- After paying off nearly $200,000 of debt in two years, Aja Dang was determined to remain debt-free.
- She celebrated her win, but didn’t started spending more in her day-to-day life.
- She’s putting her extra cash into an emergency fund to ensure she never gets into debt again.
- Read more stories on Personal Finance Insider.
When Aja Dang finished paying off nearly $200,000 in various loans, she didn’t worry for a second that she would ever slip back into debt. “To spend that much time aggressively doing something, to go backward is just not in my nature,” she tells Insider.
Dang is a lifestyle content creator across various social media platforms, most centralized on her YouTube channel, where her online popularity grew after she shared her candid journey to pay back $200,000 worth of mostly student loan debt — an incredible feat she accomplished in just two years.
Now, over a year later, Dang’s finances are better than ever. She’s stayed out of debt and only grown her financial savviness. She’s used the lessons and skills she acquired while paying down debt to make smart money decisions for the present and future. And despite no longer being in debt, her subscribers still turn to her for financial advice, with some of her recent videos covering side hustles, stimulus checks, what she spends in a week, and what is in her budget.
For many people, the time that comes after paying back debt can feel like uncharted territory. After spending months or even years budgeting and watching every penny, many might not be sure what to do with their money when it no longer has to go towards debt. Without loan payments, they may have more disposable income that can be put towards different goals or uses.
While Dang knew she would never fall back into debt, this didn’t mean she could stop working hard or being conscious of her finances. To ensure the conversation around debt doesn’t end when the last payment is fulfilled, Dang shared the tips she’s learned since becoming debt-free, along with the places she puts her money now that it’s no longer going towards debt payments.
1. Celebrate your win before launching into another goal
“I would highly recommend they take a breath before moving on to the next goal,” Dang says, recognizing this could be hard for some people who have spent so much time focused on a singular outcome. “It’s hard for us to do … but you have to also enjoy the fact that you accomplished something that a lot of people would never be able to accomplish.”
She recommends celebrating your wins before launching yourself immediately into the next challenge.
Her first big “just-for-her” purchase after paying off her debt was a KitchenAid stand mixer. In a YouTube video describing the purchase, Dang says, “I haven’t spent this kind of money on myself, this causally before … I’m feeling like I deserve it.”
2. Keep lifestyle creep in check
Very little has changed for Dang since submitting her last loan payment a year and a half ago. She didn’t ditch her budget or immediately buy anything and everything in sight. Instead, she used the skills she developed while paying down debt — like budgeting, income tracking, and discipline — to continuously make smart decisions with her money.
“My life still hasn’t changed at all since I became debt free,” Dang explains. She still writes out her budgets every Sunday, the same way she did when she was paying off her debt. She doesn’t make frivolous purchases or live above her means. Every week she looks over her financial situation, taking into account her income, bills, and any other financial goal or obligation. “I’m still not living in excess,” she says.
3. Build an emergency fund once you’re out of debt
After paying back all of her debt, Dang’s next financial priority was to build an emergency fund. Typically six months to a year’s worth of expenses, emergency funds are important financial cushions to have should something unexpected happen, like loss of income.
Should the worst happen, having a full emergency fund also ensures a safety net against having to take out a personal loan or accumulate large credit card balances with high interest rates. “I saved up six months of an emergency fund; I have $35,000 saved up,” Dang says.
Since she works as a full-time content creator and is paid similarly to a freelancer, having an emergency fund provides a sense of security. Should clients pay late or not at all, or if she has a slower month, her emergency fund provides that buffer and protection.
Dang is now focused on other long-term financial goals
These days, Dang has focused her financial attention on other long-term goals. “Any extra money that I have that would have gone towards loan payments is now going towards other financial goals like saving up for a down payment or retirement,” Dang says.
In addition to her own finances, she’s even created a planner that helps people prioritize and visualize their financial goals into their everyday lives.
Dang says her mindset with money didn’t change after coming out of debt; it changed when she decided to start paying it off. “It’s just in committing,” she says. After that, it’s about following through with discipline and hardwork from the first payment to the last to any goal after.