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How Leila Is Paying Off $82,000 (Part 1)

"Three great essentials to achieving anything worthwhile are: hard work, stick-to-itiveness and common sense.” - Thomas Edison

"Many a false step was made by standing still." - Fortune Cookie


Leila had $82,200 in debt when she started this journey. She's paid off over $37k in just under 2.5 years. I'm thrilled to share her story with you today. I hope you can hear and see the focus and humility she projects as she expresses the roller coaster ride it's been. She's even a little "hard" on herself at one point close to the end.

I hope you can identify some of your own struggle in hers and draw encouragement from a truly inspiring journey and story. We're cheering Leila on and will be keeping tabs on her as she continues her journey toward debt-freedom!

This is the whole reason I started this "Journey To Debt-Freedom" series. I wanted to curate a reservoir of personal stories that will help you "find your own story" and keep marching forward toward your personal finance goals and ultimately to debt-freedom and beyond. 

Along those lines, if you have a "debt-free" or "on-my-way-to debt-free" story, I'd love to share yours with our audience. It's always such a gift to our subscribers and fans to hear your particular story AND will help you, especially if you have a a blog/platform/YouTube channel you want to promote (although that's not at all necessary).

Next up in our "Journey To Debt-Freedom" series, meet Leila!


Introduce yourself, Leila.


My name is Leila (pronounced Lay-la) and I live in Atlanta, GA. I am a full-time microbiologist, but outside of work I fill my time with working out, taking long walks, reading, filming/editing videos, and writing!


Give me a little bit of background about your financial situation and your decision to "tackle it". Tell me about how much debt you've paid off so far and in how much time. What is your debt made up of?

I started my official debt/financial journey in June 2018. This is when my debt was the highest at $82,200. My debt was made up of student loans (over $48,000), a car loan (over $18,000), credit card debt (over $6,000), and money owed to my sister (almost $8,000).

April 2018 is when I started my "big girl" career so I experienced a large income increase. However, I still thought my debt would take me about 6 years or so to pay off.

In May/June of 2018 I started listening to Dave Ramsey non-stop. I had a 1.5+ daily commute to work so I would just play Dave Ramsey the whole time. This was when I realized I could pay off my debt in less than 4 years if I took it serious.

I hated (and still hate) having debt, but at the time I also didn't want to struggle financially ever again. In 2017 I was living paycheck to paycheck (or worse, going into further debt each month) and at one point I even over-drafted my checking account. I was very stressed out and upset. This really inspired me to get out of debt and learn more about finances.


Looking for a way to get started on your own debt-free journey? Check out my: 

 “Debt-Elimination Quick-Start Guide”. This free resource will have ALL the tools, forms and printables you’ll need while moving through this 30 day challenge.



What was "the moment" you decided, "enough is enough" and what actions did you take or resources did you use to get the process started?

The Summer of 2017 (about 6 months after graduating from grad school), I realized I needed a higher paying job. My job at the time was not enough and I wouldn't be able to make it. I started a new job with a barely higher pay increase, but I really started to track my spending and be more intentional with my money.

At the time I was only putting a little bit extra to my debt (we're talking like $5 extra), but at least I wasn't going negative. Then I started my career in April 2018 which helped me get the ball rolling.

As I said, I started listening to Dave Ramsey, I started making Google spreadsheets to track my spending and debt, I started reading/watching other people's debt free stories to get inspired, sold things I didn't need, and I just kept working on my side hustles.


Looking for a ways to live more frugally and address your debt? Check out my: 100 Frugal Ways To Save Money And Get Out Of Debt.


What was your "why"? What kept you going when you wanted to quit? How did you stay motivated?

My "why" from the beginning has always been that I never want to struggle financially again. As I progressed throughout my journey, I learned that this basically meant I wanted to reach financial independence. I want to be able to do what I want with my time and not worry about money.

Whenever I felt unmotivated, I would watch financial videos or listen to podcasts on money. Seeing other people pay off debt, start businesses, reach 'FIRE', etc. was always inspiring.

Another thing that has kept me motivated are debt trackers. I have a large debt-free thermometer in my living room and several other trackers that have made the process more fun.


Describe your "belief system" about money and (if/how) has it changed? Maybe even talk about how you were brought up to think about money and how that changed as you progressed through the process.

I thought "being rich" was reserved for certain types of people. Growing up I always thought I would just end up average. Debt was just always a normal thing for my family.

I was definitely raised "middle-class," but looking back that just meant my parents worked a lot, spent more money than they should have, and believed debt is normal. We had way too much stuff that only caused financial stress.

Now, I have realized I want a much more simple life. I don't care for many materialistic things which means that less money is more to me than to others. I have also realized I CAN become wealthy literally and figuratively.

Once my debt is paid off, my goal is to invest >50% of my income. Without debt and by needing/wanting less, my money will go a lot further.


What have been the biggest/toughest sacrifices you've made in your personal finance/debt-elimination process?

There have been many times where my debt/financial situation have consumed my thoughts and time. I've spent a lot of time stressing over numbers that ultimately ended up working out (ie. there was no point of me wasting time worrying).

For 2020, I decided to do a No Spend Year! I set some spending rules (no buying clothes, shoes, electronics, excess beauty goods, home decor, etc.) and I have significantly decreased my spending on unnecessary things so far this year.

To me this isn't a huge sacrifice because I don't feel like I need/want much in my life anymore. Some people consider no spend months/years are too restrictive, but I see this as more of a challenge that I wanted to take on. It's all about spending on things that are actually important.

By doing the no spend year, I have realized that buying something I saw in the store wouldn't have made me any happier. After a few days I forget about it or just feel glad I didn't purchase it.


Describe how it feels or how it feels to be "on your way" to debt-freedom. 

Since June of 2018 I've paid off about $37,700 (as of September 2020) and I have about $44,500 left. While I'm proud of my progress, becoming debt-free still feels so far away.

My debt-free journey has been a huge, wild roller coaster of emotions and experiences. However, I'm so grateful I can make progress each month and I have realized that slow/small progress is still progress!

I have also never been more financially stable than I am right now and it is such a great feeling.


This “$1000 In 30 Days Challenge and Resource Pack” is designed to help you find, cut and/or earn $1000 inside of 30 days so that you can: pay off debt with it, save it or invest it.

Here's the free downloadable/printable PDF.


What are some pieces of advice you would give to someone who's ready to get serious about tackling their finances?

1) Get clear on where you stand financially. I think people are afraid to look at their true debt numbers and spending, but that is exactly how you start making changes! From there you can make a plan and adjust as needed.

2) Personal finance is PERSONAL. You don't have to follow the advice from one person or another. Take your debt/finances seriously, but get clear on your priorities so that you are still healthy and happy.

3) Keep educating yourself on finances. Debt is one thing, but continue to learn about budgeting, side hustles, negotiating your salary, investing, etc. There are tons of books, articles, and videos out there to become well-rounded in all areas of finances.


Where can we find you (website, social media, etc.)?

Blog: https://livinglikeleila.com/

Lifestyle YT channel: https://www.youtube.com/livinglikeleila

Finance YT Channel: https://www.youtube.com/personalfinancewithleila


Call To Action

Now that you've heard Leila's story, maybe you're ready to take a closer look at a "framework" to start your own "journey to debt freedom". And, if you’ve hung out on this platform for any length of time, you’ll know I’m all about helping you to take action. And here are two very easy next steps to keep you moving in the right direction:

  1. Download our free PDF guide that goes along with this series: “Debt-Elimination Quick-Start Guide”. This has a very comprehensive and dedicated video on establishing your “why”.
  2. Head over to YouTube and start with the “Day 0” video. You can totally binge-watch the whole series if you want. That “first pass” will give you an idea of where you are and what it’s going to take for you to get to the next level with your own personal situation. And again, starting with your “why” is the absolute most important step.

I want for you to capitalize on any and all emotional momentum you’ve gotten from this piece of content by committing two just getting started by completing those two actions I mentioned above. If you’ve done that, congratulations, you’ve started! Now just follow the breadcrumbs and please let me know what’s helpful and what you might need more detail around.


What To Do After That

After you complete the "quick start", maybe you'll be ready to take a closer look at a "framework" to continue your own "journey to debt freedom". So, I want to offer you another completely free resource that will help you map out your money with even more confidence.

Ready to get total control over your money? Introducing My FREE 8 Steps To Erase Debt Guide

These are the steps I personally followed to obliterate $43,000+ of debt in 2.5 years

Maybe your number is bigger, maybe it’s smaller. Either way the principles are the same and I want you to have them.

  1. Stop All Retirement Investing (Until Step 4)
  2. Build A Budget
  3. Starter Emergency Fund of $1000
  4. Eliminate Debts Smallest To Largest (a.k.a The Debt Snowball)
  5. Full Emergency Fund of 3-6+ Months’ Expenses
  6. Invest A Minimum of 15% Income Into Retirement Accounts (and increase savings rate to 50%+ if possible)
  7. College Funding (if applicable)
  8. Pay Off The Home Mortgage
  9. Build Wealth, Serve, Be Ridiculously Generous And Go FI (Financial Independence)!

I’ve created a simple, easy to follow “8 Steps To Erase Debt” guide that you can use as your foundation as you navigate the absolute annihilation of your debt forever. 


Here are some additional options to help you accomplish your personal finance goals:

  1. Check out our YouTube Channel for "how to" video guides.
  2. Join our Zero Debt Tribe Community on Facebook, a group of friendly, like-minded personal finance enthusiasts, budgeting nerds, debt-eliminators and “FI-ers” who are there to help each other succeed? Click here to request to join for support and encouragement!
  3. Our library of Free Products & Printables.


What do you need help with the most right now?

And finally, I want to encourage you and challenge you to get started in this process. You can do this by downloading this blogpost as your guide. The downloadable pdf contains all the printable forms and instructions you need to get this process started.

So, I’d LOVE to hear from you. The biggest compliment you can give me as your coach is to share your progress and your takeaways in the comments below.

I wish you nothing but great success in your personal finance endeavors and please let me know how I can help you accomplish your goals.

To your freedom,


Your Virtual Money Coach

[email protected]

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click & make a purchase, I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you) that helps keep Zero Debt Coach up and running. Read my full disclosure policy.


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