Frugal Living: How do you pay off $50k in debt? (Part 1)

Frugal Living: How do you pay off $50k in debt? (Part 1)

In this week’s episode of Frugal Living Jim hosts Tiffany Grant, a financial coach and a self-proclaimed money nerd and blogger at Money Talk with Tiff. Tune in to the episode to find out how she paid off $50,000 in debt. You can listen to Frugal Living with Jim Markus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon,, iHeartRadio, or anywhere you go to find podcasts.

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April is Financial Literacy Month, so it’s the perfect time to interview someone with expertise in paying off debt. Tiffany Grant specializes in this area. She’s a financial coach and the host of the podcast, “Money Talk with Tiff.” Their conversation covers paying off debt, saving money, and, of course, finding deals.

This is part one of a two-part episode. Check back on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, for the second installment of Jim’s chat with Tiffany.

Financial Literacy Month

In honor of Financial Literacy Month, podcast episodes of Frugal Living in April focus specifically on money. What do you need to know to be considered financially literate? Opinions differ. The most important parts are: Understand how to budget, and harness the power of compound interest. You also might want to know what’s the best way to pay off debt.

Read a Transcript of This Episode

Jim (00:02):
This is Frugal Living. <music> It’s hard to imagine a better conversationalist than Tiffany Grant. She’s a financial coach and the host of the podcast Money Talk with Tiff. And if the title of her show didn’t give it away, she’s interested in exactly the same kind of stuff we talk about. This is another of our two-part conversations. Here’s part one. <music>

Tiffany (00:38):
I’m Tiffany Grant, and I’m a blogger and podcaster over at Money Talk with Tiff.

Jim (00:43):
You are an exceptional podcaster and Money Talk with Tiff is one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show. But specifically, there’s this, kind of, hook that you have for your personal story. And I’d love to dive into that. You paid off $50,000 in debt. Is that true?

Tiffany (00:59):
Yes. And I did it all as a single mom of two boys, barely making any money ’cause I was working at a thrift store at the time. So I was making, like, 10, $12 an hour, somewhere around there. And then I had picked up another job. So I was working two jobs and then going to school full time. But I would Uber, Lyft, like, all types of side hustles just because I had a mission. I wanted to be debt free by 30. And so I was like, “Okay, any means necessary.” So I didn’t let anything stand in my way. After I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I went ahead and got a quote unquote real job. I think I was making maybe, like, $15 an hour at that time. And so I did it pretty much, like, hitting the ground running being very frugal ’cause frugal is my middle name. I hate spending money. And so that’s pretty much in a nutshell how I did it.

Jim (01:50):
I love this story because when you find some story like this online… You know, you read an article, “Hey, you know, I was a millionaire by the time I was 12.” Right? You know, “I started 17 businesses by the time I was 14.” It’s always, you know, “I came from incredible generational wealth. My parents started 14 businesses for me and I started three myself.” You know, “They paid off my student loans.” You’re starting from a pretty difficult spot. Single parent, two kids, close to minimum wage job. Tell me, where does this story start for you?

Tiffany (02:19):
I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I love, you know, having a business, whether it’s a side hustle or, you know, a full-time thing. So I remember my very, very first business was when I was, like, five years old. And what I did was–I always wanted to be a chef. So that was, like, my first trajectory. Right? And so I was like, “Okay, I wanna have, like, a restaurant” at, like, five or six years old. So what I did was I created Tiffany’s Cafe and I went to my grandma ’cause I grew up with my grandparents. I would be, like, “What are you cooking today?” She would tell me what she was cooking. I would go type up a list. You know, type up a little menu with, you know, maybe, like, rice for 10 cent, chicken for 20 cent. You know, something that I thought was a big deal, but everybody else thought was cheap. And so when it came dinnertime, I would pass out my menu, take orders, go back to the kitchen, you know, tell my grandma what the order was so she could make the plate and then I would serve it. And then after dinner was done, of course I would clean up and then come around with my little piggy bank. So that was like my first endeavor into, like, side hustle, entrepreneurship thing. It doesn’t matter what you love to do. You can make money doing it. And so I, kinda, took that with me throughout the years. When I was, like, five and six too, I would just sit there and clip coupons. I would never use ’em, but I would just sit there and just, “Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo.” It was, like, a Zen moment. And my family wasn’t good with money, so nobody would ever use the coupons, but it was just fun for me to just clip ’em. So then fast forward, I think my second business was when I was in seventh grade and that was ’cause I loved to read. So I was like, “Okay, how can I keep my book flow going?” Because my mom was like, “Well, I’m not gonna sit here and buy all of these books for you.” So I would buy books from Amazon and then I would sell them back. And then I would use that money to buy my next book and then so on and so forth. And so that was my second little business. And that was in seventh grade. And mind you, this was before Amazon started charging to be a seller ’cause now I think it’s, like, $30. So back then, you know, it was free to set up and then they just took a percentage of whatever you made. So it worked out for me. My mom would take me to do the little Media Mail at the, um, post office and I would ship the books to people and she would support me in that. And then my next business was when I was about 16. I wanna say I was, like, 16. Like I said, my original trajectory was to be a chef. So I used to sell cheesecakes. And I would go to my little CVS job, making, like, $7 an hour and bring my cheesecake samples and the customers would try ’em and that’s how I would get orders. And so I had, like, a little cheesecake business then. So now here is where the trajectory, kinda, took a turn. Well before I get there, back when I was 16, when I got my first job–Now at that time I did have a car. My mom had bought me a car when I was, like, 15. And it did have a payment. Now once I got a job, she was like, “Oh, well you need to go ahead and take over these payments.” So imagine a 16 year old making that amount of money and I have a car payment that’s, like, 300 and something dollars. And so it would take, like, almost my entire check, well, you know, one check. So I’m like, “Okay, in order to get the things that I wanna get, I gotta figure out how to make this money stretch.” So when I was 16, I used to be one of those extreme couponers. I would go to the store, have a cart full of stuff, and only pay, like, $20. And then when I would get home, I would be like, “Murray, guess how much I paid for all of this?” And she’s like, “How much did you pay, Tiffany?” And I’d be like,” $20, $30.” You know, it was something, like, outrageous and that’s, kinda, how I got into, you know, actually using those coupons I used to cut when I was, like, you know, six or whatever age. And so I used to just do that. So then here’s where the story, kind of, twists. Right? So when I was 17, now mind you, my first trajectory was to be a chef. So I got accepted into culinary school in my senior year. Well, a week later I found out that I was pregnant with my oldest son. And so I was like, “I can’t go all the way to Charlotte” which is, like, a, a two-hour drive from where I lived, where all my support system and everything was. And so I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna have to change up what I wanna do.” So that’s when I decided to go into business. Now, by that time it was too late to apply to any of the universities. And so I had to go to a local community college, which was great because I was able to save money. And I was able to graduate with my bachelor’s once I transferred with only like 10,000 or something in student loan debt. So I was like, “Yes!” I was, like, “Even though it wasn’t my original trajectory, it saved me a lot of money.” And so that’s what I recommend to people a lot now. But I feel like it was in that moment when I found out that I was pregnant with my oldest son that it, kinda, just changed my whole outlook on life. Because I was like, “Okay, Tiffany, you’re somewhat good with money. You know, you like to save, you like to do coupons, and things like that. But now you’re gonna have a little person that’s gonna be depending on you for pretty much the rest of their life or at least until 18.” And so I was like, “Okay, you have to, like, figure out how you’re gonna do this.” So I feel like it was in that moment when I really started paying attention and really starting to try to get my financial house in order. But, granted, it was not perfect because what I was taught when I was growing up was… Well, I’m not gonna say taught, heard, or, you know, what society taught me was that when you have medical bills, they go on your credit report, but they don’t count for anything. Right? So I’m sure other people have heard this or whatever. Well, I went to my local credit union. This was when I was, like, maybe 19 or 20. And I was like, “Okay, I just want a $200 limit” because I realized that you had to have credit to get credit. And so I was like, “Okay, if I can just get, like, a little $200 limit, I’m good.” You know, just so I can use it, build it up, you know, that type of thing. Well, I walk in, you know, all proud and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m here to apply for a card.” And I was like, “You know, $200 is fine.” This is the same bank that I’ve been using since I was, like, 16. And so I’m like, “You know, you can check my history.” Like, I’ve always had money in my account, never really any overdraft fees, that type of thing. Well, I was denied. I was denied for $200. And the reasoning, what the lady told me was a), I don’t make enough, and then b), she said that, you know, the stuff on my credit report, you know, i.e., the medical bills and stuff. And so I said, “Okay, now I have some targets to make.” And so even though I felt really down and dejected in that moment ’cause I’m like, “Dang, like, 200, not even $200, like, that’s nothing.” I was like, “You know what, that’s my motivation.” And so when I got home, I started, you know, trying to get the stuff off of my credit as far as, like, paying it off and stuff. And at that time I was living off of my student refund checks and my tax refunds. So what I would do is once I got those refund checks I would pay up my rent. So I would do, like, pay up, like, six months or something like that. I was like, “Okay, if nothing else, at least we have a roof over our head.” And so I was literally living from refund check to refund check for that. So when I got a tax refund, I was like, “Okay, I have a little bit extra.” Since I used my student loan refund to pay up the rent, I was like, “Okay, let me use this to pay off some of this debt that’s on my credit report.” Well, I went ahead and called, which this is why I tell people to always call and see, you know, what’s going on. Don’t say that you’re going to pay, just say, “Hey, I see this on my credit report. I’m trying to get more information.” Well, when I called, they were like, “We only see that you owe $30.” And I said, “Are you sure?” Because on my credit report, it’s saying, you know, I think I wanna say it was, like, 2,000 or something like that total. And so I was like, “Are you sure?” And she was like, “I’ll double check.” So she’s clicking away. I hear her ch-ch-ch-ch. And she’s like, “Yeah, I’m only seeing $30.” I said, “So if I pay this $30, can I get a letter saying that it’s paid in full, you know, just so I can have record of all of this?” And she was like, “Yeah, absolutely.” And so I said, “Here is my card” ’cause I was prepared to pay the 2,000. And so when she’s saying $30, I’m like, “Okay, well here’s my information.” So I go ahead and pay it. And then she was like, “You can go ahead and dispute the other ones ’cause we don’t even have that here. Like, that’s not even on our books or anything.” So I pay the $30 to clear that one or two that they did have. And then I disputed the rest and, lo and behold, they fell off. And so, yeah, I was like, “What?” And see, this is the beauty of spreading knowledge and talking about these things is that if I hadn’t reached out or I hadn’t gone through this process, I would’ve never known that me disputing it would have even been possible. It was the customer service representative that was like, “Yeah, you can go ahead and dispute this ’cause it’s not here.” So after that I went ahead and paid off all of those. I got a new job because I was like, “Okay, she’s saying I’m not making enough. I need to get a new job.” Which was true. I’m like, you know, sometimes you just have to have other people tell you something in order for it to click for you. So I went ahead and got a new job. And a year after I had went to the credit union the first time to get the card, I came back. And by that time my credit score was, like, seven something. And I was making, you know, pretty decent money. And so I went back, I had the same exact lady, which was crazy. And I said, “Do you remember me?” And she was like, “No,” which I completely understand. You know, nobody’s like, “Oh, there’s Tiffany.” I let her run my information. And she was like, “Well, how much of a limit were you thinking about today?” And I said, “Let’s do a thousand.” Right? And I said it confidently ’cause I’m like, “Oh yeah, I’mma get this.” And so she came back and said I was approved. And I told her, I said, “I just wanna thank you because when you denied me last year, it actually sent me on this trajectory and made me realize that what you were saying was right and true. I did need a new job with better money. And I did need to start focusing on what was actually on my credit report. And I just wanted to thank you because, like, you have helped me get to this step.” And she was like, “Oh, that’s so sweet.” She still didn’t remember me. And so I know that’s a long answer to your question, but that’s, kind of, like, how this whole thing happened. And then after that, you know, that’s when I created the debt free by 30 thing and started going from there.

Jim (13:26):
This episode, as always, was brought to you by Brad’s Deals. There’s a community of people here scouring the web for the best deals on everything. The site is B R A D S D E A L One trick for deal hunters: You can sign up for the Brad’s Deals newsletter. That way, you’ll have a better chance of snagging something stellar before it sells out. Thanks for listening. <music> There’s a number of things that you touched on that are worth further exploration. But first, it’s good to just take a minute to appreciate a pretty incredible story. You know, taking a lesson that could break a heart. You know, applying for $200 credit and them saying nope. That’s a tough spot to be in. But it sounds like you took that and you fueled the fire inside you. And you were like, “Nope, not good enough. I’m gonna do what I need to do to turn this around.” That’s incredible.

Tiffany (14:26):
When people say that I can’t do something or I get denied for something or what have you, that’s, like, what triggers something for me. I’m like, “Oh, is that what you think? Okay, I’ll be back.”

Jim (14:37):
I like that. Also you mentioned, and this is something I don’t think we talk about a lot and I think it’s getting more and more difficult for people who didn’t grow up with, like, a landline. Like, calling someone on the phone can get you magic done. It can do all sorts of things. Like, texts are awesome. I love text. I love email. I love, obviously, podcasting. But calling someone on the phone is a very quick way to get around a bunch of bureaucracy. Like, if you email the billing department at your hospital or, you know, your pharmacy or wherever, someone will get to it. But someone’s gonna look at you like an email address. When you call and say, “Hey, what’s the situation here? I was looking at my credit report and I’m seeing a charge. Can you tell me what’s going on?” They have your voice in their head. And they’re saying, “Oh, I’m talking to Tiffany. Tiffany’s asked me what’s going on. I’m gonna give her the honest answer. My screen says $30.” And now, because you’re not, you know, an email address, we don’t have to spend 14 days going back and forth. “If I pay the 30, is that enough? Do–can you gimme written response?” You get that immediate answer. It can be taken care of. You can dispute this. And then you did. I mean, you saved $1,970 because you called. When we talk about frugal living, that’s a wonderful, wonderful point.

Tiffany (15:55):
Yes. And I wanna just build onto that because, like, even now when I’m, like, coaching my clients and stuff, I tell them, “Call the creditors ’cause you never know what’s gonna happen.” Like, for instance, my ex-husband, he had a lot of student loan debt. And one of the things I did, you know, I was getting the mail where it was like, here’s, like, a settlement, you know, all that stuff ’cause it had got to that point. I called and, you know, we were able to settle I think it was, like, 80,000 for, like, $1,500. That’s why I’m telling people, like, even down to negotiating your bills. Like, for instance, every time my internet company wants to go up every year, I call and I say, “Please get me to the cancel department.” Those are the people that can give you the deals. And so I paid the same amount for my internet for at least five years doing that process ’cause every year, you know, they wanna go up 10, $20, what have you. And every year I would call and say, “You know what? It’s not in my budget. Just go ahead and cancel it.” And then once you say that, boom, boom, boom, magic happens. And you’re paying the same amount.

Jim (17:02):
I think the trick on that kind of thing and in negotiation in general is you’ve gotta be willing to go through with it. So if you have a secondary internet provider in your area, have their number and be ready to go for it. You know, even if it’s a worse service. You know, I’ve got Comcast and RCN. I prefer RCN. But, like, if it’s not in my area, I’ll use Comcast. I did the same thing. Only once did I have to go through with it. Only once was like, “Okay, you know, if you’re not gonna help me out here, I’m just going to cancel.” And then I canceled and then I got a better deal elsewhere. And then I got a new signup offer when I came back, you know, two years later when the current one wanted to raise the rate again. You’re right. I love that. But again, phone call. You know, call that department, ask for cancellations. Do it that way even if you have the ability to cancel online. Like this is, kind of, the inverse of the New York Times cancellation process where they’re like, “You can’t cancel unless you call.” Like, they try to, kinda, beat you into, you know, staying with them. The opposite is true too. Like, use that as a consumer and you’re gonna be surprised by the results you get. Great advice. Thank you for sharing that.

Tiffany (18:02):
A lot of people are, like, afraid to talk to creditors or afraid to ask for deals or afraid to negotiate. And, and hold steady too. Like, back to what we were saying, like, you know, when you’re negotiating, don’t let them see ya sweat. Take it all the way. Just be like, “You know what? I’m good.” I can go over to–here it’s Time Warner and AT&T. I’m like, “Hey, Time Warner. I can go over to AT&T, get a great deal, and you lose a customer.” And a lot of companies do not wanna lose their customers, period, because it costs so much for customer acquisition. And so they wanna keep you around, so use that to your advantage.

Jim (18:37):
You are very well versed in this. One of my favorite ways to evaluate this type of situation is to understand who I’m talking to and understand how they’re evaluating their own job performance. If you’re talking to a cancellation department, if they’re not paid based on the number of people they keep, they’re probably bonused on the number of people they save from quitting. And if you can remember that, then you can, you know, give yourself a leg up on that conversation. You know, “Hey, I’m, I’m giving you an opportunity. I’m going to cancel. If there’s a financial benefit for you keeping me to stay, let me know what you can do.”

Tiffany (19:11):
And then also I just wanna say, like, you can catch more flies with honey. So always be pleasant. Don’t get on and start going off. Just say, “You know what? I saw that you all went up and this is not within my budget anymore. You know, what can you do? Or can you get me over to the cancellation department so we can go ahead and cancel?” You know, that type of thing. Because I used to work in customer service. I used to do Xbox customer support actually. When people would call in and just start going off, like, you know, the parents where this kid’s just charged up a whole bunch of stuff. Then I’m, like, I’m not gonna go above and beyond to see what I can do for you if you’re cursing me out. Like, I’m just gonna say, “Please do not curse at me. I will have to hang up.” Like, for instance, people would call in and they’re like, “Oh, my child spent this” and blah, blah, blah. If they were nice to me, I’m like, “Okay, let me see what I can refund, what I can’t refund.” You know, and then I’ll tell you why, and, you know, a whole situation. Maybe I’ll throw you a free month of Xbox Live, who knows? But it all went back to being pleasant. And make sure you treat people how you would wanna be treated. So that’s how I enter every interaction whenever I call customer support. And usually I’m able to get some things done. So definitely keep that in mind.

Jim (20:22):
Great advice, super important. And again, it goes back to when you call and say, “Hey, what’s this on my credit report?” When they see you as a human, it’s important to mirror that. It’s important to remember this person doesn’t wanna be dealing with your credit report either. They don’t wanna be dealing with your bills either. Let’s just make it comfortable all around.

Tiffany (20:42):
Absolutely. But definitely, um, to the credit report point, do not say that you’re gonna pay ’cause what that does is that resets your whole seven year. You know, if you’re close to the seven year or whatever, if you say that you’re gonna pay, then that, kinda, resets the whole thing is my understanding. So don’t say that you’re gonna pay. If you’re getting close to that and you’re like, “You know, I’mma just thug it out the seven years,” then cool. But have the conversation to see what’s on it just so you can know ’cause it might be a situation like mine. <music>

Jim (21:19):
That was part one of a two-part conversation. Special thanks to Tiffany Grant who shared so many great tips for saving money and paying off debt. This episode was edited by Genny Blauvelt, and I’m Jim Markus. <music>

More About This Episode and Frugal Living

To hear more from Tiffany Grant, check out this week’s episode of Frugal Living or the Money Talk with Tiff Podcast and follow Tiff on Facebook.

To hear more episodes about how to pay off debt, check out the latest episode of Frugal Living. Frugal Living is a podcast for smart consumers. How do you spend less and get more? The show, sponsored by Brad’s Deals, features interviews, stories, tips, and tricks. Jim Markus hosts season four, out now.