A young woman of color standing in a vineyard in New Zealand drinking wine and ignoring her problems with student loan debt and credit card debt.
Felicia's Wallet,  Money

How I Budgeted My Way to Debt-Freedom

So, wait: Did I tell you that I make ridiculous financial literacy videos about how to budget, how to pay off student loans, how to save money to travel, and all those types of things that freakin’ no one taught us growing up?

No? Oh, girl. Grab a refreshment.

For those of you whose eyeballs I haven’t already highjacked with this story: Last August, I bowed to Sallie Mae one last time and paid off about $50,000 in debt. That was a solid $12,000 in credit card debt (oy) and a whole $38,000 in student loans (GAAHHHH). And along the way, I figured out how to save enough for an emergency savings and a whole year (maybe more) of travel.

So I quit my job to travel,

indefinitely,

debt-free.

 

How’d I do it? I tell you more in the obnoxious video below.

But for those of you who like words? Scroll past and read on, friends.

 

 

My hair is big because it’s full of secrets, and I’ll share them all, but first, let’s get one thing straight:

 

I was so bad at money, y’all.

For some reason, taking out student loans and living my own during college didn’t teach me squat about money – besides Where To Sign To Make The Loan Money Rain Down, and How Not To Spend Said Loan Money (gelato, Korean barbecue, Vegas, etc).

And while I got by with my entry-level job for a few years in New York, I freelanced for a while and somehow survived off of a $22,000-ish touch-and-go salary. In New York. Freaking. City. I mean, God is real for sure, but I would not try that game again.

 

But my money problems were my fault.

This might sound familiar to you: I was straight-up treating my savings like a checking account. I was stepping away from happy hour so I can transfer margarita money to my debit card. I was going to three brunches in a weekend while also wondering, “Hm, remember those savings bonds my uncle bought me when I turned 5? Probs gonna need to cash those in to make rent this month.” *sips $28 cocktail*

And I was never, EVER, NOT NEEEEVER looking at my bank accounts, for probably the same reasons you don’t, either: Out of pure monkey fear and rabid denial.

 

A young woman of color standing in a vineyard in New Zealand drinking wine and ignoring her problems with student loan debt and credit card debt.
A fairly accurate depiction of my money mindset: Lelelalela shut up, alcohol, lelelealelala

 

 

And my friends were bad at money, too.

The best and worst part about it? All of my New York City friends were living the exact same way, so I felt COMPLETELY JUSTIFIED. Everyone else floated along haphazardly in a cloud of fear, denial, and overdraft fees, so I figured it wasn’t a big deal. We’d laugh nervously about it over mimosas, but hey – we were laughing. Then quickly changing the subject.

It was a toxic mindset, but I was surrounded by it, and no one was encouraging or teaching us any differently. All those red numbers, those minus signs, the missed loan payments and the late rent? Accessories, baby! Just one of my many cute Millennial quirks! All a part of the Big City, twenty-something dream, right, y’all?!

… Idiot.

 

A young woman of color making an OH MY GOD face in redwood forest in Rotorua while thinking about her money and debt problems.
All dis green… and you still couldn’t get your money right?

 

I needed to get my financial shit together.

How did I finally solve my money problems? Long story short: I was finally offered a full-time job – the kind that, unlike freelancing, pays you every two weeks pretty much no matter what. It paid decently, but more importantly, it paid regularly. I used to blame my money problems on irregular paychecks, and there went that excuse.

And I thought: Berna, if you can’t get your financial shit together with a regular drip of money being thrown at your face, then you are truly beyond help. Now is the time, girl.

 

But everyone’s budgeting advice sucked.

I haaaaated how everyone else on the Internet gave budgeting advice. Analyzing my credit reports made me feel capable of murder. Excel sheets made me dry heave. So I used a method I’ve always liked: Journaling. Writing. Words.

I popped open a Google Doc and began writing everything I did with every paycheck. Every two weeks, my paycheck would come, and I would write. I noted when money came, how much I had, where it went, and how I felt about it. I didn’t follow anyone else’s formula; I just did what made sense to me.

Thus: My budgeting journal, Felicia’s Wallet, was born. It’s been about two years since I started her, and she’s about 84 pages long now. She changed my whole freakin’ life, and if you’re down, she can change yours, too.

 

I took the first step to starting a budget.

Y’know why this budget journal worked for me? Because the very first thing it did was force me to look at my numbers. If a recovering addict needs help, we ask them to admit they have a problem first, right? That’s what I needed to do, and that’s what you need to do, too.

Before you even start to think about budgeting, you gotta know exactly what you’re working with.

That means writing down exactly how much money you have today, and exactly how much money you owe, right down to the cent. That means calling your bank, your creditors, your loan providers and asking them questions you think sound stupid (but really are not; nothing about wanting to know the truth of your money situation is stupid!).

That means looking your money monster right in its stupid MF face.

Allow me to explain mo’:

 

 

Now, your turn:

What motivates you to get your money together?

Saving up for a trip?

Slaying your debt?

Wanting to be an Independent Women like Our Ladies of Destiny’s Child always intended?

 

 

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