Gillian : An Introduction

I stand (okay, I sit) here before you a university graduate roughly $60,000 in student debt.  I know, this number seems astronomical. And let’s be real, it is. Let me explain the story of how I came to be in such a financial mess…

How it happened.

Although I was smart, I was the typical head-in-the-sand high school student who felt like the real world was miles away. I did not have passion towards any area, but excelled in my accounting classes and felt that I could make a good living doing this. I decided to go to a decent school close to home, and went off on my merry way.

I quickly realized I did not want to be an accountant. Ever. I was still very unsure about everything. I have always dealt with anxiety, but at this point did not know what was “wrong” with me. All I knew was that I dreaded school and had panic attacks doing things as simple as riding the bus to school. I mentally broke down, and left school by the end of November. One semester’s tuition and an entire year of rent (my landlord was not understanding at all) left me my first $5000 in debt.

I worked through a lot of my anxiety issues, evaluated what I wanted out of life and decided to go to school for something I truly enjoyed: fashion merchandising. The next Fall I headed off to college. School went a lot smoother for me, but living in Toronto cost a LOT. My two-year program cost me $25,000.

While in college, I realized that I wanted university after all. I attended university for marketing management. It was truly enjoyable and I am happy with my choice. Tack on the final $30,000 in debt.

I was a complete idiot with my finances. I made very little money in the summers because I could not usually find full-time work. I had a problem with spending. I knew I was majorly in debt but I thought I could easily make $50,000/year straight out of school and pay it back in two years tops. I liked a lot of stuff – M.A.C. make-up, lots of clothing, and going out to dinner multiple times a week. Once summer hit and I had a bit more income coming in, I felt like I DESERVED extra stuff and extra fun.

How I plan to pay it back.

It has been a very harsh reality check realizing that I am making more like $25,000-30,000/year, and am going to need to pay down at least $600/month in student debt to get out of this hole in eight years. It’s tough to look back at the frivolous way I lived, but all I can do at this point is move forward and not ever get back to that place. There are so many things I’d like to do soon; getting married and starting a family are something I’d like to do in the next five years and my debt is holding me back from being able to achieve those goals.

I have already started working to get out of debt by lowering my fixed expenses, cutting back on variable expenses (good-bye clothes, it was nice knowing ya!) and doing freelance work to increase my income. I am trying to be as frugal as possible without over-doing it.  I do not want to get debt burn-out since I’ve got quite a few years left of repayment. My goal is to be paying $1000/month (hopefully more!) towards my loan eventually. I’d like to eventually get a better paying day job so I have been taking steps with that. Even though my debt is lowering at a snail’s pace, this is the worst of it. Now instead of shopping, in my spare time I read/write blog posts, budget, figure out better ways to spend (or not spend) my money… and watch Dexter.


Taking Control of your Career

Hi all ! I’m Gillian, the anonymous girl you may have seen posting and commenting on behalf of Money After Graduation. I’m 25, graduated University this Spring with a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing and moved to a small town in Mid-Western Ontario, where I decided to finally smarten up, budget, and get on track to pay back my student debts. Bridget has given me the wonderful opportunity to write a guest post, so here goes!

As a recent graduate living in a small, lakeside town of less than 20,000 people, I was finding it extremely difficult to find a job in my field of marketing. There is very little opportunity here, and any openings that were even somewhat in my field required at least 5 years of experience. This seems to be the problem with many new graduates: how on earth are you supposed to get experience, when everyone wants already experienced staff? So I decided to go back to what I was doing part-time while in school: serving. Don’t get me wrong, serving is fun and provides a decent income, but it is not what I want to be doing ten or twenty years from now.

I began thinking of what I could do to improve my resume, and increase my income so that I could pay down all of those debts at the same time. In my final term at university one of my courses involved creating a real-life social media strategy for a not-for-profit organization. I really enjoyed this project, and it made me think that I could look into doing social media management freelance for small businesses.

Basically through word-of-mouth from the people I told this idea to, I was able to set up two clients. I mentioned it in my blog and immediately got some interest, even though my blog is still in it’s infant phases and has less traffic than some! I am hoping in the months to come I am able to pick up even more clients through social media management. The social media world is still so brand new and ever-changing which means that there is much opportunity out there. This is especially true for young people, who tend to use social media in their day to day lives and have a better understanding of the social media realm.

So what am I getting at here? For a lot of new post-secondary graduates, it is very difficult to get into the line of work you want to be doing. By networking and freelancing, you could get into the career you want sooner, all the while building up a resume. I would suggest to do so part time if you are lucky enough to have a full-time job already, as it may take awhile for your income to reach a point where it can fully sustain you. Earning more money through a part-time side business is a great way to supplement your income and reach your financial goals faster, as well as gain experience and network to further your career.

Even if I do not end up working in social media forever, I am building marketing experience for my resume, which would have otherwise said “Server, 2009 to Present.” Not only that but being self-employed can give you the opportunity to make more money than you would working for a company, as the profit does not need to be shared. If you are having troubles getting into the career you want, try to create your own career path and utilize freelance opportunities to get yourself there.

August 2012 Goals

Sorry for the delay, August has been insanely busy so far! First, a recap of my July 2012 goals:

Go to yoga at least 4 times. Not done. I went 0 times because I like to self-sabotage my health & sanity, apparently.

Make a plan to buy some much needed household items. Pass. I picked up some nice wood hangers and a HUGE full length mirror for my bedroom. I also got some essential baking tools like a food scale, flour sifter, and rolls upon rolls of parchment paper! I still need to make a list of what else I need to beautify my home though.

Claim my mornings. Done! I love waking up between 6am and 6:30am, making a coffee and putting the bulk of my effort into the blog. It’s a nice time to answer all the emails that come in overnight. I then go to work un-distracted and not worrying about everything I have to catch up on when I get home. It is, however, essential that I am in bed by 10pm if I want to be up at 6am. Even if I’m 10 minutes late I’ll be a total zombie in the morning.

Add 500+ new words in German to my vocabulary. Pass. I probably got to about 400… it might be 500. I didn’t keep track because I had a lot of conversational practice where I would just ask, “what’s the word for this in German? And what about this?” and then I wouldn’t write it down. Sometimes I forgot, sometimes I didn’t. In any case I’ve reached a level of adequacy with the language that will allow me to take more advanced classes in the future, which I think I might do.

Earn an extra $1,000 this month. FAIL. I only earned $600 extra. Oh god, this was so painful, especially since I only received half my income. An expected $300 freelance cheque didn’t arrive and blog income dipped a bit and I was broke. I actually panicked and transferred $600 out of my Emergency Fund to tide me over. Thankfully August is looking much better!

Goals for August

- Save $200 for a new iPhone. Mine was stolen earlier this summer so I’ve been using a borrowed 3G since June. I’ve heard rumors that the new iPhone is due for release in September. I’m planning to buy in October or November, and I’ll be buying an unlocked phone (never ever signing a cellphone contract AGAIN) so it will be $800-$900 — might as well start saving now.

- Finish an academic book. Won’t go into details on this right now, but suffice it to say any semblance of study skills I once possessed have completely disappeared.

- Establish a routine. The entire summer has felt completely chaotic to me, and that wears on my nerves. I spent 3 weeks abroad in Europe, then an additional 2 weekends camping, and finally had a friend stay with me for 2 & 1/2 weeks. This adds up to nearly two months where I was out of a routine and consequently, very unproductive. Looking forward to jumping into a super busy work schedule in the fall!

That’s it for this month (let’s be real, it’s already started! I’m behind here!); hope your August is going well so far!


July 2012 Goals

First, a recap of my June 2012 goals:

- Visit 3 castles. Kind of done? I took a day trip with a demanding hike out to Burg Eltz, then Krystal and I scaled the ruins of castle steps in Esslingen, and more often than not I wandered into a building or two in every city that I wasn’t sure if it was a church or a castle. So now I have to go back to Germany in the future to see more castles.

- Don’t run out of Euros. Done! 500 EU ended up being enough cash for food & getting around in Europe. Shopping I charged to my credit cards.

- Make a 5-year plan. Done! I was feeling pretty good about the amount of awesome I had crammed into the next five years, but then I ran into München and realized there are so many things in life you cannot control. I don’t know how much of my list needs an adjustment.. if anything, I just need to scale it down and relax a little bit so I don’t burn out.

July 2012 Goals

- Go to yoga at least 4 times. My body needs this so bad after lugging a suitcase around Europe for 3 weeks and spending so many hours cramped in tiny plane seats! I want to get into the habit of going to yoga every 3 or 4 days, because otherwise my shoulders cramp up pretty badly. I only have time for once-a-week-ish this month, but hopefully I can increase it in August.

- Make a plan to buy some much needed household items. I smashed my full-length mirror a month or two ago, my bedsheets have holes in them, I need a summer comforter, a new shoe rack, and some wine glasses… well, the list is long. I generally get distracted from buying home stuff and go get shoes instead, but there’s so many moments when I’m frustrated I don’t have another cookie sheet or need a food processor, that I do think it’s time to start making my house into a home. My sister and I are going to IKEA on Thursday and I have some gift cards for Bed, Bath and Beyond, so even though my cash flow is limited I think I might be able to pick up some items.

- Claim my mornings. At the suggestion of Bruce Bucks’ recent post, I went ahead a downloaded the eBook about using your mornings for productivity instead of half-awake stumbling to the kitchen to get the coffee on. Thanks to jet-lag, I’ve been up early since I got home, so this is an ideal time to make it a habit. I’ll be using my mornings to clean my apartment (something I “never have time for” at the end of the work day), make delicious breakfasts and prepare lunch for work, catch up on reading books & blogs over coffee, and generally take some time to get a head start on my day with planning & goal-setting before anything else has a chance to grab my attention. 6am & I = friends for life.

- Add 500+ new words in German to my vocabulary. I took a 10 week German class April through June which helped considerably before I left for my trip. While abroad, my German approached a level of adequacy to the point that I’m comfortable with simple formal interactions but my overall language skills are still lacking. I’m continually comparing it to French, which I know isn’t fair — I began learning French when I was four years old! — but I am making the effort to achieve some fluency in German. I have gone ahead and hired a private tutor to meet with me weekly, and I think I will go ahead and drop in on my Oma & Opa every weekend so I can spend another few hours practicing German conversation. This article about how to learn a language in 90 days is excellent, and I’m implementing the suggestion to learn ~30 new words every day.

- Earn an extra $1,000 this month. I know, this is a huge amount. I’m setting such a figure for two reasons: 1) I desperately, desperately need it for reasons I will explain in a post later this week and 2) I’ve already brought in an extra $400 for July and am expecting at least another $300-$400, so really I’m just bridging a gap of a few hundred dollars. Ideally, I would like to see my side income to always be $1,000+/mo and this month is as good of a time to begin as any!

What are your goals this month?

June 2012 Goals

Review of May 2012 Goals:

Blog my little heart out. Done! I feel like I wrote some worthy posts this month, and I also enjoyed guest-posting on a few other blogs (and hosting some guest posters here). I also secured a longer-term (6 month) freelance contract, so I’m very excited about that. Best writing month ever!

Earn $500 in side-income. Done! This goal was mostly out of necessity since my income is taking a serious hit. I managed to bring in an extra $579.50 this month through freelance writing, blog advertising, and selling items. I am thrilled! I should try pushing myself to earn more…


Spend less than $250 in Vancouver. Really nearly done! If you remember, I came in at $263 =) I’m pretty happy with that, so I’m going to cross this off anyway. Sadly I’m still waiting for my reimbursement from work so this is still hurting a little.

Finish plans for Germany. Done! All my hostels & hotels are booked, and I bought my Eurail pass. All that’s really left now is to pick up some travel books so I can plan what I want to see, then convert my CAD dollars into EU and I will be set! Maybe I’ll do a minimalist packing post too, since I’m going to try to take the absolute least I can on this trip. Can’t believe I’m leaving in NINE DAYS!!!

Update my resume & cover letter. Done! This was a way bigger undertaking than I first planned, since my skill set has basically exploded since starting at my job last September, but I put together a pretty decent updated resume and cover letter template. I can probably leave this alone for a year now, unless something in my job changes.

June 2012 Goals

- Visit 3 castles. I’m a princess in Europe for the latter half of this month, so I feel this is a worthy excursion. Why go to malls when I can see old palaces? Looking forward to some day trips to the German countryside!

- Don’t run out of Euros. I’m taking $500 EU cash with me on my trip, and hoping I don’t spend it all by the end of this month — especially since my vacation ends in the ever-expensive Switzerland. As I mentioned before I will be using my credit card for most purchases, but I’m generally partial to cash for small purchases on the go (coffee, tourist attraction fees, transportation, etc). What I’m really trying to do by watching my EU spending is making sure I don’t blow all my cash AND max out my credit cards.

- Make a 5-year plan. Didn’t see this one coming, did you? My vacations are pretty laid-back, but that doesn’t mean they’re unproductive. I used my month in France last year to reinvent myself after a horrendous break-up only a month before I left, and even though I’m not experiencing any emotional distress right now, it doesn’t mean it’s not a good time to take inventory of where I’m at and where I want to get to. I’m nearly a year into my professional career, about to enter my late 20′s, and pondering what I want out of life. A 5-year plan will outline my professional and personal goals from now until age 31. I’m a pretty ambitious person and I’m wholly committed to leading a fabulous life, so I feel like this will be a strong list.

…and that’s all I can think of, so only 3 goals this month!