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How this NYU graduates heartfelt letter to debt is changing lives

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She’s a writer founding a successful blog,  an all-round hustler and has recently added the author title to her name following the publication of her new book. All this may sound fitting for a New York University graduate. But a further look into her life story shows that her rise to success was not an easy ride. Having paid off $81,000.00 in student debt without a solid form of employment we had a chat with Melanie Lockert to hear her story and find out how she did it.

debt melanie lockert

The post graduation reality check

As with most students, Melanie had the hopes of finding better employment opportunities after graduating with her Masters degree. “I went to one of the best schools, NYU. It was my dream school. I thought there’s no way I’m going to have a hard time finding a job. I’ll be able to pay my student loans off quickly. I’ll find a good job that pays at least $50,000-$60,000.”

However  6 months and 30 plus interviews later, she was still  unable to find a job. At this point she desperately needed one since she owed thousands in student loans and her payment dates were drawing near. “I thought that getting the Masters would help me. Instead I just found myself with all of this debt and having trouble paying it back.”

“I went from my highest salary of $38,000 after doing my undergrad, to having these side-hustles in New York that paid only $10-$20 an hour.” She  then moved to Portland since she could not afford to live in New York anymore. However, the situation worsened. “In Portland I could only get jobs that only paid $10-$12 an hour.

Having paid back her undergraduate student loan fees previously with ease, she marks this as the first time in her life where debt really became a problem.

“Given the way the economy is structured, it seems better to create your own opportunities at this point.”

Gaining a new perspective

Melanie says that her experience gave her a new perspective on how the world views millennials. “We’re often viewed as entitled, selfish and all these other things. But if you think about it, our whole entire generation was told that we can do whatever we want. As long as we work for it. Go to a good school and work hard and the world is your oyster. If you work hard. things will happen.”

According to her, this was the rhetoric that we were given throughout our lives. And we believed it. She adds that her circumstances at that point were not due to a lack of trying. She followed the age-old advice that many millennials are given. Her experience further made her question the relevance of college. “Given the way the economy is structured, it seems better to create your own opportunities at this point. Or look at things differently. I guess I really have a different relationship with college education right now.”

“I faced this sort of identity crisis where I didn’t know who I was and I felt like I lacked purpose.”

The identity complex

Not working in her field after graduation made Melanie feel deeply depressed at one moment. “I faced this sort of identity crisis where I didn’t know who I was and I felt like I lacked purpose. Although I did find my purpose later, I’ll admit that everything I went through led up to where I am today. Even though the side gigs were not who I identified myself as, or what I wanted to be doing, I realized that they were part of the path.”

During those moments, however she says what helped her through realizing that she had nothing to be ashamed of. “There’s no shame in hard work. You should never be ashamed of making money to look after yourself.” she says. However she does admit how it was a humbling experience. “It was humiliating to be making the lowest amount of money at age 27, than I was at like 17. But I reminded myself that it was just temporary. I will not be working at dead end jobs for the rest of my life”

On social pressure

Instead of just deleting her social media accounts to avoid people’s questions & comments Melanie made it a point to share what she was doing. “Whenever people questioned what business I had as a NYU graduate doing all these side hustles, I would tell them how I am determined to pay off my student debt regardless of my employment status. So people knew I was working these crazy gigs. Instead of making it a point of shame I said, no, I am being proactive. Because everyone I know acts like their student debt doesn’t exist. Whereas I’m going to get this gone as soon as possible.”

Interestingly, she notes how this made people look at her differently. Many in a good way. Especially now that she is debt free.  She adds that, “If you’re doing something that’s out of the norm for your financial future, tell people why you are doing it. Don’t be ashamed You could be a source of inspiration.”

“Whatever skills that you have, figure out how you can monetize that. People often feel scared or threatened. But think of the Pet Rock. Someone monetized a Pet Rock! You can monetize anything.”

On creating opportunities

Melanie views her taking on various side-hustles, from cleaning houses to brand ambassador gigs, as a primer to being a small business owner. “I was taking on all these jobs just to survive. But in actual fact I was creating opportunities for myself. It really opened my eyes to how many opportunities there are, beyond a job, to make extra money. I was grateful for the work at the time. Realizing that starting small could lead to other opportunities.”

She adds that beyond the traditional career paths, there are so many ways that you can leverage your skills to make a sizable income. “Even if you have a career, you could always use your free time to start your own business selling your skills. As a tutor, a writer, a designer. Whatever skills that you have, figure out how you can monetize that. People often feel scared or threatened. But think of the Pet Rock. Someone monetized a Pet Rock! You can monetize anything.”

She further encourages that people shouldn’t be afraid of doing what’s already out there. “Put your unique fresh spin on it. No one is the same as you.”

After her experience she is really a fan of people owning their destinies and being their own bosses.

“It was this whole magical thing where I put it out into the universe. My current situation was telling me otherwise. But I just had to have faith that I don’t know how this is going to happen, but I’m going to make sure I make it.”

Defining her own destiny

Melanie asserts how we never know what our peers are going through financially. “Social media is such a lie”  she says. “It’s just a highlight reel of everyone’s best experiences. We have no idea of what goes on behind the screen.”

She believes that depression, anxiety and money all go hand in hand. “I have a lot of readers that end up on my blog because they searched: I want to kill myself because of debt. It’s hurting because they feel like they can’t get ahead due to debt holding them back.” According to Melanie debt shouldn’t be a death sentence. “There’s more to life than debt.”

She says realizing the negative emotions that people face regarding their financial issues was what lead her to starting her blog, Dear Debt. “I wrote that I was going to pay off my debt in 4 years. Once I had made the decision to take ownership of my financial destiny, I more than doubled my income.” She ended paying off the $57,000.00 she had left in debt at that point in 3 years instead.

“It was this whole magical thing where I put it out into the universe. My current situation was telling me otherwise. But I just had to have faith that I don’t know how this is going to happen, but I’m going to make sure I make it.”

“Money is not an evil thing. It is a tool to live your best life. So we have to talk about money and what it can do for you. Not what it can do to you”

Continuing the conversation on money

Melanie further believes that we need to change our money mindsets holistically as a society. And also our relationship with money as a whole. “Our mindsets come from all of these things that we have experienced from growing up. What our parents did or did not teach us about money. Cultural backgrounds. I always grew up inherently believing that money was the root to all evil. That if you were rich you were greedy. I thought money didn’t matter. I though student loans were okay because they are the good debt. Once I shifted my mindset I was like wow, these beliefs are holding me back.”

She sees money as not a thing we should be afraid of creating a relationship with. “Money is not an evil thing. It is a tool to live your best life. So we have to talk about money and what it can do for you. Not what it can do to you. Money can afford a vacation. It can afford to put a roof over your head and food on the table.”

Melanie continues being the driver of her own destiny helping thousands of people overcome debt through her renowned blog Dear Debt. She has also recently published a book called Dear Debt: A Story About Breaking Up With Debt, which she is currently working on promoting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cikida

Founding Editor of The Money Fam| Energy Enthusiast- Mastering Petroleum Engineering | Nerd Rocker-Fulbright Scholar

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