Building a career despite the pressure of student debt

The true cost of student debt isn't just paying back loans, but can hinder a college graduate's career by limiting job options, as 27-year-old Evan DeSimone tells NerdWallet.

By , Guest blogger

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    Scott Richards of Saint Anselm College looks over possible jobs during a career fair for college students in Manchester, N.H in 2012. The Federal Reserve of New York reported that student debt levels rose to $1.08 trillion in the fourth quarter of last year, an increase of $114 billion over 2012.
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NerdWallet’s How Do You Do Money? series asks people from various walks of life to share their attitudes and approach to personal finance, with the goal of bringing transparency to discussions surrounding money. In this installment we speak with Evan DeSimone, a 27-year-old marketing analytics manager living in New Jersey. This is how he does money.

What do you do for your main source of income and how did you get into that line of work?

I’m a marketing analytics manager for a local bank. I fell into this career almost completely by accident. Out of college I worked in customer service to put a little cash in my very empty pockets. I planned to stay for a year or less but some family issues forced me to remain in the area longer than I had intended. I wanted to show movement so I took an opportunity with the operations team and moved into the back-office side of banking. After about two years I was offered a place on the new marketing team. I also do some freelance writing and copy editing as a secondary income source.

Recommended: Can you manage your money? A personal finance quiz.

Would you like to be doing something else instead?

I enjoy marketing, but if I had my way I’d be doing it in a different industry. Retail banking is very rigid. Between regulation and the realities of the market, there’s not a lot of innovating to be done. My job is also very data-oriented but I’m a creative person by nature. I’d love to be doing something more content- and social media-oriented with a brand that can afford to be more dynamic and show a bit more personality.

About how much do you earn before taxes per year?

I make between $30K-$40K, which is not a lot. Retail banking is also notorious for low-end salaries, which is another reason I’d like to jump industries. I supplement that with freelance income.

Do you feel secure with that amount?

I feel secure in the sense that I can meet all of my usual monthly obligations, but I have a fairly small margin for emergencies and I’m not able to fully participate in the 401(k) program because I need to retain all of my take-home pay.

Do you have any debt? What for and how much?

I have about $5K in student debt remaining, which is only a tiny fraction of what I initially owed.  One of the greatest problems faced by young people in the workforce is that traditional businesses, retail banking in my case, have yet to take into account student debt when setting price points for hiring new employees. They prioritize hiring people with degrees but continue to use wages designed to meet the needs of someone with a high school diploma and no appreciable debt.

Do you think incurring that debt was worth it?

This is a difficult question for me to answer. I was raised to value education and I honestly don’t know where I’d be without mine. However, the debt I carried out of undergrad definitely made it difficult for me to fully realize the advantages that an elite education should have provided. Instead of being able to move out immediately, I was forced to remain at home and take advantages of the fairly limited employment options in and around my hometown. I think my career progress has been hindered by my student debt as much or more than it’s been helped by my education.

That does sound like a tough situation to be in, and one that I think many people face nowadays.  Do you have any savings goals?

My most immediate goal is to finish paying off my student loans. I recently paid off my Sallie Mae loan and celebrated by cyber-bullying that organization on Twitter. I have one final loan to go with a very modest interest rate and a small balance. Beyond that my savings are mostly all for emergencies or that mythical beast called retirement. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about other goals, but traditional benchmarks like homeownership don’t hold a lot of appeal for me at the moment.

Congrats on paying off your Sallie Mae loan! Are there any resources or tools you’ve used to learn about and manage your personal finances?

I’ve tried a number of different programs to track my income and my spending, but ultimately I have the best luck doing it by hand. I briefly participated in one of those automatic savings programs where the bank rounds off all your purchases and the extra change gets shuffled off to a savings account, but I find it easier to make savings decisions myself. I’m always very conscious of all my balances, I check my account twice a day.

Sounds like you keep a pretty sharp eye on your accounts. How was the topic of money approached in the home you grew up in? What factors do you think influenced that approach?

My parents were always very secretive when it came to matters of money. It was always understood that we had enough money, but that we shouldn’t spend it frivolously. I was a very thrifty child. I won an award for class penny-pincher in elementary school, which is still proudly on display in my childhood room. I think the turning point for me came during college. When I was applying to schools my parents strongly encouraged me not to think about money. As a high school student who could live happily on $20 a week I wasn’t really prepared to understand the gravity of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in loans. This was also prior to the 2008 recession so I expected to leave school and earn a reasonable wage.

How do you think that affected your attitude towards money and your personal finances?

As an adult I’ve tried to be more open about money because I’ve realized that being totally opaque can needlessly complicate your life. I read and blog about personal finance, among other topics, and I participate in a few online communities on the subject. I think it’s helpful to get outside perspectives from people who don’t have an emotional connection to your financial situation.

Those communities sound similar to the Ask an Advisor forum we have at NerdWallet. Sometimes an outside perspective can help a ton! Has your approach toward personal finance changed from the time you left home and how so?

When I was living at home I was very savings-oriented in my approach to money. My biggest financial victories were always NOT spending money on something. This led to me hitting savings goals but it also meant that I would deny myself a dozen small pleasures (a latte, a decent haircut, a nice beer) and then I’d splurge on something huge like a MacBook because I felt I’d earned it. Now I try to focus on more value-based victories like making a well-planned purchase or earning extra cash through a freelance opportunity.

What is the best monetary investment you’ve made?

I think my best investments have been travel and social opportunities. Some of the best opportunities in my life have come to me through social connections. Jobs, freelance opportunities, even housing have all come to me through friends at one time or another. Having a full, well-rounded life and a wide social network has been the best investment I’ve made, and it wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t said yes to dinners, trips, drinks, trivia nights and shows.

Great point, social connections and travel are both opportunities that are invaluable. What monetary investment do you regret the most and why?

I bought a very expensive mountain bike a few years ago under the assumption that I would definitely go biking all the time and would therefore save a ton of money on gym memberships. As it turns out I don’t really enjoy cycling any more than I enjoy the gym, so now I just have a large piece of sculpture that I have to move all the time.

What does financially stability mean to you?

To me financial stability would be earning enough to meet my obligations while still setting aside a reasonable cushion for the future. This is a boring an answer and I feel bad about that.

Honestly, I think many people would give a similar answer so don’t feel bad! What financial accomplishment are you most proud of?

I talked about this earlier but vanquishing that Sallie Mae loan was a pretty big moment. I feel a lot more freedom now that I’ve been able to do that.

Do you, or someone you know, want be interviewed? Email Heather.

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