How I Got Here
I knew where I wanted to go to college since I was 15 years old. It was a given. I wanted to go to an expensive private school. The brochure said that their tuition wasn’t as expensive as most colleges, so I kept telling myself, ‘Hey, I’m getting a deal!’
I don’t regret my college decision. I got a fantastic education, made lifelong friends, and gained so much necessary experience to go out and get a great job after graduation. But I have a lot of regrets surrounding student loans and assuming they would take care of me.
But, I took out loans without understanding the true cost. There was a disconnect. I figured that I’d live in the moment now and then I’d jump that hurdle when I get there. I also didn’t think it would be difficult to pay off. I had a couple of scholarships, so I figured that had to decrease the price to a place where it wouldn’t sting so much.
Discovering the Problem
After graduating college, I sat down and calculated exactly how much I owed—something I should have done long before I graduated. I couldn’t believe the number I was staring at in the end—I owed almost $134,000.00!
I didn’t expect there to be so many zeros. This wasn’t going to be something I could pay off in a couple of years like I thought on a small minimum payment. My minimum payment alone was huge. According to my calculations, without factoring interest, the loans could take me between 12-15 years to pay off if I just stuck with the minimum.
I had to play a little exercise and imagine how I pictured my life in 12-15 years. I pictured a house, a dog, maybe a husband and a family. The thought of paying for an experience from my 20s when I was in my 30s made me feel sick. I had to figure out how I could pay these off faster.
So, I rolled up my sleeves and started researching how I could get these paid off as quick as possible. I found some programs where if I work for the government or for certain non-profits for ten years, I could apply for loan forgiveness. But even then, the forgiveness wasn’t guaranteed, and I didn’t want to wait ten years.
As my 6-month grace period came to a close, I could feel my first payment breathing down my neck as I braced myself for the first payment.
It was then by divine providence that one of my favorite podcasts, The Catholic Feminist Podcast, did an interview with a young woman named Amanda Teixeira. Her message about finding hope in debt, attacking it with a Gazelle intensity, and gaining financial freedom tugged at my heartstrings. She explained how she and her husband, Jonathan, paid off about $25,000 in debt in less than 12 months. She shared how they were able to cash flow two adoptions (later 3) and a move to another city without going into debt. And now they were helping others do the same through their new company WalletWin.
I signed up almost immediately. This young couple seemed to have the answers that I needed and seemed like they were going to cheer me on the entire step of the way. They were kooky and fun, but they were amazing teachers. I raced through the modules of their main course eager to get started.
When my first payment rolled around, I was already practicing keeping and maintaining a monthly written budget, giving every dollar a job; I was listening to Dave Ramsey on the radio and nearly bursting into tears when callers would do their “Debt Free Scream”; I was saying no to going out if it involved spending money, and accepting evening and weekend babysitting jobs allowing me to throw every extra penny towards debt.
At the time, I was working for a small Christian nonprofit in one of the most expensive cities in the United States. It was difficult to make as little as I did and be paying off as much as I was, but I did.
In my first 5 months, I paid off over $15,000 in debt. Out of my initial $134k, it didn’t seem like much and I really had to force myself to put it all in perspective. Most people barely payoff that much in a year but I did it in almost half the time.
Getting Hit With the Unexpected
At the end of August, I learned that the company I was working for was under some financial strains and decided to let me and eleven others go.
They gave me a generous severance, but my debt snowball came to a screeching halt. I learned a lot of very valuable money lessons in the month and a half I was unemployed, which I will write about in another post.
I was lucky and found new employment right before my severance ran out, without having to touch my emergency fund.
Once I was employed and stable again, it was off to the races on paying off my loans. I was annoyed that I lost two months of debt snowballing (I just paid the minimums those months), so it was easy to find the motivation to rev the engine back up.
As of today, I have paid off about $24,000 and I am very proud of that number.
Looking Ahead to 2019
My goal for next year is to get my overall $134k down to five figures, which I estimate I can probably do by summertime (maybe sooner). Once I do that, I think that the fire I have to get this paid off will only grow stronger.
I’m also hoping to build my personal brand and freelance operation and funnel everything I can from that towards debt in addition to the babysitting and side hustles I did in 2018.
I know I’m not alone. Every year, hundreds of thousands of students are graduating college with student loans are feeling the exact same things that I felt. So, I’ve decided to document that journey.
Once every few months, I’ll give an update on how my debt snowball is coming along and what kind of progress I am making.
A big lesson I’ve learned through it all is that debt is not the master of me. I’m bigger than my debt. It may be big, but I had a choice to make; I could either be afraid of it and be satisfied with paying the minimum payments well into my 30s, or I could look it dead in the eye and not let it control me and my happiness.