First Grade Teacher Paid Off $53,000 in 36 Months


Today I have an exciting blog post for you all. I will be sharing my friend, and Young Adult Survival Guide reader, Stephanie Atienza’s Debt Free Journey and how she used the free resources on this blog to crush her debt and create the life she wants.

After graduating from James Madison University in 2014 with a Master’s Degree in Teaching, Stephanie Atienza decided to come up with a plan to pay off her $53,000 in student loan debt.

She says, “Growing up, I saw my parents work extremely hard to provide for our family of seven. There were times where only one income was coming in, but they made it work. Because of their example, I knew that when it came time for me to begin paying off my debt, it was possible.”

So she came up with a plan: to pay off her debt in 3 years.

Here is how she did it:

To cut the cost of a car payment, right after graduation, Stephanie bought a used Toyota Corolla in cash off Craigslist with most of her college savings.

The next expense she had to consider was rent, so she decided to move back into her parent’s house.

“Starting off, my parents let me take some time to be rent free to build up an emergency fund. After about 3 months, we evaluated the situation and I started paying them a little for rent to help out. After the second year I got a better feel for the numbers and my budget, so we adjusted the payment to a couple hundred more, and we did the same the third year.”

Throughout the process she says, “My parents were supportive because they saw my plan and dedication to reach my goal.”

The biggest part of her plan was her budget, “Budgeting is the number one key to pay off debt. You can’t just spend-spend-spend and hope it will work out. You have to be real with yourself. Living on a budget is not just math, it takes a lot of self-control.”

She also says, “Math is not always my strongest subject, so reaching out to people like Phil, who I could trust, and have resources I could use, helped a lot.”

These are her budget categories:

budget pic steph

Create your budget here

The hardest part she says was that, “In our society, you feel this pressure to move out of your parent’s home the moment you get a job. I knew that wasn’t an option. I had a plan and I didn’t want to fit in to what society told me I ‘should do’. I would tell people I have a goal to reach and I am going to have to sacrifice not having my own place to make it happen.”

Not only did Stephanie pay off her student loan debt, but through this process she also travel hacked a cruise to the Caribbean. WHAT?!?!


“Just because I lived on a budget didn’t mean I never had fun. Once I realized I could be disciplined on the budget, I put almost all of my expenses on my credit card that gave me travel points. After a year of doing that, I had enough points for a plane ticket.”

She also says, “I worked at a summer camp, baby sat, and dog walked so I could pay for the additional part of the trip.”

Her advice to those in debt: “Come up with a plan and act on it.”

“In the beginning looking at the numbers can be so overwhelming, but I am grateful I saw Phil’s story and used his resources to help me with my journey.”

Free debt payoff mini course

Also, “Stay mentally strong. When you feel doubt or start comparing yourself to others, stop. Do not let those negative thoughts or life’s bumps steer you away from you goal. You will have to adjust your numbers, you will make mistakes, but you can always get back on track. “

Now that she is debt free she says, “I want to travel more since I have summers free. I am going to Hawaii this summer. I also hope to eventually make it to Spain or Colombia, where my mom is from. I also want to save for my own place, increase my retirement contribution, and learn other ways to invest.”

Stephanie’s Favorite Blog Post’s:

How to Budget/Why You Should

One-Step Millionaire Life Hack

4 Tricks To Have A Life While Paying Off Debt

“It is tough in the beginning, but it gets easier as you see positive change happening. Now I am debt free after 3 years!”

The reason I love Stephanie’s story so much is because she exemplifies having a plan to pay off debt and having fun at the same time. Could she have paid off her student loans faster if she didn’t go on her trip? Maybe. However, she was confident in her goal and knew that if she executed her budget with discipline she would reach her goal in 3 years. So Awesome, Way To Go Steph!

Have you overcome debt?

Would you be interested in sharing your story and encouraging others?  Contact me 🙂