When I paid off $35,000 in student loan debt, it wasn’t exactly easy and I made a few mistakes along the way. I want to share some things I did that I could have done differently on my debt free journey.
Paying off debt is hard work and you’re bound to make some mistakes. I sure did! Remember, this journey isn’t easy. If it was, then everyone would be debt free, right? Here are three mistakes that I made while I was trying to pay off debt.

Mistake #1: Not paying off my debt sooner

There was a time that I had $8,000 in my savings account during my debt free journey. I had a hard time paying off my last student loan because I viewed that money as security. There’s two ways to view money: security or power. That’s it. Typically, men view money as power. The more money they have, the more powerful they feel. Women view money as security. The more money they have, the more secure they feel. And for me, I felt way more secure with $8,000.
But here’s the thing. I wanted to be debt free so badly. This was a spiritual journey just as much as it was a financial journey. So the next thing I did was to pray. I prayed on it and asked God what I should do. And the response was so clear. You know how when sometimes you don’t feel like you can feel God? Or like your prayers go unanswered? This was not one of those times.
I heard Him clear as day.
“Give it. Pay it. You are going to get it back and even more.”
After that, I ended up paying off my last loan in one lump sum. I could have easily paid off my debt a few months sooner and could be debt free longer. Had I not resisted the process, I could have started my debt free life much sooner.
If you want to be debt free, you have to remember that you can make your debt free journey as short as you want. Or you can drag it out for months, even years. It’s up to you. If I could go back, I wouldn’t have delayed and trusted my future self that I would make the money back. And damn, have I made the money back!

Mistake #2: Not looking into investing strategies that I could do on my own

One of the things that I didn’t pay attention to on my debt free journey were investing strategies. When you are paying off debt, that should be your sole focus, but you should always be learning. Once you’re debt free it’s not like you magically know how to invest. That’s a whole other amusement park and I haven’t rode those rides.
I made the mistake of not reading investment books while I was paying off debt. Even if I read one investing book, I would have been more knowledgeable about how I wanted to invest.
Instead, I ended up finding a financial advisor through Dave Ramsey’s endorsed local providers program. And while the advisor we had was a nice guy, I wasn’t savvy enough to know how much we were paying in fees. In Kyle’s Roth IRA account alone, we were paying 4.91% in annual expenses. What’s even worse, is that they gave us hypothetical expense summaries of $10,000 for each fund. We had four funds and if there was $10,000 in each fund, it was a combined $7,945.50 in expenses! So out of $40,000 of our money, we were paying nearly $8,000 for someone to review it and occasionally make some changes for us.
I wasn’t comfortable paying that kind of money to someone I met once per year. Eventually, I moved my Roth IRA over to Vanguard where I now manage my own funds. I love personal finance and learning about investing, so I like managing my own funds. But you have to do what’s best for you! If you’re interested in managing your own investments, I recommend reading “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing,” by John C. Bogle.

Mistake #3: Not opening up a credit card

This is going to sound contradictory to the Dave Ramsey fans out there. I am a Dave Ramsey fan, too, having been on his show and doing my debt free scream. Back in the day, I was deathly afraid of credit cards. I never had one in college and didn’t know much about them other than they were putting a lot of people in debt.
Then I started dating my husband in 2011 and was getting schooled on what this whole credit card deal was about. He talked. I resisted. We fought about it during a road trip. Finally, we circled back to the conversation and I was open-minded. He had opened up a credit card through a local bank and had done a fantastic job building up his credit. He told me about credit card benefits: protection against bank hackers, using credit card points and building a credit score. The credit score started to seem more important since we moved to San Diego. I knew the credit score was important because we have intentions to apply for a mortgage in Southern California.
He also was able to apply for a better credit card that offered cash back rewards and frequent flyer miles. Hold the phone, frequent flyer miles?! I love traveling! Had I opened up a credit card sooner and not even hardly used it, we could be in a better position of having more points and perks.
We recently opened up a Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card and I couldn’t be happier with our choice. For starters, it has helped us earn Companion Pass. Companion Pass is where you get to choose someone to fly FREE with you for one year. All you have to pay is the $5.20 one-way 9/11 sales tax.

Right, so how do I avoid the same mistakes as you, Justine?

Take these mistakes into consideration and avoid them! That’s why I built Freedom Project, my online course to getting out of debt. I love what resources are out there, but there was a lack of resources that were specifically geared towards millennials. I believe in using credit cards responsibly. I believe in traveling even when you’re in debt and having a flexible program that fits your life. If you are interested in a debt free program that doesn’t involve rice and beans, I invite you to check out the Freedom Project!

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