How I Paid Off My Student Loans – Without Moving into My Parent’s Basement

I am a millennial. We are known for killing lots of things – everything from retail stores, restaurants,  the diamond industry, and cereal. We’re also known for having a lot of student loan debt. In fact, the average college graduate in 2015 graduated with $30,100. Many of us are working hard to pay off our student loans but studies still show that student loan debt is preventing millennials from buying homes, getting married, and having kids.

I graduated from an in-state school in May 2016. I had hopes, dreams, and a whole bunch of student loan debt. But as of March 2018 – all of my student loan debt is GONE! Here’s how I did it, using Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps!

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  1. I had a small emergency fund
    • Part of Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps is having a $1000 emergency fund. This is step one and it seriously MATTERS! It helped keep my anxiety down and helped to silence the “what-ifs”. It ended up being my saving grace after my car needed $700 worth of repairs on my second day of work. I didn’t have to use anything else but my emergency fund and then I replaced it as soon as I could. It was the peace of mind I needed and I still use it today! And, with IBD, I need a safety net in case something happens (ER visits, expensive medicines, unforeseen procedures)
  2. I followed Dave Ramsey’s Snowball method
    • What’s the snowball method? You pay off your debts smallest to largest, disregarding the interest. It’s a mental game – not a math game. I paid my minimum student loan payment every month. Then, EVERY EXTRA DOLLAR I had went towards my smallest student loans. This helped me gain momentum and helped keep me motivated to pay off the next one. Here’s a link to better explain the snowball method!
  3. I challenged myself
    • I made it a game to see how little I could spend. My grocery budget got smaller every week and I would challenge myself to use whatever I had left in the pantry. I turned off every light, kept my apartment cold in the winter, warmer in the summer (but if you know me, it wasn’t that warm – I hate the heat), and when it was nice enough, I opened the windows. I budgeted my gas like a crazy person (Did I really need to go to Walmart 15 minutes away or could I get I get it from Kroger, down the street?) and was conscious about my driving habits. Challenging myself helped keep me accountable!
  4. I used cash
    • I used cash for most things. I used my debit card for gas but other than that, I carried cash around. I felt the sting when I had to pay for groceries and it also helped me stay within my budget. You spend more when you use plastic – debit or not!
  5. My “Why” was greater than anything else
    • This is the key. You NEED a “why”. “I want to get out of debt” is different than “I want to get out of debt so I can buy a house/have a dream wedding/have kids/adopt kids….etc” My “why” to get out of debt was huge. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and my medications were expensive. I also knew more hospital visits were potentially in my future and I wanted to be prepared financially. If my “why” hadn’t been HUGE, I would not have stayed motivated.
  6. I made a budget – and it wasn’t hard
    • I budgeted every single dollar I earned. I knew how much was coming in and I made sure every dollar had a purpose. I had categories for rent, food, utilities, student loan repayment, and misc (because LIFE HAPPENS). I know it sounds boring but it is SO IMPORTANT! Do it. Make a budget. If you need help, you can search for budgeting apps like this one.
  7. I budgeted for fun stuff
    • It may sound like I had no fun for two years but I wasn’t a complete hermit! I budgeted dinners out and rewarded myself at certain milestones. I didn’t spend hundreds but an occasional night out or small splurge really helped me from getting burned out! Plus, my fiancé and I got REALLY good at making steak at home – and really, we think we make it better than most nice restaurants.

I know – it sound tedious and boring. There is no secret formula. There is no magic money making ploy. It’s just a slow, steady process with lots of “wins” to keep you motivated! It just took determination, hard work, and a whole lot of faith. Truthfully, I paid the last payment and I felt so free. If I can do it, with everything else I had going on during this time (see About Me for more on that), you can too!

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Me and Dave Ramsey – I was nervous and apparently, my shoes didn’t match my outfit. Nice. (Still loved meeting him!)

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Stop Comparing Lemons

Lemons

Recently, my fiancé twisted his ankle. A few days later, he hurt his leg. You know how I know? Because he could not stop talking about it. We went to Life Group with our church family and he talked about it there. I rolled my eyes because goodness gracious, it’s just a tweaked muscle. He limped down the stairs and after discussion, our group prayed for his leg and you know what I did? I stifled my laughter underneath the blanket. *cue bad fiancé award*

Now don’t get me wrong, I love him more than words could say. I’m sure some of you think I’m a heartless fiancé and others are laughing with me because let’s be real, we’ve all had a man in our life complain about something. (A man cold is somehow worse than a female cold, amirite?) I sympathize with him and realize that he was actually limping and did struggle getting around for a few days.  But I still found myself comparing lemons. Confused? Read on.

I’ll be honest – I was bitter because HELLO!?! I deal with chronic pain, stomach pains that only get “less painful”, joint pain and swelling that comes and goes, and fatigue that never seems to goes away. And guys, I’m not even in a flare. I’m in remission but to be quite honest, my body still hates me. It’s only “less” bad, never “good”. I thought remission was this happy place full of HEALTH – but honestly, it’s just the absence of active disease and I still battle symptoms daily and occasionally, I get bitter.

But do I complain about it? Or talk about it at all? No.

It would be constant if I talked about it. Everyone would get sick of me if I talked about my daily bathroom habits (just being real), my ankles and knuckles swelling up if I eat the wrong thing, the fatigue that takes over my body at random times, the stomach pains that have me doubled over in seconds, the countless times I’ve held crushed Kyle’s hand while lying on the ground in pain, and how I constantly think about how my next meal will impact me. My illness isn’t visible and many people don’t understand something that they can’t see. And to be honest, I don’t want to be “that” person who just constantly talks about miserable life is with a chronic illness. But here’s a truth bomb that many with invisible illnesses will not want to admit. One that I realized after this laughing incident with Kyle – those with invisible illnesses think we’re entitled to complaining because our problems are serious and that other people’s problems are somehow “lesser”. Guess what? While our problems are serious, we’re not entitled to complain. It’s time to accept the fact that this is the life we were handed and we have to make the most of it.

Woah.

Let that sink in.

We were dealt a hand that didn’t meet our expectations and it’s not fair. But life isn’t fair. So complain for a minute, take a deep breath, and move on. There is GOOD in every day.

Is that harsh? Sure. I’m not saying to pretend everything is fine every single day. That would be lying. But truly, on my worst days, on the days I’m unsure if my UC will get better, I can always point towards the good. I can acknowledge the bad but focus on the good. I wasn’t always that way but when you’re engaged to a Marine who stays calm in every circumstance, you begin to realize that there really is good in every day.

I compared my lemons (UC) to my fiancé’s lemons (hurt leg, ankle) and felt entitled to complain about my $#!* because it was somehow worse. And that is so wrong. I hear it all the time from people with UC, Crohn’s, or other chronic illnesses – “They don’t know real pain”. Don’t get me wrong, there are several people with UC or Crohn’s (or other illnesses) that remain positive and DO share the good. I admire those people. I try to be that person all of the time but sometimes I feel entitled and think “Psh, get over it. Live one day in my shoes and then you won’t complain” And then I stop myself – why does it matter? Every single person is fighting their own battle. Everyone is dealt a different hand. And if they want to complain, let them. But YOU have the CHOICE every single day to be happy no matter the circumstances. I challenge you to write down three things you are thankful for every morning – and when you’re overwhelmed with negativity, acknowledge the pity party and then move on. You can still share your story, the bad, the ugly, but most importantly, share the good. I vow to always share the good when I can. I vow to not compare my story to someone else’s – let’s be real, my stories are honest, raw, funny, and intimate in their own way. For those that connect to my story, I promise to share more – but I won’t compare my story to another and you shouldn’t either.

So babe, I’m sorry for comparing. I’m sorry about your leg. Next time, I’ll lend a more compassionate ear and grab you the ice pack without being bitter. Lord knows you have listened to me complain about my UC and held my hand when my UC was terrible. You’ve force fed me Goldfish when I was on prednisone and didn’t want to eat but HAD to, you’ve made me bland chicken soup right after my diagnosis and held me while I ate small bites between sobs, you told me I didn’t have a moon face from the prednisone even though I knew you were lying (see picture below), you’ve laughed with me when my broken guts will not stop making noise at the most inappropriate times, and you’ve shown me how to find the good things in every day. More importantly, you’ve taught me to stop comparing lemons. You’ve taught me how to have a pity party and then move on. That’s the greatest lesson I’ve learned from you. Thank you, love.

8 Things People With IBD Wish You’d Stop Saying (and what you should say instead)

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) refers to either Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis. It’s chronic inflammation of the digestive tract and is often characterized by severe abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, and weight loss.

While you might mean well, these are 8 things that those with IBD wish you’d stop saying.

  1. “Is your stomach thing gone yet?”
    • Uh, what? That “stomach thing” is a chronic illness with no cure. So no, it’s not “gone yet”. It will never go away but thanks for asking *eye roll*
    • Instead, ask “How are you feeling?” We’ll be open and honest and we’d love to talk about it!
  2. “My friend/roommate/cousins roommates mom had that! She doesn’t have it anymore.”
    • Not true. She probably doesn’t have it because it will ALWAYS be there. Or if she does have it, you have now annoyed me and her. Even if she had surgery to remove the diseased part of the intestine, it doesn’t “cure” IBD. She may be in remission (where IBD symptoms aren’t currently active) but she still has IBD.
    • Instead…If you truly know someone who struggles with IBD, offer to connect us. We love having people in our community!
  3. “Have you tried….?”
    • Trust me. We’ve tried it all. We’ve researched everything there is to know about our disease. We know our bodies best. Some things work, others don’t and that’s okay!
    • Instead, say nothing.
  4. “How did you get this?”
    • I didn’t forward that email chain in middle school. Kidding – but I didn’t ask for this, it just happened. It’s my body attacking itself and I couldn’t have prevented getting it. With that said, I am doing my best and avoiding known flare triggers so to some degree, I can manage.
    • Instead, ask “Wow, what were your first symptoms?” We’d rather tell you our story and explain how we got to where we are.
  5. “I had the stomach flu last year, I totally get it”
    • That’s laughable. Were you trapped in the bathroom literally all day? Did you have internal bleeding for months on end? Did you starve yourself just to see if it would help but alas, you were still making upwards of 30+ (yes, 30) trips to the bathroom a day? Did you suffer from joint pain? Skin problems? No? Okay. Calm down. The stomach flu goes away. IBD does not.
    • Instead, say nothing. Seriously.
  6. “I have IBS, I totally get it”
    • Similar to #5, you don’t actually understand. Sure, IBS is inconvenient. But it’s not IBD. IBS is much more manageable and doesn’t come with symptoms outside of the GI tract. But, if you have IBS and you’re struggling past what’s normal for IBS, get checked and make sure you don’t have something else going on.
    • Instead, say nothing. Seriously. We know you mean well but it’s not the same.
  7. “But you don’t look sick so that’s good!”
    • In a way, you’re right. But the only problem with not “looking” sick is that no one takes you seriously when you say you have a chronic illness and no one believes you when you’re going through a serious flare.
    • Instead, ask “How are you feeling?” This allows us to tell you the truth. We may be feeling great and we’ve been in remission for a while. Or we may be at the beginning of a flare and we’re struggling. Let us tell you how we feel instead of assuming we’re “okay” because we don’t look sick.
  8. “Should you be eating that?”
    • Yes, I should. I know what’s best for my body and I know what will cause problems. IBD isn’t caused by diet. Diet can help but it isn’t the end all be all. So yes, I can eat this. And since IBDers often struggle with loss of appetite, it’s a pretty big deal that I’m eating anything.
    • Instead, say nothing. We don’t judge your food choices, please don’t judge ours.

If you know someone with IBD and you want to know more, ask them! Or check out the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation website here to learn more about IBD and how to support the search for a cure.

“Well, you don’t LOOK sick”

You’re right. I don’t.

Ulcerative Colitis is an invisible disease. I fight it daily. When I’m in remission, I am pretty healthy and can do everything that a healthy person can (except eat salads – I can’t do that).

When I was first diagnosed, many people would say “But you don’t look sick” “Add more fiber, will that help?” “It’ll be fine, you’re not that bad” “When is it over?” “Are you cured yet?” *cue eye-rolls*

When I’m not in remission (like currently) I battle fatigue, achy joints, extreme stomach pain, running to the bathroom multiple times a day (as much as 30+ times a day), lack of appetite, and generally feeling like crap. Every minute of everyday revolves around UC. I have to think about every single minute of every single day and work hard to hopefully reach remission. You may not be able to see the bleeding ulcers in my colon but I promise you, they’re there.

Health and fitness has helped tremendously. I follow a pretty simple diet – no sugars, no grains (NSNG). It’s basically paleo if you want to give it a name. Sugar is shown to be inflammatory so I stay away. It does a great job at triggering a flare for me. But grains? Well, gluten is out for most people with IBD. It causes SEVERE stomach aches for me. I stay away from grains because I have to be low-fiber until I reach remission. After I reach remission, they won’t return to my diet.

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The picture above shows me in the hospital with pancreatitis, 5 days prior to my UC diagnosis. My dad sat with me at the hospital while I cried when they gave me morphine and said “Yep, it’s pancreatitis”. I was supposed to meet my dad for dinner that night. Instead, I met him at home and he drove me to the ER. I knew then that UC was likely in my future and five days later, it was confirmed.

The after picture shows how daily exercise, paleo diet, and taking medication daily has helped me. I am NOT in remission and this definitely may not work for everyone. At any minute, my health could change and I’m aware of that. But yeah, I don’t look sick. I get that. I don’t like looking sick and work hard to make sure I am healthy.