Talk about side hustle: Kara Perez paid off the final $18,000 of her college student loan debt in 10 months by picking up side jobs and cutting her budget dramatically.
“I was ruthless with my spending,” Kara said. “I cut everything out that I could: I negotiated with my landlord to lower my rent for a couple months; I stopped going out to eat, stopped buying clothes...any extra money I had went towards my loans.”
Although Kara had already paid off thousands of the original $25,000 in debt, she said “a quarter-life crisis” prompted her to make the drastic changes.
“I just needed to find something to latch onto. I had sent hundreds of job applications and I hadn't found a full-time job,” said the 2011 Wesleyan graduate.
“I realized I'm going to be broke forever if I don't get my act together,” she said.
Having debt after college wasn’t much of a surprise to Kara.
“I come from a fairly low-income background, so my mom couldn't pay for college out of pocket and it was just an inevitability,” she said. “Had we been millionaires she would've given me some for college, but it was wasn't the reality.”
She was so thrilled to get into her first-choice college that she didn’t negotiate her package with the financial aid office. “I thought I would get a job after college and I'd be able to pay it off--and then that didn't happen,” she said.
She wishes she had known what she was getting into before signing on the dotted line.
“I kind of had my head in the sand--no one talked about it. I just didn't understand what I had taken out, I didn't understand how it was going to be paid back,” she said.
Post quarter-life-crisis, Kara started her own financial literacy journey by turning to the internet. “I didn't have any guidance,” she said, noting that her mom was never particularly financially literate either.
Online, Kara found tools and community, and in 2014 she starting blogging about her debt-payoff journey under a pseudonym. Soon she was introducing herself as a freelancer specializing in personal finance.
“I found myself having the same conversation over and over again,” she said, and wanted to tell people she met, “I'm not special, you can do this yourself, you just need the tools.”
That’s when Kara turned her personal finance journey into a business and and launched Bravely, a community designed to increase personal financial literacy for women through small workshops and educational events.
For college students, she recommends staying organized and paying off debts, even in tiny amounts, while in school.
“Even something like $50 a month helps...it could literally take thousands off your debt,” she said.
And even if students don’t (or can’t) pay off any loans during school, Kara is proof that it’s possible afterwards--even making less than $32,000 a year. She still remembers the feeling of paying off that final loan.
“I got a bunch of my friends together at my favorite bar and I hadn't been there in 10 months. It was really exciting and it was also like I could finally breathe,” she said. “This huge weight was off my shoulders finally and completely.”
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