My Biggest Money Regret: Student Loans

As my mother’s oldest child and my grandparent’s oldest granddaughter, I was going to be a first to go to college.

Before me, my grandmother had been the only formally educated one and she was my motivation. She grew up during the times of segregation and was the only one of her siblings to finish high school and went on to become a nurse. She had such a huge impact on her community and I knew I wanted to to do the same.

I went back and forth between wanting to become a doctor, dentist, and even a marine biologist (science is my jam) and I knew college was the way to get there.

No one in my family really applied the pressure for me to go to college, it’s just what I thought I had to do so I assumed the responsibility. But from early as my sophomore year in high school, everyone had an interest.

Everyone had an interest but no one could truly afford to pay for college so student loans were thought to be my only ticket at the time. You know, that “good debt”.

I remember going to speak with my guidance counselor about my college picks. I was eyeing a few in-state schools but I had my heart set on Hampton University, a private historically black school in Hampton, VA. I applied for and earned a few local scholarships but only enough to pay for a couple of books. I really had no way of paying for college but I got accepted and knowing my family had no way of helping me pay for the tuition, I took out student loans…the maximum amount.

That was the beginning of the financial damage I would do to my future self.

My first semester at Hampton was everything I had seen on a show called A Different World and more! I was making new friends, learning from professors that looked like me, getting good grades, and embracing my newfound independence and that included getting my first credit card. Although student loans had covered most of my living expenses, my mom would deposit money into my bank account every time she got paid for miscellaneous stuff.

But after one semester my 18 year old life changed abruptly. My step father left and my family’s structure and financial landscape changed dramatically. So I went back home to Annapolis to live with my mom and little brother to help my mom pick up the pieces.

Being back home when I felt like I should be in college like my friends was a tough pill to swallow. I felt cheated. But I needed to get a job to help out and carry my own weight.

I got a job at The Home Depot and financed my first car, with the help of my grandmother who co-signed on the loan. Now that I was out of school student loan payments came due but didn’t fit in the budget I didn’t have. So I would apply for forbearance to avoid making monthly payments and kept doing it. To be honest I’d get the outstanding interest statements but would only focus in on the part that said “THIS IS NOT A BILL”.

I worked for about 2 years before I had enough. By this time I was working full time as a receptionist at dental office. I worked for the best dentist who understood my desire to go back to school, taught me most of what I know about dentistry, and supported my decision to apply to Bowie State University and drop to working part time at the office.

I was accepted and determined to finish my degree. My financial situation hadn’t changed so I took out loans…again…and maxed them out again. Using the refund check from the “surplus” on unnecessary shit.

I took out student loans semester after semester, taking the max out each time.

I graduated from Bowie State with a BS in Biology and a Minor in Chemistry. I was proud of myself but still I felt like I needed to play catch up to my friends who graduated a few years before. So I immediately applied to grad school at Johns Hopkins and took out the max amount allowed to receive another refund check.

I moved into my own apartment, financed another car, and spent money on a guy I shouldn’t have been dating with money that didn’t belong to me. It gets worse. While in grad school, my grandparents passed away, I ended up losing my job, my car almost got repossessed, and there was one month I actually faced eviction!

Despite all of that, I cash-flowed my last semester at Hopkins (only because I wasn’t taking enough credits to quality for student loans) and graduated with a MS in Biotechnology.

After a few more piss poor money decisions after that, I started my #debtfreejourney.

Today I owe $134.1k in student loans, those loans accrue $25.15 in interest EVERYDAY, I’ve completely exhausted the option for forbearance, and I’m currently enrolled in the Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program without any guarantee that the program will continue to be around or that my loans will actually be forgiven.

I look at my degrees and it brings me to tears sometimes knowing that I’m still paying for them…long past the celebrations. I don’t regret my education but I do regret borrowing my future to achieve them. I graduated years ago. The debt lingers and the feeling of achievement is long gone.

This is why student loans are my biggest money regret and I will continue to share my journey to deter others from going down the same path.

5 Time and Money Saving Meal Prep Tips

“A Sunday well spend, brings a week of content.” – Unknown

Every Sunday I take a few hours to meal prep enough meals to last me until Friday. This helps to save both money and my waistline. However, when I first started meal prepping, it would take me FOREVER. The day would go by so fast and I’d be so tired by the end of the day from being in the kitchen all day.

Over time and with practices, I’ve found that a little planning ahead goes a long way. Here are 5 tips to help you save time and money on meal prep:

#1 Plan Ahead

Whether it’s a month or a week ahead, start getting ideas together for what kind of meals you and/or your family would want. Thinking of favorite foods, flavors, and recipes is always a good place to start. Don’t forget to keep in mind allergies or your nutritional goals too!

#2 Take Inventory

Take inventory of your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Sometimes you can create a meal using what you already have. Either way, knowing what you already have on hand reduces the likelihood that you’ll buy something you already have. And who hasn’t done that before?!

#3 Make a List

Now that you know what you have, make a list of what you need. A list gives you a plan of attack at the grocery store, reducing your time there and the chance of buying on impulse, and will hopefully help you stay within budget.

#4 Keep It Simple

To save money on your groceries and time in the kitchen,  keep recipes and ingredients as simple as possible. Prep, cook time, and costs usually increase with the complexity of the recipe.

#5 Multi-Task

One-pot, one-skillet, and one-pan meals are great when it comes to saving time. When using your oven, consider foods that can be cooked at the same temperature and/or at staggered times. Also, don’t forget your microwave! It’s a great way to steam vegetables while you’re busy cooking other things.

Bonus Tips:

  • Glass containers, like the ones I use from PrepNaturals, makes everything look and taste better! Although more expensive than plastic, glass containers are more environmentally-friendly and eliminate plastic leaching into your food and body!
  • Don’t think you can eat the same thing all week long? Try meal prep every 2-3 days or use a base and create multiple meals around it. For example: chicken tacos, chicken salad, chicken pad thai, or chicken, rice, and veggies.
  • If you’re still struggling with time, consider using short cuts like pre-chopped vegetables, salad mixes, or pre-cooked meats. Although more expensive, these short cuts can save you time in the kitchen.

My Review of the Becta Design Cash Envelopes

This post contains affiliate links.

For some people, spending cash is harder to do than using a debit/credit card. I’m definitely one of those people so I budget cash to use for categories that I tend to overspend in or want to control such as eating out, gas, groceries, and clothes.

Usually, I would just keep my cash organized with gold paper clips (because I’m fancy) and post its because then the cash could still fit in my everyday wallet. I needed something that didn’t require a special kind of wallet or binder. However, when I was contacted about trying the Becta Design Cash Envelopes and after looking into them a little more, my interest was piqued and I thought maybe it was time to give cash envelopes a chance.

They arrived pretty quickly and I was first surprised at receiving TWELVE adorable cash envelopes with fun designs like mountains, pineapples, clouds, hearts, and even llamas. Most of the cash envelopes I’ve seen for sale are sold in sets of 5 or 6.

The envelopes are made from a plastic that’s pretty durable, resistant to tear, are waterproof…oh and they SNAP closed! Plus, because they are made from plastic, they can be hole punched to fit any cash envelope wallet or organizer, without apart or your cash falling out.

Each cash envelope came with a double-sided budget sheet to keep track of your transactions and running balances for each category and a label to stick on the outside of the envelope to identify the budget category.

They were easy to use and are the perfect size (6.5 inches x 3.3 inches) to store cash and receipts. I was very pleased when I realized I could actually fit a few in my wallet at one time without it being hard to close or becoming bulky.

But what I really liked about these cash envelopes, and what I think makes them even more unique, was that inside each cash envelope was a coordinating coin pouch…a COIN POUCH! A coin pouch that also snapped closed to keep all the coins safe!

Before I would just place all of the change I received in the zippered part of my wallet, but the coin pouch made it easy to keep the coins for each category together so I have exactly what my budget sheet for the envelope says.

I love them and recommend them if you’ve been wanting to try cash envelopes or are looking for a more heavy duty option.

Because I loved them so much Becta Design is offering a 20% off discount to my friends in the Debt Free Community! So if you want to give the Becta Cash Envelopes a try, just use promo code DFCGET20 to save 20%!

This is not an ad or a sponsored post. This review reflects my personal experience and genuine opinion of the Becta Design Cash Envelopes.

Why No Spend Days Should Be A Part Of Your Financial Goals + a Freebie!

It’s a new year and that means we have the opportunity to set the vision for how we want the year to go and make the plan to bring that vision to fruition. If you’ve made the decision to take control of your finances, then you’ve certainly set some financial goals for the year. Whether your goal is to save money, pay off debt, or purchase something you’ve been wanting without going into debt for it, no spend days are a great tool to help you achieve those goals!

Here’s why no spend days should be a part of your financial goals and some tips on how to have no spend day success!

What are No Spend Days?

Simply put, no spend days are days in which you don’t spend money but particularly money on things that aren’t necessary or urgent. No spend days challenge you to be more conscious of why you spend money, what you spend your money on, and to evaluate whether spending money on that particular thing is actually necessary. As a result of this awareness, you’re less likely to spend money, keeping more of it in your pocket!

However, there should be exceptions to no spend days such as the paying of bills, emergencies, gas and other transportation-related expenses, child care and healthcare costs…you know the things that when they come up, you have no choice but to spend money.

What are the benefits of having No Spend Days?

If saving money isn’t a big enough deal, here are a few other benefits to no spend days:

  • No spend days can help to identify your spending triggers. Are you more likely to spend money on unnecessary things after having a bad day at work or when that one friend calls and invites you to happy hour or even from an encounter with your mother? Okay maybe that last one is all about me but you get the idea.
  • No spend days can help you identify your spending habits too! Do you know whether you’re less inclined to spend during the work week but get the urge to spend money on the weekends when there’s less structure to your day?
  • No spend days also promote an increased awareness of needs versus wants. No spend day challenges make you ask yourself whether the thing you want to purchase is needed at that very moment or whether you can get the same or a better result if you delay or abandon the purchase all together.

How can I be successful at No Spend Days?

  • Set a SMART goal. The first step to ensuring your success, like with anything else, is to set a SMART goal. SMART goals are specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time related. So using this criteria, your no spend goal would be something like “I will complete 15 no spend days during the month of February.” But before you set your no-spend goal be sure to look at the month ahead and be practical about what you can actually do given the obligations you already have or can anticipate having.
  • Be proactive. If you have the tendency to stop for take out on the way home, try to meal prep ahead of time or have what you need on hand to whip up something in 30 minutes or less once you get home.
  • Keep it real. We can spend money on something unnecessary that we’ve budgeted for and then justify the spending because it’s “in the budget.” But ultimately no spend days can only work if you’re honest with yourself and hold yourself accountable to achieving your goal.

If you’re ready to give No Spend Days a try download my free No Spend Tracker!

Dear Debt Free Me | I Had a Moment

December 30, 2019

Dear Debt Free Me,

Well it’s been exactly a month since I last wrote you. Things are going well. Okay…well there was this little incident on Friday.

I had a total moment. This shit is SO hard. I have so much that I need and want to do and I can’t find the time to do it. I seem to be out of the house more and more these days and when I do get some down time, I’m trying to cram all this stuff into it. I don’t know exactly what triggered the moment but my anxiety was so high that I cried…at the bank. At that moment, everything and everyone annoyed me. I felt like I was going to burst like Michael Douglas did in that one movie he was stuck in traffic. I just wanted to be left alone. I didn’t shut down and shut out the world though…trust me, I wanted to. But instead I turned to our friends in the Debt Free Community on Instagram about how I was feeling. It was probably one of my rawest moments on social media but what I was feeling was real. Also, I probably looked as bad as I felt but that doesn’t matter. The amount of love and encouragement I received was overwhelming. More than likely I’m burnt out. I ended up taking a lot of the advice I received from the community and took some time out for myself that weekend. I haven’t scheduled a spa day or getaway yet, but I did spend some time relaxing, catching up on a few things, thinking about what I need to do in order to take care of myself moving forward, and looking for freelance work to do from home. Adjustments are coming in 2020.

-Nika

5 Tips for Selling on Facebook Marketplace

My first experience with Facebook Marketplace came in September when, after much of my urging to purge, the boyfriend allowed me to list a few of his FunkoPOPs he was going to trash. Out of the 3 I listed, I received some inquires that never lead anywhere for one of the items and was able to sell another for $15 within just a few days of listing. It was so exhilarating so I knew I would eventually go back to list more items…and I did!

As part of a challenge to increase my income in November, I went around the house looking for items to sell. I set a small goal of listing just 5 items to start and made a total of $140 by selling my Series 3 Apple Watch and a tote bag from Target that I NEVER used.

Just recently, I made $21 from selling a pair of boots (that I listed in November), another tote bag, and a jewelry display. These sales won’t pay the mortgage but it does feel good letting go of things that I no longer need and getting some extra cash to throw towards my debt in the process.

However, like anything where humans are involved, patience is essential and success on platforms like Facebook Marketplace can be hit are miss.

Here are a few things I’ve learned that can help to close the sale and turn your clutter into coins:

Provide As Many Details About the Item You Can

You ever bought something based on the description only to receive it and it’s nothing like what was described?! While Facebook Marketplace is great for both new and used items, it’s important to include as much detail about the item listed as possible. Information such as when and where the item was purchased, the price paid for or the value of the item, the manufacturer or brand name, and the dimensions where necessary can be helpful to the buyer. For new items, include whether the items still has tags or was never been opened, and for old/used items, be sure to mention whether there are any blemishes or areas of wear.

Post a Variety of Quality Photos

Every picture tells a story and you want the photos you take of your items to tell the best story. The light in which you take your photos matters. When possible, photograph your items in natural light. However, if you find yourself taking pictures at night, use the flash and/or filters on your phone’s camera. Also, shoot your item(s) at various angles, including the soles of shoes and even inside of bags or purses. Much like with the description, being transparent and photographing the packaging, tags, blemishes and any areas of wear on your item, can go a long way with potential buyers.

Set Guidelines That Work for You

As much as you may want to sell an item, someone wants to buy it so use that to your benefit. Set and maintain guidelines regarding communication, bargaining, whether the item is available for shipping, the method of payment you prefer, and even how far you’re willing to drive to sell the item. If you are willing to meet the buyer in person, try to arrange selling in an area you plan to be or that you’ll pass as you run errands, to save time and gas.

Do Some Digging

Unless you’re friends with the potential buyer, you’re not likely to see very many details about them. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t obtain enough information to where you feel comfortable to proceed with the transaction. When possible, search through their profile, paying particular attention to profile photos, any information regarding a location, place of work, and even family ties. I’ve also conducted a Google search to cross reference the name/photos found on Facebook because, I’d be a liar if I said I never worried whether it was real person on the other end of the chat.

Put Your Safety First

This should go without saying but your safety comes first. After you’ve done your best to confirm that the profile is legit, arrange to meet only in public places you’re most familiar with and at a time of day you’re most comfortable with. You can also bring a friend along if you’d feel safer not being alone. No matter what, trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right don’t do it.

Lastly, do your best to be patient. There are thousands of listings on Facebook Marketplace so it may take some time for your listing to come across the right buyer.

Do you have any tips for selling on Facebook Marketplace? If so, share them in the comments!

Happy Selling! 🤑

Dear Debt Free Me

November 30, 2019

Dear Debt Free Me,

I started a blog and officially launched it today! It’s called The Debt Free Gonnabe Blog! 

I’ve been wanting to start one for a while but of course I was in my head and my nerves got the best of me. But here I am! It’ll serve as a place to continue conversations from the DebtFreeGonnaBe Instagram page I started to document my journey to becoming you. It’s part of a community called the Debt Free Community or affectionately known as the DFC. You’d love it! It’s full of people like myself on journeys to change their family tree by becoming debt free and some to even retire early! Crazy right?! I’ve gained a lot of friends along the way who are rooting for…well…US! They celebrate with me when I accomplish a goal or come into some good news and they encourage me to keep going when I experience a set back. And trust me, I’ve had my share of setbacks since I finally got serious about wanting the best for you. But I haven’t given up. I won’t give up! Because I know you’re counting on me. Wait…is someone chopping onions?! My eyes are tearing up.

It’s been a lot of hard work! I’m now on my second side hustle, working at a boutique cycling studio. This sometimes means days of waking up suuuuuuper early to be in at 5:30a for a few hours before going to the full-time job (which I hate a little less now but still want to quit every day) or going in the late afternoon until the studio closes, after putting in a full day in the office. I’m tired but I will finish this fight. 

I hope I make you proud!

Nika

How Being in Debt Led to My Depression

Money and especially debt aren’t usually topics that are easily brought up among families, yet alone with strangers. Those of us riddled with debt can get into the habit of comparing ourselves to others and/or are reluctant to ask for help or share our financial situation with others, for fear of judgement. As a result, we end up keeping it to ourselves and suffer alone in silence.

That’s exactly what happened to me.

I’ve been in debt for most of my adult life and since I can remember, I’ve always thought that I would never be able to pay it off. So I did what broke people did: I paid minimum payments, never truly getting anywhere. When I did make significant progress on any given debt, I’d just rack up some more debt taking trips and buying things I couldn’t afford. It seemed I went from one financial crisis to another and the stress of it all began to take a toll.

It’s important to keep in mind that depression looks different and progresses differently in everyone. It’s not always sadness and thoughts of suicide because for a long time, I carried on with a smile like everything was okay…until I couldn’t.

I Was In Crisis

I slowly began to withdraw from the outside world, even from those closest to me. I’d avoid calls and decline invitations to get together because I didn’t want the look on my face to trigger the series of questions about how I was actually doing. However, the more time that went by with no significant progress, the worse I got. This financial burden on top of increasing lack of job fulfillment created a vortex of stress and negative thoughts. My 6-figure debt felt like it weighed and ton and it was crippling.

I would wake up later and later. Just getting out of bed became harder on days I was scheduled to be on-site for work. Sometimes, because of the weight of it all, I would just call out sick (and putting my job at risk), spending days on the couch mindlessly watching Netflix and drifting in and out of sleep. Some days, I wouldn’t even eat until two o’clock in the afternoon. I would even go to great lengths to hide all of this from my boyfriend which added another layer of stress. With all of this stress, I even missed a period for 2 months straight.

How I Got Help

Breaking through my depression wasn’t easy and it wasn’t because of any one thing but it did require vulnerability and transparency. It took letting in those closest to me (no seriously, one of my friends just showed up at my house and insisted I let them in the door) and through tears telling them about my struggle. It took doing just one thing each day that I hadn’t done the day before. Basic things like getting out of bed and making breakfast so that I ate before 2p, showering even if it mean just putting my pjs back on, tidying up an area of the house, etc. I could only take it one moment at a time but eventually I developed a more positive pattern.

I went back to see my therapist who I hadn’t seen in several months. In speaking with him transparently about my debt, I learned about some of the things that can trigger my depression like work, my relationship with my parents, and believe it or not…social media. He also gave me tools to help navigate those triggers and we worked on positive beliefs to help combat my negative thoughts or life events.

I also turned to the Debt Free Community on Instagram where I wasn’t alone, beared witness to people who worked through various amounts of debt, and where I felt safe to share my own struggles with money. And yes, I finally had that crucial conversation with my boyfriend, who was way more supportive about my debt free journey than I imagined.

I’m not cured from my depression. I don’t believe it ever truly goes away. But with the help of my therapist and my support system, I’m better at managing it.

You Are Not Alone, Help Is Available

If you or someone you know may be having difficulty coping with debt or other financial hardships, help is available. Here’s a list of some resources that may be able to help:

These are just suggestions and should not take the place of seeking help from a licensed financial and/or healthcare professional.

Take it one day at a time. 💜