This is the latest in a series of interviews with fellow personal finance bloggers. Today’s guest is Melissa Berry from Sunburnt Saver.
Who is Sunburnt Saver?
Melissa: I’m Melissa Berry, and basically, I’m your average Millennial with student loan debt! What makes me stand out is how passionate I am about reducing that debt – my family didn’t really struggle with debt, so I didn’t have a primer for what dealing with debt was like. It wasn’t until I started thinking about buying a house and investing that I realized, whoa, how can I ever invest when I’m paying almost $1,000 a month to my student loan debt? It just didn’t make financial sense on a low salary – after my rent, utilities, very low grocery budget and student loan debt, I literally could not save more than $50 every month. That freaked me out.
Why did you start your blog?
Melissa: I started blogging because I didn’t see that much out there geared to helping Millennials in debt figure out their finances. I started blogging in 2014, so things have definitely changed, but back then, I wanted an outlet to show people what I was doing (or not doing!) to pay off debt. I don’t claim to be an expert at debt payoff – if I were, I’m sure I’d have “$86k in debt paid off in 15 months!” stories too, but I’m just your average person on an average salary trying to live a middle-class life and pay off debt reasonably.
What are your favorite personal finance books?
Melissa: I know a lot of people love to hate her, but Suze Orman was my first introduction to personal finance, and I was pretty much hooked. I read almost all of her books and would always run to the TV (when I had free cable through a roommate) when she was on. My roommates back then thought I was crazy, but I felt like she helped me get started. She helped me see I need to control my finances, not let them control me.
When did you first become financially literate?
Melissa: Haha, I feel like I’m still working on that 🙂 I would say after college, age 22, six months after graduation when my loan repayment kicked in and I was stunned by how much I had to pay every month.
What’s your take on financial education? Parents or school’s responsibility?
Mellissa: Parents. My parents enrolled me in financial literacy classes when I was a teen, and while I thought it was cool, I didn’t get it.
My parents didn’t give me an allowance: I was expected to do chores because “that’s what a functioning member of this household does” (which is great, by the way!) but when I needed something (clothes, money for the movies), my parents would make me justify why I wanted it, then they would pay for it (or not if I argued poorly!). It honed my debate and thinking skills, but not my personal finance skills.
Contrast this with my husband, who had to do chores for allowance money. He didn’t have to do chores because it was expected, like my parents, but he earned money for the work he did. If he needed more money (for video games or whatever), he worked harder for extra money. His parents also made him split his allowance: 33% savings, 33% spending and 33% for charity. He’s not only VERY good with his money (better than I am), he’s also very generous.
If you died today, would your family be okay from a financial standpoint?
Melissa: Yes, because it’s just my husband and our pets. Like I said, my husband, is very good with his money, better than I am. He wouldn’t even need life insurance money from me!
What are you teaching (or will you teach) your kids about money?
Melissa: We don’t have kids, but I think we would approach money the way his parents approached money. As much as I love the idea and fairness ethic, my parents instilled in me, and it seems like my husband has always had a better understanding of money because he always had to work for it.
I definitely would like to break up their allowance into thirds, too, to teach them the importance of donating to charity and giving back. Even on a small salary, giving back is extremely important to me.
What’s one bucket list item you’d like to complete?
Melissa: Paying off my student loans will feel AMAZING once it’s complete! Other than that, I’d love to take a big trip to Europe with my husband. I’d visited Spain and France before knowing my husband, and I’d love to share those experiences with him.
Are you perusing financial independence? (FIRE) If not, what’s your take on the FIRE concept?
Melissa: Yes! In fact, I’m somewhat there… I still “work,” but I work from home on my own terms. I love it! We’re working on getting my husband to FIRE – next year, actually, if all goes to plan. He’ll be debt free by then, and his expenses will be so slow, he can just part-time work whenever he feels like.
Honestly, I want to work forever, so FIRE for me is working for myself (check) and paying off all my debt (not done yet). Halfway there for me 🙂
What advice do you have for a high school senior?
Melissa: Think really carefully about college expenses before you choose your college. Unless your college is very prestigious (like Harvard or even the second level Ivies), maybe go to an in-state college. Compare out-of-state college scholarships, federal grants and work-study funding to in-state and see which one is actually the cheapest for you to attend.
In college, focus on building relationships and skills. Unless you’re going for a specialized degree (like engineering, accounting, or you want to go on to be a doctor), you should focus on: improving your public speaking, writing, critical thinking, and computer/technical skills. Regularly visit your career counselor’s office and get as many internships as you can. You don’t HAVE to graduate with debt.