It’s easy to look at your financial situation and decide, “I’ve made too many mistakes, there’s nothing I can do about it now.” Maybe that’s what you’re feeling right now. Maybe it’s easier to give up and live forever with your financial mess-ups. The truth is, giving up is easier, at least in the short term, but it also requires you to settle for less than you’re capable of.

In this post, I am going to to share some of my less than stellar choices that led me into $90,000 of student loan debt. If you made any of these same blunders, there’s no reason to feel bad about it. I truly believe that your current circumstances are temporary, and with a plan and hard work, you can still turn it around!

You Don’t Need to Grow Up With Money Smarts

I didn’t grow up in a household that talked about money or how to manage it. I mean, my parents might have had those conversations behind closed doors, but there was definitely not a clear game plan. My mom was a spender, and my dad balanced the checkbook, and is also a bit of a spender.

Neither of us kids learned a lot of great money habits at home, and it’s clear that most schools don’t teach a lot about personal finance and how to make smart money choices either. I actually didn’t learn a lot about money until I graduated college and got a big boy job working at a middle school.

My Financial Woes: Not Planning Ahead

I grew up with a frugal attitude toward money. To this day I am hesitant to spend money and am pretty indecisive when buying things for myself. It’s so hard to part with the cash!!! At the same time though, I never really developed a lot of savings during high school. I was heavily involved in sports and my social life, and therefore didn’t put a high emphasis on having a job and storing away money to pay for college (whoops!).

You Get a Loan, and You Get a Loan!

When it came time to apply for college, I was forced to rely on scholarships, grants, and of course, student loans. Again, I was kind of a bozo and didn’t apply for very many scholarships or grants. The entire process seemed a little too overwhelming to me, and I had an, “oh well, it will work out fine.” sort of attitude.

As a result, most of my education was paid for using student loans. It was like magic really. I filled out the FAFSA, and poof! I had all kinds of money to pay for room and board! I even had a little extra to deposit into my checking account. I hope you are starting to see the beginnings of my poor financial choices.

I lived on campus for the first two years of college before renting a house with a few friends. Once again, I got a big check from the office of financial aid that covered my tuition, which was thankfully lower since I lived off campus. But that’s not all, it also covered my rent for the entire semester! Whoo! I wrote a lump sum check to my landlord and forgot all about rent until the start of the next semester when I wrote another giant check to repeat the process. It was really convenient at the time, but I could have used that money more wisely or just not taken out so much in loans and gotten a job.

I Did Get a Job, Eventually

I lived in the dorms my freshman year and most of my sophomore year without getting a job. I figured since all my tuition and meals were covered, I felt there was no real need for it. Once again, I failed to plan ahead and think about the damage all these student loans were doing in the background. The reality of paying them off was so far away that it felt like a lifetime. Not to mention, I didn’t fully understand how badly the accrued interest and sheer mass of borrowed money would add up by the time I graduated.

In the end though, I found a great job working on campus that was really flexible with my class schedule and allowed me to pick up as many extra shifts as I wanted. This job basically funded my fun money during my college years. I worked around 10 hours a week. Looking back I wish I would have found a serving or bartending job at a restaurant because holy cow I would’ve made a killing!

I Got a Grant! And Used it to go on Spring Break

My fourth year of college I decided to go on spring break with a few friends, but didn’t quite have the money to pay for it. I saved up a little bit, and then wandered down to the financial aid office to ask for more assistance. Obviously I didn’t tell them I was using the money for a trip, but with some sweet talking, I managed to get a $1,200 grant!

This fully funded my spring break trip, and paid some of my bills for the next month or two. I was really excited at the time and had a blast, but wow was that dumb. The only good thing is that it was a grant and not another student loan.

I Got a Big Boy Job, and Immediately Quit My Part Time Gig

In my last semester, right after I got my teaching license, I got hired as a Paraprofessional at a middle school. It was my first real job and I was through the moon excited! I would be making a salary and be able to payback all of my student loans, hypothetically anyway.

As soon as I heard the news, I put in my two weeks notice and quit my decent paying job as a catering bartender. After all, I had a real job in my field, it would be no problem to pay all of my bills right? I couldn’t have been more wrong. Keeping the part time gig would have been so awesome to help me pay back my loans and not make my next mistake.

I Extended My Repayment Plan

I’ve mentioned it a few times, but I wasn’t a great planner during college. I didn’t add money to savings during college or during my grace period to prepare my finances for paying back my ridiculous amount of student loans. It came to around $50k when the dust finally settled. Instead, I did what a lot of college students did; live in the moment and take life as it comes.

As a result, I was shocked when my loan statements started coming in the mail. I simply couldn’t afford to make the payments on my current lifestyle, with my current income. So I made the single dumbest choice I could have; I extended my repayment plan from 10 to 25 years. Sure, it lowered the payments, but it also extended the total amount I would need to repay during the length of the loan. I essentially trapped myself under debt until I turn 50, yay me.

Let’s Recap

My poor financial decisions:

If you have made any, or even all of these mistakes, IT’S OKAY!!! Trust me, your financial mistakes of your early 20’s will not cripple you for life. It’s not too late to turn it around. I believe there is always a way out of poor choices, and your current situation is temporary. It will definitely take hard work and determination, but you can reach your goals of success and financial freedom! If we were able to turn it around, you can too!

Redeeming Our Debt

In 2014, I actually started to make some good financial choices that completely turned my life around. First, I married my best friend and love of my life Jenna. I definitely couldn’t have done this without her, we are a team all the way. We knew we wanted to eventually start a family of little, baby Griffins, and buy a house. With all of our student loan debt, that seemed impossible, so with a big nudge from Jesus and choosing to trust Him, we decided to make some drastic changes.

We stuck to a good budget, we stopped going out to eat, we used the Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball, we both got a second job (sometimes 3rd jobs), and overall just worked our butts off. Once we made our goal to be debt free in five years, we did everything we could to make it happen. In the end, all the hard work paid off because we finished our goal in a smidge less than four years!

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Wrapping it Up

If you made poor financial decisions like I did, acknowledge it and move on. It’s not too late to turn your story around and make a happy ending. It will however, take hard work, sticking to a plan, and a laser like focus on your goals. Success and financial freedom are yours for the taking, what are you waiting for?

Let Me Know in the Comments

What financial mistakes have you made? How are you redeeming your story?

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