This 34-year-old paid off $43,500 in debt in 3 years. Here's how she got her money and life in order

Abigail Ness celebrates paying off her debt by taking her sisters to Disney.
Abigail Ness

Since as long as Abigail Ness can remember, she's been good at tidying up. Although Ness, 34, is employed as a research analyst at a local bank in Nampa, Idaho, she has spent the last seven years dreaming of becoming a professional organizer.

But before she could launch a business helping other people, Ness recognized she needed to get her own finances in order. So over the last three years, she has paid off $43,500 in debt.

Those debts included $36,000 in student loans, with interest rates averaging 5.9%, from earning an undergraduate degree in communications at Boise State University. She had also racked up $3,000 in credit card debt during and after college, at an interest rate of 11%. In addition, Ness owed $9,500 on her car, with an interest rate of 3%.

"I realized I wasn't passionate about the companies that were getting all of my hard-earned money," Ness explains. She made it her mission to use her earnings to become debt-free and then pursue a new profession.

The anti-debt strategy: Straightening up to spend less

Although Ness's possessions were neatly organized, she had an excess of things she didn't need. The clutter, she says, made it difficult to appreciate and utilize what she owned.

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First, Ness determined where she was overspending and how much of her $40,000 annual income she could put toward paying off her debt. She saw opportunities to cut back on clothing, food, and personal care products. To avoid further frivolous spending, Ness made an inventory of her belongings.

Before starting her financial makeover, Ness often bought new outfits for events and parties. To break that habit, she went through her closet, keeping the pieces of clothing she loved and donating the ones that she didn't.

"Repurposing and using what I had brought a state of gratitude I hadn't felt before," says Ness.

After clearing her closet, she changed her shopping habits, visiting thrift stores and waiting until the holidays to get steep retail discounts.

Bathroom organization before and after.
Abigail Ness

Ness also took stock of her food pantry and toiletries. She determined which food staples she could start buying for less. And, after sifting through her bathroom, she realized she was often buying products like shampoo before finishing what she already had.

She started transferring her toiletries to clear bottles with labels so she would use every last drop and only buy what she ran out of. "I made it my mission to be resourceful with the things I already own," Ness explains.

Shopping for off-brand products at grocery stores and cooking for herself, rather than dining out, saved Ness over $150 a month, while swapping out expensive toiletries saved her over $70 a month.

She also applied her visual organizational strategy to her money, clearly outlining what she would use each dollar for: "There was no hiding money. I would use it for everything that was on the budget. I wouldn't just let it be a free-for-all."

Creating a visual of where her money was going helped her recognize how much of her income was wasted in interest. To avoid spending on borrowing, Ness used a balance transfer to move her credit card debt from an account with 11% interest to one that charged zero interest.

The debt-free celebration: Building family memories

When Ness made her final student loan payment in April, she officially became debt-free. In all, she paid off $43,500 in student loan, auto loan, and credit card debt. (Ness's parents helped her move towards financial freedom a bit faster by contributing $5,000 towards her student debt, but their contribution isn't reflected in that total.)

In May, Ness says she indulged her inner child and took her two younger sisters to Disneyland in California to celebrate her financial freedom.

The opportunity: Launching 'Organized by Abi'

As Ness moved closer to paying off her debt, she was able to launch her dream side hustle.

Organized by Abi uses Ness' decluttering techniques to help clients achieve their personal goals. As an added bonus, she's earned an extra $2,000 since the business launched in January of 2018.

Ness wants to help clients make the most of their space, bring their passions to life, and inspire gratitude: "I want to help people own their lives instead of their stuff owning them."