Hi, I’m Romario Nicholas. I’m an immigrant from Jamaica. A first generation 2x college graduate (BS, MHRM). And now I am student loan debt free. In this article, I hope to serve as a source of strength and encouragement to those who are from similar backgrounds and who are going through their own student loan pay off journeys. This is a story of how a young man from Jamaica who grew up in Brooklyn, graduated college, landed a high paying job, and expeditiously conquered his mountain of student loans. I will also share 5 key takeaways from my 3 year debt pay off journey.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York after migrating to the united states in the 2000s with my family. To adjust to the new country, my family followed the steps that they understood best for my brothers and I.
- Enlist in public schools
- Encourage us to get good grades
And that was pretty much it. It wasn’t an expectation for us to go to college, but if we wanted to pursue it, we had to figure it out by ourselves. The early exposure to what college prep entailed occurred once I attended middle school and high school [at All City Leadership Academy]. As I got closer to completing the latter, I committed to attending SUNY Cobleskill, where I would spend the next 4 years of my life learning about business and exploring leadership opportunities to help myself grow.
As I approached college graduation, I started to take a closer look at my student loan situation to understand where I stood, and how I would approach paying them off. The year before graduation, I met the fork in the road. Do I enlist in the Navy or Air Force to help pay off student loans, or explore graduate school for 2 years and go into the workforce?
I chose the latter, and for 2 years, I attended Rutgers University to get a degree in HR Management. As I went through grad school, I began to understand more and more where I would be financially after graduating: in a massive amount of student loan debt. $109,000, to be exact.
The Game Plan:
Before I graduated Rutgers University, I interned at Ingersoll Rand for the summer of 2017. Luckily enough, I received an offer to work in their accelerated development program starting in July 2018. I was so ecstatic for a chance to earn money and to help myself and my family.
Before starting the job, I assessed my entire financial situation, and tried to envision where I wanted to be 3-5 years from then. I knew I wanted to be debt free because I understood clearly that debt is an anchor; it weighs you down as you are trying to progress in life. Unless you have a clear plan, it will stay with you. So I enlisted the help of “YouTube University” to understand. My video searches centered around “how to pay off debt super duper quick”, other “peoples’ student loan payoff journeys”, and everything in between. My mission was clear: pay off my student loans.
Step 1: Have a clear and inspiring “why”
My “whys” were clear: to create a strong financial foundation for my current and future family. Also, to be a trailblazing and unorthodox millennial who conquers financial life goals with unflinching focus, determination, and with unwavering persistence. I want to be a personal finance influencer one day to help my peers establish healthy and sustainable financial habits, and build wealth for their families.
Step 2: Create a budget
When I first started working, budgeting was not easy for me. I had an idea of all my expenses and my income. However, because I didn’t have prior experience with managing that much money, my efforts were sometimes inconsistent. I got paid biweekly; some months I would pay $750, others I would pay $800 for my student loans. My intentions were right, but my efforts did not reflect this.
Once I got comfortable with what to spend on my major expense areas, and became a lot more disciplined, that’s when the ball got rolling. Having a clear budget gave me the power over my money; I told it what to do, and I gave it a job. It worked for me.
Step 3: Avoid lifestyle inflation like the plague
Expensive apartment? Nah, I’ll look for roommates to reduce that expense. Eating out, vacations, new clothes? LOL, what? I can’t afford that. Vacations to me were seeing my friends in Brooklyn when I traveled back home and eating cheap food. I didn’t miss out on the typical millennial experiences because I didn’t value those just yet.
If I wanted to achieve a certain goal, I needed to make certain sacrifices. But they didn’t feel like sacrifices because I found alternative and less expensive ways to have fun. Also, not spending money on things that didn’t add value to my life was a no brainer to me.
Step 4: Invest in your financial acumen
I consumed every piece of knowledge related to personal finance and paying off my student loans. Reddit, Dave Ramsey, Anthony O’Neal, student loan payoff journeys from YouTube and Google searches. The more I learned, the more it kept me engaged in completing my journey. It felt so empowering to learn about ways I could one day create stability for myself and my family.
Step 5: Take breathers during the journey
It might come to you as a shock, but yes, the journey is mentally exhausting. I became so enthralled by and committed to paying off student loans, that by cutting out so many areas of my budget to be lean, it started to negatively impact my mental health. I was consumed by being lean, and paying as much as I could. I read every day, consuming new content when the interest freeze happened and the prospects of student debt forgiveness became a possibility. I consumed content about what President Joe Bidden would do; any and every update.
Looking back, I know it was unhealthy. Now that I’m done, I’ve realized how much work I will need to do to get in a better space with healthy spending habits to take care of myself, and improve my quality of life while avoiding lifestyle inflation. My advice here is make sure you are taking care of your entire wellbeing; physical and mental. You don’t have to have gazelle intensity like Dave Ramsey preaches, but you should be intentional about what you are trying to accomplish.
My parting words:
This journey has taught me so much about myself. Paying off student loans was a personal decision, and the prize to me is positioning myself to lead my generation to their visions of freedom. I wake up and think about my peers who may not be as lucky as I am to pay off their loans this quickly, and I feel their pain. Helping others is what my guiding compass is.
I don’t know where I will be over the next few years, but I do know that I want to serve my fellow people of color, immigrant communities, and millennials in helping them to conquer their own student loan/personal finance journeys.
This journey was challenging, and at times, exhausting for me. I felt like quitting many times, and of course I wanted to splurge on experiences that I thought I had desired or deserved. But I remained steadfast, because the success of my journey will have rippling effects on future generations.
My word of advice to you? Stay focused, hungry, consistent, and committed. There will be no saving grace to paying off your student loans. That being said, you must find ways to get to the life you want, and student loans are not a part of that journey.
Peace and love,