I'm squeezing every ounce of goodness out of 2021. As we all experienced, 2020 was nonstop madness. While there has been extreme loss, anxiety on a galactic level, deep loneliness, and every emotion in the dictionary, I managed to achieve one huge life goal before my 27th birthday in December. I paid Sallie Mae back! (Yes, please imagine me dancing.) While it's uncomfortable to share about this journey because finances are so personal, I believe the one thing we all need right now is good news. It was through watching other people who I related to that made me see that paying off my debt was possible.
Like most things in America, the current student-debt crisis is out of this world. This year the student-debt crisis hit an ultimate high.
"There are 45 million borrowers who collectively owe nearly $1.6 trillion in student loan debt. In the U.S. Student loan debt is now the second highest consumer debt category - behind only mortgage debt - and higher than both credit cards and auto loans," according to Forbes.
Even with these staggering numbers, the student-debt crisis disproportionately impacts Black families. On average, a Black graduate has $7,400 more in student debt than his or her white peer, according to Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C.
When I first decided to pay off my student loans, I was freshly laid-off from my "dream job" as a breaking news reporter and living in my childhood bedroom in Columbus, Ohio, as a 20-something, feeling like a complete failure. Even though navigating this season was difficult, I kept one quote on the forefront of my mind by Dave Ramsey: "Live like no one else so that you can live like no one else."
I celebrated paying off my debt with an uplifting photoshoot to showcase that women are worthy of celebration outside of the traditional norms such as marriage and having babies. All which I desire in time, but until then I'm focused on blooming.
There are plenty of factors that impact our financial health, most of which are out of our control. If you're looking to take the next step so you can stop being a slave to your money and break free from the bondage of debt, here are some of the actions I implemented to pay off my $30,000 student loan debt.
1. Make a Plan.
Make a plan to approach payding down debt from a strategic level.
It may sound simple, but making a solid plan is not as easy as it looks. When paying down debt, I think it's best to approach it from a strategic level. I never really knew how much debt I had. It was some elusive number; I believed I'd never pay off.
I went to a private art-school out of state and graduated in 2016. I had a ballpark idea of how much debt I was in but brushed it off. I ignored, deferred, ignored again, deferred again. Rinse and repeat. I was confused about the process since I had transferred schools. It felt like I had student loans coming from everywhere.
I was paying off both my unsubsidized and subsidized loans from college, which totaled to nearly $30,000. One way I was able to decrease the debt I took out was by applying for grants, scholarships and becoming a resident advisor for two years.
Before I got serious about paying off my debt, I made the minimum payments. One of the main tools that help me develop a straightforward and easy to understand debt strategy is Undebt.it. This site populated a free debt payoff plan after I imput my information. I also recommend using tools like Snowball Wealth, which helps organize all your debt in one place, and provides resources to help you pay it down.
"Snowball method: Prioritizes paying your debt from the smallest balance to largest, regardless of interest rate.
"Avalanche: you pay off the balance with the highest APR first, then work your way through all your debt from highest to lowest APR. Some financial experts prefer this method because you end up paying less overall in interest."
Once I had my plan ready to go, it was time to secure the bag.
2. Secure the Bag—All of It.
I paid above the minimum balance each month. I attacked my debt. I was able to do this by decreasing my expenses. At the time, I lived at home for roughly six months. Living in my childhood bedroom was a huge help, and I could save and knock out so much debt. I hear millennials complaining all the time about moving back in with their parents. If you're fortunate enough to live back home for a season, then I would highly suggest it and be grateful for the opportunity. But after living at home, I moved into a studio apartment and then decided to get a roommate. Figuring out housing can be tricky, but anyway you can decrease this expense, the better.
Anytime during my debt-free journey, I had about two to three jobs. I mainly did freelance work, including writing, social media managing, and website design. As 2020 has shown, no job is ever guaranteed. I learned that hard lesson early after being laid-off from two jobs before I turned 25.
I did freelance gigs in addition to my full-time job as a weekend social media editor. Negotiating my salary was vital and made a difference in my budget each month, which allowed me to make larger payments. It's an old and true saying, but closed mouths don't get fed. Here are more tips on how to negotiate your salary. It's a must!
3. Find Community.
While your debt is solely your responsibility, you don't have to walk this journey alone! One source of encouragement I had to kick-start my journey was watching my coworker pay off over $100,000 in student loan debt. What?! Don't be afraid to ask questions. I asked my colleague a million questions about debt, and I didn't care if I looked crazy in the process.
There's a vast debt-free community online of people sharing resources, tips, and advice. Join them! Two of my favorites financial educators to follow are Tiffany the Budgetnista and Leo Jean-Louis.
Also, talk to your trusted friends about money. Throughout this journey, I would have money talks with a close girlfriend of mine. We would get transparent about our money goals, downfalls, and everything in between! Normalizing talking about money is something we should all strive to do.
4. Practice Discipline
Practice discipline by starting a budget and sticking to it.
Yes, you need a budget. But even more so, you need the discipline to execute and stick to that budget.
I started having weekly money meetings with myself. Was I perfect at it? Of course not. But I was consistent. I created a debt-free journal to help me stay sane during the process and to track my progress. In this journal, I wrote down prayers, wrote encouragement notes to myself, congratulated myself for the small wins, and reminded myself of my "why" behind paying off my student loans.
And what's my why? For me, it's being able to do what God has called me to do freely, designing a life of my dreams, building generational wealth for my family, and investing in my travel business, Girl Around The Globe, plus so many other things.
Being free of my student loans is one step towards my financial wholeness goals. Now, I'm looking to start investing actively (send help!), and I plan on knocking out the remainder of my credit card debt by Q1 or Q2 of 2021.
It doesn't matter how much you have in debt or how long it takes for you to pay it off. Life is not a race. All that matters is that you're trying and being consistent.
I believe in you, sis!
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