After four 20-something year old sisters realized they’d amassed $182,000 in student loans, credit card and car loan debt, the girls came together to rent an apartment, shared finances and created new incomes to get debt-free in just two years.
Firstly, the sisters realized they needed to cut expenses and rent was one way they could save a lot of money. It was 2010 and Barrientos, Dee, Anna and Amy decided to make a change in their lives.
“We’d had our disagreements in the past, but we grew to respect each other as women out in the real world,” youngest sister, Barrientos, told Forbes. “So not only did we decide to live together, but help each other pay our loans and debt regardless of how much we came in with.”
After renting the apartment together, they created the following rules:
1. The young women directly deposited their checks into a joint account used to pay housing, groceries, car upkeep, medical bills and anything left over was put towards paying off the collective debt.
2. They paid off small debts first and paid off the larger student loan debt last.
3. They each received $75 in spending money biweekly.
4. They recorded ALL purchases, literally.
5. They became bargain shoppers, much like African mothers we all love.
But saving money and cutting expenses wasn’t going to do it alone. All four sisters also increased their income with second jobs or tons of overtime.
Barrientos says that was when their plan “went into overdrive.” Lucky for them, all four were also promoted at work at the same time. But Barrientos said it had more to do with negotiating and proving they were worth being promoted than the employers looking to offer more money.
“During the course of our time together we were all promoted at work, in no small part to being more willing to speak up and letting our superiors know what we wanted and that we thought we were worth it,” said Barrientos . “When I got my second job (weekend lab tech) I made sure to negotiate my salary there as well, I made $400 more a month because of it.”
They increased their total incomes by 50 percent by January 2012 and took home more than $15,000 every other month.
In one month, the sisters already had credit cards paid off. In six months, cars were paid off and in 18 months their students loans were paid off.
After getting completely out of debt the sisters felt better about making big decisions. Dee took a job in Hawaii, Barrientos moved to LosAngeles, Amy moved to Austin and Anna got married.
But the ladies did not quickly separate all of the cash in their joint account. Instead, they kept it together to help their family members. Their father received $12,000 for a new work truck, $18,000 to renovate their grandmother’s house and their brother received $5,000 to pay off loans while his wife was out of work.
“Tracking the debt to keep us going, and making a pie chart or some representation of what we had accomplished was a big motivator, month after month,” said Barrientos on the takeaways from the girls’ time together.
However, just because it was successful doesn’t mean it was easy. Barrientos recalls the strain of working so much, making more but only being able to spend little out of that amount.
“Sometimes it felt like our independence was gone because we always had to check in with three people to make a simple monetary decision like asking for an increase in allowance for gas because prices went up. Also, working all the time was not good for our mental and physical health. We would need to speak up for one another and say, ‘hey, you need a day off or you’re going to crack,” remembers Barrientos.
About five years later and the women are still sharing funds, but this time the accounts are separate and no one is keeping track.