“student Loan Borrowing: Lessons Learned From Previous Generations” – Kelly from Immigration with a Purpose contacted me with this amazing financial journey. I’m glad that he can share it with us! Very bad. It takes traveling, wanderlust, and teaching and makes his student loans go away…fast.

Sidenote: If you have a financial struggle that you’ve overcome, email me at kara@ and I’ll share it with our Frugal Feminista family.-K

“student Loan Borrowing: Lessons Learned From Previous Generations”

Let me start with a confession. In 2008, I graduated with a B.A. in English, a minor in Education, a teaching license, and over $100,000 in debt. A worker said at the school, I wanted to go to a higher university even though my family could not afford these prices. When they planned for the scholarship did not flow in, I turned to student loans.

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This influential decision, my 18 year old self made lead to the first lesson that would lead me to a point where I could pay off $44,000 in student loan debt in just under two years.

It was clear before I ever signed on any dotted line that I could not afford the undergraduate institution that I attended. Waiting for a seller to come in whether it’s through a scholarship or a generous family is not a financial plan, and no financial plan is a plan for potential financial disaster.

A year after I moved to expensive New York City with two suitcases and debt, I lost my job. This forced me to sit down with my $800+ monthly payment and analyze my relationship with money. Money was a dirty word to me that was a source of stress and shame. How could I rack up six figures worth of debt on just a bachelor’s degree? Because of my negative feelings about money, I would quickly end any conversation about finances just to avoid emotional discomfort.

One tool that helped me confront my debt was LearnVest, a financial planning company geared toward women. I found a new teaching job, tracked my expenses using the company’s online software, and attended LearnVest’s first LIVE seminar on financial empowerment. I never paid for any of the company’s extra services, but I received a free call within 15 minutes from one of its financial planners. In nicer terms, this financial planner told me that I wasn’t being realistic about how quickly I wanted to pay off my debt, which leads to the second lesson.

How Did We Get Here? History Of Student Loans [infographic]

A SMART goal is a target a person sets for his future. It is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. There’s a difference between saying I want to pay off my student loans versus saying I want to pay off 25% of my student loan debt in the next year. While I was on salary as a teacher in New York City, there was no way I could achieve this SMART goal. Something had to change. So I created a new SMART goal: get a teaching job abroad within a year so I could pay off 25% of my student loan debt within a year.

Many international schools pay a teacher’s rent and subsidize utilities. This would free up at least an extra $1,000 a month for my debt payments! In July 2013 I met my revised SMART goals when I moved to Valencia, Venezuela, to teach. The school I worked at even paid my transportation fees. These factors coupled with a dramatically lower cost of living caused me to go from paying the minimum monthly on my loans to being able to double (sometimes quadruple!) my monthly payment while abroad.

Now, I fully recognize that not everyone can pack their belongings and go to an international location. I am a single woman with no children. But are there other more feasible changes that fit the current stage of your life? For example, before I made the drastic decision to leave the United States, I moved to a smaller apartment, changed my hairstyle to one that was cheaper to maintain, and cut out “necessities” like filters British water. When I decided that these positive financial changes were still not enough for me, then I headed abroad. The point is to find a way, no matter how small, to cut costs and put the extra money towards the loan payments.

When there is a ton of debt to discuss, you have to get strategic. I chose to create an organized stack of all my loans from the highest interest rate to the lowest interest rate. Then I pay the minimum every month on all of them. Any extra payments I made went to the loan with the higher interest rate

Quiz & Worksheet

The smallest loan. I knew getting rid of the high interest rate loans faster would save me more money in the long term.

After piling up and paying off my loans, I followed them. If you are trying to lose weight it is suggested that you track (re: write down) what you eat. Similarly, if you are trying to “lose” debt, you must track how much money you are putting toward it. I created a color-coded Excel spreadsheet. The spreadsheet would turn red, yellow, or green depending on whether I paid at least the minimum amount that would help me reach my SMART goal. This spreadsheet keeps me accountable when I slip up and is a source of private celebration when I do well.

When you’re working hard it’s important to treat yourself and celebrate the small successes. However, this comes with a caveat: treat yourself and not the Joneses. Maybe you can afford a pedicure at the local shop while Mrs. Jones goes to the diamond hotel for her pedicure. Don’t worry about it because you know what your goals are, and getting a fancy pedicure isn’t part of your long-term goals.

I have to remind myself of this lesson too. As a teacher at an international school, the majority of my colleagues (re: the Joneses) go on several international trips a year. I try to travel in the country I live in and I can go on an international trip because right now I can’t afford to jet set around the world. It just so happens that the year I turn 30 is also the year when I expect to pay off the last of my student loans. When Sallie Mae/Navient receives its final payment, I plan to tour several countries in one region with the money I have saved. Until then, I go home to my parents for the summer, apply for professional development at different venues that my school pays for, and keep my eyes on the prize: debt-free living.

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Kelley (@withapurpose) is a secondary educator who has taught in New York City and Valencia, Venezuela. This month he will move to Jakarta, Indonesia to continue teaching. He blogs at immigratingwithapurpose.com, an award-nominated Black Weblog discussing race, travel, and the teaching profession.

Frugal Feministas– What are you doing about your student loans? What other lessons can be learned from Kelly’s financial strategy and vision?

“If you’re drowning in student loan debt and want support, strategies, and advice on how to speed up your student loan repayments, then join our Sallie Mae 5-Day Slay Challenge.

If you’re waiting for a sign that it’s time to make a change, consider this it. Money Therapy may be just what you need to break through your financial blocks and free yourself from your money and money shame. We have a free journalistic request so that everyone can understand our world. Reader support helps us do this. Are you giving today? x

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Pieces like this almost always start with someone’s student debt history. Here is someone who wanted to go to college – they would always dream of a career that required it, or they just internalized the idea that college was the only way to success. The parents did not save enough to cover the expenses, but when they filled out the FAFSA, a solution to their problem presented itself: an abundance of student loans, no questions asked. It was a no-brainer! College was the way to a better future, and student loans are what you need for college.

It is the first act of the story. In the second act, the student graduated from college. Maybe they struggled to find a job, and convince themselves that there

Route was graduate school. They took out more loans for law school, or med school, or architecture school; maybe they figured they wanted to teach, and needed to get a master’s degree to do that. Someone could tell them about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program: If they spent a decade, after graduation, working in a field that qualified as public service and made regular, income-based repayments on their loans, the remaining balance the late be forgiven

Then there is the third act, which is set anywhere from two to 10 years after graduation, when the large amount of student debt accumulated becomes clear. Maybe they’re in an income-based repayment plan, but the calculation doesn’t take cost of living into account.

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