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Hi! I’m Charis, and I paid off $46,500 of debt in two years.

a portrait shot of the author Charis Barg smiling at the camera

Charis Barg

I did this by first accepting that I wanted to be serious about paying down debt quickly. Then, I started to keep track of my spending and budgeted more consistently. What helped me a lot was budgeting in a way that was simple and worked for me, even though I knew it wasn’t perfect.

While I’d consider myself pretty good with money now, I haven’t always been financially savvy. Here are the biggest money mistakes I’ve made throughout my life, so hopefully you can avoid making them, too!


Not checking how much money I owed on credit cards.

My personal top 3 credit cards: Barclay, Capital One, and Chase Sapphire

Charis Barg

I had an “out of sight, out of mind” view of money. I’d be too scared to see the damage of how much I’d spent on my credit cards, and I never wanted to check how much was in my bank account. Once I finally looked, I realized knowing the exact numbers — even if they weren’t great — made me feel better than the anxiety of not knowing at all.


I didn’t have autopay setup for my debt, so I was late on a few monthly payments.

iHeart Radio MMVA / Via Giphy / giphy.com

I knew nothing about building credit or being financially responsible, so I didn’t see the importance of making my payments by the due date. I ended up being late on a few car payments. Sadly, those marks are on my mom’s credit report, since she signed for my car. Truly devastating. I still feel bad.


Not knowing what the heck a credit score is.


When I decided to pay down my debt, I remember checking my credit score and having no clue what the numbers meant. After some googling, I used Experian to keep track of my score, and I eventually raised it a few hundred points by paying down my debt (on time). YAY!


When I decided to pay down my debt, I remember checking my credit score and having no clue what the numbers meant. After some googling, I used Experian to keep track of my score, and I eventually raised it a few hundred points by paying down my debt (on time). YAY!


Thinking a car magically takes care of itself.

a black car parked in a driveway

Charis Barg

I totally didn’t realize how many car-related expenses there would be — and how fast they’d add up. Did you know you have to renew your car registration every year? I didn’t! I ended up having to pay a ticket for expired tabs, the actual cost of registration, plus late fees on top of all that. Ugh.

What stressed me out most about owning a car was when unexpected things happened. I’d go to the mechanic for a simple oil change, and it’d turn out I also needed new tires. Suddenly I’d spent $200 I hadn’t planned for.

Now I’m an ~experienced~ car owner, I know to set aside some emergency money for my car every year, just in case.


I racked up debt without a plan to pay it all off.

Screenshot of student loans paid off in full

Charis Barg

I had student loans, credit cards, and a car loan accruing interest without any idea how I’d pay it all off. When I finally decided to tackle it, I ended up doing a mix of two methods: debt snowball (paying off debt from the lowest amount owed to highest) and debt avalanche (paying off debt with the highest interest rate first).

Using undebt.it was a great way to keep track of debt payments, and I found it super motivating.


Buying way too many clothes just because they were on sale.

Buena Vista Pictures / Via Giphy / media.giphy.com

I’d literally see a sale at the mall for a shirt similar to three I already owned, and I’d buy it just because it was 50% off. The issue was I did this All. The. Time. I had a closet full of clothes I didn’t even like, and I’d hate to think how many shirts I bought on sale only for them to eventually be donated with the tags still on.


Swiping my card without thinking about it.

Little Tikes / Via Giphy / giphy.com

I could buy a $5 coffee, grab a $10 sandwich combo for lunch, get a $20 sweatshirt while passing a store (they’re having a sale so obviously I need one), then spend $50 going out for dinner and drinks with friends, all while complaining that I was ~so broke~.

Once I started tracking my expenses, I realized how much money I wasted on random crap.


Not investing early with my spare change.

Acorns screenshot showing how you can easily round up spare change on your purchases to invest

Acorns / Via Acorns / dropbox.com

I always thought I’d need to know as much as a Wall Street banker before I could start investing. I would’ve started years earlier if I knew about Acorns, an app that automatically invests for you. I love it because it invests by rounding up my regular purchases to the nearest dollar. SO EASY.


I wouldn’t budget unless I could make it perfect.


Overpaying my taxes because I didn’t know what I was doing.

Comedy Central / Via Giphy / giphy.com

OMG, don’t get me started on taxes.

Storytime: I moved to a different state in the middle of the year so I had no idea what to do with two W-2s for different states. I tried my best, but ended up having to pay back $900 in taxes. I later learned that I did it wrong and was double taxed by both states instead of individually. Ugh.

Now I just use TurboTax since I can just upload my tax forms, and then they pretty much handle the rest.


Living paycheck to paycheck without trying to save money.

Qapital screenshot showing how it can help you save more money

Qapital / Via Qapital Products / qapital.com

If $200 came into my bank account, I’d spend $200 instead of trying to save it or pay off any debt. I struggled to get motivated to save money just for the sake of it, but I’ve found it helps to have something to save for. I like using Qapital because it lets me set a savings goal and links directly to my bank account. You get to set different savings “rules,” which makes it kinda fun, and the app automatically puts money towards your goals.

I find it way better to visually see money being saved for exciting things, because saving money for a trip to Bali? AWESOME. Saving money because I should? Boring and doesn’t motivate me.


Giving in to impulse buys too often.

Caffeine Studios / Via Giphy / giphy.com

Let’s be honest: who doesn’t like getting shiny new things? I used to have absolutely no impulse control. If I got the urge to pick up drawing as a hobby, I immediately bought a drawing book, fancy pencils, and paint, only to draw once and never touch it again.

Nowadays, I try to wait a few days or a week before buying things. If I see something I want, I bookmark it and look back on it later. Waiting gives me a chance to re-evaluate my impulses and I normally end up deciding I don’t need it.


I thought my credit line limit = free money.

Charis Barg

My first credit card had a credit limit of $6,000. Unfortunately, I saw this to mean I had $6,000 to spend. Spoiler: I didn’t. And then I had to pay it back. With interest.


Spending more than I wanted to on delivery and eating out.

FOX / Via Giphy / giphy.com

I never kept track of how much I was spending on food, but it would have easily been over $300 a month. But the thing is: I wasn’t even going to fun restaurants — I was spending it on fast food or takeout that I didn’t even really enjoy.

It’s annoying to think back on now, because I remember wanting to go on a trip to Iceland but “I couldn’t afford it.” In hindsight, I know if I’d just not gone out to eat so much, I totally could have gone on that trip.


Overspending by not looking for cheap deals.

Screenshot of my savings on Ibotta; current earnings = $42.38

Charis Barg

I used to go shopping without even thinking about deals. If I wanted a new coffee machine, I’d go to Target and buy the first one I saw. If I wanted to go see a show, I’d buy tickets directly from the event website instead of searching around for discounted rates.

Now I know better. I like using cashback apps like Ibotta to get money back when I buy things. I especially love using it for Amazon purchases, since I feel like I’m singlehandedly paying Jeff Bezos’s income. Before I go ahead and buy brand new items, I scour Craigslist or OfferUp to see if I can find what I need secondhand. And I’ll always check Groupon for local deals — I once paid $40 to go to an event where the posted price was over $200!


Trying to live like others.


Not evaluating if I’d really use the things I was spending my money on.

Jenna Marbles / Via Giphy / giphy.com

Ok, I don’t just mean small purchases like whether I really needed to buy a blender. I also mean huge expenses like, oh I dunno, A COLLEGE DEGREE? I had no idea how much my tuition would cost until after I graduated and had to pay down the loans. Thinking back, I wish I had done more research on cheaper schools.

After all, I studied to be a nurse and now I’m a writer. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

If this sounds like music to your ears (and bank account), check out more of our personal finance posts.


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