Emailer feeling desperate in her 20s

Written by
Peter Dunn
student debt

image courtesy of

Dear Pete,

I feel like no matter how hard I try, I cannot beat my financial situation. I've got a good head on my shoulders but I'm starting out in a really rough position. I completed six years of college (two bacherlors of science, one masters) from an Ivy League school and have been steadily employed with no gaps since I was 15. You would think this would put me in a better situation but...

Student Loan Debt (All Private): $120,000

Monthly Student Payments (Non-adjustable): $1,200

Car Payment (4 years left): $279

Rent: $850 (live with roommates)

Credit card debt (from school): $3000

Monthly credit card payments: $80

Monthly paychecks: $2800

Savings each month: $200

As you can see, I'm on an extremely tight budget when you realize I don't have much for food or gas to get me to work. I make a good, decent living and do my best to cut costs, especially on things like electric bills. I don't have cable, I am on my mom's phone plan (bless her), but I just can't seem to wrap my head around two things:

1. Will I ever be able to save for retirement?

2. What on earth can I do to be able to decrease my debt load?

Thanks so much for the advice!


Thanks for the email. Your situation is certainly challenging, but thankfully it isn't hopeless. The process for fixing this will be a slow one. The worst part of this is the solution is simple in theory, but it will take quite a while to excecute.

Most solutions are ridiculously simple. The question is whether or not you can stick to your guns and do it. You can't get distracted by shiny things, both figuratiely and literally. Just as you need to be focused, so does your money. That's why I like a singular focus. Try and accomplish only one goal at a time. Don't just spray your money all over the place.

You're going to have to attack one thing at a time. Probably in the following order:

  1. Saving $200/month until you have roughly $1000 saved - then stop saving.
  1. Once you have $1k and stopped saving, use that additional $200/month for paying down your credit card.
  1. Once that's paid off start saving $280 month toward a Roth IRA.
  1. When you get raises, don't absorb them. Save them.
  1. Again, this is going to take 2-3 years to stabilize. You just gotta keep your head and don't waste opportunities when they pop-up.

Before you know it, your ship will be righted.

Step up your financial wellness game.

Stay up-to-date with the latest in employee wellbeing from the desk of Pete the Planner®. Subscribe to the monthly newsletter to get industry insights and proven strategies on how to be the wellness champion your team wants you to be.