Today’s post is a Q&A with blog reader, Sam. Her honesty, self-awareness and commitment to paying down her debt (no matter how long it takes) is truly inspiring and I feel honored to be able to share her journey. She also recently started a blog (YAY!) so feel free to head over and say hi at Fully Alive 25!
So without further ado, here is Sam’s story:
1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi, I’m Sam. I graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in May of 2013. I grew up in various suburbs of Chicago, but I moved to Minnesota to live with my boyfriend in October since long distance is THE WORST. Since I moved, I’ve really gotten into reading again, and joined FIVE book clubs so that I could meet new people, which has been pretty successful.
2. How did you get into debt?
Urgh, this was all my fault, honestly. Long story semi-short, my parents were willing to pay for my college, partly from their savings and partly from their 529 college plan they had for me. Being an only child (and a relatively good kid overall – I might be biased but I think this is still pretty true), going away to college was my first taste of freedom, which…I didn’t handle well.
[I was] going out every night and making bad decisions…well, my parents had enough. They were still willing to let me use the 529 money for college, but only for tuition. I would have to fund everything myself – room and board, school books/supplies, etc etc.
I stupidly assumed that my parents were bluffing, but when it finally dawned on me that they weren’t, I had to get my finances in gear.
I had two summer jobs, but didn’t have nearly the amount of money that was required to go back to school. So I worked it out with my parents that if I would go to community college for a semester and proved to them that I was back on the right path, that they would co-sign for my loans in the future. I also ended up switching my major to one that made me more happy and picking up two minors, but still ended up graduating on time, with about $29,000 in debt. My parents generously gave me the remaining $4,000 in the 529 account to use towards my loan repayment. So technically my debt journey started at $25,000.
Thankfully I had a job waiting for me when I graduated college, which was part salary, part commission. Turned out I was pretty good at it so the commission coupled with living at home for a year, put me at owing only $14,000 after that first year – and I wasn’t even really trying to pay off the debt. I just knew that I didn’t want to have my student loans forever and started throwing money at it.
But during this time, I was commuting an hour and a half one way to my job, and I was getting tired of the drive. So I moved in with my best friend to a place in a nice neighborhood near my work and things started going downhill again.
Doing well at work gave me more responsibilities which came with more stress…so I started buying lunch so I could get out of the office…Every. Single. Day.
My roommate was a big foodie and I would happily go with her to new and exciting places, regardless of the price. A girl’s gotta eat, right? Also, without my parents’ supervision, I again started going out more which always had me back at home, drunk and ordering random things on Amazon. Did I get cool stuff? You know it! Butttttt I also ended up racking up nearly $8,000 of credit card debt. Not cool.
I still remember the shame of having to call my parents and ask them to front money for a car down payment AND to co-sign yet another loan.
After my car debt and the loan I took from my parents on top of my credit card debt and student loans, I was at about $35000 – almost $10,000 more than when I started.
3. When will you be debt free?
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to knock out all my debt this year and I’m really REALLY trying to make that happen. It will essentially take up most of my paychecks for the rest of the year, but I ran the numbers and it is doable. Worst case, I’ll be debt free early 2017.
4. Why did you decide to aggressively pay down your loans?
When my car broke down and I had to ask my parents both for a personal loan AND to co-sign my car loan, it reminded me of the shame I felt my freshman year. Both times I knew that I had messed up, and I was constantly beating myself up for putting myself in these situations and so I decided that I never want to feel that way again, especially when it was something that was avoidable.
Thankfully, the credit card debt was the first thing I knocked out and I know better for the future.
Seeing $1000 in interest was a HUGE wake up call.
5. What are you most looking forward to about being done with debt?
This might be kind of dorky, but I’m really excited to start saving again. I have a set amount direct deposit into my savings every check, but it’s SO HARD for me not to “borrow” from my savings to put toward my debt. So I’m excited for that. Plus, if I do end up paying off all my debt by the end of 2016, that means I would have paid off $23,800 this year…which is pretty much the exact amount to max out both your 401k AND a Roth IRA. Which means I could totally survive AND max out my retirement accounts!!!!
6. Strategies you’ve used for paying it down? Tips? Tricks? Thoughts?
The snowball method was SO helpful. When I knocked out my credit card debt, seeing the amount get smaller and smaller was really motivating. Once I got the credit card debt out of the way, I started being more vocal about my debt and how I had it.
I know that so many people have at least some sort of debt, but it seems like everyone wants to act like they don’t. So they go out and spend a ton of money on a lifestyle they can’t afford and they just assume that since everyone has debt, that debt is normal. I was one of these people!
So once I started telling people how I had debt and I was trying to pay it off, I made suggestions that were cheaper. Like going to a matinee vs a movie at night. Or having dinner at home vs going out to the bars. People are surprisingly accommodating because, get this, they probably are paying off debt. Or trying to save money. Or really don’t like feel like dressing up for that fancy place downtown and would much rather come over in sweats for a chill night!
Also, running the numbers while also tracking your spending is key. This was single handedly the most helpful thing. It got to the point where the last couple of months were about half of what the previous months were.
As of right now, I have $12250 left between my car loan and my loan from my parents and then I’m free! Since I have an exact amount of what I owe, I was able to divide that by the number of paychecks I have left so I know exactly how much of it will have to go to debt for it to be paid off.
$12250 sounds like an overwhelming amount of money to pay off in less than four months but Y payments of $X.XX makes it much easier to swallow. Why do you think all those infomercials use this strategy? Because it works! (Trust me, drunk Sam loved ordering off of those infomercials too)
7. Have you learned anything surprising or unexpected from this journey?
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I can accomplish a lot as long as I believed in myself. One of the reasons my credit card debt got out of hand was because once the amount started creeping up, I started to get overwhelmed and didn’t believe I could handle it.
Once I started running the numbers and breaking the debt into smaller chunks, I was able to start believing I could pay it off.
I might even say I’m thankful for having to have experience debt. Had my parents kept paying for college, I might have never learn how to better manage my money. Nor would I have learn how to better appreciate my parents and their willingness to help me, whether their help was in tough love or financially.
To have paid off almost $35000 in less than three years is not the most impressive debt story, but since I’m on pace to do it, I know what I am capable of now.
8. What advice do you have for other people in debt?
First thing’s first, STOP BORROWING MORE. I had to delete my credit cards from my Amazon account and GrubHub profile so that if I wanted to buy something, I had to re-enter everything which most times was enough to make me not. I started using only my debit card, and having auto alerts whenever my account got below $1000 and below $500 which, early on, were serious wake up calls. With debit cards, you can only spend a set amount before you run out. With credit cards, it’s easy to lost count of how much you spend. Once you get that below $500 email, you start realizing that your funds are limited.
And like I’ve mentioned before, track your spending so you know how much you are spending and where, and then start running your numbers. If you add another $50 to your payments, how much sooner will you pay it off? If you did a no spend week, how much money will that save you that you can put towards something else? If you don’t know how you spend your money, you don’t know how to save your money.
9. Anything else you want to share?
You can do it! If you made it to Taylor’s blog, you are already headed in the right direction. And don’t be afraid to leave comments or questions on blog posts that you really enjoyed or need clarification on. Personal Finance bloggers are super nice people, and they are airing all their financial information because they want to help others succeed! I’ve found out some of my best cheerleaders are from this community and it definitely helps when you aren’t ready to air out your financial dirty laundry to those in your personal life, but still need to someone to root for you.
Thank you SO much to Sam for sharing her story and KICKING BUTT on her loan repayments. Don’t forget to head over to Fully Alive 25 and say hi!