In her early 20s, Andrea Contreras says her life was out of control. While in college near her hometown of Austin, Texas, she started partying every night, drinking too much and spending recklessly. In 2011, she even had to take a year off from school.
But in 2015, she decided she wanted to change. Eventually, she found faith, reconnected with her family and surrounded herself with a support system that helped her get — and stay — sober. The 31-year-old now earns $145,000 a year selling social media assistance programs at GoDaddy and recently bought her first home.
Financial expert Patrice Washington can relate to Contreras' struggles. She's faced her own hard times: "I lost everything in the [last] recession," she says, reacting to CNBC Make It's Millennial Money episode that features Contreras, which was published in May 2020. "Having to start over is hard."
Washington knows that reclaiming your life after a difficult time doesn't happen by accident. You have to make a conscious decision to change things, she says.
She appreciates Contreras' approach to money, which is to be generous with what she earns and help those around her. When her parents' lost their jobs due to Covid-19, Contreras gave them $3,000 to put toward their mortgage.
"I love this," Washington says. "That's why we have to stay ready — it's not just about us. You're also building wealth so that you can be a real blessing to others. I think the worst thing is when you really want to help other people, and you're not even in a position to help yourself."
However, Washington notices a few areas where Contreras can improve her finances. A big one: tackling her student loans.
Contreras owes about $30,000 in student debt, but in January 2020, when the episode was filmed, she was only paying the minimum amount back each month. She hopes the government will eventually wipe out student loan debt altogether.
Washington doesn't think that's a realistic approach. "Your strategy for your student loans cannot be to hope that they just get wiped out," she says. "Hoping, wishing, praying is beautiful — I believe in all of it — however, you still need a strategy to pay off student loan debt."
At her current rate, Contreras expects to continue paying off her student loans until she's well into her 40s. But if she diverts some of the $2,800 she saves each month toward paying off her debt, she could eliminate it much faster, Washington says.
"The sooner you get out of it, the better," Washington adds.
But overall, Washington is impressed with how Contreras handles her finances. "I love her purpose, I love her passion, I love the gratitude, the faith component," she says.
Watch Washington's full reaction to Contreras' spending, saving and giving habits.
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