I know this seems like a work of fiction, but I assure you this is the real deal. When she was just twenty-three years old, Jayme not only finished paying off her student loans, but also landed her dream job. What's even more incredible is that she was unemployed for four months after school and still never missed a payment. Jayme was kind enough to share her story. Also, Spoiler Alert: Yes, I interviewed my girlfriend.
Hi Jayme! Thanks for sharing your story for my thousands of readers.
Hi Jen! Surely you mean millions of readers?
Let’s start off with what you studied in undergrad, as well as what year you graduated.
Sure! I did my Bachelor of Science in Nursing and I graduated in 2014.
Did your parents help you at all with tuition, rent, etc.?
My mom helped me on and off during the school year. She helped with groceries ($100/month) when I was in first year and sent really sweet care packages, and helped with rent (~$200-300/month) when I was in fourth year and when I was unemployed. I was very lucky to have that help.
Did you work part-time during school? If so, where?
I did! I worked everywhere. Throughout the course of my degree, I worked at 3 different Old Navy’s, an Urban Outfitters, I worked night shifts at 3 separate nursing homes, a summer camp for people with developmental delays, and I worked as a cleaner one summer cleaning the swanky restaurants and stores in the Byward Market.
When you graduated in 2014, did you graduate with any debt? If so, was it strictly student loans or was it also consumer debt (i.e. credit cards or car payments)?
I graduated with about $25,000 worth of student loans. I didn’t have any consumer debt because I never touched my credit card except for emergencies. I had a checking account at the time that was free for students and so I only used debit for purchases, which meant I didn’t buy something unless I had the money.
I’m also a firm believer in public transit (and I’m also terrified of driving), so no car expenses either.
Did you initially have a plan to pay it off?
My only plan in the beginning was to just pay it off as quickly as I could. I knew I didn’t want to be those people making minimum payments for 10 years, and so I approached my student loans pretty aggressively.
Were you able to find employment right after school?
Luckily for me, I got a job through the Nursing New Grad Initiative a couple months after graduating. It was guaranteed 6 months’ employment which bought me time to figure out what my plan was and start paying off OSAP before interest accrued. After 6 months, I left that job and moved to Toronto, where I was unemployed from January 2015 to April 2015 before finding my current job.
How did you feel being unemployed for four months while still having these student loans to pay off? How did you cope?
It was truly crappy. I had been applying to jobs in Toronto for 3 months before I left my previous job, plus the 4 months I lived here and wasn’t working. 7 months of throwing your resume out into the world and hearing nothing back was seriously disheartening. Plus, nurses want to get their hands in there to help people and do tasks and be on the go, and so to just be sitting there doing nothing for that long was a blow to my self-esteem.
I don’t know if I could say that I coped well with unemployment, but I definitely cried a lot and had multiple pity parties for myself. I checked job postings constantly. My advice for people experiencing “funemployment” would be to set aside days where you job hunt, and then days where you just try to enjoy your self and do things that make you happy.
What were some strategies you used to cut down your expenses?
My mom gave me great advice when I graduated, which was “Live like you’re still a student.” I still follow this advice when I’m making decisions even 3 years into full-time employment. I buy no-name brand food, I limit how much takeout I get (including coffee), I don’t buy clothing unless I absolutely love how I look in it, and I don’t buy new products until they're used up. I’m also not that materialistic and I don’t fuss over trendy things, so that helps a lot. Being vegan also helps because tofu and dried lentils/beans/chickpeas are amazing sources of protein and much cheaper than meat.
Above all though, making a realistic budget and sticking to it as best as you can is my number one strategy.
Tell me a bit about how you found your job.
The unit I currently work on (aka my dream job) had put out 12 job postings for casual, part time, and full time nursing positions. Of course I wanted full-time, but at that point I just wanted anything, so I applied to every posting. I had already been job hunting and doing continuing education courses for 7 months, so my resume and cover letter were pretty streamlined at that point. I actually met the nursing manager at a continuing education course a week after I applied, and she came up to me sometime during the course and told me to expect a call from them. I went for my interview which was fun and challenging, and then I was offered temporary full-time. A year later I was offered permanent full-time.
How did you stay motivated with paying down your student loans?
Honestly, motivation was never really an issue for me. It just became so much of a habit to live somewhat frugally during school and during unemployment that I never really strayed from that course.
Did you have an emergency fund when you were paying down your student loans?
Unofficially, yes. I had this unspoken rule where I never dipped below a certain amount of money in my checking account, but I had never come across the concept of emergency funds until I started learning about personal finance (after my loans were paid off, oddly enough).
Tell me about when you finally paid off your student loans. Did you have a set month/year when you wanted to pay off your student loans?
I really didn’t have much of a plan other than putting a fixed amount of money towards it every month. I wasn’t obsessed with paying it off, it just became a habit. But eventually I was annoyed at having to pay interest and so sick of OSAP that in January of 2016, I just decided to pay it off in one lump sum.
And then of course, OSAP sent me a letter saying I still had $2 to pay off because of interest.
You’re currently twenty-five. What do your finances look like now? Did you ever slide back in debt after you paid off your student loans?
I feel like my finances are doing okay! I save at least half of my income every month, and I put that in a high interest savings account for future big purchases (real estate/going back to school/finally going to Europe). I’m learning more about how to make my money work for me personally, like choosing a credit card with rewards that suit my lifestyle, and switching from banks that charge me monthly fees to use my own money.
I haven’t slid back into debt because I live a lifestyle that prevents me from overspending. If/when I go back to school to do my Masters in Nursing, I do expect to need financial help but I’m trying to prepare for that now by saving.
How has being debt-free changed your life?
I have more freedom to travel and do more “special occasion” type things. But otherwise, I still eat the same, shop the same, and live in much the same way as I did when I was paying off debt.
Any advice for women in their 20s and 30s who are now graduating with student loans and looking to find a job in their field?
Don’t stress too much about student loans because pretty much everyone has them, but do come up with a good and sustainable way to pay off the debt. Worry less about materialistic things, and find activities that make you happy that are either free or cheap. Make living frugally a lifestyle and not a means to an end.
In terms of finding a job, be persistent but be flexible, and don’t let unemployment make you doubt your own greatness. Not to be too cliche, but everything does work out in the end if you’re patient and put effort in.
Hope that helps!
Thank you for your time!