Once upon a time, I was completely broke. I was living paycheck to paycheck. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get ahead. I was stressed, depressed, overwhelmed and constantly worried I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills. I graduated college almost $30,000 in the hole at the end of 2011, which was a combination of student loans and a personal loan from my parents. Even though I had a great desire to do adult things, I simply wasn’t able.
I took a job in Virginia, and then took a second job to make ends meet. I worked extra weekends for overtime pay and worked my butt off to do the best job I possibly could. I got a raise, which helped tremendously, and I started paying a little, tiny bit extra on my student loans.
In 2013, I took a job in Texas and a major leap of faith. On the side, I wrote freelance articles, sometimes two or three in a month, to improve my lifestyle and pay a tiny bit extra on my loans. But it wasn’t working. My credit card got a nice workout every month, and it never really held a zero balance for very long. My apartment was too expensive, and I wasn’t making the kind of progress I thought I should.
Then, almost exactly a year ago, I finally got serious. Some days, it feels like a decade ago. Others, it feels like yesterday. I committed to paying off my student loans by the end of 2015, but now, only a few weeks before I turn 26, I’m completely debt free. I paid off the loan to my parents, I paid off my Stafford loans. I paid off the tiny amount on my credit card and got a lot stricter about how often I use it.
Here’s the secret: there is no secret.
I lived frugally. If I bought clothes, they were on sale, clearance or second hand. If I traveled, it was at the generosity of others. I packed a lunch almost every day, and I constantly sought to decrease my food bill each week.
I lived simply. For a year, I lived in an apartment with no sofa, no television and no kitchen table. Each place I lived, I immediately found the local library and used it regularly instead of buying books and movies. I went downtown rarely, and out to eat for special occasions only. There was no cable, no Internet and very few Starbucks.
I focused. Every day, I thought about my goal, and every day, I tried to do something to move closer to that goal. I said no. A lot. I said later. I worked a lot. One job, two jobs, three jobs. Freelancing and office assisting on nights and weekends.
But mostly, I said yes to the reality that I am in control of my money and my financial health. I got myself into that mess, and I got myself out.
Student loan balance as of July 31: $0