My Debt Payoff Story: Kelsey Ditched Her $30,000 Debt on an Entry Level Salary
My Debt Payoff Story is a OneSavvyDollar series where we interview people who have successfully paid off any major debt i.e student loans, credit card etc.
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 yourself?
My name is Kelsey Yeager and I am a 24 year old chemical engineer who graduated with $30,000 of debt.
Well, technically, it was $28,000 when I graduated…but as I completely neglected to make any payments during the grace period, the interest quickly grew by $2,000!
Through trial and error, hard work and frugality, I ended up paying off all $30,000 in just 1.5 years, and the last $20,000 in just 6 months…off of my entry level salary! If I can do it, anyone can do it!
What and when was your “sick and tired of debt” moment?
I had been paying auto payments on my debt for almost a year, without really even thinking twice about it.
In November 2017, I created a high yield savings account because I realized it was a smart place to put all my savings, since I could earn about 1.85%.
When I called my dad and told him about this, he kindly pointed out that my debt was costing me 7% of interest every year, and I would therefore be LOSING money.
Even though this is obvious, and not the first time my dad pointed it out, for some reason on this day it clicked.
What was I doing paying so much money to debt every month as a bill? I need to just kick it into high gear and pay it off now, so I can actually begin growing my money later!
How much debt did you pay off in total? How much money in interest did you save in total?
I paid off $30,000 of loans in 1.5 years and the last $20,000 in 6 months. I paid about $2,500 in interest. If I had paid my loans via only the minimum payments, I would have ended up paying $15,000 in interest over 11.5 years!
How did you acquire the debt and do you regret doing so?
I acquired the debt with my undergraduate 4 year degree and don’t regret it one bit! I wouldn’t have been able to earn this much without a degree, or learn nearly as much about engineering.
Honestly, I’ve also had the best time of my life and made amazing friends and experiences there and I wouldn’t take back my experience for the world.
That being said, I wish I had understood the true implications of paying off debt.
In high school, everyone made it seem like student loans are no big deal and everyone has them, so I didn’t even really think about debt at all.
I didn’t realize I would have to be paying as much as I was paying in rent towards my loans. I may have chosen a different college or worked harder for scholarships if I had known this.
How much income were you earning when you accomplished this?
I was earning $65,000 per year which was $44,000 after taxes.
Can you describe the specific choices you had to make to pay off your debt?
I still lived an optimal life – but I decreased my excess spending A LOT. My boyfriend and I had gone out to eat a lot.
Every weekend when we hung out, we basically just went to a bunch of restaurants to get out and rarely ever cooked at home. This changed right away!
I made a huge effort to get really good at meal prep and stop eating out unless it was meaningful.
I became really intentional with all my purchases. Instead of going out to eat “just because”, we only went out on special occasions or to try a new restaurant or if there was a legitimate reason, not just because we were too lazy to cook.
Was there any time during your journey where your friends and or family challenged your plans to pay off your debt?
All the time! I currently live in Connecticut, but went to college in Delaware and I’m from Maryland so I have friends all up and down the east coast.
Many of my friends live in different states. Each friend, of course, has her own birthday party or get together or house warming or vacation trip – and I had to say no to a lot of them.
Each birthday party wasn’t just a birthday party…it was a whole travel to wherever they are, go out to eat, go out to the bar, go to brunch or do an activity the next day, and of course I needed a present and to buy her drinks.
I love my friends and I love celebrating them, but during this debt payoff time I simply couldn’t afford random trips like this.
I had to begin saying no to trips I was previously saying yes to just because I felt bad. But feeling bad isn’t a reason to drop $500 and set myself back from my goals.
This doesn’t mean I never saw them, of course. I was just intentional about which trips I went on. Instead of going down to NYC for 3 events in a month, I chose just 1 event to attend, for example.
What resources (books, blogs, podcast) inspired you stay on track? Or where did you find your inspiration to stay on track.
I used the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement to keep me motivated. The idea is to save tons of money to live off of forever, so you can quit your job.
There was nothing in this world more enticing to me than quitting my job.
And the first step to quitting my job was getting out of debt. I had to!
Some blogs I really like are Millennial Money, Mad FIentist, Mr. Money Mustache and Go Curry Cracker that helped inspire me and stay on track.
What steps are you taking to ensure that you stay debt free?
I know I will never go into debt again (except for maybe a mortgage one day). I don’t plan to go back to school for a higher education, which was what got me into debt the first time.
In addition, since I am chasing the FIRE movement, I am saving lots of money.
I put a lot of money into my 401k, a roth IRA and other investments, but I also save $500 per month into my high yield savings account. This creates many buffers between me and debt that I can use to pay off large purchases.
I also try to diversify my streams of income through my blog where I receive ad, affiliate and coaching income.
In addition to that, I sell T-shirts on Amazon and I still have my main job.
If my income from any one of these were to drop significantly, I have the other streams of income to fall back on to help keep me out of debt.
If you could go back in time to advice your 18-year old self, what money advice would you give her?
I would tell my 18 year old self to consider University of Maryland and apply for more scholarships!
Student loans are a pain in the ass and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
We have a culture that kind of accepts student loan debt as being OK, but it’s not. It’s a huge burden to have on your every day life.
What money advice would you give anyone who has debt and looking to stay motivated?
Progress, not perfection! If you have your whole nice budget set up but you accidentally slip and give into an impulse buy, don’t cancel your entire budget and get down on yourself!
Maybe you wanted to pay off $500 towards debt but you could only do $400 this month.
Girl, that’s still amazing!!
Your habits and mindset are still moving you forward in the direction you want to go, even if it feels slow!
Imagine you’re driving to a friend’s house. You want to get there as fast as possible – and the roads are 65 mph.
Then, the speed limit on the road changed to 30 mph. Guess what…you just slow down, but you’re still on track to reach your friend’s house!
You’re not going to stop the car and turn around and cancel the trip just because you aren’t going as fast as you wish you were.
You keep on going because you know if you follow this path, even at this lower speed, you will reach your destination.
Stick with it even when it gets hard!! You’re better than you were yesterday and that’s all that matters 🙂
How can our readers keep in touch with you?
Congratulations Kelsey. We wish you much success in your financial journey!
Do you have a money story? Would you like to share your money story to motivate, encourage and inspire others? Send an email to here with the subject line “My Money Story” and we will be in touch.