How Focusing on Paying Off My Loans Helped Save Me

Between the ages of 25 and 26 things in my life sucked. I was broke, I was underemployed, I was scared, and I felt helpless. I had no direction, no money, and a boatload of debt. I was watching lots of my friends succeed in seemingly every area of their lives: getting raises and promotions at work, getting engaged or moving in with their partners, buying first homes, traveling all over the world.

I was spending my days re-reading Harry Potter, crying and afraid to leave my house. I became embarrassed to see my friends and had nothing to say to the question “So what’s new with you?” Nothing was ever new. I had no work stories, I had no fun night out stories, no travel stories. I was too afraid and way too poor to be doing those things, so I just did nothing.

There’s a line in the Orange is the New Black theme song- ‘Taking steps is easy, standing still is hard.’ I was standing completely still and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I wasn’t waiting for anything either. I wasn’t building towards a bigger goal and trying to save energy or money in that time. I was simply paralyzed.

Summer 2014 was the most difficult time of my life. I was sad all the time, I was hiding from the world at large and I was anxious about everything. Applying for jobs seemed pointless, since I had been at it since 2012. I was catering part time and working as a gym receptionist from 5am-10am twice a week for $9 an hour. I could pay rent and pretty much nothing else.

Making the decision to focus on paying off my loans helped pull me out of this funk. I was in therapy once a week and I found myself saying over and over again that my loans were a big point of stress in my life. I felt guilty about not earning more because I couldn’t pay my loans. I worried about having them for the rest of my life. I was stressed about trying to do things like buy a home with the weight of my loans still on my shoulders. (Even though I was a million miles from buying a home. And still am.)

Deciding to pay off my student loans gave me a clear and actionable plan. I knew that I needed to make more money, make bigger payments and stay dedicated to it. These were things I could take action on which helped me feel less paralyzed about my life. I could stop standing still and start moving forward. I had something to achieve and I had a way to do it.

Catering always picks up in September, so as fall came into season I started taking every catering gig I could. In mid-September a friend put me in touch with a nonprofit that was looking for someone to help part time with fundraising and development. I didn’t have any experience, but they were paying so little that they couldn’t get anyone with real experience. I got the job and kept my other two jobs. I had a little more income to my name, and I started shoveling it towards my loans.

I became obsessed with reading personal finance blogs. I would spend HOURS reading other people’s debt payoff stories and learning new ways to save money or to stretch a dollar further. It changed my whole world view. I felt like I was a part of this community. I didn’t feel so alone or so sad anymore.

Plus, all those tips and inspiring stories just fueled my desire to get out of debt. I applied as many tips as I could to my life. I drew strength from reading about people who had been where I was and had made it out. Catering continued to be busy throughout the fall holiday season and the nonprofit work increased a little too. I had more money, I was learning skills and gaining real work experience. I was starting to feel better.

By the time December 2014 rolled around I felt like a new person. I was down to seeing my therapist every other week. I didn’t talk about my loans like a burden anymore, but rather a challenge.  A challenge that I felt capable of meeting.

Paying off loans was a part of my daily life. The nonprofit loved my work and wanted me to continue into 2015 with more hours. I paid off two loans (one in October and one in December) before the end of the year. I felt like I had a purpose and that I was actually doing something with my time and energy.

Now here I am. I’m debt free, I work almost full time for the nonprofit, I have started my retirement savings and I’m happy. Like, really happy. I like my life. I don’t feel stuck. I feel powerful! I have a full life that I enjoy and am proud of.

I’m no longer standing still. By zeroing in on my goal of paying off loans I was able to find a way to move forward. Not only did I give myself a huge financial gift but I gave myself a huge personal gift. I found out that I have the strength to go through tough times. I found out that I can depend on myself. I found out that I am an incredibly capable person, no matter the task. I’m smart, I’m driven and I get my shit done. I really like knowing that about myself! I feel much more prepared for the next phase of my life.

And when more rain falls in my life, as it inevitably will, I will be ready. I know that I can see myself through it.

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41 Replies to “How Focusing on Paying Off My Loans Helped Save Me”

  1. Very motivational! I love the Harry Potter comment…been there! haha

    1. Hahah HP was my lifeline! I would cry about book events and then cry about my life and then be like ‘ok so that was the morning…’ So thankful to be far from that place now.

  2. This is my favourite post you’ve written, Kara! It’s so great to read that you’re happy with where your life is now. Great job, girl.

    1. Oh, thank you! It’s been a journey that’s for sure. Thanks for your kind words along the way!

  3. Great work! Inspiring post 🙂

    1. Thank you! The last 10 months have been a journey and I’ve learned a lot about myself. Thanks for reading!

  4. It’s so cool to read this — thinking that I just went through a lot of this same stuff myself, except a full ten years after you did. By the time you’re in your 30s you’ll be totally killing it 😉 There is something really powerful about deciding that you are just not going to let The Man get you down. I’m so glad you’re so much happier with your life.

    1. Thank you so much! I appreciate it. It was hard and scary but I do feel stronger now. I think you’re kicking some butt these days too. Here’s to crushing the next decade.

  5. Great post. Well said. I’ve been there, too: the friend with no news. Just standing still. It’s so good that you got on top of those loans sooner rather than later. Bravo! Very inspiring, well-written piece.

    1. Thank you! It was a scary time but I am thankful to have gone through it

  6. Great story! I understand how helpless debt and paralysis can make one feel. I’ve been there too — just completely stuck and not sure what to do. The PF blogging community helped me, too!

    1. This community is a special place. I was so inspired and comforted by the many blogs I read!

  7. Thank you for sharing your touching story. Sounds like quite the about face. Keep building up that “liquid(ity) courage”. Well done!

    1. Thanks for reading! It was a tough journey but ultimately landed me in a good place. Fantastic pun by the way! 🙂

  8. Well done! It’s funny how one thing lead to another. You started keeping your eyes open for extra work, took on an extra part time job and it eventually became your full time job. Most people would have balked at the extra work. The real issue with being broke is the mindset. I’m not casting stones, I’ve been there too. When you feel like you are worthless and will never be successful, those things can be self-fulfilling prophecies. Kudos for taking back your life.

    1. Self-fulfilling prophecies can be very vicious circles. I was definitely in one for a few months and it was scary and hard. I found extra work to be a distraction from that and then when the extra money showed up I put it to work for me and it snowballed from there. It’s been an amazing journey!

  9. […] felt like I was drowning in my student loans last year. When I made the decision to get serious about them I turned to the internet to see if […]

  10. Congratulations on becoming debt free! I love how you started looking at your debt as a challenge instead of a burden. Living frugally and working on my financial goals is like a fun game or challenge to me! It keeps me motivated!

    1. Thank you! Once I switched my mindset from ‘burden’ to ‘challenge’ everything changed. I wanted to work more so I could earn more. I wanted to see where and how often I could save money. It was very ‘Don’t believe me? Just watch!”

  11. colormefrugal1 says: Reply

    Huge congrats on paying off your loans! I’ve also been in that spot where you’re so overly stressed and sad that it feels like you’re not going anywhere. Taking big action helped me, and it sounds like it helped you too! Very inspiring story.

    1. Thank you! Yes, I am a woman who needs to DO something when I am stressed. Making a plan and acting on it helped pull me out of my downward spiral.

  12. I 100% agree the personal finance community has been great with support and motivation, I’m happy you are close to your goal on student loans!

    1. I’m actually debt free already! I paid them off in June. 🙂 I couldn’t have done it without the support of our little blogosphere though!

  13. What a great story! Good for you! It goes to show you that with hard work and determination you can do almost anything you put your mind to!

    1. Thank you! There were tough times but I was committed to making it through and the other side feels so good!

  14. You touch on one of the best things that comes from making better finance decisions and that is the happiness that comes with just knowing your on track to a better place. Most non believers think you spend 30 or 40 years of sacrificing to then be happy. PF fans know that the happiness starts immediately when you are on track towards your goals.

    1. That’s exactly right! Taking a step towards what you want is so gratifying.

  15. […] hated my life last summer. I was unhappy with who I was and what I was doing. I honed in on my loans as a way to take back control of my life and pull myself out of my sad […]

  16. Wonderful, heartfelt post!
    HP continues to help me in my life too.

    In 2005, I had just gone through surgical menopause at 34, had a spinal injury and an abusive husband.

    I was $100,000 in consumer debt and drowning.

    I started small with getting my credit report, going to and making a spreadsheet.

    I went to the library and got every Suze Orman book available.

    Day by day, I got out, making many mistakes along the way.

    By 40, I was free of all of it.

    1. Wow, that’s an inspiring story! Good for you. I’m so glad you got out of debt and the abusive relationship. And you recovered from medical issues? Girl, you rocked it. Thanks for stopping by!

  17. Love the post! Currently going through this struggle. Trying to find the best way to pay off my loans and live a happy life!

    1. It’s a delicate balance for sure! Keep your eyes on the prize because paying it off was the best day of my life!

  18. Congratulations on being debt free! That’s is quite an accomplishment!

    1. Thank you! It really is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I feel lighter and happier now that it’s gone. Thanks for stopping by!

  19. Your story is very moving. I have felt many of the things you have experienced. Debt is debt regardless if it is Student Loans or revolving loans. I am much older than you, but I am traveling a similar path by that I mean educating myself about money and how it works. I too am taking big steps to resolve my debt. It is very positive. I do see the light at the end of the tunnel. Thank you for your inspiring story.

    1. Good for you! Yea, debt is debt no matter where it comes from. But it doesn’t have to be forever. Keep it up!

  20. […] I began to grab at a dream of mine last September when I decided to get out of debt. I was only partially employed and knew nothing about money or how to handle it. I saw that dream come true this past June. […]

  21. “Deciding to pay off my student loans gave me a clear and actionable plan. I knew that I needed to make more money, make bigger payments and stay dedicated to it. These were things I could take action on which helped me feel less paralyzed about my life. I could stop standing still and start moving forward. I had something to achieve and I had a way to do it.”

    Yes! Great post. I can relate to this. Killing debt gives me a sense of accomplishment and agency when I feel rudderless in other aspects of life.

    1. It literally brought me back from the darkest place I’ve ever experienced. I needed a plan and debt payoff was not only a plan, but something that each time I did, helped put me in a better overall position. Good luck with your debt payoff! Let me know when you reach $0!

  22. […] about people who want to hurt themselves because of their debt. My loans were a big part of the toughest time in my life. They can be a crushing source of […]

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