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Happy Monday Fam! I’m excited to introduce today’s guest blogger, Rickey. He created his blog Struggles in Adulting to connect with people who are struggling with life and finances. Rickey is a nurse which gives him the background in the science and compassion to want to help people. He is an every day person who is married, gay, and also struggles with self-worth, self-identity, weight, anxiety, and so much more. Most people are aware that life is a crazy journey but they also need to know that they are not alone. He has a great story of how he and his husband paid off $180,000 of debt as nurses. Enjoy! ~Jamie

The Roadmap to Debt

I think you’ll agree with me that student loans and debt are crippling to your budget.

However, with the rising costs of college, getting a degree without going into debt seems impossible. And once you’re in debt, getting out of debt can be a huge mountain to climb. Some of you may already have a pile of student loans with no real plan or hope to repay them anytime soon.

From an early age, I knew that I wanted to go to college. By the time I was going away to college my parents were already divorced. Both had offered to help with college but neither of them could financially pay for everything.

Long story short, my mom wasn’t able to cosign a loan for me to go to college. I don’t remember why this was the agreement, but my dad put $40 into an account a few times a month and that is what I used for spending money.

Thankfully my aunt’s husband, my new uncle, was willing to cosign a private loan for me. This was approximately $17,000—Private School Tuition is CRAZY expensive! I didn’t learn until later that a private loan is not the best option for attending college. Oops. 😉

I did very well in high school and graduated with honors. This allowed me to have $9,000 of scholarships and grants my freshman year of college, which was helpful because total cost for my freshman year was $25,000.

I started out on track to become a Physician Assistant or PA. After my first year was almost completed I decided to transfer to a college in Columbus, Ohio and change my major to get a Bachelors degree of Science in Nursing or a BSN.

My major was still in healthcare so all my credits transferred, thankfully. This was also a private institution and not cheap!

I graduated from this private college with a Bachelors degree in Nursing and $60,000 in student loans. Nurses make a good amount of money but as you’ll hear more about later, I was still making the minimum payments for my undergrad 10 YEARS later.

Before long, I decided to go to graduate school for health administration, which cost another $25,000.

In this post I’m going to continue our story of getting into a ridiculous amount of debt, but also how we found ways to increase our income and pay off $180,000 of student loan and consumer debt.

It’s Time for a Change, I’m Ready to Get Out of Debt

While I was in grad school, I decided to get serious about money and make some real progress on my student loans. I started paying as much as I could on my graduate loans while I was making my way through graduate school.

With my newfound focus and mindset, I was able to pay them off a month after I graduated in 2014. I was so excited! It’s also kind of funny that I paid off my graduate loans before I paid off my undergraduate loans.

Now that I had momentum, I wasn’t going to wait around another decade (or more) to be debt free. I went to work on my undergrad loans, and in just two more years sent my last payment in February of 2016, 11 years after I got my degree.

Oh Wait, I Also Bought Two Brand New Vehicles While in College

The combined cost was about $55,000. They weren’t extravagant cars by any means but they were brand new, and that comes with a big price tag.

One was a Kia and one was a Honda SUV. Luckily, we decided to be aggressive paying off these car loans. We actually had them fully paid for before I finished grad school.

Even though it didn’t take us long to pay them off, it was more nagging debt that we had get rid of. If we didn’t have the car loans, we could’ve paid off our student loans faster.

Learn Why Nursing is One of the Best Careers for Getting Out of Debt
Rickey (right) and Steve (left) enjoying their most recent vacation.

We’re Finally Debt Free! At Least for a Little Bit

We were so excited to be debt free! Now that we had the financial ability to dream, we started planning for a house and kids, and how much money we wanted to save to make it a reality.

The dreaming lasted about 2 weeks until my car broke down.

Sometimes old habits die hard, and thinking I didn’t have much of a choice I decided I “needed” a brand new car to replace it. I know this isn’t the best thinking, and you’d think I learned my lesson, but I didn’t.

So, I bought $40,000 Honda SUV. I must have been learning though because I walked away with a bit of buyer’s remorse, and a bunch more debt.

In an attempt to get rid of our buyer’s remorse, my husband and I started paying a little more than the minimum payment, and thought that we were doing great. However, we were still in a ton of debt, and this is not the life I wanted.

I hate owing people money and it brings me anxiety, which I know seems strange given I keep going into debt, but it’s true!

Thankfully, I have a wonderful husband who will “go with it” when I get super intense about something, which is exactly what we did. It only took us 17 months to pay off our new car, most of which was in the last 5 months. We aggressively paid $29,000 of it in those 5 months. YES, you read that correctly we paid off the remainder of the car loan, $29,000 dollars in 5 months!

Learn Why Nursing is One of the Best Careers for Getting Out of Debt

We Paid Off a Combined $180,000 of Debt in 12 Years

When I reflect on our debt freedom story, it seems a little unorthodox. I mean, how many people have multiple debt free days? First for our student loans, then again after we bought our new car.

When we add it all up, we paid off $85,000 of student loans, between undergrad and grad loans. That’s a pretty big chunk of money by itself, but we also paid off $95,000 in car loans!

That’s $180,000 of debt in 12 years! It was a rollercoaster and at times insane! But I’m proud of what we accomplished.

5 Reasons Nursing is One of the Best Careers for Getting Out of Debt

You may be wondering how we did it. To be blunt, we put our nose to the grindstone and worked our butts off. We also eliminated expenses like eating out and cable, but saving $100 dollars a month wouldn’t have allowed us to pay off $180,000.

Learn Why Nursing is One of the Best Careers for Getting Out of Debt
Nurses have long, long hours, but there’s a lot of room to earn extra money if you’re willing to put in the hours.

After cutting out unnecessary spending we both worked like crazy people, and for a nurse that means a lot of 12 hour shifts, which are exhausting.

Before my husband was a nurse he worked at Starbucks and I did travel nursing and took him along. Travel Nursing pays very well. Typically you earn a decent amount of money per hour but they also pay for your housing, utilities, and travel.

Cutting those expenses left us plenty of money to throw at debts. We started traveling 2 years after graduating from my undergraduate program and traveled to California and Arizona for a little over a year and came back to Ohio.  

When we got back to Ohio, my husband went to nursing school and got an Associates Degree in Nursing. The total cost of him going back to school is not added into the total amount of $180K, so we really paid off more than that.

When we got back to Ohio I took a job as a full time staff nurse. Here are the key ways in which we maximized our income potential as nurses:

1. Night Shift Differential:

I worked night shift, which can add a premium up to $5/hour to your hourly rate. This adds up to between $8k- $10K per year just by working night shift.

2. Weekend Differential:

I also signed up to work weekends when it was available. There is usually a weekend differential as well up to $5/hour. So working nights and weekends could add $10/hour to your base pay.

3. Weekend Option and Incentive Programs:

I already mentioned that we got extra pay for working weekends, but by working EVERY WEEKEND for a certain amount of time, we qualified for a bonus.

This was nice because you would get the Weekend Differential while you were working the weekend shifts then a bonus at the end. We worked 36 hours a week, which was full time for nursing in hospitals with 12 hour shifts. Then they paid us for 44 hours as an incentive for working every weekend.

We didn’t get overtime pay for the extra 8 hours you were paid for each week but for this incentive program it added up to 32 extra hours of pay a month without working any extra. FREE MONEY!

4. Overtime:

Like I said a typical hospital nurse works 36 hours or three 12 hour shifts for full time status. When we were paying off the last car and paid the $29K in 5 months we were both working 5-6 days per week.

This would give us each 20-32 hours of overtime each week. This adds up significantly since overtime is paid at 1.5 times your base pay.

When you compound all of these tricks together, we earned time and a half of our base rate, PLUS Night Differential, PLUS Weekend Differential if the Overtime fell on the weekend, PLUS the weekend bonus. It was like compound interest!

5. Holidays:

Most places required us to work a certain number of holidays. But we always had the option trade to work more of them. Some places pay time and a half and others pay double time for any hours worked on recognized holidays. Often people don’t want to work the holidays so this is a good way to give your paycheck a boost.

Now that we are debt free, we still use these tricks to save up to buy a house and start a family. We feel really lucky, because In the nursing field the possibilities are endless.

Remember, the Struggle is Real, and you are not alone.

Let Me Know in the Comments

What extreme things have you done to save money? What purchase do you regret the most? How are you paying off debt?

Our budget and goals changed our lives and it can change yours too.

As an Educator and Personal Finance Blogger, Jamie has helped hundreds of families learn how to budget, save money, and pay off debt (go here to subscribe and start your debt free journey). Read our debt free story, “How We Paid Off $73,000 of Debt in Less Than Four Years”.

Best Careers for Getting Out of Debt - Nursing

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