My Faith Led Me From 99 Cent Coffees To Debt Free at 26

Alexis Rixner is a Fisheries Biologist at NOAA’s Habitat Conservation Division in Baton Rouge, LA. She received a Bachelors of Science at Roanoke College in Salem, VA (2016) and a Masters of Science at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, LA (2018). In her spare time, she is a CASA volunteer and a mentor at the Bethany Youth Mentorship Program. 

Mark Cuban, a well-known entrepreneur and longtime host of the hit television show Shark Tank, once said that “freedom from debt is worth more than any amount you can earn”; and after paying off almost $60,000 in student loans…I can assure you, he’s correct! After graduation and the start of my career, I gave myself a 3-year deadline to pay off my student loans, in which, I surprised even myself, by surpassing that goal and paying it off in just 22 short months. While I’m over the moon excited about this accomplishment, I couldn’t have done it without my faith in God and His word; specifically Philippians 4:19 (NLT) “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”  

Growing up in a single-parent household, I was already aware of the need for student loans; not fully grasping the reality of what that meant. After graduating high school in 2012, I decided to attend Roanoke College in Salem, VA to study biology and environmental science. However, because Roanoke College was and is a private liberal arts school, tuition would exceed $50,000 a year. I know, that’s a lot of money! Why didn’t I go to a community college or a public university? I often asked myself that very question throughout my time at Roanoke College. Though I chose Roanoke for its small class sizes and study abroad opportunities, the cost behind those opportunities exceeded more than what I initially thought, and definitely, more than my family could afford. While my family was extremely generous in paying for my enrollment fee each year, they didn’t have the means to pay, nor did I feel it was their responsibility to pay, for the remainder of my tuition. My freshman year tuition was $50,000. Thankfully, about 90% of that was paid for by scholarships, leaving me with about $5,000 in student loans. As an 18-year-old, that seemed doable! However, what I didn’t realize was that tuition increased by $ 6,000 each year. I also didn’t realize that if I wanted to transfer, I would potentially lose credits. So, like many of my peers, I ignored my debt and just focused on graduating.  

As I approached my senior year, ignoring my debt was no longer an option. Roanoke College even provided a “financial aid counseling event” for all seniors, in which they presented you with a folder listing the amount of your total debt. I still remember the way my stomach dropped as I saw the number. Clearly, I was in shock because one of the financial aid counselors who saw my face tried to comfort me with a smile saying that she had just paid off her student debt. Noticing that she was at least in her 50’s, shocked me with the realization that it must’ve taken her almost 30 years to pay off her loans. It was then I decided that that was not going to be me!  

After Roanoke College, I attended graduate school and received a Master of Science in Marine and Environmental Biology. The summer after I graduated, I knew I had about six months before I would have to start making payments; it was time to make a game plan and attack that $60,000. The reason I acknowledge my faith in this process is because without God I would not have been able to complete this goal. Logically, while having major car issues and helping out my family financially, it shouldn’t have been possible. I have been a Christian for most of my life, so I knew who God was and what He could do for me, but failed to involve Him in every aspect of my life. I, like most people, relied on earthly solutions to fix earthly problems. However, this problem was different, it had to be different. This time I relied and leaned solely on God from beginning to end. As my faith in the Lord became stronger and my desire to become closer to Him increased, I received grace, peace, and endurance during this trial. I fully believe the Lord helped me walk out the truths found in the following verse:  

James 1:2-4 (NLT), “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So, let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” 

During those 22 months of faithfully paying off my debt, trouble indeed arose, my faith was definitely tested, but with God, I was able to endure and persevere. I have changed; I am not the same person I was at the beginning of this journey. Yes, sacrifices were made, but I thankfully lacked nothing physically, mentally, financially, or spiritually— I am whole! God graciously provided friends and family to come alongside me with help and encouragement as I tackled my goal. They helped me to manage my time and energy, as well as, develop my spirituality so that I was able to be a better steward of my body, mind, and finances. In terms of finances, how you manage your income is very important. Having your finances in order allows you to take care of your responsibilities and serve others. The Bible strongly discourages getting caught up in materialism and debt, calling it a master:  

Matthew 6:24 (NLT), “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.” 

I saw student debt as a heavy burden hanging over me, that was preventing me from serving my community and family in the way I wanted to. I am proud to say, that while this journey was not easy, it was indeed worth it! I believe that with a little determination, a lot of discipline, and faith as small as a mustard seed, you can overcome any obstacles in life. While each journey will look and sound different, one thing we all have in common is faith.  

For those that are called to pay off their debt, here are four things that helped me do it: 

  1. I reduced my spending, dedicating 70% of my income went towards paying off my debt.  
  2. I created an EveryDollar Budget: which is an app that allows you to create a monthly budget and track spending. This budget is a zero-based budget, so every dollar has a purpose. 
  3. I organized and paid off my debt using a combination of the Snowball and Avalanche method. Snowball method is paying off your debts from smallest to largest balance. The Avalanche method is paying off your debts from highest to lowest interest rates. So, I organized my debts by the highest interest rates with the smallest balance. 
  4. I had a Fun Money category in my budget, where you can spend that amount on whatever you want. However, once it’s gone, it’s gone. 

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.