Name: Jamila A. White
Location: Northern New Jersey
Job: marketing manager at Macy’s
Side hustle: personal finance coach and content creator at Jamila’s Two Cents
If “lie low and keep moving” were a person, New Jersey’s Jamila A. White would be the poster child.
White graduated from college in 2015 with $83,000 worth of private and federal student loans, which she vowed to pay off within five years.
While her university friends with no student loans moved into apartments in “The City,” White moved into her childhood bedroom with a flower-themed daybed and pink walls in Jersey. Her social circle didn’t know the financial burden she carried— she made sure of that.
“I felt like my friends couldn’t relate,” said White, 28, who majored in communication and human resource management in college.
During that time, the millennial consumed personal finance podcasts, books, and articles. She listed all her debts from smallest to largest. She made friends with a debt repayment calculator to map out a plan. And she got on her career grind, getting her first post-college job at age 21 as an assistant account executive at a global marketing agency.
Even though that job only paid $37,000 per year, White paid double on her student loan debt monthly. Instead of the required $753 payment, she paid $1,500 a month. She'd drop any extra money, such as a tax refund, on the debt. She also saved $400 per month while working the gig.
However, after 11 months, she got laid off after a round of budget cuts. Because she had saved money and had the assistance of $400 biweekly unemployment checks, her loan payments remained uninterrupted.
After five months on the job hunt, White landed a new position in healthcare communications. This job paid $55,000 with a better title as an account manager. However, after 11 months, deja vu struck; the budget was cut when the company lost a client, and she got laid off.
Luckily, this time, she was prepared. She already had her resume ready. The day that she learned of her layoff was when she applied to several jobs. She heard back from a recruiter she had interviewed with during her previous layoff. She got a job—account executive in healthcare advertising—within two weeks.
“I had the experience,” White said.
She stayed at this company for four years, earning two promotions to account supervisor and an $80,000 annual salary. White received bonuses every year, putting the $2,000 and $3,000 checks on her student loan balance. Merit and salary increases also went toward the balance. Within two-and-a-half years of working at the company, White paid off the loans.
“When I got that next paycheck, all that money was mine!” White said. “It wasn’t going to a loan provider.”
She told a coworker who also had debt the good news as well as her immediate family.
With her extra cash, White booked a trip to Charleston with a friend. With her student loans balance erased, White opened up a Roth IRA, and she increased her 401k contributions from 12% to 15%.
White also plotted her next career move. She “worked” LinkedIn. White knew she wanted to try something outside of healthcare advertising and on the consumer side in her field. She set up job alerts on the professional social network for marketing manager and account executive. She set her profile so that only recruiters could see that she was open to new opportunities. She messaged recruiters using LinkedIn Inmail.
She secured a position at Macy’s, where she works now as a marketing manager, earning $95,000.
White also graduated from her kiddie bedroom. White initially moved into a $1,050 per month apartment in early 2020 after saving $6,000. Now she lives with her partner and pays $500 for rent on their one bedroom. Her next move is to purchase a property. White has $10,000 saved but wants $30,000 in her account before looking for the single-family home she desires.
White credits living at home after college plus her discipline and consistency for being able to slay her debt in under five years. As a side hustle, White does financial coaching, helping others reach their goals.
She is also studying to become a certified financial planner.
She no longer hides her previous situation from her friends. She tells the world about it through her blog, Jamila’s Two Cents, and in real-time on her Instagram feed, full of money manifestations, goals, and tips.
“My friends are astonished that I did it, and now they have a better understanding of why I am so passionate about personal finance,” she said.
While White is proud of her accomplishment, in hindsight, she says she may have considered going to a community college first to save on university expenses. She also realizes that her private loans and the 8 to 9% interest rates ran her balance up.
“I was 17, and I didn’t know how loans worked,” White said. “I thought variable rate meant that they’d give me a lower interest rate, not knowing that a variable interest rate meant that they change the interest rate every year.”
Overall, she has no regrets.
“I see a positive return on my investment,” White said.
Natalie P. McNeal is the author of The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life.