A woman celebrated paying off her more than $102,000 in student loans with a photoshoot in a New York cemetery.
In a Facebook post that opened with “DING DONG MY LOANS ARE DEAD,” 28-year-old Mandy Velez details how she was able to free herself from student debt after six years.
“I finally killed them,” she said on Facebook, where she shared photos of herself celebrating at the Trinity Church Cemetery in the city’s financial district. “It was a slow death but was worth every bit of the fight.”
Velez’s journey began in 2013 when she graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with about $75,000 in student loans. She moved to New York with determination to be debt-free by 30.
Throughout the next six years, Velez cut her budget, paid more than just the required minimum payments and worked multiple side jobs to get closer to her goal.
In the last eight months, she said she lived off less than a third of her monthly salary, ate only salad, eggs, chicken and rice, and took side jobs to make extra money.
Finally, Velez dipped into her savings to make her last payment on Aug. 2. By the end of her six-year journey, interest had turned her initial $75,000 in student loans into about $102,000 of debt.
Velez told USA TODAY on Friday that the two most important things that helped her accomplish her goal two years early was cutting her budget and increasing her income through additional jobs.
“There are ways to kind of budget that you don’t realize until you really sit down and look at every single item,” she said. “It made a huge difference, we’re talking like hundreds of dollars of difference.”
But the sacrifices were far from easy. Velez admits that she was burnt out nearing the end of her journey as she was unable to spend quality time with friends and family with all the extra jobs she was taking on. Sometimes, she would have to get creative to stick to her food budget, depending on complimentary breakfasts and snacks from her office to get through day.
“It’s a shame that’s what it takes to pay them off,” she said.
Velez also acknowledges her privilege to be able to make those sacrifices and understands not everyone can follow her same path to a debt-free life.
“Not everyone can do this,” she said in her post. “Maybe due to lack of jobs, ability or other compounding responsibilities, because truth be told, it’s a rigged game.”
She said she hopes one day the student loan crisis can be resolved and that her story inspires others to take control of their own financial future, in whatever form that means for them.
Velez told USA TODAY that her new financial goal is to save for a down payment to buy a house in two or three years.
But in the meantime, she’s enjoying the relief that comes with being free from student loans.
“I’m glad that I got it over with as fast as possible,” she said. “I was done and I was happy to have killed them once and for all.”
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.