Are you one of the millions of Americans who can’t imagine ever paying off your student loan debt? If so, then rest assured you’re not alone. All across America, countless people fear they may not pay off their college debt until after they retire from the job it helped them land. If there's one person who gets it, it's Justine Nelson of Debt Free Millennials.
Today, she's here to share the steps she took to go from being a broke college student to a half-millionaire who is actively building wealth for her new family. Join us as Justine shares her advice on kicking debt to the curb and building a life you love.
Meet Justin Nelson
Some of you may already know Justine Nelson, given that her name has popped up several times in listener surveys about guests you’d love to hear. But for those of you who are unfamiliar, Justine Nelson is the creator and personality behind the popular Debt Free Millennials YouTube channel.
After paying off $35,000 in just two and a half years, Justine decided to use her experience to help other millennials get on the path to financial freedom. Through her business and social media channels, Justine is all about sharing solid, actionable advice that can help as many people as possible learn how to achieve and live a debt-free life.
But rest assured that Justine Nelson doesn’t reserve her financial wisdom for millennials alone. She’s also the author of the Investing for Kids Activity Book, which comes with 65 awesome activities that help young readers learn about saving, investing, and making their money grow.
Justine's Half Millionaire Beginnings
Just like many of us, Justine's journey began in an unassuming financial aid services office. The offer was simple – sign on the dotted line and take on a boatload of student loan debt so you can learn the skills you need to improve your life.
Like millions of other students, Justine accepted that there just weren't many other choices available and took the deal. But it wasn't long before the other metaphorical shoe dropped. Justine's mom suddenly lost her job of 25 years and called her to have the talk all young adults dread.
Her mom explained that it was time for her to step it up financially and become self-supporting as possible. Not exactly what a college student/Chilli's waitress wants to hear.
Nonetheless, Justine did her best to rise to the challenge – even if it meant living off of an obscene amount of burgers in a Chili's kitchen.
In 2011, Justine Nelson graduated with a shiny new marketing degree and a net worth of -$35,000. Things seemed destined to improve when she scored her first marketing job at an agency, making $10/hour. After all, how bad could paying off student loans be?
It was the day she got her first monthly repayment bill for $253 that Justine Nelson would learn the terrible truth. Like all of us, Justine realized that she had some major life choices to make when it came to how and when to pay off her student loans.
Unlike almost all of us, it turns out she actually made some good ones. Even in her early 20s, Justine realized that $253/month added up to a lot of lost opportunities to travel or save for her goals.
That's when she decided to set out on the path that would take her from broke to half-millionaire status.
Simple Debt Tools Can Provide Amazing Results
A first-time viewer watching Justine on the Debt-Free Millennials channel might be tempted to assume that this is the part of the story where she discovered a mystical path to financial freedom. Perhaps a long journey to a foreign land was involved, where a mountaintop guru imparted this secret wisdom upon her after she survived a long and treacherous hike.
The beautiful part about Justine's story is that exactly none of that happened. Mostly, her journey just involved using simple tools and making choices about the type of life she was willing to live at the time, in order to improve her odds of having a better one.
To this day, Justine credits keeping a written record of her income and expenses as one of the most powerful habits she formed along her journey. Rather than focusing on the things she couldn't control, Justine chose to focus on the many choices she could make to improve her odds of success.
Justine Nelson and the Bumper Debacle
While simple tools like budgeting helped Justine control her spending, there's also a lot to be said about the lifestyle she chose to live while paying off her debt.
After she graduated, Justine did whatever she could to bring in more money, one step at a time. Sometimes that meant taking on overtime or any chance she could get to provide freelance writing services for extra income.
Little by little, her income continued to improve. But the key was her lifestyle didn't – at least not yet. Justine made the smart play of keeping her living expenses as low as possible, even as her income started to climb.
Rather than invest in a new car, she continued to drive the one she'd had since college, even after an accident claimed its bumper. Instead of using the insurance payout on a new car, she put it toward her debt and found a replacement at a junkyard for $25.
Justine Nelson Achieves Debt-Free Status
While the bumper incident may not initially seem to provide the best metaphor for how to control debt, it actually proves a great point. Sometimes the best answer isn't the most complicated or expensive.
Justine's road to freedom from debt largely consisted of a few simple tools and making a decision to live frugally for as long as it took to pay off her debt. Less than three years after she paid off her student debt, she and her husband Kyle were married and ready to start building a life and family they love.
By constantly looking for ways to bring in more income and making debt a huge priority, Justine put herself in a great position to start making money work properly for her new family. She and Kyle started exploring investment vehicles like Roth IRAs, traditional IRAs, as well as employer-matching 401(k)s, which they point to as one of the best tools for wealth building.
Justine Nelson: Half Millionaire
As Justine used time-honored budgeting techniques along her journey, she was able to take the time to build on them and make them their best. When she, Kyle, and their new daughter moved to California, Justine was free to focus on launching a business she knew she would love.
After combining their forces, she and Kyle have raised their net worth to over half a million dollars (tracked through Personal Capital), which she jokingly insists grants her the bragging rights of a “half-millionaire.” She's now able to live the kind of life she's always dreamed of and offers her advice and services to future debt-free millennials everywhere.
Do you too dream of becoming a half-millionaire, or simply joining the ranks of debt-free millennials like Justine? I hope you found her story to be a testament to just how possible these dreams are to achieve.
Final Thoughts on Justine Nelson and Her Amazing Journey
When you're facing an avalanche of student loan repayments or any other type of debt, it can be tempting to think that the answer must be complicated and grueling. But Justine Nelson is living proof that it can be as simple as finding a few easy tools and making them work properly for you.
So, instead of telling yourself you'll find the answer “someday,” take the first step toward a life you love now. Maybe that means exploring the many free financial resources now available from companies like Personal Capital. Or just finding a sheet of paper, making income and expenses columns, and getting down to business. If you need a little extra support, check out some of our favorite budgeting apps.
No matter what method you pick, choose today to start planning a life you love!
Where are you on your journey to a million? What lessons can you learn from Justine Nelson?
Please let us know in the comments below.