One step closer to financial freedom

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I am ecstatic to share that as of September 15th, 2017 at 8:36am…

I AM STUDENT LOAN DEBT FREE!!!

Because I’m over here celebrating and soaking it all up, I wanted to reflect and share with you things I’ve learned along the way and how we got rid of those pesky suckers.

I graduated from North Carolina State University in May 2014 with close to $30,000 of student loans. That may be better or worse than your own student loan start, but regardless, we can all agree: student loans suck. Debt sucks. It’s a current (annoying) payment on a past experience. I absolutely do not regret getting a college education – its molded me and gotten me to where I am today. But I do regret not being very money wise in my younger years.

Personal finance should certainly be a required class for all high school seniors. We live in a credit driven world, but many of us don’t learn the consequences of debt until we’re already into it. And then it feels like we’re drowning to get out. But no matter where you’re at with your finances, you CAN get to a place of financial freedom!

If I could go back in time and tell my 18 year old self to apply for scholarships and start actually saving money, I so would! But sometimes lessons need to be learned the hard way. Ever since I could I was working and earning money whether that be by babysitting, working at the YMCA, lifeguard, retail… but that money went anywhere besides staying in my bank account. Whoops! I didn’t even know what was coming for me in the form of student loans a handful of years later.

The biggest way to knock down that debt is to a) make all your payments on time and most importantly b) make higher than minimum payments. It’s so discouraging to make a debt payment only for most of it to go to interest. That’s going to happen, especially if you’re only making the minimum payment, but even if you only have an extra $10 to put towards your payment, do it! Every little bit helps.

I didn’t start taking my debt payments seriously right away. I always paid them on time, but especially when I was a fresh graduate, I didn’t feel like I had a lot of extra money to spare. I also wasn’t closely following a budget… so that was probably the problem. I was continuing with my old ways — my money was going to shopping, out to eat, etc. If you don’t have a budget to tell your money where to go, it’s gonna go wherever it wants. And you’re not going to like it.

February 2015 is when my finances hit the fan and I realized I really needed to make a change. My parents graciously helped me get back on my feet even though I was on my own and that was push I needed. I put together a budget. This helped me recognize the things I was paying for that I didn’t need (Hulu, Netflix, massage membership, online shopping…) I canceled the items I could and made plans to decrease expenses — quick financial victory!

Fast forward to July 9th, 2016. Eric and I get married and with “I do” comes my debt. It became an “us problem” that we needed to tackle together. We got things more straightened out during the rest of 2016 and set up our joint account in January 2017. A family budget came into play and we made a plan to aggressively pay off those student loans. Goal: pay off student loan debt by end of 2017. At the time that seemed way out of reach…

But we rocked it! We started this year with about $22,000 of loans. Like what!? That’s crazy to think about. Now it should be no problem for us to save $10,000, right?? 😉

We got focused, we made sacrifices, and we set goals. It definitely wasn’t easy and we could have gotten them paid off faster had we not eaten out as much (although still much less than we used to) or gone on as many trips earlier this year, but whatever. We still made it happen. It’s important to be realistic about your method of paying off your debt. Build some “fun money” into your budget so you’ll actually stick with it and want to keep going. You can still enjoy your life while making payments, just do it wisely and on budget!

Our budget and payoff goal was absolutely crucial. We had to work together towards the same goal otherwise it wasn’t going to work. We would throw any extra money to the debt including bonuses from work. It would’ve been easy to just consider that play money and blow it, but now that the loans are paid off we have a lot more play money anyways! And don’t feel guilty about using it.

I’ve become pretty obsessed with our finances. I check our budget and accounts daily (read multiple times a day). I aim to stay on top of it so that we know what’s coming and can plan accordingly. This helps us to not go into more debt on our credit cards and I can keep an eye on any unusual activity. A few months ago we did have fraud payments ran on our card of $1000s — I’m so grateful our credit card company is awesome about handling fraud and that we noticed it the day it happened.

We went above and beyond to make this payoff happen. Any babysitting opportunity that came up was an automatic yes assuming I was in town. I had a good size 401k built up when I left my old job in June – that got cashed out and put all of that towards my loans. Of course we want to save for the future, so a new 401k plan is up and running. Eric picked up extra work and hustled (and he still does). He is the hardest working person I know and has been the best partner in all of this.

Along the way I’ve learned about contentment. We are beyond blessed and really there’s nothing extra we need. Yet my heart would still crave “the things”. The things Pinterest, Instagram, people show me that I needed. I’m working on breaking the chains of materialism. Of course I will continue to buy, but with a different heart behind it. I am already loved and made whole by the One who created me – no amount of stuff can change that. I will buy things that are useful, necessary, beautiful, spark joy – not just because the world tells me I “have to have it.”

So now what? 

We will set new goals.

I’ve been inspired by Dave Ramsey’s teachings throughout this journey, so we’re loosely following his 7 baby steps to financial peace. We’ve gone a bit out of order to start, but I love the simplicity and framework of it. We may adjust it so that it fits for us, but I think it’ll be a great guide to us as we’re moving forward.

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I’m so grateful to those that have encouraged me and given great advice along the way. I have super smart friends and the internet is full of finance savvy people! I’m a huge fan of Dave Ramsey, Pennies into Pearls YouTube channel, and whatever other budget videos/blogs I can get my hands on. Soak up the wisdom of others and learn from their mistakes. I’ve gotten so many good ideas and inspiration by watching how others handle their money.

I hope my story will be inspiration for your financial freedom and that you’ll continue along the journey with me! YOU CAN DO IT!!! Share this post with a friend to encourage them on their way.

I’d love to hear from you! What are your thoughts about finances? Do you have student loan debt you’re paying off? What are your tips and tricks when it comes to finances? Lets chat in the comments below ❤

Love you! You are AMAZING!

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