I’ve got an awesome freedom story for you today from Kelsey. She’s passionate about helping college grads change their money mindset with daily tips and step-by-step action plans to get unstuck and set up for a lucrative financial future while enjoying their daily life. Here’s her personal student loan freedom journey!
My Adult Freedom
As I stepped out of my college graduation cap and gown, I felt the freedom of entering my adult life.
Having grown up in Maryland and attended college in Delaware, I was heading into my new life in a new state. I was starting my career in sustainable energy systems and ready take on the world. Bring on the the downtown life, the cocktails, and new friends! I was twenty-two, didn’t know a single person, and off to Connecticut. Hello world! I’m coming for you!
I jumped into my new life head first with an impractical apartment near downtown (far from work), went to the bars as often as possible, and never limited myself on those fancy expensive drinks. I splurged on eating out, makeup, clothes, jewelry, new furniture, and taking trips to visit friends. I never thought twice about how much I was spending because my checking account never went in the red.
Overall, I was being responsible with my money and in some ways frugal. I didn’t upgrade my college kitchen gear - 3 mismatched plastic plates, 5 forks, 2 spoons, 1 muffin tin. I even cooked for myself one day a week that included the occasional vegetable! I always paid my rent on time and got a roommate. I was even automating 10% of my income to a savings account and putting 5% in my 401k.
I was rocking my adult life. I made great friends and the guy I was crushing on asked me out! All my efforts in spending money on my social life were paying off! That is, for the first six months of my adult life.
Adult Responsibility Hits
Did I forget to mention that I had $28,000 in student loan debt? I hadn’t forgotten, but I had a six month grace period before I had to start making payments. When January 2017 came around, I logged in to make my first payment and was smacked in the head. Why did I owe $31,000?
My dad had tried telling me, but I didn’t listen to him. During those six months of grace, I was actually racking up interest! Crap!
In my defense, I had tried to create an auto payment system after I started my job, but it didn’t let me. I took this as not needing to pay yet, and moved on instead of trying harder to get my auto payments set up. Oops!
I made my first payment of $700 (pure interest), finally set up my auto payment, and moved on with my life. As the months ticked on, I was trying to keep up with the lifestyle I had created, but seeing those $700 sucked out of my account every month was getting to me. By November I was ready to try something different.
Then I found out about high yield savings accounts (earning 1% interest instead of 0.01%) through Pinterest. That seemed like a smart switch! I created an online high yield savings account, filled out my information, and transferred in $6,000. Then I remembered the last time I made a financial decision and ignored my dad’s advice - I ended up $3,000 in the hole. So I called my dad and asked for his advice:
- My Dad: “Well what’s the interest rate on your student loans?”
- Me: “I don’t know, I have different loans, the lowest is 3% and the highest is 7%”
- My Dad: “Why don’t you put the $6,000 to your loans? You’re going to lose way more money in interest than you gain from the 1% from the bank”.
This was EYE OPENING. I knew interest was annoying if it was taken from you and good if it was given to you, but I never actually thought about what it was and how it worked (This is why we need personal finance courses in school!). I left my conversation with my dad and created a new plan. I was going to pay off every last dime of my student loans as quickly as possible!
Paying Off My Debt
I had already started making changes in my spending. While I enjoyed going out, the drink prices were crazy and my boyfriend was over the bar scene. At work, my clothes always got dirty (hello engineering job) and the other girls didn’t wear makeup. I found myself no longer buying clothes for work or spending hundreds on make-up. These changes helped adjust my spending habits and focus more on paying off my loans!
I had $20,000 in debt left. I took a look at my bank accounts for money just sitting there, not growing or working for me. I found $5,000 I could transfer out of my checkings and into my student loans.
After my high yield savings money hit the new account, I transferred $5,000 of that money right out and into my loans (keeping $1,000 in savings). Boom, I was halfway to debt freedom!
I calculated that if I saved like a maniac, I could pay the remaining $10,000 plus interest off within the next 4 months. In order to do this, I created a strict-ass budget. I got paid every two weeks and decided to create a bi-weekly budget, refreshing my numbers every two weeks with my EXACT expenses. Here’s what my general budget looked like:
- First Paycheck:
- Bills: rent, electricity, internet
- Groceries: $150 (me & boyfriend)
- Personal Needs: shampoo, etc
- Social Life: drink with friends, etc
- Left Over Money: DEBT PAYOFF
- Second Paycheck:
- Bills: gym, student loan payment
- Groceries: $150 (me & boyfriend)
- Personal Needs: toilet paper, etc
- Social Life: attend wedding, etc
- Left Over Money: DEBT PAYOFF
I created my two-week budget, making sure that I always had money left over from my paycheck to put towards my student loans. During the two weeks, I tracked my spending every day and then calculated my actual left over money at the end. I divided my left over money by 14 to create daily loan payments. Every morning I logged into my student loan account and made that payment!
I know I could have paid the full amount in one lump sum, paid a blind $20 a day, or just upped my auto payments, but making the daily payments helped me create a healthy habit. I made my payment first thing every day. When I pay off all my debt, I could keep doing this, making payments to investment/savings accounts instead!
This wasn’t easy and at times I wasn’t as strong as I wanted to be. Let me just say one word - Target. Need I say more? One day I walked in with a plan to spend a $15 gift card on a $10 calendar and walked out with $45.37 of merchandise and my gift card forgotten at home! Ugh! And this is one of many budget hurdles I’ve gone through!
My daily habit is what kept me going when I was feeling depressed, defeated, or when the tears were streaming down my face. Eventually, I started seeing real progress and paid off the last of my debt on April 5, 2018, less than two years after starting my job!
Now that I’m debt free, I’m continuing my daily payment habit and putting money in savings/investments in order to pursue financial independence. Right now there is nothing I want more than financial freedom. Even though I’m far from my goal, I love knowing that I’m working towards it every day!
Thank you to Kelsey for sharing her story. We love her strict-ass bi-weekly budget and how she conquered her student loan debt! We wish her the best as she continues sharing her thoughts at On My Way To Happiness and works towards FI.
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