My Debt Payoff Story: Elyse Paid Off $36,000 Debt on a Bartender Salary

My Debt Pay off story is a OneSavvyDollar series where we interview people who have successfully paid off any major debt i.e. student loans, car loans, credit cards.

Please note: If you’re currently unemployed and facing so much uncertainty with your finances, it’s best to save as much as you can right now. If you’re still employed and carrying on with your financial plans and debt-free journey then read on…..

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 Elyse. I am a small-town Nebraska girl. I spent six years serving in the Nebraska National Guard, two and half of those years I worked full time for them. I am a bartender and writer a heart.

Now, I am pursuing a full-time career as a Mary Kay Sales Director to work from home with my baby on the way (Due in August)!

What and when was your “sick and tired” of debt moment?

I was a full-time waitress and bartender when I first started my debt-free journey and always felt like I was living shift to shift trying to pay my bills.

I was making quite a bit of money, but I didn’t have any system for tracking it or figuring it out so it was getting spent before I could even figure it out.

Then my student loans came out of their grace period and I got a $200 bill in the mail. The bill was my breaking point. I had no idea how I was going to make this work or if I would have enough money to pay it.

That’s when I decided to get really serious.

I always thought that because I was a bartender, there wasn’t a great way to budget because it was mostly cash tips and no night was ever the same. I searched on the internet to use as a guide for budgeting as a bartender, but I couldn’t find anything.

That is kind of when “The Savvy Sagittarius” was born.

I also had a mentor around the same time tell me, “What could your life look like if you didn’t have any student loan payments, car payments, mortgage payments, credit card payments?

What would you do with your life? What would your everyday routine look like if you could pick and choose?

How did you acquire the debt and do you regret doing so?

It was a total of $34,000 when I started; $29,000 in student loans, $2,500 on a car loan, and the rest in credit cards from the previous month. I started paying off my debt in January 2017, so most of the credit card was from celebrating my birthday and Christmas.

I don’t really regret anything in my life because everything happens for a reason.

How much debt did you pay off in total? How much money in interest and time did you save in total?

After interest, it ended up being $36,495 that I put towards my debt in 26 months.

How much income were you earning when you accomplished this?

The first year was close to $38,000. I was working full time for the military, bartending on the weekend, working on my website, and my Mary Kay business in the cracks of my life that I could.

In the second year, I didn’t work for the military, so it was 50 hour bartending weeks and as much side hustling as I could stay awake for when I was off work. I earned $45,000.

Can you describe the specific choices you had to make to pay off your debt?

I think the biggest choice I made was to be all in.  On payday, I would calculate down to the dollar how much I needed until next payday and then put the rest towards debt on payday.

I didn’t give myself the option to mess up. That is what my emergency fund and side hustles were for.

When I made the decision to put everything I could towards debt, it made it a challenge for me. Every month was a challenge to be better than the last.

There were a lot of choices between choosing to go out with friends or pick up an extra shift. To spend time with family or stay home and rest between working.

The biggest thing that you have to decide is what you want today and if it gets you closer to what you want in 5 years.

The specific choices I made during my journey was mostly with fun things. Finding a balance to keep me motivated without spending too much money was the hardest thing for me sometimes.

Was there any time during your journey where your friends and or family challenged your plans to pay off your debt?

It really took a while for people to understand what I was doing or why.

It was so hard for me to communicate my why at first because I really had so many feelings about it. I was super open from the very beginning and shared on my personal Facebook as well as my blog social media.

There were moments where I think I got in my own way more than anyone else.

I had a few times where I questioned why I was doing it, especially when I saw other people driving brand new cars and just making the minimum payments.

That was “normal,” but when I would get out of that funk, I would realize that I didn’t want to be “normal.”

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?

I started by reading Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey.

What really motivated me was The Millionaire Next Door. This book talks about how more and more millionaires are first-generation, self-made millionaires.

They start with hard work and good money habits and are able to turn it into millions. I was 22 at the time that I read it and I even felt like I was behind, but it made it feel more possible.

The #DebtFreeCommunity on Instagram was a big help with staying motivated as well.

There are tons of accounts that were on the same journey as I was with the same struggles that I was facing. It gave me a place to talk about my struggles and feelings and someone else across the country (or sometimes the world) could relate.

How did you feel when you made that final payment?  

At 3:39pm Central Time, on February 11th, 2019, I made my final payment.

I remember just sitting at my desk for a while. It didn’t feel real and I didn’t really know what was next.

I posted it on Instagram and Facebook and I couldn’t believe the amount of support and messages that I received. I think I spent the rest of the evening reading all of the messages from people.

One year later, I look back at what a blessing the entire journey was. Since then, I have purchased my home and put work and money into a few home remodeling projects.

My fiance and I found out we are expecting our first baby in August.  He paid off his last debt in September 2019.

What steps are you taking to ensure that you stay debt-free now?

I still use a budge; track my spending and set financial goals.

Just because I am debt free doesn’t mean that the journey is over. It is still an everyday choice to spend within my means and save up for things that I want.

If you could go back in time and advise your 18-year-old self, what advice would you give her?

I truly don’t think I would do anything differently.

My journey gave me so many lessons, friends, and skills that I would not have if I wouldn’t have made the decisions that I would have made.

For parents reading this, teach your 15/16-year-olds to budget and save money while they are in the safe space of your home. Allow them to make mistakes and figure out their money.

For 18-20-year-olds, pay attention to your spending.

Decide what you want your life to look like in five years. You don’t have to decide everything, but you can really choose to be in debt or to be smart with your financial decisions.

Get the best car that you can afford to pay for out right. Then save more money for a nicer car. Don’t be afraid to side hustle. But mostly, don’t wait until you have a “big girl/boy” job to take charge of your money.

You do not need a career to be smart with your spending.

What advice would you give anyone who has debt and seeking encouragement?

My biggest advice is to start today. Simply paying more attention to your spending, sending extra payments towards debt, and just being aware of your finances can take you a long way.

Total up your debt and start making a change.

This season of your life is just temporary, but it will change your life FOREVER.

How can our readers keep in touch with you?

I am the most active on my instagram @TheSavvySagittarius.

My blog website is that has a ton of different resources and tips and tricks for those looking for more financial tips for lower/irregular incomes.


Congratulations, Elyse! Here’s wishing you much success on your financial journey.

About Ogechi

Hello, I'm Linda Ogechi. I'm a financial educator, real estate investor, and founder of OneSavvyDollar. I write to empower you into saving more, paying off debt, increasing your net worth, and building real wealth so you can achieve financial freedom

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