Managing your finances isn’t always easy. I may be a budget pro now, but I wasn’t always so financially savvy. In fact, there was a time when I had a pretty significant amount of credit card debt. This is the story of how I paid it all back (without getting a raise or hitting the lottery).

It all started innocently enough. I had every intention of paying back my balance in full each month – and for a while I did—but then my dog needed surgery. I didn’t have enough of a savings buffer to cover it, so it went on the credit card. Once I started carrying a balance it was really easy to keep adding to it. Before I knew it, I had a mountain of debt that seemed impossible to pay back. But I knew it had to be done, so I set to work.

First, I sat down with all my bills and made a list of all the debt that I had, including total balance, interest rate, and minimum payment amount. I didn’t have any extra cash to throw at any of my bills, so I took inventory of the things that I needed, and some things that I didn’t. Now, I had already cut the cable cord, but I had quite a few video streaming services to make up for it – more than I needed—so I decided that was where I could make a cut. It was an extra $30 per month, and that was all it took to set my plan in motion.

I thought about trying to pay off the highest interest rate first, but that card also had the highest balance, and it would take the longest to pay. Plus, they were all credit cards, so they all had similar rates. I decided that I would continue to pay the minimum payment on all my credit cards, except for the one with the lowest balance. That one would get the extra $30 added onto the payment each month. Once that one was paid off, I would take the total amount that I had been paying on it (the minimum payment, plus the extra $30) and apply that as an extra monthly payment amount to the next lowest balance, and so on.

This way, I never felt like I was making huge, out of the ordinary payments that I couldn’t afford, because I had been affording it all along. I was continuing to pay the same amount on bills each month, just applying it in a smarter way. Within two years I had paid off five credit cards, and I never had to pay a dime more than I had been before.

Thankfully, I have been credit card debt-free for years now, but my experience definitely taught me a lot about managing my finances and fueled my passion for helping others get out of the same kind of situation. Sometimes, all you need is a plan.