You Can Do Anything, As Long as You Don’t Have Debt

Sarah Mistak – Marketing Specialist – talks about how she reconciles with putting her dream job on hold.

Stnce is a platform that believes confidence is the key to taking financial ownership. This is part of a new series we call, “Not at the Table!” where we ask people to address the elephant in the room – the taboos of personal finance. 

I ended up in my job entirely by accident. I needed a source of income post-graduation and a way to repay my student loans. I have a Master of Global Affairs degree and intensive background in political science, but I ended up going into administration because of the debt I owed. That was three years ago. Even though it’s not exactly what I’m looking for in a career, I see it as more of my day job. On the side, I put a lot of work into my passion for cooking; an interest that started when I had to learn how to accommodate my dietary restrictions. After discovering how much I enjoy cooking for
others, I began accepting requests for catering jobs. At first, people learned of my services through friends and family, but now I have a decent network who know me as an event caterer. 

It’s all very unofficial. I don’t have a business card or a name. But I do have a lot of support from everyone around me. My partner encouraged me to put together a menu to send around, and my parents reminded me that I have to value my time. Because although I don’t have a strict process at this point, I should charge a price that accurately covers my cost and effort. I’ve learned that it’s not just about the food, I need to pay myself as well. And if it’s an event where I need assistance, I need to factor in their time as if I had hired them, even if it’s a family member who just wants to help me out. 

“Even though I want to expand my catering business and take it to another level, I’m not ready to make a pay cut.”

My biggest insecurity right now is being able to pay down my debt consistently. I came out of undergrad without any experience in student loans, so I couldn’t comprehend just how much I was taking on. On top of that, the master’s degree was significantly more expensive. Even though I want to expand my catering business and take it to another level, I’m not ready to make a pay cut. I know that the industry is very institutionalized and there’s a lot of competition out there, so I’m not sure my finances can handle the initial grunt work and lack of steady income. Plus, the initial cost of expanding my operations seems like a challenge I’m not ready to handle. I currently have a small freezer and cooking accessories made for the average consumer. Just upgrading those alone would be a considerable expense. 

Ever since I could work, I’ve always been very conscious of saving and budgeting my money. Of course, when I was younger, I didn’t enjoy it. When I had a babysitting gig, my father would always advise me to pay myself first before spending my earnings. Or when I received my weekly allowance, he’d say, you could spend it all on candy right now, or you could put a quarter of it away to save for something you want. And I didn’t get it at the time. But now, I appreciate the discipline and routine of putting money away. It feels good to know that I have something for the future. 

“At first, my instinct was to pay as much of it off as possible, but that strategy only made me miserable because I had nothing to spend on myself. I felt more broke than I was because spending a cent on anything made me anxious.”

When I look at my student debt, it feels strange because all my life I’ve been making decisions to avoid being in this situation. At first, my instinct was to pay as much of it off as possible, but that strategy only made me miserable because I had nothing to spend on myself. I felt more broke than I was because spending a cent on anything made me anxious. I was always calculating how much of my money I could put towards the debt and thought about little else. It felt like mental gymnastics. And I started to doubt whether I was making good life decisions because I was overwhelmed with worry. So, I turned to my father who told me that the easiest way to pay it off is to concentrate on the highest interest first, like credit card debt. 

I have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that you can do something with the experience you gain in life, rather than through formal education. I always thought I would end up in politics but at the end of the first year of my master’s program, my internship mentor gave me some hard truths and I realized it wasn’t the right industry for me. I know myself well enough to foresee that I’d be devastated by the constant setbacks, bureaucracy, unacknowledged effort, and constraints. So, the emotional loss of that goal plus the mental exhaustion of being in school for so long motivated me to find a stable job. The benefits, the predictability, the lack of competition; it’s helped me find a new passion. With catering, it feels nice to be able to do what I love. And I like the idea of being my own boss – the freedom to try new things without having to go through several layers of approval, you know? At the same time, I don’t want to make the leap and test out whether I can do it full-time. I want to be able to support the lifestyle I’m accustomed to, and if that means stalling my plans, I’m okay with that. I know there’s a certain sense of adventure with switching industries and working in a kitchen but there’s no pay in it, the culture is hostile, and the hours are endless. I’d rather wait for the right opportunity and focus on paying off my debt.