This is the latest in our “More Than a Number” series, which profiles individuals and shows how each person is truly more than just their finances. Please leave a comment or question for Kait below! And if you’d like to be included in a future profile, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My name: Kait
My biggest goal in 5 words or less: Wherewithal to pursue my passion.
My biggest challenge in 5 words or less: Pursuing opportunities instead of planning.
Can you tell us who you are?
I am a 25-year-old living in rural Massachusetts with my parents, my dog, and our 6 ducks. In a perfect world I would have stayed in school forever and become an expert on William Faulkner, publishing books and articles on the applicability of Faulkner to our current culture on issues related to race. Since that kind of dream is in direct contrast to my practical nature, I moved home 3 years ago after graduating from college. After working a spell at a local apple orchard and imparting my knowledge of apple history on unsuspecting customers, I landed a job at a law firm working as a paralegal. I supplement this job with a side gig preparing high school students for the SAT. When I’m not at my real job or my side hustle, I am biking or downhill skiing or writing on my blog.
What’s your general financial philosophy?
Money is a finite resource, so I make sure it is doing the most for my happiness. This means that my budget is directly linked to my priorities to ensure that my money funds those priorities. For example, I often wish that I was living on my own, but my number one priority is to be free of student loans. In pursuit of that goal, I am living with my parents until I repay the majority of those loans. Paying down my debt is more important to me than my independence.
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The other part of my philosophy is that any small amount of money can help a bad financial situation. In the case of loans or debt, any amount I can apply to my loans above the minimum payment required will save time and interest later. Because each little bit counts, every time I want to spend money on something, I have to ask myself whether _______ is as important to my life and happiness as becoming debt free. Some things are worth it–some social events, healthy groceries, some fun–while others are just not priorities–for example, I have not purchased new clothes or shoes in months and I do not have plans to do so anytime soon. The key is making sure my money is being spent on what truly matters most to me.
What has been your biggest financial hurdle or challenge?
My biggest challenge is making sure I do not settle or get stuck settling. I have a good job, work for good people, and make enough money to pay back my loans at an accelerated rate. However, I think that I could make more of a contribution in a different position that uses more of my talents. I would like to find something that inspires me. While I appreciate the job immensely, I am forcing myself to think about alternative careers and things I could be doing to move myself in that direction. But at the same time, I feel that I need to delay any major life changes like moving, changing jobs, or going back to school, until I have paid off at least the majority of my debt. Thus, I am focusing all of my budgeting power on paying down my debt as quickly as possible, but I am constantly struggling with the feeling that I could be doing something more.
What are some of the strategies or lessons you’ve learned from taking on this challenge?
I have learned that I cannot continue to wait for the freedom to pursue a new career. And that I do not have to wait. Instead of continuing to feel like I need to find my “purpose” in the form of a job, I can do what makes me happy in my free time and hopefully learn something along the way. I started a blog (100ktoindependence.com) that allows me to think about these issues through writing.
I have also learned that it is not enough to tell yourself not to do something unless you have a positive goal that you are working toward that makes it worth it. Reminding myself that I will be debt free in March 2017 helps me to refrain from spending money on impulse purchases. Good budgeting software also helps (shameless plug for YouNeedABudget.com).
Do your finances control you or do you control your finances?
I believe that perspective is a powerful factor in most things, finances and debt included. I believe that I am in control of my finances, so I think that goes a long way toward *being* in control of them. I do not let them control me, but it is a struggle. In any event, you can take control of your finances. It starts with being aware of your financial situation and then taking a stand that you are going to make a positive difference. You are going to change your fate. More than anything else, reducing debt depends on the willingness to do so. And that means being willing to make it a priority and sacrifice superfluous expenditures that are not directly related to your happiness.
What is the hardest expenditure in your budget to maintain at a reasonable level?
Restaurants. Social events often include food and/or drinks. It is hard to avoid spending money on these things without being completely anti-social. I think this is a common problem, and I have not really found a solution yet. I have found myself less likely to see if friends want to hang out because I know money will probably need to be spent. I do not know if there is a solution to this problem, other than getting friends to participate in activities that do not involve money.
What would you tell yourself if you could go back in time and talk to “you” from ten years ago?
I would tell myself that no one is going to hand me “purpose”. You have to find that yourself, and that might be the hardest part. For a long time I believed that if I just landed the right (busy) job that I would be happy. I think this comes from looking up to career women in movies like “Working Girl”, and thinking that I could be happy if I were just busy. I know now that being busy might distract me from thinking about my happiness, but just being busy in a job is not going to make me happy. I have to find my purpose on my own.
Where do you want to go from here? What are your goals for the future?
I do not have any long term goals other than to pay off my student loan debt. But that is a pretty hollow mission. It is important, but it is not sustainable. When the debt is paid off, I will need a new target. So, honestly, my real goal is to do some deep soul searching and figure out what I want to spend my days doing. I am starting now.
Excellent! Thanks for talking with us, and best of luck to you.