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'Answer this question' if you want to be debt-free, says author of 'I Will Teach You To Be Rich'

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Ramit Sethi.
Jemal Countess | Getty Images

Whether you're paying down a mortgage or chipping away at student loans, paying off debt can be a challenge.

Grow spoke to five experts at FinCon, a convention for personal finance bloggers, podcasters, journalists, and authors, about what strategies they used to become debt-free, and how they've stayed debt-free. Here's what they said:

Ramit Sethi, I Will Teach You to Be Rich

"Make a plan," says Sethi, author of the I Will Teach You to Be Rich blog and one of the keynote speakers at FinCon. It's crucial to get to know your debt and decide how, and when, you'll pay it off.

"You should be able to answer this question: What is your debt payment date? You should know the exact month and exact year," he says.

"Once you have a plan, then you can start to optimize it. You can pay an extra $100 a month, or if your interest is low you can choose to go a little slower. But a vast amount of people don't even know how much they owe, and an even smaller number of people know when their debt will be paid off."

Chris Browning, Popcorn Finance

Chris Browning.
Courtesy Chris Browning

"Really pay attention to where your money goes. It's as simple as using an app, writing it down by hand, and just seeing where your money goes, so you see where you're really hurting yourself," says Browning, the creator of the Popcorn Finance Podcast. Browning accrued $27,000 worth of credit card debt in two years after paying for his wedding, a new home, furniture, and medical bills.

For Chris and his wife, food was the problem area where they realized they were overspending. He started putting aside $300 in cash from every paycheck, and that was the only money they could spend on eating. He also took on some side hustles, like delivering for Postmates and DoorDash, which netted him an extra $300 a week.

Towards the end of paying of their debt, he moved to a higher paying job, which also helped.

Debt "hits really hard, and it was really tough," he says. "It was really stressful, mentally, for me. We finally got to a point where we were like, 'We got to do something,' and that's when when we started focusing on our finances. And we ended up paying it off in about two and a half years."

Tai and Talaat McNeely, His & Her Money

Tai and Talaat McNeely.
Courtesy Tai and Talaat McNeely

Talaat and Tai McNeely are the couple behind His & Her Money, a website, podcast, and blog devoted to helping couples manage their money, marriage, and faith. Tai worked her way through college and was debt-free her entire life when she found out, three months prior to getting married, her soon-to-be-husband owed $30,000. "I was devastated," Tai says.

After some tough but necessary conversations, Tai and Talaat got married. Within their first year of marriage, they paid the debt off entirely.

"We did apply the debt snowball [strategy] where we lined our debt up from smallest to largest," says McNeely. "We like the snowball [method] because those small wins give you confidence and energy to keep going."

Wendy Valencia, YouTuber

Wendy Valencia.
Courtesy Wendy Valencia

Valencia is a YouTuber who puts out videos about her personal budgeting strategies and how she and her husband have managed to pay off nearly $200,000 worth of debt in under three years.

Their strategy: Staying organized when it comes to budgeting, and trimming where possible.

"Our strategy was to budget every single cent we made and then figure out where we could cut. My husband even started cutting my hair. That was one place we could save. It's totally worth it in the end though."

Dannie Vann, Pennies to Wealth

DJ and Dannie Vann.
Courtesy of Pennies to Wealth

Dannie and DJ Vann run a blog where they share the money management tips and strategies they used to pay off $130,912 worth of debt in less than three years. To put as much money as possible towards that goal, they cut unnecessary expenses, including trips to the hair salon and cable. They also moved into an RV for nine months and lived like they only had one income.

They agreed that becoming debt-free requires patience and consistency.

"Be patient with yourself," Dannie says. "People just try to knock out everything at once. Find the debt, whether it's the smallest or highest interest rate, and focus on that one. Because if you're trying to throw large sums at multiple ones, you're going to get confused. Focus on one thing then move on to the next one."

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