This week I have another great debt mindset series interview with my blogger friend, Lindsay! She has a debt story I can really relate to because while I left college with a moderate student loan debt balance, I too graduated into a low-paying job field which made it more difficult for me to get my finances in order.
Together, Lindsay and her husband started their journey with 6-figures of debt. Before we get into the interview to learn more, here’s some more information about where she comes from and what she’s doing now currently.
I grew up in northern Michigan, and when I was old enough to move out on my own I decided that place wasn’t cold enough for me and so I moved to the middle of Alaska. I raced sled dogs and went to school, graduating with an MS in Wildlife Biology and Conservation in 2014. After that, it was my husband’s turn to go to school so we moved down to Colorado, where we’re at now.
Describe your debt situation. How much you have/had and how you accumulated it.
I first went into debt when I was in college. My mom helped me get my student loans. Unfortunately, she wasn’t as financially-savvy as I am today, because she helped me get two sequential private loans for $25,000 each. We never did any calculations about how much I would actually need; we just picked a random number that sounded good. I could have gotten by with far less.
This impacted my mindset in a big way. I thought taking out huge sums of debt was totally fine because I’d always just make more money later and be able to make the payments on it. I didn’t see why people got up all up in arms about debt.
From there, I went on and financed a truck and a house with my husband. We also had to take out a personal loan and put money on our credit card to pay off home repairs.
In total, we’re working our way out of $98,217.91 of debt, although by the time you factor interest into the equation, it’ll be well over $100,000. That’s not even including our mortgage which we’re going to be out of soon after handing it back to the bank – because we can’t afford a $35,000 repair on it. We can’t sell it and we can’t afford the mortgage and rent at the same time.
We still have $82,059.79 to pay back so far.
When did you decide your debt was a problem? Did you have an ‘aha moment’ and what triggered it?
I always thought it was fine to take on a lot of debt because I thought after I graduated I’d get a good job that would cover the minimum payments on my debt (I didn’t even know paying off debt faster was a thing you could do).
Instead, after I graduated the only job I could find was as a lab animal caretaker at a biomedical research facility. I had that same job title as I did during undergrad when I helped researchers study and take care of their animals. This time, though, it was purely a janitorial position—and I was treated accordingly.
I hated every minute of it, and worst of all, I couldn’t even pay half of the bills and expenses we needed to pay each month. I knew I needed to get better at managing my money so I started listening to personal finance podcasts when I was at work.
I learned about how to make a budget, and I was shocked when I found out that almost $1,000 was going just to debt payments alone! If I didn’t have that payment I would have had the flexibility to accept an entry-level summer position in the biology field, but instead, I had to stay in my permanent but low-paying job to try and make the debt payments.
That was when I realized that something needed to change—I needed to get rid of the debt, otherwise, it’d be hanging around my neck forever, forcing me to do stuff I didn’t want to do.
Did you implement a specific strategy to start paying off your debt? Why did you use that strategy?
The first thing I did was set up a budget so I knew what spending was necessary, how much I could save, and how much I could pay off towards my debt.
We had zero savings when I started and we were living paycheck-to-paycheck, and sometimes not even that. I started freelance writing to bring in extra cash, and that helped more than anything else. We worked hard to save up one month’s of living expenses at first so we had breathing room to focus on other stuff.
Then, we paid off our credit card debt because it had the highest interest. We had $2,750 in credit card debt and we were rid of it within a few months.
Now, we’re working on saving up two more month’s worth of expenses in a longer-term emergency fund. We’re doing it this way because it’ll be a long slog to pay off the rest of our debt, and we want to make sure we’re prepared for larger emergencies that’ll surely pop up.
Once we have that topped off (about $8,000), we’re going to be putting all of our extra money towards debt using the debt avalanche method. We’ll attack all of our debt in order of highest-to-lowest interest rate.
I use a nifty free tool called Undebt.it to track all of this for me. It even tells me when my debt-free date will be and how much interest I’ll pay by following this plan. Once we’re ramped up into full-on debt-payoff mode, we’ll be debt-free by January 2020 and have paid $4,391 in interest.
What were some obstacles you were/are faced with? How did you deal with the days when you lost motivation?
Not making enough money was the biggest obstacle. I tried to scrimp and save here and there, but I still couldn’t pay my bills. When I started freelance writing, everything changed. Now we have enough money to make all of our payments and a small amount left over to save or put towards debt.
Related: How to Become a Freelance Writer
Another obstacle was just being fatigued from sliding backward financially all the time. Our old house required tons of costly repairs while we were renting it out in hopes of covering the mortgage while we looked for a buyer.
We’d get almost biweekly calls about new repairs. Over two years alone we spent nearly $30,000 on repairs. My husband and I worked six “jobs” between us (lab animal caretaker, blogger, freelance writer, student, intern, and pub trivia host) and we still weren’t making enough money to cover all the repairs bills.
Whenever we were notified of a new repair, I just wanted to give up. What was the point in working so hard to get ahead if it just kept getting all wiped away?
I eventually became really depressed and decided to go talk to a therapist, which helped a ton. I also emailed bloggers and podcasters just to say hi and tell them how much their info helped me.
A lot of people responded back and told me that I wasn’t alone, and this meant the world to me. I hung in there, and eventually, things got a lot better. I’m happier now than I’ve been in a long, long time.
What motivates you? What would you say to people who think they can’t get out of debt in an attempt to change their mindset?
To me, being free of debt is freedom. I’ve been chained down to things I don’t want to do because I had bills to pay, and I’ve seen firsthand what your life will look like if you’re forced to make debt payments all of your life.
I don’t want that. I’ve got this one life to live and I’d rather live it my way, not how my creditors tell me to live it.
It’ll be a long slog for sure, but I try not to focus on the big numbers so much. I focus on tackling bite-size chunks at a time.
It’s easier to pay off your debt if you think of it in $1,000 (or $500, or $50) chunks at a time rather than $82,059.79 (or whatever it is you have). That’d give anyone a heart attack and discourage them from trying.
Learn More About Lindsay
You can connect with Lindsay by visiting her website Notorious D.E.B.T and signing up for hew weekly newsletter to receive personal finance tips, tricks and motivation for getting out of debt (plus, some adorable pictures of her kitties from time to time 🙂 )
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