How I Did It
A good-natured self-discipline, cleverly enforced, helped him erase 15 years of debt in 14 months
By Cybele Weisser

(MONEY Magazine) – "It started innocently enough. I applied for a Discover card when I was in college to get a free cooler. I bought a VCR, a stereo, a TV. By 2003 I owed $12,000 on five credit cards with interest rates ranging from 12% to 14%.

"One day I started thinking about how much money had been wasted on 15 years of finance fees. I set a goal to pay off my credit cards in a year. To do this, I created an Excel spreadsheet with all my monthly bills, credit-card balances and interest rates, then started paying as much as possible on the one with the highest rate. I work for a nonprofit foundation and don't have a large income, so almost half of my take-home pay went toward my debt. I'd write the check the day before I got paid and put it in the mail so I wouldn't have a chance to change my mind. Finding ways to save became a kind of game. Looking at my receipts, I realized I was spending hundreds of dollars a month on eating out, DVDs and clothes. I saved $40 a month on gas by biking to work. I kept a miniature copy of the spreadsheet in my wallet, which forced me to look at it whenever I spent money.

"It took me a little over a year, but I'm out of debt. I have one credit card, and I pay off the balance every month. I still keep an Excel spreadsheet, and I invest $300 a month into the 403(b) plan at work. I'm hoping to save up enough to buy a home."