This month marks the first time in four years that I haven’t had to make a student loan payment.
I’ve had my student loans hanging over my head since I first decided to go to college. I was 18 and there was no way I could go to my first choice college without taking out some loans. I did receive a scholarship and I also worked a campus job during all four years at college. I actually worked three jobs my senior year! I guess I’ve always had a thing for working multiple jobs. Yet my loans were always there, always a part of my burgeoning adult identity.
Knowing that I was taking out loans from day one always bothered me. I knew I wanted to major in a field like film or art (English majors holler!) and thus was looking at a low paying future forever. I would never make $100,000 annually! I also come from a low income background and saw how hard it was at times for my mother to make ends meet. Money always seemed like a burden more so than a tool.
After I graduated of course, the loans finally kicked in. I spent my first year post-college at home waiting tables. Again, not a high income field! I was good about paying more than my minimum payments while I lived at home. I wanted to make some headway while I was living rent free. I knew that the more I could shovel towards my loans the better off I would be. I just didn’t have any more nuance or understanding of my loans beyond that.
Gradually I got more savvy about how to pay back my debt and became a convert to living frugally. However frugally I lived or however smart I was about my debt payoff strategy though, the fact remained that I had debt. I was shackled to my lenders. Those monthly payments were 100% mandatory.
This month is the first time I don’t have that mandatory payment. I am in the clear. And it feels AMAZING.
I feel so much more at ease. I feel so much more comfortable in my life. I know that all my money is going to stay my money. I feel like I have a little golden light inside of me, shining over everything that I do and no one can take it away.
It’s a sense of freedom. I am a totally different person than I was even one month ago. I have more money yes, but I also have more time, more flexibility and am happier. It’s the first time I haven’t lost money to interest. It’s the first time that I can keep every single penny that I earn.
Not having to push myself seven days a week and not having to constantly figure out where I can scrap together some extra cash for a debt payment has given me back some of my time. Going out to get a drink with friends is a possibility now. If a random charge comes up, I’m not forced to choose between debt and the payment. If I want to take a weekend off work and go away, I can. I am now in charge of my life instead of my debt.
While I definitely still have a very long way to go to being financially independent, setting myself free from debt was a huge first step. I feel more complete as a person. I feel lighter. I feel happier. Most importantly, I feel excited for what comes next.
Kara Perez is the original founder of From Frugal To Free. She is a money expert, speaker and founder of Bravely Go, a feminist financial education company. Her work has been featured on NPR, Business Insider, Forbes, and Elite Daily.