This week on the show we’re talking about my student loans. We’ll give you strategies to pay them off, but more importantly, we talk about how to find balance and not let those loans drive you crazy. And we’re also talking about what it’s like to get married when you’re financially out of balance, something that’s not talked about enough.

When I started to brainstorm how we should approach the student loan conversation, I asked Jordan what he thought the biggest issues were. His response?

“I don’t remember having any issues with your loans.”

Liar.

There was a lot of tension. There was a lot of avoiding the issue. And then there was a lot of having to talk things out. But we made it through unscathed and apparently it was so smooth that he doesn’t remember. So let this be hope to anyone out there: whatever your financial situation (loans, debt, treading water), you’ll get to the other side. And you may even forget what it’s like to go through it.

This podcast is not an “I paid off this much in this long” story. Because that’s not what I want someone to take away from this. Yes, I paid them off. But I want to talk about the lessons we learned along the way. There were some things we did really well and some things, frankly, were tough lessons. Especially in learning to handle such a financially imbalanced relationship.

We hope they may help give you some insight, ideas, and, most of all, hope that you will pay them off.

 

But first, a quick life planning update

In episode 1 we talked about how the three questions helped us define what we wanted in life:

  • Move to spend more time with family
  • Reduce our impact on the  environment
  • Start a business
  • Be healthy and active

We haven’t moved yet but that doesn’t mean we’re waiting on living our best life.

  • The grandparents are out here in the UK and we’re taking more time on the weekends to prioritize quality time with Henry and family, which is getting us out and adventuring locally. A dog with anxiety and separation issues and a 1-year old baby, there isn’t a lot of stuff we can do. Hence, we do lots of walks that end at cute english pubs. We have also been embracing the family dinner. Jazz goes on, apps are served, and we have those conversations that we can’t have over FaceTime.

  • Reducing our impact on the environment starts with baby steps. For us this means cutting out food waste. We’ve never been huge into cooking, but have found a love of it now as we focus on eating the best food possible. AND it’s had a huge impact on our budget. We’re buying more expensive food, which I wasn’t thrilled about (like our fish from the local fishmonger who gets it fresh every morning from the coast). But the total cost has gone down SIGNIFICANTLY. Plus, we actually feel creative. Our town makes us have a compost bin so we can measure our food waste. We have a bag of food waste a week, not too shabby. Our fridge is empty at the end of the week thanks to our food planning and Sunday food prep ritual. And, the best part is I get to channel my inner Barefoot Contessa.
  • Minimalism is a journey. We realize this more of each month as we get the urge to purge. What was sentimental last month, now goes straight out the door. Jordan has been selling stuff online to get it out of the house, make some money, and let someone else enjoy what we once loved. Goodbye Gilmore Girls 7 season box set.

 

And now, onto the student loan lessons.

Lesson #1: financial anxiety is real and it’s really unhelpful

85% of Americans suffer from financial anxiety. I was one of them (and let’s be honest, on a bad day I can still slip right back there). I was handling it until my debt started to impact Jordan’s finances.  

Lesson #2: it’s easier to add than to subtract

This is my mantra with anything in life. I first heard it as it related to food and dieting, but I think it’s a perfect example of money. In food, the concept is to fill your plate with more good things, so you don’t leave room for the bad. With money I look at it as we need to do more of the high value, low-cost activities then we won’t have time or interest in the expensive activities.

By doing this I was actually able to save. While I was paying off my loan I contributed to retirement and saved up a small emergency fund. I saved in an IRA that year because it’s a “use it or lose it” tax benefit.

Also, having small savings gave me a safety net that helped with my financial anxiety.

Lesson #3: being open and transparent is really hard

Jordan knew the extent of the debt, but I was always handling it. Cracks started to show once we realized our priorities were diverging. I remember he wanted to save for our future child’s college fund and I was sitting there with a pit in my stomach because all I could think of was the mountain of debt that I still had to get through.

Things came to a head when Jordan was offered a transfer to London. It was too great of an opportunity to pass up but this meant my salary was going away.

This was the kick in my pants to refinance my student loans. I break down refinancing student loans here – Should you refinance your student loans? and Everything You Need to Know About Student Loan Refinancing

Lesson #4: you can only cut back so much. Sometimes you have to make more.

It was a struggle to get a job in London. Most marketing companies wanted to pay me half as much as I made in the US. Half! Negotiating enabled me to make more, and pay off a big chunk of my debt.

Lesson #5: good debt can still keep you stuck

I wanted to quit my new London job but we were so close to paying it off. Jordan and I were not agreeing on when to quit as he was antsy to pay off the debt. I ended up having a panic attack, as one does.

I had $12k left. I was so close to having it all paid off.

Lesson #6: good habits are hard to break

People will ask what it’s like to make that last payment. Anti-climatic. Our spending didn’t change at all. While paying off the debt we focused on filling our life up with things we love and value that didn’t cost a lot. Our habits continued after the debt was gone.

 

In summary…

Terrible decisions:

  • Treated student loan debt like it was monopoly money while in grad school
  • Not clueing Jordan in earlier on how I was managing paying it off
  • Not getting on the same page with goals and vision – we should’ve done the 3 questions to determine why we were saving so we could assess the values and trade-offs of paying off the debt

Great decisions:

  • Negotiating like a boss for my signing bonus
  • Making micro-payments on the principle to give my minimum monthly payment a boost
  • Refinancing to a lower interest rate and shorter payoff term, better late than never
  • The biggest impact – getting a healthy mindset and having the right mindset around learning how to love my life, without a lot of money

 

Thank you for listening! Stay tuned for more updates on our journey from someday living our best life to living our best life now, in our mid-thirties. It’s never too late to start.

We would love your feedback as we share our journey. Write us a review on iTunes or your preferred podcast player. We read every review, promise. You can also email us questions and comments at erica@theworthproject.co or jordan@theworthproject.co. Thanks again for listening and talk to you next week!

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