Today we’re featuring the story of Melanie Lockert, who runs a blog called Dear Debt. Through her blog and her freelance writing career, Melanie works to empower people to take control of their finances. Here’s her story.
Fruclassity: Tell us about your debt situation and how it started.
Melanie: All of the $81,000 in debt that I accumulated is from student loans. $23,000 from my undergraduate degree, from an in-state public school. $58,000 from a private graduate school.
Fruclassity: When did you realize your debt had become a problem?
Melanie: I accumulated my debt in chunks, so when I graduated in 2006 with 23k, it felt like a lot, but still manageable. Manageable for me meant paying the minimum. After several years of paying down that loan, I added more debt to the picture and upon graduating in 2011, I still had $68,000 left. I remember seeing that number after my grace period was over and I felt like I had lost my breath. I felt sick to my stomach that I owed that much and I was mad at myself for taking on so much debt to go to my dream school.
Fruclassity: What’s your debt payoff goal date, or have you already reached it?
Melanie: I am still working to pay off my debt. For four years, I just paid the minimum not really caring — but after graduate school I got the burning desire to get out of debt. So for the past four years I’ve paid off 36k — so close to 10k per year. I have just over $31,000 left to pay off, and my goal payoff date is March of 2018 at the very latest, but I am working to get it paid off much earlier than that.
Fruclassity: What resources have helped you to be successful in your debt payoff efforts?
Melanie: I am so grateful for personal finance blogs! I truly feel like they saved me from my depression with debt. I felt so alone before I started my blog, but I found that there were others just like me who were trying to get out of debt.
Aside from personal finance blogs, I also use Mint.com to budget and track my income and expenses. I also use Student Loan Hero to keep track of my progress.
Fruclassity: What challenges have tempted you to give up on your goal of debt freedom?
Melanie: Oh boy, I feel like I’ve faced a lot of challenges. My nonchalance in the beginning for starters! But more recently, I’ve had other struggles. After graduating with my M.A. I struggled to find a job and was underemployed. Then, I moved to a lower cost of living area to be with my partner (after surviving the stressors of a long-distance relationship) and struggled even more to find a job there. I settled for part-time, seasonal work. It was at this point that I felt beyond low — that I had a master’s degree making $10 per hour. It was then that I found personal finance blogs and created my own. Eventually I did find a full-time nonprofit job, which I was ecstatic about. But at the same time, my blog was helping me get freelance work — so much so that I quit my “regular” job last July!
Paying off debt on an irregular income has been a challenge. I try to live on a bare bones budget and make sure I am meeting my income goals, so I can pay off debt. The goal is to increase my income and get out of debt faster.
Fruclassity: How has your debt affected your relationships with your spouse/family?
Melanie: My partner and I both have student loans and it puts a damper on our finances. It’s hard to see most of our money go to debt. We pay our own debts separately, but support each other as much as possible. Our hope is that we can grow our income, and live off of one salary, so we can take turns paying our loans off. Our student loans definitely add a layer of tension that doesn’t need to be there.
Fruclassity: What jobs have you held during your debt payoff process?
Melanie: For six years I was a nonprofit worker and now I’m a full-time freelance writer, editor and virtual assistant. Because of my nonprofit background, I’ve never made a lot of money. My last salary at my job was $31,000 and before that even less at $10-$12 per hour.
Fruclassity: What motivates you to keep reaching toward your goal of debt freedom?
Melanie: I keep dreaming of my debt free date. I know I’ll feel like a huge weight is lifted. I am totally going to have a debt free party too (a cheap one!) when the debt is gone. This dream is what keeps me going.
Fruclassity: What words of encouragement do you have for those who want to become debt free?
Melanie: Accept your debt, but commit to paying it off. You don’t have to be in debt forever. Make biweekly or even weekly payments to lower interest and throw all extra money towards debt. Pick up a side hustle where you can earn more. That’s where my focus is at right now: earning more. Create a vision board of what your debt free dreams look like and look at it every day for inspiration. Put sticky notes on your credit card asking yourself if you really need to spend money right now?
Most of all, keep going and don’t give up!
We hope this story inspired and encouraged you to begin your own journey to debt freedom. If you have a debt success story that you’d like to share, feel free to contact us and let us know! To read more inspiring debt success stories, click here for our Debt Success Stories page.