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Instructional designer: My budget and planning for the future

Onna Nelson, an instructional designer, shares her journey from debt to financial stability. She discusses refinancing her student loans, budgeting for living expenses, and the importance of an emergency fund. Her story emphasizes balance in spending, saving, and enjoying life.

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Video transcript

My name is Onna Nelson. I'm 28 years old. I'm an instructional designer, and I make $90,000 a year. My financial situation is a lot better now than it was five years ago. Five years ago I was taking out a lot of student loans I was in a lot of debt. I was living month to month on every paycheck. I was not paying any money towards my loans. I was not able to save any money, and I was earning less than a quarter of the salary that I am now. When I finally left graduate school, I had something like $72,000 of debt. Some percentage of that was accumulating interest while I was in graduate school, so even though I wasn't required to pay those loans back, they were still earning interest, so they were growing every year that I wasn't paying them. Then on top of that I took out a car loan to buy a new car. Once you quit or graduate school you have six months before you have to start paying your loans, so I waited for those six months to expire, and then I refinanced my student loans. I was able to bring them down from a 7.8% interest rate to a 4% interest rate. I also renegotiated the terms so rather than taking 10 years to pay it off I have to do it in seven. That increased the amount that I have to pay, but it's also less time that I'm gonna have this burden. My loans now are down to $55,000. $90,000 a year comes out to I think $7,500 a month. Of that, about 20% goes to taxes, and another maybe 5% goes to things like 401(k), healthcare benefits, Social Security, Medicare, all those other little expenses, so my take home pay ends up being around $4,600, so almost three grand goes to just taxes and other benefits like that. Of that $4,600, almost $2,000 goes to rent because the housing prices in California are extremely high. I used to have roommates, but this is the first time that I've lived without roommates, so it's a lot more expensive to live on your own not sharing the rent expense, but I'm making it work. Another $900 a month goes to my student loans, about $100 a month goes to pay for my cell phone, another $40 to $50 a month goes to pay for electric. I don't have TV, or Netflix, or cable, or any of those other expenses like that. I probably spend about $200 on groceries, maybe $50 a month on cat food, cat litter, things for my cats. There's a few hundred dollars of free money that I can spend going out to bars, or buying things for hobbies, taking day trips, saving for vacation, saving for emergency fund. Currently I have about two or three months of an emergency fund. At my highest point I had around six months, but then I had to move, and my living situation became a little complicated, so I lost some of that money. I'm currently trying to build it back up to six months. I think it's very important to have six months of living expenses in case I lose a job, in case you know there's some kind of medical bill, or you know if I got into a car accident and needed to buy a new car tomorrow, you know I don't have that money. I think saving for an emergency is more important that paying down debt. Right now I feel pretty comfortable about my financial situation. I make enough to pay my rent, pay all my bills, pay my student loans, put a little into savings. I wish that I could put more into savings, and more into paying my loans, but for now I'm comfortable. It's all about balance. You can get really caught up in oh I have to pay off all my debt, and I have to save as much as I can. I have to live with 12 roommates to make my rent cheaper. I have to you know just eat Ramen noodles all day so that I don't spend money. At some point you're not living your life. It's okay to spend some money on your hobbies. It's okay to have some expenses that maybe it's not the cheapest, but it's the right one for you. It's really easy to get stressed out about debt, and I know I have been stressed out about debt and about savings, but that doesn't mean you should be.