Overwhelmed by Debt? Go on a Debt Diet

VIDEO: Lean the steps that can help you succeed at your own debt diet.
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Eleven trillion dollars of debt: that's the current amount of consumer debt in this country. Even though this staggering number has decreased since 2008, the average American is $16,000 in debt, not including a mortgage.

Massachusetts single mother Leah West is trying to get rid of the burden that many of us are keeping a secret. She started on a debt diet to dig out from under more than $80,000 of debt.

West treasures time with her children.

On Fridays, she meets her three children – Matthew, Hannah and Katie – at the bus stop. It's only day she does not commute three hours round-trip to work.

Leah, 40, lives on Cape Cod, a dream location, but quite a distance from her job as an administrative director at a health center.

Web Extra: CLICK HERE to visit the National Foundation for Credit Counseling website.

Former Stay-at-Home Mom Racks Up $80K in Student Loan Debt

Formerly a stay-at-home mom, Leah went back to school to earn her bachelor's and master's degrees after her divorce, and in turn picked up $80,000 of student loan debt.

"When you have $80,000 of student loans weighing on your shoulder, you know, you want to get serious and get rid of it," West told ABC News.

Add on another nearly $3,000 of credit card debt, and the fact that she owes more on her house that it's worth, Leah says she needs help.

She did not want to revisit the period right after her divorce when she was in even deeper financial pain.

"That time was totally despair … There were definitely nights that I didn't know how I was going to put food on the table," she said.

Enter Laura Rowley, money and happiness columnist with Yahoo Finance.

"I think for a lot of people, debt is the monster in the closet," Rowley said.

Laura's first tip for anyone facing a mountain of debt is not to start with the numbers, but to start with what you value in life.

"If I value my children, most of all, like Leah does. How am I going to pay for their education? How am I going to help them get the education they need to get the job that's going to make them happy," she said. For Leah, this mindset toward spending was revolutionary.

"Once you do that, it's like a puzzle. Everything goes in to place, and you start being much more careful about what you spend your money on … that changed everything for me," West said.

Expert: Scrutinize Every Dollar Your Spend

It also makes it easier to tackle the next task: scrutinize every dollar you spend.

"There's a corner store down the street and I realized I was spending about $400 a month there on you know, you go to your friend's house and you pick up a bottle of wine…or your kids say I don't want that for dinner, and you say alright I'll go down to the store and get something else," West added.

More Than $30K at Corner Store in 7 Years

When West added up the damage, she couldn't believe it. She spent $30,000 over seven years – at the corner store. That's in addition to her spending at the grocery store.

"I could have re-done my kitchen or a year of college for my kids, or had that in my retirement account…so you start looking at everything that way," she said.

Now it's time to get down and dirty with the numbers and put a plan in place.

"Leah had a lot of different goals, but it's really important not to overwhelm yourself with five or 10 goals. Start with one to three goals that are very manageable," Rowley said.

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