One year later.
365 days since I made my last payment on my student loans.
Two degrees. $81,000 in student loans. Nine years of repayment. Nine years of having my money pay for my past, rather than my future.
I paid the minimum on my debt for the first five years, but after graduating from NYU and taking on a lot more debt, I knew I had to get serious. I ended up paying off $68,000 in 4.5 years.
My journey into debt was easy. Getting out of debt? It was the hardest thing I’ve done (aside from building a business).
There were moments when I felt so overwhelmed by my debt. When I realized I had taken on so much debt, but no full-time job was in sight. I felt consumed by debt and felt that every choice I made was predetermined by what I owed.
The lack of choice felt so limiting, so constricting. Finding myself on food stamps shortly after moving to Portland was a personal low. The master’s degree from a fancy private school — which I thought would be the key to career success — suddenly seemed meaningless.
I couldn’t help but think that everything I had done up to that point was a mistake. I was stupid for quitting my job and going to New York. I was an idiot for getting a performing arts degree from a private school and taking on more debt than I ever made in any previous annual salaries.
I carried the shame, guilt, depression and anxiety with me. The burden was heavy and the financial cost, very real. At my highest, I paid over $300 a month in interest.
When I found myself feeling hopeless and alone — after trying therapy and dealing with daily bouts of tears and anxiety fits — I turned to writing. I started this blog on January 3, 2013.
In many ways, this blog saved my life. I don’t say that lightly or with a hint of a hyperbole. It helped me climb out of the deep, dark place I found myself in.
It helped me acknowledge the feelings I had and made me realize I was not alone. I found cheerleaders, a community, and a creative outlet.
Through this blog, I created a new career as a freelance writer and event planner. How everything changed.
Making that last payment a year ago was such a surreal experience. I was in debt my entire adult life and for the first time, I was free.
Once I saw my balance at zero, I started to hyperventilate. It was not the reaction I was expecting.
But it felt like the last straw, the final “goodbye” in a love affair that was both exhilarating and tumultuous. Though I started a blog about breaking up with debt, actually breaking up with debt turned out to be far more emotional than I thought.
Who was I without debt? What would life be like without monthly payments? The fear of the unknown scared me. After about ten minutes of freaking out, I started to move toward excitement. I screamed and jumped up and down like a child on Christmas day. In twenty minutes, I went through all the emotions. Then, a breakthrough.
A feeling of lightness. A burden lifted. A breath of fresh air. I will never forget that feeling.
Over the past year, I have been able to keep that lightness and actually live the life I dreamed of. No longer was debt my master. I was in control of my choices.
This year, I finally got to act on what I wanted — I moved back to Los Angeles to be near family and be in a big city again. I celebrated and finally got to take my mom abroad to Italy. I traveled more than I ever have, both for business and pleasure. It was everything I wanted and everything I dreamed of. The guilt of spending money on things I wanted or needed was magically gone. I could use money for things I wanted. I started investing and saving for my future. My money belonged to me.
Though all my debt-free dreams did come true, it has still been a tough year in many ways. I had to start a new relationship with money. I had to figure out who I was without debt.
I increased my income even more and hadn’t realized I went into another tax bracket. After dealing with the expenses of moving and going to Italy, I then found out I owed the tax man everything I saved up. My savings went back to zero and I had to start over. It felt like a financial setback, though I was grateful to at least have the money in my account and not go back into debt.
I also found myself as the sole income earner. We knew moving to LA was a risk, but it was worth it. Luckily, I have a job I can do from anywhere, but my partner has struggled to find consistent work. Things are starting to change, but as you can imagine this affected my finances.
On top of the financial stress of taxes and making sure bills are paid, I experienced so many business growing pains this year. The more successful I got, the harder things got. I’ve dealt with some setbacks that have made me rethink everything. Some things that have deeply affected me. All of this affected my mental and physical health, too. I don’t think I’ve ever been so sick in my whole life as I was this year.
I am starting to make changes so that I can stay well and continue to thrive in my career and continue to be debt-free. There’s no doubt, though, that my first year being debt-free had the highest highs but also the lowest lows.
In the end, it was all worth it. To be here. With this blog, this book, this community that changed my life.
For everyone still fighting the good fight out of debt, I want you to know that it is possible. Life is much sweeter after debt and choices open up for you. Getting out of debt is so hard, but once you do, your whole life is waiting for you.