When a teacher from Marietta, Georgia, wiped out her savings account to adopt a former student and his brother, it would have been hard for her to imagine that just five years later, she would be completely debt free after paying off nearly $49,000.
Chelsea Haley, single mom to Jerome, 17, and Jace, 6, told Good Morning America that knowing she’s debt free feels surreal.
“It doesn’t feel real yet,” she said on Dec. 4. “It’s so amazing. I even logged into my student loans and it said, ‘Cleared. Zero balance.’”
But it wasn’t always that way for Chelsea. Not long ago, she was $48,683 in debt and was struggling to make ends meet.
Five years ago, Jerome was a student in her 4th-grade class in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She was with an organization called Teach for America, which places recent graduates as teachers in low-income schools.
When Jerome’s grades began slipping and he started missing school, Chelsea started spending time with him. She supported him by buying his school supplies and attending his football games, hoping to get him more involved with school.
A year later, Jerome asked Chelsea if he could live with her. It was a moment that led her to seek custody of both Jerome and his younger brother, a path that consumed her savings in attorney’s fees.
She eventually won full custody of the brothers but ended up accruing credit card debt in order to afford taking care of them. On top of her student loans, the debt became a heavy burden indeed.
But Chelsea says it was worth every dime. Now, the boys are thriving in school, and Chelsea loves being a mom.
“Being their mom is the greatest blessing of my life,” she said. “I get to wake up in the morning and love two little guys.”
To pay off the debt, Chelsea took on additional work outside of teaching.
“On top of being a teacher, I was tutoring a couple of days a week,” she shared.
She also delivered groceries, stayed late at the school on Fridays to work as the building manager for extra pay, and even sold her home and moved back in with her parents.
It all paid off in the end. Now, she is saving money for a new house and for Jerome’s college tuition. She says saving for the future is a welcome change.
“It allows me to focus on the boys’ future,” she said. “Saving money for them, and not spending it on my past.”
For anyone tackling debt, Chelsea advises paying close attention to your spending instead of ignoring financial issues:
“Finances can be kind of scary and it’s easier to say, ‘It’s out of sight, out of mind.’” But this is the last thing you want to do if you want to pay off debt.
Chelsea adds that “knowing you’ll have a lot more freedom once it’s paid off” can be a huge motivator.
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