This post is sponsored by BECU. All opinions are my own.
I’m partnering with BECU this year to focus on financial health and well-being as well as to open up about my journey with debt and savings. BECU is a member-owned credit union focused on helping increase the financial health of its members
I feel passionate about this partnership as my personal relationship with money and finances has fluctuated up and down in my life. In 2019, I’m working towards clear debt and savings goals and I’m empowering you to also own your finances in the New Year.
Today I’m opening up about my $30,000 student loan story, my long term goal with paying off this debt, and my three main savings goals of 2019.
My $30,000 student debt:
At 17 years old, I sat down and filled out my FAFSA for the first time. I turned as grey as the January skies when I pulled my parent’s tax returns and I learned my parents had no savings for me to go to college.
Like many immigrant families, my family came to the United States with hopes of a better life. The education and opportunities in America outweighed the Philippines. While my parents knew that college was the way out of hardship, they did not know the price of an education. My family did not know that the average cost of college per year would be $20,000-$25,000.
My parents came forward and let me know that they only made enough money for us to live paycheck to paycheck. They’re combined income of $70,000 a year was barely enough for our family of four. I felt sick when my FAFSA determined that my family’s EFC (expected family contribution) was $8,000 a year because I knew my parents did not have that money.
But I knew that a college degree was destined to be my next step.
I didn’t want to wait or attend community college. I was ready to start my future at a four-year institution. I was motivated and I knew I had to make this work. So, I accepted that I would graduate with debt – and that I would make this financial investment (my degree) worth it.
My parents agreed to pull out federal loans alongside of me for my first two years of college. And my junior and senior year, it was up to me to make ends meet. I financed my total education with $30,000 of student loans and the rest in scholarships, federal grants, and the money I had saved working two summer internships at the Boeing Company.
I had so much fear and stress around how my student loans would affect me after I left college. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to save, to pursue a master’s degree, or live a life without financial hardship.
Life after Graduation:
My loan repayments started 6 months after graduation and I was surprised that my life actually did not end. I was working full time at PepsiCo, exploring Orange County and LA, and traveled quite a bit my first year out of school. And I realized that I was paying my student loans and I still could save and have fun.
It’s been four years since I started paying my student loans back and in 2019 I’m setting bigger savings goals than ever. I wish I could tell my 18, 19, 20, and 21 year-old self that the student loans aren’t going to bury you. You can absolutely balance your student debt with saving.
I’ve learned throughout the years that it’s about how you choose to see your debt and finances and setting realistic goals.
How I approach student debt:
To be honest, I had a lot of shame around the debt I took out to finance my education. There’re so many people out there questioning whether degrees are worth it or not. But I knew I wanted and needed my business degree so these last few years I’ve really tried to let go of the shame around student debt.
A year out of college, I discovered Rich Bitch by Nicole Lapin. Through her book I learned that you can change your outlook around debt by prioritizing your debt by interest rates. BECU also has tips on ways you can reduce debt while still saving. I realized that this is how I would prioritize the debt in my life:
- Credit Cards – 19-25%
- Car Loans – 4-6%
- Government Student Loans – 3-6%
- (I don’t include a home and mortgage loan because I don’t own a home yet.)
I realized that my student loans had lower interest rates than my car and credit card. So, rather than focusing all of my efforts in paying off my student loans, I realized that I could make my monthly student payments while paying off the travels I put on my credit card and my car loan.
My long term financial goal for repaying student debt: December 2023
Personally, I plan on paying off my student loans in 5 years. I’ve budgeted the $350-400 a month of student loans since I graduated in 2014. In December of 2018, my remaining loan balance is $19,500.
|Years||Year End Target|
|Student Loan Monthly Repayment|
|Months in a Year|
|Annual Student Loan Repayment|
To me, this debt is a line item in my budget and it doesn’t overshadow or prohibit me from saving towards my other financial goals. If you need help setting a budget, try out BECU’s interactive budgeting guide.
How I approach saving while balancing student debt:
If you’ve set clear debt goals, you can also set clear savings goals. I’m starting off 2019 with 3 clear short-term savings goals.
1. I’m making a separate savings account for my trips this year.
Savings Goal End Date: December 2019
I recently took a BECU Budgeting Class and learned that I can create a separate savings account to help me save for all my 2019 travels. I’m heading to San Francisco, Yosemite National Park, the Philippines, Japan, possibly Singapore, and New York Fashion Week in September.
Through the BECU Budgeting Class, I learned that I can add up the total cost of the trips, divide by 12 months, and make it a priority to put away few hundred dollars each month for those trips.
2. One of my biggest saving goals in 2019 is to turn 3 month emergency fund into 6 months’ worth of savings.
This is also a separate savings account.
Savings Goal End Date: December 2019
When I graduated from college, I made it a priority to put at least 3 months’ worth of my cost of living in savings. Four years later, I know it’s time to put 6 months’ worth of my cost of living in savings.
Why does an emergency fund matter? While you may be healthy and employed right now, you don’t know what the future brings. Your company could be hit with layoffs or a medical emergency may happen and you may need to take time off work.
I updated and calculated my monthly expenses, multiplied it by 6 months, and subtracted my initial 3 month savings. I took this remaining amount, divided it by 12 months, and I’m making it a priority to save at least $300 a paycheck to put towards this emergency fund.
3. Save and stick to my eating out budget.
Savings Goal End Date: December 2019
I rarely ate out in college and was so strict about my $30-35 weekly grocery budget for four years. When I graduated from college and started working full-time, I was so excited and relieved that I could eat out and actually spend more than $35 a week in food. I spent my first year out of college exploring and brunching my way every weekend through LA. While it was so much fun to try new brunch places, I learned after my first year out of college how expensive eating out can be.
I’m saving at least $200 a month to eating out which equates to eating out 2-3 times a week in the Seattle area. This eating out budget includes my weekly Starbucks trips, random bubble tea, ice cream trips, and of course, brunch.
In 2019, don’t let your student debt or lack of savings define you.
Here are a few tools that BECU offers:
You can pay off your debts and you can save. You can own your finances.
You have to be honest with yourself, sit down, and lay out your student debt, overall debt, and savings goals. If you need help or want somebody to talk to, you can always schedule a free financial health check session with BECU. In 45-60 minutes, a BECU representative can look at your accounts and help you make decisions about savings and debt management.
Another BECU tool I love is Money Manager. When you are logged into your Online Banking, you click on the “Budgets” tab in the top right hand corner. An interactive infographic pops up and it shows you your highest spending categories. It was no surprise that Shopping (includes Amazon, Groceries, and shopping for clothes) and Food were my highest categories. This tool is a great way to see where most of your money goes if you’re looking to create your first budget.
You can also join an online FREE webinar about Budgeting with BECU! The next one is February 5th and the webinars are hosted live. You can view the all the available dates for 2019 on the Free Seminars & Webinars page.
Lastly, remember to write out those student debt and savings goals and add a date to reach your goals by. According to Huffington Post, you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goals when you write them down. Here’s to a new year and a new outlook on finances.
Thank you for reading!
Photos: Karya Schanilec