My Debt Story: How I Paid Off $100,000 In Debt (And How You Can Too)


I’m not done paying off all my debts yet, but I recently hit the century mark and wanted to share with you all how I did it. I have paid off $100,000 in debt in 17 months, and am a few months away from being debt free for the first time in 20 years.

My Debt Story

I am a musician (a trombone player) who found myself making quite a bit of money doing something I love. I read all the time about people who make a lot of money but hate their jobs; that was not me, which made my predicament a bit tricky.

When I got into debt and spent more than I earned, I would justify it by saying to myself that I would work forever. It still got old, and I still got tired of being in debt.

Even though I love the work I do, my debt left me “trapped” in certain areas of life. Sometimes I would rather stay home with my kids than play a concert…I did not have the latitude to say “no”, since I needed the money. My debt pay-off has really allowed me to follow my passions, and only my passions.

Here is how I paid off the debt, and steps you can take to do the same:

Stop Borrowing

Hey, it’s easier said than done. As obvious as this step is, you have gotten into debt by spending more than you earn, which is a habit. You can’t break the habit, but you can build newer, better habits on top of it. The first step on the path to debt freedom is to stop using credit. Cut up your cards. Stop borrowing money.

Many of my friends will disagree with me, but here’s my opinion on credit cards:

  • Credit cards are not your safety net.
  • Credit cards are not to be used for convenience.
  • Using credit cards for cash-back bonuses usually doesn’t work out (you spend more than you would normally using a card…period).

Listen to me: You don’t need credit cards. If you absolutely must have one, wait until you are completely out of debt. At this point in my life, I am pretty sure I could use one responsibly, but I choose not to do so.

After you get rid of the credit cards, call every company that you have recurring payment with and cancel the payments. Do not have recurring payments come out of your credit cards. Stop using them altogether.

Don’t cancel your credit cards. In fact, call them all up and negotiate a better interest rate. Most of them will oblige!

Establish An Emergency Fund

If you don’t have emergency savings before you begin paying down debt, you’ll never be able to cope with unexpected expenses. Again, credit cards are not to be used for emergencies; only cash.

How To Start An Emergency Fund?

Ideally, you should save $1,000 as quickly as possible to start before throwing money at debt. If your expenses are low, you may be able to get by with a $500 savings plan. This money is for emergencies only. It’s to be used when the car breaks down or the plumbing bursts.

Keep this money liquid, but not immediately accessible.

Attack Existing Debt Ruthlessly 

Go at your debt with reckless abandon. You are going to throw every cent you can at it, as often as you can.

You will hear people always tell you to pay your high interest debts first. Obviously, this makes the most sense mathematically. We all know the math, but paying off debt is a behaviour modification issue.

I used the debt snowball method to solve the behaviour issue.

What Is A Debt Snowball?

Here’s the short version of how the debt snowball method works:

  • List your debts from lowest balance to highest.
  • Designate a certain amount of money to pay toward debts each month.
  • Pay the minimum payment on all debts except for the one with the lowest balance.
  • Throw every other penny you possibly can at the debt with the lowest balance.
  • When that debt is gone, do not alter the monthly amount used to pay debts, but throw all you can at the debt with the next-lowest balance.

I love the debt snowball. Until I discovered it, I thought I’d never get out of debt. Though it still takes time to pay off your debts, you begin to see results almost immediately, especially if you have some credit cards with low balances.

A third method to approach debt elimination is to first target the debts that cause you the greatest headache. Do you have a loan from a family member or a friend? Do you hate the fact that you borrowed money for new car tires? Whichever loan bugs you most, pay it off first.

Regardless which method you choose for attacking your debt, put as much money as possible toward this goal. Apply raises and windfalls (like income tax refunds) directly to your bills. Sure, you’d rather spend that birthday cheque for a nice dinner out, but you need to use it to get the debt off your back.

Other Suggestions To Pay Down Debt

To begin, curb your spending. Develop frugal habits. Mr. CBB has also shared some excellent tips for frugal living and how to budget  that you can learn from and apply to help you slice debt and win the battle. I finally realized that frugal living is not being “cheap”.

Frugality and thrift used to be core values in our society, but we lost touch with these ideals during the age of easy credit. Find ways to stretch your dollars and you are on your way toward being thrifty.

While you learn to spend less, do what you can to increase your income. If possible, sell some of the stuff you bought when you got into debt. Use eBay, Kijiji or Craigslist or Amazon to get some cash from the things you own. Consider taking an extra job or working longer hours.

Best Personal Finance Books

Finally, go to your local public library and borrow Dave Ramsey’s “The Total Money Makeover”. This is a wonderful guide to getting out of debt and developing good money habits. This book, and others like “Your Money or Your Life” were paramount in helping me change my views on money.

The most important thing is to start now. Don’t procrastinate any longer; start tackling your debt now. Have patience at the beginning and don’t get discouraged. Your efforts may seem small and insignificant, but in time, it really adds up. If you’re willing to stay the course, you’ll have your debt paid off sooner than you ever thought you could.

I wish I’d started paying off debt sooner. Maybe if I had, I wouldn’t have been in debt for 20 years!

Contribution Post By:  Tony is a trombone player who has performed with major symphony orchestra, on Broadway in NYC, and in recordings and movie soundtracks.  He blogs about simplifying your life through downsizing and becoming financially fit. Find out more at We Only Do This Once.

Editors Note: I’ve had people email me in the past sharing their debt stories and wanting help asking me “how long will it take to pay off my debt”? There is no quick fix to getting rid of debt but like Tony shares it’s a process, a life long process that won’t happen over night. Even if you are a student paying off student loan debt do it as soon as possible instead of waiting or putting it off and potentially feeling trapped.

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Photo Courtesy: Stuart Miles/Freedigitalphotos. net



  1. PS – what part of Canada are you in? I’m Saskatoon❄️

  2. Hi CB and Tony,

    Excellent work here. And it’s nice to increase the emergency fund as you get older. I like to have at least $50,000 in the emergency fund.

    FYI – on my phone your subtitles are all tiny and the colour isn’t making them very readable.

    I’ll tweet this 💎 gem. 🏹

    • This post was written by a guest blogger not myself. 🙂 Are you talking about my blog there is a colour problem? Can you please send me a screen shot? I don’t see anything. Are you on the mobile website or the desktop website?

  3. My milkshake says:

    Its so nice to hear these pie in the sky deceptive stories on the net

  4. very good story, Congratulation!! I love reading stories like this, for the last 25 years credit cards never make any money on me, because I paid the my bills even before the bills come, I rather like to have a bit money in the back than more debt. I am using the same car that I bought about 20 years ago ( 1996model) the car are driving good still, no rust, original engine, clutch, muffler, alternator, original transmission, original break and gas lines!! 360.000 km and counting! but I do my part such as rust proofing and maintenance of it, my mechanic said ” your car is refusing to die”.. some people have changed their cars 4 to 5 times already and I am still driving the same one.. I realize now why I don’t work overtime in a very long time, because I have debt to worry about and it’s good for me and for my family.. if we can do it everyone can do it! right Mr. CBB… hope everyone comments will be a hope to others…

    • You know what? I have the money to buy a new vehicle but I’m not. We are waiting until our vehicles tell us they no longer wish to service us. I can’t see the point in constantly changing vehicles unless the vehicle is unsafe for driving. If people really want to get rid of debt there is always a way. Thanks for your comment mate. Mr.CBB

  5. How much were you making though? I have around that much in student debt with an architecture degree. How can one do this with a starting salary of 42,000 to 50,000 starting salary with increases as the years go.

    • Hi,
      I’m not sure if Tony is following this post as he wrote it a while back. In terms of paying off debt everyone achieves their goals depending on personal circumstances. I would suggest that you start with a budget if you want to get your debt under control. As for the rest it depends on specifics of your debt. Ie: what kind of debt it is, interest rates and what your current budget details. If you have a financial advisor that works with budgets and debt I’d suggest getting in touch with them to see what they can do for your specific figures. You can download my excel budget free here. Mr.CBB

  6. Great story and awesome tips!

  7. We’re debt free of credit cards and store accounts. Next will come the cars. Our plan is to pay off my car ( the oldest with the higher payment) and sell it to a dealership. That money will go towards our second car and when it’s paid off we’ll trade it in for one that’s better suited for our lifestyle since we both work from home now but still need great gas milage since we don’t fly to see relatives. Since the second car we’re putting the money towards is less than a year old, trading it in a yr from now with maybe 30k miles on it should fetch us a nice trade in value and make paying off the new car easy 🙂

  8. Shambhu p Chaudhary says:

    I’m depressed now

  9. 100k in 17 months is outrageous!! Great post Tony!

  10. I learned the emergency fund money the hard way….it’s worthless to pay off your card if you’re just going to turn around and use it again the next time the car breaks down. Such great tips! And congrats…that’s a huge amount paid off in such a short period of time! The fiance is going back to school. He’s really good at music and considering studying it, but not sure where he’ll be able to make money with it…tips?

  11. Great post, Tony! Eliminating $100k in debt in 17 months is amazing and you are proof that if you set your mind to it – nothing is impossible! I agree that so many people confuse frugal and cheap – and there is a world of difference between the two of them. I am so glad you are now able to follow your passions and do what you want to do. Choices are a great thing!

  12. Your debt payoff story is amazing. Its always good to hear from people who had the strength and the discipline to get through it. That must be an amazing feeling.

  13. Stacey Mullins says:

    That was a great article. I did not know this method of paying down debt had a name. this is actually how I paid off my debt. I do have a credit card with a very low balance. this card gets paid as soon as something is charged to it however!!! You were amazing quick with paying your debt off. you must be sooo proud!! #CBB

  14. I’ve rearead this blog just to make some notes to share with friends and family ~ again, very informative ~ thank you! ^_^ #CBB @SHARE

  15. Great Jollyhoombah (@Hoombah) says:

    This is a top notch post, Tony. It may have put the kibosh on my deliberating over cash-back, bonus credit cards. I can see myself inventing ways to spend just to get the reward. I just want the damn thing paid off each month.

  16. Thank you for sharing your story and triumph over it ^_^ ~ very inspiring and informative!

  17. Great job…what a feeling it is.

  18. wow, that certainly is a huge accomplishment. I have just recently been laid off, so it is time for me to crack down with my financial situation more than before. I am lucky to have a stockpile of necessities and will need to curb my spending for the next little while, but I found that working from home for the past year, if you don’t go out, it’s hard to spend anything!

  19. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s inspiration posts like this that help to keep me motivated in my fight against debt.


  21. Great work Tony, I can’t wait until I am debt free – hopefully it isn’t too far away.

  22. that is so awesome!

  23. Fantastic article! I definitely going to look up that book mentioned. #CBB #share

  24. Guy Henderson says:

    Great advice,well taken.

  25. Tony, you are someone who totally walked the walk, even selling your beloved car. What a great feeling. I can understand your dislike of credit cards because of all the problems they can create, but I’ve learned to use them to my advantage, and it’s great. You have so many more options without the debt. Congrats on getting your life back.

  26. brickbybrickinvesting2012 says:

    $1ook?!?! That’s freaking awesome. I completely agree it’s not how much you make it’s how much you save! If you can pay off that much in 17 months anything is absolutely possible. Thanks for the inspiration.

  27. Great post! Very inspiring! I’ve heard of the snowball method before but didn’t know what it was. That is a great way to pay off debt! Thank you for sharing your story and some great tips! #CBB 🙂

  28. That’s really cool how you paid off so much debt in such a relatively short amount of time Tony. I should give the debt snowball method a try because my debt keeps up going every year instead of down so I’m probably doing something wrong with my finances. You mentioned to keep emergency fund money liquid, but not immediately accessible. Where do you recommend to park this money? I currently don’t have any emergency savings to fall back on, but am thinking about building one up :0)

  29. Joanna Cheevers says:

    What an accomplishment Tony! You gave some great tips on how to get out of debt. I especially like the tip about paying off the smaller debts first as it gives one a sense of accomplishment seeing the list of debt getting shorter and shorter. I’m sure many of the #CBB fans will fine this post very inspiring. Congrats to you and thanks for sharing your story.

  30. Great post with lots of great tips. I made a committment at the beginning of the year to make a more concentrated effort at paying down my debt. I’m currently struggling in keeping this committment. Both of my daughters and my 2-year old grandson live out west; I so badly want to see my grandson this summer and I’m so tempted to use a credit card for my flight but this would defeat my efforts in working hard to pay down debt. Living 2500 miles from my children was something I never planned to happen but after making a move across the county to be closer to my family my then teenage girls decided this was not where they wanted to live and they went back out west totally defeating my purpose in moving her since I had been spending a lot of money each year to visit my family. 🙁 Sometimes it isn’t a lot of fun being a responsible adult. 🙁

  31. nickydon40 says:

    great read tony:) We are doing the exact thing paying of the little amounts and then going onto the next. Will eventually get there a little at a time! #CBB #SHARE

  32. #shared

    Very informative. Thanks. It must feek great to have accomlpished that.

  33. Debt RoundUp says:

    Great story. The key to this story is to stop paying off debt. That is the only way to succeed with getting out of debt. It sounds so simple, but it is harder than some think.

  34. Wendy LeDrew says:

    Great post. You must be very happy that after 20 years you are debt free:) WTG!!! I agree with what you said about credit cards. The only credit card I use is a prepaid, and this is not very often. Lots if times with credit cards people tend to spend money they don’t have, therefore are unable to pay it back. #CBB #SHARE

  35. Charmaine T says:

    Great post! I’ll be checking out the books recommended definitely needed this reminder to stop procrastinating 😉 #CBB

  36. Congrats on paying off such an enormous amount of debt, Tony! That’s quite an accomplishment.

  37. Christine Weadick says:

    What an awesome job paying off debt!!! What we have right now besides the mortgage, is money we owe my Dad and our younger son. Dad is the smaller amount and I would love to pay that off….. Hopefully we can get there. As it stands right now due to illness of the hubby, all that is coming in is what we get for the government, not a whole lot but we are working on getting financial help from those same sources for our older boy as he has Asperger’s as well as depression issues. But M/C is currently paid off, and the only other card I have is Sears, which is zero balance too. Our emergency fund such as it is, is a sorry $360. And change. We have automatic transfer over from chequing every week of twenty bucks. There have been weeks where that poor twenty was flipped from one account to the other. There has been good news, we don’t have our weekly trips out of town for medical appointments now until June, and that’s a follow-up. Gas for the truck is a killer as is parking fees. And we have heard from the government about the older boy and they are waiting for his doctor to send the paper work. We are trying to get both ends meeting in the middle…… May not get them tied anytime soon but we are getting there and trying very hard……. #CBB

  38. Alan@escapingmydebt says:

    This is a very solid post. We still have a ways to go but we are on the right path now. Around Christmas time it seemed like we may have lost a little focus but after starting my blog and reading others including yours has really helped me get more focused in getting our debt down. Granted, as I am typing this I am planning on packing for a trip to Ukraine to visit my wife’s family for a few weeks. Not the best timing but it has been a while since we were there.

    • Hey Alan,
      The more you read the more you learn and the more you learn the more you want to put it into practice. At least that is the way it works for us. Good Luck on your journey mate and join me on Facebook as well! I would love to share your story one day on the blog! Cheers mate

    • Alan, sounds like you are mindful of your situation. Once that happens, guilt sets in when you are doing the “wrong” thing. Keep at it!

  39. Nice work Tony! Paying off that much in that amount of time is an awesome accomplishment. I agree with you on nearly everything, with the exception of the credit cards. I was of the same exact mindset in the middle of paying off my debt and even for a bit after. I have tempered that a lot and think (as long as you’re paying them off each month of course) that they can be a great tool to your budgeting arsenal. We use it on things that we’d be buying anyway and will be paying for our vacation next year…thanks to a boatload of rewards through paying for our current bathroom remodel with it.

    • We use our credit cards for everything especially for points and rewards. If used properly and paid on time each month so no interest is incurred they can be a great money making tool for anyone. If someone is not good with paying off credit I wouldn’t go near them until they are comfortable they could pay them in full. -Mr.CBB

    • Thank you so much, John! I know how you feel about those credit cards. We will simply have to leave it this: Know thyself!!

  40. Great article! I feel so fortunate to be completely debt free. The feeling I have was so worth all the hard work to get here. 😀 #CBB #SHARE

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