Long Beach native Sarah Wilson worked hard to earn her degree in communications from Mississippi University for Women in Columbus after graduating from Long Beach High School in 2006.
But Wilson, 28, was faced with a hard reality.
“I had $27,000 in student loans debt and since I kept deferring the payments, one day I had $33,000 in student loans because the interest kept adding up.”
She said she worked after college for a weekly newspaper in Columbus for a while, but she was let go when the paper cut some staff. Fortunately, she landed at a newspaper in Hammond.
And it was down in Louisiana, just about 364 miles from Texarkana, that she decided she was going to get out of debt.
“I had about $32,000 in debt and I was making about $26,000 a year,” she said. “I knew if I didn’t start doing something and start paying off more than the interest, that I was going to be in debt for the rest of my life.”
The girl on a budget
Although Wilson said she was grateful to have landed the job in Hammond, she was living in a town where she didn’t know a lot of people.
But that’s what would become the catalyst for the creation of “Budget Girl.”
“I needed some accountability partners to do my budgeting with and since I didn't have a lot of friends there, I decided to do some video blogging on YouTube and let the public hold me accountable,” she said.
In April 2014, she uploaded her first video blog or “vlog” as Budget Girl.
An internet star is born
Since her first vlog, she has uploaded more than 250 episodes of Budget Girl to her own YouTube channel.
Budget Girl is a life hack series aimed at ways people, including millennials just out of college, can save money. It’s equal parts Martha Stewart and Dave Ramsey, a budgeting guru who advocates extreme frugality.
“I learned a lot about money from Dave Ramsey and I’m trying to share that information with others,” she said.
Wilson, who is now the editor of The Mena Star in Mena, Arkansas, said the secret to budgeting is to pay attention to the small things.
“The decisions you make on a daily basis add up quickly,” she said. “Instead of eating out every day for $10, you can pack your lunch for like $2.”
And, she said, budgeting doesn't mean you can’t have fun.
“I do things like have friends over to play Cards Against Humanity and have baked potatoes,” she said. “It costs me like $15 instead of $40 to $50 to go out, and it’s a lot more fun, too.”
Started from the bottom
Since launching the Budget Girl channel, she has picked up almost 10,000 subscribers and she is getting about 3,000 views per post.
“When I started out, I was getting less than 100 views,” she said. “Now I actually make about $400 a month from YouTube — I use that money toward my debt.”
She has gotten her school loan debt down to less than $15,000.
“I recommend setting goals, like, I do something for myself whenever I knock $5,000 off my debt,” she said.
When she reduced her debt to less than $15,000, Wilson took a trip to California.
“I had been setting aside some money to go on the trip and when I got it under $14,000, I took a trip to visit a friend in Los Angeles,” she said.
But did the Budget Girl go into debt to take a trip to celebrate reducing her budget?
“Absolutely not,” she said. “In fact, I had $15 left over.”
Budget Girl Life Hack: Throw pillows on a budget
Wilson said she buys cheap “ugly pillows” at thrift stores and yard sales and then replaces the covers with covers she buys for under $20 from Amazon.
See the full life hack here.