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Coming Face-to-Face with $200K of Student Loans

In 2015, Vanessa had to face her student debt— all six figures of it. She wrote the amount on a Post-it Note, stuck it to her laptop, and began researching everything about personal finance. Her search brought her to YNAB, and she has used the budgeting app to create her slow-but-steady debt pay-off plan. Today, working as a district administrator in LA, that number doesn't overwhelm her or hold her back. She now has the skills and habits to manage her finances stress-free.



The number I saw, which at the time I was unfazed, because I didn't even know what it meant to owe almost $200,000.

My name is Vanessa Monterosa. I live in Los Angeles, California, and I've been a YNAB user since 2015.

My parents immigrated here from El Salvador in the 70s and I was born here. My parents made it really clear growing up that education was the priority. It ties back to why they even came here in the first place, not only to improve their opportunities, but those of their children. So growing up, that was the message: you are gonna go to college. 

My parents, they did everything in their power to make sure that education was literally the only thing I had to worry about.


Well, my idea overall is that Vanessa, at a certain point in life, had to be independent from me. So the only way that she could become independent is with a good education. I wanted her to be able to concentrate only on that instead of worrying about work or other things.

My wife and I decided to take care of everything, and her job was to go to school and get an education.


I ended up going to Biola University, getting my master's degree from the Harvard Graduate

School of Education, and then ultimately my doctoral degree from California State University Long Beach.

I had gotten a really great job. I'm working at a school district, and I felt like I was on my way.

I was treating my friends, and I was spoiling my dog, and life was just wonderful. 

It was July of 2015/2016 that I had had a heart-to-heart with my dad about where I was financially, and how great I'm doing. 

He was like, “Well, mija, that is fantastic, I am so proud of you, these are all the ways that I supported you, and I think you're ready to now take them on.”

I could not tell my dad no. He was just so proud of me and I didn't want to disappoint him in letting him know that I wasn't financially ready. So I just said, “You're right, I know you're really proud of me, I'm ready.”

In terms of the loans, when I graduated, the number I saw, which I feel like at the time I was unfazed, because I didn't even know what it meant to owe almost $200,000. That is a mortgage payment.  It was just such a low point to look at that number directly and know that I need to figure this out. 

When I sat down and really started my journey, I had that number on a Post-it right on my laptop. I had it written in my notebook where I was taking all of my notes. I remember in between writing my dissertation, my breaks were Googling personal finance, budgeting, managing student loans. One book in particular just seemed to speak to me. It was called I Will Teach You to be Rich.

Halfway through that book, it mentions tools for budgeting, and one of them was YNAB. I remember starting an account and the first thing I did was I signed up for all the workshops I could possibly do. Little by little, as I learned ways to navigate my credit, navigate my loans, it was just opening up a whole new world.

I thought in the beginning, if I have to really look at my money, I'm gonna feel stress and I'm gonna feel like some kind of weight is on my shoulders, and it's the total opposite. When you're really looking at your finances, it's freeing, it's liberating really.

I decided that I don't want to throw every available dollar at my debt. I've seen methods about well, if you cut your Starbucks latte every day, this is the amount you save. But I really like my Starbucks latte, so I really don't wanna give that up. So the one thing I still do to this day, is I kind of moonlight as an editor. All of that money goes towards my debt.

Now that I'm three years in, that number is not daunting to me, and I don't feel overwhelmed anymore. I don't feel scared of it.

Personal finance is a craft, but I feel like I've developed that skill and that habit enough where I don't let it hold me back from enjoying my life.


We are extremely proud of her with all her accomplishments, and we've been with her at every step.

We just gave it a lift and she took off.

Get started on your own debt payoff journey with the award-winning budgeting app You Need a Budget. We offer a free 34-day trial: no credit card required.

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Coming Face-to-Face with $200K of Student Loans