How Getting Financially Real Empowered Me

Have you had a heart-to-heart, honest conversation about your financial situation with yourself? Getting financially real is hard but necessary to succeed.

I’m thrilled to be participating in the Financial Literacy Awareness Carnival hosted by Shannon from The Heavy Purse this year, especially with a theme as awesome as “getting financially real.”

There are too many people trying to run away from their financial problems, and we need to address it.

I think just about everyone is aware that burying your head in the sand isn’t going to solve any problems.

What will solve your problems is being honest with yourself.

Getting financially real is hard, especially if we’ve made awful financial mistakes the past. However, we’re only human, and we need to be able to forgive ourselves and move on in a constructive way.

The sooner you get financially real, the better. Taking control over your financial life isn’t easy, but it’s the best thing you can do to give yourself a shot at success.

Here’s how getting financially real empowered me.

Getting financially real blog carnival

My Student Loan Epiphany


Many graduates with student loan debt didn’t realize exactly what they were getting themselves into, myself included. Unfortunately, that’s not an excuse. Ignoring your student loan payments isn’t going to make them go away.

In my case, I graduated with $18,000 in student loan debt, and was content making minimum payments until my 10 year repayment period was over.

Except…one day, I realized how much interest I was paying toward my loans. I sat down and calculated how much interest I’d pay total over the life of my loans, and couldn’t believe the number.

As I had never had any debt before, I didn’t know exactly how interest worked. Well, let me tell you, that was an eye-opening experience.

I decided I didn’t want my student loans hanging over me for the next 10 years, and I didn’t want to pay that much in interest.

So I took control. I did my research and found others who were paying extra toward their loans. I learned how they were making it possible, and committed to doing the same.

That moment paved the way for where I am today. No joke, getting financially real made an enormous difference in my life, and not just financially. Let me explain how.

I Developed an Amazing Work Ethic


Not that I wasn’t a good worker before, but since I had committed to paying off my student loans quickly, I wanted to prove my worth at work to increase my chances of receiving a promotion.

I’m happy to say, it worked. At my second job, I was a receptionist for three months. I then received a promotion to a different position and was given a raise.

I worked overtime whenever I could. I came in early, I stayed late, and my bosses took notice. My efforts were rewarded with gift cards after particularly grueling months, which freed up cash to put toward my loans.

I Realized I Wanted More


I was having fun earning more. Seeing all that overtime add up only gave me more drive. I know, it sounds like I became a workaholic, and to an extent, I did. But I don’t regret the path I took, as attacking debt meant more to me than going home a little earlier.

Unfortunately, the company I worked for was small. The opportunity I had been given early on was by chance – someone had been let go, and they needed to fill the spot. There wasn’t really more room for advancement.

I’m going to skip ahead here for the sake of brevity. Last year, I ended up taking a leap of faith. My boyfriend received a promotion and had to transfer to a different state, so I left my job and looked to self-employment as an option.

I had witnessed many other bloggers experience success with freelancing, and challenged myself to do the same. From their monthly income reports, I knew it was possible to make much, much more than I ever did working for someone else.

In a sense, getting financially real about my student loans empowered me to make a drastic change. Not only was I taking control of my debt, but also my career.

Making a Living for Myself


As most know, self-employment is not a walk in the park. Far from it. For almost six months, I struggled to put myself out there and find work.

Thankfully, everything seemed to fall into place after a while, and I’ve been growing ever since. I’m happy to say I succeeded in my challenge to earn more from freelancing than I did at my old job.

This is something I never thought was possible. Before I started blogging, I had no idea people were making so much money online. I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, and I never thought I’d trade the stability of a paycheck for more flexibility outside of work.

It’s important to note getting financially real helped me reach this point. I only started blogging to hold myself accountable, and to inspire others. If I hadn’t had that original epiphany about my student loans, I wouldn’t be here writing to you all today.

Don’t underestimate the power of getting financially real.

Have you had a heart-to-heart, honest conversation about your financial situation with yourself? Getting financially real is hard but necessary to succeed.

You Owe it to Yourself


You really do owe it to yourself to be honest about your situation. Debt or lack of saving isn’t something to be ashamed of. Again, we all make mistakes. I don’t want to imagine what my life would look like if I had never bothered to calculate how much interest I’d be paying on my loans.

I’ve encountered a few people who didn’t even want to speak about their student loans. They were that disappointed with their college experience. They regretted it so much, they couldn’t face the truth. Instead, they set their payments on autopilot, and never took another look at them.

That’s no way to get ahead in life. If you’re not getting financially real, you’re not taking your finances seriously enough. Turning a blind eye to your situation does more harm than good because you’re not in control.

I know getting real about your finances can be difficult and scary. However, it’s necessary if you want to improve. The hard work it takes to get there is worth it, and I can say that from experience.

I’m much more knowledgable about my finances than I was just two years ago. I’m stronger overall – I know I can survive a financial emergency, and I know I’ll eventually conquer my student loans. My attitude about debt has changed for the better. I know what my financial values are, and my spending aligns with them.

I’m grateful to be in a good financial situation, and I owe it to getting financially real early on. It’s empowered me in ways I never thought possible, and it can do the same for you.


What did getting financially real look like for you? How has it helped you? What did you get out of college? What’s your plan of attack for paying down your student loans?

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Erin M. is a personal finance freelance writer passionate about helping others take control over their financial situation. She shares her thoughts on money on her blog Journey to Saving.


  • It seems like you gained so much from being financially real. I really like this concept because it lets people especially those who are in debt accept and recognize their situation and do something about it to improve their life particularly in financial journey.

  • “…we need to be able to forgive ourselves and move on in a constructive way.” So true Erin! Holding on to failures of the past serves no value and keeps us from moving forward in the present. Forgive and let go.

    • Erin says:

      Thanks, Brian! It can be hard to do, but it’s the only way to keep moving forward. It’s great to learn lessons from our mistakes, but continually kicking ourselves for them does us no good.

  • Maureen says:

    My real moment came when I opened up my foreclosure notice on my home. I paid off almost 80K in under three years and never looked back. Every time I write an article I write with this in mind – how best to communicate how real you’ll need to get if you’re serious about getting out of debt. Forgiveness is key to turning the corner.

    • Erin says:

      I completely agree, Maureen! It’s tough to get real with your finances under such dire circumstances, but it will spur you to take action like nothing else.

  • We were lucky that all of our student loans were locked in at 3.75, then went down to 3.25 after so many on-time payments. Still, we wanted to get rid of them. We basically just did a debt snowball and threw money at them until they were gone. I was very glad to mail that last payment in!

    • Erin says:

      That’s awesome your interest rates decreased like that! Snowballing definitely gives you some great momentum when trying to pay off debt.

  • I think being honest about where your finances are at is a critical first step towards financial freedom and empowerment. For us, keeping a close eye on spending has been vital to creating our long-term goals. I feel like without that transparent honesty, we wouldn’t be able to pursue our aggressive savings rate. Congrats to you for attacking your student loans!

    • Erin says:

      Thanks! Yes, being honest about your spending totals (and your spending habits) is completely necessary for taking back financial control. You need to know where your money is going before you can set about making a plan to achieve your goals!

  • I remember working more as well to get out of debt. I was working a job that wanted me to stay late on Friday nights. Everyone else refused, but I ended up staying. When I got home, I realized something. In the 2 hours I stayed late, I got home about 30 minutes later than normally. This is because of all of the rush hour traffic I would hit if I left at the regular time.

    It helped me to really weigh the cost/benefit of doing something vs not doing something.

    • Erin says:

      Yep, that was something I realized as well – I didn’t mind staying later as I hated dealing with all the traffic (and I had a short commute!). It’s interesting how the little things impact us like that.

  • I had a similar experience where seeing how much my student loans cost me each month motivated to me to work very hard to get to a place where I was bringing in more side hustle money than was going out the door in student loan payments. I still put most of the extra money into investments and home projects, but it sure would be nice to have enough side hustle money to just wipe out all my student loans at once!

    • Erin says:

      I think that would be the dream for most of us! I really like the idea of earning enough side income to cover debt payments, this way you’re able to use any other income you earn exactly how you want. Besides, diversifying your income is just smart!

  • I LOVE the word empowerment and when we get control of our money situation, we truly empower ourselves in so many ways. I love watching my clients evolve from feeling powerless about their money situation to empowered by the possibilities they give themselves when they get financially real.

    • Erin says:

      I’ve come to love it within the past few months. =) It’s so true, too! We don’t have to be or feel powerless in our situations. There’s always something we can do to take action toward a better tomorrow.

  • I know how you feel about the student loans. Everyone seems to say that it’s “good debt” and not to worry. So I just made the minimum payments and even extended the payment schedule. Fortunately, I decided to payoff the high interest student loans. It’s such a great feeling of a burden lifted when you get rid of them.

    • Erin says:

      I can’t wait! But you’re right, so many graduates are led to believe student loan debt is normal and therefore it’s perfectly okay to have them for the next however many years. We rarely think twice about it.

  • Great story, Erin! I can completely relate. I graduated with $206k in student loan debt. While most people I know talk about paying off their law school loans in 40 years, that hasn’t been acceptable to me. Three short years later, I’m down to $135k (with a little help here and there from family, too). While it may still seem like a lot, I’ve cut the interest tremendously and I have a plan. I cannot wait to be debt free! No 30 years for me.

    • Erin says:

      You’ve made amazing progress, Natalie! You’re such an inspiration. I wouldn’t be able to stomach paying back student loans for 30 years either, especially on six-figures (all that interest, ugh). Your financial future will be so much better without that in the way! That’s why I’m okay with making temporary sacrifices to get my debt paid off.

  • I think getting financially real is very empowering, and it seemed to really make a difference in your life. If you can’t face your own reality, you can’t do anything about it or move forward!

    • Erin says:

      Exactly! And honestly, living life unable to face reality isn’t living. I’d rather not spend my time trying to run away from the inevitable. Being so miserable about your debt to the point where you’d rather not talk about it isn’t a good place to be in.

  • I got financially real when I decided to get serious with my now fiancee, but I was also paying the minimum on my student loans until I realized how much money I was paying on interest. That was a real eye opener. I made sure I paid off my student loans fast!!!

    • Erin says:

      It’s crazy how interest can change our minds on how fast we pay off debt. It’s horrible to see how much we’re “wasting” on interest, but it is a good motivator. =)

  • Love this, Erin. Getting Financially Real is truly empowering. Like you said, only by truly seeing where we are, can we begin the process of moving forward. I love how getting real helped you create such an amazing work ethic, which will serve you well all your life. It also makes me sad and frustrated that you signed up for debt that you didn’t understand, like so many other young people do. I really wish there more education around student loans for both parents and students. I am by no means against them but I want kids to understand what they are signing up for, so they take them seriously. Thanks to both you and John for participating in the Carnival. I appreciate your support!

    • Erin says:

      Thank you for inviting us to participate, and I’m glad I could do the topic justice. =) I completely agree that all too often, parents and students are blindsided by student loan debt. I remember going through the process and myself and my parents were clueless. Kids rely on their parents to do the research, but they’re going to be the ones making the payments, so it’s important for everyone involved to be aware of what they’re getting into.

  • Erin, it’s been so fun for me to be an observer as you, being a young woman, have taken such risks to achieve your dreams. You’re right – it CAN be done with the right attitude and the willingness to work hard. Great job, my friend. 🙂

    • Erin says:

      Thank you, Laurie! It’s incredible to think how things have changed for me just over the past year. Having the right attitude and mindset, and being open to opportunities, makes a huge difference.

  • Jason B says:

    My plan for attacking these loans is to create multiple streams of income. It’s going pretty good but I need to get it going better.

  • Student loans are so tricky because we are told they are good debt. I agree that student loans helped me get to where I am today, but I should have paid those suckers off so much quicker!

    • Erin says:

      Agreed. Thinking student loans are “good debt” leads us into the trap of thinking it’s completely okay and normal to be in debt for years. We don’t realize the damage being done by interest most of the time.

  • I was really fortunate/unfortunate to see the lasting effects student loans can have on you long-term at an early age. I’m glad I did, because when I went to school I drug it out over a bajillion years rather than go into debt. If I hadn’t, I would have graduated at the beginning of the recession in a field that was hit big time. A lot of my classmates did not fare well.

    Kudos to you for believing in yourself and making it work (even better!) financially while being your own boss!

    • Erin says:

      I do think in some respects, seeing my parents struggle with consumer debt helped me realize the possible impact student loans could have on my future. I was conscious about not going to a college where tuition was $50,000 a year, but I still wasn’t 100% aware of how much debt could hold me back after graduating. I think a lot of times, we simply get caught up in the adventure college is supposed to be – we’re not thinking of what will happen once we graduate since it’s still 4+ years away.

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