Today we have an amazing woman who is doing everything she can to get out of debt in just 15 months. She’s done an amazing job so far and I can’t wait to see what she does in the future. So please pay close attention to today’s guest post from Leah at Urban 20 Something.
How my student loans helped me realize that this is the future me
Student loans. The two words that have created a dark cloud over literally an entire generation. Millennials have a staggering amount of student debt, and it’s gotten to the point where we don’t really think of it as “debt” anymore because it doesn’t seem as bad as credit card debt or loans for less concrete purchases, even though, of course, it’s still debt.
By way of background, my name is Leah and I blog at Urban20Something.com about how millennials can make money around their 9-5 jobs and get ahead financially and professionally. I graduated from NYU in 2014 with a shiny piece of paper they called a diploma and years of paying off loans to go with it. I have a lot of reasons to hate my loans, but I am so much more financially aware because of them. Now, I’m determined to pay them off 4 years ahead of schedule.
My “Aha” Moment
My student debt gave me my “aha” moment, or, as Tyler perfectly calls it, the moment when I realized that my future self is now, just a couple of months ago. I was like many millennials during college and for the few following years where I thought, “well, student debt is tough. But, what are you going to do? Everyone has it! It is what it is!” and brushed it off from there.
I bought into these common yet flawed narratives that, because I had no other sorts of debt, “bad” debt, and, because I had a degree from a prestigious school, my loans weren’t pressing and they’d be paid off when they were paid off. Then, a couple of months ago, I realized that while I was educated in personal finance and pretty savvy saver, all of my personal finance goals were on hold until I paid off my student loans. I had “net worth by 30” goals, I live in New York and hoped to eventually buy an apartment in Manhattan, I had retirement goals, and so on. The best and worst part was that I knew how to achieve them and knew I had the discipline to, but my I could barely even begin with them until my debt was paid off.
Millennials and debt…
That’s when the real questioning began. Has anyone else noticed this genre of mainstream media that encourages you to be irresponsible in your twenties? Articles like this and this make me concerned. Why are people writing this? Why is our generation being fed the myths that saving for retirement can wait until you “have enough money” or that investing is also something you wait for when you “have enough money”? None of this makes sense and it’s allowing our generation to continue down this dangerous path of perpetual debt.
I decided pretty quickly that I needed to get out of that trap. (However, I still have my student debt outstanding, so perhaps I shouldn’t speak too soon…) My goal is to pay off all my debt while I’m 25. I’ll turn 25 in May, so I have about 15 months to do this. It’s a pretty lofty goal, but with the incredible motivation and support I’ve found in the online personal finance community, I’m confident I can do it.
My expedited debt payoff plan
If I saved every single penny of my income in this year (after rent), I still doubt I’d have enough to pay off my student loans. This is in part because of two big financial burdens that come with my lifestyle choices:
1- I live in Manhattan, which is among the most expensive real estate in the world. I know that I could move to a different borough or even a different city, but I love New York too much. The risk of not paying off my student loans within my goal 15 months is worth it to me if it means staying in NYC.
2- I work at a nonprofit. I definitely know I could increase my income greatly if I switched professional fields, but, like living in New York, the risk of not paying off my loans in time is worth it if it means staying at my job. I absolutely love the nonprofit that I work for and I’m confident it will help me with job prospects later down the road.
Even accounting for these two challenges, I’m confident I can do this. Here’s my plan:
With my current income
Pay 20% of my income toward my student loans. I’ve raised my monthly payments on my loans to equal 20% of my income. This hurts, but I stay motivated knowing that by building the habit of living frugally, that’s 20% I can then put into savings once I’m done paying them off.
*Hustle hint*= Don’t be too ambitious about upping your monthly loan payments because you could run the risk of not being able to pay your bill one month. Like my favorite personal finance expert, Nicole Lapin, advises that slow and steady wins the student loans race. The last thing you want is to raise your loans just to lower them again or miss a payment. That’s all sorts of bad for credit.
Save 10% of my income. Once a month, my savings account automatically pulls 10% of my income into a savings account called “Pay off my student loans”. This is also, technically, my emergency fund. It’s the money I’ll use to pay off my loans quicker if I can. But, it’s also there in case anything were to happen to me.
*Hustle hint*= Automate your savings. If you don’t see it or have to do it, you’re so much more likely to actually keep saving. You can read all about my brilliant (if I do say so myself) automated savings plan here.
Side Hustle Money
I started my blog, Urban20Something.com, about a year ago when I made the scary decision of declining my law school acceptances. This was divergent from my lifelong plan of attending law school and it also led me to a completely unpaved path; I had no idea what I wanted to do if it wasn’t law school. However, to this day, declining law school and avoiding more student loan debt was among the best financial decisions I’ve ever made.
Starting a blog was also one of the best financial decisions I’ve ever made. Little did I know, it would lead to creating side streams of income for me that will help tremendously as I pay off my loans. Here’s how:
Freelance Writing. This was the first way I started making money from my blog and I highly recommend if you’re a new blogger or freelancer. Blogging gave me the experience and platform to apply for freelance jobs and I was surprised at how easily I got jobs. Now, I try to make about $100/month freelance writing. That’s not much, but I don’t want much more because this form of income is quite time-consuming. The only way I freelance write anymore is with a recurring client that comes to me, which saves me the time of finding and applying for freelance jobs.
*Hustle hint*= pick a service to freelance in that you have experience in, preferably something you do professionally, and find clients that look for recurring work. This can take a bit of upfront patience, but it’ll save you so much time later on and work will literally come to you.
Affiliate Marketing. I recently joined Share A Sale and am super impressed! I’m quite picky about what I would recommend on my blog and don’t count on this as a big source of income. But, I chose Share A Sale because it has some products and services that I already recommended or blogged about. So, why not make so money off of it?
*Hustle hint*= be careful with affiliate marketing at first. You don’t want to recommend things you don’t use or know much about because you’ll risk losing trust with your audience, which will damage the blog or website you’ve probably worked so hard on!
Digital Product. This summer, when I was unemployed and in Thailand alone (a story for another day), I was able to get my current job back in NYC while abroad. I totally love my job and still can’t really believe it’s real that I work there and especially can’t believe I got the job while in Asia. I was and still am confident that I was able to connect with my company from the other side of the world because I had a very thorough, unique, and professional personal website. This allowed my employers to connect with me and learn about me upon receiving my resume.
I was so fired up, I wrote an E-book with videos included that shows how anyone can create their own personal website in just a matter of hours. I finally am about to launch this E-book and plan on making the rest of my side income that way.
If you’re interested in this E-book or personal websites at all, click below and grab my free checklist for the essentials everyone should have on their personal website.
*Hustle hint*= Create a personal website for yourself! Brand yourself. My website has helped me get my current job, freelance jobs, and people have found me through my website and I’ve made amazing connections that way. It’s an online, 3D resume that’s just essential for our generation. This is the gateway to making the money I need to pay off my student loans.
Thanks for sticking with me this far! The encouragement I’ve found in the online personal finance community is definitely what gives me the motivation to keep me going and the confidence that I can actually achieve this goal. The best part is, I’m learning so much along the way, and I can’t wait to learn more.
Do you have a debt story? E-mail me at leah (at) urban20something.com or just check out my blog, Urban20Something.com. I would love to hear from you! And thanks, Tyler, for letting me share my story.
*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, and Racing Towards Retirement*