A little sacrifice can go just as far as hustle
With $50,000 in student loans that I need to start paying off, I can’t fool around. So I developed a three-part plan to get this weight off my shoulders as fast as possible.
The longer the debts are there, the more interest they build, the more my job choices will depend on them, and the less freedom I have. I’ll need to find a well-paying job, decrease my expenses, and find time and resources to build my portfolio.
How did I get here?
Ever since starting college, I’ve been working one or sometimes two jobs. These included fast food, video game sales, computer technician. The past three years I’ve worked as a receptionist for a car dealership in my hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
In the early days, I was foolish with money. I applied for credit cards and took out car loans thinking that was just what people did. Yes, it boosted my credit score, but it also put me in a mindset that put getting things ahead of being able to pay for them.
Working and going to school was a balance I struggled with. In my freshman year, I ended up withdrawing from two classes and failing another. Because of this, I lost my financial aid.
This was no one’s fault but my own. After a year of working, I decided I wanted to go back to school and started saving. I paid for classes one at a time, out of pocket, until I got my aid back. It took me a few years, but at 26, I’m finally graduating.
Even as I paid for those classes, though, I continued to use my credit cards to finance a lifestyle I couldn’t afford. It wouldn’t be until much later that I realized the consequences of that.
1. Get the job
I’m finally about to graduate. I feel very lucky to be at a job I enjoy doing, even if it isn’t the field I studied for. The dealership has been my first place of employment where I feel fully respected. I’ll be completely honest, I got the job because my mother worked there when I started. But in the time I’ve been there, I’ve worked hard to prove myself.
My parents, who split up when I was young, were instrumental to my work ethic. My father has lived in Florida most of my life. He’s owned several successful businesses and to some degree is where I get my entrepreneurial spirit. My mother, who raised me when they broke up, worked multiple jobs while I was growing up. While we didn’t speak about it, over the years I really took in how important it is to work hard and remain optimistic even when things are rough.
Originally, my job description was just to answer phones and file paperwork. Now, I assist with the dealership’s social media accounts and update their website. I’ve also become an invaluable resource when it comes to computer support, which I drew from my previous background in repair.
The managers at the dealership have taken me under their wing. They offered me a job after graduation to continue doing what I do in an expanded capacity. They also want to offer me a substantial salary, which as a new graduate, is hard to turn down. I won’t because for at least a little while, paying the bills is going to trump full-time dream job.
Not everyone will be in this situation after college. I certainly didn’t expect to be. But getting out there, networking, and finding a job is going to be invaluable. Getting a job in your field is the goal, but any job that will help with getting loans out of the way is worth considering.
2. Minimize expenses
Throughout my college experience, I’ve had some unusual living situations. An apartment where everyone walked through my room to get to the rest of the house. Living in my step-dad’s half-finished basement. Breaking up with my then-girlfriend, but living in a curtained off portion of our apartment. I’m no stranger to making the weird work.
Each of these circumstances taught me to be more and more creative with living space. After the last change, I started being more concerned about what I was bringing more so than where I was putting it.
Labels can get a bit pretentious, but I became a minimalist. Trying to keep things down to what you need will allow you to find the most efficient version of yourself. I can fit pretty much everything I value into my four-door Saturn if I would need to pack up and move. That flexibility could come in handy.
Changing from someone who constantly struggled with debt, storage, and clutter to someone who tries to avoid all of those wasn’t an overnight process. After you make the change, you realize how much money you were leaving on the table. Don’t get farther down the hole — start trimming the fat now where you can.
So now I am a bit of a stickler. I make sure to turn off the heat or AC when I’m not in the house. If I’m home alone, I tend to keep the lights off unless the situation really calls for them. I hold myself to a budget. Friends know that if we go out to a restaurant, I will likely eat before and just get water and spend time with them. (I’m still going to leave a tip though, because service workers have to live too.)
3. Build the portfolio
My dreams still lay in media and I won’t let that fade away. I will be stalking the internet and local publications to find freelance work outside of the dealership. This will allow me to improve and build my portfolio, not to mention generate even more income that I can put towards my loans and savings.
I’ve started keeping a list of freelancing opportunities from different outlets, noting the kinds of stories they prefer and who the contacts are for them. This also means keeping an eye on additional skills these sites are looking for. A video-heavy site isn’t going to care how well I can write. A breaking news site won’t want my long-form features.
Once I get my duties down at my new job, I’m going to keep an eye on Poynter News University. They offer a lot of useful programs for journalists to brush up on new skills. Many of these are free or heavily subsidized by other news organizations. Adobe offers a similar program, Adobe Learn, that offers similar free courses for programs like Premiere Pro and Photoshop.
Getting a balance
Of course, I can’t be a complete hermit who sits in the dark all the time. Life is about finding balance.
My girlfriend lives almost 400 miles away in Boston. I’m not blind to the fact that it takes money and time to see her. Even with my desire to be debt-free, I know I won’t give her up. We both see the value in removing the debt and the freedom it will bring.
Get working, decrease expenses, increase income. These aren’t new concepts I pulled from the ether. But when I finally had credit cards and income, it wasn’t part of my mindset or lifestyle to even think about it.
I’m going to push myself hard to pay down this debt. My friends, coworkers, and acquaintances might look at me a little funny sometimes because of it, but that’s OK. Sometimes chasing your dreams looks weird.
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Article last modified on May 19, 2017. Published by Debt.com, LLC . Mobile users may also access the AMP Version: 3 Steps to Become Debt-Free and Chase Your Dreams - AMP.