In July 2019, I became debt free after paying over $50,000 from private and federal loans that I took out for my undergraduate degree. A majority of this was paid from a combination of a lower cost of living by going to school in a different city for graduate school, and savings from the scholarships and assistantships while I was there.
Once I graduated and moved back to my hometown, I had quite a bit of debt remaining. Around $15,000. What I learned through freelancing and paying this off was the delicate balance of managing money through sacrifice and spending with happiness. This is something that I think helped me learn the power of managing money intentionally.
As a Black woman, I knew the only way for me to begin to get the lifestyle I wanted without struggling was to go to college. Becoming a first-generation graduate and a debt owner is nothing new for the millions of first-generation graduates out there. But like any uninformed adult, it was shocking to learn how the loan repayment system worked.
I knew I had to pay or default
About six months into my gap year, I received my wake-up call from a private loan representative. She called to inform me that the six-month deferment was nearing the end. Somewhere in the conversation I told her “I can’t afford the $80.00 monthly payment.”
She said there was nothing she could do about that. Her statement was a hard pill to swallow. But her view on loan forgiveness was one many people in the field have — pay or default. This fear of defaulting would stay in the back of my mind each measly paycheck I received and paid to my balance.
I knew I needed to make some changes if I wanted to finish paying off my student loans
I got my first salaried job in higher ed in 2017. Then, I decided that I would start paying back the rest of my loans but ignored paying more than the minimum because I couldn’t afford it. It barely made a dent. Although Black women are the most educated group in the U.S., we are also extremely underpaid and overworked and I was no exception.
The truth is that when you are working your first full-time job outside of working-class positions in retail or food service or even under-the-table work, it’s difficult to get a grasp on bills, housing, and loans. It was new to me. So, the question I had for myself was how was I going to payback the last of my loans to successfully remove this dark cloud over my life? The answer was simple; downsize and freelancing. And that’s what I did.
I downsized my living space to start reducing expenses
The first step was to sacrifice. I needed to move to a super small apartment. The only way I could begin to pay was to revert to my graduate school days and replicate the experience of living in a lower cost area.
Once I moved in 2018, I used my talents in job searching to scour the internet for jobs. I had to ask myself, what was I good at? What can be done remotely? And what can I do while juggling a full-time job? I figured writing would be the best-case scenario for me. I’d never make a lot of money. But it would help me get closer to financial freedom.
I poured hundreds of hours into searching and applying for work and it’s all a numbers game. Eventually, it paid off and I found one significant writing position on Indeed (and going to the actual job site to apply) and Upwork.
The first position paid me more than 75 percent of what I needed to pay off my loans for nine months of work. But with taxes, I still owed money and my other writing position on Upwork paid the rest. Each month, the money from my full-time job went to rent and utilities, while I churned out content.
What I learned about managing money while freelancing
It isn’t easy, but the only way to defeat the monster that are loans, is to sacrifice greatly by throwing most of the money to it while finding the time to have fun time. The problem that I had early on was that I felt that delayed gratification is key to becoming debt free. That works for a lot of people. But it didn’t work for me.
I’d caution Black women from doing this…
Because we historically sacrifice in all aspects of our lives. In the workplace for example, we often do the work of many people in one job. In my career, I’ve been a counselor, project manager and diversity expert on top of my actual work. I haven’t been paid for that work and was never going to be, so I knew that while I was paying my loans off that my happiness was key.
The key to that was choosing what was non-negotiable in my life. I managed my money by putting 90% of my freelancing checks (although it hurt) each month to my loans and the other 10% I used to treat myself to something that would fulfill me, which was dining out.
- 3 Things You Need To Know About Student Debt Before You Graduate
- How I Paid Off Over $21K Of Student Loan Debt In Under 22 Months
- How To Pay Off Student Loans
Managing the loan repayment process like this taught me that without intentional spending connected to my happiness that the process of paying off my last $15,000 wouldn’t have happened with a better mental approach to money management. I would be debt free but burnt out and unsure about what my next steps are for gaining wealth.
Now that I am debt free, the goal is to rebuild my savings/emergency fund through my full-time job and freelance writing and putting in about 50% of what I make away each month. But I never forget to have a little fun with food along the way!