How One Man Dug Out of $80,000 in Debt

Former financial journalist reassembled his financial life by changing his saving and spending habits.

The word "Debt" over Ben Franklin's mouth
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Eighty thousand dollars is a lot of money to pay off. Did you ever feel overwhelmed?

I had some health issues that came up. They were basically related to chronic stress. I think part of it was that I kept [my debt] a secret. My wife—my girlfriend at the time—knew about it. But apart from that, I kept it a secret from my parents until I started blogging.

Since you write the Money Under 30 blog, what do you think are the biggest money mistakes that people in that demographic make?

I think one of the biggest that I've seen is not creating financial independence from parents sooner. I'm almost 32 now, but from what I understand of readers, people are staying with their parents longer and longer, and they've delayed [their] careers and facing the financial real world.

Don't get me wrong; the economy these days, especially for a college grad, is not great. But even if someone can't go out and get the job they want right away, to begin finding any work and contributing to their financial situation or starting to save for stuff sooner, the better. It doesn't have to be picking the next great stock or putting all of your money into an IRA by the time you're 30;. Just anything—saving a little bit, learning to pay a bill every month, whatever you can do.

What are your financial goals now?

I've gotten married, bought a home, got out of debt, started a family with two kids. So certainly continuing to save for retirement and [my children's] college education. But beyond that, I'm looking for that next lifestyle goal. Is it a bigger house or is it [to] travel? It might be someday upsizing our house a little bit, and in the meantime taking nice trips when the kids get a little bit older.

What are your best tips on Money Under 30 for twentysomethings on how to get out of debt?

I think the biggest thing is to figure out where they're starting from, because people are in all sorts of different situations. If you're fresh out of college [and] don't have a job yet, don't add onto your debt. Minimize your expenses before you have a job. If that means moving home with your parents, do it. It's about doing what it takes for you. You can't compare yourself to a classmate that maybe landed a high-paying job and say, "I can live like that, too." If you're already in debt, it's about making that a priority to get yourself where you have the balance of paying off debt on a timeline you're comfortable with and saving some.

[See Get-Out-of-Debt Resolutions for 2013]

The best feeling after paying off the debt is finally having the savings in the bank, whether you call it an emergency fund or a rainy-day fund or a cushion, so when something unexpected happens—and it always does—you're not turning to a credit card.