After Years of Stress and Depression, I Finally Paid Off $68,000 in School Debt
Melanie was determined not to let her student loan debt define her future.
“Yes, I’ll come over at 9 a.m.,” I said. “See you then.”
The next morning, I went to clean the house of an unemployed Wall Street banker who would read the paper as I worked. I found him on Craigslist one day when I was living in New York and absolutely desperate for money.
I was making barely enough to pay my bills, let alone to put anything toward my $68,000 in student loan debt from my newly minted master’s degree from NYU.
Needless to say, I needed money now, and he paid in cash. The first time was fine. “I can do this,” I thought. “It’s not so bad.”
But the second time, he criticized me for missing a spot and for the way I did things. The way he said it felt so humiliating. I tried holding back my tears, but they escaped, running down my face as I muttered, “I can’t. I need to go.”
I left without being paid. I felt as if my life had been thrown off-kilter after graduation. I was stressed and depressed. My student loans felt all-consuming — and I didn’t have much work to get by on.
Once I came to terms with my situation, I resolved to get rid of my student loans. This was not the life I had envisioned for myself, and I was determined to get back on my feet.
I was sick and tired of feeling bullied by my debt and hearing the constant horror stories about student loans. I didn’t want to be another story, another statistic.
But all my friends fell in one of two camps: Their parents paid for college; or they took out massive student loans.
I didn’t really know anyone who had paid off their loans. At the time, being free of student loans seemed insane and unbelievable.
But once I divorced myself from the common rhetoric: “I’ll be in debt forever,” or “things will never change” or “we’re all F*!C$#!,” I started fighting for my student-loan freedom.
Over the following years, there were more low times, followed by better times. I made drastic moves and relocated across the country to save on rent.
I started working every single weekend doing any gig I could take — including selling water at a rave once, which was interesting. There were times that I felt exhausted or embarrassed by the side hustles and debt fatigue set in, but I remembered my “why” — I wanted to be debt free to travel and freely experience life.
During the leaner months, I’d put $800 to $1,000 per month toward my loans. Over the past year, I’ve more than doubled my income and paid back between $2,000 and $4,000 per month — an insane amount.
Throughout the years, I’ve consistently put 50 percent of my after-tax income toward debt.
During the four years after I left Mr. Wall Street’s house, I worked my tail off. I was focused on one goal at the expense of all the others: being debt-free.
And right before Christmas 2015, I gave myself the best gift ever. I submitted my last student loan payment.
I logged into my account and saw the balance at zero — I was speechless. My breath quickened, tears welled up.
I should have been excited, but in that moment, I was just so relieved. The past four years of working nonstop had finally paid off.
“You did it!” my boyfriend said.
Everything I’d been through brought me to this moment. After sitting there in disbelief, I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders.
I breathed more easily and didn’t feel so tense. I let out an “it’s over” sigh and then I decided to properly scream and jump up and down.
“I’m finally free!” I thought.
Now I get to explore life debt-free, and every cent I earn belongs to me (or the tax man). I plan on traveling more, worrying less, and saving up for my future, not paying for my past.