Finance Magazine

Reader Story: Seeing the End of Debt in Sight

By Kathleen O'Malley @frugalportland
Seeing the End of Debt in Sight | Frugal Portland Editor’s note: I asked for stories about people’s debt journeys in my newsletter (not signed up yet? They’re weekly now, and I’d love for you to sign up), and I got this amazing response. That’s all you need from me. Take it away, Suzanne!

My Background

As the daughter of a bookkeeper who took her job very seriously, I was raised by my frugal mom, and my free-spending fun Dad. How they managed household accounts without homicide is still a mystery. In my youth, I worked in restaurants where the supply of cash was never ending. Need more cash? Work an extra shift, no problem! Mind you, this was during the heady days of the first California Cuisine food scene. Restaurants were packed, people were spending, and each night I came home with $200.00. This went a long way for living expenses when I was single, way before the dot com boom.

Where I am Today (Medical Bills, Credit Card Bills, and All)

Feeling I was too old to continue restaurant work, I returned to get my RN license at a private nursing school. My previous schooling was completely debt-free due to my Dad’s GI Bill. I met someone, fell in love, had a whirlwind romance, finished nursing school with our eight-month-old son and another on the way. I took my nursing boards, but deferred the loans to stay home with our sons, and naively ignored compound interest. BIG MISTAKE. Fast forward 18 years, and today, I am working as a school nurse, which pays about 60% less than my previous hospital nursing job, alhtough it does have better hours. I just finished paying off my middle son’s hospital bill after a Mother’s Day surprise of his ruptured appendix (the gift that had me giving and giving). Despite health insurance, we were still responsible for $3,000 to meet the deductible. I also just finished paying off a dental bill when a crown was not covered by our then insurance. It’s a big load off my shoulders.

We’ll be Credit Card Debt Free Next Year

Now, I am focusing on tackling our credit card debt. Each month, I pay two to three times the minimum and, by my calculations, will be at a zero balance for one of them by May, and another by August. The final credit card will be paid off next year. In addition, I am also paying my student loan that is consolidated with my husband’s student loan. I am fortunate that my husband’s salary is covering our mortgage and our household bills while I whittle away at these old debts weighing us down.

How We’re Getting to the End of Debt

  • We Play Outside: It’s been easy to forgo entertainment as we love to go on hikes, take walks to the park and enjoy having dinners at home. We are both physically active and do not belong to a gym.
  • We eat at home: We make most of our food from scratch and have gotten good at suggesting potlucks when we entertain friends.

It’s been an adjustment yet it will all feel amazing once the only debt we have will be our mortgage. I’d love to say my Mom’s bookkeeping skills were passed to me via DNA. Alas! They were not. I have learned the hard way, a little late in the game, that money is energy and the best way to keep it in a positive flow is to learn how to budget, how to save, and how to pay things off without revolving credit.

Learning from my Grandfather


Never buy anything you can’t pay for in cash. @omalleyk
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My Grandfather never purchased anything he couldn’t pay for in cash. It’s my new mantra. It takes discipline. It isn’t complicated. My advice is to stay focused, make a list of what needs to be paid off (because it feels good to cross items off!), and whittle these debts down one at a time.

Good luck, everyone! And for those of you who are still working in trades where you get tips? Take some advice from someone who’s been there/done that: start today to think differently. Imagine you get paid once or twice a month and learn how to budget. It may sound hopelessly old fashioned, yet I truly believe that the way the world economies are going, [being financially sound is] going to be The New Cool Thing. The faster you begin, the better off your accounts will be. Trust me on this one!


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