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How this shopaholic with $120,000 in student loans became a debt-free minimalist

Christina Mychas had debt from pharmacy school but failed to pay off most of it because of her shopping addiction. Here's how she paid it off.

Photo: Christina Mychas

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Christina Mychas realized she had a shopping addiction while buying a pair of luxury boots during a Black Friday sale in November 2018. And she knew that addiction was preventing her from paying off her massive student loan debt.

"I remember getting those [boots], and I was like, 'Holy s***, I cannot afford these.' But I kept them anyways," says Mychas.

She had launched a YouTube channel in 2018, and her first videos were hauls and unboxings, featuring her talking about new Zara and Aritzia clothing and Drunk Elephant skincare she had purchased. Mychas spent lavishly on clothing and vacations, and four years after graduating from pharmacy school in 2014 with $120,000 in student loan debt, she'd barely made a dent in paying off the principal.

For Mychas, the 2018 Black Friday sale was the turning point that made her realize she was caught in a cycle of shopping and not being able to fully pay off her student loan debt. She began aggressively researching advice on how to stop shopping and came across personal finance expert Dave Ramsey and YouTubers Aja Dang and Hannah Louise Poston.

Mychas was inspired by Dang's $200,000 debt repayment story, Ramsey's book "The Total Money Makeover," Poston's "no buy" experience and the documentary "Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things."

After learning more about minimalism and budgeting from experts and other YouTubers, Mychas decided to embark on a plan to embrace a simpler life and pay off her debt.

Using 'no buy' and 'low buy' to pay off debt

Mychas first focused on curbing her spending and increasing her monthly debt repayment. In order to cut down on her clothing purchases, she started doing "no buy" in early 2019. 

"No buy" is a period of time when individuals don't buy any items that aren't considered essentials such as groceries, health-care and hygiene products. There's also "low buy," which offers individuals more flexibility. During a "low buy" period, you can spend money on non-essentials, but first you set a budget for how much you can spend.

Mychas gave herself the challenge of trying a five-month "no buy" period where she wouldn't purchase any new skincare products, clothing or makeup.

For Mychas, purchasing less gave her the chance to understand why she felt the desire to spend. She found that she was more likely to spend when she was bored, sad or anxious.

"I think when you just start slowing down, taking pause, and then just allowing yourself to think a little bit more critically before you spend the money, it really helps you walk away from [a purchase]," says Mychas.

She slipped up on her 'no buy' journey, about four months in, when her family dog passed away. While she temporarily reverted into her old spending habits in 2019, she's grateful she did "no buy" because it showed she was able to abstain from shopping. After her stint with "no buy," she switched to a "low buy" program and still incorporates the lessons of intentional spending into her daily life.

"Everyone needs to be a consumer at one point or another, and it's just not useful to feel guilty about that spending when you reasonably have to or even would like to spend," says Mychas. "Nowadays, I try to balance spending money on reasonable wants without feeling too guilty as long as I am still respecting my other financial goals (like saving, investing, budgeting) and planning for a purchase."

Managing her credit card use

In the depths of her shopping addiction, Mychas was using a credit card to finance her purchases. During her "low buy" period she stopped using credit cards altogether and used only debit cards and cash so she could curb spending. Only after changing her spending habits did she start using a credit card for everyday purchases.

For consumers looking for a credit card that will help them them earn rewards on their everyday purchases, cards like the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express and Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card (see rates and fees) are good choices. 

With the Blue Cash Preferred, cardholders can earn 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), and it has a $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95 (see rates and fees). If you're looking for a no annual fee card with a flat cash-back rate, check out the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card (see rates and fees), which offers cardholders 1.5% cash back on all eligible purchases.

With cash-back and rewards cards, it's very important to use them responsibly. If you don't pay off your balance on time and in full each month, you'll get hit with high interest charges.

Speaking out on social media

Thanks to her "low buy" mindset, Mychas was able to increase her monthly debt repayment from a little over $1,000 a month to $3,000 a month in 2019. While Mychas learned a lot about budgeting and curbing her impulse spending with "no buy" and "low buy," she was still constantly thinking about shopping and wondering when she was allowed to buy things.

It clicked for her in mid-2020, when she was watching Matt D'Avella's YouTube videos on minimalism: She needed to change her mindset about shopping.

"Minimalism introduced me into the idea of 'less but better' and wanting less overall," Mychas says. "'Low buy' gave me a reason to buy less, minimalism gave me a reason to want less."

Minimalism, which initially started as an art movement in the 1960s, has also evolved into a lifestyle movement focused on purchasing less, decluttering and only buying what you value and use. For Mychas, this meant selling items she didn't need or use, appreciating what she already had and only purchasing items that were important to her.

After adopting a new minimalist mindset and keeping with "low buy," in September 2021, she announced that she had paid off her entire student loan debt. 

When she started getting serious about her debt payoff, Mychas' content on social media began to change, too. In early 2020, she started posting videos on how to stop shopping, building a capsule wardrobe, decluttering and "low buy."

Though she was concerned about losing viewers who were interested in her hauls and style content, she believes her new content resonates more with her nearly 70,000 subscribers. In fact, she found that many of her viewers were interested in sustainability and being more mindful about consumption.

"Overall, this sort of minimalist mindset [is about] being grateful for what you have, using what you have and only bringing things in if they bring you value."

For rates and fees for the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, click here

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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