Financial coach, writer and speaker Alaya Linton knows about overcoming debt. While working her way up New York’s fashion industry ladder, she simultaneously fell deep in debt. By taking control of her money, she discovered a passion for personal finance — and so began her path to her current role as founder of Hope+Cents, a community that educates and empowers people to find and maintain freedom in their financial lives. Now, Alaya uses what she learned to help others put hope and action together and turn debt struggles into personal triumphs.
Ally: Let’s start at the beginning — tell us where your financial journey began.
Alaya: After college, I moved to New York City as a single mom with my one-and-a-half-year-old to pursue a career in fashion. I got my first job at 21 as a design assistant making $25,000. That was the beginning of a 15-year career in the industry — and I loved what I did back then.
Ally: That’s incredible! Tell us, as you progressed in your career, when and how did you start accumulating debt?
Alaya: I had debt since I was 18: student loans, a credit card where I racked up a balance, store cards and a car loan. And while I understood I had to make monthly payments, I really didn’t understand how debt or credit worked.
That all caught up to me later on, but before it did, I got married and continued advancing in my career. When my husband and I got married, we just lived with our debt because we could manage our payments and handle the essentials with our income. But as we got raises and bonuses, our lifestyle — plus our obligations — increased, too. At some point, our spending outpaced the money we made — and that’s where we ran into trouble.
Ally: What was the wake-up call that your debt was an issue?
Alaya: I started to suspect we were heading in a bad direction, but I tried to convince myself we were fine — until my husband and I were cut off from our credit cards, except one that we used for basically everything. I thought of it as our third income. When we missed a payment and that card was shut down, I was so upset and unsure of what we’d do. We were officially forced to live within our means.
Ally: Would you share just how much debt you had?
Alaya: We’d racked up about $74,000 in debt — $46,000 in student loans, $10,000 in car payments, $14,000 in credit-card debt, and the rest was other forms of debt.
Ally: How did you work your way out of that?
Alaya: I began reading lots of personal finance books and watching things like Oprah’s Debt Diet series. I was engrossed because I could see my family reflected in those stories. After sharing with my husband, I can clearly remember the moment he said, “You know what? We can do this. We can get out of this.”
For years, I felt hopeless and defeated when it came to our money. But once we started to believe that we could do something about our debt, my mindset started to change. I was ready to take action. The first step was getting serious about our budget.
Ally: At this point, you had a family of four. What did you cut back on?
Alaya: We eliminated entertainment, outings, frivolous shopping and subscriptions we didn’t need. We also downgraded our cable plan, and I learned to grocery shop strategically to cut our monthly food bill nearly in half. We shopped around for better insurance rates and reduced our coverage in areas we could safely do so.
Ally: Did you tell your kids what was happening? We know many parents struggle with the decision of when and how much to share with their kids regarding family finances. How did you approach this with your family?
Alaya: I felt it was important for our kids to know the mistakes we’d made and the tradeoffs we needed to make. We told them there would be changes, but milestone celebrations, too, like when we eliminated all credit-card debt. We didn’t want to shake their sense of security, but for them to know we had a plan.
Ally: And it seems your plan worked! So, why did you make the professional transition from fashion to finance?
Alaya: My debt repayment coincided with an increasing dissatisfaction at work. Fashion wasn’t something I was excited about anymore, yet I felt trapped in my job because I needed the income to handle my payments. But as I learned more about personal finance, it became about more than just doing it for me — it was a passion I wanted to share with others.
I eventually made the leap to leave my job and start my own business. I’m still growing in my financial journey, trying to make up for lost time and savings. But I’ve gained something I didn’t have before: contentment.
Learn more about strategies for paying down debt.
Alaya Linton is a personal financial coach, speaker, and writer. Her path to helping others with money stemmed from her own financial struggles and her journey to cleaning things up. Alaya’s blog, Hope+Cents and her Facebook Group provide encouragement, guidance, and hope to women looking to break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, take control of their money, and create and live a better financial future. Alaya’s writing and personal story have been featured in multiple publications, including U.S. News & World Report, LendingTree, The Balance, Sisters from AARP, GOBankingRates, and AOL Finance. Follow Alaya on Instagram: @hopeandcents and Twitter: @hopeandcents
The views, information, or opinions expressed are solely those of the individuals involved and do not represent those of Ally Bank.