Slap Your Debt In The Face: How I Paid off $40,000+ In Student Loans in 2 Years + Free Toolkit

There I was, completely overcome with both the peaceful euphoria of eating a slowly melting ice cream sundae on a beach hammock and the paralyzing dread of a monster truck about to run me over.

On the one hand, there was a dangling carrot -- my dream job that I’d wanted for almost a decade (in documentary film), and on the other hand, I was shackled to an anchor of overwhelming student loans and only ever knowing a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle from my family’s own debt burden.

What DO I do?

Follow my dream and pursue my passion even though it would keep me in debt for the foreseeable future? Or forgo the dream for a safe road and end the paycheck-to-paycheck mentality of financial scarcity in my family

I felt like a tightrope walker at dead center, going back was just as hard as going forward.

What DID I do?

I jumped. I did both. Boom!

 

How I paid off my loans

 

1. Decided very clearly why I wanted to do this.

Yep, the first step is entirely personal. Remember, there’s a personal part to personal finance.

I grew up in a single-parent home where I was raised to believe that money was taboo, evil, and would always limit and suffocate me. I was raised to believe that the only way to live was paycheck-to-paycheck, and that there would always be scarcity. And, finally, that the more money you have the happier you are.

This deep and destructive financial mindset -- of scarcity, survival, and dependency -- haunted me throughout every major decision in my life, especially as I balanced various jobs in college, and then through graduate school where I juggled both working full-time while attending school full-time. And most profoundly, it influenced my decision to NOT pursue a career as an artist and filmmaker because of the “starving artist” myth I was so deeply afraid of. It also influenced my decision to go to graduate school because I believed that’s what I was supposed to do to be a respected professional but that wasn’t what I actually wanted to do.

For me, I’ve always known that I wanted to be an artist full-time. So, I wanted to decrease my overhead (a.k.a. my overall expenses) so that I could do that asap.

I know that I didn’t really need to pay off my loans in order to transition into a career as a full-time artist, but I knew I wanted that debt gone because I wanted to show my family it was possible to live a life where you’d not always struggling and where you don’t have to be in debt.

Mathematically, I could have made more if I kept some of the debt and used the funds for traditional retirement instead, but I simply didn’t want to do that. I wanted it gone. Simple as that. Psychologically it made me uneasy to have it hanging over my head.

Besides, the tradeoff was really asking myself: Do I want to reap the benefits of this asap or in 30 years. I went with asap!

That said, I did both -- I didn’t take the dream job, and instead looked for the highest paying job (that I still enjoyed!) to pay off my debt asap. And, at the same time, I created films and did side gigs in documentary film. It turned out to be the best choice because I was able to meet my financial goal and to keep doing what I love (I had a film in an international festival and broadcast on television) and then fully transition into documentary film.

 

2. Figured out how much I needed to pay and by when

At the time, I was 27, so I decided I wanted it all gone by 30.

I had 29 months before I turned 30. I divided my total debt by 29 months and it came out to about $1,400/month. So, I made that my goal.

I figured, if people can make mortgage payments and have kids (neither of which I had), then I could make a large payment towards my student loans.

 

3. Automated my budget

Once I knew that number, then I automated my budget (more on that here) and did everything I could to hit it.

 

4. Hustle hustle hustle hustle...a.k.a. Increased money coming in

I increased the money coming in as much as possible. I got the highest paying job I could, I took on extra work side gigs assisting filmmakers and doing documentary film work and photography work.

I applied and was chosen for a student loan crowdfunding platform where people could contribute to your student loans if you did community service. And, of course, I did so in film. Here’s a throwback to my crowdfunding video:

Thanks again to everyone who supported that campaign! I’m still deeply grateful to you! <3

 

5. Decreased the money going out.

I decreased my expenses like whoa! I got a roommate, I mostly did free things (spent a lot of time at the park and public library, in the personal finance section of course!), and I didn’t have a car (instead biked everywhere or took public transit).

I also researched like crazy ways to decrease the debt itself -- consolidation, forgiveness, refinancing, etc. -- and found a forgiveness program that applied to me so had about $2,000 forgiven.

 

6. This all resulted in meeting my goal one month early!

 

 

 

 

Stuff You Can Use: 2 Lessons + 2 actions + 1 Toolkit

 

LESSON #1:

I shouldn't have given as much of a damn about my loans as I did.

That's easy to say now, though, right? ;)

I do know that I put WAY too much stress, heartache, and sleepless nights into worrying about my student loans. It was like driving on a slippery road swerving towards a tree. I was focusing on the "tree" -- scarcity -- but should've been focusing on the "road" -- abundance.

So, dozens of personal finance books, numerous courses, and 1 speedy debt journey later, this is the best advice on student loans I've ever read: Why I Simply Don't Give A Damn About my $100k+ in Student Loans.

ACTION #1:

So, I think the best thing you can do if you're worried about money is to automate your finances as much as possible, read at least one book on the basics, and then shift your focus to abundance so you can stop worrying so much and start moving forward.

 

LESSON #2:

Don't make surviving your goal, make THRIVING your goal!

Move on and live for a hunger to strive, create, and live (rather than the famine of scarcity, survival, and debt anxiety -- even while you're feeling lost. Scratch that, *especially* while you're feeling lost!).

They say that people who win the lottery see a spike in feeling awesome (duh!).

But then, something happens, the diamonds lose their luster, and just a few weeks afterward they go back to feeling the same way they did before they won the lottery. If they felt lousy about their life before the lotto, they continue to feel lousy after the lotto.

Nope nope nope.

Exactly. The. Same.

If there's anything I learned from having paid off my loans, it's that it doesn't lead to happiness.

SUPER cliche with a cherry on top!  

Yes, I know. But did I really think paying off my loans would lead to happiness / relief / joy? ... ya...I sort of did.

Yes, I have more cash to free up...but now I'm just looking for something else to obsess over with the freed-up cash -- a house, so just more debt...WFT? Yes, that's right, it continues.

But this time, with the peace of mind that I understand the math and (more importantly) my goals (not just my money goals), and can add them all up... my money goals + my time (which we know is worth more than money) + my life goals and can fit them together in a nice package with a bow on top. I got this! Like a present to myself, that I have given myself; I am now equipped to climb money mountains joyously! Without fear of whether I'm doing the right thing, or if I have enough for retirement (or any other time or money worry).

Debt + stressing over it + feeling totally lost = ew!

Debt + Peace of mind = priceless.

You know what feels better than being debt free? Cookies? A new car? Winning the lotto?

Nope nope nope.

Being you.

That's right...simple, right? Well, not for those who feel worried, self-conscious, and unclear about the road before them. And what makes it worse, is that sometimes you're not even able to admit it to yourself...that you're unclear, that road is scary, and that you don't know WTF you're doing. But it's okay. Really.

Whatever you do, don't let money (or lack of it) keep you from being the awesome person you already are. Don't use it as an excuse to not move forward...like I did {phew! I said it!}. I used my debt/money as an excuse to 'not be an artist'..."I'll get my life together as soon as I get my money right," I said.

Heard that one before? Or how 'bout this classic "I'll get my life together once I lose the weight/ New Years comes around/ I pay off these loans..blah blah blah...wang wang wang."

The only one you're making excuses for is you, it's your life. Debt / money / a relationships / a clever Facebook profile...doesn't keep you (nor stop you) from living your life in the direction you want to go. Just move forward, debt or not, happy or not, whatever.

You, as you are, have everything you need to be your best self. HENCE, you're already you! :)

ACTION #2:

Write down a list of 100 Dreams (or even 10 dreams!) and empower yourself to work towards them *daily*. Or, use Shannon’s self-reflection starter kit here.

 

FREE TOOLKIT

Sign up here for the top 3 most useful resource that helped me pay off my debt:

Find a Job You Actually Love + Free Worksheet

I’ve been hired for several of my dream jobs/professional experiences -- interning at the White House (Obama 2009), worked in technology consulting at an education reform organization I shamelessly stalked for years and working on several films by directors I admire.
 

I was reflecting on my dream job history with my dear friend Daniela last week…here’s a little Instagram love for you…

"Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper" 🐝In other words, the world is changed more by your example than by your opinion. ⚡️I boxed for an hour this morning, directed an incredible interview with a dear friend, connected with a foundation about a film I'm an Impact Producer on, and am now co-working with my biz bff (hey @danielauslan!) 🚀In the hustle and chaos of today, what actions are proud of having taken today? How did you slay today?! ⚡️⚡️⚡️

"Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper" 🐝In other words, the world is changed more by your example than by your opinion. ⚡️I boxed for an hour this morning, directed an incredible interview with a dear friend, connected with a foundation about a film I'm an Impact Producer on, and am now co-working with my biz bff (hey @danielauslan!) 🚀In the hustle and chaos of today, what actions are proud of having taken today? How did you slay today?! ⚡️⚡️⚡️

 

So, how have I landed several of my dream jobs?

Here’s an outline of what I’ve done to get my dream jobs/professional experiences + a worksheet to help you:

 

1. (2-5 min) Set the intention in your mind that you’ll only apply to jobs you actually want.

Finding your dream job -- or even just a job you feel lukewarm about -- can be insanely overwhelming.

Even before some people start applying, I’ve heard them say:

“I have to see what’s out there.”

But, instead, flip this on it’s head and think:

“I have to decide what I want, and then find it.”

You don’t have to wait to see ‘what’s out there’ -- go for what you actually want.

Set the intention that you’ll only apply to jobs you actually want and feel excited about. (ehem...like dating, only date people you actually like...but I digress).

If the thought of having that job makes you feel drained or blah, then don’t apply. Only apply to those that make you feel excited when you read the job description.

 

2. (10-20 mins) List the “must haves” and “nice to haves” of your dream job -- things like:

  1. Must haves:

    1. Location - What’s your ideal location? Are you looking to move or stay put?

    2. Responsibilities you actually enjoy - What would you be most excited about doing? What responsibilities give you energy?

    3. Salary - What’s your minimum salary requirement (which you can always negotiate)

  2. Nice to haves:

    1. Commute time - Do you want a short commute time?

    2. Autonomy - Do you want to work in a team or by yourself?    


Get the Free

"Find a Job You Actually Love" Worksheet + Example

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Alternatively, you can also write the job description for your ideal job. Think of it as Pinterest boarding for your dream job.

 

3. (30-60 mins) List 2-5 organizations and/or people you deeply admire and would dream of working for. (Hint: It’s probably the first ones that came to mind right now.)

  1. For the organizations, maybe you read their publications, maybe you’ve always wanted to work there, and maybe you’re on their newsletter?

  2. For the people, maybe you know them personally, or maybe you don’t, maybe you’re on their newsletter?

  3. Decide which of these is your #1 dream organization or person to work for.

 

4. (1-2 hours) Do some research & rate what you find.

Start with your #1 organization or person on your list. Look at what’s on their job board, on their website. Write down 2-5 jobs that you’d love to do on your Dream Job Decision Matrix.

Include jobs you think you’re not qualified for.

Even if you don’t think you’re qualified for a job, but it excites you to think of having it, write it down. I repeat, even if you don’t think you’re qualified for them. GO FOR THE BEST PARKING SPOT.

You can even include jobs that aren’t posted.

Yes, not posted. I applied and got a job that wasn’t posted. I’d seen the job posted a year prior, but wasn’t looking at the time. A year later, I wrote an application to a recruiter at the organization (who I found on LinkedIn) asking about the job and basically pitching myself. I knew I’d be a great fit, and I knew they still had that department, and thus a need for those roles. So, I basically applied in a roundabout way. The timing and my initiative worked out. They were looking but hadn’t posted about it yet. Long story long, I got that job. So, even if they don’t have a job posted, but you know you’d be a great fit for them, list them anyway.

Write down 2-5 jobs that you’d love to do on your Find a Job You Actually Love Worksheet, then given them 2 points for every “must have” requirement and 1 point for each “nice to have”. As you connect with people and interview (#5) you’ll learn more about the work and the points you assign them may change.

Your bull’s eye will be the job (or prospective job) with the most points. That’s the one you want to focus all of your energy on getting. But first, search your network (#5).


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"Find a Job You Actually Love" Worksheet + Example

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5. (30-60 mins) Now that you’re focused on the bull’s eye, brainstorm connections within your network to that place/person.

Who are 2-5 people you admire in your network who may have a connection there? Who are mentors you’ve worked with in the past? What friends do you know that may have worked there in the past, or know someone who did?

These should be people you admire and actually want to maintain a relationship with. In other words, you’re being sincere -- your dream job and true heartfelt aspirations deserve sincerity. Otherwise, you’ll just end up with another job you don’t really like.

Search your LinkedIn connections, Facebook friends, and ask your personal network (past colleagues, mentors, former or current classmates, etc.) if they have a connection or know someone at the organization. Whatever you do, don’t send a mass email -- frankly, that’s in poor taste, and you’re too graceful and savvy for that.

You can send something like this:

SUBJECT: You & [Your #1 Organization/Person You Want to Work With]
Hi [Name],
How are you? How’s [insert an anecdote or memory from the last time you connected -- actually take the time to connect and catch up. This is someone you admire, don’t take their -- or your -- time for granted.]
I’m well, but looking to make a professional shift. I’m looking at working with [Your #1 Organization/Person You Want to Work With] because the work they do aligns with my professional aspirations [and any other reasons it’s your #1]. I know you [insert why you think they’re relevant like -- “I know you worked in that industry” or “I noticed on LinkedIn that you used to work there”].
Do you have any thoughts you’d be willing to share about [Your #1 Organization/Person You Want to Work With]?
Thank you,
[Your Name]

 

6. Follow-up

Talk to people who’ve offered their time. Ask them sincere questions and be respectful of their time, knowledge and connections. Thank them and follow-up.

I’ve recommended people to jobs, written letters, shared references, and sometimes I don’t hear how it went. I felt used. (I was guilty of not following up myself, until I was on the other end and realized how used I felt when people I shared connections and insight with didn’t follow-up to let me know how things went. I really wanted them to succeed, but them not letting me know how it turned out made me feel taken advantage of.)

Always, follow-up and thank them sincerely -- no matter what the outcome is. Let them know you appreciate them and their time. After all, this is someone you respect and admire so following-up is only the respectful thing to do.

 

7. Apply (to only ONE job at a time!)

See how this is #7. Look at all the work that happens before this. See how different it is to apply knowing what you actually want not the other way around and just settling for what’s out there.

Also, rather than applying to a TON of jobs, only apply to one job (to the best of your ability) at a time. In other words, treat your search as if you’re only applying to 1 job, and only one job. That way, the quality of your application is instantly elevated and you’ll apply to the best of your ability -- and I mean thee (2 e’s) best of your ability.

For example, I’ve submitted extra materials with tailored examples to show that I can do the work. I once created a video resume for a specific job (it was for a film company so it made sense). I also sent extra sample calculations and proposals that weren’t required, just to illustrate that I can not only do that work, but that I had ideas already cooking for how I’ll solve their problems. After all, to put it simply, a job is a set of problems that someone needs solving. If you show that you can solve the problems, the better.

Do that by putting together a luxury-worthy tailored application. Think of service at a place that’s “mass market” (like Walmart or Costco) versus a place that’s tailored to you (like your favorite cafe, where they know your name and your order). Be like their favorite cafe -- the one that knows their needs, hopes, fears, wants, and can solve their problem even before you start working there. In other words, be the luxury brand they must have, not the generic brand/resume that could just do the job. Show them you can excel at the job.  

In order to create a kick ass application, you need to focus on making your application steller, and to do that only work on one application at a time before moving on to the next.   

Apply to what you actually want as much as you and your circumstances can muster! You’ve worked too long and hard to get to where you are today, there is no reason you should settle for unhappiness.

 

8. Repeat.

Repeat #3-#6 until you’ve found a great fit.

Finding a job is like dating -- it’s not a one-way street. You both need to be happy.

 

9. Negotiate.

Once you're interviewing, negotiate your salary + benefits + vacation time, etc.! See this for tips.

 

10. Just cuz...I really just want to have a number #10 on this list because it makes it seem better than ending at #9. :)

So...let me know in the comments if this is helpful, are you looking for work, where are you stuck? Did you use this in a job search? Let me know so I can create other work to help you!

I’ve done this and earned most of the jobs I’ve sought. Otherwise, it’s been their loss ;)

 

6 Tools To $ave More + A Simple Challenge

I've done boxing for over twenty years. (Love it!) But I painfully tore a ligament in my hand a few months ago (Ouch! Didn't love it.)

With x-ray, MRI, and physical therapy, my medical bill (with insurance) will be about $1,500. (Ouch. Also, don't love it.) But, thankfully I have about 4+ months of emergency savings that can come to my rescue!



If you've been here long enough, you've already read this

The best way to save is to automate it with a direct deposit -- even if it's $20 per month or paycheck. 

Here are 6 tools and resources to help you automate your savings:

  • Digit: a super cool app that automatically saves your digital spare change. It rounds up each dollar you spend and puts it in your digit savings account. 
  • Smarty Pig: you can set up a direct deposit to smarty pig (yes, it's a real bank) and create subsaving accounts 
  • Capital One 360: also a savings account that you can set up multiple sub-accounts within
  • Everbank High Yield: This is a "high yield" savings account that earns interest. That means that your money makes you money. It's not as fancy as the others, but it will help your money work for you at a rate that's within the top 5% of other competitive accounts (it's part of what makes this a good one)
  • Simple.com: And, of course, my fave bank, Simple. It's a checking account with savings buckets within it. 
  • 1% Challenge: Here's a FB group who's mission it is to help you save 1% more each month. There are some good tips and resources in there. 

CHALLENGE!

I dare you to do one of these and write in the comments which you did:

(A) open a savings account -- any of the ones above count
(B) save $20 more per month
(C) if you're feeling bold, save 1% more


Go for it!

$30/hr to $100/hr in just 2 emails

"No one will ever care more about your personal finances than you, so you have to advocate for your own bank account!" -Ani, yours truly <3

Ladies, let's talk money. We need to ask for more. 

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE. ALWAYS Negotiate. Always. Do not accept the first offer. Ask for more.

You are SUPPOSED to ask for more.

Below are two things that will help you ask for more:

  1. My exact emails that show how I went from $30/hr to $100/hr in two emails. Use them as templates for your own negotiations!

  2. A negotiation checklist. From this point on, you will always negotiate your first offer. Make that vow to yourself right here and right now. (And you better believe that many more men are doing this than us. It’s time for you to step up!)
     

1. How I went from $30/hr to $100/hr in two emails.

CONTEXT

I was leaving my employer but knew they needed someone after my last day, because there was a big time gap between my exit and the new hire starting. So, I knew they needed coverage during that gap.

BEFORE

  • I prepared points to illustrate my value...I can do x, y, and z to solve your burning pain.
  • I decided on my lowest ($90/hr) so shot for higher ($125/hr), based on research (glassdoor.com is a good place to start, and other job postings in the industry)
  • I had friend and family read them over and I practiced and recorded myself to analyze it.

DURING

Phone:
Over the phone, I said my points and made the ask: "I can do x, y, z...I know these are problems I, uniquely can solve for you and can save you time and energy by doing so...", "So, given this and my research, I can do this for you for $125/hr." They said $30 was all they could do.

I then said this key phrase, “You can let this marinade and get back to me. So you can speak with any other decision makers.” This is important because it takes the pressure off of having to make a decision then and there. It lets them think about it, and you've put down your cards.

Then I followed up with this emails:

Email #1 - from me to my employer -- Notice how I'm specific, don't beat around the bush. I also open and close with exact anspecificfc problems I'd solve -- you can never list too many benefits. 

Hi Stacey,

I’m writing to summarize the details of our conversation regarding consulting beyond my last day.

As I mentioned I can do [x, y, z...I know these are problems I, uniquely can solve for you and can save you time and energy by doing so..."]

That said, as we discussed, my support beyond my last day would consist of onboarding support for the new hire, .… I can offer this support through [date] at $125 per hour, for a maximum of 5 hours per week. At the end of May, we can discuss the potential extension of work.

[More value + problems I'd solve + time they'd save, etc.…This is like “after” picture in a before and after]

Feel free to reach out with any questions.

Best,
Ani

Email response from employer:

Hi Ani,

Thanks for hopping on the phone earlier. I spoke with John. We are prepared to offer you $75 per hour for 5 hours a week for two weeks starting mid-May.

The focus of this project will be to help with Martha’s onboarding.

Please let me know if the offer is acceptable or if you’d like to discuss it further.

Thanks,

Stacey

Email #3 - from me to my employer -- I don't accept the 2nd offer, so I renegotiate. 

Hi Stacey,

Thanks for discussing this with me and for getting back to me so quickly. I can come down to a firm offer of $100 per hour for a maximum of 5 hours per week.

[Entire paragraph on benefits for them, the expertise they’ll have access to and the problems it will solve (i.e. get done more quickly) etc. I already know their pain points so I go on as to how they'll be solved if they make this choice. This is the key, knowing exactly what their pain points are how specifically you are equipped to solve them.]

Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions. And, as I mentioned, you can also get back to me after Martha begins as well; no need to feel hard pressed to decide before I head out. 

Best,
Ani

Email response from employer:

Hi Ani,

I hope all is well. I’ve confirmed with John that we are willing to offer you your proposed rate of $100 per hour. If this is acceptable please let me know so I can share an update with Mary who can get you set up.

Also, as I previously mentioned, Martha’s start date is [date]. We are hoping you’d be able to work with her a couple of weeks into her onboarding. Please let me know if you’ll have availability in the end of May and/or early June.

Thanks,
Stacey

BOOM! I hope that helps you see that it's simpler that it may seem. 

If you want to ask me about this, practice your own negotiation with me, other negotiations I've initiated, or have any other burning money or professional pains I can help you with, then join us at this month’s Action Squad, where I facilitate a welcoming and supportive space to help you earn more, achieve your goals, and find clarity and support.

Go here to get the clarity and support that can help you rise to the next level -- reserve a spot at this month’s Action Squad.
 

2. Negotiation Checklist

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE. ALWAYS Negotiate. Always. Do not accept the first offer. Ask for more.

You are SUPPOSED to ask for more.

Employers/clients ALWAYS start low, expected that you’ll negotiate.

It’s a little dance...just like when people ask you “How are you today?” and you politely say “Fine, and you”...this is a social etiquette dance. Asking for more money is part of the negotiation etiquette dance.

So, again you are SUPPOSED to ask for more.

You’re not doing anyone a favor by hiring you. They have a problem that they think you can solve, and *you* know you can solve (otherwise you wouldn’t be at the negotiation table in the first place). They clearly think you’re right for the job and they’re secretly hoping that you’ll take it. They’re nervous on the other end too. Trust me, I’ve been there and I used to work in HR.

One last time -- all together now -- and in first person: I'M SUPPOSED TO ASK FOR MORE! Now doesn't that feel great :)

Here’s a simple checklist to help you:

Before you negotiate:

  1. Know your audience/client very well. What are their burning pain points and how can you solve them.

  2. Calculate your own good, better, and best salary/rate.

  3. Practice -- in the mirror, with a friend, film yourself, ask others to read over it (if applicable). But practice. Really. I *always* practice negotiations.

After you’ve started the process:

  1. Do not accept the first job offer.

  2. Ask for more than you want, so if you get less, it will still be more than you need.