- Aja Dang realized she had to get out of debt when confronted with an expensive vet bill.
- She had nearly $200,000 of debt from student loans, credit cards, and her car.
- Using the debt snowball method, she paid off her debts in just two years.
Between a small credit card balance, a car loan, and student loans for both an undergraduate and graduate degree, Aja Dang owed nearly $200,000 in debt. And she paid it all off in only two years.
A TV host turned lifestyle vlogger who documented her debt journey on YouTube, Dang’s journey to financial freedom wasn’t just 24 months long. Dang had been living with debt since she graduated college in 2010 and didn’t start aggressively paying down her debt until January 2018. By this time, her graduate student loan that started at $100,000 had accumulated an additional $50,000 in interest.
The vet bill that kickstarted her debt-payoff journey
What felt never-ending and unmanageable might have kept growing if Dang hadn’t received a wake-up call in the form of an unexpected pet bill. Her dog needed emergency surgery, and Dang didn’t have the funds to pay for it. As she sat in the emergency vet clinic, watching other pet owners have to decide between euthanizing their pets or opening another credit card when they couldn’t afford care, she knew she had to get serious about her debt.
“I’m responsible for another living being, and I’m irresponsible when it comes to money, so it’s time to change,” Dang said of her thoughts in the vet’s office.
Luckily, Dang’s boyfriend helped her cover the bill and her dog is healthy today, but it was a situation she vowed to never be in again. “I didn’t want to have to put myself or my family at risk again, having to decide if I could afford something that they needed or not,” she told Insider.
While Dang’s debt pay-down journey may be unique, it isn’t unusual. Student loan debt — the majority of what Dang owed — is at an all-time high, with 45 million borrowers collectively owing nearly $1.7 trillion in student loan debt. Consumer debt in general in the United States continues to be an astounding number, currently sitting just under $4.2 trillion with the average American owing over $90,000 between a mortgage, personal loans, auto loans, credit card balances, and student loans.
While Dang recognizes her personal grand total and time frame may not be realistic for every person, she’s still accumulated a great deal of knowledge along the way. Read on to learn how Dang was able to pay back nearly $200,000 in two years.
1. She analyzed her personality and chose a debt payoff strategy that would keep her motivated
“I’m someone that needs instant gratification,” Dang said. She wanted to see the results of her efforts quickly and obviously, so she approached her debt from the smallest amount owed to the largest. Starting with her credit card, which she was able to pay off in one night, Dang stayed motivated by celebrating the wins each time she crossed off one source of debt from her list.
She then paid off her car loan, followed by her undergrad loans totaling around $30,000, and lastly tackling her $150,000 in graduate student loans, according to documents viewed by Insider.
This strategy closely resembles what many experts call the “snowball” method, a popular debt pay-down strategy that can be extremely helpful to individuals like Dang who stay motivated by the satisfaction that comes with knowing you’ve paid off an entire source of debt.
While the “avalanche” strategy — paying down debt starting from the highest interest rate to the lowest — can also be effective, Dang knew because of her personality and how she thinks, it wouldn’t have worked for her. “If I had done it the opposite way, I for sure would have given up. I 100% know that.”
2. She created a budget that still allowed her to enjoy her life
“Budgeting is key,” she said. “I wouldn’t have even known how much debt I was in had it not been for figuring out my very first budget.” Every month, she budgeted and tracked her income and expenses to get a handle on where her money was going.
Since she works as a content creator, her income can fluctuate monthly and be unpredictable. Likewise, the amount of money she’d put towards her debt varied each month. Usually, it worked out to about three times the minimum due. She would make payments twice a month, once at the beginning after paying her rent and one at the end after seeing how much she earned.
However, she made sure her budget included more than just needs; she worked her wants into her monthly spending as well.
“To me, if you take out everything that you love in life and that is important to you because you’re trying to get out of debt, then you just lose the ability to really remember why you’re doing it,” Dang says.
She would still enjoy things that weren’t necessities, but was extremely conscious of how those expenses fit into her debt payments. Not only did it ensure she still enjoyed the journey, but it kept her motivated knowing she didn’t feel like a prisoner to her debt.
3. She increased her income
Increasing her income was one of the most effective ways Dang paid down her debt. In the beginning, she gained extra money through odd jobs like dog sitting and selling clothes on Poshmark.
However, the more she documented her debt journey on YouTube, the more popular her channel became. The success of her vlogs contributed to an increase in her take-home pay, helping her pay back her debt much faster.
4. She found a community
According to Dang, surrounding herself with a community was one of, if not the, most beneficial assets she used when paying down debt.
“If I wasn’t being held accountable by my subscribers on YouTube, I would have given up,” Dang said.
Being in debt can feel isolating, and without encouragement and support from others, it can seem impossible. Dang suggested everyone find their community, whether in-person, through a Facebook group, or even through a YouTube channel, to feel that encouragement.
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