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After maxing out her credit card and living paycheck to paycheck, Alaya Linton, the author behind Hope & Cents and current Finance Collective member, hit financial rock bottom. Having had a negative money mindset at first, Alaya knew she had to turn around her personal finance habits in order to fight her way out of debt. In just two years, Alaya and her family paid off $74,000 of debt, and she now works as a financial coach helping to inspire other people to reach their financial goals. Read on to see what she wishes she had known at the start of her journey to becoming debt free!

1. When did you realize that you needed to take control of your finances?

My financial “awareness” came in stages and as a result of a few wake-up calls and a rock-bottom moment. For quite some time it seemed like everything was okay because I was able to manage all my debt payments. What I didn’t recognize was that I was living grossly beyond my means and was getting myself into an enormous mess.

The first wake-up calls (gradual reductions in my husband’s hours from full-time to part-time) came and went without my facing the fact that things needed to change. Not making any adjustments to my lifestyle in the face of a loss of income eventually led to my rock-bottom moment.

We could no longer afford to pay the balance (which was due in full each month) on the one credit card we used to catch our slack. I began to make large purchases on the card just so that I could return the items and reduce the balance due by the amount I was short each month. I was disgusted by having to do this and began to realize that I was out of control.

The final wake-up call came when that credit card—my lifeline—was canceled. With all my other cards maxed out, I had no other way to live beyond my means. I was forced to face the problem—(me!)—and began to turn my financial life around.

2. What was the very first step…