Four years ago, Candice Jackson was drowning in more than $235,000 in debt—student loans, car loans, credit cards. Her paycheck as a nurse practitioner could barely keep up with the payments.
“The way debt made me uncomfortable—I couldn’t manage that feeling,” Candice, 32, said.
So she literally started working like crazy to get out of debt.
Candice got gazelle intense and started a second full-time job, plus another part-time job. For about 10 months of her debt-free journey, she worked 96 hours a week. On a normal Wednesday, she was up at 3:30 a.m. to work her full-time job as a nurse practitioner, then grabbed a quick nap in the afternoon before heading off to the hospital for a 12-hour overnight nursing shift.
All that extra work boosted her annual income from $74,000 up to $275,000. And in 31 months, she paid off $235,812 in debt—$111,104 in student loans, $47,199 for two cars, $16,629 in credit cards, and $60,880 for her mortgage.
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“I will never be in debt,” Candice said. “I made myself hate it so much that I will never do it again. And the 31 months that I had to sacrifice so many things—I don’t want to have to do that ever again.”
Imagining a Life Without Debt
Candice first decided to get out of debt after graduating with her master's degree and realizing most of her money was going toward debt payments. She had a good job as a nurse practitioner, but she was living on credit cards. She wanted to travel more but couldn’t afford it.
“Before I started [getting out of debt], I kind of calculated what my life would be like without paying all those bills,” Candice said.
She liked how that future looked, so she read a copy of The Total Money Makeover in two days.
“It was life-transforming for me,” she said.
She started budgeting and putting money toward her debt snowball.
Getting Gazelle Intense
Candice wasn’t all in at first. She took a couple of trips that delayed her debt-free goal, but seeing where she could have been if she hadn’t spent money on trips made her get gazelle intense. And that’s when she started working crazy hours.
During her debt-free journey, Candice maintained a strict routine of when to cook, when to do laundry, and when to sleep. She also meal prepped (chicken and rice was a favorite) to help save money on food.
We’re huge fans of folks working extra or getting a side hustle to help speed up their debt-free journey. But 96-hour workweeks aren’t something you should do forever. Candice said she learned the value of work from her mother, a single mom of four who had two jobs.
“I’ve always been a worker, so I’m used to working,” she said with a laugh. “The structure, the routine—I’m more productive when I’m working. If I take a weekend off, I don’t even know what to do with myself.”
Setting Smart Goals
After paying off her car loans and credit cards, Candice set her sights on a big goal: to pay off the $100,000 she had left in student loans by the end of 2021. When you’re setting goals, we recommend making them specific, measurable, within a time limit, yours, and in writing—and that’s exactly what Candice did.
Candice drew a chart on her bedroom mirror that went from $0 to $100,000 to track her progress as she made payments on her student debt. She thought she could push herself and pay off her loans in a year—and she beat her goal by three months!
Candice said a key to getting out of debt is staying focused on your goal.
“Be patient,” she said. “I always tell people to just focus on delayed gratification. We want things and want it now. Stay persistent. Set a goal. It’s okay to redo the goal. Stay consistent.”
When you hit milestones in your debt-free journey, remember to celebrate your wins. Candice threw a party with friends and family members after paying off her student loans.
And then she decided to keep pushing forward to pay off her $61,000 mortgage. She hit that milestone in March 2022 and celebrated with a trip to Jamaica. She also traveled to Ramsey Solutions headquarters in Franklin, Tennessee, to do her Debt-Free Scream.
“I feel free. It feels amazing. I feel like I can do anything,” Candice said. “I work a lot, but I’m not obligated to work. I just feel like I’m in control of my life. I’m still very frugal. I still count every penny. My friends think I’m crazy. You’d think I’m the brokest friend, but I’m not.”
Candice still works anywhere from 52 to 72 hours a week at two jobs but has made time for trips to El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Panama.
“When I did the 96 hours, that was challenging, but how I’m working now—that’s just my norm,” she said.
And she still has a healthy fear of debt.
“The only way I’d be okay with debt is if I buy a home, but I don’t even know if I would do that now,” she said. “I still have the same two cars, and I have no plans of getting another one anytime soon.”
Candice recently spent $50,000 in cash to remodel her condo and started working on a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree (she’s paying cash for that too). She did all this while building an emergency fund with enough money to cover six months of expenses and saving for retirement.
She’s so passionate about being debt free that she started a side business as a financial coach through Ramsey Solutions. She helps others learn to save, budget and pay off debt.