At her lowest financial point, Bernadette Joy Maulion, a blogger and YouTube personality, remembers laying on the floor during in her final semester of graduate school, tears streaming down her face.
Looking over her student loan balance, she realized she was graduating with some $72,000 in education debt. Combined with two mortgages for homes she and her husband had purchased in the hopes of flipping, Maulion was looking at $300,000 in debt and no clear plan to pay if off.
"I went from zero debt to $300,000 of debt in a very short amount of time," Maulion tells CNBC Make It. "It was completely overwhelming. And I didn't know what else to do other than feel really bad."
But the now-34-year-old quickly transitioned from feeling bad to feeling determined to change her life. She and her husband decided to buckle down and focus on paying off the debt as fast as they could.
After three years, they are in the clear. Maulion attributes that, in part, to hustling and scheduling monthly meetings with her husband to make sure they were on the same page.
Their love of board games didn't hurt either.
Learning how to live a frugal, "minimalist" lifestyle, as Maulion calls it, was especially important in paying off her debt. The couple decided to use just one car, instead of two, saving them hundreds each month. They also hosted a garage sale to get rid of unneeded items. Even tiny changes add up, she says.
"It was really tough but really rewarding. It took a lot of sacrifice," she says. "And it took getting to know our finances really well in order to make that work."
It's not the most fun strategy, Maulion concedes, but they were willing to commit for a few years. And they still had plenty to do — just at a cheaper price. Rather than paying for entertainment like movies or nights out at a bar, the couple leaned into their love for board games.
"My husband and I are huge board game nerds, and we have over 100 board games at our house," she says. "We spent a lot of money on board games, which most people don't, but that is the one thing that kept us going through this debt-free journey."
Giving yourself a few "non-negotiable" areas where you can spend money can help keep you on track if you're trying to pay down debt or save more money, too.
"If there's something that you really love, it's OKto spend money on it, but you can't spend money on everything," she adds.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.