Sunburnt Saver is in Debt but with a Positive Net Worth


Happy Tiny Friday friends! I’m excited for another installment of Student Loan Conquerors. Student Loan Conquerors is an interview series. I talk with some awesome people tackling their student loan debt head on. Finding out how they are doing it and what inspired them to start in the first place.

If you are interested in participating please contact me and share a little information about your student loan debt situation.

Today, I’m thrilled to have Melissa from Sunburnt Saver sharing how she is tacking her student debt. Melissa is a married Millennial with $79,000 in debt (not including her husband’s student loan debt!) living in Phoenix, AZ. After side hustling for a few years, she left her sweet government job to become a full-time editor and blog content manager. She blogs at Sunburnt Saver, where she lets people know it’s okay to have a life, save for retirement and pay down debt.  Now onto the interview!

1. When​ did you graduate and with what degree?

I graduated twice, heyoooo! Once with my BA in Spanish (yes, I’m bilingual) and once in 2012 with my MA in Security Studies (basically I studied to work at the CIA. It was awesome. I didn’t end up working there. That wasn’t awesome, but that’s life!)

2. What was the maximum amount of student loans you owed and where do you stand now?

The maximum was ~$79k, but as of now, I’m approaching $86k by the end of 2017. I only have federal loans, no private loans. That sounds bad, but I have a much more solid plan of paying off my debt. Also, my net worth is positive right now, and a year ago it wasn’t, so that’s good too!

3. When​ did you start to focus on your student loans and what motivated you to do so?

Over the past 4 years I’ve really focused on paying down my loans, and the biggest motivation was the fact that IF I stayed on the government’s timeline, I would eventually shell out $150k to them. Personally, I think the government gets too much of my middle class money, and I don’t want them getting any more than they already do 🙂

4. What is the one action you’ve taken that has made the biggest difference in your finances?​

Paying more on the highest interest rate loans. Before, I was just paying a set amount each month that would go to all my debt equally, and I was paying the minimum. Then I found out from Zina Kumok at Debt Free After Three that you could target your federal loan payments to your highest interest rate debt (or to the principal), which is amazing. I want my highest interest debt gone FIRST because it’s the most crushing.

5. What is the best piece of financial advice you’ve received?​

When you have federal student loans, you can choose to pay more toward high-interest debt or toward the principal of your loan. Both are brilliant and I’m excited to see my highest interest rate debt slowly decrease.

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. 

6. What is one piece of advice you would give to others paying down student debt?​

Pay attention to what is out there – I’m so frustrated to see people consolidating their federal loans with private lenders. Why??? If you fall on hard times, the government will let you pause payments (they will hit you with interest, of course). I’m not sure a private lender will do that for you. As much as I occasionally dislike the government, their Income Based Repayment plans are great and you should check them out.

Related: What you need to know about income driven repayment plans

7. If you could do it all over again, would you? Why or why not?​

I wouldn’t do grad school, or at least not where I went for my degree. On one hand, I couldn’t get a job in my field WITHOUT a degree (yes, that happens!) But now I’m not in my field anymore, and I’m not sure when/if I’ll go back. I definitely could have gotten an MA or MBA cheaper and stayed closer to home.

8. Are you actually utilizing your degree? If not, why not?​

Not right at this moment, but I did for 5 years. It wasn’t with the CIA (darn) but it was in government and it was fascinating. It positively impacted people lives, and for that I’m glad.

9. Anything you’d like to share with LDMW readers?​

A big thank you to Liz for featuring my story and to all the other student loan debt conquerors out there! When I lurk on forums, I see a lot of the older generation admonishing us with student loan debt for being “lazy” “government leeches” etc. and that’s honestly not the case. Student loan debtors are your kids, grandkids, friends, family members. We’re not lazy. We don’t want to live off the government. We just… have student loan debt. It’s not a disease. It’s not something to look down on. It just is. So thank you to Liz for bringing this out in the open and having a conversation about it! Also, if you’d like to see what I do now and how I save/pay off debt, you can check me out at:

​The End.

Thank you, Melissa! I appreciate you being a part of Student Loan Conqueror Series. Good luck to you with the rest of your journey to debt freedom (I’ll see you there one day!).​

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  1. Thank you so much for featuring me, Liz! That was fun 🙂

    1. So glad to have you be part of the Student Loan Conqueror Series!

    2. Thanks for sharing your story. Melissa, is the reason you have a positive net worth because you have been saving for retirement as well? I didn’t catch where you get your positive net worth.

      1. Hey Matt, great question – I have a positive net worth because I consider the house I own to be part of my net worth. A lot of people don’t consider homes to be part of their net worth, but my husband and I made smart decisions when we bought the house. We put down a large down payment that virtually ensures the house will make us money, even in the event of a LARGE housing market crash, if we chose to sell. We can also pay the mortgage on his salary if for some reason my business dried up.

        Also, before I left to full-time freelance, I socked away about 20% of my paycheck in retirement, and whenever I got a raise at work, I put the entire raise difference in retirement – no lifestyle inflation for me!

        Finally, I have a Roth IRA I started in my early 20s, put $5k in and then basically haven’t touched it for about 5 years… it’s appreciated a bit, but it’s all stocks and I mostly just look at it as an interesting stock experiment 🙂

        Hope this helps to answer your question!

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