Paying off student loan debt has a much more profound impact than you might think. More than just a financial weight off your shoulders, it also creates financial momentum and boosts your zest for life! Joining us today to go in-depth on the topic is Kelsa Dickey. Kelsa is a Course Creator and Lead Instructor at Financial Coach Academy and the Co-Founder and CEO of Fiscal Fitness Phoenix. In this episode, she chats with Whitney Lauritsen about the snowball effect that student loan debts have on an individual’s financial well-being. She highlights the importance of financial literacy and coaching in changing your perspective on money and life. Money is a tool, and by learning how to handle your finances, you can create positive changes in your life. Don’t miss all the valuable wisdom and practical tips from Kelsa by tuning in on this episode.
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How To Pay Off Student Loan Debt With Kelsa Dickey
Creating Financial Momentum To Boost Well-Being
I am talking with Kelsa and we had a very short chat. I wanted to keep it short because I wanted to share all of these words of wisdom and get authentic ways of saying things. Kelsa, you were explaining to me how you saw a bit of a gap in which people were discussing student loans. Student loan forgiveness and student loan debt is something that I don’t know a lot about.
The main reason is due to a privilege that I have from my parents, who paid for my college education. I believe they took out loans, but I was never involved with it. I didn’t recognize that privilege until probably the past few years or so when I started to hear more and more people speaking out about what student loans were like because I’d never had to go through it myself.
I did not realize how, for lack of a better word and correct me if this isn’t the right term, corrupt the student loan world seems to be or unfair might be another word. That might be one of the greatest things my parents ever did for me, which, now looking at it, I can appreciate, whereas when I enrolled in college, I assumed other people either had the financial stability to go to college.
They were saving up for it or their parents took care of it like mine, but I did not recognize how much of a financial burden it had been on people. Kelsa, you shared with me how you felt like it wasn’t being explored in a specific way. Without putting words in your mouth or quoting you inaccurately, I’d love to go back to that point that you made right before we started.
As a financial coach, I help people figure out how to pay off their student loan debt or get a handle on it. Even plan ahead for college and be intentional about the amount of student loan debt you may want to incur or how you feel about your student loan debt and all those types of things. Also, the role it plays in your other life goals, whether buying a house, launching a business, or starting a family. It’s been growingly obvious how much of an issue student loan debt is for people in general. We keep seeing the balances get bigger and bigger. We’ve had so many clients that have paid on their student loans for ten years and the balance now is more than it was when they first graduated college.
You use the word corrupt. Broken is the word that I use. It’s a very broken system. Yet it is the system that many people are forced to play because of financial needs. For so many people, myself included, going to college, there was no money, contribution, or anything like that. Student loans were what I needed to do.
There are ways that you can do it that make it okay where it’s not a big problem, but there’s not enough conversation around what that entails. What’s happening is that the problem has gotten so much bigger that it has now created a massive pandemic in finances for people. That’s where this student loan forgiveness came about. It’s also widened the racial disparity around college, graduating from college, incoming, and other financial growth.
When student loan forgiveness first came out, the initiative was announced. I knew that some people would feel incredibly grateful for receiving $10,000. What that $10,000 was going to be able to do for people? It was going to be significant and give them hope in an area of their finances that they had not experienced hope in a very long time, like stifling, stuck, and disparaged. There are so many words that people feel. We hear people say all the time, “I’m going to die with those student loans.” The idea is I will always have this thousand dollars a month student loan payment and what that does to a person’s drive, ambition, and all those types of things.
I knew that getting that $10,000 could create such momentum for people. That momentum would overall boost people’s financial well-being. I knew that, and then with financial well-being and hope, what that does is people live a better life. They’re able to achieve goals, think about their future differently, more proactively, and with enthusiasm like a zest for life.
One thing I will say is that we have seen student loan balances rob people of a zest for life really and truly. The spiraling out of that is so detrimental. I also knew that while some people would feel that enthusiasm, excitement, and hope, there would also be people who would feel resentful because maybe they had paid off their student loans. They would feel frustrated and maybe jaded or envious.Student loan balances rob people of a zest for life. Click To Tweet
That’s fair to feel that way. I knew that that was going to be a component of this as well. One thing that absolutely surprised me that I didn’t expect was, other financial professionals and experts, what their response to the student loan forgiveness was, and what their messaging behind it was. What they did to perpetuate shame and compare or allow people to compete for struggles as opposed to creating more of this abundance mindset by lifting up an entire group of people who have been suffering, stifled, and have no zest for life.
We will all benefit from that indirectly, directly, or that kind of thing, whether that is the teacher at your kids’ school or the other parents of the kids that your kids play with. Them maybe being able to be more hands-on or not work that second job at night, and how much more hands-on they can be with their kids. Your coworkers that you work with every single day, your family members, and your friends, knowing that this will have the ability to uplift all of us.
That’s the lens that we should be talking about this through and seeing other financial professionals, even financial therapists. We can talk about a little bit of some of the differences between financial coaching and financial therapy. How many financial therapists we’re speaking about the shame of some people doing it responsibly? As if this was irresponsible for people. As if there was some handout and you were getting a handout because you were lazy, didn’t deserve it, or something like that.
To see that messaging out there points to a much bigger problem around how people perceive financial handouts and the struggle with money. Money is not a character flaw if you don’t have a lot of it. That’s the messaging that has been going around. It’s like a drug addiction therapist shaming a person for relapsing or an AA sponsor getting a call from somebody saying that they’ve relapsed and that sponsor shaming that person for relapsing or having a drink. Financial experts have actually been shaming people for being in student loan debt. It’s been, to me, a travesty of the situation.
You said so many poignant things, Kelsa. I’m so excited to have you here talking about this because you’re sharing perspectives that I haven’t thought through in some of these ways. Again, likely because of not having student loans that I was paying directly. I’ve often stopped to think about not only what other people are experiencing but my parents too.
It’s not that it was necessarily easy for them. I haven’t even talked to my parents about it. This conversation inspires me because some of what you’re touching upon is that we’re not impacted by something. We go about life with maybe not even curious about what other people are experiencing. They might be carrying so much emotional weight, whether it’s shame or frustration. You said lack of hope. It’s a lot of heaviness.
When you’re talking about well-being, I feel like finances are often not top of mind, but certainly, my well-being shifts a lot, depending on how I feel about my money. When something unexpected comes up, I can feel it in my chest. I feel my whole body tightening up and imagine how many people are carrying around that constantly because of these things or feeling they’re never going to get out of it.
That shocking fact of somebody paying off money for years and then looking at the balance and realizing they not only haven’t made progress, but it might have gotten worse because of interest. That’s where I use the word corrupt. You use the term broken, which feels a little bit more positive. Corrupt is sometimes, I wonder, was it designed this way from an evil standpoint?
Is this the way that these organizations have made money off of people? I then pause and think, “How do these people sleep at night?” I would imagine there are some people that have ended their lives due to this type of stress, maybe have committed crimes, have done awful things, and treated people in their lives poorly. The ripple effect of financial stress impacts us all. I’m also so glad that you said about how it impacts the whole community. It might not impact you, but it could impact others. That’s why if somebody else has an opportunity for financial relief in some way, we should be so thrilled about that.
In fact, Virgie, the woman that was on my show last time, was talking about financial literacy and said, “What affects one of us affects us all. Public health is public safety.” She emphasized that in our discussion. I’m so glad you’re bringing it up, too, because we have to look outside of ourselves when it comes to money, but we also have to be proactive in educating ourselves about other people’s experiences. That is one of the big reasons I was looking forward to speaking with you now.
You said so many things. Financial struggle, in my mind, has become so pervasive in our world that it’s almost like we don’t even realize it anymore. If we are all experiencing our own version of financial struggle, then it makes it so much harder to have compassion for other people who are struggling because we’re in survival mode ourselves.Financial literacy is having financial knowledge. Financial coaching is doing something with that knowledge. Click To Tweet
Oftentimes, we think of financial struggle as somebody who’s on the verge of bankruptcy, somebody who’s in over their head with credit card debts, or on the verge of foreclosure on their house. That is one version of financial struggle. When I think of financial struggle, I think about how many ways we aren’t using money as a tool to live our best life, whether that is working a job, which we absolutely hate every day.
It is depleting us of our energy and self-identity. We start to lose sight of ourselves or maybe we’re stuck in an abusive relationship, those types of situations where we feel so stuck because of money. To me, that is also a version of financial struggle where we aren’t using money as a tool. You were talking about well-being and how finances aren’t usually considered part of that. In my opinion, finances are the tool that helps you improve your well-being in all of the other areas.
I can’t think of a single goal a person has in life where money wouldn’t make that goal easier or faster to achieve. If your goal is to improve your physical well-being, having a personal trainer, eating organic fruits and vegetables, thinking about what you’re putting into your body, or maybe having better meals that you’re preparing for yourself more high-quality ingredients.
Those are all simple examples where a little bit more money would help. I think about mental health and if you could hire a therapist, a coach, or something like that to help you. Take time off and go to a spot and practice self-care, or do anything where you feel not every minute of every day is focused on survival. I don’t always mean survival, like, “How am I going to put food on the table tomorrow?” That white-knuckling life is a little bit because it’s a challenge for everybody. To me, money has become such a pervasive struggle that we don’t even realize that it doesn’t have to be that way.
It’s common across the board that all of these people struggle with student loans and how that affects them. We are all indirectly impacted by that because if we don’t see other people striving through life and reaching their goals, that energy affects us. If we surround ourselves with people who are going after their goals and financially putting their money behind what they want to achieve in life, it inspires us to do the same thing. That’s why I say it’s a pandemic. It is so pervasive that we’ve lost sight of how bad it’s gotten.
I think about this from so many different standpoints. You mentioned the teachers earlier, like if your teacher was struggling financially. As I reflect on it, I think about the pain. I felt my heart when I realized how little teachers get paid or how a lot of them have to buy their own supplies for school or fundraise from it and rely on parents to donate things. The parents are wondering, “Why are we having to pay for this?”
Parents are probably feeling financially stressed as it is then they’re responsible for bringing things to the school. You look at some of those elements and how crucial it is to have good teachers in your life, but then you wonder, maybe the “bad teachers” are those that are struggling so much. You mentioned too the survival mode and how hard it is to help others to have compassion for others when you’re trying to survive. What a gift it is to have a teacher who either has the financial resources to be able to focus on their teaching or has the emotional ability to take care of others, even if they’re struggling through these things.
When I think about financial struggle, I think one way you could define it that might be a way for everybody to connect with it. It’s not like, “Can I pay a bill tomorrow or can I put food on my table tomorrow?” If you are routinely making decisions from a place of whatever is going to give you a short-term financial benefit versus the long-term impact that it can have on your life, then you are experiencing financial struggle.
Oftentimes, what we want to be focusing on is what is going to make my life better, even if it’s a short-term cost but a long-term gain. Those intangible gains are what we always want to be focusing on. No matter what your position, what role you play, or what decision you’re making every day. If what you find is that you’re routinely making it from this perspective of what’s going to cost the least, what can I afford, or what’s going to make it so that I can get by now financially. The impact that is having long-term on all of us is pretty great, in my opinion.
Something else that I’d love to explore is the privilege of not even recognizing how much of a struggle this is for others. There was something that you said here that got me reflecting on it. It was when you were mentioning mental health having the money to pay for a therapist or a coach. I actually had a recent experience that was eye-opening. I know that there are coaches and therapists who work on sliding scales or pro bono and some insurance will cover those services.
In my head, I thought, “It feels pretty accessible to me,” but then I had to recognize it feels accessible to me doesn’t necessarily mean that the situation that somebody else is in is going to feel easy for them or be easy for them because there are so many factors. Getting insurance can be a privilege, having the time and resources to do the research or knowing how to start.
Some people are completely overwhelmed. Even getting a therapist can feel overwhelming. The fear that you might have about having a bad experience and the post-traumatic stress of having a bad experience with a coach. You mentioned some that might not be as positive as an experience as others. Some people might have one therapy session when coaching session saying, “This was bad. This is not for me.” They’ll never try again. There are so many things that go into getting support for your mental health and emotional well-being. To call it easier accessible may not be accurate for all.
One of the things that people say when it comes to student loan forgiveness is, “You shouldn’t have taken out that much, to begin with. You should pay it off because I paid mine off.” Those types of things. A lot of times, it comes down to not realizing how unique our experiences may be and that they’re not the same for everybody. Everybody has this different experience. My experience bridges the gap a little bit between two different scenarios in the sense that I went to college, I received a Pell Grant, which I’ll talk about in a second, but then I also was able to pay it off afterward.
When I was in high school, the only reason I went to college was because I was at my best friend Megan’s house one day and she and her mom were talking about college applications and that sort of thing. She very nonchalantly asked me what colleges I had applied to. I am sure that my face looked completely stunned because I hadn’t applied to any. Going to college was not a conversation that was had in my house. We didn’t talk about higher education. It’s not the world that I grew up in. We grew up without a lot of money. I was good in school and very active. Things were fine, but it was also not my world to talk about that.
I didn’t know anything about college. The next time I went over to her house, her mom handed me two college applications and the FAFSA® form, which is how you apply for student aid. She even had little flags on the form where my mom needed to complete certain sections. She said, “Here are two college applications. Here’s the application for college student loans. You have to do this, Kelsa.” I did and it makes me cry thinking about what she did for my life in that moment. When you can think back in your life and you have those very pivotal moments where the decision I made in that moment, my life could have gone in a completely different direction based on that decision. There are a few of those in my life.
That is one of them where I think, “Where would I be now had her mom not done that?” When I went to college, I had a little bit of a scholarship. I had a lot of student loans and I also received a Pell Grant. A Pell Grant has been around for decades. People hear this term, but they don’t know what it means. It’s essentially a grant that the government gives students who show and can demonstrate financial needs. You have to be at a certain poverty level or above the poverty level. This is not a grant that goes to about anybody. These are truly the people who come from a background where likely your parents aren’t be able to afford to put you through college.
If your income is at that level, you likely did not go to college. It’s not at the financial element that they can’t contribute. They probably can’t contribute to the process, how you get into college, how you apply, and the emotional journey of going away to college. They can’t even support their children in that way because they didn’t experience it, so not just the financial element of it.
I received a Pell Grant and I remember in college, at 17, 18, or 19 years old, I was awarded student loans. I would take fifteen credit hours. The government would pay the university for those fifteen credit hours, but because I was awarded more student loans than what the university needed for those fifteen credit hours, the government sent me what’s called a Refund Check every semester.
I can remember getting this refund check, but mind you, I’m 17, 18, and 19 years old. I’m away at college and have no financial means. I worked three jobs in college. I remember I was very much on my own. I didn’t have a gas card that my parents gave me in case or anything like that. Getting this refund check that was $3,000 or $3,500 a semester and truly living off of it. When people say people are living off of student loans, it’s set in this way of shame on you for living your life based on student loans. In my opinion, I look back on that and I’m like, “I was 17, 18, and 19 years old, and I did that.”
Maybe that wasn’t the smartest, but I know I was doing my best and I have no doubt about that. I do think this is one of those questions that I would love for people to ask themselves. Are you giving people credit? Are you giving them the benefit of the doubt? Are you assuming the worst out of them that they did it with poor intentions? It’s not like I got that check and knew that I was going to have to pay it back someday. I was like, “This is stupid, but I’m going to do it anyway.” People don’t make decisions with that thought. They’re not like, “This is dumb. Let me go and do it anyway.” Do you give people the benefit of the doubt? Do you have faith in people?
Do you have faith that people are doing the best things with the knowledge they have at that time of their life? I can look back on that retrospectively now and be like, “The fact that they would hand a 17, 18, 19-year-old this $3,500 check.” Expect me to know how to manage that and four years later, when I’m working, the impact of that is going to be this much per month in a student loan payment. I don’t think a 17, 18, 19-year-old has the forward perspective or the long-term perspective.
If you don’t have parents who can provide that to you or if you don’t have a mentor at that part of your life, and if the university is not providing that mentorship, they’re giving it to you and saying good luck, then why are we putting that burden on that individual to know that. Why do we assume that they should have known that when we’re not teaching it? A big element of financial literacy is we expect people to know how to manage money.
It is this expectation that everybody should know how to do it. We touch it every single day. This is a skill. It is something that you have to learn how to get better at throughout your entire life. It is a skill that you can learn. It’s not a finite or fixed state of how you’re managing it. Yet, for some reason, we assume someone bad with money or made a mistake with money is bad with money. They’re always going to be that way and they knew that they were bad with money and they did the decision anyway, if that makes sense.
Kelsa, you’re bringing up so many wise important, and in my world, things that are not talked about that frequently. I’m curious. What was it in your life that led you to the work that you’re doing? How did you become passionate and knowledgeable about these things?
When I was in college, my degree was in personal financial planning and finances. Money has always been something that I’ve been fascinated by. My mom had a good job. She was a social worker. She did not go to college to do that. This was back in the day you did not need to. She took a test when she was eighteen, worked for the State of Michigan, and became a social worker for 35 years. She had a good job, but it was a very stressful job. I remember her sitting at the dining room table for hours on end, and she would have a stack of paper. She would have a notepad with a pen and she would have a stack of mail that was opened and unopened.
I would remember glancing over at her. The word I always think of when I picture this moment, and I can see her so clearly now in my mind, is despair. It was not for lack of trying of how do I do this? How do I figure this out? I remember her sitting there for hours, sometimes trying to get ahead financially and manage her money better, and not knowing how to do it. Not having the skills and someone to show her and those types of things. I can think of all the times when I can think back about, “If my mom had a little bit less financial stress, how that would have impacted other areas of her life, whether that’s her happiness, her relationships, her own mental health, her physical health, or going to the doctor.”
I feel like I saw it play out my whole life. I went to college and got a degree in Finance Practice. I was a Financial Advisor for three years. One thing that was happening was somebody would come in and want to talk about investments and asset allocation. I would be like, “Okay, fine. I guess,” but somebody would come in and say, “I have this debt and want to figure out how to get out of debt.” I’d be like, “Yes, let’s go. Let’s roll up our sleeves. Let’s tackle this.” For some reason, it was more of the day-to-day part of money that I was fascinated by. I think it’s the part of the money that is very nuanced. Financial literacy is having financial knowledge.
I feel like financial coaching is doing something with that knowledge. What are you going to do about it? What actions do you want to take now that you know that? I was tuning in to your episode where you shared your journey with credit cards, your own financial awareness, and how you budget for your travel. I love that episode, by the way. I was thinking about so many of the steps that you took that you were able to take.
Some of the steps are hard for people. The first thing that often happens is everybody, at some point, makes a decision like, “I want my money to be better. I want it to be easier. I want to do it differently.” There’s typically like that initial step and what creates that is different for everybody. Sometimes, you over-direct your checking account and you’re like, “This is the last time I’m going to do that. I’m going to do this differently.”
Other times, it’s a more subtle thing. It’s like, “I’m done winging it. I don’t want to wing it anymore. I want to be more intentional.” It’s not like nothing even has to happen. It’s the sense of like, “I’m done being tired about this and not making it better.” Either way, everybody has that moment, but then from there, you have to know what to do next. You have to have an idea. For you, it was like, “I’m going to go pay attention.” You talked about you created a spreadsheet. You started paying attention, which I love because there’s no wrong way to do this step
That step right there, for a number of people, can be challenging. They don’t know what to do. Should I do this first? Should I open up a spreadsheet? Should I go to my bank account? Should I go to something like Mint.com? What is the step that I should do first? Sometimes, it’s a lack of knowledge of like, “I don’t know where to go and what to do.” It’s like the actual logistics of it. Sometimes, there’s fear and hesitation of like, “I’m afraid of what I’m going to see and find.” Even if I look at it, then you have the step of needing to interpret it. Some people can take the step of looking at it. It’s the same with all the things you did, whether that’s Mint.com, spreadsheet, or whatever the case may be.
Some people can then take that step. Even once you take that step, you then have to know how to interpret what you are looking at. That step is easy for some people and hard for others where they’re like, “I did this step. Now I don’t even know why. What is it telling me?” Once you do that, which again, some people can do naturally, the next step is figuring out, “Now what do I want to do about it? Now I know what I’m looking at and I can interpret it, what changes do I want to make? What are some steps I can take to improve it?”
That’s another step where some people are like, “I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know what those steps should be. I’m afraid to take those steps. I don’t trust myself to make those steps and changes.” I’m sorry, that was a little bit of a tangent, but to get back to your question, at every step of that, I love trying to figure out what makes people tick. I love figuring out how a person can take action not from a place of shame and not from where I’m running away from a situation I’ve created or I’m running away from a mistake that I’ve made.
I don’t think that’s productive and healthy. That is actually the message that’s around there with money in our world. That is literally what everybody says when it comes to money. It’s like, “You’ve got to get out of debt.” I believe I want to make that decision from this place of what I want for my life. What am I trying to create? Who am I becoming? Yes, get out of debt, but why? What’s on the other side of the debt that you’re trying to create for yourself that you can’t create for yourself now with the debt? That’s why we want to take action. It’s more of the trajectory of where your life is going. It’s more about making the decision from a place of, “I care so much about my future that I’m willing to make these changes,” and less about, “I’m running away from my past or the mistakes that I’ve made.”
Everything that you’re sharing speaks to your strength as a coach. I worked with one financial coach years ago and it was actually neat. I don’t know if I had mentioned this on the show before, but it was through Capital One. They had a program. I don’t know if they still do where you could work with a coach for 3 or 4 sessions for free.
Speaking of luck, I lucked out and had this wonderful woman. I was amazed that this was free. They were paying her. They had hired a fantastic person who was able to guide me through my current financial situation and think about my goals a lot, like what you’re sharing. People like you and her are gems in this world because to be able to speak about it without shame and look at somebody’s specific situation, not give you cookie-cutter advice that doesn’t relate.
What was interesting about that is to look back on where I was at that point versus now mentally and acknowledge the shifts in my mind. As you mentioned, in some of my episodes, I’ve talked about that journey. I think my brain happens to work in a way in which I’m able to do some of these things. I find joy in some of the financial sides of things, but I certainly find overwhelm and tons of ignorance.
For example, I understand the stock market. I’ve lucked out and bought some stocks that have done well. I’ve had some jobs with stock options. The same thing with investing. That’s something I don’t understand. Sometime in the past year, I sat down and tried to calculate how much money I would want for retirement, like you’re talking about the debt and what’s on the other side.
Now that I’ve tackled my credit card debt and have very little debt. My car is my biggest source of debt right now. I’m looking at the other side for me of my future and recognizing how much ignorance I’ve had about saving for retirement. I had not done the calculation of how much money I’d have to put aside and the systems which I’d have to set up. IRAs, 401(k)s, investing in stock, and all these other things out there feel deeply overwhelming. It’s odd because my mother worked in a banking institute and had all this stuff set up. It makes sense to her. When I brought it up to her about my confusion and overwhelm, she was confused. She didn’t understand why it felt complicated and overwhelming to me.
Maybe in her head, she thought because she understood it that I did too. Part of me felt a little resentful. I’m like, “Mom, you could have told me some things ten years ago that could have drastically shaped where I am now.” I’m not blaming her but one thing that’s come up as you’ve been speaking, Kelsa, is how some of these things are tough. If you don’t have the right people in your life or the right resources or the natural desire to do the research and figure it out, you can find yourself in some really tough situations. One person can make that huge shift for you.
Absolutely, and one person can make all the difference, which is why I think, if we are seeing this messaging out there, you should be ashamed for having student loan debt or needing to accept student loan money. I want you to imagine a person who, for the first time, feels hope and doesn’t feel stifled. Quickly, I want to touch on something you said. What you described where now you’re looking to investments and long-term planning, the reason you are now able to do that is money is a lifelong journey. We’re always building our awareness and skills. Typically, what happens is we can’t think about our future twenty years down the road when we are stressed about our future next week.Money is a lifelong journey. Click To Tweet
It is a privileged place to be that you are able to now develop that next skill with your money. The fact that you can do that and you’ve put this work into your money. You’ve gained awareness and put changes in place. You’ve talked about that in that episode. It’s afforded you this beautiful opportunity to now do the next thing with money.
I want you to imagine all these people talking that have felt stifled by the weight of the world on their shoulders. This is one of those examples of an opportunity that they cannot rise to the occasion to see. They cannot seize this because they simply can’t take that step. They’re on a step three steps before that yet. That step is not even in their purview yet because they’re focused on the very first phase of their money.
That is why we need to encourage people in a more positive way to focus more on their money, be more intentional with it, gain more awareness, and figure out what we can do to help them, support them, and encourage them. Not only does it change their life and change their life in the here and now, but it opens the door for, “Now what can I think about next? Where can I go next?” It’s more of the long-term planning. It’s the security and the stability that comes from that and the trickle effect of generations and passing on generational wealth that absolutely influences that. When we have these moments where those people who have been feeling stuck, frustrated, and discouraged for probably a decade or more, if that’s when they graduated college, now feel hope for the first time.
They might be thinking for the first time, “I have this opportunity to do something better finally,” and then they read posts from financial experts saying, “I’m glad you need that because you didn’t do it the responsible way as I did.” Those types of things knock people back down and it’s not helpful and productive. It doesn’t empower people to want to seize this beautiful opportunity that has been afforded.
It puts them in a headspace of this identity of like, “I’m somebody who needed a bailout. I’m that person.” It shifts their identity into more of a finite state as opposed to a growth mindset, like, “Now that this is happening, what can we do about it? What’s the best thing? What’s next? What doors does this open for you?” One of the questions that I’ve been sharing on my social media since this happened was there had been so many times I know because I hear my clients say this.
There have been so many times when a person with a lot of student loan debt will have this thought and it’ll be something like, “If I didn’t have student loans, I would do that.” They’ll have an idea then the next thought is if only I didn’t have these student loans. It’s probably happened so much that that pattern can creep in where now they don’t even let themselves acknowledge a goal or a dream. It affects their mindset.
One of the things I’ve been inviting people to do is allow themselves to dream again. Start there. Allow yourself when you have that thought of like, “I would love to do X.” Normally, you would’ve had the thought, “I can’t because of these student loans. Too bad I’m going to have these student loans for the rest of my life.” Those are the types of thoughts that folks with student loans have. That’s the weight of that. I have no doubt we hear it all the time.Allow yourself to dream again. Click To Tweet
Allow yourself to imagine finally that you don’t have them. What are all of those things you wished you could create for your life because it’s that opportunity? Let’s hold space for those finally because you’ve probably been bearing them in your mind and not allowing yourself to even explore them emotionally, mentally, financially, and all sorts of things. That’s a beautiful place to start.
I’m so appreciative of the perspective you’re offering here and the tips and pieces of hope. One thing that comes up as you’re sharing is how many people feel it wasn’t worth getting the student loan in the first place. Was that higher education worth all of this stress? Was it worth them struggling for so long? Is it that they’re being promised some outcome by that education that they’re not actually getting?
This sounds, again, something that I have not experienced myself, but while you’re describing this, I’m thinking, “If I had student loan debt, I don’t know if I would think that my college experience was worthwhile.” I enjoyed college, but I’m not even working in the field that I studied in college anymore. What I thought my future was going to be career-wise turned out to be very different.
I also am now starting to feel financial stability after ten-plus years of working in my field and not making very much money. I’m still not in the grand scheme of things making that much money. If I had studied this career like journalism or broadcast journalism or if social media had been a career path when I went to school, maybe I would’ve studied that, but all that money I would’ve spent would make my current lifestyle very difficult.
Definitely, the past ten years would’ve been very difficult. Part of my point is that I didn’t study what I’m doing now. I could never have gone to college and started off and figured it out on my own. I wonder how many people resent the fact that they went to college and took out all of those loans. If it didn’t even make that much of an impact on their income or their lifestyle, it made it worse.
You are touching on something that is very accurate. I want to touch on resentment from two different perspectives. One, if you are the person that has student loans but maybe are not working in the field where you got the student loans. The other situation that I want to talk about resentment is if you are a person like myself. I didn’t say this earlier, but I graduated from college. I did end up paying off the student loans that I had. It took me 4 or 5 years. My husband and I both had some student loans as well from our Master’s programs. Because I’ve always been more of a financially savvy person, I was able to pay them off shortly after college. I have a lot of pride in that.
I’m very proud of the fact that we did that. For some people, if you paid off your student loans and maybe you feel resentment towards those who received $10,000 and you paid off that $10,000 yourself, I want to speak to that for a second too. The first one is I don’t know the statistics of how many people work in a job where it’s not with their degree. It seems quite common. That’s what I will say. With the conversations I have with people, it seems quite common. One of the pieces of messaging that exists in our world that I would love to shift is the idea that all debt is bad all of the time. Student loan debt is bad if you have it. Credit cards are bad if you have them. Medical debt is bad if you have it.
One exercise that I would love to give your readers to do for themselves is to think about all of the good that came from the debt that you have. I believe that this is not an or situation. It’s an and situation. Yes, that debt might be causing you stress now. It might be something we want to look at as far as paying it off, so you have more opportunities that you can seize in the future. It likely provided you with something in the moment that you needed and made your life better, and we want to acknowledge it for both things. I think about the fact of like, “Did you put a new outfit on your credit card?” That outfit made you show up for an interview or show up to a job feeling like a million bucks.
You felt more confident and that is okay. It went on a credit card, but it gave you confidence that maybe you needed that day. Did you pay for a family vacation when your kids were young? It went on a credit card, but you felt like you made some beautiful memories at a time that you can’t ever get back. Your student loans, even for you, maybe you can’t say that you got the degree you wanted or that you’re using now. I think about two of my very best friends I met in college and they are still my best friends now many years later. We talk all the time. I have no doubt encouraged my life in such beautiful ways. I gained independence during college. I met my husband in college.
I learned how to be an adult in college and maybe I could have learned those things in other ways, but I didn’t. I gained all of that by being able to go to college. I also know that my student loans, I think about this all the time, changed my family tree. I know that it has created a trajectory for my family that I didn’t have. That’s something that I think is beautiful. Even if I still had those student loans now, it’s never one extreme or the other. It’s not that they’re all bad. Try to look at all of the things that it provided for your life and the things that it gave you the benefits.
Some of those are intangible, which is why it’s harder to see them or quantify them. Chances are, if we were to try and put a dollar value on them, they’re exponentially greater than maybe the loan itself, if that makes sense. That’s the first component of resentment. The second is for those who may be paid off their student loan, and maybe you’re feeling a little bit of resentment towards the fact that’s like, “I paid off my loan. Had I known, maybe I wouldn’t have.” Brené Brown says, and I love this, “The root emotion behind resentment is envy.” Envy is this idea of coveting another person’s quality, skill, possession, or something that somebody else has. You want that for yourself.
In other words, I always think envy is simply like, “I want that too.” That’s all it is. It’s as simple as that. I think it is very reasonable and fair to acknowledge that if somebody else got $10,000, it’s totally fine to say, “I want that too.” There’s nothing wrong with feeling that way. That’s very reasonable. What we want to be careful of, though, is unchecked envy. An unchecked envy is where resentment will come from.
We have lots of clients who have totally paid off their student loans. We also have clients who are in the process of paying off their student loans and are about to receive $10,000 in this forgiveness. Some of them are $20,000. I’ve had lots of conversations from all different angles on this and it’s been a beautiful perspective to have. Those people who are receiving $10,000 in student loan forgiveness, I promise you to envy those who have previously paid off their student loans so much more than the person who already paid off their loan.
Envy is the person who’s getting $10,000. Here’s why. One person gets $10,000 and that sounds great and is awesome. I’m very happy for them, but I want you to think about what a person gets when they have paid off their student loans. Self-trust is a big one. They believe that they can do it. They watch themselves do it. There’s a sense of pride there of like, “I did this.” Depending on when you were able to do it, you have had opportunities.
People with high student loan payments still do not have even with a $10,000 forgiveness amount. Those opportunities are either a higher credit score, lower debt-to-income ratio, so you can buy a different house in a different neighborhood or your kids can go to a different school. Maybe you are able to start a passion project because you have a little extra money every month to invest in a side hustle or a small business or something like that.
It’s all of these instances. There’s so much that you gain when you pay off your student loans. You have more to be envious of than a person who got $10,000 because all of those things are actually more valuable than $10,000, if that makes sense. One of the things we want to be careful of is that we don’t lose sight of those things. Those are all way more powerful and going to have a much more positive impact on our life and the trajectory of our life than $10,000.There is so much that you gain when you pay off your student loans. Click To Tweet
For every moment we spend envying what another person has or what they got that we didn’t get. I always like to think of it. We talk about comparisonitis a lot with our clients because comparisonitis comes up a lot with money, regardless of whether it’s student loans, the car our neighbor bought, or either the vacations other people seem to get to take that we don’t. Comparisonitis is a very common element of financial coaching.
We talk about it, but one thing that I always say is for every moment that we are thinking about what another person has that we don’t have is unproductive thought. A more productive thought is like, “How can I create for myself what I want? Is that even something that I want or do I want it because another person has it?”
Imagine if you were to ask a person who paid off their student loans. Let’s switch this. Whether it’s 5 or 6 years later, or whatever the case may be, let’s say you did it differently. Let’s say you didn’t pay off your student loans and you still had them now, but you got $10,000 now in forgiveness. Would you make that trade? Every single time I’ve asked a client that question, they’ve said, “No, I would not make that trade. I would much rather have paid off my debt when I did because of what it did for my life than actually get $10,000 now.”
Your experience with all these financial situations is impressive. The way that you’re able to articulate this and anticipate it based on how you’ve helped other people is so wonderful. You are also so eloquent. I’m deeply grateful for how you phrase things and how you were able to get to the point. Are you still doing your own podcast? I looked up and it looks like the last episode might have been in 2021 for fiscal fitness.
We actually have a new project that we’re launching very soon. The idea with our podcast was we were releasing it in seasons. Our new season was supposed to launch right about now. We have been presented with an opportunity to do a TV show, which we’re excited about. We’ve been in the behind-the-scenes meeting with video producers and all sorts of things. A little side notes really quickly because I’m excited about it. Every four episodes are going to be a theme. In the first episode, we walk around the street and different places and we ask random people the same question. We gather a whole bunch of answers from people of what they think about this part of the money.
In the second episode, we pick one of those people and we coach them through it. In the third episode, I am going to tackle the mindset of that. The reframes, the thought process, or a little bit of what we’re describing now, where does that messaging come from? Some of the cultural elements of why we think that way and where it comes from. The fourth episode is going to be all about the strategy that you can use behind that piece of money. How can you make changes? What are some very specific financial strategies to try? I’m super jazzed about it. That’s why the podcast took a backseat.
That makes complete sense. That’s so exciting. Will this project still be released? Let’s say the production company goes a different direction, as I’ve seen happen way too many times for cool projects. Will you still put out the content or maybe use it to create another season of your podcast if the show doesn’t pan out? I think this is such an important and exciting and true definition of edutaining because you get to learn but feel so entertained throughout it.
As we were in all the talks, it was a requirement of mine that we needed to be able to own the content essentially at the end of the day. They have exclusive rights for four weeks and then after four weeks, we can do with it what we want because of that fear. I’ve been doing this for many years, so I totally know what you mean as far as some of the best ideas. They launch but then don’t go anywhere.
Now that all the thought and the strategy have been put behind the show, I’m so excited about it. I can see the impact it will have. I have no doubt that we will continue it long past. The video producers that we’re using, we’re in contract with them. I am in contract with them, not the actual production company. That way, we can keep that relationship going even if the TV series itself doesn’t take off. We’ll put it on YouTube or something like that.
I’m glad to hear that because what you’re describing sounds too good to miss.
I think so too. Thank you.
I think you’re doing incredibly important, helpful work. I always like to end the episodes with people wanting more. If they want more, they’ve got two seasons of your podcast to listen to. What else can they discover through your website? You mentioned we. To clarify, who is the we involved with this project?
I feel blessed because if you would’ve asked me years ago what I saw for myself as a financial coach, I would’ve said something along the lines of, “I will never train or hire another financial coach.” I always imagined it would be me and maybe an assistant or something like that. The more I’ve seen some of the pervasive challenges and how widespread they are, I used to have this very naive thought that I could help everybody me.
I could change the world by myself. I would shout louder and everybody would catch on. The longer that I’ve been doing this work and the more I see even other financial experts perpetuating some of these negative, toxic concepts around money, the more I realize that I cannot do this by myself and the problem is much bigger. If I want to have the impact that I want to have, which truly changes the way the world views money.
Thinks about it, sees it, manages it, and all sorts of things, then I’m going to need help. For years now, I have hired coaches who work for me. They are my coaches. I train them myself. They teach the same philosophies and concepts. I will tell you. My real passion has become seeing coaches that I train spread the right message that I want to spread. It’s become a true joy of my life of knowing that not only am I helping individual people with money, thinking differently about money, and managing it more productively, but I’ve been able to teach other coaches how to do the same thing for their individual clients.
Feeling like, as a result, I can have a much bigger impact. When I say we, it’s not just me who coaches. I have a team of coaches. We all do one-to-one coaching. It’s hands-on. It’s very nuanced. We feel passionate about getting a person to take action based on the way that will work best for them. A lot of financial coaches will say they coach on money. I don’t say I coach on money. I say I coach the whole person with their money. The idea is if some financial coaches will say, “I help you with budgeting.” My first step with clients is to help them gain awareness. Gaining awareness for some people is through a budget. For other people, it’s not through a budget.
Sometimes, it’s not a budget at all. It’s totally different. Our job is to achieve the results of gaining awareness. How we do that is going to look different based on the person. Whatever that person needs and however they show up best. In your financial episode, I loved it because I felt like I totally understood why the way that you did it worked great for you. Some people, for example, love the details and specificity. They thrive with specificity. It is clear to them. It helps them to make confident decisions. Yet other people, if we were to try, would feel very overwhelmed with too much detail. They would find that to be too overwhelming. It would stifle their creativity.
They would feel like they can’t take action from that place. Even very subtle things like that, how detailed are we getting with your finances and the plan you have? Some people want a lot of detail. They want it all mapped out. They want timelines and dates and all sorts of things and other people want it to feel more like they have a roadmap. It’s like a journey. It’s more of sensory of like, “How do I feel along this journey? Am I feeling confident in this journey?” Our job is to coach the whole person on their money, not necessarily have one way that we think works for everybody because I don’t think that’s how money works.
It’s a wonderful approach that you take for somebody who’s interested in a session with you and speaking of accessibility. As a financial coach, I imagine one of the first hurdles you have to get over is somebody either feeling like they don’t have enough money to hire a coach or are afraid to spend their money on that. If somebody is having any of those emotions or blocks coming up, I would love to work with Kelsa or someone on her team, but what about the cost? How do they navigate through that with you?
For everybody, they can go to FiscalFitnessPhx.com. That’s our website. We do a free call with everybody so that you can hop on with a coach and talk through this. I will say that this is a very ironic thing oftentimes where we help people with money and we charge for it. We get that that’s a little bizarre. It’s a little strange. I will also say that part of that pervasive, toxic problem is the broke mentality. One of the things we see all the time is there are absolutely people that cannot afford certain things, even a utility bill or food on the table. We know exactly where to point those people to. We’ve got free resources for them.
Our job on the call is to get you to take the next best step for yourself. Whatever that is. If it’s not hiring us, that’s totally fine. Our job is to help you make financial progress, and progress is one step at a time. If we hop on that call with you, we will absolutely point you in the right direction. No matter what that is, our job is to serve a person well. I will say oftentimes, this broke mentality, if for so long throughout your life, you have felt you’ve wanted things and not been able to afford them.
That is a thought pattern that takes over after a while. We have some clients who are incredibly wealthy, like partners in law firms and making so much money and they still have this thought come up sometimes of, “I can’t afford that.” They’ll come into a coaching session and it’s this idea that they’re almost proud of themselves. They want their coaches’ approval. They’ll say, “Yesterday, I thought about buying this thing, but I didn’t because I knew I couldn’t afford it. Aren’t you proud of me?”
We’ll say, “One, how do you know that you couldn’t afford it? Did you look at something? Did you see anything? Was that the thought you told yourself that you couldn’t afford it? Let’s say you did want this. Let’s take a look.” There are so many times when the person absolutely could have afforded it. They 100% could have, but they’ve been in that mindset for so long, assuming that they can’t.
We have to coach through that. The other thing that I will say is when that happens, the question should always be, and we train our clients to think a little differently about this, if you want something and you truly want it, I never want the reason you don’t buy it or get it to be that you can’t afford it. If you decide not to buy something for any reason, you change your mind, it’s not worth it to you, or the value’s not there, any of those things, then that is okay.
Don’t buy it for that reason. If you truly want something, the question is, how can I afford this? How can I make this happen? If you want something, then that’s when we want to turn on the creativity button. We want to look at it and say, “If this is important to me, where can I go to make this happen for myself? How can I create either the money, the space, or trim expenses? Whatever the case may be, how can I make that happen for myself?”How To Pay Off Student Loan Debt With Kelsa Dickey Click To Tweet
By assuming that we can’t buy something, we stop that thought process from undergoing. That thought process is important. One of the other things that happened was clients would come to me, and it was after they had hired us. We were their coach for a while. I’m proud that a lot of our clients, once we start working together, tend to invest in themselves in a lot of other ways after that. That’s something that I’m very proud of. They’ll either invest in their health with a personal trainer, invest in a therapist for mental health, or hire a life coach or career coach.
I think that’s good, but one of the things that have happened is coaches would say, “I’m thinking of doing this. I’m thinking of investing in my health or hiring a personal trainer. Help me think through this. Help me decide if this investment is worth it.” The cool thing is that after all these conversations, they’re not trying to make the decision to invest in me. I don’t have a horse in this race. This isn’t about me. This is about whatever the client wants for themselves. What happens when it comes to investing in yourself? What you’re trying to do or what your brain has to do is you have a tangible cost. You know how much X is going to cost you either the personal trainer is X amount per month, that therapist is X amount per session, or coaching costs X.
There’s a very tangible, finite dollar amount attached to it, but the benefits are oftentimes intangible. All the things you gain, whether that’s weight loss and you sleep better at night, you have more strength, the way you look when you walk by a mirror because you’re in better shape, your clothes start to fit differently, you carry yourself differently or you feel more passionate at your job because you switched careers because of the career coach.
These are all things that are very intangible. Our brain struggles. It’s not as simple as weighing pros and cons or making the decision because you’re trying to compare apples to oranges. Our brain can’t compute. How do you compare tangible costs to intangible benefits? I designed through all these conversations a five-step gains framework and it’s all about helping people also look at the intangible costs.
What is this decision going to cost you? You’re both looking at it from a tangible and intangible cost, but then we’re also going to look at it from a tangible and intangible benefit. We’re essentially making it so our brain can compare the two evenly in order to make that decision if that makes sense. This would honestly be a great episode because we could do the entire episode on the gains framework and coach people through it.
The idea is we simply help people make this decision of investing in themselves using the same framework that we use for our clients when they’re making decisions all of the time. Sometimes, it can be a little weird because it’s about hiring us, but it is truly the same decision-making framework that you’re trying to use to hire us. A financial coach is the same that you would want to use when you’re investing in yourself, in your future, and in any other area of your life.
Kelsa, I love the way that you think through so much and your transparency is so appealing. It has created so much trust. I think about my own financial perspectives and the things I want to work on. You’ve broadened my mind and brought so much to the forefront now for me and the readers. I’m deeply grateful for that, plus the work that you do. You can feel the passion. As I mentioned, your experience is there.
Knowing that this is such a sensitive subject for a lot of people, a tough thing, the shame that you’ve mentioned now, and the weight of it, but also the hope that can be there and your ability to inspire people and let them know that they can be guided to a better place. That doesn’t have a ripple effect on themselves but on their whole community. That, to me, is so wonderful. You’ve reminded me and hopefully the readers to think outside of ourselves and also reminded us that it’s not always easy to think outside of ourselves.
When we’re surviving, sometimes, it’s hard to think about what someone else is going through or beyond the next few days or a week. You pointed out, too, that it’s hard to plan for the future. These are tough things, but you’ve brought a lightness and a bright light to them in some phenomenal ways. I feel full of gratitude for your presence and your generosity with your time and the resources that you’ve provided. Thank you deeply.
Thank you for having me. I feel like what you described is what I seek to do. I appreciate you for saying that so much. Thank you.
You’re welcome. Kelsa, I can’t wait to dive in more myself. I am so excited to see what happens. I hope that at least one of the readers of this episode go and take some action. Even if they don’t, they receive some takeaways that can propel them towards more hope now. Thank you to you and the readers for being here and making this a priority.
Thank you so much for having me.
About Kelsa Dickey
Growing up, my mom had a great job and a good income, but she would sit for hours at our dining room table trying to figure out what to do with the money she was making. She always struggled – not because she wasn’t smart or didn’t try. She just didn’t have the skills to figure it out on her own. She had a financial advisor and was saving for retirement and her future, but she was miserable and stressed about money.
I started my career on the financial advisor track. After a few years as an advisor, I discovered my passion was working on the part of money advisors don’t typically touch – day-to-day finances.
I started my financial coaching business from my dining room table more than a decade ago. I now lead a team of coaches and train other people looking to enter this profession. I am proud to say my business has helped thousands of people transform their lives through financial coaching.
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