THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. MEANING I RECEIVE COMMISSIONS FOR PURCHASES MADE THROUGH THOSE LINKS, AT NO COST TO YOU. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.

Once Upon a Time I Knew Nothing About Personal Finance

Everyone starts from somewhere, this is my journey from clueless law school grad to personal finance blogger. There is even more to the story if I were to start from clueless college graduate, but you don't have all day. šŸ˜‰

Graduating from Law School

Once upon a time (4 years ago) in a far away land (Boston, MA) I graduated from law school. I had spent three years studying and working my butt off. I'd lived off student loans and was still extremely reliant on my pittance of a paycheck from working as a Law Clerk in a firm.

I had no clue what a budget was or how to do it successfully. The day I graduated I knew I'd finally crossed the finish line. I felt proud. Unfortunately, at this time, I didn't know how much debt I was in. Also unfortunate, was that about a year prior I decided that being a lawyer wasn't really for me. 

Mistake #1 Heading straight to law school

Heading straight to law school from college (c/o 2008) based on what I wanted to do when I was 16, not based on my experience. I'd had an internship for a judge in college and while the concept was really interesting and everyone was great, I also found it to be a bit boring.

After Graduation Decisions

Being completely burned out from charging through undergrad in three years and moving straight into law school, I held off taking the bar that summer. The fact that I had very ill family members that I wanted to spend more time with before they passed resulted in my moving back to California.

There weren't any jobs in the legal field that paid in my town for someone with a law degree and no license to practice law. I ended up working two part-time retail jobs. Yup, I had two degrees and was working two retail jobs. It was humbling, to say the least.

Since I had credit card debt, I worked every chance I got to be able to pay the minimum each month. I was living paycheck to paycheck and getting into even more debt along the way as my reliance on credit cards to fill the gap grew and my student loans accumulated interest.

Mistake #2 Turning down a job in that economy

Many would see this as crazy, and it was, but you can't get time with loved ones back. Plus I was really unhappy in that job, and I'd rather make less and take longer to get out of debt at a job that makes me happy.

Opting to Take the Bar Exam

After a few months, I decided I would take the bar exam the following summer. If only to make my resume make more sense, going to law school and not taking the bar raises questions.

Since I knew I didn't want to practice law I decided that I was only going to take the bar exam once, so I better pass the first time. After about nine months of working retail, I moved up the Seattle area to live with my sister and her husband. I knew if I moved back to Boston there would be too many distractions of catching up with friends. I had one friend from law school that lived in Seattle. So I knew that if there were a day that I just really needed to get a drink and bitch about the bar exam, I'd be able to do just that.

It helped that a friend from college who was a year behind me in law school was also taking the bar so we could stress out and complain about it over the phone. Unfortunately to fund taking the bar I took on more debt in the form of a private bar loan to the tune of $11,000.

Mistake #3: Taking on even more debt

Recommended Refinancing Company

If you have private loans or your debt to income ratio allows, consider refinancing with a company like SoFi. Learn more about what it's like to refinance with Sofi. Refinancing my bar loan with SoFi ended up saving me over $1,000. Use my link to refinance your student loan and you'll get a $100 bonus. 

Moving Back to Massachusetts

Determined to pass the bar exam for both MA and NY the first time around, I studied relentlessly. After taking the bar I embarked on a cross-country road trip to move back to Massachusetts. Financially it wasn't the smartest move, though the time by myself was great. I crisscrossed the country visiting friends and family and after a few weeks, I made it to my friend's house who was kind enough to let me stay there for a while.

Most of my trip was funded by credit cards and by the time I got to Massachusetts, I had no job offer, no money, and nowhere to live but on the couches of my friends. It was mid-September 2012, and I was still waiting for my bar exam results. I found out I'd passed both exams at the end of October/early November

Mistake #4: Moving somewhere with no money, no job, and arguably no plan

The Job Hunt

I applied to several jobs every day, sometimes up to 50 in a day. I became a master at tweaking my resume and cover letter for different job applications. After two weeks, I got the job at Gillette Stadium.

I interviewed for some other jobs without much luck. At the end of October, I ended up getting a two-month contract job with a pharmaceutical company to do some document review work. I made enough to get by and make the minimum payments on my credit cards while supporting myself to pay for food and my commute. I was at that point, staying with a friend in Rhode Island and driving to Boston every day, the gas added up.

My last week at the contract position I got a call about a job I'd applied for months before, I interviewed and started the job a few weeks later in January 2013. For the first time in my life, I had a full-time job, which included benefits. This job lasted until December 2016, nearly four years.

Mistake #5: Displaying my desperation during some job interviews, no one wants to hire someone who is desperate

Adjusting From No Money to OMG I Have Money

Making good money (compared to what I'd made previously, not compared to my debt) for the first time in a while was exciting. I no longer had to know how much money was in my account down to the last cent to see if I could buy a cup of coffee. While my spending wasn't great I started to make some good choices:

  • I stopped using my credit cards
  • I opted into my company's 401K plan
  • Finally, I started contributing $25 to a savings account each time I got paid.

I knew I needed an emergency fund, but I had a lot of catching up to do with my finances. Also, I knew that pretty soon having a job would mean my Income Based Repayment amount on my loans was about to go from $0 a month to several hundred dollars a month.

I was bracing myself and taking on all of my financial responsibilities. Meaning my parents weren't helping anymore. They had been kind enough to help cover my phone bill and lend me money when things were really tight between jobs.

Had my parents not helped me I would have defaulted on my credit card payments the previous fall. Don't worry my Mom is a meticulous bookkeeper and kept track so I could pay every penny back and I'm working on it. 

Step in the Right Direction #1: Stop incurring debt except for building interest

Moving in the Right Direction #2: Taking free money when it was offered

Step in the Right Direction #3: Saving for an emergency, every little bit counts.

Best Savings Tool

If you don't want to open up a new bank account, then Qapital can help you reach savings goals. Once you have the Qapital App installed and a bank account (or in my case three) connected you set up a goal or goals. I currently have two, one to save for taxes #selfemployed and one to save for spending money when I travel hack my way to Paris. Then you set savings rules for each of your goals.

For example, I have a round up to the nearest $2 rule, a guilty spending rule -when I buy Dominos, and a savings rule for every time I hit my step goal with FitBit. There are tons of different savings rules you can set up and the best part is Qapital is free to use. Bonus, when you use my link you'll get $5 after your first savings.

I Made Good Steps But Didn't Look at the Big Picture

I had made some positive steps and had a general idea of how much credit card debt I was in, but I didn't total it up for fear of the exact number.

Finally, I tallied the credit card debt in April 2013; it stood at $9,520 across four credit cards. By September, I'd made my first attempt at a budget having no clue what I was doing, but knowing I needed to get my credit cards paid off. It didn't go well.

Step in the Right Direction #4: Surveying the damage

The Wake-Up Call

It wasn't until March 2014 that I got serious about understanding the financial state I was in; my roommates were moving out in June, and my new roommate couldn't move in until August. This meant I would have to cover the entire rent for two months. I did the math and figured out I could do it if I actually stuck to a budget (something I had yet to do).

Somehow, I did and still managed to save for my huge car insurance payment due in September. I realized that I had managed to come up with an extra $625 for rent than I should be able to put that amount toward my credit card debt too. This was the summer I started reading personal finance blogs. I realized just how much my debt cost in interest each day.

I was blown away by how much my interest cost me. It was also a bit depressing. I became determined to tackle my debt head on; I started this blog in August 2014 to share what I learned and to hold myself accountable. Five months later I was credit card debt free.

I had a sizable (for me anyway) emergency fund and was spending significantly less than I earned. Oh and I'd become something I'd never imagined, a blogger. Slow and steady at first but after over a year, I'm solidly committed to being a personal finance blogger.

Step in the Right Direction #5: Seeking the education I needed

Moving in the Right Direction #6: Learning how to actually budget and then budgeting

Step in the Right Direction #7: Setting myself up to stay accountable

Step in the Right Direction #8: Sticking with it

Credit Card Debt Freedom to Now

While my goals have changed throughout the year since I have moved and continued to learn more about personal finance, I've continued to make progress and pay off debt. At the one year mark of this blog, I'd paid off over $10k of debt.

That is not how much I put towards my debt that is how much is gone forever. With my student loan payments and interest, I've paid a lot more than $10k, trust me. Though I admit, I need to get back to side hustling hard if I'm going to make the type of progress I want. It is all a matter of just taking action.

Step in the Right Direction #9: Never stop learning

Mistake #6: Slacking on side hustling after accomplishing a single goal

Wrapping it Up with a Bow on Top

As you can see I made a TON of mistakes along the way, but I'm still here. I'm making progress and I will get out of debt. Just you watch.

It doesn't matter if you make mistakes what matters is what you do to correct them.

So here is a summary of all the mistakes I made since graduating from law school. As well as a summary of all of the positive steps I've taken to correct my financial course.

Mistakes:

Mistake #1 Heading straight to law school from college (c/o 2008) based on what I wanted to do when I was 16, not based on my experience. I'd had an internship for a judge in college and while the concept was really interesting and everyone was great, I also found it to be a bit boring.

Big Mistake #2 Turning down a job in that economy. Many would see this as crazy, and it was, but you can't get time with loved ones back. Plus I was really unhappy in that job. I'd rather make less and take longer to get out of debt at a job that makes me happy.

Bigger Mistake #3: Taking on even more debt

Mistake #4: Moving somewhere with no money, no job, and arguably no plan.

Big Mistake #5: Displaying my desperation during some job interviews, no one wants to hire someone who is desperate.

Mistake #6: Slacking on side hustling after accomplishing a single goal

Steps in the Right Direction

Step in the Right Direction #1: Stop incurring debt except for building interest

Step in the Right Direction #2: Taking free money when it was offered

Taking Steps in the Right Direction #3: Saving for an emergency, every little bit counts.

Step in the Right Direction #4: Surveying the damage

 Step in the Right Direction #5: Seeking the education I needed

Taking a Step in the Right Direction #6: Learning how to actually budget and then budgeting

Step in the Right Direction #7: Setting myself up to stay accountable

Taking Steps in the Right Direction #8: Sticking with it

Step in the Right Direction #9: Never stop learning

My journey from clueless law grad to personal finance blogger. What I got right, what I got wrong, and how I'm continuing to pay off my student loans
Liz

Liz is a blogger helping people with personal finance and working for themselves. She shares her own journey to debt freedom and helps graduates dealing with above average student loan debt on her site, Less Debt More Wine. She currently resides in NC after calling Massachusetts home for nearly a decade.

  • Jessica says:

    I totally identify with going straight from college to law school based on teenage career aspirations. I did the same thing. I also moved away from a guaranteed job in Kentucky when my husband got a job in California. I’m very happy living in CA, but I hate practicing law here. I know that if I still lived in KY I’d be very happy with my career choice. For now, I’ll enjoy the sunshine and try to do something I don’t hate while I pay off my loans.

    • fnsfridaynightshenanigans@gmail.com says:

      Teenager me was so naive! I’m lucky that I found a job that utilizes my degree but isn’t practicing law, I’m much happier for it.

  • Bev says:

    I am also a licensed attorney but I am no longer practicing law. I now work at a university. Can you tell me what work you’re doing now?

    • fnsfridaynightshenanigans@gmail.com says:

      Hi Bev, I work for a legal research and litigation solutions company, because I enjoy some anonymity I don’t explicitly advertise where I work.

  • Mel says:

    Wow – what a great post, especially for other people in similar situations. I feel you on how degrading it can be to pick up a retail/waitressing type job once you have advanced degrees. When I finished up grad school, I actually left with three Masters and then couldn’t find a job the first month out of school (which is actually a really short time!) but I still felt the “what the heck?!?! I have all these degrees and I’m doing this” feeling.

    I also totally agree it’s better to make sacrifices to spend time with family members who are sick and dying than any other decision you’ll ever make.

    • fnsfridaynightshenanigans@gmail.com says:

      Thanks!Time with family and friends is priceless for sure!

  • This is such a good idea for a post. Everyone has their ups and downs, and your attitude toward it so is so healthy. Mistakes will happen, but we can take steps to fix them!

    • fnsfridaynightshenanigans@gmail.com says:

      I should probably note that it having a healthy perspective on it all didn’t happen over night either.

  • This is a great idea for a post, it is really interesting to witness someone else’s journey and to see the mistakes they made along the journey. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    • fnsfridaynightshenanigans@gmail.com says:

      I’m glad you liked it!

  • >