Placing my order for my cap and gown for graduation from undergrad, I was optimistic. I couldn't wait to experience the world that I'd heard countless stories about. I'd taken the liberty of planning out the next five years of my life.
Year one, I'd start in an entry level position. By year three, I'd have a promotion, and by year five, I'd have a healthy salary that would permit me to become a homeowner, and I'd no longer have to rent an apartment.
Well, unfortunately, the year that I graduated, the job market crashed. Entry level jobs were scarce. People were losing their jobs left and right and the entry level positions were being filled by those with decades of experience who were fighting for jobs as well, leaving very few options to apply for something in my field of study. As a result, I began to apply for any and all entry level positions. I even found myself applying to be a waitress and hostess for minimum wage. All I knew was I needed a job to pay the bills.
The Truth Is, Life Just Happens
Luckily, three months after graduating, I snagged a job.
It wasn't in my field, but it was a consistent check. The pay was $12,000 less than what I was told I should be making at entry level before leaving college. The unsettling truth was that, in a matter of months, there would be student loans to pay back and I needed a job, and I needed one fast. At 22, I wasn't privy to negotiating a salary. I was too afraid to muster up the courage to ask for more. Thinking that my counter offer would be rejected and that it would cause them to withdraw their offer, I swallowed my pride and verbally accepted the job.
For the next six years, I found myself paying bill after bill and feeling as though the loan balances and car note wasn't getting lower quick enough. Between the interest rates and "life happens" moments that tugged at my bank account, I felt as though I wasn't moving ahead progressively. I still saw thousands of dollars that needed to be paid off.
Looking at my bank account, my spending wasn't out of control. I hadn't taken a vacation in over six years, my shopping expenses were moderate, and I didn't go out much. The truth was that I wasn't making enough money to be financially comfortable.
Don't Just Complain About It, Do Something About It
Sitting on the couch and looking at my bank account, I knew something needed to change. Since the amount of debt wasn't going to change, I knew I needed to. Without hesitation, I started looking for part-time jobs near the area in which I lived. If I was going to get a second job, I didn't want it to cost me even more to travel there. I completed a few applications and said a prayer, "God, if this is for me, please let me get it," and with that, I submitted the applications.
Within a few days, I received an email asking if I would be willing to come in for an interview at a local business. Days after that, I found out I got the job! From there, I started working 15-25 hours a week at the part-time job. When it was time for me to leave my first job at the end of the day, I'd drive directly to my next job and punch in.
Trust me, I was tired. I was working nearly 70 hours a week but the feeling of being bound by debt plagued me more.
With working a second job came sacrifices. My weekends consisted of me going to work with little time for leisure activities. Sometimes that meant that I worked seven days a week. My social life was scaled back tremendously. I didn't charge anything on credit cards, I only used cash or debit. And I vowed not to make any huge expenses unless it was deemed necessary (car maintenance or repairs). Sometimes that means you'll have to settle for home-brewed coffee instead of Starbucks and you may need to reluctantly pass on getting a 4 for 4 on lunch break and pack a lunch.
Don't Live Above Your Means or At Them, Learn To Live Below Them
I learned how to live below my means. We often hear not to live above them, but truth be told, living below your means helps you to save a lot more money. However, I knew that it wasn't going to be easy and I didn't expect it to be. As I normally would, I used my 9 to 5 check to pay my bills and fund the necessities.
Once I got paid from the second gig, I used that check to pay extra on my outstanding bills, such as student loans and my car note. Sometimes, I would make double payments on my car note and student loans. Before I knew it, my bills were only three digits and change. Then, a few months after turning 30, POOF! My car note was paid off a year early. My student loans were nonexistent! I felt free.
I wasn't looking for something or someone to bail me out. I wasn't looking to hit the lottery, have a relative tell me they'd help pay it off, nor was I wishing for bill collectors to miraculously forgive my debt.
Getting out of debt taught me a new level of discipline.
Do you need that new pair of shoes? Probably not.
Can you skip the nail salon and buy a bottle of nail polish and manicure them yourself while making it into a girl's night in with friends, wine, and snacks? More than likely.
Do you really need to pick up a gourmet coffee, fast food for lunch, or eat at an establishment four times during the week? Of course not.
I dare you to look at your billing statement to see how much you spend a month on fast food and entertainment. It may just shock you, I know that it was a shock to me. The little things add up. The extra money you no longer spend on luxuries could very well help chip away at your debt.
Look at your finances and ask yourself, "Where can I start saving?" Coupons and discount codes are your friends, use them! Being financially responsible became a priority to me. And because it did, I no longer roll my eyes in agony expecting a cascade of mailing envelopes to pour out of my mailbox onto the ground.
Trust me, there's no feeling like being free. My question for you is, "Do you have the self-discipline to get to a place of financial freedom?"