Monday, May 30, 2016

Be Vocal About Your Debt-Freedom Journey!

My debt pay-off plans come out of my mouth before I even realize it does in many conversations with my peers. Sometimes I get blank stares because people either don’t realize the gravity of $113K in student loans or they simply don’t care. But it occurred to me that I seldom tell those who are older than me what I am doing. I don’t know if that is because they are somewhat out of the equation when it comes to people I speak with on a daily basis, or if I am concerned about how they will judge me for living my youth. After all, the norm these days is ‘YOLO,’ ‘Can’t take it with you,’ and ‘Live it up while you’re young!’

Whatever the reason, last night at my night job, I told two older managers of mine (that I have known for many years) that I hoped to be able to quit serving tables at that job in a couple of months. They asked where I was going and I told them nowhere, it is just that I will be debt-free at that point. I told them I have kept this night job while working a day job for so many years because I made it a goal to have all of my student loans paid off as fast as I possibly could. They were floored when I told them I have paid off over a hundred thousand dollars thus far. They genuinely celebrated with me and said so many kind words. That typically doesn’t happen. Typically I will get, “Wow cool, pay off mine next.” with a chuckle and a fast exit. I was floored they didn’t know that about me, but they indeed had no clue; they had no idea I had a reason for being a server other than to make some fun, side money.

So what did I learn from this? Tell everyone what you are going through, not just your peers! People you least expect could encourage you and celebrate your accomplishments. I didn’t feel that I needed any praise, but let me tell you, now that morning has come, I feel a smidge prouder of myself than I did yesterday. Praise helps. Praise should be welcomed. I am doing something many do not. I do stand out. It felt good to be noticed for that even if I was standing there covered in barbecue sauce while wearing a worn out apron. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The First Real Mistake I Ever Made

The sky was the limit and the world was my oyster. I was going to be a star. A country star. And country stars belong in Nashville, Tennessee.

However, I was not going to be one that signed a horrible record contract that I would spend my adult years trying to get out of. I was going to be smart by getting my education at Belmont University. No one will be able to take advantage of me because I will 100% know better. Music business here I come.

I didn’t let things like a 8-9% interest rate on a loan stop me because “you can always refinance when you graduate.” I learned the hard way that was indeed not true. I had made my first mistake before ever even stepping foot into the alluring spotlight of the music business. I made my first faulty steps by entering into a life altering contract with Sallie Mae. The worst part about it was that I didn’t realize I had made this grave mistake until about a year or two after I graduated.  Who knew my ‘be an educated artist’ plan would get derailed from a school loan long before a record contact was even visible? They did. Sallie Mae sees people like me coming every day. They capitalize on those people. And I don’t blame them. It was a bad decision on my part. Period.

Fast forward approximately 10 years and I am almost done paying that demon off. But you know what I lost in the meantime? That hypothetical record contract I so longed for as a young adult. I am still young, technically; I am 29. I was so screwed over by my first mistake with college loans that I could not concentrate on how not to make another mistake in the music industry. All I could think about after graduation and the years to follow was how in the world I was going to right this financial wrong of mine. So in essence, that first business mistake robbed me of my chance at not making the mistake I was trying to avoid by learning the business side of the industry. Pretty ironic if you ask me. Maybe saying Belmont is the reason I didn’t get a record contract is an excuse. There are so many country artists and songwriters who have ‘made it’ by doing whatever it takes. And whatever it takes most times means getting your car repossessed, defaulting on loans, and borrowing money from your family. I just couldn’t do that. I could not make that sacrifice. When advised that I should choose between my dream and my credit score, I picked the latter. I picked not defaulting on my loans, keeping my car, and leaving my parents and relatives out of my financial mess. I chose the safe road.

So here I am, 6 months away from closing my student loan chapter and about 7 years late on opening my music business chapter. There are outliers, but for the most part, music professionals will tell you that your window of record contract opportunity becomes exponentially smaller once you surpass the age of 25. And about 10 times harder if you are a female.

So that’s great news given I am a 29 year old female.

I am very aware these loans were my decision. A decision that haunts and taunts me daily. I got a brief taste of the industry I so love right after college and then before I knew it, I was ripped out to work in boring corporate America with my business degree so that I could afford my new ‘welcome to adulthood’ loan payments. I have hustled by working 2 jobs and budgeted unlike anyone I know. Did I have to pay off my loans 15 years early? No. But I was so incredibly infuriated by them that I needed them gone.

I have many friends who are still in the music industry, and for the most part, they love what they do every day. I don’t know many success stories of singers who have ‘made it’ quite just yet, but the majority of my college friends stuck with music. However, they are also all still stuck with their loans and very much so living paycheck to paycheck. Perhaps there was a better path for us to have taken back then that didn’t include college. Perhaps there is a better path now that we could be taking. Who knows, but what I have learned from all of this is that there is indeed such a thing as not being able to afford it. And although college is something that has been programmed into us as a necessity, there are other routes to explore that may not have college in it.

I do not regret my decision. I learned and experienced things at Belmont that will stick with me forever. However, to all who are reading this, I urge you to look for any and all possible paths before signing your freedom away to attend the college you think you “just have to go to.” I promise, there will be people around you who are successful that don’t have a minute of their time or a dime invested in a university; and there will be successful people around you who seem to be in a perpetual state of higher education. If you think you have the drive, determination, and the entrepreneurship to at least attempt your dream without the textbooks and professors, by all means, you owe it to yourself to try and blaze that trail. If the security of a degree is something you know you will need in order to stay sane, do it. But take it from me, (Ivy leagues aside) there is no real difference in having your degree come from an expensive private Christian university versus an affordable public university.

If you are just finishing high school and determining where you want to continue your education, please consider your choices very carefully, and don’t listen to the lenders and school advisers who will tell you and your parents how easy the repayment will be upon graduation; they cannot guarantee a thing. I made a mistake, and it took me a while to come to terms with that. How did I get to a place of acceptance and forgiveness? I learned from it. I learned to do the best I could in my situation, and try my very hardest to not have regret. The past could not be changed so I figured out how to make lemonade from my lemons. My hope is that if you are in a similar situation, you will try to find the positive, too. Fix the mistake with intention and grow from it.