You’ve just paid off almost a quarter-million dollars in student loans after 10 years of hard work and personal tragedy. What are you gonna do next?
Dance it out in a metallic purple jumpsuit, of course.
That’s what Caitlin Boston, 35, is beginning to going viral for, after posting a YouTube GOOG, -2.76% video of herself and two backup dancers celebrating her final student loan payment. She fires money out of a pair of hand-held cash cannons, and her friends shake it while wearing giant dollar signs.
But what’s really caught the public’s attention is her inspiring story of the sweat and tears that she put into knocking down that $222,817 in undergraduate and graduate school loans (including more than $75,000 in interest) since 2009. And one of the key ways she did so was stepping up to ask her colleagues what their salaries were, which helped her boost her annual pay by 41%.
‘I did it all by my single freaking self, as in, no family passing me $$$ at any point,. It was hard but I did it and I did it alone because I am a f****** boss.’
While Boston and her friends perform an interpretive dance in the almost four-minute video, captions running along the bottom of the screen explain that she asked her father for help managing her crushing debt once, and he had to tell her no because he was saddled with debt of his own. (Indeed, Americans are drowning under a record $1 trillion in credit card debt and $1.5 trillion in student loan debt.)
Related: 12 years after starting college, white men have paid off 44% of their student loans, while black women owe 13% more
“It was a very straightforward conversation,” she told BuzzFeed News. “He was like, ‘There’s no way I can help you — you’re going to have to figure this out.’” In the video, she notes she still feels “embarrassed” for asking at all.
So she buckled down and picked up second (and third) jobs, never took much time off from work, and never missed a payment — even when her father died by suicide, her mother suffered a stroke, her dog died and her family “disintegrated” within the same six-month period.
“I never asked anyone for any help paying them off ever again, or to help me in any other way financially,” she writes. And she posted the video on Aug. 6, the day of her final loan payment — and what would have been her father’s 72nd birthday. “Even in memory [he] reminds me of what a dedicated work ethic can do,” she says in one caption.
So how did she do it all on her own?
Boston did not respond to a MarketWatch request for comment by presstime. But she told BuzzFeed that early in her career — when her loan payments were $1,400 a month — she juggled several gigs, including a paid internship in D.C., working in a running store and doing freelance design research for nonprofits. She also lived in a vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, queer community house for just $425 a month, where everyone cooked for each other, which was the only way she said that she keep her head above water. Still, she often had only between $62 and $74 left in her checking account once the bills were paid at the end of the month.
Once she moved to New York City and started working full time jobs (still keeping housing expenses affordable by living with roommates), she consolidated her loans. But she realized that she really needed a higher salary to make a real dent her high level of debt. So she began talking to her co-workers and asking them what they earned, which was a game-changer.
‘Ask your other peers what they make — especially your male ones. It might make you feel uncomfortable but it’s the sole reason I started making an additional 41% a year.’
She using the “over/under” question — asking, “Do you make over or under X-amount of money?” — which can be less awkward than getting someone to tell you his or her salary outright. “Especially if you’re a woman you just need to expect that you’re being underpaid,” she writes. “Your job is to figure out by how much.”
Indeed, U.S. women earn 83% that of men, according to the Pew Research Center. And recent research has found that salary transparency helps to close the gender pay gap.
Once she realized she was being underpaid by about $20K, she kept interviewing for jobs until she got one at Etsy ETSY, -4.97% that paid her what her experience dictated she should make, which she told BuzzFeed was “tens of thousands of dollars” more. Now she’s working at another tech company and is finally debt-free, and able to finally contribute more than $50 a month to her 401(k).
“I’m free. I’m freaking free!” she writes.