How MJ Paid off Over $39,000 of Debt in 21 Months

Recently I sat down with a friend, MJ Bridges, who paid off debt to the tune of over $39,000 of consumer debt in 21 months and started the site Young and Debt Free.  Make sure to check out his bio at the end of the post!

How MJ Paid Over $39,000 of Debt in 21 months

So MJ, I have to ask.  How did you accumulate over $39,000 of consumer debt?  That is $39,000 of debt not including your student loans!

Honestly, I was trying to “keep up with the Joneses.”  Looking at people on social media with new cars, furniture, and designer clothes.  I wanted that lifestyle.  So I had it through my credit cards.  On top of that, I was very ignorant to personal finance which led to a lifestyle of impulse buying.

I remember when I got my first credit card during my freshmen year of college.  Initially, I did a great job managing credit responsibly.  However, it got out of hand while I was pledging my fraternity.  I never recovered from that and it only continued to get worse.

In addition, I was spending money before I actually had it.  For example, I was accustomed to receiving a nice tax refund.  Therefore, if I wanted something before the tax refund actually hit my account, I would buy it on credit and tell myself it would get paid off during tax time.  The thing is nothing is guaranteed.  In addition, you have to be discipline to actually use that money to pay off debt when it comes.  It ultimately comes down to not budgeting.

MJ’s Debt as of January 2014:

  • Old Apt Maintenance Bill:  $300
  • Taxes: $1800
  • Health Care: $1000
  • Store Credit Card #1: $900
  • Store Credit Card #2: $1000
  • Major Credit Card #1: #13,500
  • Major Credit Card #2: $6,500
  • Major Credit Card #3: $3,600
  • Car Loan: $11,500

Total:  $39,200

Related: Budgeting Blunders: 5 Deadly Mistakes with your Current Budget


What was your turning point?

The turning point was January 2014.  I remember it like it was yesterday. I moved to Atlanta 6 months prior to start a new life.  Then I stopped to get gas and realized I had no cash.  To my surprise, my credit cards were also maxed out!  I literally shed a tear!  I wondered, how did I get here?  Luckily, I had enough gas to make it home and over the weekend, in the silence of my bedroom, I declared to eliminate debt.

Related: How I Raised My Credit Score 150+ points


So tell us, how did you do it?  How did you become free of $39,000 of consumer debt?

First I made a budget taking into account my current income, expenses, and the $39,000 of consumer debt that needed to be paid.  Once I documented all of the consumer debt, I made a plan of attack.  Then, I worked relentlessly to increase my income.  I did this by getting three part-time jobs.  In addition to teaching, I was literally working every day between two different tutoring jobs and a night club.  Luckily, I found part-time jobs that I loved.

Lastly, I was focused on becoming debt free.  I eliminated almost all social activities from my lifestyle. Besides the fact that my free time was extremely limited, I preferred to make large payments toward my consumer debt instead of going to brunch or a night club.  I even limited my alcohol consumption.  It was a true lifestyle change.

Related: Budget like a Pro with 5 Simple Steps (and less than 30 minutes)


What was the hardest part about getting out of debt?

The hardest part was being patient.  Due to social media, I saw other people traveling and having a blast!  The pictures, videos and status updates made me jealous.  Honestly, those same images on social media contributed to some of my consumer debt.  It is so easy to get into thousands of dollars of debt but it takes a long time to become debt free.

Also, I wasn’t prepared for hiccups along the way to being debt free.  Since I had multiple jobs, I was earning more income which led to a high tax liability.  Instead of receiving a tax refund, I ended up owing the IRS $1800! Of course, there were other unexpected bills along the way as well.  If I could do it again, I would have focused on paying down debt aggressively as well as saving an emergency fund.

Related: 5 Reasons you Need an Emergency Fund and Steps to Starting an Emergency Fund

It is much easier to get in debt than it is to get out of debt but with dedication, sacrifices and a budget, this teacher did it!

What advice do you have for others that feel overwhelmed with debt and want to become free?

First, have a vision.  Sit down and vision yourself being debt free.  What would you do if you were debt free?  How would your life change?  Having a vision helped me to stay focused.  It wasn’t easy working multiple jobs but I was focused on becoming debt free!

Related: The woman who paid off $220,000 of debt speaks out


How has your life changed since becoming debt free?  What are your plans now?

After teaching in the classroom for many years, I have left to pursue other opportunities.  I will always be an educator at heart but I want to focus on educating our community around personal finance.  Most importantly, I want others to gain control and eliminate their debt.  The best part is that I am no longer bound to consumer debt. I literally feel free and have more control over my life!



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MJ Bridges is a learner of life, motivational speaker, and debt free coach.  MJ thrives from learning new ways to improve happiness and peace of life.  He was born in Racine, WI and is now a proud resident of Atlanta, Ga.  For more information about MJ and his services head to Young and Debt Free!


Have you paid off debt?  Would you like to share your story? I’d love to motivate others with your story!  Email me at [email protected]!


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Thinking paying off debt is hard? This teacher shows us how he paid off 39k in 21 months.



  1. Wow! We are in the process now. We don’t have student debt, but we would love to not have to think about mortgages anymore…

  2. Incredible story, MJ! Thanks for introducing this story, Tia. Nice to meet other bloggers who have accomplished incredible feats!

  3. Debt FREE!!!!! Oh yes. Keeping with the Joneses will get you every time. I cringed when I read the paragraph about receiving a credit card freshman year of college. I think that’s where we all go wrong. My husband and I had this conversation over the weekend with our kids. Our oldest is just going to the 7th grade, but we were talking about being financially responsible and why we do their allowances the way we do and require them to save and pay us $5 toward their dogs and not to borrow money from one another. Financial responsibility being taught early in life.

    1. That is awesome that you are talking to your son in 7th grade! It is super important to set the foundation early.

  4. I admire his dedication. I have friends who have also had to get multiple jobs to accelerate their debt payments. Fortunately MJ was able to hold strong to his vision knowing that the short term sacrifice was worth it in the end.

  5. Thank you all!
    It was such a tough time for me but I credit my breaking moment; that was a moment I never wanted to go back to.

    – MJ

  6. Great work! It is stories like this one that help me stay motivated to paying off debt, even when I’d rather be traveling or keeping up with the Joneses.

  7. What a great story!!! I love how he took immediate action and responsibility and turned things around. It just goes to show that with discipline and focus, you really can achieve anything.

  8. Yes to all of this, when I was young I got caught up in the credit trap. I had to bust my tail back in 2004 to pay things off before the arrival of my first child. It wasn’t easy but it was worth it.

  9. OMG I really need to do this I just graduated a year ago and already I’m in debt. I can’t! I need to apply the things he did.

  10. This is so amazing and inspiring! There is nothing worse than having huge debt! Thanks for sharing this!

  11. I like how practical this is. How about advice for people with very young children who aren’t necessarily in the position to work 3 jobs without creating more issues to tackle?

  12. This was such a sobering read. I too am in the process of clearing out some debt and this just made me realize I need a solid plan. I can’t just wing clearing up debt.

  13. That’s a great deal of motivation and sacrifice. The motivation gene I have, but the sacrifice gene? Not so much. The struggle continues!

  14. Wow! This is amazing. We’re blessed not to have very much debt and we try to keep it that way, but it’s definitely a struggle. Keeping up with the Joneses will get you every time. I’m glad he was able to turn things around.

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