I grew up in a great middle class home to two loving parents in Cincinnati, Ohio. Life was good, we always had plenty of money & my parents modeled generosity better than most people that I’ve ever met. They certainly weren’t perfect with it (who is?), but I had a good foundation. It was always modeled to me, but I was never sat down & explained how to budget, why to budget, how debt could impact my future, etc, etc, etc. We aren’t taught this stuff in school so if our parents don’t actively teach it then how do we learn it? We don’t just snap our fingers & know about money.
Let’s start where my debt story began, the University of Cincinnati. I was faced with mounting school bills, which resulted in loans. I never learned how to do this stuff. I was 18…so I got student loans. Oh, and I also bought a new car my freshman year. It was just a Chevy Cobalt, but that was $14k that I didn’t need to add to my soon to be large debt burden. As I got further into school, I learned more about money…the hard way (I was a brilliant 19 year old finance major after all ha). In my sophomore year, I took a $25k loan out even though I didn’t need it all. My grand plan was to use that money to invest in the market & pay off my loans before I was even out of school. Yes, a 19 yr old finance major from Cincinnati was going to beat the big guys in New York City doing this every day all day for a living. Turns out I had great timing on top of this as I started investing just a few months before the financial crisis hit the United States.
Several years of college and bad money habits later, I found myself staring up at $55k of debt. Only problem was, I came out of school making $42k. How was I going to pay back one and a third times my starting salary?
Oh, and I forgot that I’d have to be paying rent, eating food & keeping the lights on while paying down the debt.
So, here’s what I did. I got mad & put a plan together. I wrote down every expense that I had and started thinking of ways that I could reduce each expense. Could I get more roommates? What about a family phone plan with my friends? I was spending how much on eating out?! That’s when I went into attack mode and started to knock the debt out. There are many ways to do it, but I just picked some small loans to knock out quick to start making progress quickly. Soon the debt started to get smaller and smaller, month by month, and I was motivated to do well at work so I managed to get raises each year. I was getting ahead of the curve of this thing and started to feel empowered instead of controlled.
I did that on my own without someone walking alongside me to encourage me or teach me. I wish I would have sought out someone to help coach me through that – it would have made the process that much easier. There were plenty of times where friends would call me cheap or not invite me places because they knew I wouldn’t want to pay. Honestly, I don’t blame them…from their perspective I see how that could be the case. The difference was that I was laser focused on a goal of paying down the debt & what others thought about that certainly wasn’t going to allow me to not hit my goal.
I share my story not because I want to be the hero, but to inspire you and show you that you don’t need to live feeling like money has a control on your life, whether it’s because of debt or simply because of how much information is out there about money. There’s a freedom when you feel more confident than you used to about money. Give yourself some slack, I gave & still give myself some to this day – this isn’t easy stuff. I know what it feels like to wake up every morning and worry about money…it’s no fun.