This week, we sat down with Fo Alexander, the dynamic personality behind the website, GirlTalkwithFo. She’s a Personal Finance Coach & Business Systems Strategist who’s made it her mission to help people get out of debt and stay out of debt. Here’s what we learned from Fo—hopefully, you can take her valuable lessons and apply them to your own journey to financial freedom.
What was your "enough is enough" moment?
My "enough is enough" moment was when I realized that I could be paying off my debt for the rest of my life-- jumping from student loans to a mortgage. One moment that still comes to mind is when I heard that President & Mrs. Obama were still paying their student loans into their 40's. I couldn't believe that people who were seemingly wealthy were still paying off debt well into adulthood.
Then, I decided that I didn't want that to be my story—I couldn't fathom being in debt that long and limiting my life's experiences as a result of not being able to afford things. I worked too hard for my education and career to live paycheck to paycheck and to be bound by debt. That frustration was the catalyst to my debt-free journey.
How much debt did you pay off in total?
I paid off a total of over $78K. I was paying only the minimum amounts prior to actually tracking my debt payoff, so the total debt was into the $80K+ range.
How much income were you earning when you accomplished this?
My income increased with bonuses and raises as I was paying off my debt, but my lowest was mid $60K.
What specific things did you do to save or pay off your debt?
I downsized my living, cut cable and, cut back on unnecessary spending, sold things online, worked overtime, and used my tax refunds and bonuses to put toward debt. During the last leg of my debt payoff, I did get married.
After pausing my debt payoff to cash flow the wedding, we combined incomes and attacked the debt together. Together, we reduced eating out even more and reduced our cost of living, once again. We also saved the cash received as wedding gifts to make the last payment on our debt.
How did you stay motivated to pay off debt?
I had a mantra-- "Debt free by 30." That helped me stay motivated because I was clear on my goal. I also read and listened to other people's stories. Knowing that it's possible and that people have done it on far less than I had inspired me to keep going and not make any excuses.
How did you manage the days where you just wanted to go out and spend money?
I had a budget. You can't spend what's not there! But, I also made room in the budget to have a little fun. I think it’s important on your journey to still have room to do things that you enjoy. You don't want to miss out on life, even though you're working toward your goal. I also cut up my credit card.
Prior to my debt free journey, I had the crutch of a credit card that could fund my adventures. I cut the card and closed the account, so if I didn't have the cash to do it, it didn't happen.
What would be your money advice to your 21-year-old self?
Work! Looking back, I could've done a lot more sooner to get out of debt and to start saving. I would have picked up a second job and sacrificed more while I was younger. I would have also invested earlier.
Although I still managed to get things on track in my mid-twenties, I still imagine that I could be further than I am now had I'd known more sooner.
What steps are you taking to ensure your debt freedom is permanent?
Now, I have a built-in accountability partner with my husband. We've both agreed to no longer use debt, outside of our current mortgage. To ensure that we abide by that commitment, we've been diligent about saving so that we can fund large expenses and not use credit.
Our home is the last debt and we're working to pay that off in 5 years. We've also built up other streams of income that will allow us to cash flow our endeavors.
What advice would you give anyone reading this looking for encouragement?
Sacrifice now so that you don't have to later. You'll never know what you're capable of living without until you commit to achieving your goal. Also, surround yourself with people who support you and others who've already done it. Having a tribe that's going to support you is crucial to your success.
How can our readers keep in touch with you?
They can find me at GirlTalkwithFo.com and on all social media platforms as @GirlTalkwithFo. They can also tune into my podcast, Girl Talk with Fo, on iTunes, GooglePlay, Spotify, and anywhere else podcasts are played!