By Kerriann Stout • April 03, 2018•Writers in Residence, Careers, Other Career Issues, Law School, Other Law School Issues, Issues, Other Issues
Welcome back! So far, we’ve covered the bleak reality of the student loan crisis and learned how to read our student loan statements (all highly riveting, I assure you.) This month, we are ready to discuss how to start digging yourself out of the financial hole in which you find yourself.
Now, you may be wondering why you should take any advice from me -what with my $200k+ student loans and all - about paying debt off. Well, my husband and I used the following 6 tips to pay off over $60,000 in 2 years (and managed to save money towards our wedding) and were able to completely stop using credit cards. So, if those things appeal to you - read on!
1- Stop the bleeding: When I first got out of law school, I was out of control with my credit card spending. My financial situation was so bad with my student loans that I figured it really couldn’t get any worse. Unsurprisingly, I was wrong. While I firmly believe all debt holds you back, credit card debt is a particular kind of evil. I would wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat worrying about whether I could make the minimum payment that month. When I finally decided to get a handle on my finances, the very first thing I did was stop using all credit cards. This was extremely painful, and I ate a lot of pb&j sandwiches the first few months. In order to start digging out of the hole, you, like I did, have to stop making it bigger.
2 - Increase your income: You’re going to need a bigger shovel. Now is the time to check your pride and start looking for opportunities to make money. Yeah, I know, you’re a lawyer, and it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Well, the sooner you can get over that the faster your progress will be. A non-exhaustive list of my post-law school side jobs included: tutoring, per diem work, adjunct teaching, babysitting, and an ill-fated wedding planning service. You don’t have to do things you hate. I loved teaching and have been babysitting since I was old enough to do so. Think about what hobbies you have that could earn you some extra money or look into ways to make more money at your full-time job.
3- Create a budget and track all spending: Now that you are no longer making the problem worse and you increased your income, you can start to make some real progress with your debt. To do this, you need to create a budget and track all of your spending. This doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. In fact, there are great resources out there that allow you to do both things such as mint.com or everydollar.com. However, there is also nothing wrong with kicking it old school with pen and paper or my personal favorite an excel spreadsheet.
4- Trim the fat and redirect the surplus income to debt: Now that you have a budget and can see where your money goes each month, it is time to take out the ax and start hacking things off. When my husband and I first did this step, we went really severe. We cut almost all of our discretionary income from our budget for six months and applied that money to our debt. This worked for us and where we were at that time, but only you know how deep you can cut. I urge you to dig deep here and sacrifice a bit. Once you start to see some results, your motivation will skyrocket, and you will make progress much faster.
5- Quit beating yourself up: For the longest time, I didn’t think I deserved to enjoy my life because I had created this financial mess. I felt massively guilty all the time. Even getting a $2 coffee with a friend would send me into a tailspin, not because I couldn’t afford it, but because I thought I hadn’t earned the right to have it. Being this upset did nothing to help further my goals and only resulted in my being miserable all the time. Eventually, I found a way (read: lots of therapy) to forgive myself for my past financial mistakes. And even though I still have debt, I am able to attack it with focus and determination instead of fear and guilt. Take some time to process through any icky feelings you may have on the subject of money and finances.
6- Get accountable: The easiest person in the world to disappoint is yourself. Therefore, you will drastically improve your chances of reaching your financial goals if you share them with someone else. If you are married, start with your spouse. Get on the same page about your goals and game plan. Other great accountability partners for this task include parents, siblings, friends, or mentors.
I highly recommend reading the Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, a resource to learn about getting out and staying out of debt. It incorporates some of the tips above, as well as laying out an easy to follow plan for getting out of debt. This book is how my husband and I got started on our debt free journey. In the interest of full disclosure, Mr. Ramsey’s teachings come from a Christian point of view and sometimes contain religious references. However, you absolutely do not need to be of the same faith to gain a lot of valuable financial information from his materials.
I hope these tips get you started on the road to financial freedom. Have a great idea for making money, saving money, or paying off debt? Drop it in the comments below!
As promised, my student loan stats as of 3/31/18:
- Years out of law school: Almost 5
- Amount Owed: $228,049.74
- Total increase from last month: $1,009.97
- Payment Made: $331.02 (+$63.36 from last month based on my income-based repayment being recalculated)
- Original loan: $156,162
Thoughts on this article? Want to share your own story? Tips for this column? Or just want to connect? You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me over on LinkedIn.