For most people, the notion of rapidly paying down hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt is pure fantasy. They know that filling a six-figure hole is usually a multi-decade endeavor. Not Bernadette Joy.

Despite drowning in $300,000 of debt, Joy successfully cleared this balance in a dizzying three years' time.

You read that right: $300k in debt cleared in 36 months. She must be rich, or have had help from wealthy parents, right?

Absolutely not. Joy took a conscious, disciplined approach to her financial health that helped her reduce expenses and build debt-destroying capital.

So, what’s her secret? It’s not rocket science.

Joy applied four simple and powerful rules to help shrink her balance. These are not hard and fast rules but rather financial heuristics or rules of thumb that underscore an entirely different approach to budgeting.

The $1 rule

Joy permits herself to purchase items that cost $1 or less per use. So items that will be used frequently or are simply low in cost.

For example, imagine you’re considering purchasing an Xbox for $500 and you anticipate using the console once a month for the next three years. The system would cost you nearly $14 per use ($500 / 36 months). For Joy and her $1 rule, that’s an obvious “no.”

The $1 rule makes most transactions quick and easy; no grueling deliberation, emotion, or mental strain—just a hard and fast cost-benefit analysis.

“If an item comes out to one dollar or less per use, I give myself the green light to buy it. The $1 rule gives yourself permission to still buy things you use frequently, while preventing impulse purchases that might seem like a good deal,” Joy says.

The real power of this rule comes from preventing you from buying items that appear to offer good value.

Imagine the Xbox was on sale for $300, down from $500. That $200 savings seems like a great deal, and for some, it might be. For as often as you plan to use it, though, the console is still too expensive. At $300, you’d still be paying more than $8 per use!

According to Joy, her strategy helps her overcome price anchoring, the phenomenon where people attach too much weight to the original price. In our example, the video game console started at $500, so the $300 price reduction seems like a great deal and hard to resist.

Retailers are well versed in this psychological tactic. That’s why discount signs are prominent and bright. They want you to believe you’re getting a good deal, whether you are or not, and whether you even need that item or not.

The 80/20 rule

The 80/20 rule is often thrown around and you’ve probably heard a version of it.

Let’s see how Joy uses it: For Joy, when it comes when it comes to financial health, 80/20 means sticking to items she will use 80% of the time or more.

Need a new set of dinnerware? As long as you eat in most of the time, Joy would likely say it makes sense to make the purchase. If, instead, you eat out a few times a week, she’d recommend skipping the purchase.

So, next time you’re considering a new purchase, ask yourself: Will I use this 80% of the time or more? If yes, you’ve been greenlit for the purchase. If not, put the plates back and move along.

Zero-based budgeting

When Joy discovered zero-based budgeting, it was a revelation. With traditional budgeting, all expenses are accounted for, with any money left over typically going into savings or investments. With zero-based budgeting, every incoming dollar is accounted for ahead of time.

Why is this distinction important?

Zero-based budgeting offers a clearer picture of where every dollar will go. There’s not guessing about how much money you’ll have left to spend. In many cases, this approach will emphasize the importance of cost-cutting measures. During months when money coming in is lower, you’ll be accurately aware of the belt-tightening requirements in advance.

While it may not always be pleasant, zero-based budgeting is effective. That’s the point.

Prioritize what you genuinely cherish

I love this rule. It helps humanize Joy’s approach. While an Xbox might be nice, if you’re not a big fan of video games, you likely won’t miss it.

Instead, what if you love sneakers more than anything else? That’s fine. Don’t torture yourself. Identify what you value most, and keep some cash available for those purchases. Money is limited, so why not spend it on items you truly want, love, and will use often?

Psychologically, this is a potent strategy. It frees you from the constraints of temptation. You can forgo the Xbox relatively easily, but you know sneakers are a different story. Be honest with yourself, identify those special items, and allow yourself more flexibility when encountering them.

What’s next?

These rules may be simple, but they aren’t particularly easy. It’s like exercise. Most of us know exactly what to do, but few of us are regular practitioners.

That said, the rules Joy has developed all share some of the best debt-reduction strategies I’ve encountered. She is acutely aware of the psychological component of spending and has developed rules that, to a degree, remove emotion and make spending decisions quick and easy.

If you find the rules overwhelming, don’t worry. Start small. Pick one rule to follow in the beginning. You’ll likely be motivated by success and watch the momentum (and savings) build.

I promise, it will be worth it.