How They Did It: Sami Paid Off $157K in Debt

One of my favorite, if not my most favorite part of blogging, is this series - How They Did ItI've been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support that I've received from the personal finance/debt free community and I'm so pleased to be able to collaborate with the best of the best, week in and week out.

Now that my ramble is out of the way, let's get on to the good stuff and be honest...the main reason you're reading this blog post. I met Sami on social media (where else do people "meet" these days?) and was blown away first, by her kind spirit and secondly, her achievements in paying off a mountain of debt. And, if you've read the title of this article, then you know I'm not exaggerating by my use of the word "mountain." 

Sami and her husband demolished $157,000 worth of debt in less than a year and this debt-destroying duo isn't stopping until they are completely debt free. Let's hear more about this inspiring story from Sami herself.

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Wow! She paid off $157,000 of debt in 1 year!

How did you start your journey toward financial freedom? Last January (2016) my husband and I were in church and they announced an upcoming Financial Peace University course.  My inner dialogue was “I’m an accountant with an MBA, what can I possibly learn from a personal finance course?” Oh the arrogance!  Before I could think much past that, my husband leaned over and whispered, “We should take that class.” Before I knew it we were headed to our first class thinking we would “fine tune” our budgeting skills but probably wouldn’t learn much. However, after that first class, we knew our lives would be changed forever. 

How much debt did you have at the beginning of your journey? Here is a snapshot of what our debt looked like. Looking back, this is a lot of debt for a few thirty somethings - 10 student loans, 2 credit cards, an auto loan and a mortgage (on a house we weren’t even living in).  

Here's what our debt snowball looked like:

  1. Cell Phone - $ 487.45
  2. Student Loan 1 - $669.50
  3. Student Loan 2 - $1,376.30
  4. Credit Card 1 - $2,750.73
  5. Credit Card 2 - $3,369.15
  6. Student Loan 3 - $3,477.64
  7. Student Loan 4 - $4,678.05
  8. Student Loan 5 - $6,205.52
  9. Student Loan 6 - $8,256.99
  10. Student Loan 7 - $8,301.41
  11. Student Loan 8 - $12,635.30
  12. Student Loan 9 - $13,203.71
  13. Auto Loan - $17,313.70
  14. Student Loan 10 - $21,259.00
  15. Mortgage - $82,767.47

Total - $186,751.92

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What are the strategies you used to pay off debt? Since January 20, 2016, we’ve been doing zero-based budgets, we’ve sold as much as we could, we are paying off debt with crazy intensity all the while continuing to prioritize giving. Speaking of selling things, we sold our condo after receiving eight offers in two days, one being $10,000 more than our asking price.  Boom! We ended up paying off over $45,000 in student loans and no longer owed the mortgage of $80,000.

In addition, I also want to reiterate 3 tips I share on my blog:

  • Budget, Budget, Budget!!! Seriously. And stick to it!!! Be an adult and handle your money or it will handle you!
  • Start paying with cash. This was such a life changer for us.  If you pay with cash (groceries, eating out, entertainment, clothing, etc…) you tend to stick to the budget.  You feel the pain of spending so you tend to spend less. Try this at the grocery store next time, you will spend less!
  • Have an emergency fund and STOP USING CREDIT CARDS!!!!! Our emergency fund (for now) is $1,000 – in case the washer dies, the car needs tires or we have a medical bill come up…We no longer have credit cards and cannot rely on them. Period. Yes, it’s a bit scary at first but wow, is it life changing!!

What's been the hardest part of the past year? While my husband and I would have different opinions, the most difficult part for me personally has been the whole “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality. I really feel like this is a big cornerstone of our culture now and it is such a dangerous game. That said, it’s one I struggled with initially. At the time it seemed like everyone was driving better cars, living in more beautiful homes, the list could go on. I was working for a home builder at the time watching people get into the home of their dreams. I really had to work on contentment. Contentment is incredibly important to attaining financial freedom.    

What are some of your tips for staying motivated? Set some goals and write them down! We also have a board in our house that tracks our progress. Currently it shows how much we’ve paid off and how much debt we have left to tackle. Eventually, the board will track our savings. This is a great way to keep a visual and keep us both on the same page.  My husband and I also saved some images of what financial freedom looks like to us on our phone. We refer to those when we’re having a hard time staying motivated.  

What are some of your financial goals for the rest of the year? Pay off all of our debt!  Honestly, it’s surreal saying that – for many years I resigned myself to the fact that I would have student loan debt well into my 50’s.  Now I realize how ridiculous that is!  Our debt payoff date is August 31st but we’d love to push for a few days earlier for our anniversary.  We also plan to cash flow for a vacation to celebrate our debt freedom and hope to have half of our 3-6 month expenses emergency fund saved by the end of the year.  

Any advice for someone is just starting out on their debt free journey? My hope is for anyone who feels stuck in student loan debt or any debt for that matter, that they hear our story and know that there is hope for a debt free life! It takes hard work and dedication but it is so worth it. We’ll be debt free this fall and are thrilled at the possibilities of the freedom we’ll experience. 

Wow! They paid off $157k in debt in a year!

If you'd like to keep tabs on Sami's story, then be sure to check out her blog  at and on Instagram @eatpraybudget. 

Related Articles:

How They Did It: Amy Paid Off $30k in Debt
How They Did It: Amanda Paid Off 60k in Debt
How They Did It: Sami Paid Off $157k in Debt
How They Did It: Alli Saved $35k
How They Did It: Grace is 100% Debt Free


Do you have an inspiring journey and would like to be featured in this series? Please send an email to or leave me a note in the comments below.