I’ve been waiting to write this post since I started this blog. It felt like the day would never come, although I dreamed about it constantly. Every time I wanted to give up or every time I did yet another side hustle and stayed up too late, worked too hard, I remembered what I was working for: debt freedom.

After paying my student loans for nine years — seriously for the past four and a half — I am debt free! I am still letting my new reality set in, but almost immediately after I saw the balance at zero, I felt a huge weight off my shoulders. I cried, screamed and danced. And I plan to have a debt free party at some point soon to properly celebrate.

The journey has been long and intense. As long-time readers have known, I started this blog in January 2013, to keep myself accountable in the debt payoff process. At that time, I was in one of the lowest periods of my life. I had (with much resentment) moved to Portland, Oregon after being unable to find a job after graduating from NYU. While I was happy to be reunited with my partner, I found myself struggling even more. The interviews were scant and all I was able to secure was temporary work. Because of the lack of money coming in, I also found myself on food stamps.

After working so hard in graduate school — and getting into so much debt for it — my reality felt like a slap in the face. It was humbling and hard. I conflated my self-worth with my net worth and thought that because I couldn’t find work and I was in so much debt, that I was worthless. All of these feelings led to a deep depression and constant lingering anxiety. I tried therapy (again), but it didn’t help. It was one of those things where I knew I had to make drastic changes in my personal and professional life, but I didn’t know where to start.

After crying every day, hitting my head against the wall, wondering, “What’s next?”, I finally decided I was sick and tired of feeling sorry for myself. So, I decided to start this blog to keep myself accountable. I wanted to turn my negative energy into something positive — an outlet for my time to do something that could keep my mind off of not really having a career or any viable options to pay off my loans.

In my very first post, I set a goal of being debt free within four years. At the time, it seemed like a brazen and bold goal, as I had $57k left. I was making $12 per hour and my contract was ending in a few months. How in the heck would I be debt free in four years? But something powerful happened when I set that intention. I set a goal — a BIG one — and even though I had no idea how I would actually reach that goal and even though it seemed so out of reach at the time, I made it happen. A year early.

Throughout the years this blog has launched my freelance writing career as well as my event planning business. Because of it, I quit the job that I eventually found, and more than doubled my income, which helped me pay off my debt even faster.

Now, you’re probably wondering. How did she do it? How did I announce that I had $11k in debt just last week and now I am debt free?

Well, there are a variety of factors that led me here. As a personal finance writer, I am not proposing or recommending that anyone in debt do what I did — I just want to be transparent about how it happened.

Emergency Fund

I decided to dip into my emergency fund and take out $1500. I now have $1500 remaining. I plan on replenishing this once my payments hit in January and I would like to build it to $5,000 to $10,000.


For the past month, I’ve worked my tail off. I added a few new well-paying clients and worked nearly every day in November and will probably do the same in December. From all my work, I received a good chunk of change in the first week of December. I decided to NOT save for taxes this month and put all my income to debt. Once again, as soon as January hits, I am replenishing my tax fund. I didn’t take anything out of it, I just didn’t add to it. I still have a few more payments coming in this month and plan to use those to live off of and also add to my tax fund.


Whenever people write about windfalls, I always think, “Who are these people getting windfalls?” I have never once thought or expected that I’d have a windfall of money. But earlier this year my mom received a sizable bonus at work — and decided to share a portion with me.

I argued with her and told her no, absolutely not. She is the sole breadwinner in my family and works her butt off and she deserves every cent of it. But she was insistent. She wanted to share a portion of it, so that I could relax and stop working seven days a week. I reluctantly said yes and am forever grateful for her generosity.

For the past few months, the money has sat in a separate account and I’ve pretended it wasn’t there. I knew deep down that I’d use it to get rid of the last of my debt. So I took the $4,000 and moved it to my account, and with my extra emergency fund money, and not saving for taxes I made my very last payment.

I know I technically “owe” myself money next month, but I know the money is coming in and know every cent I earn will be mine (or Uncle Sam’s). I’ll replenish my tax fund and emergency fund in the first week of January. And then I can start actually saving and investing for the long-term. If I’m as successful as I was with my debt, I’m thinking I can actually catch up for all this lost time.

I also have a lot of big expenses coming up — a lot of transitions. I plan on sharing all of these things in a future post, but suffice it to say, 2016 will not be a cheap year. I am so grateful I am making more money now and my debt is paid off. It will afford me so many opportunities and I can actually start building wealth, rather than paying for my past.

For all my readers still in debt, I want you to know being debt free IS possible. I feel like so many of us think it’s out of reach, because we either feel like we’ll never get out of debt, or if we try it will take forever. We’re daunted by the “forever” and “never”, but being debt free is possible. Even if it’s five or ten years later, you can do this.

After all is said and done, I’ve probably paid close to $100,000 toward my student loan debt. I borrowed $81,000 and paid a lot in interest over the years. Sometimes I get sad, thinking how awesome it would be to have $100,000 in the bank, instead of having a net worth of basically zero. But I’m proud of what I’ve done. I’ve worked many long nights and shed a lot of tears to get here and it feels so damn good.

I appreciate every single reader and thank you for all your support and encouragement. I can confidently say I would not be here without you. You’ve given me a chance, a push, an opportunity at another career. I want to continue to inspire others who are in debt showing them that being debt free IS possible and you don’t have to be rich to do it. You just have to be willing to work at it, like anything else worthwhile in life.

Thank you again — from the bottom of my heart.


Melanie is a freelance writer currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy, and empowering people to take control of their finances. She writes about breaking up with debt, freelancing, and side hustle adventures at DearDebt.com.

Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. In addition to her love of personal finance, art and music, she is also a karaoke master. Follow the adventure @DearDebtBlog.

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107 responses to “Dear Debt, You Don’t Own Me Anymore – I’m Debt Free”

  1. Diana says:

    I’m so very happy for you. Congratulations!!!

  2. Congrats! I can only imagine the feeling and so look forward to my day!
    Shirria @ GDTH recently posted…November Budget ReviewMy Profile

  3. Congratulations Melanie! So happy for you. Such a great story of hard work. What a wonderful way to finish the year! Continued success and on to bigger and better things in 2016 without debt!!!
    Brian @DebtDiscipline recently posted…Trim the Fat from your BudgetMy Profile

  4. Tyler says:

    Absolutely awesome Melanie, I’m hoping to have that same feeling in a year or so but we’ll see. It’s great to see it is possible.

  5. I appreciate you, Melanie!! I am SOOOO happy for you. I’m imagining what it feels like and I cannot wait to be where you are. You’re an inspiration!!!
    Natalie @ Financegirl recently posted…A Letter to Student Loan SufferersMy Profile

  6. So many congratulations, again! I am so impressed with everything you’ve been able to do. What a great end of the year gift to yourself.

    Regarding your net worth, I dunno. You might have more than $0 in the bank had all this never happened…but given that you were in the arts in LA, maybe not (or it wouldn’t have been $100000 anyway). It seems like this entire journey has led you to have a much higher income than you might have also, as well as to gain the self-confidence to keep it growing in the future. So maybe try to think about it that way instead — the “big mistake” of the debt has led to a much bigger recovery that may end up with you in a better financial position than you would have been otherwise. Anyway, regardless, congratulations again!

    • Melanie says:

      No, I totally agree! Even though I get sad about my net worth, this crazy journey has led to my self-employment and higher income. I always wanted to be my own boss, but never really saw it happening in the arts. Sometimes we get to our destination, but through a different journey. So I am so happy! I feel like it’s all paid off and led to something I never imagined. I am grateful. Thanks so much for your support, girl!

  7. J. Money says:


  8. Mortimer says:

    Congratulations!! Please keep sharing your story and your path to wealth. What a thrill to see such hard, hard work pay off!
    Mortimer recently posted…My $7.82, Million-Volume Collection of Books, Movies, and MusicMy Profile

  9. Hannah says:

    Even though I was the person who screamed not to short the IRS, I’m still so pumped for you.

    I’m sure that you’ll catch up, and I know it will be an amazing feeling not to have to deal with debt anymore!

    • Melanie says:

      I actually remember your comment very clearly and thought, “I wonder if Hannah will be mad at me” ha! I think I said before that I’d deplete my tax fund, but this time I just didn’t add to it. I pinky swear promise by the first week of January everything will be replenished. From the money that is still slated to come in, I’ll already be halfway there. I know my move was not Hannah-approved, but I appreciate your support regardless 🙂

  10. Latoya S says:

    Melanie, I’m just so happy for you! It’s amazing what you’ve accomplished (and before your goal-high five!). Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us and letting the rest of us know that it’s possible to dig ourselves out of debt. You’ve looked forward to writing this post a long time and I’m so happy to have read it. Hope you have a good week!
    Latoya S recently posted…Kids, Advertising, & Your Money: Unplugging CableMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      Thanks so much, Latoya! It feels great. So glad to have people like you cheering me on. Now I want to play a more active role in helping others pay off their debt. You can do it, girl!

  11. This is amazing. I dream about the day when I’ll be able to report zero net worth.

    I’d be interested in a breakdown of your career and income progress. In other words, exactly how you parlayed low-paying gigs into higher ones, what steps were the most helpful to your career, and what were missteps, etc.

    Regardless, CONGRATULATIONS!
    payingmylawschooldebt recently posted…Fun While Paying Down Debt: the Harvard ClassicsMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      I’ve made $30-$38k in my nonprofit jobs. For the first six months of self-employment, I matched my old income. I started focusing on corporate clients and startups, as opposed to other bloggers and more than doubled my income. Sometimes it’s all about knowing WHO can pay you what you are worth and you can pivot slightly to earn more. I think for a long time, I didn’t believe in myself and “felt lucky” to write so I accepted any and all low-paying work. I now realize, people respect you more and take you seriously when you are confident and ask what you are worth. It’s also important to practice, build community and a brand and keep trying no matter what! Feel free to email me or sign up for my workshop if you want more in-depth info!

  12. So happy for you Melanie and also happy with the stuff you having coming up for 2016!! I’m going to hold you accountable though for replenishing your accounts. No beer belly beers for awhile. 🙂 Can’t wait to chat tonight!
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…15 Traits of a Strong WomanMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      Oh believe me, they will be replenished asap! I don’t like it either. But considering I was making $3-4k payments on my loans, next month I should be all “caught up”

  13. leah says:

    Yay! Congratulations Melanie. I’ve been binge reading your blog the last couple months and love your vulnerability and kind heartedness. So happy you are beginning 2016 debt free! I am doing the same thing and it makes me feel like a butterfly. Very best wishes for you to have a warm and carefree holiday.
    leah recently posted…Christmastime in Heidelberg, GermanyMy Profile

  14. So incredibly proud of you, Melanie! I tell people about your story all the time. You’re tax and emergency fund will be replenished in no time. Cheers to an even more prosperous 2016, friend!
    Kate @ Cashville Skyline recently posted…November Monthly Budget ReviewMy Profile

  15. Mackenzie says:

    Congrats again Melanie! All your hard work truly paid off! Go ahead and celebrate, girl!! 🙂
    Mackenzie recently posted…The Crafty GeneMy Profile

  16. LaTisha says:

    This is absolutely awesome! When I made my last CC payment, I also took out a portion from other places so I totally understand. It’s like that last burst of energy that you get before you cross the finish line. I feel so much excitement for you! I can’t wait until I can say the same about my remaining student loan debt. One dollar at a time, right?
    LaTisha recently posted…How Do Entrepreneurs Handle Failure?My Profile

    • Melanie says:

      I know I could’ve been debt free in January without doing this stuff — and I know dates are arbitrary, but there was just something so symbolic about starting a new year debt free. You can do this, just one dollar at a time. You got this!

  17. Chuck says:

    Congrats! Very exciting and I’m sure it is a huge relief. Can’t wait to be able to say the same.
    Chuck recently posted…Bonsai Class – Pine WorkshopMy Profile

  18. Chonce says:

    Congratulations on all your hard work! You are such an inspiration! 🙂
    Chonce recently posted…How to Grow Your Blog by Being FearlessMy Profile

  19. Michelle says:

    As you already know, I’m so freaking proud of you! You worked your butt off-for YEARS there will be annoying people who will meet you at this point in your journey and say that you had it easy. Those of us who are your friends will remember that you worked like a dog for years to make this happen. The Universe listed to and believed your intention. Can’t wait to see what you manifest in 2016.
    Michelle recently posted…Using Cash To Pay Off Our Mortgage-Guest PostMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      You always have the best comments, Michelle. Seriously. Love you, girl. You inspire me and I appreciate how real you are. Yes, things are better now, but I WORKED to get here!

  20. YAY! Congrats, Melanie! How awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Kara @ The Daily Whisk recently posted…Meet Me at Money Saving Maven!My Profile

  21. Gina says:

    Wow, this is amazing! I’m so happy for you!

    Windfalls are the best thing that could happen to a PF blogger or someone in debt. My grandpa passed earlier this year and left me a small chunk of change that I used to pay the rest of my student loans off. I’m still so thankful for his generosity!
    Gina recently posted…Weekly Roundup v2My Profile

  22. Khaleef says:

    This is such exciting news! We are working toward paying off over $105,000 in debt, so I can definitely relate to your story.

    Congratulations, Melanie! Oh, don’t forget to change the “about me” section on the sidebar 😉
    Khaleef recently posted…3 Ways to Honor the Lord with Your WealthMy Profile

  23. Liz says:

    Haha I was waiting for this post, because I did notice last week you saying you had 11k left and I was wondering how you did it. Congratulations I’m so excited for you. Your success fuels my fire to pay off my own debt.
    Liz recently posted…November 2015 Debt ProgressMy Profile

  24. Jason B says:

    Congrats. I can’t wait until I’m able to write a letter like this. I can’t imagine the joy you must be feeling.
    Jason B recently posted…5 New Year’s Eve DestinationsMy Profile

  25. Yayy, congratulations again! I’ve always been in awe of how hard you’ve worked to make this happen. You deserve to soak it all up and take a damn break!! I agree with Natalie that you’re an inspiration. You started with way more debt than I have had, and have managed to pay it off in record time. I know I have to pay off my loans next year. =) Thank you for providing motivation, inspiration, and general awesomeness to this community. <3

    • Melanie says:

      Thanks for being such a great friend to me! It’s been tough and I hope I can scale back a bit and rest and enjoy debt free life. I appreciate all of your support over the years!

  26. Jacob says:

    I’ve only read a few of your debt journey posts, but this popped up in my feed, and I had to read it. You write in a truly inspired way, and you have an amazing story here. Congratulations on your new-found freedom.

    And you know what the best part is….you’ll never be there again, staring at a mountain of debt. You have come so far, but a new journey is ahead!

    So awesome. Thank you for sharing this 🙂
    Jacob recently posted…3 Best Sites To Get The Most Cash For Your Old Cell PhonesMy Profile

  27. Congratulations, Melanie!! I’m so happy for you, and so inspired too. I think I’m currently at a somewhat similar place as you were in 2013 (finishing grad school, almost the identical amount of debt), so your story is very motivating to me. Maybe in a couple of years I can pay off most or all of my debt too (fingers crossed!). 🙂
    Sarah Noelle @ The Yachtless recently posted…Small ThingsMy Profile

  28. Roz says:

    I’ve only followed your blog since the podcast episode with Michelle [Girl Gone Frugal]..so I’m late to the party. The American dream still lives and thrives!! Hard work does pay off. I will add my congratulations to the many already posted for a job well done. Please keep posting – you have quite a unique voice. P.S. I have been debt free since 2008 so I know the thrill of slaying the beast.

  29. As you know, I am SO freaking proud of you!!!! Your hard work and commitment to this huge goal is an inspiration to me and many others. I can’t wait to watch your assets grow next year as you can now fully pay yourself and not debt.

  30. Brittany says:

    I’ve been reading since summer 2013, so great to see you reach your goal!

  31. I’m so happy for you girl! I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store for you. You’re going to rock it!
    Cat@BudgetBlonde recently posted…How These 12 Incredibly Successful Mompreneurs Make It WorkMy Profile

  32. LaMesha says:

    So proud of you. Congratulations on being debt free.
    LaMesha recently posted…currentlyMy Profile

  33. Anne says:

    Anne recently posted…The Benefits of Early Tax Planning For Montreal ResidentsMy Profile

  34. Kathleen says:

    I am SO PROUD of you, friend. I cannot wait to take you out to lunch and celebrate! Hopefully the week of the 28th! I hope your arm hurts from patting yourself on the back so much. KUDOS! xoxoxoxooxxo
    Kathleen recently posted…44 Blogging Resolutions for the New YearMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      I have to thank you so much Kathleen! You inspired me to start this blog and pushed me to do it. If you didn’t meet with me, who knows if I would’ve done it. And here I am three years later, debt free with a whole different career! WTF. I think I should take YOU out again haha 🙂

  35. This is awesome news! We paid off our student loans earlier this year and the relief it brought was unbelievable! Congrats!
    Thias @It Pays Dividends recently posted…Is It Possible To Get Ahead in Life? Yes!My Profile

  36. A very, very big congratulations for getting yourself debt free. That’s a huge accomplishment and truly does set you up for some amazing potential in the future through the added flexibility that you now have.

    Well done!
    Steve @ Think Save Retire recently posted…How to ER: Early retirees leave their comfort zoneMy Profile

  37. So amazing! Your determination oozes from the page. You will inspire so many people with your story.

    That’s the absolute best gift you could give yourself this Christmas. Congratulations.
    Free to Pursue recently posted…Why Respecting Boundaries Is A Win/Win/WinMy Profile

  38. An absolutely awesome job, Melanie. Hope you don’t mind but I want to link to your post and send it out to my email list in the hopes it motivates more folks to work toward debt freedom.
    Your an inspiration!
    Michael @ NTPNW recently posted…Comprehend Your Financial Situation Before InvestingMy Profile

  39. This is amazing! So exciting. We paid off our debt a little over a year ago, and it’s pretty amazing the progress you’ll make with your finances when debt is no longer involved.

    With the good habits and work ethic you showed over the past few years, you’ll get every penny of that $100,000 back in no time. Really awesome work! Congrats

    • Melanie says:

      I can’t wait! I’m really looking forward to building wealth now. Thanks so much for your support and letting me know just how awesome the other side is.

  40. Joe says:

    Congratulations on your debt free win! As I was reading through your process, I thought a lot about my debt free journey and how they are similar. You are right, it can be done. I was able to do the same thing and had the final $28k paid off in the last 14 months of my journey. I teach college students in the area of personal finance and created the goal to become debt free and kept my students involved in my goal and process. They were my accountability partners in my journey as I was the same for them as they worked toward their financial goals. Again, congratulations on such a wonderful accomplishment.

  41. Kurt says:

    Very cool story, thanks for sharing. I had a similar experience in the sense of graduating university with two degrees but into a horrific economy and so could not find work. I also did the temporary work gig for $12/hour. You begin dreading seeing or talking to people–‘what, you still don’t have a job??’ Yes, I know, there must be something wrong with me. But like you I persevered and also, eventually became debt free (though at an older age than you I think). What a liberating, exhilarating feeling!
    Kurt recently posted…Healthcare Costs in RetirementMy Profile

  42. Derrick says:

    Wow, so inspiring! I have $25k, but your lofty goal inspires me to keep going!

  43. John says:

    Congratulations. Job well done!

    Thanks for sharing your journey.

    John recently posted…How to create your own debit cardMy Profile

  44. Valerie Rind says:

    So, so, so thrilled for you Mel!

  45. Melanie, Congratulations! This is SO awesome! I am so truly happy for you. We have also kicked it into gear on our student loan repayment over the last two years, and it looks like we will be done with it by summer 2016. CANNOT WAIT to get to write a post like this too. Huge congrats girl. You totally earned it!

  46. William says:

    Way to go!!! I’ve got $19K left on my original balance of $202K student debt.. Such hard sacrifice but also not really because the freedom is worth all of it.. Congratulations! I’ll be in your shoes soon..

  47. Amanda says:

    I don’t know how I missed this, but holy heck. Congratulations! What a relief! What a journey! And what an inspiration! It is truly exciting to witness your progress. I’m over the moon for you. Congrats congrats congrats!
    Amanda recently posted…2015 Year in ReviewMy Profile

  48. Melissa says:

    I don’t know how I missed this but CONGRATULATIONS! I am so happy for you,you must be floating off the ground with that weight removed. I’ve been reading your blog for months now and it’s been so inspiring to see you chipping away at the debt one hustle/project/client at a time. Now that you are debt free will you continue to write about paying back debt or will your blog focus shift?
    Melissa recently posted…Welcome to Melissa’s MarchMy Profile

  49. Isabella says:

    Wow! I’m late to the party. I did not know you had retired your debt! A big congrats to you, Melanie. I have followed you from the beginning, and this is just awesome! Happy Holidays and best wishes for a great 2016!

  50. Janet Fazio says:

    Congratulations on making it to the finish line! Perseverance, hard work, and being accountable to all of us in cyberspace paid off.
    Janet Fazio recently posted…7 Tips To Get Your Husband To Help with the HouseworkMy Profile

  51. Congratulations. I love “life stories” of people like you who can achieve this important milestones.

    I am looking forward to achieve this liberty… 🙂
    LeDividende.com recently posted…Achats récentsMy Profile

  52. Great article, story, and blog. I love that you were able to beat your student loan debt. Every day I talk with student loan borrowers who feel trapped by their debt. I am certainly going to share this story with some of our readers and customers. Will be checking in often.. I love your website and I’d love to chat with you one day.

  53. Congratulations! That’s such an accomplishment! I am down to 1000 on mine but will get married in December and inherit close to 35k of my fiance’s debt! Ahk!
    Your blog is motivation – thanks!
    MB @ Millennial Boss recently posted…I Sold My Car!!My Profile

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