My Debt Free Story: How Ijeoma Paid Off $19,000 Student Loan Debt in 10 Months
My debt free story is a OneSavvyDollar series where we interview millennials who have successfully paid off any major debt i.e. student loans, car loans, credit cards.
Please note: If you’re currently unemployed and facing so much uncertainty with your finances, it’s best to save as much as you can right now. If you’re still employed and carrying on with your financial plans and debt-free journey then read on…..
The aim is to inspire, encourage, and motivate you to take hold of your personal finance because “financial fitness is not a pipe dream or a state of mind. It is a reality if you’re willing to pursue it and embrace it.” – Will Robinson
Can you tell us a bit about you?
My name is Ijeoma Okoli and I am a 37-year-old lady, married with 2 children. I currently reside in Houston and have been here since December 2007. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering and an MBA.
I am currently a Senior Program Manager at Baker Hughes. When I am not working at my 9 to 5; I love working on our Non-profit Umu Igbo Unite (UIU) Corporation and our Company Ije the World Traveler. I also love traveling, binging a good show, and spending time with my family and friends.
What and when was your “sick and tired” of debt moment?
I have actually been pretty good with my finances. I felt like I had a good job and would always strive to pay off my debt. Before marriage, I would create a budget but I never quite stuck to said budget.
My husband actually started holding me accountable; I had to understand why I was budgeting. Budgeting doesn’t mean I couldn’t do what I wanted but it allowed me to plan better to avoid worrying about how to pay my credit card off later.
How did you acquire the debt and do you regret doing so?
I graduated from Undergrad in December 2004 with about $25,000 amount in loans. I didn’t have to start paying the loan back until a couple of months after graduation.
Thankfully, I was able to find a job within 2 months of graduating and I was prepared to make the minimum payments.
In Fall 2007 I decided to go back to school for my MBA, I ended up borrowing about $45,000. Thinking back, while in undergrad if I had any excess (refund check) I used it as spending money, not thinking about the interest I would owe.
I learned from that, so for grad school, I was more mindful to only borrow what I needed.
How much debt did you pay off in total? How much money in interest and time did you save in total?
Honestly, paying off my student loans was not a priority because I’ve always considered student loans to be “good debt”.
It was a low-interest loan and I kept paying a little bit more than the minimum. I secretly hoped a miracle would happen and I’ll get a letter in the mail from Sallie Mae/Navient telling me that I was no longer required to pay it off.
I joined OneSavvyDollar in 2018 and saw different conversations where Ogechi encouraged us to pay it off and not to rely on anyone to pay it off. If it happened great but what if it doesn’t?
My husband encouraged me as well so I finally decided it would be my goal for 2019. In January 2019, I owed $18,319 on both loans. I created a plan and started paying it aggressively with any extra money, bonus, sign-on bonus, whatever, I could put towards the debt.
By August 2019, I paid off $9,538 remaining from one loan, and in October 2019, I paid off $8,781 on the other loan. Making me student loan debt-free. In hindsight, I should have paid these off sooner but glad they are gone now as there’s no point in having regrets.
Can you describe the specific choices you had to make to become debt free?
I created a budget and stuck to it. I also set up the automatic withdrawal which forced me to stick to a schedule. I paid all my bills, putting aside my savings, projects, goals, etc. so I could make those payments first and then enjoy what’s left. I kept doing this each month until I figured out my formula and what I was comfortable with.
Was there any time during your journey where your friends and or family challenged your plans to become debt free?
Not at all. I have a very supportive circle of family and friends. We are constantly pushing each other to build wealth and reduce debt.
Were any resources such as blogs, books, podcasts particularly helpful to you in staying on track? Or where did you find your inspiration to stay on track through your journey?
Joining OneSavvyDollar, reading the posts, and participating in the discussions has helped address some of my inquiries as it relates to financial wealth.
I also get my inspiration from my husband, he reads everything. He’s also really great at budgeting and ensures we are sticking to our goals. He inspires me to stay on track.
How did you feel when you made that final payment?
I felt elated and proud. There was a weight over my shoulders that I didn’t even know was there.
What steps are you taking to ensure that you stay debt-free now?
Well for starters, I’m not going back to school any time soon LOL. No seriously, outside of my house and car, I plan to pay off my credit cards each month. If I can’t afford it and don’t have a plan to pay it off, I’m not buying it.
If you could go back in time and advise your 18-year-old self, what advice would you give him?
I would tell myself to save more. Create an account that’s out of sight and even if it’s $50 a month, save and don’t touch it.
What advice would you give anyone who has debt and seeking encouragement?
First off, breathe. Create a realistic plan and stick to it. Take it one day at a time, because Rome was not built in a day. Forgive yourself and look forward.
How can our readers keep in touch with you?
You can follow me on Instagram.
Congratulations, Ije! Here’s wishing you much success on your financial journey.