I graduated from the University of Hawaii in December 2008 with a Bachelor’s in Nursing. It took me a total of 5.5 years to complete my degree. The first 2 years were pre-requisites and the last 3 were nursing school (it’s a competitive program). I had a semester between pre-reqs and the start of the nursing program (hence the 5.5 years). Compared to other universities the yearly cost of my education wasn’t that high, approximately $20,000 per year. That included everything; tuition, books, room/board and any extra expenses.
I had to take out loans to cover the majority of those costs. I’ve always been a great student and I did get a few scholarships but they were usually in the $1000 range so it wasn’t much altogether. I also worked part-time throughout college but let’s be honest, that was beer money. By the time I graduated (in the middle of our Great Recession) I had accumulated approximately $115,000 worth of student loan debt. I say approximately because at the time it was so overwhelming that I wasn’t keeping track of it. What I was doing was keeping my head in the sand.
I have lots of different types of student loans (federal, private, etc) so after the varying grace periods ended I started paying them back mid to end of 2009. Luckily for me I had totally scored on my first job. I got a great job at a big medical center. I was grateful and knew how lucky I was, many of my former classmates weren’t able to get anything. At the time the hospitals just didn’t have the resources to hire new grads. Anyhow–like the frog being slowly boiled alive in the pot—once all of my loans came into repayment I was making a monthly payment of $900. Ouch.
Tack on the cost of living (my rent alone is $1100) and despite the great job things were tight. I continued on that way, making decent money (approximately $55,000 per year after taxes in 2011) and making my monthly payments. Then in 2010 I pulled my head out of the sand and decided to get serious about my situation and started doing everything I could to educate myself on personal finance. I knew I was in deep and I wanted to know how to get out.
After a crash course in personal finance I was able to get on track in 2011. I was making my monthly loan payments, payed off my credit card, was saving ~$600 per month and was even paying a little extra on my loans. I was doing pretty well. In my personal life I was dating someone whom I planned on moving with in March 2012, he had to relocate for work and I was supposed to go with him (aka leave Hawaii…dumb right?). Long story short everything was riding on that move. I was saving & planning for it, gave my job huge advance notice (mistake)….and it didn’t end up happening. He got cold feet & bailed–my life and items were literally and figuratively packed up and ready to go. I’d even given notice on my apartment that I loved so much. Frick.
I ended up getting to keep the apartment but my less-than-compassionate Manager at work had already filled my position and had decided (in my emotional leave-of-absence…I needed a week to get my head together) that I couldn’t have my job back. Like most setbacks in life the entire episode ended up being a giant (and I mean GIANT) blessing in disguise. On a personal level so much growth and so many wonderful things have happened for me since. I had a decent amount of savings ($7,000-ish) and no job…so no schedule. While I was in the midst of trying to find work (and I assure you, the job market for nurses in Hawaii is still junk) a lot of amazing things happened. I got to go home to Washington State and spend some time with my family including my grandmother who passed away shortly after. I got to take a trip to Vegas with my best friend from high school, my sister and my cousin (who generously payed my way, considering my circumstances). I got to take a trip to Maui & Lanai with two of my best girlfriends when I was back in Hawaii. I got to deploy with the Red Cross to New Orleans, to volunteer with the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac. I even got to go to one of my best girlfriends’ wedding in New England in Autumn. Better yet I got to do the latter with my incredible new boyfriend, someone whom I’d been friends with for the past 3 years.
So there is no doubt that in my personal life things were and still are good, despite the financial setbacks of 2012. I’ve learned to surrender and to have faith; (God, the universe, whatever you want to call it) always has a plan for us that is so much better than our own.
But let’s get back to business.
Once I lost my job in March I got kind of panicky. Okay I got a LOT panicky. That is after I peeled my broken-hearted ass out of bed. I was applying for jobs left and right but things just weren’t coming through. My panic put me into a survival mode mentality. Even though I had savings there was no way I was going to spend cash unless I had to, I wanted to stretch it out as long as I could. Remember that credit card that I’d payed off? Well I started using it again. I put my student loans into deferment…the thought of a $900 payment was too overwhelming…I was able to defer all but $407, which I still had to pay monthly. My sister moved in with me, which took a portion of the strain of paying rent away. I was able to find a couple of on-call jobs. They provided me with just enough income to make my bills each month but didn’t provide me with medical benefits etc. I was scraping by and making up the deficit at the end of every month with my savings and credit.
Fast forward to January 2013 and my savings were officially gone. Red Cross had asked me three times to deploy to assist with Hurricane Sandy but I just couldn’t swing it. Still no full-time job. Partly because of the market and partly because I was being picky…after all if I’d waited this long to find something…I didn’t want it to be something soul-crushing. And the only full-time jobs I’d found were just that.
Then 3 weeks ago, nearly one year after all of this started, I was offered a temporary 2-month full-time position here on Moloka’i. I couldn’t have packed my bags and kissed my lovely boyfriend goodbye any faster. Travel and work, heck yes! It has been beautiful. I love the job and adore the people here. I wish I could transport them all back to O’ahu with me, job included.
Then a few days ago a friend (Stephan Gardner http://www.stephangardner.com/) asked me if I’d heard of Indiegogo. I hadn’t but once I looked into it the gears started turning…like I said before there is way too much time to think on Moloka’i…maybe I could use this tool to help pay off my loans, so that I could have the freedom to do the things I love again, especially traveling for volunteer work? So I posted a campaign and it has already been more successful than I could have imagined and I want to keep that momentum going. That is what inspired me to come here and start documenting my journey. I’m not the first person to do this and I’m sure I won’t be the last (go look up ‘No More Harvard Debt’ http://nomoreharvarddebt.com/) The idea now is to keep the debt-payoff snowball rolling, to get and stay on course, and to hopefully inspire others to join me.
So that is my story. Next we will talk numbers.
But first, check out my awesome Indiegogo campaign