A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way


A Reluctant Advice-Giver's Best Financial Advice

Like many people (probably almost everyone?), I often feel like an imposter. I especially feel like an imposter as a personal finance blogger.

An implogger, if you will. Ha.

Why? Because people generally visit personal finance blogs for advice: How to pay off debt. How to invest. How to save. And I rarely try to tell anyone how to do any of that. Instead, I just talk about our experiences in the hope that maybe some part of our story will resonate with someone.

Why giving advice is not my thing

I give very little advice on this blog for a few reasons.

One is that I don’t feel qualified. As of today, we’re a little less than $38K in debt, our net worth is less than zero, and I'm thinking about quitting my job without having a new one in place. Sure, we’ve made some big changes and some massive progress over the past two years, but we’re still in the hole, and I don’t expect anyone to look at us and be like, Brilliant! Let’s do it that way. 

Plus, I don't have a finance or accounting degree. I'm an armchair personal finance enthusiast. There are other people who are more qualified and can give you better guidance than I can.

The other reason I don't give advice is that every situation is so unique that many one-size-fits-all approaches don't work for everyone. Maybe the Dave Ramseys of the world - people who benefit from packaging up advice and selling it in neat little bundles - would disagree, but I get really, really hung up on the exceptions to the rule.

There's always an exception to the rule.

For example, some popular finance gurus would tell you that

You should pay off all your debt before you start saving more than a skeleton emergency fund. 

But what if...

...you have hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt and it’s going to take you years to pay it off?

...you live in a high-cost-of-living area and a skeleton emergency fund won’t cover even one month of rent in the event that you lose your job?

...you have health conditions that are likely to worsen over time or kids who need braces or a roof that’s leaking water into your living quarters?

Or one of my favorites:

Only change jobs if your salary will increase. 

But what if... 

...your current job is making you miserable and you need to get out before you lose your mind?

...the new job has lower pay but better benefits?

...the lower-paying job comes with fewer hours and less stress? Alternatively, what if the lower-paying job means more hours but also more purpose and enjoyment?

The exceptions make giving advice difficult. I don’t know your particular situation. I don’t know your history, I don’t know your hang-ups, and I don’t know whether what I say is going to motivate you or take the wind out of your sails. Furthermore, any advice I can give to you is probably something you've already heard. You've likely made a list of your options already.

Let's face it: Deep down, you probably already know what you need to do.

But here's some advice I feel comfortable sharing

Still, let's pretend you took a wrong turn on the Internet and have come here looking for guidance of some sort. I don't want you to leave completely empty handed. In fact, I do have some suggestions that I'd feel comfortable sharing with pretty much anyone:

1. Do your best with what you’ve got, and give yourself credit for that.

We all have different jobs, salaries, obligations, and costs of living. Our savings accounts and our debt loads vary. So do our priorities.

But no matter where you're at, you can still do something with what you've got. You can probably cut something from your budget, put something into savings, do something to get yourself one step closer to your goals. But what you don't have to do is compare your financial situation to anyone else's. If you're doing your best, you're on the right track.

2. Pay off your debt when you can, at a rate that is commensurate with your budget and your needs, and celebrate the small wins.

I don't know about you, but I have a weakness for articles with captivating titles like I Paid Off My $400K Student Loan in Two Months! 

Cool and yay, but most of us are not in the position to do the same.

If you have debt, pay it off in a manner that aligns with your income and budget and that facilitates sustainable progress. (Sidenote #1: To experiment with different debt paydown scenarios, I use the What's the Cost calculator.) Even if it's going to take longer than other people say it should. Too bad. This is your life, not theirs, and if you've found a payoff approach that works for you, then again, you're doing it right. There is no one right way to pay off debt.

Furthermore, I'm a big believer in setting small, achievable goals and celebrating each win. You paid off $50 of debt this month? YOU ARE A CHAMPION. Pat yourself on the back and find a (free or low-cost) way to congratulate yourself for that achievement.

3. Pay yourself first.

Okay, fine. This is the epitome of one-size-fits-all personal finance advice, and everybody gives it. But that's because there are so many people and things ready and willing to separate us from our money as soon as it hits our wallets. Even if it's just a few dollars, honor yourself and your hard work by socking away some of your cash when you get paid. Yes, you have bills to pay and debt to demolish, but you deserve to keep some of that hard-earned money for yourself.

4. If you have money to give, share it with people who would benefit from it.

Having money that you can use for yourself is nice, but having money that can benefit others is powerful. So use that power. Don't hoard your money - share some of it with others. (Sidenote #2: If you're looking to give, consider donating to Uriah and his family. Uriah is a music-loving little superhero who's fighting a rare form of childhood cancer. He's amazing.)

5. Figure out what your priorities are, and let your financial choices reflect those priorities. 

In our family, we don't care that much about nice clothes, good haircuts, or new cars - so we rarely purchase them. We do, on the other hand, invest in things like going out to eat and road trips; those are experiences that bring us together and that we all enjoy. Other people have different priorities and thus different budgets and assets.

Hi. If you're trying, you're on your way.

If you're making an effort to get or keep your finances in order, well, I'm that annoying lady who's standing on the sidelines, jumping up and down, waving a participation trophy, telling you that you're doing a damn good job. Because you are. In my mind, if you're making an effort, if you're reflecting on your finances and making an effort to put yourself in the best position possible, you're doing it right. At the very least, you're well on your way.

What about you? Do you have any financial advice that you'd feel comfortable sharing with pretty much anyone? What advice, financial or otherwise, has been most helpful for you?


  1. Love this advice! 5 great principles that can be applied to anyone.

  2. i just wrote a stock picking post. do i consider myself some sort of guru? no, but i'm willing to say "here is something that worked for me and it's here for your consideration." i don't like to call it advice so much as tell the story and decide what works for you. we also come for a context of having gone from in debt and zero-ish net worth 15 years ago to financial independence on average salaries today. so that might carry some weight with some as far as credibility. my advice for anyone is try your best to get going in the right direction. start small and watch the positive momentum build as you get some wins. better than terrible is still better.

  3. One thing that I try to remember is about not beating myself up for past mistakes. Financial blogs are like facebook, you mostly see all rainbows and sunshine. No one ever goes on Facebook and shows their ugly scars, but we all have them. I often think about investments not made, money too foolishly spent, home repairs needed, and career turns not taken. But then I remember that I made SOME good choices, my family is healthy, and supper will be served tonight, as always, around 7. :)

  4. Replies
    1. Thank you! :-) It's the best advice I've got. LOL.

  5. Such a great piece with so much awesome advice. This made my heart happy. :)

    1. YOU make MY heart happy! You're the best, Liz. MWAH.