My Debt Free Story: How MJ Bridges Paid Off $97,000 Debt in 66 Months
My debt free story is a OneSavvyDollar series where we interview millennials who have successfully paid off any major debt i.e. student loans, car loans, credit cards.
The aim is to inspire, encourage and motivate you to take hold of your personal finance because “financial fitness is not a pipe dream or a state of mind. It is a reality if you’re willing to pursue it and embrace it.” – Will Robinson
Can you tell us a bit about you?
My name is MJ Bridges and I am a debt-free storyteller and self-help enthusiast. I was born and raised in Racine WI and I hate personal debt. I am a former abuser of credit cards and personal debt and today, I am building a business to help others get out of debt.
I enjoy using interpersonal skills and positive psychology to keep my peace in life. As a marathoner, I, of course, love running and I love getting LIT, when the time is right.
What and when was your “sick and tired” of debt moment?
It was January 2014 and I had been living in Atlanta for 6 months. I was on the road driving and my gas light came on. I pulled over and did not have any money to put gas in my car. That was my moment.
That moment sparked my YOUNG & Debt Free Journey. I looked myself in the mirror later that weekend to face my debt. I accepted that I created this and I had to defeat it.
The beauty that I admire and hold on to today, came from my debt-free journey. I now have an amazing amount of self-love, discipline and financial literacy.
How did you acquire the debt and do you regret doing so?
It all started in college. I became a first-generation college student at Alabama State University and I had no foundation of finances.
I acquired my first credit card and the rest is history. My first credit card had a credit limit of $250.00. Today, that same card has increased to $18,000.
I became obsessed with credit cards, I loved the 0% APR intro period and it loved me. I also loved the idea of having so much credit available to me.
Today, I have over $140,000 of credit as I went from 2 credit cards to 13 credit cards in about 10 years.
This process was not healthy; it was overwhelming and insanely sad because I had a problem.
My problem was internal and I used shopping, taking a multitude of trips, buying expensive items such as $3,000 cameras, brand new furniture, and big gifts for family members to make me feel happy.
Furthermore, I acquired graduate school student loans and an auto loan to add to the madness.
To sum it up, philosophically, I was financially illiterate, coping from internal pain and lacked guidance.
How much debt did you pay off in total? How much money in interest and time did you save in total?
I paid off $96,942.00 for over 5 and a half years. Unfortunately, I do not know the exact number but I have to think tens of thousands of dollars!
How much income were you earning when you accomplished this?
I started the journey making $48,000 in 2014 and made the most money during my last year of the journey (2019). I earned $70,000 from my 9 to 5 and my side hustle brought in $30,000+
I worked hard. I am a high school math teacher. I do not have a big salary job. My side hustle game was tough and it paid off. I charged e-scooters intensely for a year and made over $30,000.
Can you describe the specific choices you had to make to become debt free?
Yes- three things I did to become debt free was; to become disciplined, self-educate, and start hustling.
Discipline: I tapped into myself so I could stop Spending on things I did not need; Accept that my debt was indeed my debt; Believe that I would achieve such a mammoth of a goal; avoid going to brunch and spending money on things that were not planned and limit travel.
Also, let me be clear, discipline was not easy for me. It took so many mindfulness activities and healing from past emotional baggage and pain that helped me tap into a deeper discipline.
Self Education was key. I started reading browsing through financial literacy topics on the web, in particular my credit account’s web page. Like, literally, your bank or lender has a plethora of free personal finance simulations and topics available.
I learned how to use credit card balance transfer options; Budgeting. I became a serial budgeter. I love budgets.
I learned what prioritizing debts looked like for me and it helped me decide which debts to pay first. In addition, calculating interests and learning how credit cards work.
Hustle: The most successful strategy for me was hustling. In my first year of eliminating debt, I worked 4 jobs. I taught math, worked at a nightclub on the weekends and tutored for 2 different companies in the evenings and on the weekends.
I took a break from the crazy hours during the 2nd and 3rd year as I was trying to develop Young & Debt Free. During my fourth year, I successfully made money speaking and implementing budgeting workshops.
In my last year of the journey, I charged e-scooters such as Bird, Lime and Jump Scooters in my 1 bedroom apartment. It was intense, crazy and insane but I was so eager to close out the journey.
I saw the opportunity and I went for it; I made over $30,000 charging scooters in a year.
Was there any time during your journey where your friends and or family challenged your plans to pay off your debt?
I live in Atlanta. This is the mecca for Black Entertainment and quite frankly, it’s one of the reasons why I am here. Lol. Omg! It was so tough telling people no during the first year.
However, that is the reason why I got the 4th job at the nightclub. I used the income from the job for lunch, snacks and gas money. I used the job to be social and have some fun.
It was a really good time working there every Saturday for 15 months straight. That job will forever be in my heart.
Also, you know, you just feel like you are missing things; specifically events. I made sure I made it to weddings but I cut out a lot of events to remain focused.
Were any resources such as blogs, books, podcasts particularly helpful to you in staying on track? Or where did you find your inspiration to stay on track through your journey?
Believe it or not…. There was no one financial resource that got me going. I think it was more about, “what I wanted for my life.”
My debt was a distraction. So I had to remove it.
I was inspired by my own dreams. I was inspired by learning about myself and accessing interpersonal virtues that I never have ever tapped into before.
Furthermore, I felt as if it was just another adverse situation that I was going to grow from.
However, a few books that helped me value my dreams and helped me tap into my intrapersonal traits were, “The Happiness Advantage and Think And Grow Rich”
What steps are you taking to ensure that you stay debt-free now?
It’s funny because I am afraid to get back into that type of debt. I’m aware that I am frugal. Yet, I also know I have to spend some money to make some money.
So, I have a savings goal of $25,000 (which is about my current annual living expenses).
Also, I have about $10,000 ready to invest in my business.
How am I achieving those numbers: The same way I eliminated debt. I have a budget, a limit on items I don’t need, not spending on money on things I don’t need and utilizing business credit.
If you could go back in time and advise your 18-year-old self, what advice would you give him?
My advice to him would be him would be threefold. I would encourage my 18-year-old self to add a minor in Computer Science to my math degree.
Therapy! I would have gone to therapy. A lot of my debt was from credit card debt- believe it or not. I spent so much money trying to put a bandage on interpersonal pain and wounds.
Lastly, I would have gotten a mentor. I needed an older male figure in my life. I had no guidance into adulthood. Becoming a young man was a rough road and I would have appreciated a little more wisdom in my life.
What advice would you give anyone who has debt and seeking encouragement?
I would tell that person to answer these questions:
How much debt do you have? You can visit (www.annualcreditreport.com) to confirm.
What is your relationship with your debt like?
What’s your 3 and 5-year vision? In 10 words, describe yourself?
Overall, do you like where you’re at in life? Why and why not?
Who do you want to become? What is your greatest accomplishment today? What intrapersonal skills and strengths did you possess?
How is debt stopping you from achieving your goals today? What could you do to eliminate your debt? Overall, do you believe you could become debt-free?
I hope some of these questions motivate a person to pen SMART goals and begin to generate a mindset of discipline, healthy habits, and money. Mindset, mindfulness and self-reflective practices are the foundation of a debt-free journey.
How can our readers keep in touch with you?
You can find me on Instagram @younganddebtfreeatl. You may also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Congratulations, MJ! Here’s wishing you much success on your financial journey.