While about a third of Americans are either “struggling” or “in crisis” with their money, 39-year-old San Antonio resident Nyajuok Tongyik Doluony is thriving. She lives in a paid-for house. She has no debt of any kind. She frequently travels and pays for her trips with cash—including a recent 13-day safari and medical mission in Kenya and a visit to the pyramids in Egypt. And she has a scholarship foundation, which she uses to sponsor students in Kenya and Uganda.
You may have read all that and assumed Doluony is a corporate C-suiter with a cushy salary and a shiny penthouse office in an ivory tower. Nope—she’s a nurse and former U.S. Army captain.
You also may have wondered if Doluony grew up with rich parents who passed some of their wealth on to her. Nope again—she lived in multiple Ethiopian refugee camps until she was 14, when her father relocated her family to the U.S. and, shortly after, forced Doluony into an arranged marriage with a man who wound up physically abusing her.
And no, Doluony didn’t win the lottery or hit it big in the stock market. Rather, she’s a single mom with two kids younger than 7. Just four years ago, on the heels of separating from her husband and sustaining a head injury that forced her to retire from the Army, nearly $90,000 of consumer debt hung over her head.
But instead of using her traumatic, poverty-ridden background as an excuse to wave the white flag and settle for a life of constant financial stress juggling never-ending car payments and credit card bills, Doluony decided she wanted something different for her family’s future—something better. She made up her mind to pay off her debt. And within a year, she accomplished that goal.
If you asked Doluony what her story demonstrates, she’d give you a simple answer: Anyone, regardless of their background or what obstacles they have to overcome, is capable of paying off their debt and taking complete control of their money.
“I really do feel bad for these people who think their background makes them who they are,” Doluony said. “They are not who society, the culture or their background says they are. They can choose to be financially independent.
“I felt like if I share my story, I’m inspiring somebody to pay off their house or car and get out of debt.”
“I Didn't Think I Was Ever Going to Survive.”
Doluony’s journey to financial peace began in 2019 when the Army decided she was no longer medically fit to serve and delivered the news that her decade-long career as a military nurse would come to an end in four to six months.
While Doluony was surprised by the short timeline, the news itself didn’t catch her off guard. Five years earlier, Doluony struck her head on a block of cement while taking cover during a rocket attack in Afghanistan, and she’d been experiencing symptoms common to traumatic brain injuries ever since. So, when those symptoms forced her into the Wounded Warrior program in 2019, she knew there was a chance the Army would dismiss her.
Though the news wasn’t entirely unexpected, it was unsettling.
That’s because Doluony was $87,000 in consumer debt—thanks to a car note, a $10,000 credit card balance and losses from failed real-estate ventures. And though she knew her monthly VA disability benefit wouldn’t be enough money to service her debt and support her two children, Doluony feared that the severe headaches, irritability and forgetfulness caused by her injury would prevent her from getting another job.
Pay off debt fast and save more money with Financial Peace University.
As if the stress caused by her injury and financial house of cards wasn’t enough, Doluony was also in a season of significant anxiety and depression. Her marriage, hanging on by less than a thread thanks to her husband’s abuse, was nearing its bitter end. And wounds from her childhood, when her family forced her into an arranged marriage at age 14, lingered in her heart.
Doluony very nearly gave up.
“I was suicidal,” she said. “2019 was the hardest year, and I didn’t think I was ever going to survive. Mentally, I was on the rocks, on the bottom.”
“I Felt Like I Was Failing."
Thankfully, Doluony chose a different route. Instead of giving up, she got to work. Instead of crumbling under the weight of her desperation, she decided to conquer it. The 34-year-old soon-to-be single mom made up her mind: Before her military career officially wrapped up, she would pay off her debt.
That’s exactly what she did.
Using strategies she learned in Ramsey’s money class Financial Peace University, which she began taking at her church a couple months before getting official word from the Army about her career’s impending end, Doluony completely wiped out her nearly $90,000 of debt.
She used Ramsey’s budgeting app, EveryDollar, to organize her monthly spending and plan it down to the cent. Priority number one for Doluony when she made each month’s budget was to put as much money as possible toward her debt, which meant severely limiting her spending on anything that wasn’t absolutely essential.
“I wasn't doing my nails. I wasn't doing my hair. I wasn't spending anything,” she said. “No movies, nothing. One hundred dollars was all I was cutting out for myself—everything else was going to the debt and the regular bills that we all pay.”
To pile up extra cash to put toward her debt, Doluony began selling anything her family didn’t need. Clothes, dishes, toys her children had outgrown, an expensive stethoscope she received as a gift from coworkers—if it wasn’t bolted to the ground, it was either going on Facebook Marketplace or getting sold to a local consignment store.
Doluony also increased her income by working shifts as a contract nurse on top of her full-time job with the military. She worked nights at a local hospital on the weekends, which usually meant she was awake for 36 hours straight between Sunday and Monday. The heavy workload left Doluony with very little time to spend with her kids and virtually none to spend with her friends.
“That was a sacrifice—the time, the emotional draining, not being there for my children because I was working all the time,” she said. “The biggest one was what type of mom I became. I felt like I was failing because I was always cranky or rushing my children.”
“I Feel Like I'm Living a Dream”
In the end, Doluony’s sacrifices paid off. On June 29, 2020, two days before her Army career wrapped up, Doluony made her final credit card payment. She was debt-free.
As a result, her life looks a lot different now than it did in 2019.
These days, Doluony is free to enjoy as much time with her kids and friends as she wants. She travels. She gets to spend a whole lot more than $100 a month on herself. She’s cash flowing her daughter’s college tuition. Though she did find more work after leaving the Army, she no longer works full time as a choice—because she doesn’t have to.
In 2021, she self-published a memoir. And shortly after, she started a charity with a mission to fight the physical and sexual abuse that’s become commonplace for young women in Doluony’s birthplace of South Sudan.
“I feel like I’m living a dream,” Doluony said. “I feel like I’m too young to be having this much fun.”
It’s a level of freedom that a lot of Americans, many of whom are facing legitimate barriers and obstacles, feel is impossible to reach. But Doluony believes her story proves otherwise.
“Anybody who has known me personally or read my story can’t use that excuse anymore,” she said. “There’s just no excuse to say that it’s because of their environment or because they came from a certain family background.
“There is a way.”