, it honestly doesn’t surprise me that you were able to accomplish your goal ahead of time. But the fact that you stuck with it and never gave up is a character trait some people can only hope to have. Congrats! So excited for whatever is next for you!

    • I wish there was some magic formula (just like I wish there was a magic weight loss pill…lol). But it’s all about hard work, determination and follow through. That is something I pride myself in, is following through and not giving up. Although that can be a bad thing at times. ;)

  12. This is a very inspiring story for anyone dealing with debt. Not only did you pay off all that debt, but you did it way before your original deadline and even a month before your revised deadline.  Awesome job Carrie!  I do highly recommend that you turn this story into an ebook.  With how many people out there are fighting their way through debt, a lot of them could use some extra help.  This kind of personal story may be just what the doctor (errr…accountant) ordered.

    • I really appreciate your encouragement @428226003cf4de88c772dbb2e8b0fc04:disqus I’ve been mulling over the idea of creating an ebook for a few months now. I just want to make sure I’m – somewhat – on the right track. I’m happy to know you’re in my corner!

  13. Congrats! That is an incredible accomplishment! 

  14. Congrats! I’m trying to pay off my debt off as well and reading about your success definitely inspires me!

  15. Great job!  I hope to be debt-free (except for a mortgage) by March of next year.  It’s going to be hard, but I’m more looking forward to the feeling of accomplishment than I am dreading the feeling of missing out on all the stupid things I can’t spend money on now.  I will be honest, though.  Some days are harder than others.  Thankfully, I’ve got great blogs to read and keep me motivated!

    • Yes, reading other blogs and books was a HUGE help to me on this journey. But you guys are on making the journey and sacrifices, so I know you will get here one day very soon. I have confidence in you! @twitter-471108758:disqus 

  16. Deborah @ImpulseSave says:

    I’m so inspired - I’m going to write a check towards my student debt right now! You’re a hero!

  17. Awesome! This is my favorite line:  “There’s no secret formula or magic sauce. Your decision to get out of debt and your application to that process, is the only thing that will determine your success or failure.” So true. Because there is just you, some people struggle without the magic bullet.

  18. Congrats on being debt-free! Paying off $14K in that time frame is no small feat!

  19. Congrats!!! I had about the same amount of credit card debt 6-7 years ago, so I know exactly how great it feels to be done with it. Keep up the great work!!

  20. Congratulations again!!

  21.  Congratulations! You did a great job! Very inspiring and motivating story!

  22. Mandy Knight says:

    I enjoyed your post on PT Money today. Congrats on your accomplishment!

  23. Thank you so much for sharing your story! You’ve inspired me to take control of my life. I’m tired of living paycheck to paycheck. Do you have any tips for someone who’s self-employed and trying to become debt free? Looking at my debt is honestly daunting.

  24. Susan G. says:

    I enjoyed your inspirational story, I am desperate t get out of debt and improve my credit score enough for us to be able to buy our first home. I am going to follow your lead and stop the debt nightmare I call my life! I wish I would have understood 20 years ago just how important debt is and how hard it is to combat. Thank you for being you, and choosing to share this with the world.

    • Thanks Susan! I’m glad you found inspiration in my story and are changing your life. I can’t wait to hear how it all turns out — good luck. :)

  25. I really enjoyed reading your story. It was great an inspirational story.

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