GREENSBORO — Ja’Net Adams graduated from college debt-free and with $10,000 in the bank.
But by the height of the recession in 2008, she was laid off from her pharmaceuticals job and $48,000 in debt. She blamed her spending habits.
“As long as the money was coming in and it was going out to the right people, I was just fine,” said Adams, who grew up in Winston-Salem and now lives in Kernersville. “And that’s the way I lived my life. And that came crashing down when I was laid off cause I realized how irresponsible I had really been with money.”
The 33-year-old Adams has since turned her problems into profit. She dug out of debt in two-and-a-half years and now is teaching others how to do so as a financial literacy consultant and author of the book “Debt Sucks,” which was released last month.
The book is geared toward college students. Adams offers them the same principles she used to get out of debt but applies them to a college student’s situation.
For example, she advises students to use a hobby to make money. She features three student entrepreneurs in her book.
“I see a need for college students,” Adams said. “They haven’t gotten out there yet. We can help them before they get into the trap. Before they get the apartment and the new car and the credit cards. We can help them now.”
Debt is a problem that continues to plague college students.
The Project on Student Debt said in its latest report that the average loan debt for students who graduated with bachelor’s degrees in 2012 was $29,400. The average combined private and federal loan debt among graduates increased an average of 6 percent per year from 2008-2012.
“It’s definitely an issue that’s bringing down this economy,” Adams said.
Adams didn’t have that problem. She attended South Carolina State University on a tennis scholarship. Because she didn’t have to pay for her education, she spent freely and continued that lifestyle after she graduated.
“I just lived like money wasn’t an object,” Adams told a group at UNCG last week.
Adams got a job at a pharmaceutical company in Indiana after graduation, and her family’s combined income was $90,000 a year.
She convinced her husband, Jonathan, to buy a new car. They ate out frequently, took regular vacations and Adams shopped a lot.
And then she was laid off and all the debt her family had accumulated — including her husband’s student loans — hit her in the face. To dig themselves out, Adams and her husband completed a “dream sheet” — a list of goals they wanted to accomplish.
Their short-term goal was to save for tuition to send their son to private school. In the long term, they wanted to have a $500,000 net worth and pay off their house.
Then they made a spending plan.
No more eating out.
“I actually learned how to cook,” Adams said.
No more shopping.
“I didn’t see the mall or outlet for two and a half years,” she said.
Was it hard? Not when she considered her dream sheet.
“It reminded me (that) it’s something bigger for you,” Adams said. “It’s bigger than the shoes you want to go to Nine West and buy. It’s bigger than those jeans you want. So it was hard, but once you go for awhile, it makes it easier. You don’t even miss it anymore.”
The couple cut everything out of their budget they didn’t need, sold everything they could and then started making extra money. She taught tennis lessons for $25 an hour, and her husband taught basketball clinics for $25 per hour per child.
All the extra money went toward paying off bills.
“And we just piled it on,” Adams said. “We just kept our heads down, and we kept plugging.”
As Adams worked toward becoming debt-free, she shared what she was doing with others. Churches and nonprofits invited her to speak about financial literacy, and she did it for free.
That was four years ago. Adams now has her own consulting business and travels the country. She’s also scheduled to speak at schools in Canada this year, saying that student debt is a global problem.
Students, she said, are silently suffering.
“You see them partying, and you see them hanging out and stuff,” Adams said. “But when they hear what I went through, they just open up. They say, ‘My parents are dealing with that. I’m dealing with this. I don’t know how I’m (going to) make it.’ “
Adams said she heard so many sad stories from college students that she felt she had to write a book.
Her talks, like the one she gave at UNCG, are very informal, and she looks more like a college student than a businesswoman, wife and mother of two young children.
“It’s definitely more conversational,” she said. “It’s more storytelling ‘cause they see themselves in me and it gives them hope.”
As for Adams, she rid herself of all debt except her home in 2010. Her dream sheet has been updated, and she’s now focused on saving to send her children to college.
When she was still working in corporate America, she had a goal of retiring by age 40.
“But I’m already retired in my mind,” Adams said. “ ‘Cause in my head, what retirement meant was I don’t have to work for anybody. I do what I love. So this doesn’t feel like work. This is fun to me.”