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Whoa, We’re 30 Percent Debt-Free: Joan’s Mid-August Financial Update

in Joan's Posts, Our Financial Journey, Pay Off Your Debt

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

It looks like 30 is the magic number lately.

Last week, I mentioned that I turn 30 later this year, and this month we hit a milestone – 30 percent of our credit-card debt is now paid off.

That leaves us with $62,745.92 in debt to go. As of last month’s update, that number was $64,321.03, so we’re down an additional $1,575.11 this month. That’s MORE than we were down last month, even though we expected it to be about $200 less because of our family mini-vacation.

So how’d we manage that? Well, this was the month we devoted to…

Sorting out our side-hustle finances

You might remember that we’re those people with, like, six “jobs. My husband, Chris, and I each have full-time work, I’ve got “official” part-time work, and both of us run small businesses on the side.

Much like Baker and Courtney did for many years, we have chosen not to have separate business “accounts” for most of these.

Essentially, we budget for our side gigs (NOT our full-time and part-time work, but our small businesses) like hobbies. What does that mean?

  • We don’t buy business “stuff” unless we have the discretionary income for it. That includes inventory if it won’t be immediately sold, business cards, website themes, etc.
  • We don’t “count” on our site business income as part of our bill-paying budget. Any income from our hustling is simply a bonus toward our debt repayment.

Most of the time, that system works really well for us. The only time it doesn’t is when we have significant business expenditures – which, though accounted for, can sometimes just complicate things a bunch. There’s also the problem of “sunk cost” - in our case, inventory for various businesses – that can make things a bit hairier.

This month, we’ve made some pretty significant changes in our small-business mindset.

Definite cash now vs. “maybe” money later

In my case, I had inventory from a home business on hand that was necessary when I was pursuing that almost full-time, but not for the level I’m looking to work at now. I was able to liquidate a large portion of it by holding some open houses and offering significant discounts.

Meanwhile, my husband has a whole basement full of books that we sell in our Amazon store. For a long time, we had “unsorted” inventory that wasn’t listed for sale, but that was taking up space – and that might or might not have been salable. We also had “pre-sorted” inventory of books that we knew would sell, but that we hadn’t had time to list.

Chris took a vacation week last week – and I’m proud to report that EVERY piece of book inventory we own has not only been determined to be saleable – they are ALL listed for sale.

If you have a business of any kind, know this:

Inventory = “potential future income”

It doesn’t matter if that inventory is an antique book or a piece of handcrafted artwork or a jar of cookie mix or even a less tangible item, such as an ebook or a service.

The products on your business’ shelves have already cost you something. Maybe it was money, maybe it was time and effort, maybe both. You have no way of knowing IF or WHEN you will recoup a return on that cost.

That’s why, this month, we’ve been asking ourselves the question: “Are we willing to take LESS for an item than it could POTENTIALLY bring in the future, in order to have cash on hand now?”

That’s a hard question to answer, and if you’ve ever owned your own company – or worked for another company at a level where you made financial decisions – you know there is no easy, one-size-fits-all solution.

In our case, the decision for me to reduce my business inventory was fairly simple. By liquidating some of my products, I at least made back what I paid for the items, I got cash quickly, and I freed up a significant amount of storage space. Even cooler, I now have the “right” amount of stuff for my needs and will have to expend less effort and money to maintain it!

In the case of our family book-selling business, things got a little trickier. When it came right down to it, the best use of Chris’s time was to list the books that were both valuable and in demand. We now have five boxes of books by our front door, waiting to go to a new home for the whopping price of $10 on Craigslist. Each book in there might be worth something, someday, to someone – but for now, their potential value is not high enough to make the immediate investment of time listing them individually worthwhile!

By dealing with the inventory from both these businesses, we have made bigger progress than we expected to on our debt this month. Altogether, we gained an extra $500 or so that went directly toward debt repayment, and we freed up some space – AND some mental energy – that can go toward more productive uses!

Updating our Very Next Steps

So what did we do with that extra cash? Well, in a new record, we hit FIVE of our V.N.S. goals, or Very Next Steps, during the past month!

  • Citi MasterCard: Our goal had been to get this under $18,000 – and we hit that, at $17,999.69 (yes, that close!) Next up is under $17,500!
  • Citi Visa: Our goal (since June, when we last hit a “step” here) had been to get this under $6,000. We were at about $6,050, so I got mad and made an extra payment of $100 to bump us down to $5959.60. Sometimes, I’m so competitive… and it works in my favor! Next up is under $5,500.
  • Discover: We had set our goal back in June for this account also, to get it under $3,500. We’re now at $3,487.50, so next up is under $3,000.
  • Springleaf Loan: Our next goal here was to get under $2,500, and we’re at $2,411.98. The next step is under $2,000!
  • Tires Plus: We’d been shooting for something lower than $1,300 here, and we’re at $1,267.44. I can’t wait for THIS next step to come, because it’ll be under $1,000!

Don’t forget that we keep track of all of these debts in summary (complete with V.N.S.) on my “Joan’s Finances” page – so you can see how we’re doing at a glance. As we roll through each month’s updates, though, I’ll just hit the ones that change – which isn’t often as many as it was this month!

Want to track your own debt payoff progress? Get our tracker, as well as several other awesome resources to “kickstart your money,”join the Man Vs. Debt community list by clicking here!

· Unautomate Your Finances ebook
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· What to Sell Where Flow Chart
· Debt Payoff Tracker
· 10 Tips for an Effective Craigslist Ad

I feel like my biggest win this month was in my frame of mind. 

It felt great to hit those next steps, but it feels even better to have a clearer, simpler picture of our finances, especially for our side hustles, moving ahead.

So what about you? How was your July financially, and how is August shaping up? Most importantly, what’s your “big win” been recently?

Tell us in the comments!

{ 62 comments… read them below or add one }

Sheri Fermanich August 14, 2012 at 9:17 AM

Joan mentioned mindset and having finished this journey myself I want t point out two things that were critical to my success. Mindset and focus.

While you need to learn debt elimination ideas you need to focus on bringing in money. Bob Proctor use to say, “Set a debt elimination plan and forget about it. Focus on making money and the plan will take care of itself (with the money you make).” Focus on bring in money is first. Focusing on debt elinimation is second.

Low income and middle income mindset is focused on scarcity and fear based thinking. In order to change your mindset you need to realize how people think who are not in financial bondage. You might want to read “How Rich People Think” by Steve Siebold.

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Joan August 14, 2012 at 9:56 AM

Sheri, I actually am familiar with that! Good thoughts there. I absolutely agree – that’s why the side-hustle focus has been so important to us! We’re now moving on to the point that we have what I call “plenty” – enough to meet the bills AND pay a significant extra portion against the debt each month – and now it’s time to simplify!

I am so glad to be out of scarcity thinking. It feels GREAT!

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Matt August 14, 2012 at 10:26 AM

The VNS will be for the total to be under 60,000. That will be significant. Not that coming as far as you have isn’t significant, but that is a huge milestone. Then comes the under $50,000 mark which is almost half of the total. Well done, Joan and family!!!

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Joan August 14, 2012 at 2:27 PM

You better believe we can’t wait for that one!! Those and the percentages are, like, a step about the “veries” for us. An INS – Intermediate Next Step! :)

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Bilgefisher August 14, 2012 at 11:53 AM

I love these updates. Keeps me motivated on our own goals. We have a furniture bill that is 0% and costs a mere $88/mo, but it drives us both bonkers. Its one more thing to have to remember each month. So as you stated, we both got mad and paid $600 towards it this month and will pay $600 towards it next month to pay it off completely. The best part is our reward. We will buy the new CD of one of our favorite musicians. Its amazing how motivating such a small reward can be.

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Joan August 14, 2012 at 2:28 PM

That’s PERFECT – get mad, and get it gone!! And enjoy your CD – every time you listen to it, I bet you will get a good feeling. :)

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That Italian Guy August 14, 2012 at 11:58 AM

Hi Joan! Congratulations on another milestone! May I ask a favor? Can you please post the actual spreadsheet you use to track your debt payments? In “Joan’s Financial Journey” you have the “By the Numbers” summary table, but it would be great to have the actual spreadsheet with the formulas to use for my own. Just a blank template, of course. I have plenty of my own miserable numbers to input. :(

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Joan August 14, 2012 at 2:38 PM

Actually, that is coming VERY soon! Hopefully by or before next month’s update post! :)

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Bilgefisher August 14, 2012 at 12:00 PM

Joan,

I forgot to ask. Since you have a competitive streak, do you ever stretch your financial muscles and challenge yourself to reach a milestone by a certain date? Even if its slightly out of your comfort zone? For example, your at 62.7k and you paid off 1.5k last month. This month shooting for under 61k or even 60k? Just curious.

Jason

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Joan August 14, 2012 at 2:37 PM

We do! We especially do that for our big goals – where we want to be at the end of each year, and most importantly, how soon we think we can have it all paid off. I tend not to set date goals for the next steps, but like I did this month, if we’re close, we’ll stretch beyond discomfort to get past one!

This coming month will be weird, but we expect to be at under 60K within two updates from now if we work super-hard at it!

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Michelle August 14, 2012 at 12:07 PM

Sounds like an awesome month for you!! We are not where I had hoped us to be with debt reduction, especially considering #3 will be joining us next month. However, like you, I made a small payment to get our HELOC to $1,999.00. LOL.

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Joan August 14, 2012 at 2:34 PM

I LOVE IT, Michelle! I know it’s probably considered silly to some people, but it really works for me – and I’m glad I’m not alone!

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Arlea August 14, 2012 at 12:23 PM

I like your VNS system. I’m thinking of trying to implement that in our debt payoff.

I haven’t had a “big win” so to speak lately, BUT, I’m about too! I have a student loan (actually I have several, but this one nags me the most) that was $11,600 when I started paying on it 2 years ago. Now, it’s down to $630 and some change. I can’t wait to get rid of it! Next month is probably the month and I’m ready! With it gone, it will free up $117 more per month to pay off the $17,000+ loan.

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Joan August 14, 2012 at 2:35 PM

Arlea, that’s AWESOME! Way to go – that will be a great win, and rolling that into the bigger debt will be a good feeling too. Make sure you celebrate – do a dance in your kitchen if you need to. (Chris and I did a crazy dance when we realized we’d hit 30%. Yes, I just admitted that.)

Keep it up!

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Arlea August 14, 2012 at 4:47 PM

Haha! I love it!

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Bill Burns August 14, 2012 at 12:44 PM

Great job on raising awareness and promoting ideas to kill debt. Debt is a gravy sucking pig! What you all are doing is getting out of debt slavery. You are doing some thing we teach called “interest cancellation.” Way to go.

Bill Burns
Former Banker Now Educator

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Joan August 14, 2012 at 2:35 PM

Thanks, Bill! I might steal that phrase – “gravy sucking pig.” I love it. VERY descriptive! :)

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Donnie August 14, 2012 at 1:35 PM

Joan, thanks for being honest and open about your debt and payment progress. Just think, after you pay it all off you will have such ridiculous amount of momentum that you will be unstoppable!

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Joan August 14, 2012 at 2:29 PM

Donnie, I sure hope so! We do have “later goals” in mind – cash for our next car, some needed house repairs, funding savings, possibly paying off our mortgage, and so on – and I just look at the amount of money we put toward this every month and think, WE ARE SO GOING TO ROCK IT! :)

Thank you so much for the support. It means more than we can say!

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Ornella @ Moneylicious August 14, 2012 at 4:01 PM

Sounds like you had a great month. you are on a roll :-) continue the great work!

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Joan August 14, 2012 at 6:13 PM

Thanks, Ornella!

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Leah August 14, 2012 at 4:22 PM

Way to go Joan!!!! That is so awesome. Your posts are always so inspiring. We’re having setbacks over here unfortunately, but it keeps me optimistic to read about your successes!

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Joan August 14, 2012 at 6:14 PM

Keep your head up, Leah. Trust me, I know the feeling all too well – I’ve had good times a few months in a row, but I know the inevitable fallback will have to occur again before we’re all the way there. Thank you so much for checking in – and for keeping your optimism!!

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Kathleen @ Frugal Portland August 14, 2012 at 5:03 PM

Congrats on the milestone! You should celebrate every ten percent, every five thousand dollars, every SINGLE step!

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Joan August 14, 2012 at 6:14 PM

We sure are trying!! :)

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Debbie B. August 14, 2012 at 5:13 PM

Good job on hitting the 30 mark! I love reading your updates, and it keeps me inspired to hit our financial goals. We’ve got our plan and budget mapped out, but the timing of paychecks and when to pay what are part of our VNS.

I agree with you on including fun and an emergency fund in the planning. Even if your “fun” isn’t an expensive, lavish occasion, it helps relieve some stress and allows you to focus on you and your significant other. As hard as it is to refrain from the emergency fund to pay down debt, it’s nice to know it’s there for, well, emergencies.

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Joan August 14, 2012 at 6:15 PM

Isn’t that just it, Debbie? It’s hard to get your head around that idea of “emergency money,” but when an emergency comes, then it suddenly seems a lot more manageable!

Thank you so much for your kind words – and good luck as you get rolling on your plan!

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Nivene@Cashnet August 14, 2012 at 5:33 PM

Congrats Joan! Great job last month! :)

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Joan August 14, 2012 at 6:15 PM

Thanks, Nivene!

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Rick P. August 15, 2012 at 11:35 AM

Found your personal observation of how you look at inventory interesting, “Definite cash now vs. “maybe” money later.”

To many of my students have a hard time grasping the concept that inventory is NOT an asset but rather a liabilty. It’s one of my questions that most get wrong. Because you have “stuff” doesn’t mean you have “cash”.

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Joan August 15, 2012 at 3:07 PM

I like the phrase “sunk cost.” You do NOT know if you’re going to recoup that, or at what rate, in almost any industry. You can predict – but you might get stuck!

Good for you for putting that question out there – I feel like your students aren’t alone in having trouble grasping that concept!

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Phoenix August 15, 2012 at 3:01 PM

Do you all recommend closing accounts as you pay them off? I read so much information that states NOT to do this–however, I feel like it’s a big fraud to convince you to continue borrowing money you don’t have.

Has anyone here done that— paid off and then closed accounts after it’s done. What was the reprucussion(s) if any?

Thanks,
Jake

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Joan August 15, 2012 at 3:09 PM

Jake, most of our accounts are closed NOW – before they’re paid off!

You will read a ton of info that says don’t – and some info that says don’t until they’re paid off – most of the advice revolves around what MIGHT happen to your credit score.

In our case, we don’t care – our goal is to live outside that system! – but our credit scores went up once we closed certain cards. So, I figure, at the very least, it’s not accurate to say closing always drops your score!

One myth I hear a lot is that you cannot close an account if the balance isn’t zero, but that’s just not true.

So in my world – I close ‘em all! :)

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Phoenix August 15, 2012 at 3:44 PM

Thank you for the response, Joan~

What was the experience like when you closed them? Did the card companies tell you it’s not a good idea to close them with a balance?

It seems you have such high rates on some of your balances. Is there no room for negotiation so you pay less interest on your remaining balances?

Cheers to putting your situation out there. :)

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Cat Alford @ BudgetBlonde August 15, 2012 at 9:30 PM

Wow Joan – HUGE congratulations!!! That is incredible progress. I can’t wait for the day that you are 100% debt free. You rock! July was a hard hit for us due to my lack of teaching income and some medical issues for the hubs, but August is great and we’re planning on being credit card debt free by October 2012!

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Joan August 16, 2012 at 11:16 AM

Cat, that’s SOON – and that’s awesome!! VERY thrilled for you!

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Jenny August 16, 2012 at 6:22 AM

Way to go! Keep it up. :-)

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Joan August 16, 2012 at 11:16 AM

Thanks, Jenny!

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Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager August 16, 2012 at 1:54 PM

I’ve completely moved out of my apartment, ended my lease and am currently waiting for my security deposit back (and the last energy bill). So glad to close that chapter of my life. Next month – garage sale!

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Joan August 19, 2012 at 9:14 PM

YAY Jenna!! That’s a huge “win” for the month, for sure!

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Charlotte @ HIMMB August 16, 2012 at 9:02 PM

Great Job! I know most people dread their 30′s but it only gets better. Good luck meeting your goals.

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Joan August 19, 2012 at 9:15 PM

I LOVE the idea of being 30, Charlotte – I can’t wait. I feel like people will finally realize that I’m the person I’m going to be, which I know doesn’t make a ton of sense, but it does to me!

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brad August 17, 2012 at 9:09 PM

Looks like you’re well on your way. It def helps that you have a plan and an audience. Thanks for helping us out.

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Joan August 19, 2012 at 9:14 PM

Thank YOU, Brad! :)

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Ryan August 20, 2012 at 1:14 AM

I love watching the progress of paying down debt, and hopefully eventually reaching a big savings goal. Keep up the great work!

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Joan August 21, 2012 at 4:49 PM

Ryan, absolutely!! After debt comes all sorts of fun savings goals! :) Thanks for the encouragement – it means a lot.

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Matt August 21, 2012 at 4:24 PM

Thanks again for the ongoing inspiration. I need it to help me knock out the last $9000.00. I am doing pretty well on it, but not as fast as I would like. The schedule is to use next year’s tax return to take down at least half of the remaining balance. The other half is a loan from my 401k so technically it isn’t a debt, but it is still money($40) out the door twice a month that I am required to pay back. So when the tax return hits, I could theoretically call myself debt free except for mortgages on three houses. Primary home, and two rentals. None of which are underwater (thankfully). I know others where this is not the case. All of them have about 30% equity for now(?) and one is down to 9 years left. I plan on refi-ing the other two to 10-15 year mortgages. I just want to be debt free…which is a huge step to really being F-R-E-E !!!!!

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Joan August 21, 2012 at 4:51 PM

Matt, you’re exactly right – debt-free in and of itself is one thing, but debt-free when you realize how TRULY free that makes you, well, that’s the bullseye. I can’t wait – and congrats on being as close as you are; I can’t wait to be there too! (And I can’t wait until our mortgage isn’t underwater – that’s a “VNS” that’s a little while off for us, but that I have half an eye on!)

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Matt john Canty August 21, 2012 at 8:17 PM

Nice update again and another great month! looks like you are hitting your goals.By The way why is your Citi MasterCard at over $18,000 in the first place?

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Joan August 22, 2012 at 5:34 PM

Matt, I shared about those in an earlier post (and comment), but the short answer is that the debt on all these cards is college costs (mostly my husband’s, some mine) and medical expenses (all mine) from the early to mid-1990s, compounded over time by interest. In good news, they haven’t been used for many years; in bad news, that’s what only paying the minimum (especially before the recent reforms!) could do to you!

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Charlotte@TheCCI August 22, 2012 at 2:29 PM

Hi Joan! This is my first visit to your site and I really enjoyed reading about your progress in this post. I was able to pay off all of my credit card debt this year and it was such a thrill and so worth the work to get it done. I used a little different approach by paying off one credit card at the time while paying the minimum on the others. As I paid them off, then I would funnel that money to the next card on the ‘to be paid next’ list. Not that it matters how you do it – but I am curious to know why you decided to try and pay down all of your cards at the same time. You are doing an amazing job – can’t wait to see you get to zero on that debt!

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Joan August 22, 2012 at 5:36 PM

Hi Charlotte! Thanks for stopping by.

You can read more about how we approach our debt in some of my earlier posts – but the short answer is, all the extra money IS going toward that top, most-hated debt, but even paying just the minimums decreases our other balances slightly, so we celebrate as those go down, too.

In fact, our “most hated” debt is so big that all but one of the other debts will ALREADY be paid off when it’s done, even with the big extra payment ($500 to $800) we’re popping on it each month!

We do round them up slightly – and drop a little extra against them if it means hitting a milestone amount – but it’s to the tune of a spare $15 to $50, not the high extra amount we put on the other!

I hope that makes more sense!

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DebtKiller August 23, 2012 at 7:11 PM

Wow! You guys continue to make awesome strides! Congrats! Keep up the good work!
Love your idea of setting short and long-term goals. I’ve recently started to apply that to my debt war as well. :)

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Joan August 24, 2012 at 4:57 PM

Thanks! It really is a mindset that works well for us – hope it will for you too!

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MoneyWars August 25, 2012 at 10:17 AM

Just stumbled on your website. Holy #$%^! You’ve got $64,000 in CC debt? :O

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Joan August 26, 2012 at 12:56 PM

Hope you’ll stick around and check out the back-story (www.manvsdebt.com/joan-finances is a great place to start) – because we’re darn proud of the $62,745.92 we’re at now and how far we’ve come!

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Mike August 27, 2012 at 10:48 AM

This is the first time I have read man vs debt. My debt is not as much as yours but it this blog has inspired me to go back and realise that I can make even more changes. 30% is a lot so well done, with the strides you are making you are doing well and reports like this will hopefully inspire others!

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Joan August 29, 2012 at 10:37 PM

Thanks, Mike! I am glad you stopped by, and even gladder to know you’re going to keep up the good fight! :)

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Jacko August 28, 2012 at 5:49 PM

It would be great to see the people in charge of the countries finances using this type of advice. The “experts” are gathering this week down in Tampa but I bet they will still support increasing the debt ceiling and MORE debt. Where will this end?

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Sandeep Sabir August 29, 2012 at 7:48 AM

Thanks for posting this which gives idea for how to deal with debt. Today I watched documentary film named ‘I.O.U.S.A’ which is released in 2008 about national debt of America. I recommend you to watch this documentary film, if you didn’t watch yet.

http://www.thegreatplanet.com/i-o-u-s-a-documentary-film/

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Mrs_TrimWaistFatWallet September 1, 2012 at 8:51 PM

Awesome job! You’re getting there! It looks like you’re making big payments towards each – have you considered targeting highest interest first to reduce how much interest you’re accruing?

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Joan September 1, 2012 at 10:06 PM

It happens that our highest-interest debt is the one we’re targeting, but we didn’t pick it because of that, actually, or not exactly! We picked it because we HATE it, so we’re incredibly emotionally motivated to pay extra on it. Now, is one of the things we hate the APR? Well, sure, but not the only thing!!

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