Choncé is a working mom in her twenties who writes about her personal finance journey My Debt Epiphany. I find a strength and powerful commitment in her writing that manages to combine with humility and grace. Choncé spurs me on in my fight against debt, and I’m sure she’ll do the same for you.
Fruclassity: Tell us about your debt situation and how it started.
Choncé: Most of my debt is from student loans, so it’s safe to say it all started when I went to college. I was young of course, and no one really explained to me how things like loans and credit cards worked. Luckily I didn’t sign up for any credit cards at 18 and accumulate debt, but I was tempted to take out loans in order to help me pay for college.
Like I said, I didn’t really understand the whole process, and when the checks started coming in every semester, I kind of thought, Hey, this is great, and paying them back after I graduated was the last thing on my mind.
I always took out extra loans each semester not only so I could cover the cost of my tuition, but so I could pay rent and have extra spending money. I honestly don’t even remember what I bought back in those days. That probably just goes to show how dumb my decisions were.
A few months before I graduated, I started looking into buying a new car since my ‘97 Saturn was about to drop dead. It had 187,000 miles on it and the dashboard was lit up with flashing red buttons (couldn’t have been a good sign). Aside from routine oil changes I never really took care of the car properly since my excuse was that I didn’t have the money to fix things on it.
Nevertheless, I was graduating in a few months and thought rewarding myself with a new car would definitely fit the bill. When I say ‘new’, I mean used but just newer. I intentionally ignored the sales guys at the dealership with their ‘good student discount’ financing specials for a brand new car, and I went with a nice 2010 vehicle and took out a $9,700 loan to pay back over a 60 month period.
Fruclassity: When did you realize your debt had become a problem?
Choncé: During college I worked a part time job with crappy wages. When I say crappy, I mean I was making less than $600 a month and taking out extra student loans to help make ends meet. I kept telling myself that I just needed to hold on until I graduated and got a better job that allowed me to make more money.
I love my family, but no one ever took the time to teach me in depth about how to manage my money and avoid debt. Everyone around was struggling and living paycheck to paycheck whether they were making good money or not.
My part-time job at the time also gave me a big wake up call. I was doing in-store demonstrations maybe 2 days a week and 3 days if I was lucky. Everyone in the company was fighting for hours and now that I look back, it seems silly to have been fighting to work 18 hours a week when I work at least 50 hours a week nowadays (thanks to the wonderful and versatile world of side hustling).
Well, about 70% of the employees at my job were old enough to be my grandparents. I don’t mean that in a rude or mean way. My coworkers were super nice and I enjoyed working with them. But deep down I always told myself that I never wanted to be working at that age, and I wondered what financial mistakes they had made in the past that prevented them from being able to fully retire, or if life’s unexpected hardships had just taken a financial toll on their lives.
I started reading and educating myself about personal finance and retirement. I also got tired of debt and my financial situation holding me back. When I got a better job making more money, the bills started to increase and I was back to feeling broke just like in college. I tried to travel to make myself feel better, but I never truly had enough money to do it stress-free, and when I returned I was broke again. I realized that if wanted to be able to enjoy my life without having to scrape by financially all the time, I had to do something about my debt and work toward financial freedom.
Fruclassity: What’s your debt payoff goal date?
Choncé: I’m really bad with crunching numbers and tracking everything with a spread sheet, but I do establish goals and track my progress every month. I started this journey last year with at least $30,000 in debt and I should have less than $20,000 by January 2016. I would love to have everything paid off in 3 years from now at the latest, so April 2018.
Fruclassity: What resources have helped you to be successful in your debt payoff efforts?
Choncé: Since no one I knew was teaching me about how to pay off my debt, I took to the internet to find help and advice. I read a lot of personal articles online, books, and blogs, so I didn’t just get help from one place.
I had been reading Get Rich Slowly for years, then I came across Michelle’s blog at Making Sense of Cents and I couldn’t stop reading. I was so impressed by how much she was able to accomplish at such a young age and how she practically murdered her $40,000 student loan balance. I became inspired to kick my repayment plans into gear and I even started my own blog to document the experience all thanks to Michelle’s inspiration.
Fruclassity: What challenges have tempted you to give up on your goal of debt freedom?
Choncé: I’m in my 20s, so when I talk to my friends about paying off all my debt and saving for retirement, I feel like I just don’t fit in and a lot of people don’t understand my goals. Most people my age (not all) are probably still in college taking it slow, blowing all their money on the bars each weekend, or just not thinking strategically about their future like I am.
Sometimes I scroll down my news feed on Facebook and see everyone on vacation, at a concert or play, or going out to eat and I’m sitting at home with my boyfriend watching a movie on a Friday night because I put all my extra money for the month into my emergency fund.
Moments like that make me stop and wonder if I’m missing out on living for the present because I’m so focused on the future. But then I stop and shake myself out of those doubtful thoughts. What I’m doing now is setting myself up for success, and I’ve made it a habit to stop and show gratitude for the little things like my health and the support of my family. I am living a great life now even if I’m not able to go on vacations and dine at restaurants each week. I have a great time just hanging out with friends and finding frugal entertainment. Plus, I’m living a life with purpose.
Fruclassity: How has your debt affected your relationships with your boyfriend/family?
Choncé: When I decided to get serious about paying off my debt I let everyone and their mom know about my plans. My family is respectful and supportive of my choice to get rid of my debt ASAP and my friends have caught on to my frugal habits as well. If anything I’m changing the people around me and attracting like-minded individuals to bond with.
My boyfriend is the most affected since we live together. I feel like I’ve been a great model for him, and he’s starting to get serious about paying back his debt too and creating a budget. Since we’re moving soon, we’ve both been saving heavily. My boyfriend did two no-spend weeks last month all on his own without me recommending it. When his boss called him a ‘penny-pincher’ for doing a no spend week, we both just laughed it off because we know that we will always have the last laugh 🙂
With my son, I’m trying to teach him all the things about money that I never learned as a child in the hopes that he never gets into debt and so that he becomes financially conscious. He has a Ninja Turtle bank that I deposit his weekly allowance in, and we talk about saving, giving to others, and being grateful for the things that we have in life (meaning no new toys every time we go to the store).
Fruclassity: What jobs have you held during your debt payoff process?
Choncé: I work full-time as a professional copywriter, and I also do freelance writing on the side because there’s no such thing as writing too much for me. I’m looking to start doing other low-commitment side hustles as well to help speed up my debt payments – like mystery shopping and maybe dog walking this summer.
Fruclassity: What words of encouragement do you have for those who want to become debt free?
Choncé: Stop waiting and act now. Yes, it’s hard work to become debt free. Yes, you will have to sacrifice. Yes, you will have days when you want to give up. Find someone, anyone, to support you through this journey and work to earn a life of financial freedom. Get help creating a realistic budget if you need to, and don’t be close-minded when it comes to earning extra money to put toward your debt payments. Don’t let becoming debt free only be a fantasy because anyone can achieve it. Get serious about your goals and what you want out of life. My guess is it doesn’t include debt.