Tuesday, May 19, 2015

How I Graduated College Debt-Free

So in thinking about how long it has been since last posting, I tried to decide what to do a post on. I mean, I know all everyone really wants to see are pictures of Evie, but I felt like I should try and come up with a little something else to talk about. So I went back over what has happened recently. Here was my thought-train: okay, what have we done since Spring Break...San Antonio again for Yuri and Jillian's wedding, sleep-training Evie, starting running again, my graduation, OH YEAH. I GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE. That's sort of important and could be a good topic. Those of you who know me well know that I don't typically brag on myself, but graduating college with my Bachelor's degree (in Public Health) completely debt free is something I am proud of! I started college single, fell in love with and married Graham, changed my major from nursing to public health without delaying my graduation date, had a baby, and still graduated on schedule! [And not only that, but since I'm bragging I'll continue--I graduated with straight A's and was one of 8 Senior Scholars to be ranked first in my college, and I sat on stage during graduation because of it!]

Awards Banquet. April 2015.

Graduation day!

But what I wanted to focus on most was how we (because I certainly couldn't have done any of this without Graham!) did all of this and stayed debt-free. I thought that maybe by sharing my story I might be able to give others the hope and confidence that they need to do this too! It really can be simple, as long as you are willing to work for it. I know that everyone has different situations, but this is what worked for us! And I'm really only going to talk about after we got married (middle of my sophomore year), but before that I chose a cheap dorm, had some money saved up from working over the summer, and had scholarships. During my freshman year I did take out a loan ($4500) because I had to live on campus. Cheaper housing off-campus the following year meant my scholarships and money from working were enough for me to live on without any additional debt.

**And no, the pictures don't match the sections. But I thought I'd add them anyway**

With my little family. Graduation Day.

1. We worked.
When Graham and I were first married, he was working full-time at a hospital as a nurse assistant and taking online classes part-time, and I was in school full-time and working part-time on campus. We hardly ever saw each other those first several months because I wouldn't get off work until 9 and he would have to be up at 5:30am the next morning. He would pick me up from work, we had dinner together, and then he went to bed while I did homework. Through changes that came with lost jobs, unexpected expenses, and so on, we still worked. Graham worked fast food for a while between other jobs because we had to keep the income flowing!

At Crystal Bridges. Graduation weekend.

2. We budgeted.
Another key to staying debt-free is to have a budget and stick to it. For the first year of our marriage (so last half of sophomore-first half of junior years) we didn't keep a budget. We didn't go crazy on anything (I am too much of a natural saver for that) but we just didn't keep up with things. I always balanced our checkbook, and as long as our bank account was growing or staying around the same amount, we were good to go.
After that first year though, I thought we should start a budget. I can't remember what made me think of that, because not much had changed. We were both still working and in school. But by talking together at the beginning of each month (or ideally at the end of one month to plan ahead for the next) to plan out what expenses we would have for that month we were able to really get in control of our finances. It took a few months to figure out how much we needed to budget for certain items, and Dave Ramsey says it takes about 3 months for you to get the hang of a budget. That held true for us! Expenses change each month (haircuts, clothes that are needed, travel, special occasions, etc.) so we found it important to make sure and go over it each month. Some categories didn't change much (like groceries or household items) but our gas budget changed as jobs changed and Graham had to drive farther to get to work, for example.

Trails at Crystal Bridges. Graduation weekend.

3. We saved.  
I am a natural saver. Saving is so easy for me and I love to do it and to see the number in my account grow (even when it is just a little each week or month). When Graham was working full-time at the hospital, the money he was making was plenty for us to live on each month. We didn't do anything extravagant, we just lived within our means. We then took everything that I made and put it into savings. I'll be honest with you (with Graham's permission of course). Graham didn't really understand why I felt like we should put all of my money away into savings instead of doing fun things with it. **We have both come a long way to being understanding of the other's natural inclinations** And honestly, I didn't have a reason for it at the time either other than I just felt like it was something we should do, just in case. And it was a good thing we did it, too. A year into our marriage Graham got into a terrible car accident and subsequently lost his job (because he had to miss work...because he was in a car accident.... that one still doesn't make sense to me!), and we were able to live off of what I was making instead of having to drastically change our lifestyle until he started working again.

Four generations. Evie looks frightened.

Life Now
Upon getting married we qualified for Pell Grants. That means that when I got my first big check from the University, we immediately got online and paid off the student loans that I had taken out my freshman year. Yeah, they weren't gaining any interest and we could have waited. Yeah, we could have gone on a really awesome vacation instead. But why have that hanging over us when we had the extra cash? So we are DEBT FREE! And have been since August 2013. We have the next year and a half (until Graham graduates in Dec 2016) mapped out so that we can continue to be debt free as well.

Right now, I have the ability to stay home now with our darling little Evie while Graham finishes up school. He is in Nursing School now and can't work full-time during the school year (only in the summer), and if it wasn't for the money we saved up during that period of time when we were both working plenty of hours--I would have to be working now. I can't tell you how incredibly happy it makes us both for me to be home full-time with Evie. When we talk to other people and they ask what I will be doing now that I am finished with school, I happily reply that I get to stay home with my sweet baby girl! Almost always, the response is something along the lines of "Oh, that's so great that you are able to do that." But it wasn't something that just happened. It was something we planned for. It's something we've been blessed with and are able to do because it was our desire and Heavenly Father blessed us in that way.

Family picture. Easter 2015.

After taking a day away from this post and working on finishing it up, I hesitated about whether or not to even post this. I don't want others to feel bad about anything that they are doing. That is in no way my intent! I just wanted to show that it is possible! And maybe it is really simple things that people don't need to be told. But now I feel like I am just going on about nothing....so I'll just leave it at that.

From Marissa, with love.