Do you sometimes feel like the debt stories you read online always talk about how they already paid off their debt? Well, today’s guest post by Dina is about being IN the trenches. I hope you will be inspired by her story to tackle your debt!
A tale as old as time: Debt. These days, student loan debt is one of the most common forms of debt, only behind that of mortgages. The silver medal in the debt Olympics is nothing to brag about! Despite being common, carrying the burden of student loan debt does not necessarily make this bitter pill any easier to swallow. It is estimated that students graduating in in 2016 left with not only a diploma, but also approximately $37 K in debt.
I believe that every person has a story, so in that light every “debtor” has a story. When it comes to student loan debt, I myself am truly average. I left undergrad in 2011 with about $30,000(ish) in debt and promptly packed my bags to move from the harsh winters of Boston down south to Charlotte, North Carolina. I faithfully made my student loan payments in my first 2 years out of undergrad working as a Registered Nurse. Honestly, I didn’t think much about it. I attribute this mostly to being new to the workforce, where any paycheck was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. I also had a few ‘side-hustles’, nothing exotic but mostly babysitting and one temp. job working health fairs.
But, and of course there is a BUT to this boring student loan story, I deferred all but one of my loans in 2013 when I moved to Miami to start graduate school. Not for one, not for two, but for 3 and a HALF years (have to add in the half for dramatic effect). Miami is a magical place, it truly is. However, it is also a city where you can pick up some nasty $$ habits. See, all the beauty in Miami, both the scenery and the people, can make you just want to spend, spend, spend…money that you do not have! Clothing, beaches, drinks, dinners, you name it, all SO easy to let the $ go out of your wallet and down the drain. To add insult to injury, living in the “Magic City” also means your long-distance social circle thinks you are on permanent vacation. And who wants to make their loved ones “stay in” when they visit?! Not me! Now I didn’t go super crazy here—I was always able to pay all my bills, avoid credit card debt, etc. However, looking back could I have fit in my student loan payments?… YUP! If I could afford Keratin hair treatments, then I could have afforded my Stafford loan.
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My light bulb moment began when I came out of my “deferment” dream as I inched closer to the dawn of 2017. At this point, I had finished graduate school and started a position at a nonprofit, which coincided with a move to a new city, Tampa. I felt privileged to avoid an employment gap between school and work, but a shock in realizing how little my take home pay would be once I factored in my student loans + other monthly payments. My student loans alone accounted for close to $400 a month. Ouch, it hurt. It hurt a little more after knowing how wonderful my life was without them for 3 ½ years! After pondering how the heck I pulled this off straight out of undergrad, I jumped into action.
Almost upon accident, podcasts came into my life. Not just any podcast, but a personal finance podcast called Her Money hosted by Jean Chatzky This I can say was truly the beginning. What I love about Her Money is that it is targeted for women and by women. It sounds cliché, but the podcast really made me feel empowered to take control of my finances. Through Her Money I have branched off in many directions to other podcasts like So Money with Farnoosh Torabi and Bad with Money with Gaby Dunn . Feeling like part of a community, a debt community nonetheless, has really normalized my experience, and just made me feel like, “I can do this! I can pay off my debt.”
And so with a little podcast motivation, I started attacking my debt. First, I used nearly my entire 2016 tax return to pay off one entire loan. Then a month later, I paid off another loan. This was followed a few months later by paying off a third loan. To date, I have paid off $8569.89 this year in addition to my normal monthly loan payments. I have also shrunk my monthly payments down from $376.91 to $268.32. The fact that this number is a below $300 is enough to make me cheer and whoop. My debt pay off goal for the remainder of 2017 is in the ballpark of $7-8 K. A combination of budgeting and “valued based” spending has got me this far, but it is about time I seek out an additional side-hustle to speed up my payments. With about $18K to go, I am on target to complete my debt payoff at the end of 2018, but hopefully sooner.
In this process, I have decided to broadcast my debt experience in the form of a blog. This isn’t because my experience is anything unique or even exciting. On the contrary, it is so So so common, which is why I feel it is necessary to kick it to the curb once and for all. I’ve changed my original goal from simply paying off my debt, to learning from my debt. What will I learn from this experience? What will I take with me as I move forward to new $$ goals and challenges? And perhaps most important, what can I learn from others who have completed paying off debt OR are in the midst of doing so? Sure, the day that I pay off my loans in full will be joyous, complete with a celebration involving alcohol and pizza (because why NOT?). Debt free is a journey, not a destination. And yes, I realize how corny that sounds and I don’t care because it is true. If I don’t play my cards right, the end of my student loan debt will inevitably lead to other debt. Thus, the more I can strategize now, the better my family and I will be in the long run.
For other millennials out there dealing with student loan debt, credit card debt, mortgage debt, car debt, medical debt, or otherwise, I acknowledge your pain and struggle. Note, that empathy does not equate to having it worse or better than one another. I am the first to admit there are student loan debt stories far more tragic and difficult than my own. But, in the end I will stick to the belief that no matter where we start, we can rise above and come out on the other side of our debt brighter and wiser!
Dina blogs at www.wisedebther.com
You can also find her on Twitter
Thank you Dina for sharing your journey with us!
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