That Light Bulb Moment When You Start Paying Off Your Debt Comments42 Comments

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Anyone who has ever tackled massive debt has that moment. You know the one I mean; the moment where you finally think, “Enough is enough!”

It might be when you finally decide to add up what you owe or perhaps reading someone else’s debt free story inspired you to conquer yours.

I wish my “light bulb moment” had happened that way.

Instead, mine happened in the Wal-Mart checkout line.

Let’s set the scene:

“Ma’am, do you have another card?” the lady at the register asked.

I froze.

Did she really just ask what I think she asked?

Goosebumps started at my neck, and I could feel them as they trickled down my arms.

“What?” I asked stupidly, because although I knew exactly what she said, I was really hoping I was wrong.

“Do you have another card? This one doesn’t work!” she said, a little exasperated.

I fumbled in my purse, my mind ticking. Was I really that much over my limit? How many people are behind me? Was this some mistake? Why the hell did I buy two bottles of bug spray? I hurriedly handed her another card, my hand shaking a little.

I waited what felt like hours, when really it was just a few seconds.

She let out a huge sigh, reeking with attitude, “This one doesn’t work either.”

No, no, no! That’s impossible, I thought to myself.

“Oh, could you just try it again, please?” I asked nicely, as if sweet-talking her would make the card work. I could feel everyone behind me staring at me.

She let out another huge sigh as she swiped the card again. A second passed, and my heart skipped a beat. I thought that it might have worked, until she loudly said, “Nope!” almost a little too triumphantly.

I tried to think quickly, and looked down the check out line for my mom who was a few people behind me. I caught her eye, asked if I could borrow her card, and of course, that one worked.

When I finally got to the car, completely mortified and hot from the Louisiana summer heat, I just put my head in my hands and cried.

In that moment, sitting in the car, I knew I had to make some changes. We were too dependent on my husband’s student loans, which had just run out two weeks before. I had income from freelance clients transferring from my PayPal to my checking account, but it hadn’t arrived yet.

I knew I needed to get ahead. I knew I needed to stop living paycheck to paycheck (or invoice to invoice in my case.) I vowed right then and there, sitting in the car surrounded by endless shopping bags, that I would do better.

Now, one year later, after living extremely frugally, writing down everything I spent, saying no to friends, and working harder than ever before, I am credit card debt free.

I paid off every penny.

And now, when I go stand in the checkout line, I don’t worry.

I finally have a savings. I finally have an emergency savings too! I even sent back over $13,000 in my husband’s student loans that we did not use.

So bring it on, cashiers far and wide. I’m ready to hand my card over. Swipe away, baby, and watch it work.

Did you ever have a light bulb moment? If you’ve worked to get debt free, what was it that made you finally start paying it off? For debt free veterans, any advice for others who are currently on the journey?

Author Bio: Cat Alford is a personal finance freelance writer who currently lives in the Caribbean with her husband and spoiled pup, Julep. When she is not writing for other websites on all topics frugal and fabulous, she enjoys sharing her adventures on her blog,

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This entry was posted in Debt, and tagged Comments42 Comments
By : Adam | 30 May 2013
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42 thoughts on “That Light Bulb Moment When You Start Paying Off Your Debt

  1. Jordann @ My Alternate Life

    My light bulb moment was when I got my final student loan balance and estimated payment, and realized that there was no way I could afford my car, my student loans, and my rent.
    So, I moved to a cheaper city, and threw everything I had at my student loans. Now, 17 months later, I’m almost fully paid off.

  2. John S @ Frugal Rules

    I had a similar experience Cat and remember being so mad and embarrassed at the same time at how I allowed myself to get in that situation. It was finally the kick in the butt I needed to get my act in gear. Congrats on kicking your deb to the curb. :)

  3. The Norwegian Girl

    OMG! I would just die if something like that happened to me! But at least it was the the turning point you needed to get rid of that awful consumer debt!

  4. Debt Blag

    So true. For those in real big debt — like me — there has to be a point where you decide that tinkering around the edges just isn’t going to cut it. For me, that point was adding it up across every type of debt and finding a cartoonishly high number

  5. Budget and the Beach

    That’s a horrible feeling. My lightbulb moment was when just over a year ago I found out my car was towed (after I had put it in a place to avoid a street sweeping ticket). I was so upset with myself that I was so careless, that I vowed to really get on the financial straight and narrow. It’s still a struggle for me as a freelancer with variable income, but I’m in a much better place than last year.

  6. Edward Antrobus

    It wasn’t about debt, but about money management in general.
    I was at a rest stop on the NJ turnpike returning home after visiting a friend. I stopped to get some cash out of the ATM to pay for the toll. It turns out a check I had forgotten about finally posted and I had overdrafted my account. That $10 I needed for tolls cost me close to $50!

  7. Lisa E. @ Lisa Vs. The Loans

    For me, it was when I realized that seeing my credit card statement every month stressed me out. I vowed to throw any extra money I could toward my CC debt. I crocheted scarves and headbands for side income and I cut back on eating out so much.

  8. E.M.

    Oh that’s horrible, I probably would have died a little bit too! I never really had a “light-bulb” moment as the only debt I have is student loans. But after doing the math, and realizing that I’d be paying it back for a WHILE, I decided to contribute more toward it every month. I’m going to keep increasing when possible, and hopefully it will be gone in a few years! Otherwise, I would have continued on, paying the minimum and not really thinking past that. I think it also had to do with the possibility of retiring early, and obviously not being able to do that while still in debt, that motivated me just a bit more.

  9. Nick @

    My light bulb moment was when I got married and started thinking about kids. I didn’t want to have that debt hanging around while trying to provide for a family.

  10. anna

    That’s too bad the Wal-Mart person didn’t have more compassion – I would’ve said it in a low voice as to not embarrass the person. My light bulb moment was when my bf called me out on having packages unopened for weeks – he’s been my Shopping Big Brother ever since, which is for my own good.

  11. Tianna

    Mine was when I realized I spent more of my money paying off credit than actually using it for things I actually wanted to do – like travel! ♥ great article

  12. Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen

    Kudos to you for getting yourself out of that situation! I’m sorry you had to go through that! I’ve been very fortunate to not have a lot of debt, mostly I work on saving and earning more money. I’m not sure how I would have handled it if I were in your shoes.

  13. Carrie Smith

    What an awesome story, Cat! Thanks for being so open and honest too. I know that takes guts. My light bulb moment came when I was going through a divorce and realized I couldn’t support myself with my ex husband’s income. So I had to start cutting back my expenses and paying down my debt asap. Otherwise, I’d not only be divorced, but homeless. Not a sexy path to go down as a 25 year old.

    After moving into the cheapest apartment I could afford (in the ghetto no less) I decided to change my life even more drastically. I got a second job and threw every penny I earned towards debt. Not having a social life for over a year was a small price to pay for freedom!

    1. Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde)

      Hey Carrie! Thanks! It’s definitely not easy writing about some of my worst days, but if it helps someone else, I’m all about it. :)

      Your story is definitely heartbreaking, but seeing as you are now a full time freelancer, I’d say you’ve done an amazing job! :)

  14. Michelle

    WoW! Cat, that is an amazing story and what an embarrassing moment. My light bulb moment should have happened when I woke up on New Year’s Day several years ago overdrawn by several hundred dollars. Sadly, I’m a slow learning and I had a light bulb moment around the end of last year centered around wanting to get married and having kids. What guy wants to deal with a broke stressed out girl whose life seems out of control? I need to get my stuff together!

  15. Jacob @ iHeartBudgets

    Mine was when I ran out of money from my $100,000 inheritance. I had to sell my car to pay rent and buy a beater, I couldn’t eat out anymore or buy new clothes. I have to really cut EVERYTHING excessive out of my life. But the real moment came when I was a month away from getting married, and realized I had NO real financial plan. Luckily, my brother-in-law dropped a Dave Ramsey CD in my lap, and I got on a plan with the quickness, otherwise marriage would have started off pretty rocky…

  16. Lauren Smith

    Great inspiring stories shared here. I have been trying to get control of my finances and debt. I have been reading a really good book that has helped me get started on financial freedom. The book is called, “Practical Steps to Financial Freedom and Independence: Your Road Map to Exiting the Rat Race and Living Your Dreams” by author Usiere Uko. This book will get you thinking about your life!

  17. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    Cat, your story made my day. As we are still smack dab in the middle of paying off a huge mountain of debt, I often feel as if our work will never end. It was so great to read of your “1 year later” success. Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful story!!!

  18. jim

    OMG! I am LOVING you guys! Seriously – you’re learning and doing the right thing(s) for you and your families. Been there, done that. Just wish the internet had actually existed when we were your guys’ ages – ha! (I know, most of you are probably rolling your eyes and wondering who the hell still exists who was born when the internet didn’t exist – ha!). Great job guys/gals. You’re on your way and you guys are going to do just fine. You’ve figured it out. Give it a few years and then enjoy! In the meantime, enjoy the ride. Best of luck to all.

  19. Keren

    My moment came when I admitted to myself that I have a 6 digit debt! Ouch. But once I started doing some research, I realized I’m far from alone. And once I started blogging, I realized that I’m not only having fun, but also holding myself accountable. Win-win!


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