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Woman who paid off $24,000 in debt in 15 months shares strategies to living a debt-free life

Credit: Mullers Photography/ABC News
Credit: Mullers Photography/ABC News

(DENVER, Colo.) — When Anna Newell Jones got married in May 2009 there was a hitch: Her husband was ready to have and to hold her, but he wasn’t so excited about sharing his bank account.

“The bombshell for me was when I learned that she was $24,000 in debt,” her husband, Aaron Jones, said.

Newell Jones, a photographer, had accumulated debt through years of mindless and frivolous spending. “I bought what I wanted when I wanted and spent the way I wanted,” said Newell Jones, who lives in Denver, Colorado.

The fact the man she was marrying didn’t want to share finances prompted her to make a major life change. After their honeymoon, Newell Jones took a strict approach called a “spending fast” on January 1, 2010 and shred her steep debt in 15 months.

“A ‘spending fast’ is where you spend on needs only. Its bare-bones living at its finest,” Newell Jones, 38, told Good Morning America.

That means strictly essentials: pay your bills, cook your food at home, and that’s it. No wants allowed.

Newell Jones also made a reverse budget, an exercise where you manually create an itemized list of everything you’re spending, to see your real spending habits.

“Take the last three months of your bank statements, credit card statements, and you take a pen and paper, no laptops or spreadsheets, if you can help it,” she explained. Going line by line, write down everything you have spent in categories like food, rent, clothing, exercise.

The reverse budget forced her to change her ways. She started to spend less, paid off bills, and in 15 months, she eliminated her debt totaling exactly $23,605.10.

“I was not a victim of my situation anymore. I took control over it,” she said. “Since getting out of debt, I now run three businesses that I love. I’ve written a book. I’m a mom now. We own a house. It’s totally changed my life.”

Newell Jones started the blog called “And Then We Saved,” to help others learn how to live a debt-free life, and wrote a book, The Spender’s Guide to Debt-Free Living, about a “spending fast” approach and her journey.

While introducing her method to thousands of people online, she also launched a debt and spending support group on Facebook where people can share experiences, “commiserate” together and “cheer each other along.”

“Being in debt is an isolating, shame-triggering experience,” she writes on her website. “The feelings associated with having debt, are universal, no matter what the total amount of debt is. Please know you are not alone.”

Members uplift one another’s progress, saying things like, “Awesome!! I can’t wait for my next paycheck to throw more money to my debt!” and “That sounds so brave of you! I often think of this in wild, ‘never-gonna-actually-happen’ terms, but you did it.”

“What I’ve noticed is it gives others hope,” she said. “And finding this super-effective way to get out of debt can positively impact so many people’s lives.”

Read on for more tips from Anna Newell Jones in her own words on how to take steps to lead and debt-free life yourself.

Tips for ‘spending fasters’

The goal: The whole point of the “spending fast” is to get out of debt as fast as possible so you can get on with the life and live the life you were put on this earth to live. The last thing that should be keeping you from that is debt!

1. Build your debt hit list: This will become you debt to-do list where you’re able to maximize your efforts. Emotionally heavy and highest interest rate debts go at the top.

2. Create a reverse budget: This can be one of the hardest tasks to do, but I’m continually told how valuable mining this data is. The reverse budget provides invaluable insights for where money has been bleeding out.

3. Make a wants and needs list based on your reverse budget: Spend on the needs only. After you get in a groove with your “spending fast,” up the ante and get more competitive with yourself. As you go see continue to examine where you can reduce the needs expenses even more.

4. Stay committed to the process: “Mistakes” and “slips” will happen. You’re changing your entire way of life and that’s not going to happen overnight. Be gentle with yourself. Mitigate the damage as much as possible by returning what you can and continue on with your spending fast.

5. Put a ‘pause’ between you and the purchase. Leave the store, close the browser, get yourself out of the situation.

6
. Recognize your wins: It’s the little things that got you into debt and it will be the “little” things that will get you out of debt. There is no sacrifice that’s “too small” to be proud of.

7. Know you’re not alone: Join a supportive, awesome, and encouraging community of people that will cheer you along and help you when you struggle.

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