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How to Start Paying Off Debt

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Overwhelmed by debt? Seeing those bills pile up each month can be scary, especially when you don't have a plan to dig yourself out of the hole. If you're not sure where to even begin to get your financial life back on track, don't miss these practical tips for how to start paying off debt.

This is a Guest Post from Cherie at Queen of Free

Paying off debt takes time like putting together a complicated puzzle.

I love a new jigsaw puzzle, fresh out of the box – the more pieces, the better. Try not to get too excited about my wild and crazy addictions. But there’s just something about putting together a mystery. Even though the beautiful picture on the box provides a guide, there’s still so much work to be done. There are straight edges to sort, corners to discover, and the beginnings of pairing two and three small matches together to build a fragment of the image.

At times, I get frustrated and need to walk away. I can lose hours in the realm of the big picture or even just a section of the overall view. The task is never easy; however, the satisfaction of fitting the last little cardboard backed, glossy photo, oddly shaped piece is so gratifying. I’ll be honest that I’ve never attempted putting together a puzzle without the front of the box though. I’m not sure I’ve got the skills to pull it off.

Every great journey requires a roadmap. Every architectural feat necessitates a plan. And for me, every 1000 piece jigsaw demands a source picture to guide my process. Paying off debt is no different. If you want to defeat debt this year, you need a step-by-step plan.


Use this cheat sheet to help pay off your debt. Start freeing yourself of debt today! Get started by opting-in below to have the Paying Off Debt Cheat Sheet sent straight to your inbox!


No one wakes up one morning and *poof* their debt dissolves into thin air. Every success story I’ve ever read included intentionality, hard work, and a plan. If you have no clue as to where to even begin, these three steps will kick start your journey.

Sit down with your partner to review finances and start paying off debt.

Step 1: Get to the Heart of the Matter

While difficult to hear, very few of us get into overwhelming debt without owning a part of the process. There are extreme cases of medical debt or business dealings gone south, but many of us simply spent more than we made or borrowed money without having a long-term plan.

If you don’t identify the emotions behind your money problems, no plan or strategy will yield any amount of sustained success. My faith compels me to believe that debt is often spiritual and requires us to seek forgiveness.

I know that both a lack of trust and impatience caused us to borrow. A discontent with what we had drove me to buy even when we didn’t necessarily need things. And then plain laziness caused us to overspend, too.

If you don’t deal with the heart issues you might have when it comes to racking up debt, no program will ever keep you out of debt. You may have some success but without inner transformation, your finances will return to the same state again in just a matter of time.

Learning to budget and save every penny will help pay off debt.

Step 2: Money In, Money Out, Money Owed

Before we paid off $127K in debt, the world budget struck terror in my soul. Unfortunately, I believed that budgets were beyond my grasp, too complicated to manage and of course way too much work. And then there was the faulty belief that budgets = no fun.

Here’s the thing, budgeting may never be your buddy; it can be a saving grace. And if you want to pay off all of your debt, you need to develop a budget – STAT.

It’s definitely not a complex process. If you need to, you can even change your lens on budgeting by renaming it. We call it forecasting in our house.

To begin evaluating process, begin with this simple equation:

Money In (how much do you make?) MINUS Money Out (how much are you spending) EQUALS Your Budget. You can work on adjusting how much you are spending once you see the bigger picture. But for now, simply focus on how much money is coming in and how much money is going out.

Next, you’ll need to tally Money Owed (your total debt load). This might be a terrifying step for some. But it is essential if you want to begin to live beyond minimum payments. You have to know exactly how much money you own to whom. You could build a spreadsheet and include the interest rates or you could simply jot down the amount totals and monthly payment amounts on a legal pad (this is what we did at the beginning of our journey).

Need a little help getting organized? Check out these FREE Printable Budget forms.

Build an emergency fund to improve your money saving skills.

Step 3: Build An Emergency Fund

It’s never a question of if an emergency is going to happen, but when. In order to have the leverage you need to pay off debt, you need to set some money aside for potential crises. As a rule of thumb, I encourage people beginning their debt slaying journeys to set aside $1000-2000 in cash. It might seem like a lot; however, major car and household appliances usually clock in between those price points.

If you’re already feeling strapped, this task can feel daunting. I mean after all, no one just has an extra grand sitting around the house. Begin by evaluating if you have anything you can sell. No, you may not own a yacht or diamond mine, but one person’s clutter truly is another’s treasure. From fitness equipment to toys, from books to clothes, you can quickly build reserves will also lightening your own load. Whether you choose to have a physical yard sale or post your items on your social media channels or join a “Garage Sale” group on Facebook, be about the business of making as much money as you can, as quickly as you can.

Dig for coins in the couch, sell old gold jewelry, and perhaps even take on another job to build that emergency fund as quickly as possible. When you begin paying off debt, a roadblock will quickly appear. This emergency fund isn’t in place to buy a cute new pair of shoes. It’s there for catastrophic expenses and bump in the road hiccups.

Don’t try to put together the puzzle without a guiding image. Begin taking your first steps toward paying off debt by checking out resources on Living Well Spending Less. Check out the podcast of our interview on Focus on the Family or my book Slaying the Debt Dragon: How One Family Conquered Their Money Monster and Found an Inspired Happily Ever After for a more detailed plan to defeat your debt.

In the end, the finished puzzle is well worth the effort. This is your year to transform your finances from a broken mess to a piece of art.


Overwhelmed by debt? Seeing those bills pile up each month can be scary, especially when you don't have a plan to dig yourself out of the hole. If you're not sure where to even begin to get your financial life back on track, don't miss these practical tips for how to start paying off debt.


Cherie Lowe is an author, speaker and hope bringer.Cherie Lowe is an author, speaker and hope bringer. Her book Slaying the Debt Dragon details her family’s quest to eliminate over $127K in debt in just under four years. As her alter ego the Queen of Free, Cherie provides offbeat money saving tips and debt slaying inspiration on a daily basis.





  1. Jessica
    January 22 at 03:17PM

    Great post. I am making major headway to paying off debt this year – I have quit using plastic, listed all my debts from smallest to largest, and made a debt-repayment plan. I love articles like this that encourage me to press forward. Thanks for sharing!

  2. January 25 at 08:22AM

    For us, it took going to an all cash diet that helped us. We aren’t big spenders but $20 here and $30 there on our cards really added up. Now, we save so much more money (that we used to throw at our debt) because we are much more conscious about our spending. Now I can walk into Target and walk out with one item…its almost like witchcraft! ha!

  3. January 25 at 08:49PM

    Thanks for sharing. I recently started focusing on my finances and followed a plan that included having an emergency fund as well. and boy, am I glad I did. January has been a month of testing. Even though it’s hard to even tell myself to use the emergency fund, it has helped a lot. Especially with an unexpected pet expense at the vet this week. Good information. Hope it encourages others to focus on their financial situation.

  4. February 7 at 04:53PM

    Interesting perspective! I like that you included the emotional side of debt. After I finished grad school with $75,000 of student loan debt, I felt frustrated and angry. I was mad at my parents for encouraging me to take out as much as I could in loans, at my teachers for not preparing me, at society for teaching kids that student loans are normal. I wanted to blame others, but the truth was that I was really angry at myself. I spent a lot of time feeling regret and hating myself for the choices I had made, but I realized that all of this anger was counterproductive. What I needed to do was take action. Now that I have a plan to pay off all of my loans in three years, I feel much better about my situation. I have learned from my mistakes and I plan to live the rest of my life debt-free.

  5. Maija
    February 15 at 11:41PM

    This post had good advice on overcoming the fear of debt but didn’t actually make suggestions on how to manage money. The best way to start paying off debt seems like you should pay over the minimum equally on all your bills when in fact it works better another way. Pay the minimum on all your bills and focus on your smallest balance. When that is paid off, roll your payment into the next bigger debt. When that is paid off, roll that combined payment into the next bigger debt etc. Example:
    If you owe 5 creditors money, pay 4 of them their minimum so you don’t go into collections then find the lowest debt and pay it off as quickly as you can afford, say $50/mo. Now apply that $50 to the next creditor, say that minimum monthly payment has been $30, now you’re paying $80. When that bill is paid off apply that $80 on top of the next bill, say that’s been $150, now you’re paying $230. When that bill is paid off apply that $230 on top of that next bill, then apply that $230 on top of your next bill, etc, until you’re maybe even paying off your mortgage in half the time!! (It sounds silly but a lot of people don’t think of their mortgage as debt!) This is a snowball debt removal plan. When your debt is all paid off, pretend you still have a monthly payment and apply that amount into an interest bearing savings account or 401K if available. You were living without that money before so you shouldn’t miss it now. Before you know it you’re debt-free and actually ahead of the game.

    • Jeannie
      July 23 at 02:31PM

      This Debt-Snowball, really works!! But get rid of or put those cards away, so the temptation to still use them is not there.
      I have done the debt snowball, but now I have to do it again 🙁 because I didn’t listen to my own advice about not using the cards again. So mad at myself, because I am retired and will probably have to go back to work for a little while!

  6. Kimberly
    July 21 at 10:19AM

    I know you’ve heard every story out there. We have about $10k in credit card debt. This came from medical copays, groceries, paying bills,family gifts and plain old spending. We are a one income family. There’s hardly any money for groceries hence the credit card bills and there’s no extra left over. The only “extra” expense is our cell phones and we don’t have a house phone. How can I begin to pay off this debt? I hate having it hanging over us.

    • Ruth Soukup
      July 22 at 10:21AM

      Hi Kimberly,
      Debt can be very overwhelming! That is why we suggest you take baby steps. Cherie has some awesome tips and shares them all in her book.
      You can also look into Financial Peace University.
      That is what helped me sort out where and how to start tackling our debt. Also remember to allow yourself grace. 🙂

  7. January 7 at 03:41PM

    Great post!! I’m a new blogger and I’m really looking up to you! Your blog is awesome and where I want mine to be one day!! Take care!

  8. Nancy
    January 22 at 11:12PM

    These tips are useful, but the religion aspect is unnecessary. Some people are looking for advice, not for Jesus. I stumbled across your site, and wish there was some pre information so I didn’t have to weed through religion to see budgeting information. Just a suggestion.

  9. Mrs Miranda Bethany
    February 24 at 12:44AM

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  10. September 8 at 09:28AM

    So many debt stories out there, and every one of them important. They should inspire! Motivate! Cherie does those things with this post. Our debt story is a little different I’d love for anyone who wants to come check it out.
    Ruth’s “how to blog for profit” book helped me a lot. I’m grateful for all the help and encouragement veteran bloggers offer!

  11. December 2 at 03:09AM

    Good day everyone,

    My name is Ann Ivan ,i am here to say something about Mr Jose Luis. I found his email address online regarding his loan/help towards those that are in need of a loan. So, i saw it and i was wondering if he’s loans where legit because I’ve never gotten any loan company residing outside the country.

    However, I ran into expenses and i was needing just a personal loan of $30,000 , So i collected his email online where i saw it and i decided to give it a try. Eventually i emailed him and i got in touched with him, i submitted all he’d required and to my greatest surprise, i got an alert from my bank that the loan which i applied from from Jose Loan Help was sent to me by Mr Jose Luis, So i couldn’t believe it until i went to the bank and i saw it reflected.

    So, i am using this medium to let everyone know about Jose Loan Help and how they helped me with the loan of $30,000. So if maybe anyone is needing a loan, i would rather advice he/she to contact him because he’s kind and as i made my research on him, he had helped so many people including me. So they are the best option to choose in Lending.

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    Ann Ivan

  12. December 18 at 03:32AM

    Thank you for the good writeup. It in truth used to
    be a entertainment account it. Look advanced to
    far delivered agreeable from you! By the way, how could we be in contact?

  13. Jeorge H Waters
    March 5 at 08:12AM

    It is a problem for many debtors. First of all, a person should choose the proper service. It will ease the process of repaying. I took a loan on and the conditions were very loyal

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