Pero I can do it too

How I Paid Off $30,000 Of Debt In 18 Months

pay off debt

Table of Contents

When I found myself deep in debt, I started to believe that living paycheck to paycheck and being stressed was normal. I accepted it as part of my life.


Then, I decided to build a life I had never seen my family experience. I buckled down on the idea that “if white people can do it, I can do it too!” As the eldest daughter who immigrated to San Francisco, CA, at the age of 10, I knew I had to change the trajectory of my life.


This winning mindset allowed me to travel, move to the Pacific Northwest, slow down my life, and work full-time in my money coaching business.


Let me share four tips on how I paid off $30,000 in 18 months and how you can too:


How did I accrue the debt?


I have always heard that I need good credit to buy a house, get a loan, and rent an apartment. I knew this was the next step for me. I was undocumented until I was 20, and I remember receiving my social security card in the mail. I thought, “I can finally apply for credit cards to start building my credit.”


This is where everything changed for me because I needed to learn how credit cards worked and how to manage the little money I was earning. In two years, I had sixteen maxed-out credit cards and $30,000 of consumer debt because I lived beyond what I could afford.


In my head, I thought I would pay it once I increased my income. I increased my income three times, but nothing was working. Meanwhile, that high interest rate was eating at the minimum payments I was making.


What motivated me to finally get out of debt?


In 2017, my boyfriend proposed! I’ve never been the type to dream of my wedding or what dress I would wear. Here, I was engaged and excited to be planning a wedding to remember.


We landed on a destination wedding in Costa Rica and our honeymoon in Japan and Bali.


To make our vision come to life, we decided to have a two-year proposal to give us time to save. I was well aware of my debt and knew 100% that I did not want to get into more debt for the wedding. Getting a loan was not an option. So, we focused the first year on increasing our incomes. We knew that to execute our vision, our incomes had to increase drastically.


My husband increased his income by $30,000 in ten months, and I increased my income by $35,000 in 13 months. The wedding date was set for Costa Rica, and we had 11 months to make this happen and pay for the wedding out of pocket. Between my husband and I, we saved $40,000 in those 11 months that covered the wedding and honeymoon, and we helped a few family members from Guatemala and Nicaragua to attend. In total, we spent around $35,000.


This wedding made me realize that I was able to reach my goals! Although I had tried many times to get out of debt, nothing worked. I needed a component to help me. I realized that having a “Fun Why” was far more motivating than just paying $30,000 of debt as the goal, was not.


When I returned from the honeymoon, I knew if I could do it for my wedding, I could do it for my debt, too.


Step by step process that helped me get out of debt


  1. Increase income: This made the most significant impact on my journey. Now that I had a higher salary, I ensured I did not increase my lifestyle. I lived with roommates and kept my expenses low while I committed to paying off my debt.
  2. Set a fun why: My wedding helped me save $20,000 and pay for it out of pocket. I knew I needed to motivate myself to pay $30,000 of debt. If I paid off my debt, I could travel more and finally live without roommates, and I wanted to be financially stress-free. These became my fun whys! And they worked! I moved states to slow down my life and have traveled more.
  3. Organized my debt and chose one to focus on: I finally faced my numbers and created a list from lowest to highest balance debt. I took the snowball method to pay off my debt because I needed motivation and proof of my progress. When I could pay off one credit card, I knew I could do the second. In the long run, I did not save money because I was dealing with a very high interest rate, but I trusted myself in the method I chose to pay off my debt because I knew myself and what I needed to pay off the debt.
  4. I allowed myself to have fun: Being restrictive never works for me. I can stay on track for a month, and at six weeks, I crave everything. To stay on track, I allowed myself to enjoy the people and experiences that bring me joy. Having fun kept me present versus obsessing over my goals. My goals were set on autopilot, and I checked in twice a week to ensure I was always on track.


Results and reflection


Although I knew all the information needed to pay off my debt, I could not. I was being too restrictive and learning from white men, and my upbringing was different. Representation matters!


I am grateful for my wedding, which taught me that I could achieve my money goals. My wedding was the reason I could get out of debt. I chose to test the exact strategies I used for the wedding for my debt, and they worked!


I paid off $30,000 of debt in 18 months!


Tips for you


You have to be committed to learning about personal finance. A few options are reading books, blogs, listening to podcasts, and attending workshops at your local library. Learn from people who have similar backgrounds as you. The money journey is difficult, but staying in debt is also difficult. Choose your difficult.


Think about what your future self needs you to do now. Think about what type of lifestyle you want to have and what opportunities you want to create. Anything is possible, but you have to want to put in the work.


Now, commit to a tiny step you can start practicing this week. Every small step adds up to your goal. Good luck, you got this!


When we work together:


  • I help you face your debt and set a repayment plan to experience less stress
  • I help you create a budget that works for you, and that is not restrictive
  • I help you set goals and add them to your budget to ensure you are meeting your money goals


If this resonates with you, I invite you to work with me! I want to help you understand the emotions around money and how you can use money as a tool to build a life you have never seen your family experience. Book a sales call.


I cannot wait to be part of your journey!

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Orlenda Cortez

Welcome to my corner on the internet! I’m obsessed with using money as a tool because it led me to pay off $30K in consumer debt in a year and a half, helped me save $20K in nine months to have my dream wedding in Costa Rica and is helping me build the life I never saw my family experience. Now I want to help others do the same!

Orlenda Cortez
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