This guest post from Amanda is part of a new feature here at Get Rich Slowly. Every Sunday will include a reader story (in the new “reader stories” category). Some will be general “how I did X” stories, and others will be examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success.

In May of 2008, I graduated with my MBA from a great school. I went straight from my undergraduate career into an MBA program, so despite numerous internships, I didn’t have a great deal of work experience, nor did I have a nest egg of any kind. Luckily, what I did have was a CPA for a mother who taught me the value of saving a buck when I was very young.

I also was able to go to school on a partial scholarship and applied for numerous others while in the program. With all this said, I went to four years of college and two years of an MBA program and came out with around $37,000 in debt.  That’s a large number to swallow; however, as far as education goes, I still look at that as quite a bargain.

Back in May 2008, I was 24 years old with $37,000 owed to good old Sallie Mae. I was starting my first full-time job in June, with a salary of $65,000 plus bonus potential. It wasn’t the $90,000 others from my class were making, but I thought I was doing very well considering I wasn’t yet 35 and I wasn’t moving to a big city (like NYC or DC).

Fast forward to today, roughly a year and a half later: I have $8000 left to pay on my student loans. I also have an emergency fund of around $17,000 and have over $15,000 in my retirement accounts. I’ve gone from having about $1000 to my name (net worth of about negative $36,000) to today where my net worth (emergency fund plus retirement accounts minus remaining student loans) is approximately $24,000. I’ve paid off $29,000 and saved $32,000 in a year-and-a-half: a total of $61,000.
 
How did I do it? I didn’t live like a pauper, but I did and do live frugally. I didn’t do anything that any of you haven’t heard before. I have no secret that hasn’t been revealed on personal finance blogs, but nonetheless, here’s the laundry list of how I’ve tackled my debt and built my savings:

I set goals! Before I began working, I set up my budget and set stretch goals for each month on what I could save/pay off.

I paid myself first and automated my finances. I immediately set up my 401(k) with my company. I set my contribution rate to 10% and didn’t concern myself with company match whatsoever. I figured if I never knew what it was like to have that 10% in my paycheck, I’d never miss it.

I also took a couple hundred bucks (it adjusted over time so there isn’t an exact figure to put here) from each paycheck and immediately moved it over to an ING Savings Account that I set up to build my Emergency Fund. Finally, I set up a Roth IRA where any excess cash could go at the end of each month.

I got a roommate. I wanted to live in a nice, safe area with a pool and a gym. It didn’t have to be the Ritz but I wanted it to be a place I was happy to call home. After looking at the prices of such places, I knew to accomplish my financial goals, I was going to need to get a two-bedroom and split the rent. I found a great roommate and split everything down the middle with them. This kept my rent and utility bills far under the 33% suggested rate. (I paid approximately $650 in rent for those of you who like exact numbers.)

I negotiated on all utilities and kept them to a minimum. I didn’t get a home phone number; my cell phone was all I needed. I had regular cable (no fancy movie channels) and regular internet through a bundle package. I negotiated these rates to the absolute minimum offered and when they tried to raise them, I called the cable company and told them their services were not worth that amount and that I would like to cancel. It was easy and fast and worked like a charm.

I kept the heat and A/C on at limited levels. If it was hot, I used a ceiling fan rather than pump A/C through the whole house. I opened the windows and let the breeze cool off the house. When it was cold, I used heat but also wore socks, sweatpants and a sweatshirt so that I could be warm without making my house a sauna. I used a drying rack as much as possible to save on dryer costs. It also helps keep your clothes from wearing out — an added bonus!

I learned the art of couponing at the grocery store and taught myself how to cook. Every Sunday, I faithfully clipped coupons and used sites like Coupon Mom or Frugal in Virginia to help me match coupons to sales to get the lowest prices possible.  This seemed daunting at first but quickly became a ten to fifteen minute routine which often saved great deals of money

I didn’t buy pre-made food: I cooked from scratch. I found this was cheaper and far healthier! All Recipes was a great and free resource so that I didn’t get bored with the same old meals.

I bought produce that was in season so I could still get fresh fruits and veggies.  I also stuck with apples, bananas, and pears instead of their more expensive berry counterparts. I ate vegetarian a few meals each week.  I didn’t completely take meat out of the equation but did limit my intake of it. I also grew my own. I couldn’t have a full garden but I did grow tomatoes on the back terrace. 

I didn’t eat out often! I probably ate out once to twice a week to keep up with my social calendar.  Instead of eating out, I invited friends to my house or met them for a pot-luck. Finally, I brought my lunch to work almost every day.

As a side note, it blew my mind how many people I worked with complained of being late on their mortgage payment and then went and bought a $10 lunch three to four times a week.

I didn’t buy Stuff. Don’t get me wrong: If I wanted something, I bought it. I just evaluated whether it was something I really needed or if that want was only temporary. Usually, I’d wait a week to see if I was still thinking about the item. When I did shop, I used coupons at the stores and Retail Me Not when shopping online. I also shopped the sale section first.

I used the library and swapped books/DVDs with friends. Instead of hitting Barnes and Nobles, I went to the library or did PaperBackSwap. I’ve never been left wanting for something good to read or watch.

I worked out and spent a lot of time hiking outside. Hiking and enjoying the great outdoors is healthy, fun and free! I also did live in a beautiful area for hiking so was very lucky in that regard.

I worked hard at my job. I busted booty to get bonuses and raises at work. I made sure that I gave 110% and that my bosses were happy with my work. Any extra money (bonuses, tax returns etc) went straight into loan repayment after a small celebratory dinner of some kind.

I made side money.  This also went straight into loan repayment. I used eBay to sell items I didn’t want/need anymore. I sold books and DVDs that I no longer wanted on Amazon. I did Swagbucks. It’s amazing how easy it is to get those $5 Amazon gift cards. It’s essentially free money!

Basically, I just didn’t let myself fall victim to lifestyle inflation. I didn’t need to have the latest Coach purse or a brand new car. I took good care of what I did have and bought nice things without the ridiculous price tags. I didn’t blow money at the bar, and I built my social calendar on less expensive outings with friends (picnics, free concerts, dinner parties etc).  

I turned my debt repayment into a game where it was fun to send in that big payment and I turned any shopping into a quest for a great deal. It won’t work for everyone, but it worked for me!

Reminder: This is a story from one of your fellow readers. Please be nice. After nearly a decade of blogging, I have a thick skin, but it can be scary to put your story out in public for the first time. Remember that this guest author isn’t a professional writer, and is just learning about money like you are. Photo by fotographix.ca.

This article is about Debt, Reader Stories