Ashley, at just 23-years-old, was sick of her student loan debt and ready to fight back for her financial freedom. Her mindset of cutting out unnecessary spending yet not depriving herself is key to finding a healthy balance in the midst of paying off debt. Learn how she's kept herself motivated through her debt-free journey and how she's helping others to do the same.
"Wealth is all about choices and anyone can be wealthy with the right behaviors."
What was your "enough is enough" moment that caused you to pursue debt freedom?
My enough was enough moment was when I met with a financial planner last year. My eyes were opened to the fact that I could've been investing instead of paying off thousands of dollars in student loan debt. This was preventing me from being able to create the life that I wanted for myself. He told me that my balance was too high to invest due to one of my high-interest rates. It basically made more sense to pay off my debt than invest.
But a few years prior to this moment, I was introduced to financial wellness which changed my outlook on money, but I still wasn't intentional with my money. I decided something needed to change if I wanted to be wealthy and not be paying off loans for 20 years. I wanted freedom and it hurt that I was a slave to my lender.
How much student debt did you have in total? how much of it have you paid off so far?
I paid off about $12,000 of my student loan debt in 8.5 months, I have about $8,000 left. I've also saved $4,000 in a savings account and $1,300 in my 401k (not including my company match) since the beginning of my debt-free journey.
How much income are you earning as you accomplish paying off your debt?
I earn $40,000-$41,000 a year. I'm currently a Legal Project Coordinator at a national law firm and work in Private Wealth and Family Planning. In this role, I mostly help our clients with Estate Planning which also increased my interest in increasing my wealth and encouraging others to do the same (especially minorities). My next career move is law school at a local school where I will not borrow money.
What specific things did you do to save?
During my junior year of college, I decided I didn't want to increase my loan balance any further. So, I paid for my last two years out of pocket and applied for more scholarships. In order to do that, I had to work full-time hours while attending school full time. It was tough, so I then made the choice to graduate a semester early in order to save money on tuition and graduated in December of 2016.
As I mentioned above, I still wasn't too intentional with my money after graduating. But when I got serious, I sat down and created a strict budget each month and reviewed it weekly. It took me a while to create a budget that worked for me, but after a few months, I got the hang of it. I saw that I could live off of 30-40% of my income and save and pay off debt with the other 60-70%.
I then went to sites like bankrate.com and nerdwallet.com to see how much money I had to pay each month in order to pay off my student loans in 1 year. Based on this, I decided that I was going to cut off any unnecessary spending, but not deprive myself. I didn't travel much, only once. I didn't go shopping except for Christmas gifts which I budgeted for.
I'm now super intentional about my finances.
If I go out to eat, I plan accordingly, as I have an assigned account for fun money. I read several books to increase my financial knowledge and took some courses about finances. I got a side hustle working with children, which is something I love to do anyway.
In addition, I also pack my lunch every day for work and cut out Starbucks. Some friends didn't understand why I stayed in some weekends, but while they were spending freely, I was reading or doing free or low-cost activities.
I became very frugal. I also plan to use my tax return to make an extra large payment towards my debt next month. My pay off goal is on track to be in August of this year. I also created separate accounts that caused me to automatically save in a higher yield savings account that I could only access online in addition to my checking account, this was the best thing I could've done to increase my savings while paying off debt.
How do you keep yourself motivated?
I honestly keep myself motivated by listening to podcasts and viewing posts from the #debtfreecommunity on Instagram. At times, it felt like no one could understand me, not even my parents. I also felt really good when I paid off my largest loan last year, a private loan through Sallie Mae that was $7,600 with an 11.25% interest rate.
After seeing that loan be paid in full, it gave me the motivation to continue my journey because I saw proof that my plan was actually working. I have paid off more than half of my debt and can finally see the finish line. Another motivating factor is my goal of being a trendsetter in my family and pave the way for generational wealth.
How do you manage the days where you just wanted to go out and spend money?
On days I felt like spending, I didn't leave my house. I knew if I stayed at home, I couldn't spend anything. I'm naturally a saver, but there were times when I was tempted to buy something because I felt I deserved it. But I have my vision board right by my purse and it reminds me of what my long-term goals are and spending would only give me temporary satisfaction.
What would be your money advice to your 21-year-old self?
Well, I am still pretty young, just 23, but I would tell my 21-year-old self to start paying at least the interest on the student loans while still in college and not to wait to pay them after the 6 month grace period. If I had waited the 6 months, I wouldn't have been debt free and couldn't be contributing the recommended 15% to my 401k and max out my HSA as well as investing right now.
What steps are you taking to ensure you meet your ultimate debt payoff goals?
Since student loans were my only form of debt when I go back to school, it will not be paid for with loans, I will pay cash for my second degree. I won't take on any consumer debt. My main focus is to live below my means and not compare what I have or don't have with other people who may seem to have more than I do, as Rachel Cruze would say, "Love your life, not theirs."
I am currently attacking my debt aggressively and making automatic payments to my savings. When I am debt free, those contributions will increase tremendously as I want to eventually max out my 401k. I plan to begin investing this year in investments other than those in my 401k.
What advice would you give anyone reading this looking for encouragement while paying down their student debt?
The advice I would give anyone reading this is to increase your financial literacy. Become financially intentional because there is nothing like financial freedom. Car loans, credit cards, personal loans, etc, are not worth it long term. Control your urges to spend money you don't have to keep up with people who are broke. This behavior has major consequences. Surround yourself with like-minded people who get it. Instant gratification usually hurts more than it satisfies.
Also, start your journey early! The earlier you fix your finances, the better your life will be. Wealth is all about choices and anyone can be wealthy with the right behaviors. Read books on finances, listen to podcasts from financial experts, take courses, invest in YOU and ALWAYS pay yourself first. Financial freedom gives you more than security, it gives you options!
Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us, Ashley. We look forward to an update in the near future!