How I Paid Off $8,000 Without Really Trying

I can guarantee you that there’s someone out there with a more impressive story than this one.

(That’s a great way to begin, right?)  

Someone who paid off more debt, in less time. So what’s (possibly) interesting about this story?

I paid it off without feeling deprived, while living in an expensive city, making a little above the city’s minimum wage.

Little habits can have big results. So here’s what I did that ended up making a difference; perhaps these tips will help you in your journey to being debt-free: 

  • Drove an old car
    • It may have had high miles, spotty reliability, and the turning radius of a semi truck, but I knew that no one would be interested in stealing it, it was paid off, and my insurance was fairly reasonable. I didn’t worry if it got scratched or rusty, and didn’t freak out (very much) when I dumped hot coffee all over the backseat (gray cloth seats are the BEST for repelling stains!). 
  • Kept food & other expenses low
    • Groceries- I shopped at Trader Joe’s and Aldi, stores that only sell generic brands of foods. 
    • Lunches- Almost always packed a lunch for work.
    • Rent- I had roommates, sometimes in not-always-the-greatest-part of town. May have also had mice, but that’s a story for another time…
  • Had a basic phone (Remember texting with actual buttons?)
    • I held off on jumping on the iPhone craze as long as possible, until they had the interest-free payment plans (and my laptop had died, so the phone was a stand-in for that).
  • Made automatic withdrawals to savings
    • I had a small amount set up to transfer to savings every month, viewing it as another “expense” that needed to be paid rather than something optional.
  • Made extra transfers to savings
    • Whenever my checking account hit a certain level, I would transfer the difference over into savings.

Manhattan Skyline

  • Didn’t pay money for furniture or home items
    • Twice I got beds and mattresses for free because friends wanted to give them away. I may have gotten some funny looks carrying a mattress over my shoulder while walking down the street at 9pm, but hey, it was free! 
      • I ended up accumulating way too much of other people’s stuff, but some of it was actually useful. 
    • Used my roommates’ dishes + silverware, let them use things of mine they needed in return.
  • Didn’t have many electronic devices or cable
    • Life is cheaper without TVs, tablets, video games, computers, etc. I always split the cost of internet with other people and shared a phone plan to cut costs. 
  • Used Groupon for special events
    • Was able to get heavily discounted deals to things like the ballet, concerts, and restaurants that I normally wouldn’t be able to go to.
  • Used public transit instead of taxis
    • I lived in the city before Uber was a thing, but even after it became a thing, I only really used it when there were multiple people in the car with me and we could split the cost.
    • Waking up extra early to take a train or bus to the airport wasn’t ideal, but it cost around $2.50 compared to a $50 taxi ride. 
  • Kept beauty costs to a minimum
    • I found a stylist friend of a friend who gave me a great discount instead of her regular rate.
    • Did my own DIY beauty treatments (check out my posts on DIY Sugar Scrub and Manicures).
  • Rarely drank alcohol
    • It’s the stereotypical beverage of choice for young city dwellers, but when one small, mostly ice-filled glass cost as much as an hour of work, it just wasn’t worth it. Even just one mixed drink a week plus tax and tip (~ $15) would equal $780 over the course of a year. 

Central Park

So what’s a non-drinking, granny-car driving city dweller supposed to do then? Take advantage of all the free things that cities have to offer!

  • Parties. Go to all the parties. Unlike bars, there’s no cover charge (if the hosts are charging you, you probably don’t want to be friends with them anyway, haha 😉 ). 
  • Find out the free admission days at your city’s local museums, art galleries, etc., or if they give discounts on certain days.  
  • Many cities do free “movies at the park” type events during the summer, so grab a lawn chair and a picnic dinner and enjoy dining under the stars.
  • Take advantage of your city’s green spaces and public pools/beaches, if they have them- many city parks have basketball courts, volleyball nets, and public trails for walking or biking. 
  • I went to a free “dancing in the park” lesson/event and it was really fun to learn how to salsa dance! 
  • Browse at a local farmer’s market or arts & crafts festival
  • Hop on a train or bus downtown and look at all the Christmas lights and window displays during December. 


What has been a great money-saving habit for you? Please share in the comments!

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How I Paid Off $8,000 Without Really Trying


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