Location: Northern New Jersey
Job: Marketing Manager at Macy’s
Lateral stampede: personal finance coach and content creator at Jamila’s Two Cents
If “lay low and keep moving” was a person, New Jersey Jamila A. White would be the poster child.
White graduated from college in 2015 with $83,000 in private and federal student loans, which she pledged to repay within five years.
While his college friends without a student loan moved into apartments in “The City,” White moved into his childhood bedroom with a flower-themed daybed and pink walls in Jersey. Those around her did not know the financial burden she was carrying, she made sure of it.
“I felt like my friends couldn’t understand,” said White, 28, who majored in communications and human resource management at university.
Meanwhile, millennials consumed podcasts, books, and articles on personal finance. She listed all her debts from smallest to largest. She befriended a debt repayment calculator to come up with a plan. And she began her career, landing her first post-graduate job at age 21 as an assistant account manager at a global marketing agency.
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Even though that job only brought in $37,000 a year, White paid double his student loan debt monthly. Instead of the required payment of $753, she paid $1,500 per month. She would drop any extra money, like a tax refund, on the debt. She also saved $400 a month while working on the gig.
However, after 11 months, she was fired after a series of budget cuts. Because she had saved money and had the help of $400 unemployment checks every two weeks, her loan payments remained uninterrupted.
After five months looking for a job, White landed a new position in healthcare communications. That job paid $55,000 with a better title as Account Manager. However, after 11 months, deja vu hit; the budget was cut when the company lost a customer and she was made redundant.
Luckily, this time she was prepared. She already had her CV ready. The day she learned of her layoff was when she applied for several jobs. She heard from a recruiter she had interviewed during her previous layoff. She landed an account manager position in healthcare advertising within two weeks.
“I had the experience,” White said.
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She stayed with that company for four years, earning two promotions to account supervisor and an annual salary of $80,000. White received bonuses each year, putting the checks for $2,000 and $3,000 on his student loan balance. Merit and salary increases also contributed to the balance. In two and a half years of working with the company, White paid off the loans.
“When I got that next paycheck, all that money was mine!” said White. “He wasn’t going to a loan provider.”
She broke the good news to a colleague who was also in debt and to her immediate family.
With his extra cash, White booked a trip to Charleston with a friend. With her student loan balance wiped out, White opened a Roth IRA and she increased her 401k contributions from 12% to 15%.
White also charted his next career move. She “worked” LinkedIn. White knew she wanted to try something outside of healthcare advertising and on the consumer side of her field. She set up job alerts on the professional social network for marketing managers and account managers. She set her profile so that only recruiters could see that she was open to new opportunities. She messaged recruiters using LinkedIn Inmail.
She got a job at Macy’s, where she now works as a marketing manager, earning $95,000.
White also graduated from her childhood bedroom. White first moved into a $1,050-a-month apartment in early 2020 after saving $6,000. Now she lives with her partner and pays $500 rent for their one bedroom. His next move is to buy a property. White has saved $10,000 but wants $30,000 in her account before looking for the single family home she desires.
White deserves to live at home after college, as well as her discipline and consistency for being able to pay off her debt in less than five years. Alongside this, White does financial coaching, helping others achieve 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 shows, goals and advice.
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“My friends are amazed I did, and now they understand better why I’m so passionate about personal finance,” she said.
Although White is proud of her accomplishment, looking back, she says she may have first considered going to community college to save on college expenses. She also realizes that her private borrowings and 8-9% interest rates have driven up her balance.
“I was 17 and didn’t know how loans worked,” White said. “I thought the variable rate meant they would give me a lower interest rate, not knowing that a variable interest rate meant they changed the interest rate every year.”
All in all, 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 a Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up the Fabulous Life.