I started my graduate program in 2011 and managed to juggle home, school. full time work, classes and an internship for 3 semesters then hit the financial wall. I could not afford the out of pocket tuition and my credit was too poor to obtain a graduate plus loan. I was stuck! Trapped in a good paying but but soul sucking job where the political antics of the organization not only prevented me from moving ahead but then began to turn on me when it became too difficult to block my career. I was stifled under the glass ceiling where the perimeter was closing in on me.
In the time I left my graduate program and became more and more frustrated with having wound up in a job and not a career I began to look at my options. I am a single parent with no friends or family to borrow from, supporting my son on my own. I had to make some changes, I had to find my path to freedom. I found Credit Karma and Credit Sesame, both free credit monitoring resources and read everything I could on resolving debt and strategies to build credit. I asked friends to look over my budget and found I was paying nearly as much in student loans as I was for rent causing a continual short fall. I found a reputable organization who helped me consolidate my loans. Not only did the loans from Community College, Undergraduate, and my partially complete Graduate program become consolidated but I was enrolled in an income based repayment plan as well as a loan forgiveness program. I have always commented that I essentially owe the equivalent of a home mortgage in student loans only I live in the house of knowledge. Now there was a manageable payment with an end in sight. I no longer had a forever loan, I had a 10 year loan. I did not have to suffer because I chose a less lucrative career path. Helping people has always been my passion.
During my three year break, the consolidation of my loans helped me to free up some funds to begin paying off debts I had in collections. One by one I made a settlement and made a point to pay in full the last three debts which boosted my credit score immensely. I cleared up all my debt and was able to obtain a credit card. This was a slippery slope for me. This was what had gotten me into debt before. I needed to be very strict with myself in the use of this financial tool. I made sure to charge only what could be paid in a three month window. I also learned to seriously learn to differentiate between needs and wants. While I cut my hair in the bathroom for a year, used coupons, learned and enrolled in all the store rewards programs and made every penny I pinched scream, I needed to recognize where my extraneous spending occurred. This is not to say I did not have an occasional temper tantrum for a blouse I wanted, deserved, and "needed." What was different now was that I understood I emotionally needed the retail therapy and an occasional splurge was okay as long as I could stick to my rule of having it paid within two to three months.
Differentiating between needs and wants was very difficult. I did not need the $3.00 cup of coffee from Dunkin Donuts when I could get a cup at work for $0.50. Not nearly as decadent but at the end of the week with more funds available, much more rewarding and filled the need.
I dusted off some of the old lessons from my grandmother who lived through the depression. My grandmother was a whiz when it came to magically turning leftover meals into an entirely new meal. I recall setting the table for her and when the meal was concluded, if the napkins were not dirty, they were placed back in the pile and reused. We live in a society of quick and disposable but this costs more money. One sponge versus a can of disinfectant wipes can be a big difference in a budget. As a society we waste too much food, too much disposable bi product and way too much energy on making everything quick and disposable essentially creating more waste and cost.
As someone once told me..."Heidi, you can pinch a penny until it screams!" What I learned was if you are pinching your pennies you cannot spend what you have saved but need to be calculated and reserved. Extreme deprivation doesn't work nor does extreme indulgence but just like a healthy diet there is a balance between the two. I found this balance by seriously taking a look at my goals. I needed to finish graduate school to have a career that would be fulfilling and earning potential. I am 45 years old today and close to reaching my goal. I now qualify for graduate plus loans and use credit responsibly. I also check my credit scores weekly and stay on top of where my credit score is at. Even life after graduate school is planned and guided by managing debt. Not only am I passionate about helping our Veterans but a job with the Veterans Administration in dire need of social workers will keep me eligible for loan forgiveness. Never mind the five year plan, this is my 10 year plan. Without that debt I expect to be able to retire early and open my own therapy practice when the malpractice insurance will be less with the years of experience under my belt and I will have a pension to draw from at retirement age from two places of work. As my son comes close to graduating high school and I graduate from my graduate studies I wanted to be sure that I have financially made plans for my elderly years and not only did not serve as a burden to my son but had something in reserve that might just help him put a down payment on a house or reign in his budget.
I am so excited to see financial responsibility and planning more prominent and much earlier in life. In the generation of my parents the key was having a good life insurance policy and Social Security would take care of all else. This is not true for our elders now and it will be less true for us in the future. Contingency planning is important for so many areas of our life...create your goals, keep at them, make many contingency plans and never give up! Tenacity and persistence do pay off despite the frustration, heartaches and tears along the way. Be patient, plan your goals, and keep the faith that you will get there. I have always said "slow and steady wins the race" and the tortoise would agree.