dream beyond debt

Roth IRA Challenge: Dream Beyond Debt

dream beyond debt Roth IRAAmanda over at Dream Beyond Debt took the Roth IRA Challenge. I followed Amanda and her amazing writing and story as she successfully worked her way out of debt and she is still doing amazing things. Her new goal is to save her first $100,000. She’s also the host of  #PFBookChat which you should definitely check out! Take it away Amanda…

When I finally made the decision to attack my $48,000 balance of long-standing student loan debt, I was already living pretty close to the bone. The year before I committed to my loan payoff journey, I was an underemployed underearner who had just declared bankruptcy. I was living on a tiny salary that I cobbled together through various teaching positions, temporary gigs, and freelance work. I lived with a roommate, kept my 14-year-old car once it was paid off, and shopped for groceries at the local discount store. I didn’t feel deprived, but I also didn’t feel like I was moving forward in any way. That’s when I decided to pay off those loans as quickly as I could. I reasoned that my small salary could stretch a lot further if I didn’t have those loans looming over my head.

It took me a minute to realize that in order to pay off those loans, that small salary couldn’t stay small for much longer. I knew that if I was going to make a dent in those loans, I was going to have to make more money somehow, someway.

That somehow, someway was pretty simple, actually. I did more of what I normally did.

For years, I made my living as a “freelance college instructor,” otherwise known as an adjunct. I left a full-time position because I didn’t like where it was located. I wanted control over my geography, which is rare in higher education. I traded full-time pay for that control. Wherever I’ve lived, it’s been pretty easy to secure a contingent position at any college or university in town.

I supplemented my income with odd jobs: Pilates instructor, book editor, freelance writer, dog-sitter, publicist, writing retreat host. My work life felt very scattered and purpose-less. I made enough to make my monthly student loan payment. But, I didn’t have much hope of carving out a career.

That changed when one college hired me as an I9 contractor. I could work from home for them, too – which is something I always dreamed about. Suddenly, I saw my career and financial life in a new light. That light inspired the idea to pay off those looming loans. It gave me enough confidence to try.

It took some grit. It also took some grind.  I took a hard look at my resume. I wrote out a list of contacts in my network. I brainstormed a collection of skills I’d acquired through the years. I took inventory of the tools at my disposal. Then, I got to work building a better future for myself.

I called a contact I had a temp agency in town and got a couple of gigs doing office work in December, over Christmas break. During that time, I posted a few big ticket items on Craigslist, and buyers came through. I also made the decision to raid a small savings account I’d been building. All those chunks of money added together made a nice sum to apply to my student loans.

I taught. And, I taught some more. I took on a lot of extra teaching work. At one point, I was teaching two courses at one school for $800 a month, plus two courses at another school for $1,300 a month. I was also teaching at the other institution for much, much more. My expenses were around $1,000 a month, so all the excess could go toward the loans.

While teaching took up a lot of time, I also spent an hour or so every day applying to at least one side gig opportunity, whether it was to be a focus group participant or a sales associate at a furniture store. If I was even mildly interested, I applied. I pursued jobs that were in my realm of experience, but were also a bit of a stretch.. For instance, I sought a position scoring exams online, and I got it. It was temporary, and spanned two months over the summer, but I made $1,100 – enough to live on so I could apply my entire summer teaching salary to the loan.

Although I was already living pretty frugally, I found additional ways to save. With my housing and transportation costs already low, at about $665 total a month for both, I tackled two budget items that had a lot of excess to slash: food and entertainment. I don’t drink, so I wasn’t racking up big tabs on the weekends. I didn’t have cable, but I kept my TV budget pretty slim with Netflix and Hulu. I did go out to eat quite a bit. Instead of meeting friends for meals at restaurants, I started meeting friends for a simple coffee. We went hiking instead of shopping. I carried a bag of crackers with me at all times so I wouldn’t be tempted to run into the gas station and grab a bag of chips or a two dollar candy bar. When I checked my bank balance, I realized I had money staying put. I used that money to make big payments toward the debt. Every extra cent made a difference. Seriously. I even rolled coins one month and added $25 to my payment.

During that time, a transformation was taking place. I was putting myself out there more, and therefore making more connections with people. Because I looked for additional work in my field, I was doing more for my career, which started to blossom. A full-time position came available, and I took it. As my student loan debt decreased, my interest in my long-neglected creative work grew. I started writing more. I stopped browsing thrift stores for fun, and instead started using what I already owned. I even stopped buying new books, and read from my bookshelves. I started to feel more satisfied with my life.

Fourteen months after I made the commitment to pay off those loans, I sent in my final payment. I felt incredible. I felt invincible! If I could do that, what else could I do?

I could buy a house. I could fund an IRA. I could stop working so much and pursue my hobbies and interests again.

And that’s exactly what I did.

Now, I work one full-time job and take on freelance writing projects here and there. I spend less and less every month as I continue to realize the power of frugality. I’m thrilled with my salary from my full-time job, and I no longer consider myself an underearner. I’ve learned to live without credit, which created a certain sense of security. Instead of relying on credit in an emergency, I can turn to my savings, or I can EARN MORE through a side hustle. Whether it be teaching an extra course or scoring a few exams, answering phones in an office or writing an article or two, I know I can take utilize my skill set and make something happen.

I can make money happen. Somehow, someway.


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  1. Your story is incredible Amanda! What a turn around!

  2. I love it! Love it!! Love it!!! You’re truly an inspiration, Amanda. Although I admire everything you did to save money, the part apart about forgoing new books and turning to your bookshelf really piqued my interest. I’ve just recently started doing that myself. It’s so wonderful getting acquainted again with some old reads. Thank you for a great article.

    • MaggieBanks

      I loved this one as well. And I’m doing the same thing. We started a whole library shelf and a whole “read and get rid of” shelf. They’re very motivating to not buy any more books!

  3. Thanks for sharing more about your story, Amanda! I definitely didn’t realize how many different types of odd jobs you were taking on. That is a truly amazing amount of effort and progress squeezed into a relatively short time.

    • MaggieBanks

      It’s really inspiring! If your dreams are worth it, you just figure out how to get to work!

  4. Dang, I love hearing her story. It amazes me what a little grit can achieve. It only leaves me wishing that I had started earlier. All the possibilities of being debt free are amazing. You just have to have the knowledge and the will to do it.

    • MaggieBanks

      Don’t get caught up in the “if only we started earlier spiral.” Everyone can feel that at any stage of the journey (we often do!), but it’s not helpful. Celebrate the progress you’ve made and motivate yourself forward. But never dwell on the past! 🙂

  5. Great story! We need as much inspiration as possible to keep fighting our way out of debt. It goes to show you how much those little steps can add up.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      I love hearing stories about little things adding up. In the end, that’s how we’ve made it this far ourselves!

  6. Thanks for sharing and bring part of this challenge. Just shows persistence pays off ..

  7. Wow, Amanda, this is awesome!! Way to take radical action and hard work to your incredible advantage!! Keep up the great work!!

  8. Thanks for sharing. That’s an amazing and inspiring story. If you keep up that high savings rate you should build a substantial nest egg in no time!

  9. What an inspiring story! Really impressive to read how much you accomplished in such a short time. Great job!

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