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Meet The Ivy League Grad Who Paid Off $23,000 In Debt While Traveling
Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, Cinneah El-Amin remembers a household filled with love but lacking in conversation surrounding financial fitness and building wealth. When she moved to New York to attend Barnard College of Columbia University, an Ivy League institution, her dearth of financial management knowledge became more apparent.
“Being in classes with people whose names were literally on the buildings I think really solidified for me that the struggles that had been part of our family history didn’t necessarily have to be what the future of our family’s lineage looked like,” El-Amin shared with Travel Noire. “But I still didn’t really know much about managing my money. When I got my first corporate job, I was 23 years old living in New York City. I fell hard into the traps of living that fast city life.”
Despite having a salary that she described as great “for being a young person” El-Amin had nothing tangible to show for it in terms of savings. She was living off credit cards and from one paycheck to the next. In the Fall of 2018, when she received a credit card bill for over $10,000 that was due in full, and she couldn’t afford to pay, El-Amin hit rock bottom.
“It was in that moment that I had so much anxiety and stress about what my financial future was going to look like,” she recalled of that tumultuous time. “If you can imagine logging in to see that credit card statement be due and seeing such a large number looking back at you — that for me really clicked that I knew I had a problem. I had a spending problem, being an emotional spender, an impulsive spender, and really an over spender. At that time in my life, where I was so used to living beyond my means, I didn’t really know what it meant to live on a budget or to live with financial boundaries. So that really started my financial journey.”
From that moment on, El-Amin immersed herself in everything associated with debt-free living and financial management including following related Instagram accounts where she was heartened to find people who looked like her on their own path to financial freedom. After spending the better part of 2019 getting comfortable managing a budget, getting financial accountability, and working with a financial coach El-Amin started chipping away at her debt. On January 15, 2020, her debt totaled $23,022. By December 31st, she became debt-free, just in time for the new year.
“I think I was probably a little intentional about using that day to become debt free. When I look back on my debt free journey, I probably could have also done it a bit faster. But for me, I felt it was important that I wasn’t miserable during my journey. It was hard enough to think about how do you stay financially consistent when we are surviving a pandemic when our worlds are completely upside down? So I gave myself grace to say every single dollar that I made is not going to go to my debt. It’s going to go to help me prioritize travel and help me save so that when I become debt free I’m not starting from zero, I’m starting with a cushion. It’s going to go towards helping me invest a little, so that my net worth can continue to grow as I am paying down this debt.”
But that wasn’t the only change El-Amin made at the dawn of 2021. The now 26-year-old decided to eschew the hustle and bustle of NYC for the tranquility of Tulum. She fell in love with the easy pace of the Mexican town during a trip with friends last December. The ability to work remotely due to COVID-19 and low cost of living sold her on a move.
“I can enjoy a higher quality of life without having to sacrifice my financial goals.”
As of April 2021, El-Amin is on track to have a $100,000 net worth. Throughout her journey, she documented her progress on her Instagram page, Flynanced. The account has now transitioned into a digital platform to help other women experience debt-free travel and financial freedom.
El-Amin shared a few tips with Travel Noire for pursuing financial freedom while also enjoying travel.
Save in a travel fund
El-Amin suggests creating a habit where we are putting money aside to travel. This allows for prioritizing travel guilt-free. She says that there is a misconception that you can’t enjoy a vacation while paying off debt and some shaming that usually goes along with this mindset. However, enjoying these leisure activities can have a positive effect on your debt-free journey.
“You acknowledge that it may take two, three, fours years or however long it takes to become debt free if that is your goal, which I hope that it is. You also have to create those moments where you are going to get joy and where you are going to enjoy the journey. Because otherwise, it’s going to make it very difficult to stay consistent, motivated, and disciplined.”
If you’re a newbie traveler, El-Amin recommends opening a separate account at your existing bank. But if you’re a more seasoned traveler, she suggests opening up a new account for your travel fund that has a separate debit card associated with it. This safeguards against co-mingling your money. It may also afford you some extra perks.
“The account that I opened up for my separate travel savings was Charles Schwab’s high yield investor checking account. It has no account minimums, there are no ATM fees, and no foreign transaction fees. So that means anytime I use that Visa Debit Card associated with that travel fund account, I am keeping more of my money no matter if I’m traveling around the US or abroad.”
Understand your ‘Glorious Gap’
This is a term coined by El-Amin which refers to the gap between your income and your expenses. She says that many of us have expenses which when added up put us in a deficit compared to our income. It’s important to keep track of our spending and allocate the surplus towards financial goals.
“That gap is the baseline that we can use to pay off our debt, to save for travel, to start investing, to really do the things that we say that we want to do but we often feel like we don’t have enough money for.”
Pay off high interest debt
Student loan forgiveness has been a hot topic for years and has recently ramped up with the new administration in the White House. It’s totally understandable to wait and see how this unfolds and whether the discourse leads to new legislation. But in the meantime, El-Amin suggests working on eliminating other high-interest debts.
“High interest debt is considered any debt that is really 10% or more when you consider what the interest rate on that debt is. So many times our credit card debt is some of the highest interest debt that we have. When it comes to high interest debt, that debt is literally costing us our freedom. It is literally costing us our ability to say, ‘Oh, yeah, I can afford to take this trip.’ When we think about the balances that we have, and being charged 15% 19%,22%, 24% interest, that really adds up and really hinders our ability to pay off that debt quickly.”