An Insider Guide To The Instagram Debt Free Community
I owe a lot to the #debtfreecommunity on Instagram. I started an account as an online diary to track my progress and keep myself accountable in paying off six figures of student loan debt. At the time, I didn’t even know that an online debt paying community existed. As people started following me, and I found other accounts through them, I realized just how many of us there were. Now it’s my favourite online space and my biggest source of motivation!
To pay it forward, I wanted to share my thoughts on building an Instagram account and connecting with others, how I went from 1,000 to 10,000 followers in about six months, and my perspective on what community can mean on an online platform.
What is the #debtfreecommunity?
The #debtfreecommunity is a group of people who are seeking financial freedom – paying off debt, saving, investing. Members share their stories about debt, money, and life, and cheer each other on. It’s a space where you won’t feel judged for driving an older car or bringing your lunch to work. Instead of scrolling through glossy vacation photos and drool worthy restaurant meals, you’ll be browsing tips for how to get out of debt and reading real stories from real people – #nofilter.
Why should I join?
If you’re like me you may be in debt and most of the people you know are probably in debt too. Debt has been normalized in our culture to the point where it’s almost a given that a teenager will take out tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to get an education. Many of us don’t even blink when we sign up for car loans that will take 5, 6, 7 years to pay off. Let’s not even get started on credit cards and medical bills and payday loans.
There are thousands of us publicly rejecting this worldview and deciding that payments are no longer going to define us. If you want to commiserate, learn about how to become debt free, provide support to others, or just generally be around other people who ‘get it,’ this is the place for you!
Do I need to be on any specific plan?
No! You don’t need to buy anything, and you don’t need to be following any specific guide to getting out of debt to join the community.
There are quite a few people who follow Dave Ramsey (mostly from the US), but also many who follow others like The Barefoot Investor (Australia) or Gail Vaz Oxlade (Canada). About 80% of the people I polled followed Dave Ramsey’s plan to some extent. However, over 90% of those that did modified the plan to suit their own needs.
The vast majority of us are creating our own roadmap based on what will fit in our lives, and you can follow any strategy that works for you!
How do I set up my account?
Instagram is app-based, so although you can browse it on the web you’ll need to actually download it on your smartphone to make posts yourself.
Protecting Your Information
Privacy is an issue on any platform, but when we’re sharing financial information we want to be particularly careful. Even if you plan to post anonymously, make sure that you’re taking steps to protect yourself.
Instagram and Facebook are connected, so if you have both of the apps on your phone you may find that even if you didn’t connect your accounts your friends from Facebook are showing up as suggested accounts to follow on Instagram. There isn’t currently a way to prevent this, so what I’ve done is created a Facebook account and an Instagram account specifically for this debt free journey with a new email account and linked them together. Then I linked my personal accounts together as well. It’s not a perfect solution, but that’s what we’re working with right now. You can also try to find everyone you know on Instagram and block them, but there’s always a risk that you’ll miss someone.
Ultimately, don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t want someone to see.
Choosing a Username
When choosing a username, try to pick something personal to you but also easily recognizable. If your account will mostly be focused on debt, a general guideline is to include the word ‘debt’ in your name somehow – usually at the beginning.
One thing to note – Instagram does not allow for upper case letters in your username so make sure it’s easy to read in all lower case. My username debtstoriches is borderline, which is why I have ‘Veronika | Debts To Riches’ in the Name field of my profile to clarify. You could also use punctuation like debts.to.riches but be careful of making it too complicated for searching.
Filling out Your Profile
Choose a unique and easily identifiable profile photo. Since there are so many accounts, you want yours to be recognizable. Try to avoid stock or generic photos. Putting a face to a name is always helpful for connecting with people, but building an account anonymously is definitely achievable too. My profile photo is an image of my debt repayment jars filled with chocolate coins (one coin = $1,000 of debt). I post updates where I transfer coins as I pay off debt, so it’s an image that’s unique and easily associated with me.
Add some personal details and numbers, if you feel comfortable sharing them. People like to follow accounts they can find common ground with. If you’re in debt payoff mode, it can be helpful to add your numbers. My profile shows that I’m working on paying off six figures of student loan debt without a six figure salary. Based on that, people might identify with having student loans, having a high debt balance, or having a sub-six figure income.
Use the limited characters wisely. Your profile only allows 150 characters, so make them count! You can use emojis to condense things, like I’ve done above with the graduation cap – ‘student loan’ just went from 11 characters to 1. I’ve seen those who want to share information about their families use emojis for themselves, their spouse, children, or pets. Be creative, but make sure your meaning is easily identifiable.
Switch to a business account if you want detailed data. This is optional, but if you do want to see insights like the number of people who visit your profile, follower demographics, and which posts are your most popular, you’ll want to turn this on in Settings. You can choose from several business types that will show up under your name – mine is Personal Blog.
Defining Your Focus
Your account will gain more traction if you narrow in on specific and related content. For example, an account focused on debt repayment, minimalism, and personal finance will usually get more attention than an account focused on debt repayment, weight loss, acrylic painting, dystopian fiction, foreign politics, and the care of rare exotic plants. (This is a fictional account. Any resemblance to an actual account is purely coincidental.)
That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t post snippets of your undoubtedly eclectic and fascinating personal life – you absolutely should! Just keep the main focus of your account on 1-3 related topics and then sprinkle other posts in occasionally. Trying to do too much or reach too many people can dilute your message.
How do I share links?
Instagram doesn’t allow you to hyperlink in the posts on your feed, so you’ll need a way around that if you want to share links with someone. You can share links in direct messages but I don’t recommend that for obvious reasons of scale. If one person asks you to send a link that’s fine, but when hundreds of people want to read it you’ll be in trouble.
One of the easiest tools to share links is Linktree. Although you can’t share links in your posts, you can share one link in your profile in the Website field, which then branches out to another screen.
On my Linktree page I share links to my most recent blog post, tools that I use like You Need A Budget and undebt.it, and other places people can get in touch with me like this blog and my Twitter account.
When you want to direct someone to a link, add it to your Linktree page and then write something like ‘Link is in my profile!’ in your post so that they can find it.
Who should I follow?
I personally love to follow a lot of people, mostly those who are posting about paying down their debt or saving. You may want to make your feed more curated and only follow a few accounts, which is totally fine. Just don’t do that thing where you follow and then unfollow a bunch of people constantly just to gain followers. It’s tacky and very noticeable.
Here are some ways to find accounts to follow:
- Follow people that your favourite accounts are following, or accounts that are following them. For example, visit my profile at @debtstoriches and click on the accounts that I’m following – almost all of them are #debtfreecommunity members. Scroll through the list and follow any accounts that draw your interest.
- Search under the Tags heading for hashtags like #debtfreecommunity, #debtfreejourney, and #debtfree. Each of these hashtags acts like a new feed, showing you all of the top and most recent posts tagged in that category. You can also see the related hashtags on the same page, so you really only need to start with one and branch out from there.
- Find a post that you love, and scroll through the comments. You can click on the profiles of commenters that seem interesting to see if their pages are relevant to you.
There are so many fantastic accounts, but here are just a few of my faves: @debtfreeinsunnyca, @thefiguremaker, @frugalkittens, @debtfreepeach, @ourdebtfreestory, @debtfreeby35_, @penniestowealth, @thedebtfreeguys, @debtkickinmom, @debtfreedreamin. With a bit of research, you’ll definitely be able to find someone in a similar situation to connect with!
How do I build followers?
The main advantage of building followers on Instagram is that you have the opportunity to interact with more people. More followers means more comments and a greater likelihood that your posts will be seen.
There is one number milestone in particular that you might want to aim for: 10,000. Ticking over from 9,999 to 10k is pretty surreal! Even better than the milestone, at 10k you can post links in your stories! The ‘k’ is elusive but absolutely attainable if you put in the effort.
- Use hashtags. Hashtags are the homing beacons of Instagram. You can have up to 30 hashtags on each post. To do this you can either post them in the text or you can post them as a comment below. I prefer to separate them using a comment, but it’s up to you! Make sure these hashtags are relevant – too general or unrelated to your post and your content will seem like spam.
- Interact with others. If you’re not there for the community, why are you even on Instagram? Show your support by following other accounts and liking and commenting on their posts.
- Be authentic. People are becoming more perceptive of influencers and someone there just to sell a brand or a product. If you want to connect with and help others, that will show through and people will be more open to what you have to say.
Always remember to have patience. Instagram ebbs and flows. Some days you might go down a few followers, other days you might go up a hundred. It depends on who’s online, the number of people that are seeing your posts, and how the algorithms are filtering content. If you’re persistent, generally you’ll see growth.
What should I post?
When most people think of Instagram, the image conjured is usually a collage of food and nature photos captioned with inspiring quotes from people who are dead. I think Instagram can actually be much more versatile than that! How can a photo-based app be used to discuss personal finance? Easy! Expand your definition of a photo.
When I think of content to share, I’m not thinking of how I can fit that into a photo of something. I’m thinking of how I can best display the information. This could mean a photo of a mountain, sure, but it could also mean a chart or screenshot or even stand alone text.
I share everything from progress updates to memes to quotes and articles, and I don’t limit myself by what others are posting or how the app has traditionally been used. Check out these examples.
Paying off debt? Saving for a house? Investing? We want to see it!
Here are a few of the charts I’ve made to share my progress. I use a calendar to show the amount of debt principal that I’ve paid off each month, with a total for the year. I use graphs and pie charts to show the percentage of debt I’ve paid so far. Because I’m so extra, I even track the paydays I have left until debt freedom.
I made all of these graphics using Canva, which is an awesome resource. You can use stock templates made specifically for Instagram if you’re not as comfortable with image editing.
Debt Free Memes
Yes, the #debtfreecommunity has memes! Here are a few of the ones I’ve made. You can find more of mine at #debtstorichesmemes.
Quotes, Articles & Blog Posts
Inspirational quotes are definitely Instagram territory, but why banish them to the captions? I share my own thoughts, quotes from other accounts, and even screenshots from Twitter as images. Yes, I post screenshots of tweets on Instagram. I’m dangerous like that.
I also share a lot of news stories and research studies about debt, behavioural economics, psychology, and money. To do this I just take a screenshot of the article’s title, provide a quote in the description, and add my own commentary. These posts often lead to lots of great discussion in the comments. Make sure the title and website are easily readable so that people can search for the original source. I add a link at the end of the description as well – even if it’s not hyperlinked, people can still copy and paste or type it into a web browser. I share quite a few blog posts this way too.
Obviously, if the content isn’t yours make sure it’s clear who the original author is so that people can find the source and to give credit!
What about stories?
A story is a photo or video that disappears after 24 hours. You can view someone’s story by clicking on their profile photo. To add to your own story, click the Home button and long press on your own profile photo.
You can add a photo or video from your albums or camera, or you can just use the Type feature to share a text-based image. After you’ve selected your photo or video, you can add text, draw over it, or add a location, timestamp, hashtag, poll, gif, or emoji. Options are pretty much unlimited!
When you reach 10k followers, you’ll be able to add a hyperlink to your stories so that people can click to learn more. This is particularly useful for sharing things like articles and blog posts.
My stories are usually where I share more day to day things that I don’t want interrupting my regular feed. I post things like: food I’m eating, photos of how messy my apartment is, screenshots of my budget, books I’m currently reading, shout outs to people who have just paid off a debt, photos from inside my fridge – refrigerator voyeurism is very much a thing, and the occasional rant.
Stories can also be a fun way to learn more about the members of the community. There are often challenge tags circulating where you’ll fill out some facts about yourself and then tag someone else to do the same. In the image below, I’ve shown my debt free wish list – the things I want in order of preference. For me it’s pay off all student loans, $5,000 cash, all expenses paid to three bucket list destinations, etc. Medical expenses, credit card debt, and car loans aren’t wishes for me because I don’t have them. In one image you can learn a lot about someone!
I also often feature new members of the #debtfreecommunity in my stories, with links to their profiles – people are usually looking for others to follow, and it helps new accounts gain traction faster.
What about highlights?
If you want to add a previous story to your profile so it’s easily accessible, just tap the ‘New’ + button on your profile page.
Some of the stories I highlight are: articles, books, inspirational quotes, recipes, and progress updates. Add whatever stories you want to come back to later or have easily accessible as resources. Posts can get lost down your feed as you make new ones, but highlights are great for quick reference points or milestones.
If you want your highlights to look polished, add a cover page to your stories first. For mine, I’ve just chosen a white background with a black icon. You can add a new cover later if you want, but you’ll need to add the new cover page to your stories too and then the cover will appear at the end of that highlight rather than as the first image. This might not bother you, but it annoyed me so I ended up re-posting the stories to maintain the order!
What else do I need to know?
Above all, the #debtfreecommunity is a haven for a lot of people. It’s one of the few spaces where you’re not being told ‘you’ll always have debt’ or ‘you need to buy this.’ It’s kind of sacred to most of us, really. Keeping that in mind, there are a few unwritten rules that (almost) everyone follows to keep it an inspiring and trash free zone.
- Go light on any sales pitches. In the #debtfreecommunity we’re focused on getting OUT of debt and saving money rather than spending it, so we’re primed to be skeptical of advertising and marketing. This means if you’re there solely to sell a product or promote your personal brand, you probably won’t get very far. That isn’t to say you can’t make money from doing good work, just don’t be sleazy about it. Some examples of how to do it right: @debtfreecharts has a site for free and $1 printable colouring charts to use for tracking your debt free journey and @easy_budget sells an Excel spreadsheet that calculates your debt free date. These products are useful to the community and sold by individuals who have built trust with other members.
- Be respectful of others. This is hands down the most important part of keeping the community thriving. I personally will delete comments that are obviously spam or particularly hateful. I don’t do this to stifle disagreement – there are people who disagree with some of the things I post and I’m happy to engage with them in the comments. I do this to keep the conversation civil. One recent example: on a meme featuring a celebrity one of the comments did nothing but attack this celebrity’s physical appearance. Delete.
- Enjoy yourself. I don’t believe in doing things that you don’t enjoy. If you try to use Instagram and don’t find yourself excited to use it, maybe that’s not the platform for you. I personally don’t use Pinterest, even though I know a lot of people love it. Same thing with Facebook. I’ve tried, and I don’t love it. Instagram and Twitter, I love. That’s why you’ll see me most often on those sites.
If you want to connect with people and share your story, Instagram might be the right place for you. If you want to market a pyramid scheme, kindly spend your time elsewhere please. That’s about it!
I hope that by sharing my experiences, you’ve found a new insight into Instagram or the #debtfreecommunity. If there’s anything else you’d like to know, or other tips that you have, share below!