CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. — A Clayton County mother of two paid off $75,000 in debt in three years and wants to share what she's learned.
The average person is in more than $96,000 of debt, according to 2021 tax data. The cost of mortgages, auto loans, and daily expenses continue to increase as inflation remains high.
Renee Whaley said she was determined to dig out of the burden of her debt.
“I came from low-income background and I didn't have everything handed to me," she said. "My mom was a single parent, used to just like clean houses and clean buildings. We would see her struggle a lot.”
Even as a child, Whaley knew what it was like to count every penny.
“I can remember my mom literally on her hands and knees washing our clothes in the tub," she said. "Subconsciously I was thinking, 'I don't want to do this.' You know, I don't want to be this way. She would tell us, 'do better than me.'”
Whaley took that to heart.
She went to college, got a master's degree, married her high school sweetheart, bought a home, and had two sons. But the bills piled up.
“I've always closely managed my dollars, but despite even doing that, I still ended up in $75,000 worth of debt, not including the mortgage," Whaley said. "In my mind, I thought I had it all together, right? I would do credit cards or whatever, just so I can get the points. It just piled on. I wasn’t paying attention. It shook me to my core.”
So she set out to pay it off with a realistic budget.
How she paid off her debt
“I have a line item for everything," she said. "Grocery, fuel for the car, I didn't deprive myself. We did have a line item for entertainment. We just stuck to that. And that was really what propelled us.”
She also implemented the so-called "debt snowball."
“I just kind of wrote (our debts) all out, lowest to highest," Whaley explained. "Say we were paying $100 a month to a credit card company. Once that that was paid off, we got rid of that. We would take that $100 and add it to the next payment.”
In 3 years, she’d paid off the $75,000.
“That was a freeing moment," she smiled. "It was great.”
Other tips to pay off debt
Experts suggest getting a personal loan to apply to your debts with higher interest rates – that’s called debt consolidation.
People can also move credit card debt to a balance transfer card, which offers 0% APR, for anywhere from 6 months to more than a year. A balance transfer card allows people to more aggressively tackle debt without losing money to interest.
For students, Whaley suggests aggressively seeking scholarships -- something she helps do for families in Georgia.
"I don't apply for them on their behalf," she explained. "I just look for them on their behalf and come back. And most of the time when I come back, it's like a list of 50 or 60 scholarships and they're like, 'oh my God.'"
Now Whaley is sharing her methods in a new book called A Journey to Financial Fortitude. The book is available for purchase on Amazon here.
“People really think that they can't do this but I didn't have an inheritance, I didn't win the lottery," she said. "I grew up low income, and I was able to take this journey. And I think that others can do the same thing.”
Consumer.gov also recommends calling the companies where people owe money, explaining why they are having trouble paying the bill, and ask for a plan to let pay less each month.