Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. That just means that I may receive a small commission if you buy a product linked on this page. It sure helps towards paying off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosures page.
I can’t blog about school and not also blog about money. It “ain’t all about the money,” but finance is hands-down the biggest source of stress for college students, and it doesn’t stop after you graduate. Trust me, I’ve been there. The money challenge and I are well acquainted. College is expensive even at its best, and it is also a fertile ground for financial mistakes. Some students are young and managing their own finances for the first time in their lives. Many students don’t have a job while in school, or only work part-time, so unless someone else is paying for their school and living expenses, they are going into debt every single day. And students are busy – and “busyness” can be a huge factor in overspending. When we are busy, we don’t realize how much we are spending, we don’t catch mistakes, and we throw money at problems to make them go away. Unfortunately, this usually just creates bigger problems down the road.
As an undergrad, I found myself drowning in credit card debt, with very little income. I made a huge dent in paying that off, and then graduated…with a mountain of student loans. If you are stressed out about money, about paying your bills, or keeping track of it all, if you are embarrassed by your debt because you “know better,” I’ve been there. Actually, in some ways, I’m still there! I don’t want the world to know what I owe, and it feels like chains every day. I’m at the point in my life where I am limited in pursuing some of my dreams because of the huge debt load I carry, and even though I have made some great steps towards paying it off, it is so easy to get off track. It is so easy to pay for something that you can’t afford or be generous with money that you don’t have.
Confession time: I fell for the skin care in the mall trap this week! I don’t know how…Usually, I know better than to even let them start the conversation. A case of distraction and trying to be nice, I think. And the level of sales-y push left a bad taste in my mouth. BUT I decided about 10 minutes later to return the items. Of course, I have gone back twice and the employee working there couldn’t do returns, so I have to go back AGAIN tomorrow. Heavy sigh. Might be time for a Yelp review. Who has their store open and can’t do returns?
Sometimes, you’re actually making good progress towards those financial goals, and then life throws a wrench in your plans (like a car accident or something else unexpected), and it is so easy to get discouraged. But I decided a few months ago that me and Jesus are going to be in charge of my life, not life circumstances or poor decisions from my past, and that means aggressively paying off this debt and moving forward with what God has called me to do.
The other thing about money is that we tend to be hush-hush about it. Money is such a big secret! In our society, we often don’t talk about salary, and we definitely don’t talk about debt. Why is talking about money is more taboo than talking about sex? I don’t mind talking about student loans, but I don’t like to talk about the numbers because…it is embarrassing! How is it that I, a well-educated, financially literate adult with a decent job, have this massive debt looming over my head and keeping me from doing what I want to do with my life? And even when I know where it came from and what to do about it, the execution – the following through to get rid of the debt – is easier said than done. But things can’t get fixed until they come into the light. On Sunday, my pastor was talking about the Armor of God in Ephesians 6, and even though I have heard and studied the Armor of God many times over, the Belt of Truth kept standing out to me. Truth isn’t just about not lying; it is about being out in the open, bringing things to light so that healing and repair can begin. This is a hard thing for me, but I want that life. I don’t want to have secrets. We will always have some, but this doesn’t need to be one of them.
That’s one reason why I have decided to share my debt repayment journey on this blog. The second reason is just as important. I hope to encourage current students to make the best financial decisions possible (and learn from my experiences). I also hope to encourage those who, like me, are already on this journey to pay off debt, and help you know that you are not alone! We are in this together!
I have the right ideas, but I tend to follow what I call “roller coaster budgeting.” It’s a lot like a roller coaster diet. I will read a great personal finance book like The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke, get all fired up, set a great goal, and I will be “all in” for weeks or even months, high-speed power through it. And then at some point, I can’t keep up that pace any more, I bite off more than I can chew, and I fall off the wagon. Sometimes I fall Big Time. Staying on a budget requires planning and follow through, and sometimes it is just really hard. So right now, my goal is to be both aggressive and consistent. I want to set those high, ambitious goals, but I want to choose key behaviors to change over time and focus on being consistent. This is why I was attracted to the 90 Day Budget Bootcamp Workbook.
My friend Tana introduced me to the 90 Day Budget Bootcamp Workbook a few weeks ago, and I was really excited to try it out. This workbook walks you through a different money challenge every week, and your responsibility is to read the short chapter and complete the weekly challenge. It should help with my roller coaster budgeting syndrome, because each money challenge gradually builds on top of the others. I have the knowledge to get this done, but I am looking for a tool that will help me apply that knowledge in a sustainable way.
So, this is GET REAL time. I’m going to be real about it, even though it really stinks to have this out there. Like I said, it’s embarrassing. But I would rather be embarrassed and debt-free than fake and drowning in debt. If getting it out there will help get it GONE, and help someone else along the way, that sounds like a plan to me. Who is with me?
Money Challenge #1 is to own your mess. The workbook has you write down every single debt. We are encouraged to get physical – write it down, even if we already have it electronically. Electronic tools are great for financial planning, but there is something about holding a pen and paper and writing “I owe a million dollars.” (I don’t actually owe a million dollars. For the record.) I actually did this a few months ago, so for this part of the challenge, I had to update those numbers. It was exciting, on the one hand, to see how much I already paid off on some accounts! On the other hand, it was disappointing; my car accident over the summer meant starting all over on a new car loan, and I still have a long way to go on my other debts.
Personal Student Loans (from family members): $14,700
Federal Student Loans (Unsubsidized): $64,957.29
Federal Student Loans (Subsidized): $1193.76
Car Loan: $17,748.52
Credit Cards (currently 0% interest): $7467.75
The Budget Workbook hasn’t asked anything about my credit score yet, but this is important to track so I want to include it here. Read more about why and how to improve your credit score here. You can use a tool like Credit Sesame or Nerdwallet to track your credit score, or your bank may also provide this service. Don’t forget that there are actually 3 different credit agencies, so you have 3 different credit scores. Sometimes there is a significant difference between the scores. I use both Credit Sesame and Nerdwallet because they report from different agencies.
Week 1 Credit Score: 671 – 683
So here’s the question…
Are you brave enough to commit to getting off the roller coaster and on the right track? Are you brave enough to make decisions that go against our culture and what’s convenient? Are you brave enough to quit living paycheck to paycheck? Are you brave enough to be free from your debt?
If you’re ready to get your finances on track, I have two action items for you.
Comment below and say “I’m in!” Let me know your biggest struggle with staying on track financially. If you’re REALLY brave, share what you owe or your current credit score.
It’s no good to go it alone. Share this money challenge post with someone who will share this journey with you!
Get the 90 Day Budget Bootcamp workbook and print it out. (It’s a lot of printing, so I had mine printed at Staples and put it in a binder). $27 plus some time each week to get on track and build good habits = debt free life. Sounds like a decent return on investment to me!