They say that going to college will change your life. Well, it did, but not in the way I expected.
As a kid growing up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I didn’t have any plans for what to do when I grew up. So, I did what most people do: I went to college to find out. I didn’t have anything saved, and so I took out student loans for everything, including my living expenses. Within a few years, I’d graduated with a degree in communications and journalism — and $27,000 in student loan debt.
A Small Salary — And Growing Debt
One of the first things I found out after graduating was that journalism isn’t a super lucrative career path (surprise!). I was lucky to find a newspaper job pretty quickly, but it only paid $24,000 per year, and so I was allowed to defer my loans under an income-driven repayment plan.
This was both a blessing a curse: I was flat-broke and living paycheck-to-paycheck so I couldn’t make payments. But while I could delay my repayment, this didn’t delay the interest that was being tacked on each month — which meant my debt was growing.
Then things got worse: I lost my job and just like that, I didn’t know how I was going to pay for anything. Adding to this stress were the monthly loan statements showing my increasing balance.
After five long months I finally found another newspaper job in Louisiana. That’s when I decided that things needed to change.
Creating a Game Plan
My new job didn’t pay much more, just $26,000 a year. But, I was determined to tackle my debt. By this time, interest had grown my balance to $33,000.
First, I started budgeting. I settled on a very simple Excel spreadsheet and reconciled my budget every single day to keep it on track.
Then I started looking for ways to save. I forced myself to cook all my own meals (I even make my own sushi now!). I ate all my leftovers, and learned how to meal plan around store sales.
The third step was to start earning more. This was huge. If you’re not spending much (which I wasn’t), there’s only so much you can cut out of your budget — and I needed more cash to throw at my balance. So, I set my sights on side hustles. I did secret shopping, dog training, babysitting, cleaning — anything to make extra money.
But, the biggest thing that helped me move forward was my YouTube channel.
Vlogging My Way Out of Debt
Since I lived in a small town, I had no one to talk to about my debt pay-down journey, so one day on a whim I decided to shoot a video of myself venting about how mad I was at my debt and my plan to pay it off.
Looking back it was a terribly shot video, but I didn’t care. I uploaded it to YouTube and created my channel, Budget Girl. I started updating it constantly with new videos about my budget and debt status. I didn’t know any of the people watching, so I was brutally honest.
For the first year, my vlog was just a fun project that helped keep me accountable, but then it slowly started to take off. People saw that I was earning peanuts but was still able to make progress with my debt — and it really inspired them.
Knowing that people were watching really helped me stay the course. Even when I was having a bad day and all I wanted was some retail therapy, I didn't cave. I didn't want to disappoint them. And as my audience continued to grow, I also started earning money through my vlogs: After about a year I was making a couple hundred dollars a month, and within two and half years that number grew to between $700 and $1,500.
Finally, in July 2017, three years after I started my journey, I did a livecast of my final student loan payment: I was finally debt-free!
Life After Debt
It wasn’t until the next month — when I suddenly had all this extra money that I had been putting toward my debt — that my accomplishment really sunk in. Now, I’m working on saving up: My short-term goals are a new couch and a new (to me) car. Long-term, I want to buy a house and max out my 401(k).
I'm eternally grateful to my YouTube following (which is now over 33K), and even now that my debt is paid off I continue to post weekly videos with tips on saving money, cutting costs, earning extra income and living more intentionally to meet your long-term goals.