August 4, 2022 – By Alicia Adamczyk
After a “decade of spending,” Jamie Feldman knew things had to change.
Between countless nights out in New York, standing up in several expensive weddings, and charging some expenses after being laid off from her full-time job in March 2021, the 33-year-old had accrued around $18,000 in credit card debt.
The debt was weighing on her, but she says she felt such shame about it that she mostly ignored it.
But as a freelance writer lacking the stability of set paychecks and pay schedules each month, her financial anxiety was becoming too much to ignore. In June, she enlisted the help of a close friend to help her budget and tackle debt. It was the first time she acknowledged her debt out loud; immediately after telling her friend the number, she felt relief.
“I got to a place that was no longer sustainable for me to continue ignoring the debt,” says Feldman. “It felt unmanageable at that point, I had let it get so out of control.”
After taking a look at her spending for the previous few months and making a budget with financial software Tiller, she determined she would save the most money over the next month by cutting out eating at restaurants and most shopping. She also decided to hold herself accountable by posting a video of her daily spending to TikTok. “It gives me something to do while I’m not spending money,” she jokes.
By the end of July, with a growing audience of 15,300 people following along, Feldman paid off over $1,100 of her credit card debt. She also transferred the balance to a card with a 0% APR promotional period—her goal is to pay it off by the end of the 24 months—and met with a credit counselor at nonprofit American Consumer Credit Counseling. Again, her income varies each month, but she aims to make $2,000 a week before taxes.
It’s an impressive feat, and one that Feldman doesn’t take for granted—especially with prices for just about everything increasing because of inflation and credit card interest rates also on the rise. Though she was over her set budget for gas and groceries in July, she was able to make up for it in other categories.
Taking a hard look at her finances and working out a realistic budget for the first time have helped Feldman change her relationship to her finances. She’s no longer anxious; now she has a plan and knows exactly where her money is going.
“Of course I’m still worried about it, but once you confront something it becomes less scary,” she says. “Now it’s like: ‘Okay, I can do this.’ This is not my life, that I have debt forever and I can never get out of it. I am in control; I have the power to change things.”
Enjoy the concerts, but pack a PB&J
If you’re on a similar debt payoff journey, Feldman advises not cutting out everything that brings you joy. She still went to the movies and out to concerts and other events with friends; she just packed a peanut butter and jelly for the road.
She was also honest with her friends about her debt, and told them she “couldn’t afford to do anything that costs money right now.” What happened next surprised her: Her support system stepped up. A lot of walks around the park and apartment hangs ensued; her friends also bought her drinks and food occasionally, as did her mom.
“I ended up connecting with more friends and more people than I have in a long time,” she says. “It became part of the fun, figuring out creative things to do.”
One particularly contentious expense among her TikTok followers: A $100-plus trip to the nail salon at the end of the month. But Feldman says it’s all about compromising.
“I know myself. I can’t do something long-term that’s completely deprived of the things that make me happy,” she says. “Everything I do I try to have some sort of balance, and I also want to keep things in my life that bring me joy because that’s the point of life.”
With one month on her debt repayment journey down, Feldman is looking to the future. She says she likely has years of frugality ahead of her.
She hopes other people see her paying off her debt in the current environment and know they can tackle their own financial goals, with the right plan and a friend or two in their corner.
“No one talks about their debt while they’re in,” she says. “Let’s talk about it and get through it together. I want other people to feel seen in their experiences.”
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com