In 2007, Stephanie from Poorer Than You knew her finances were in trouble when a friend sent her a personal finance website link. As she glanced through the site, she stumbled upon a student loan repayment calculator. Stephanie was attending college and had taken out student loans.
“For the first time I had to face the fact that I was taking out more in student loans than I would be able to comfortably pay back, especially since I was working toward becoming a Hollywood TV writer or assistant director, jobs which averaged about $40,000 per year in an expensive city,” recalls Stephanie.
At the time, Stephanie was already in dire straits. Eating only the cheapest pasta and hot dogs (paid for with a credit card), and working the maximum number of work study hours, she also shared a room in the cheapest apartment on campus. To make matters worse, she was putting her required film school projects and textbooks on the credit card, too.
Reading personal finance blogs convinced her that private student loans would do more harm than good. Stephanie says, “I was already looking at over $40,000 in loans to pay back upon my graduation, did I really want to raise that to $50,000 or higher? No. So I decided to drop out of school for a while and regroup.”
A new perspective
Just a few days after leaving school, Stephanie started her blog. “I wanted to share what I was going through, because I was reading a lot of other personal finance blogs, but not seeing anyone out there writing from anything like my perspective,” says Stephanie.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t find a decent paying job and her parents weren’t thrilled. After all, she was living at home again. “I was applying to entry-level positions, but no one in my Rust Belt, economically-depressed area seemed to be hiring,” says Stephanie. She still had her blog though, and began making connections with readers and fellow bloggers.
And then her luck changed. “I finally found paying work: One blogger had a side business and needed a virtual assistant. Finally, a job! And one that I could do without paying for gas to commute.” With a new job and income, Stephanie could help her mom buy groceries and start paying off her debts.
During this time, Stephanie helped her parents downsize their home. Her school was now in driving distance, which made it much cheaper without the rent. Something else changed, too: Stephanie realized her interests were changing from film study to more business-oriented studies.
“I began talking with an adviser in my school’s Multidisciplinary Studies department, because I couldn’t afford to go back to funding my own independent films,” says Stephanie. “Through the multidisciplinary studies, I was able to keep my film credits towards a degree, but finish the last two years of school with business classes.”
Once Stephanie started school again, her schedule exploded. “I kept the virtual assistant gig, and got my work study job back,” says Stephanie. “I also took a job as a middle and high school drama club director, and kept up with my blog and writing for other websites.” Overall, that’s a full class load and four part-time jobs.
Stephanie graduated in 2009. And what she told me next really caught my attention: She actually started saving for retirement before she started making payments on her student loans.
Stephanie says, “When I started saving for retirement it was only $5 per month. People thought I was crazy to save for retirement while I was in school and mocked that $5 per month would never make a difference. But I was starting a habit. By early 2010, the money grew to the $3,000 needed to open a Roth IRA. And now, 10 years after I started with just $5 per month, I have more than $87,000 in my retirement accounts.” That’s very cool.
She did other cool things like finding a job in Northern Virginia in 2010, where she was put in charge of all the spreadsheet work for the customer service department. She later joined friends who opened a new business through a Kickstarter campaign. In 2014, Stephanie got married and they celebrated with an incredible frugal wedding (she found a free wedding dress online), and now she and her husband still save and live the frugal life with a newborn child.
Lots of things have changed since her college days, but one thing remains constant: Stephanie still works as hard as ever.