This week we are excited to share another story from a Young Debt-Free Family. The story below features Lily from Merry for Money. Lily’s story is incredible. It starts from a place of deep depression but ends with happiness. Growing up in a low income area with illiterate parents taught her valuable lessons that she carries with her now. It’s those lessons that have helped her and her family grow their net worth to $1 million before the age of 30.
One of the more fascinating aspects of her story is how Lily was able to save 50 percent of her income in San Francisco on less than $60,000. As income increased, so did their savings rate. All of their hard work and saving will prepare their family as they become parents. Lily has dreams of being a stay-at-home mom in order to home school her future children.
I had the opportunity to meet Lily at FinCon last year. She was absolutely one of my favorite bloggers to meet in person. We chatted for about a half hour about our blogs and the differences in lifestyle living on the West Coast vs. the Midwest. She raved about the historic homes in certain parts of St. Louis and ever since I’ve payed closer attention to the beautiful homes here.
Well, that’s enough from me. Please read on to learn more about Lily and her family’s inspiring story!
Young Debt-Free Families Interview with Lily from Merry for Money
1) Start by telling us about yourself. Please include any details you feel comfortable sharing about your family, job situation, income level, and amount of debt paid.
Hiyaaaa, I’m Lily, I’ve been on this planet for 27 years!
I lived my formative school years in China and then immigrated to the United States around 9 or so. My husband and I got chained (…married) when I was barely 24 years old and he was 28 years old. He was (and still is) a software engineer and I was working as a content writer for a promo company after graduating from college. We started our financial awakening journey together soon after.
Three years of blissful marriage in and we’re in preparation for kids. The initial plan was FIRE first, then kids, but the concern over age and health insurance have made us aware we needed to rethink family life before family finances.
I had $20,000 in student loans but I cleared that myself before I met my husband. We currently have no debt right now besides our mortgage. We paid off half of our mortgage a few years back (but that move actually cost us about $100k in investment growth during the bull run…)
2) What inspired you to payoff your debt? Did you have a specific moment where you decided to make it a goal to payoff your debt?
Paying off debt was a natural instinct. It’s not a good feeling to owe anyone financially – culturally it’s definitely not the case with my (Chinese) family.
I was pretty nervous even before I received my student loan bill. The debt number was not outrageous. The student debt national average was about $35,000 the year I graduated. But me starting adulthood in the hole at $20,000 didn’t exactly feel like a kiss from an angel.
I paid off $20,000 in student debt within 8 months with 3 jobs: day job as a content writer, night job as a bar hostess, and filling out a zillion surveys online. I made more than $2,000 within a few months ticking opinion boxes – easy – but I did not get much sleep. That’s how hard I went at it.
Sometimes I got headaches from the computer screens and I kept falling asleep at my desk job. But I knew it wasn’t forever; I would be financially debt free soon and that’s permanent
As you can see, I’m very proud of my hustles, I’ve always been. I was saving almost 50% of my income with a very average income ($40,000 to $60,000) wage…in San Francisco! Middle-class income in San Francisco is about $100,000 a year; I was well under the average salary wise.
3) How did you stay disciplined throughout the process to pay down your debt?
Discipline isn’t really the right word. I was extremely depressed and suicidal about my life. Adulting was rocky. My career was shaky. My romantic life felt like a void.
I couldn’t decide if I should get my Master’s degree, and I did not respect any of my gigs at the time. I was on an ever ending diet of grind and misery. This made saving money actually really easy because I was depressed enough that I lost a lot of interest in doing things.
Technically my student debt was “healthy” because the principal and the interest rate (4.25%) was low enough that I saw progress. Progress is addictive. Every so often, I would drop in over $1,000 to $2,000 in one lump sum payment and feel the cumulative blend of bitterness and pride paying it off. Oh Great Lakes…
4) Were there any apps, tools, or websites that were especially helpful in paying down debt?
I was an absolute idiot. I would recommend everyone to NOT do what I did.
I was manually tracking my debt progress with scribbled paper napkins and computer screenshots pasted onto Paint. No joke.
I wished I had known about all the cool financial apps and tools out there I know are readily available today back then. I had no idea! Why the heck wasn’t personal finance education a requirement for high school graduation like…gym class was?
5) What advice would you provide to other young families who are overcome by the stresses of debt?
Remind yourself of the end goal and why you took on the debt.
Also, remind yourself what type of debt you are tackling.
Having student loans is not the end of the world. I consider student loan debt today as generally good, healthy debt. If it’s for an in-demand degree that could definitely increase your income potential then frame it as an investment instead.
6) What was the most challenging part in your journey to becoming debt-free?
I beat myself up for being “stupid” and not working hard enough to graduate without debt. Tuition increased so much more than anticipated during my 3 years (I graduated early) that not all the grants and scholarships covered for the new cost.
When I was 22 years old, I thought the world was ending when I saw my student loan total. The fear stunted me enough to withdraw my Master’s graduate school application for Industrial/Organizational business.
That 2-year program was going to cost $20,000 per year. I was so afraid of my debt at the time that my plan was to take a year off to become debt free before jumping into a $40,000 Master’s program.
On the flipside, Master’s holders make north of $100,000 a year easily, especially in a business driven place like San Francisco. Thinking back, I played it too safe.
It was hard having a newly minted 23-year-old choose between 2 situations involving hideous debt and her entire professional future. My parents are illiterate so there was no place for solace or guidance from the ghetto I came from.
I was also concerned that working in a business environment may not be what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was also nearly sidetracked into opening a daycare center – but that’s a story for another day!
7) How has becoming debt-free changed your family’s life? How do you expect it will impact your family’s life going forward?
When I became debt free at 23-years-old, I immediately told my (ex) boyfriend about my feat.
I was immensely proud of myself and I thought he would be too. My ex-boyfriend was glad for me but he showed no real emotion about how I did become debt free in just 8 months on a low-income.
I struggled. He hardly noticed.
I remember sitting in the car with him and thinking, “So this is the guy that’s supposed to be my soulmate? Hm.”
He barely bats an eye to one of the most transformational periods of my life. The difference between us was too wide. He was a rich kid. My money and family struggles were not something he could relate to.
With the debt gone, I took more risks with my extra income. My boyfriend and I broke up for very amicable reasons soon after. I was hardly sad.
What I did immediately was got on a flight to Seattle to meet my “we’re just friends” friend.
Then it turned into something more, very quickly. 2 days later, my (now) husband and I were officially dating.
Less than 2 years later, we got married.
Every day is damn good now. I’m overwhelmingly thankful for every single second.
8) What are future plans for your family after becoming debt free? Are you pursuing (or have you reached) financial independence?
We’re in a stronger financial position now if you consider $1.5 million dollars in net worth at age 27 and 30 good.
We both came a very long way; he started at $80,000 a year as a spreadsheet monkey to now $140,000 a year. I went from doing minimum wage and taking 30 cent online surveys to $60,000+ a year working for myself part-time.
The plan now is just…keep doing what we’re doing and live happily, simply, frugally…hopefully for as long as we can…and yeah, start a family soon 🙂
9) Is there anything that you haven’t yet covered that you’d like to share?
I sold off a lot of my teenage worldly possessions after college. It was hard to believe the stuff I had collected: a $50 Makeup Forever concealer, a $70 slimming face serum from Asia, expensive old textbooks, and heaps of clothes I sold back for money.
I was a dumb and insecure teenager…that was all I could tell myself. What the hell was I doing with a $50 fancy French concealer when both my parents couldn’t speak English.
I am thankful for my debt wake up call. Please don’t let my initial lamenting confuse anyone. It made me grow up, a lot, and see the truly important things in life.
Old me < New me
Some of my school peers graduated with similar (or even more) school debt load than me, but they did not prioritize pay off anywhere as I did.
They did not want to drive or deliver meals for extra money. They didn’t feel the need to save money because they’re young millennials in a big, bright city that has $19 dollar oysters at Happy Hour.
I was not only fighting the debt burden but also the peer pressure to live a more ‘charming’ life while I was working in the Marina (an area of extreme prep and affluence in San Francisco.)
I paid it back long before my peers made dents in theirs – and that was probably the first sign that I was going to be OK no matter what.
So I like to tell anyone who is driven to kill their debt that they’re already ahead of the game by having a saver’s mindset.
10) Where can we learn more about your story?
I’m a big believer in living a fulfilling life with no traditional bounds. I focused on building income streams from home because I knew early on, if I had children, I would want to stay at home full time. I want the privilege of being able to homeschool their education and make sure they fall genuinely in love with lifelong learning – something our current public schools have failed to emphasize.
I believe in pursuing financial independence for my children. My husband and I can be their first investor. I want to set them up to become passionate entrepreneurs, curious solo space explorers, and sensitive artistic inventors without them having to worry about money as I did constantly growing up. It’s my goal to set them up with an environment where potential, passion, and impact can thrive doing whatever they want to do in life as long as it’s impactful. Progress like this takes a few generations to build up from what I’ve observed.
If working from home is interesting to you then check out my blog at Merry for Money. We teach women how to find a career online, start an online business, or just make a little extra cash from home to get by better.
I also started a non-finance blog focused around the main topic of bring up and raising a “worldly” family. My husband and I intend to share our journey as a mixed-race family trying to have it all just like everyone else.
Thanks again to Lily at Merry for Money for being willing to share her family’s story. If you have questions, please leave a message below in the comments. Thanks for reading!
Mark is the founder of Financial Pilgrimage, a blog dedicated to helping young families pay down debt and live financially free. Mark has a Bachelor’s degree in financial management and a Master’s degree in economics and finance. He is a husband of one and father of two and calls St. Louis, MO, home. He also loves playing in old man baseball leagues, working out, and being anywhere near the water. Mark has been featured in Yahoo! Finance, NerdWallet, and the Plutus Awards Showcase.