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Moving Overseas Helped Me Pay Off Over $200K In American Debt

Struggling is not living.

Life & Travel

I moved abroad. And never in a million years did I think that would be a possibility for me.

I started working at age 14. Not because I wanted to, but because I had to. There were lots of single-parent homes in my neighborhood, and my family was no exception. We knew all too well about food stamps or having the lights cut off because there just wasn't enough money to go around. So, from a young age, I knew that if I wanted certain things in life I was going to have to work for them, so I did.

Struggling Is Not Living

The same was true for college. I knew that if I wanted a good education, I'd be forced to take out loans, so I did. What I was left with, besides a few degrees, was a mountain of debt that only grew as I attempted to have the American Dream, own my own home, and break the cycle of poverty. Pretty soon, all I did was work to live. Just about every cent I had went towards paying off debt or towards some living expense. And to be honest, I didn't really live modestly.

I drove a new car. I bought clothes I didn't need. I had a brand new flat screen TV and a well-furnished condo that I had just purchased, despite being in debt. I hadn't yet learned that although you could buy property with little to no money down that it wasn't a great idea. These were the things I thought were essential or that I had to have to be happy. These were the things I didn't have growing up so I thought they were necessary to tell everyone I had arrived. But really, the thing I loved to do most and that made me the happiest, travel, was either put on the backburner or scaled back dramatically.

Eat, sleep, work, pay bills became my routine. And I was barely getting by or scratching the surface of my debt.

It didn't take long for that to get old. I've always been a big believer in the idea that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity, so I decided to do something different. I decided to find a job that, at the very least, allowed me to live abroad, experience a new culture and another part of the world. But there was a hiccup. I also needed it to pay me enough to keep making payments on my substantial debt at home in the United States.

Moving Forward And Moving On

Believe it or not, getting the courage to leave was the hardest part. I was 28, and while many of my friends were starting to get married and settle down, I was trying to do the opposite. Most people couldn't fathom why I would leave a great job or a cute car and condo for the unknown. But deep down I knew that I couldn't keep slaving away, putting my dream of seeing the world on the backburner, or trying to fit into someone else's definition of success.

Once I had my mind set on leaving, things began to open up for me.

I had taught before, so I decided to renew my license and teach abroad. I found a hiring agency where I was able to create a profile and have access to a large database of schools abroad that were hiring. The hiring agency also had a job fair that I attended and within the course of a weekend, I had four job offers on two continents. The offers came with benefits that I figured were too good to be true: free housing, healthcare, a travel allowance, a tax-free salary, three months off per year. Were they serious? Well there was only one way to find out. Hey, if it's that bad I'll just come home, right? So, I followed my heart and took the opportunity that resonated most with me and never looked back.

Now, as I reflect on that decision seven years later, I couldn't be happier with the outcome.

What started as a two-year contract to work in the Philippines turned into three. From there, I moved to Singapore, where I've been ever since. I met my fiancé and started a life here that I'm beyond grateful for.

Freedom Means A Life Without Debt

During this time, I've paid off roughly $290,000 worth of debt. As it turns out, the benefits I thought were too good to be true were what I had hoped and then some. Suddenly, I had way more disposable income. Without the nagging costs of a car, rent, or United States taxes, I was able to put so much more money towards my debt. Each paycheck, I was able to breathe easier and now looked forward to paying bills. I started a budget and limited my spending significantly.

Each paycheck, I took as much money as I could and put it towards my debt with the highest interest first.

Once that was paid, I moved to the next highest interest rate. I also tracked every dollar coming in and every dollar going out. Knowing exactly how I was spending money curbed the spending alone. Around that time, I also started reading more on personal finance. When I lived in the United States, I received a 401k that was selected for me, but abroad I was forced to manage my retirement by myself. Keeping my long-term financial goals in mind and constantly striving to understand growing my wealth helped me to see what was really important and what wasn't. I traveled at my leisure but kept other unnecessary expenses, such as eating out or getting my nails done, to a minimum.

I also found it tremendously helpful to share my goals. I started blogging and decided to share my lofty financial goals. Even though it was embarrassing to reveal how much debt I had accumulated, it was freeing to put it down in writing and actually acknowledge it. It was also motivating to see the overall balance fall. What started as smaller payments quickly snowballed into bigger payments. Whereas before I was paying tons of money in interest alone, I was now seeing the principal decrease dramatically.

I had an extra spring in my step every time I made an extra payment. I've also always been very goal-oriented and competitive, so now that I had set and shared my goal, there was no way I was going to fail.

As of February, I am completely debt-free. And I'm proud to say that I've done it all while also visiting 34 new countries in the process, for a grand total of 41. Student loans are a thing of the past, I own my property in the United States free and clear, and I've not only started to save for retirement now that the debt is gone, but I've also learned how to successfully navigate the stock market as a result of the people I've met along this journey. It's been a whole mindset change really.

I pay closer attention to where my money goes and although I do treat myself at times, I don't need “things" anymore to feel fulfilled. Instead, I put much more value into the experiences I've had and the people I've shared those experiences with.

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissions@xonecole.com.

Featured image courtesy of Maya McCoy

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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