A couple who paid down $123,000 in student loan debt is telling others how they can do the same.
When Anjie and RJ Muhammad decided to get married in 2017, they knew it was time to assess their finances.
"We had a large chunk of debt," Anjie Muhammad told "Good Morning America." "Once we got married, we were like, 'How do we tackle this, right?' We do not want to start our life as a married couple, buried in six figure student loan debt. And so we got on the same page about money very early on."
Anjie Muhammad said she had about $40,000 in student loan debt, while RJ had $80,000-90,000 that he needed to pay off. In total, the couple had $123,000 in debt.
But instead of panicking about their situation, they said they decided to get to work. In fact, the couple said conversations about money took place early on in their relationship when they started dating in 2011.
"It was important to have those conversations," RJ Muhammad said. "So us reading books together, listening to podcasts, it allows us as individuals before we got married to do the work, to improve our credit, reduce debt."
The couple said they decided to individually pay off their own car loans and credit card debt and then collectively pay off the six-figure student loan debt together.
After assessing their spending, they said they took steps to cut expenses and whittle down the mountain of debt, which included budgeting, negotiating their cell phone bill and rent, canceling unnecessary subscriptions and cutting back on going out.
"We were able to kind of refocus and reprioritize our spending," Anjie Muhammad said. "From there, we would meet weekly talking about money, talking about our budget and our goals and it was just huge for us. We put things on the refrigerator -- like we had our full debt amount on our refrigerator and we would just slowly just review how we were going to pay it down."
The couple said they also increased their income by doing side hustles. Within a year, they were able to knock out their entire debt.
"The power of reducing your expenses, but in turn also increasing your income is a powerful strategy when paying down debt, especially when you have six-figure debt like we did," Anjie Muhammad said. "We made it a point to increase our income. We asked for more when we were negotiating for promotions, or if we weren't able to get a promotion at our current employer, we looked elsewhere: We looked outside the organization and were able to increase our income significantly."
"It was all about being intentional," RJ Muhammad said. "We got intentional with our income, we got intentional with our expenses."
Now, the couple is helping others tackle debt through their brand, Rich by Intention, where its mission is to empower couples to manage their money and everyday life with intention by eliminating debt, saving money and investing in their future.
Anjie and RJ Muhammad have also been able to apply their tactics to remain debt-free even around the holidays. Some of their recommendations include saving small amounts of money throughout the year, allocating a specific amount per person, shop sales and make homemade gifts.
"You don't always have to buy anything, right? If you're in debt like we were, we didn't really buy anything around the holidays but made it a point to be with our family and I think that's what the holidays are about," Anjie Muhammad said.
With more tips on paying down debt and saving at the same time, Lynn Richardson, a financial expert and author of "Get Your Money Back: Tax Deductions You Never Knew About," shared some of her advice with "GMA." Read on for more.
Richardson said that in order to pay down debt, we first must learn the rules of the game. And the first rule is to spend less money.
Take this for example: If you receive $1,000, Richardson said you should live by the "10-10-30-50" rule, which is when you tithe the first 10% of that amount, save the next 10%, put 30% as cash in your pocket for incidentals (food, groceries, hair, etc.), and put the remaining 50% in your savings account.
If you still don't have enough money for bills, Richardson said to eliminate something, research COVID-19 relief options, or communicate with your creditors. Richardson said that you should never be in a position where you owe so much in bills that you have nothing in your savings.
Run your home like a business
Just as Anjie and RJ Muhammad budgeted their expenses while they paid down their student loan debt, Richardson said people trying to save should run their home like a business by keeping track of every penny they have so they can see where their money is going.
Santa side hustle
With the holidays coming up, money can be tight for many people, so Richardson suggests a "Santa Side Hustle."
Richardson suggests taking a look at your talents or what you do and see how you can use them to earn more money in these months before the holidays. Some side hustles can be Uber, homeschool tutoring, virtual assisting, holiday cooking and more.
Also, Richardson suggests that people pick up extra shifts. If you are teacher, see if you can tutor, or if you are an attorney, see if you can consult.