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How Changing My Mindset Helped Me Save $20K

Where are you from? Florida
Where do you live now? Brooklyn, NY
What do you do for work? I lead operations at a tech startup.
Do you have any side hustles? No, but it is something I want to explore this coming year.
Salary (if comfortable sharing): A little under six figures.
How much student debt are you tackling (or have tackled)? I am tackling $125K of student debt.
How did you start your early career? I am a social worker and started in community organizing, and moved onto social work. My background is in the non-profit social services field. Last year, I transitioned to the tech start-up space.

Can you tell us a little about your student debt story?

I went to undergrad in Florida, and thankfully I got a full ride, so I didn’t have to pay out of pocket or take out loans. I also had additional scholarships and work study, so I’m really grateful that I didn’t have to go into debt. And because I had grants and scholarships, I had money left over. After graduating college, I lived abroad for a year and worked in Guatemala.

Because I didn’t graduate undergrad with student debt, I was willing to making an investment for grad school. I did my research and found that it wasn’t as easy to find grants, scholarships or funding to cover grad school. This didn’t discourage me, and at the end I was awarded work-study for grad school and a partial scholarship that covered about a third of my tuition.

However, NYC is not cheap. So I not only had to take out student loans for my tuition but also for my cost of living. The work-study was $10 an hour and I could only work a max of 20 hours a week, it was not sufficient. And even though it was only two years, I went to a private university (Columbia), which was different than the path I took for undergrad. But I felt like I really really loved the program I wanted to pursue. I saw it as, “I’m coming to this next chapter of education, without debt, I can do this because I’m in a neutral financial situation.” I think I went to it very optimistically, “I’m going to invest in myself and it’s fine, it will be okay." And now after graduating six-ish years ago, it feels way heavier now. I don’t think I anticipated what debt hanging over your head would feel. Yes, I’m figuring it out, but that constant thought in the back of your head is something I don’t think I fully anticipated or understand and part of that is because I didn’t have that experience during undergrad.

Looking back, I wish I had a better understanding of what repayment would look like, and also a plan for how to attack my debt.

What are some of the strategies you implemented to pay off your debt?

Besides paying off my debt, in general, I am trying to expand my financial education and financial literacy. Learning about investing, debt planning, or even doing a budget. Even credit cards, like building credit and how to make rewards and points work for you. Expanding my financial literacy really helped me get to a point where I felt more confident to then become more serious towards tackling my student debt. Before that, I felt so overwhelmed, so I was doing the bare minimum or whatever I thought I was supposed to do and not really understanding where that repayment of debt fit in the bigger picture.

In this last year, I’ve invested and saved $20K, and I’ve never done that. I have more than $10K in my Roth IRA and have more than $10K in my emergency fund. Being in a more stable situation was a huge goal that I was able to achieve! Taking a step back and looking at my debt holistically, has given me the confidence to become more financially savvy.

I will say that it has been a journey and not one specific strategy. I’m really grateful for budgeting, finding the Snowball community, and being more open with my friends and family and partner about money. (You can join our community here.) Having conversations and sharing knowledge has made me feel more comfortable around debt and money. I feel like I am not alone in this student debt journey.

What was your financial situation growing up?

My parents had credit cards when I was younger, but I distinctly remember a point when I was old enough to know what a credit card was and hearing from them “no more credit cards”. I’m assuming they got into debt and paid it all off. Hearing that, gave me the impression that credit cards were evil, and you can get caught up with them.

I grew up low/middle income. I had a stable upbringing. I felt like my parents were pretty responsible so if they’re saying no credit cards, why would I do that. I always saw credit cards as a vehicle to live above your means, but now I really see it in a completely different way. I can do groceries that I’m going to do anyway, and now I’m going to get 6% cash back. Why wouldn’t I do that? And all the protections that they give you. I’m trying to diversify my credit cards so I can have a credit card that offers rewards for my every day expenses like groceries, internet, etc.

What are some money habits you’ve adopted this year?

I’m naturally a planner. I feel more confident when I have a plan of action. I have a monthly budget- thank you Snowball.*(You can get your own free budget template here.)*I even look at my budget weekly, and maybe that’s doing too much, but for me it makes me feel more on top of it. Before budgeting, I felt so overwhelmed that I wasn’t cognizant of what was going on in my accounts, I was just swiping my debit card. I feel like having a budget-whether weekly or monthly has kept me on track. I don’t just plan what I’m spending, but also planning my transfers to my savings and Roth account. Having these tasks and being able to meet them gives me a bigger sense of accomplishment.

My money mindset has really changed. I definitely had a scarcity mindset. I would partially blame that in the nonprofit world since that is a pervasive thing. Always feeling like there’s not enough, always feeling on edge about money. Learning about entrepreneurship helped transition my mindset from scarcity to abundance. In this space everyone is willing to share opportunities, resources and strategies. Being immersed in that has been really helpful to me. I would also say that I have a more future oriented mindset. The start of my career I didn’t have 401K’s, I didn’t think about it. I feel a little behind in that regard, that’s why I was so aggressive last year. I am more more future oriented and can identify everything I’m doing now as something that will benefit me in the future.

How can others shift their money mindset?

I encourage people to look for two things. One, find a community such as Snowball, or your family or friends. Start having conversations about money, it’s going to be uncomfortable first. But balance between what you feel comfortable and push yourself. As women of color, we don’t talk about it enough, so we don’t know how we can support each other, or whether or not we are on the right track. Whether that is your coworker or friends, talk about salary, retirement, credit cards. Don’t keep information to yourself, share as much as you can. Have these conversations, because you are not the only one. I love the community, I feel comfortable sharing, because I see other people are going through similar things or that are being vulnerable. There is a lot of power in vulnerability around money or your mindset.

At Snowball, we give you the best course of action to tackle your student debt and compare refinancing, optimizing payments, and federal decisions. You can learn more and sign up here.

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