Learn How To Become Debt Free – Stop Living With Debt For Good!

Do you want to become debt free? Would you like to no longer have debt payments hanging over your head? Do you want to stop living paycheck to paycheck, and instead be able to save for the future? Paying off debt is hard work. If it weren’t so hard, then it would be no problem…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: June 9, 2024

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase via my links, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. See my disclosure for more info.

Do you want to become debt free?

Would you like to no longer have debt payments hanging over your head?

how to become debt freeDo you want to stop living paycheck to paycheck, and instead be able to save for the future?

Paying off debt is hard work. If it weren’t so hard, then it would be no problem for people to do. But, that isn’t the case at all.

Once you decide to pay off your debt, there will be challenges along the way. There will be times when you feel tired and even defeated. Paying off debt takes sacrifices, it takes time, and it can feel lonely. Yes, you may feel like you are the only one working towards being debt free. 

If it were easy, then everyone would be debt free.

But, paying off your debt and living debt free is all worth it!

Paying off your debt can have so many positives.

I paid off my student loan debt quickly ($40,000 student loans paid off in 7 months), and while it was extremely tiring, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

There were many sleepless nights, 100 hour work weeks, and more, but I always reminded myself that this wouldn’t last forever. I knew that I wanted a different life and that paying off my debt would be 100% worth it in the end.

And, while you may feel like it’s awful right now, here are some positives of living debt free:

  • Happiness. No longer having debt means that you’ll have more money in your pocket. You can save for retirement, finally take a vacation, and those things can lead to happiness, security, and less stress.
  • No longer living paycheck to paycheck. By eliminating your debt, you will hopefully have learned better money management skills which will allow you to start saving for other things in life, such as retirement.
  • Feeling in control. Debt can make you feel like you have completely lost control of your life. By getting rid of your debt, you will feel much more in control of your life and your financial situation.

Here is how to get out of debt and live debt free.


Face your debt issue. What does debt free mean to you?

The first step to becoming debt free is to face the issues that led to your debt.

I believe that if you don’t know what your problems are to begin with, then it will be very hard to make any positive changes.

Yes, it is great to just start attacking your debt, but you also don’t want to fall into the same cycle of going into debt over and over again.

You need to realize why you are in debt. You can start by answering the following questions:

  • Why do you think you are in debt?
  • Are you afraid to face how much debt you have?
  • Do you feel like debt makes things seem more affordable?
  • Are you prepared for emergencies?
  • Are you living paycheck to paycheck?
  • Do you have an emotional spending problem?
  • Do you have credit card spending issues?
  • Would cutting back help you pay off your debt?

Of course, there are other reasons for why you may be in debt as well, such as having medical debt or student loans. But, these questions are a good starting point.

In order to pay off your debt, you will need to figure out why you are in debt. By understanding why you are falling into debt, you can begin to prevent yourself from falling back into a debt cycle.

However, until you dig deep and realize this, the debt cycle will never end.

Side note: I highly recommend that you check out Personal Capital if you are interested in gaining control of your financial situation. Personal Capital allows you to aggregate your financial accounts so that you can easily see your financial situation. You can connect accounts such as your mortgage, bank accounts, credit card accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and more. And, it is FREE.


Total up your total debt.

This is related to facing your problem, as adding up your total amount of debt will help you realize how to gain control of it. 

This will help you to truly understand how much debt you are dealing with.

Plus, most people have no idea how much debt they have. And, many people are terrified to take this step, as it means that your debt is more real.

By adding it up, you will have a more realistic view of your debt problem.

Surprisingly, when most people complete this step, they realize that they have a lot more debt than they originally thought.

You should add up your debt down to the exact penny – don’t estimate!

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Stop adding to your debt.

This sounds obvious, right? Like I said earlier, if you don’t know why you are in debt, then it would be hard to stop adding to your debt and become debt free.

Also, if you’re eliminating debt but also adding to it at the same time, then you won’t get anywhere fast.

Different ways that you could prevent yourself from adding to your debt include:

  • Canceling your credit card
  • Freezing your credit card
  • Asking for your credit card limit to be lowered
  • Don’t take out extra student loans that you don’t need
  • Think over every purchase before you buy things
  • Avoid places like the shopping mall altogether


Create a budget.

Most people have student loans, credit card debt, a mortgage, car loans, and sometimes many other forms of debt. However, not many people have a budget.

Budgeting can help you take control of your financial situation so that you can finally become debt free.

You should create a realistic budget so that you truly know how much you are spending. Then total how much you actually bring in each month. If you are bringing in less than you are spending then a change definitely needs to be made.

A budget can also help you see where your money is going so that you know what areas you need to work on. Maybe you never realized how much less money you earn than you spend each month, which is causing you to go into debt.

A budget really puts that in front of you so that you know what you can cut out of your spending (or at least lower your spending in that area).

Read more at The Complete Budgeting Guide: How To Create A Budget That Works.


Understand how credit cards work.

Credit cards are not free money! Unfortunately, too many people treat them like they are.

If you are using a credit card, you should always make sure that you have cash or money in your personal bank account before thinking you can afford something.

I’ve heard many stories about people who continue struggling with credit cards and keep adding to their debt. And I’m always shocked when I find out it’s simply because they don’t understand how credit cards work.

Here are some of the things that I recommend knowing about credit cards:

  • Interest rates and how they work. If you use your credit card correctly, your credit card won’t cost you any extra money. If you pay your balance in full each month, then you don’t have to pay interest. However, if you don’t pay your balance in full, or only pay your minimum payment, then you’ll most likely owe interest that continues to grow until your balance is fully paid off.
  • What “balance” means. Your balance is how much money you have spent using your credit card before making any repayments. So, if you spent $100 on your credit card and haven’t paid anything back yet, then your balance is $100. But, if you paid $100 towards your credit card, then your balance would be $0.
  • Minimum payments. This is such an important topic, but many people get confused on this subject! The minimum payment on your credit card is the smallest amount a lender will let you pay every month, and if you only pay this amount, they will start adding interest charges to your total amount due.
  • Credit limit. Your credit limit is how much money you can spend on your credit card altogether. It may be $300, or it may be $30,000+. Credit card companies decide what your limit should be based on your credit history, length of time you have had credit cards, your income, and so on.
  • How your credit card use impacts your credit score. I recommend clicking on that link to learn about credit utilization rate, payment history, amounts owed, credit mix, new credit, and more. 

Learn more at How Do Credit Cards Work? I Answer The Most Important Questions.


Make a vision board.

Having your financial goal displayed in front of you can make it that much more real, plus it’s nice to have a constant reminder of what you’re working towards.

Various ways to make your financial goal visual include:

  • Create a graphic that demonstrates your financial goal. I did some research and found a blog post on A Cultivated Nest about many creative ways to do this.
  • Keep a picture of your goal on hand. You could even go all out and create a vision board on Pinterest, or you can create a poster board of all of the things that debt freedom will allow you to do.
  • Write down what debt free life will be like for you.


Read motivating debt payoff stories.

A great way to stay on track so you can one day be living debt free is to read motivating debt payoff stories.

By reading other people’s debt payoff stories and learning how to become debt free, I believe that you can find motivation to pay off your own debt, learn new ways to become debt free, and realize that paying off your debt is possible.

Here are some debt payoff stories from Making Sense of Cents readers:

If you want to learn how to become debt free, I recommend downloading this free debt payoff plan worksheet.


Start an emergency fund.

An emergency fund is something that everyone should have. However, many households have no emergency fund whatsoever. 

This is scary to me, as having an emergency fund can greatly help you get through hard and unexpected situations that may arise. 

An emergency fund can help if you:

  • Lose your job
  • Have your hours cut back
  • When your car breaks down
  • If you have a medical expense, and so on

Plus, an emergency fund can help you to stop adding to your debt. This is because if an emergency does arise, you won’t be forced to rely on credit cards or borrowing money in order to solve your situation. Instead, you’ll have your emergency fund to bail you out!

Read more at Why You Need An Emergency Fund and How To Start One Today.


Spend less than you earn and start saving money.

Too many people live paycheck to paycheck. This can lead to credit card debt, high interest rates, and more. 

You should always be spending less than you earn – a must if being debt free is your goal. If you aren’t spending less than you earn, then you need to find ways to cut your budget and/or increase the amount of money you earn.

And if you want to learn how to become debt free on a low income, one of the issues is that you might be spending money on things that you just cannot afford, like an expensive cell phone plan, going out to eat, and more. However, if you’ve exhausted all of the ways to reduce your spending, I recommend checking out the next section on making more money.

Finding ways to save more money may allow you to pay off your debt a little faster, improve your financial habits, help you reach your dream sooner, and more.

Depending on how quickly you want to get rid of your debt, there are different things that you may want to cut out. You could cut out Starbucks (I know, I know, so cliche), lower your restaurant spending, find a cheaper way to workout, sell your car for something cheaper/more affordable, cook from scratch, get rid of cable, and so on.

There are many ways to cut down on your spending. Below is a quick list for you to start with:

  • Lower your cell phone bill. Instead of paying the $150 or more that you spend on your cell phone bill each month, there are companies out there like Republic Wireless that offer cell phone service starting at $15. YES, I SAID $15! If you use my Republic Wireless affiliate link, you can change your life and start saving thousands of dollars a year on your cell phone service.
  • Visit the library. Your local library can be a great way to have fun without spending any money. You can check out the latest bestseller, a classic you’ve been wanting to read, or borrow movies, music, and more. There are actually a lot of libraries now that let you borrow things like cameras, GoPros, even telescopes, and more.
  • Save money on food. I recently joined $5 Meal Plan in order to help me eat at home more and cut my food spending. It’s only $5 a month (the first four weeks are free too) and you get meal plans sent straight to you along with the exact shopping list you need in order to create the meals. Each meal costs around $2 per person or less. This allows you to save time because you won’t have to plan meals anymore, and it will save you money as well!
  • Cut your own hair. Hair cuts are extremely expensive, especially if you get your hair colored too. Instead of spending money at the salon, Wes now cuts my hair, and he does a great job!
  • Stop paying for cable or satellite TV. Here are 16 Alternatives To Cable TV That WILL Save You Money.
  • Get your credit score for free. If you don’t know your credit score, you can use Credit Sesame to check your credit score for free, and there is absolutely no reason to pay for your credit score.
  • Sign up for birthday freebies. Everyone has a birthday, and you may be able to score a lot of free birthday stuff by simply showing your date of birth date on your driver’s license or by signing up for a company’s email club to receive a coupon for your birthday.
  • Have more meatless meals. While I think this is one of the best ways to save money, I realize it might not be for everyone. However, cutting just some meat out of your diet can save you a ton of money.
  • I also recommend reading 60+ Extreme Things People Have Done To Save Money to see some of the most interesting and best ways to save money used by personal finance experts. This includes ideas such as shaving your head, dumpster diving for free feed, making your own toilet paper, and so on.

Learn more at Here Are 50+ Of The Best Ways to Save Money This Year.


Make extra money.

I believe that earning extra income can completely change your life in a positive way. You can stop living paycheck to paycheck, pay off your debt, and more, all by earning extra money.

In fact, because of extra income and my blog, I was able to pay off $38,000 in student loans within 7 months, leave my day job in order to pursue my passion, travel full-time, and more!

Honestly, if you want to learn how to get debt free fast, making extra money is probably the fastest way to pay off your debt. This is because there are many ways to make $500, $1,000, $2,000 or more each month that you can put towards your debt. 

If you also reduce your spending, just think of how quickly you can become debt free!

Different ways to make extra money include:


Try using just cash

If your problem with debt is that you don’t know how to correctly use credit cards, or credit cards are too tempting for you, then you may want to get rid of your credit cards and try using cash.

A cash budget is when you pay for the majority of your purchases in cash. Of course, there are certain expenses, like a mortgage payment, that cash might not work for, and that’s okay. For the most part, almost all spending is done with cash when a person is taking part in a cash budget.

A cash budget can help because:

  • It forces you to think about where your money is going
  • It can prevent impulse shopping and clutter
  • Spending actual cash “hurts” more than spending money with a credit card


Have regular family budget meetings.

Talking about money and conducting regular family budget meetings is an important task for every family and serious relationship.

This is especially true if you have debt!

A family who has regular money talks and budget meetings is more likely to be financially successful and happier than a family who doesn’t.

Regular money meetings can lead to better communication between family members, a more unified financial goal, family members being more involved and motivated, and more. This is how to better yourself for your current and future financial life.

In your budget meetings, you can discuss:

  • Your financial goals
  • Money values
  • How the family is doing financially
  • What changes need to be made
  • What to do when you have no debt
  • What the family’s budget is
  • When, where, and how much is needed for retirement
  • Any financial problems, and so on

There is no right or wrong answer as to what should be discussed in a money meeting.

The key to a successful meeting is that you are all up-to-date on what is going on so you can work together towards your family’s financial goals.


Pay off debt to become debt free.

In order to be debt free, you’ll have to pay off your debt! 

No surprise there.

Paying off your debt can lessen your stress levels, allow you to have more money to put towards something else (such as retirement), stop paying interest fees, and more.

Here are some more tips to pay off your debt:

  • Pay more than the minimum each month. This will help you to knock your balance down so that you’re not just paying a bunch towards interest each month.
  • Put little amounts toward your debt. For example, whenever you get an extra $25 (such as by selling something online), then you should just throw that extra money towards your debt before spending it on anything else.
  • Automate your payments if you can’t force yourself to make payments.
  • Put money towards debt right when you get paid so that you are “paying yourself” first.

Do you have debt? Are you trying to pay it off faster and start living that debt free life?

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. This is definitely a no-nonsense, epic guide to quickly get anyone from debt no matter the amount involved.

    It’s quite motivating and worth every single while.

    Paying down debt is definitely a lonely journey, sometimes even depressing, but it’s certainly a number one focus for anyone who wants to get back their life and live dept free.

    I have been an ardent reader of your blog and I have also grown to share lots of Life relatable experiences with you.

    Reading this, is definitely worthwhile for me. I enjoyed every single word!

  2. You are right! It is definitely not an easy feat, but I did all of the suggestions in your list, and I became completely debt free a few months ago. It feels incredible to not have a mortgage, car payment, and other bills hanging over my head. And I have been a huge fan of Republic Wireless for years. They even give a 50% discount for teachers. No one I know has a cell phone bill as low as mine.