It’s January, and this is the first month of my adult life that I don’t owe anyone money. I’ve been paying off student loans for the past nine years, and I’ve never known what it’s like to not be in debt … until now.
In December, I made the last payment on my student loans. Though I’m debt-free now, I’m starting at ground zero. It’s a new beginning for me in many ways — a fresh start. A time to rebuild.

To get out of debt, I had to tap into my emergency fund. Currently, it sits at an uncomfortable level — an amount that would hardly help in a real emergency. I have approximately $600 in a Roth IRA … and that’s it.

I’m in my 30s, but my finances feel young and immature. I need to catch up with where I should be financially, and save for my future and personal goals.

This year, I have big plans to start over and finally have my money work for me. This year, I plan to:

  • Fully fund my emergency fund ($10,000)
  • Invest $20,000 in index funds and my Roth IRA

These goals are ambitious, to say the least, but I am hopeful and determined. Last year, I put $30,000 toward debt, so theoretically, I could put that same amount toward saving and investing.

There’s just one problem: I’m moving to a location with a higher cost of living.

While paying off debt, I’ve remained in Portland, Oregon, where my expenses are low. The catch? I’m not happy here. After four years of trying to be happy, it finally makes sense to move somewhere else now that I’m debt-free.

My partner and I will be moving to Los Angeles, where we are both from, and where our parents live. I expect our rent to double when we move.

It will be a challenge to pay double my rent and also save and invest $30,000. But there are ways that I plan to accomplish my goals:

Earn more — This year, I plan to earn more by targeting high-paying clients, asking for raises, and selling my stuff before the move. In addition, I plan to diversify my income streams even further.

Automated savings — I’m a huge fan of automation when it comes to your finances. As humans, we make a lot of excuses for why we don’t do things. I’m no different. I’ve found that paying myself first through automatic contributions is the best policy. I used to automatically save 10 percent of my income, but I plan to increase that to at least 25 percent and contribute more as I can.

Avoid lifestyle inflation — Even though I’m debt-free now, I plan on keeping the lifestyle I have, for the most part. I don’t plan on suddenly increasing my expenses (aside from rent).

I don’t have a car, a pet, cable, a gym membership, and I don’t buy clothes unless I have to — and I plan to keep it that way.

Although my goals are ambitious, and to be honest it feels a bit stressful, I’m ready to finally live life on my terms, and not in the shadow of debt.

I’m going to make my money work for me and use it as a tool to be happy and enjoy life, no longer being crushed by the burden of debt.