Episode No. 053

Cindy’s $215,000 Debt Payoff Story

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Table of Contents

My guest today paid off over $215,000 in student loans and credit card debt in just 48 months! 

Cindy Zuniga-Sanchez is a daughter of two immigrants, a lawyer turned entrepreneur, and the founder of Zero-Based Budget Coaching, LLC. After graduating law school in 2015, Cindy found herself in six figures worth of debt. Instead of giving into the temptation to “live the life of luxury” she deserved from all her hard work, she took control of her money by immersing herself in the world of personal finance and paid it all off in just 48 months.

No matter your profession, income level or how much debt you have, this episode is for you!

My guest today paid off over $215,000 in student loans and credit card debt in just 48 months! Cindy Zuniga-Sanchez is a daughter of two immigrants, a lawyer turned entrepreneur, and the founder of Zero-Based Budget Coaching, LLC. After graduating law school in 2015, Cindy found herself in six figures worth of debt. Instead of giving into the temptation to “live the life of luxury” she deserved from all her hard work, she took control of her money by immersing herself in the world of personal finance and paid it all off in just 48 months.No matter your profession, income level or how much debt you have, this episode is for you!

Journal entry

Childhood and Money

As I’ve said before, our money beliefs are formed over time and are greatly impacted by our personal experiences. Many times, our money beliefs stem all the way back to our childhood experiences with money. Because of this, I really wanted to get a sense of Cindy’s upbringing to understand not only how she got into debt, but why she decided to pay it off at such a rapid rate.

“I’m the daughter of immigrants. My parents immigrated from Latin America in the 70’s… [they] came to this country with absolutely nothing in pursuit of the American dream. And with that came a lot of financial struggles growing up…we didn’t have a lot of the luxuries that a lot of people in American households had…like a washer and dryer at home, a microwave, cable television…I didn’t have those types of things growing up. And really, what my parents focus was, was getting food on the table and making sure that we had a good education. That was really their mission. And with that, unfortunately, didn’t really come many money conversations. I understood that I needed to save money, and I understood generally that debt was bad. But that was about it. I didn’t really know how to manage my money. I knew absolutely nothing about credit or investing…So unfortunately, growing up, I didn’t really have much financial literacy. I didn’t get much of that in school either. Unfortunately, I don’t think many of us get that in school, that financial education that we should have received in high school and throughout college. And so really, where I found myself was having graduated law school in 2015 with over $215,000 of debt and not knowing how the heck I was gonna pay it off… I didn’t even know where to start.” -Cindy Zuniga-Sanchez

Your Turn

I want you to think about your own upbringing. What were you taught (whether verbally or by example) about money? How do you think these experiences affect your beliefs and actions surrounding your finances today?

Going Against The Grain & Finding Your “Why”

After hearing about Cindy’s experience with money growing up, I wanted to know what the motivation was behind her decision to aggressively go after her loans. I was especially curious since the vast majority of graduates consider student loans “normal” and pay minimum payments on their debt for years, even decades.

“Many treat [student loans] the way that you would treat your utility bill, like it’s just always going to be there. It’s like this acceptance. And the reason why is because a lot of times, what happens is people feel….like ‘you know what, I deserve this! Yes, I deserve this more luxurious lifestyle. And so yeah, I took on that debt. But I’m going to kind of put that to the side. I’m going to do the minimum that I have to pay, and then I’m going to just live life on my own terms.’ And look, if that that’s for you, then that’s for you. That was not for me, though. It was not for me. Because for me, I really wanted to free myself of that mountain of debt.” Cindy goes on to explain that another motivating factor behind attacking her debt at an aggressive rate was her parents. She knew that freedom from debt meant her being able to take care of her parents financially.

Your Turn

When you are paying off your own debt, it’s extremely important to know your “why.” I want you to reflect on why you’re even reading this article or listening to the podcast in the first place. What is your motivation for your own debt-free journey? Write this down and hang it up on the fridge or your bathroom mirror!

How Cindy Paid Off $215,000

Now to the million-dollar question: How did Cindy do it? “I stayed at my studio apartment in Harlem… I was paying $1150 a month in rent here in Harlem…that’s where I chose to stay. And of course, I lived on the fourth or fifth floor, I did not have a washer dryer in my building, so I needed to leave my building to cross the street to go to the laundromat…little sacrifices… I would bring my lunch to work Monday through Thursday, and then Friday would be like my treat day. I forced myself to stay on course by keeping the habits that I had built…Even as a first year lawyer, even as a second year, as a third year… throughout my debt payoff journey, I kept that habit. I did not buy the extra things that people looking at my salary would have been like, ‘Oh, but you could totally afford that.’ I mean, yeah, sure. But I have a mission right now. And so I was basically living like a broke law student. But I was using all the excess to very intentionally throw at my debt…50% of my take home pay was going straight to my debt.”

Your Turn

Listen, I know you’re thinking, “But Allison, there’s no way I throw 50% of my net income toward debt, I don’t have the salary of a lawyer, I’m already making some sacrifices yet I’m getting now where!” If you can relate to this statement, I hear you. AND – there’s still hope! Your journey does not have to look like Cindy’s journey to make real progress. What you need is a plan catered to YOU. What you need are habits built around routines that get the ball rolling when it comes to paying off debt. That’s where the real progress lies.

The Most Important Step to Take When Paying Off Debt

“For anyone that listens to my story, I think the best piece of advice I can give…no matter what your income is, no matter how much debt you have, is to make a plan. That’s really what it comes down to. So I’m not saying that you too are going to pay off your debt in four years, or that you too can tackle $215,000 the same way that I did… Because I don’t know your situation. But what I will ask is do you have a plan? Because once you have a plan, you have some something written down and you’re like, ‘Okay, this is what I’m going to use to follow through”… that’s what I did…a lot of times we stress out about what we don’t know, what we don’t have control of. And I think that that is one way to help manage the stress that you might have when it comes to debt – it’s to actually have a plan. What is your debt payoff plan? Whether you have $50,000 of debt, or four times that amount. I have had friends and coached clients that graduated from med school with $350,000 of debt… you just start getting very realistic with yourself and saying, okay, given all this information, what can you do? What can you aim for in year one of paying it off? What about year two? What about year three? Are there any bonuses that you have coming up? Are there any promotions that you have coming up? Did you get an unexpected higher tax refund…these are all things that you can think about. It’s not to say that you need to deprive yourself either. Even while I was paying off debt, I still make time for my loved ones. I still made opportunities to travel to do things that I enjoy, but I was very, very intentional about it.” -Cindy Zuniga-Sanchez

Your Turn

What is your debt pay-off plan? What is your earning potential? How can you increase your income? How can you decrease your expenses? Take several minutes and answer these questions. Write down your answer and begin to formulate a plan of attack for your debt. Start small, make a plan for the next week, and then build from there!

When I was paying off my own debt, what I truly needed was a step-by-step plan that was fool-proof! I needed visuals. I needed easy ways to track my income and expenses. I needed a system that would allow me to still enjoy my life in order to help me feel less-restricted. This is why I created the debt free roadmap and I’m giving you FREE access today! You’re going to get the seven easy steps to follow that will set you up for actual success on your debt free journey. I’ll also be sharing the three most common mistakes holding people back from paying off debt so that you can avoid them every single month. You can head over to inspiredbudget.com/debtfree or just sign up below!

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    Meet Allison

    Allison Baggerly is a blogger, author, influencer, speaker, podcaster, and founder of Inspired Budget, which is proudly a Latinx and women-owned business. A former teacher, Allison blends her talents for teaching with her passion for personal finances to help others learn how to start budgeting and build a life they love.

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