“It’s whatever. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m never going to pay off these student loans. There’s really no point in even worrying about it…
Sound familiar? Yeah, that was my state of mind, too. I had no budget and was living paycheck to paycheck as a brand new attorney. I had minimum payments due on my student loans, credit cards, a car note, a medical loan, and I was financing a trip to Italy. I’d moved back in with my parents to decrease my rent down to $300/month, but even so, my paycheck was almost always gone before it hit my account. Somehow, I still managed to hit the mall once a week to engage in some “much needed” retail therapy.
In June 2017, I was hit with two back-to-back overdraft charges. I had no savings account, no retirement, and $82,252 in consumer and student loan debt. I knew something had to change. One day during lunch, I was walking in the local park and stumbled upon a podcast about the student loan crisis. An attorney in her forties was talking about how her mounting student loan debt and fiscal irresponsibility cost her her lifestyle, her husband, and her home. I started thinking about where I’d be if I continued on with my own fiscal irresponsibility. It wasn’t that I was outlandishly blowing my money on non-essentials. I’ve never been a “name brand” person, and I didn’t drive a flashy car or have the newest phone. I was simply normal. I spent my money like most other Americans – primarily on credit – and as long as I could pay larger purchases back in reasonable monthly payments, or smaller purchases by the end of the month, it seemed logical enough to me.
I soon found myself down a rabbit hole of podcasts and YouTube videos, starring broke people, just like me, who had multiple degrees and decent jobs and absolutely NOTHING to show for it. Very quickly, I felt sick to my stomach. I immediately began searching for a solution, and that’s when I discovered The Dave Ramsey Show.
I listened to that podcast every single day (and still do). He often talked about this budgeting app called “Every Dollar,” so I downloaded it immediately and created my first budget in July 2017. I’ve been budgeting religiously every since. I check, track, revise, and monitor it every morning. Budgeting has truly become a lifestyle. After I got the hang of budgeting, I consolidated some of my higher interest student loans at a fixed lower interest rate. By the time I moved in with my then-fiancé (now-husband) in October 2018, I’d paid off $20,079.64 of my total debt.
However, I didn’t feel like I was moving fast enough. By that point, I’d become angry, sick, and tired of being broke. It bothered me constantly (and still does, honestly). I wasn’t so much mad at myself for my past poor financial decisions, but a fire had been lit under me to clean up this mess entirely. I’m a solution-based person, so after I admit, reflect, and forgive, I’m ready to find a realistic resolution. I knew if I wanted to go to the next level, I was going to have to get serious and start implementing all the tips and tricks I could get my hands on. I decided to order Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover.” I couldn’t put it down and finished it in a weekend. I immediately began implementing the “Baby Steps.” I was fortunate enough to complete Baby Step #1 (save $1,000 as your starter emergency fund) fairly quickly, and then I began to tackle Baby Step #2 (pay off all debts except your mortgage), which I am still working on now. For some, this is the longest Baby Step of the 7.
Once I moved to Birmingham, my husband and I also enrolled in Financial Peace University, which is an incredible 9-lesson course that teaches you specific methods on how to get out of debt and build wealth. Once I was armed with the personal finance knowledge I needed, I immediately began implementing what I’d learned. By November 2019, I’d thrown $49,275.63 at my debt in just 28 months, including $29,195.99 paid off in just the last year, on a salary starting at $51,000 and currently at $59,000. I’d like to add that this was all while planning and cash flowing an out-of-state wedding. (*Note: My husband’s income and debt are not factored into these calculations because we did not combine our finances until after we were married in November 2019 (as it should be).*
I wish I could say there’s some quick-fix solution to getting out of debt, but there’s not. It truly does take old fashioned hard work, discipline, budgeting, and telling yourself that you have food at home. You don’t necessarily need to coupon, but you do need to cut your grocery bill. It often means eating endless amounts of beans, rice, frozen vegetables, and scheduling time for meal prep. It means working overtime as much as possible, taking on a part-time job, and passing on going out every weekend. It means only going shopping for things you NEED and not the things you want, although you can absolutely budget for things like date night or a massage. The key is to make sure it fits in your budget and that you’re living on less than you make. I recommend selling anything and everything you can to make extra payments on your debt snowball. It will NOT be easy, but I can assure you, it will absolutely be worth it. This has been the hardest journey I’ve ever undertaken – harder than pledging, basic training, law school, and studying for the Bar. Fair warning – it is not for the faint of heart, nor the undisciplined. It absolutely requires temporary sacrifice.
If you want to get started on your debt-free journey and commit to building generational wealth for your family, I highly recommend reading the “Total Money Makeover” and enrolling in “Financial Peace University,” either as a single person or, if you’re married, with your spouse. Download the “Every Dollar” app and start your budget. There are endless tools to arm you with personal finance knowledge. You just have to make the time to educate yourself. Follow social media pages and hashtags that are specific to your goals. The motivation and inspiration will help you get through those tough days that are destined to come every once in a while.
My goal is to be completely out of debt by my 30th birthday, and with prayer, discipline, and diligence, I am confident that I will make that happen. I believe you can make it happen, too. You’re not stuck. You just need a plan. And if you think it’s not possible for you, look up some of the stories of others who have achieved financial freedom with children, cancer, a dying spouse, as a single parent, or after losing a job. If you want something bad enough, don’t let anything get in your way.
About Jacy Fisher
Attorney at Gregory M. Varner & Associates, Birmingham, AL