What Makes You Most Proud?

Throughout the last few posts and this month’s newsletter, I’ve talked about Pride Month and how it relates to financial planning: I’m encouraging you to use Pride to help conquer your financial challenges. In that spirit, I want you all to take stock of what you’ve accomplished already and let this good feeling propel you to even greater accomplishments.

Pride is about loving, accepting and celebrating who you are — strengths, weaknesses and everything else that makes you unique. As we come to the end of Pride month, I want you to take a moment and reflect on what makes you most proud.

When it comes to my finances, paying off my student loans has brought me the most joy.

I graduated from law school in May of 2005 with $166,000 in student loans. $58,000 of that was Federal Loans and $108,000 were in private loans.

The day after graduation, I moved to Chicago. I didn’t have a job.  I had to spend the summer studying for the Illinois Bar exam. Until I passed, I wouldn’t even be able to use the degree I spent all of that money and three years of my life on.

I made it through the stressful summer with the help of my husband Ben (boyfriend at the time) and some good friends. I passed the Bar. But I still didn’t have a job when I found out I passed the exam in October. I spent the next four months fretting about how I would make some $1,200+ in monthly student loan payments, with no income.

I found a job in February, but the starting salary was only $40k. Luckily Ben had found a job right away when we moved. Still, even with two incomes, it was a struggle to meet our living expenses with those large loan payments. Ben had loans too.

I kept a detailed budget.  We cut costs where we could. For example, we would shop at three grocery stores every weekend to get the best deal on food.  (Every now and then Ben still says how happy he is we don’t do that anymore.) I also did my best to get more experience to earn a higher income.

I knew from the beginning that I had to get rid of those loans. Seeing that huge balance every month really weighed on me, and I felt like I couldn’t make any big moves — like buying a house or taking nice trips — without paying it down. If I just paid the minimum, it would take forever to be free and clear of debt, and with some of the loans charging a 9% rate, I’d pay a fortune in interest, too. I used a payoff calculator to organize my loans in order from highest interest rate to lowest, then figured out how to best use any additional income. 

Eventually I got a few raises, found a better paying job and paid off the last of my private loans in December of 2012.  I’ve kept my federal loans around because they only charge 1.625% in interest. I can get a lot more bang for my buck putting my money elsewhere.

By the time I made that last payment on my private loans, I’d had a handle on my debt for a while.  Still, making that final payment gave me a huge sense of freedom. I felt really empowered knowing that I had developed a plan, stuck to it for seven years and finally accomplished what I set out to do.  And I never felt completely deprived.  Ben and I made a few overseas trips to visit my brother in Germany and upgrades to our lifestyle along the way. Having shared that struggle with Ben has also brought us closer.

I hope you can take pride in your accomplishments and let them remind you that you can do what you set your mind to.

I would love to hear what makes you most proud. Email, message or tweet me at the links below.