A YouTube blogger who clawed her way out of nearly $200,000 of debt in under two years has revealed her secrets for becoming debt-free.
Aja Dang was in her early 30s when she had what she describes as an ‘aha!’ moment after being faced with an unexpected vet bill which left her determined to get to grips with her finances.
The 36-year-old radically stripped back her lifestyle overnight, sacrificing trips to Europe with her girlfriends and meals out as she implemented a strict budget.
On top of that she deployed the ‘debt snowball’ method which urges borrowers to pay off their loans in order of size – beginning with the smallest first and working your way up.
The idea is that over time individuals build momentum and have the motivation to stick to their plan.
Aja Dang, 36, radically stripped back her lifestyle overnight, sacrificing trips to Europe with her girlfriends and meals out as she implemented a strict budget
Dang’s debt was mostly made up of her student loans after she completed an undergraduate degree in marketing from the University of San Francisco and a masters in broadcast journalism from the University of Southern California.
Together they set her back $150,000 but by 2018 – eight years after she graduated – they had accumulated $50,000 interest.
The rest of her debt came from a car purchase loan and credit cards.
What is the debt snowball method?
The debt snowball method encourages individuals to make a list of their outstanding debts and order them from smallest balance to largest.
Then borrowers should ignore the interest rates and tackle the smallest balance first and working upwards.
It generates a ‘snowball effect’ with the amount paid off growing over time.
The goal is to keep borrowers motivated to pay off the whole bulk.
An alternative plan is the ‘debt avalanche’ method which advises borrowers to tackle the debt with the highest interest rate first and work downwards.
The snowball method is often a faster way of paying debts off one by one but the avalanche method means borrowers pay less interest in the long run.
But Dang said she was in denial about her financial situation through most of her 20s before receiving a wake-up call when her one-year-old dog Luke needed emergency surgery – for $5,000.
‘I was facing a situation where I either had to take out more debt or I had to euthanize my dog,’ she told Dailymail.com.
‘I never wanted to be in that position again.’
From there, she decided to start a YouTube series documenting her journey to paying off her loans – and to hold herself ‘accountable.’
At the time she was earning $60,000 a year from her content creation.
She immediately consulted online blogs about debt management and stripped back her budget – adding the biggest sacrifice was stopping eating out.
Her main expenditure was $1,500 a month on rent. On top of that she budgeted for a $200 gym membership, $200 on car payments, $700 on food and $60 on gas.
And she maintained one luxury – a facial once a month which would cost her $100.
She said: ‘It’s so important not to take all the enjoyment out of your life otherwise you won’t stick to it.
‘I always tell people to decide the things that they don’t want to give up and then factor them into your budget.’
On top of that, Dang also upped her income stream – at first by earning extra money through jobs such as dog sitting and selling her clothes on second-hand sites like Poshmark.
And over time her YouTube series boomed in popularity, increasing her take-home pay to over $100,000.
Her top tips to others in debt is to never pay the minimum repayment amount on a loan – something she says is sure to keep you in debt for life.
By overpaying, she was able to tackle both the primary loan amount and the interest at once.
Dang said she refused to give up her monthly $100 facials, adding it was important to keep some enjoyment in your lifestyle – no matter how much debt you’re in
At the time she was earning $60,000 a year from her content creation but soon upped her income to over $100,000
She also recommends building an emergency fund from a young age. The goal, she says, is to have three to six months’ worth of expenses in a high-yield savings account.
And she said it’s important to find a ‘community’ of other people in debt to keep each other motivated. She generated her own through her social media networks.
Dang’s tips come as more and more Americans are facing financial hardship amid high inflation and wider economic uncertainty,
Data from the New York Federal Reserve showed that household debt ballooned by $148 billion to $17.05 trillion in the first three months of the year.
It marks an increase of $2.9 trillion from the end of 2019 before the pandemic and subsequent economic turmoil put pressure on household budgets.
The problem has only been exacerbated by Biden’s debt ceiling showdown with Congressional republicans which could see the US default on its debts by as soon as June 1.
This week experts urged households to make emergency preparations in case a default occurred.
Previously analysts warned a default could cause mortgage and credit card loan payments to shoot up and investments to plummet.