Hahna: Hey there, I'm Hahna Kane Latonick, your host of the Master Your Money Summit, which helps millennials learn how to destroy their debt and build their wealth so that they can achieve the lifestyle they truly desire. In this interview, I'm going to answer the question, how do you destroy your debt effectively and quickly. Melanie Lockert is a personal finance writer and founder of the award-winning blog, Dear Debt. Melanie has several years of experience writing in the personal finance space. Her work has appeared in the Huffington Post, Business Insider, Student Loan Hero, Credit Karma, GoGirl Finance, and more. She has paid off $81,000 in student loan debt …
Hahna: … and now inspires others to get out of debt through coaching, writing, workshops, and more. Melanie, welcome.
Melanie: Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to be here.
Hahna: It has been amazing watching your journey of eliminating your debt on your blog. How did you find yourself in $81,000 in student loan debt?
Melanie: Yeah, $81,000 in student loan debt is quite a large balance, and a lot of people want to know how I got into debt. I have 2 degrees, my Bachelor's degree, which is in theater from Cal State University of Long Beach, and I borrowed $23,000 for that. You know, it's a bit of a moderate amount. Then really where the huge portion of my debt came from was going to my dream school, New York University, and I borrowed an additional $58,000, so that's where all the $81,000 came from. You know, those private schools can really, really add up. That was a choice that I made, that I thought it felt like the right thing to do at the time, but I paid the price for it, but I don't necessarily regret it, either. You know, I learned a lot along the way, but all of my debt was from student loans, and I have successfully paid it off, so I am super happy to share my tips on how to get out of debt.
Hahna: That is awesome. I still remember the email that you sent me saying, “I'm paying off my last payment from my student loan debt.” I just started jumping up and down because it is an amazing achievement and an amazing experience to have. After graduating, how challenging was it to find a full-time job?
Melanie: Yeah, I graduated from NYU in May 2011, and I thought, “Oh, get a job. I have a background in arts administration. I had a career job in LA. Now I have a Master's from NYU. It'll be easy to find a job.” It was quite difficult actually.
I had these part-time jobs that were sort of cobbled together. I was teaching, I was working as an admin assistant, but I was really looking for that full-time arts administration job. I just went on interview after interview after interview. I think I went on 30 different interviews and could not find a full-time job in New York. It actually forced me to move because I could not pay my rent and my student loans. I moved to Portland, Oregon where I live now to lower my expenses and also to be with my partner. We were doing long-distance at the time.
Hahna: Oh, man.
Melanie: Yeah, it was quite a difficult time. It took me a year and a half to find a full-time job after graduating with my Master's degree. Then subsequently, I quit that full-time job to now be my own boss, so it's been quite an interesting journey from graduating with a lot of debt, struggling to find a job, quitting that job to be my own boss as a freelancer and a sellepreneur, so it's been a wild ride in the past 5 years, to say the least.
Hahna: We're definitely going to dive into that roller coaster in this interview. What expectations did you have about what your life should look like after graduating from your dream college?
Melanie: Yeah, so I, you know, like a lot of millennials, I sort of was told that you can be whatever you want to be and that you can do whatever you want to do as long as you work hard and believe in yourself. I went to college, I worked in a non-profit and had a nice career job, and then I thought, “Oh, the next step is to get a Master's degree, right?” You know, I had always wanted to get a Master's degree. I felt like going to a fancy private school would legitimize me and my career. I thought that this was my entryway into success. I think that was sort of a fallacy on my end, is that I just thought that by going to a good school, by paying all that money, would be sort of an immediate in, right?
Hahna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melanie: I sort of had a rude awakening afterwards. You know, I realized that I had did everything that I thought I was told to do, you know, the recipe for success so to speak, and I sort of was left scrambling, like, “What do I do next?” For so long, my career was my self-worth, was my life, so to have troubles finding a job, that affected my self-esteem quite a lot. Also, the struggle to pay off debt. It all sort of conflated into this one thing where it was really hard to pay off debt, I was struggling to find a job. It was a tough time at that point, for sure.
Hahna: Let's dive into that a little bit more because everything you're describing just sounds like this emotional roller coaster of not only just trying to find a job but also the emotional roller coaster of paying off your debt. Let's talk about a little bit more of, it sounds like your expectations after graduating didn't align with the economy at the time.
Melanie: Yeah, for sure. It was sort of on the heels of the recession. It was May 2011. We were sort of coming out, but it still wasn't that great, and when I moved to Portland, I thought I was going to be a big fish in a small pond, and I didn't realize that Portland had a way worse economy than New York, actually.