To pay off $100,000 in debt in 3 years, this millennial mom moved to California and sold her car — and it worked

Julie Berninger.
Photo by Sisino Photography
Key Points
  • Julie Berninger and her husband had more than $ 100,000-worth of debt after getting their bachelor and master's degrees.
  • To pay it off quickly, Berninger researched the highest paying jobs in her field, and the couple downsized their lives.
  • Berninger also monetized a debt payoff blog, which helped knock off the final $ 25,000.

In 2015, Julie Berninger and her now husband realized that with major expenses — notably, their undergrad and graduate degrees — the two were racking up debt . They were already more than $ 100,000 in the hole.

Berninger, now 33, had studied political science in undergrad, then got a master's degree in computer information systems, hoping to build a career in tech. Her husband, a personal trainer, had earned degrees in exercise science.

The two also sometimes splurged without thinking through the financial ramifications. For example, Berninger financed $ 27,000 on a brand-new Subaru Forester, which contributed to their debt.

The couple decided to buckle down on paying off their debt , relocating so Berninger could snare high-paying tech jobs, downsizing their expenses, and picking up some extra income streams . By early 2018, they paid off that $ 100,000. They are now debt-free and live with their young daughter in Massachusetts.

"It was not, like, this magical thing," says Berninger about what it took to pay everything off . "You have to put in the hours to get there."

Here are some of the big moves the couple made to eliminate their debt faster:

Selling the car at a loss

The first move Berninger made was to sell her vehicle , bringing in $ 21,000.

"I just lost the depreciation," she says of the $ 6,000 gap between what she paid and what the sale brought in. "But I did not really think about it that way."

That was $ 21,000 cut right out of their debt, and it was one less monthly payment the couple had to make.

Relocating to California for better-paying jobs

Berninger had long been angling for a career in tech because she realized the field had great opportunity. Looking into the best-paying jobs , she determined that "Silicon Valley is where it's at when it comes to tech," she says.

Taking a job in California would mean leaving their life in Colorado. But, at least temporarily, it would enable them to funnel more money into paying off debt.

Should you get a debt consolidation loan?

Video by Courtney Stith

Berninger ended up getting jobs at major tech companies, including Amazon. While she prefers not to share exactly how much she made, she was able to earn far more, and she had already been drawing a $100,000 salary.

In addition, she received occasional lump sums in the form of signing bonuses and stock grants. These meant she could pay off the couples' debt "in large chunks," she says.

The couple also downsized and adjusted their lifestyle to offset the higher costs of living in California, so they could make the most of the opportunity.

She monetized her 'diary style' blog

Berninger had long kept blogs, and in 2015, started keeping one about the couple's debt payoff journey. On, she'd write about their daily payoff moves, like selling off her car. "It was very diary style," she says.

After taking a course about affiliate marketing, Berninger decided to monetize her blog in July 2016 by adding affiliate links and display advertising.

That revenue stream was slow to get going, but by 2018, the blog was bringing in thousands of dollars a year. Having saved up over time, in March, Berninger was able to use that revenue to pay the final $25,000 of their debt.

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