Season 1, Episode 10
Allie Hall, RN, also known as the Debt-Free Nurse on social media, is a financially savvy nurse who – within a period of just 18 months – paid off $46,000 of debt and saved $10,000. Now she’s on a mission to help other nurses get out of debt, own their finances, and live their best lives by sharing her journey to becoming debt-free. She joins Laurel Road host, Eric Sutton, Head of Design, and guest host, Aja Evans, a board certified Licensed Mental Health Counselor specializing in financial therapy, to talk about how nurses can set a sustainable budget and stick to it. They also talk about the role of mental health in finances and the unique pain points faced by nurses during their personal financial journeys.
Eric Sutton [00:00:08] Hi, everyone. This is Eric from Laurel Road.
Aja Evans [00:00:11] And I’m Aja Evans, a licensed mental health counselor specializing in financial therapy. You’re listening to Financing Ambition, a Laurel Road podcast.
Eric Sutton [00:00:24] Today, we’re excited to welcome Allie Hall, also known as the debt free nurse to her TikTok and Instagram followers. She is an incredibly financially savvy nurse who, within a period of just 18 months paid off $46,000 of debt and saved $10,000. Now she’s on a mission to help other nurses get out of debt, own their finances and live their best lives by sharing her journey to becoming debt-free.
Aja Evans [00:00:52] Allie will share the lessons she’s learned along the way and offer some guidance specifically for nurses on how they can get out of debt, get ahead financially, and feel more peace of mind. You’ll hear some helpful tips on how to approach organizing finances and work towards achieving your financial goals as a nurse.
Eric Sutton [00:01:09] So welcome, Allie, and thanks for being with us today. Could you maybe kick us off by telling our listeners a little bit about your background?
Allie Hall [00:01:16] Hey, thank you so much for having me. My name is Allie. I have been a nurse for seven years. I am a pediatric ICU nurse in Raleigh, North Carolina. I’m originally from Southern California and moved out here seven years ago to start my nursing career. And I really just became passionate about financial coaching because I went through it myself and I really didn’t have a lot of support and resources when I first started my debt-free journey about five years ago. So that’s kind of why I started.
Aja Evans [00:01:51] So let’s talk about your decision in the beginning, right, to becoming a nurse. And how do you think you went about deciding between going to nursing school versus other health care specializations?
Allie Hall [00:02:03] So I actually went to San Diego State on a swimming scholarship, and I couldn’t do nursing at the time. My mom was a nurse, and so nursing just wasn’t something I had even considered. I told my mom forever that I didn’t want to be a nurse. I actually told her I wanted to be a pediatrician when I was little, and I never thought I was smart enough to go to medical school. So I got my bachelor’s in exercise science with a specialty in physical therapy. I thought I wanted to go to physical therapy school and ended up graduating with a bachelors in kinesiology. And so I was debating what I wanted to do after graduation, whether I wanted to go to PA school or go to PT school, I really just found that both of those were going to be very expensive for the amount of money that I was going to make. A lot of the schools in the Southern California area that offered those programs were very expensive. And even before I was even financially savvy, I was really weighing my options on what would be the best way to go with the most options and the best thing financially for me. So my last semester of school I told my mom I kind of wanted to look into nursing school because it gave me a lot of options and it was the cheaper way to go with making a lot of money. And so she made me get my CNA, which is my certified nursing assistant degree, and I fell in love with the profession. I fell in love with taking care of people. And I applied to nursing school six months after I had graduated from college.
Eric Sutton [00:03:33] So, Allie, since the title of our podcast is Financing Ambition, we’re curious to know what your financial journey has been like since you decided to become a nurse. Could you maybe tell us some of the challenges you faced managing your personal finances.
Allie Hall [00:03:51] So, actually, living in Southern California, I went to a very expensive private high school, so my taste was very expensive going into college. I worked three jobs during college. I was a lifeguard, I was a swim instructor, and I babysat and did all of that while basically working on a swimming scholarship and taking classes. So it was never a thing of like not making money. It was always managing my money. I always felt like I would eventually figure it out and it was just never clicking for me. I had very expensive taste. I took out credit cards in college. I didn’t skimp on where I was living. San Diego was very expensive and I just lived well above my means starting in college, and that really didn’t get much better until I started my nursing career and I was actually forced to look at it. Moving from Southern California to Raleigh, I was making less than I was making as a nursing assistant, as a new grad nurse. I was not expecting that at all. I was expecting to make all this big money like you do in California. And I just really didn’t look at it from that lens of I’ll be making less, so I actually need to get my finances in order. As a new grad nurse, I started working extra shifts after my first six months in nursing. I was burnt out. By my first two years in nursing. I was picking up overtime shifts and I really didn’t have anything to show for it. So about at the two year mark I just thought that I couldn’t do this anymore, one of the things I vividly remember is sitting at a gas station one day and I didn’t have any money in my checking account, maybe had $0.50. I had maxed out credit cards and $15,000 of credit card debt. My student loans were going to come due and my car was on the verge of being dead and I was going to need a new car. I had nothing in savings and I swipe my debit card and put it as a credit card because I didn’t have the money to pay for gas to go to work the next day. I just thought I couldn’t do this for 50 more years. This is not how I wanted my life to be. So I picked up a personal finance book the next day and I opened a high interest savings account and I decided that I was going to sit and create a budget, look where my money was going, and that was the turn of everything for me.
Aja Evans [00:06:16] Awesome. What a story. And I completely relate when you’re just talking about what it is to be in school and living above your means and just kind of the struggle that happens when you begin to kind of recognize that’s not working. So generally, what do you think might be some major pain points when it comes to nurses and how they’re managing their personal finances? Are there some areas that you might have found confusing when you were learning about your own journey in personal finance and getting to the place that you are now?
Allie Hall [00:06:59] So I think there’s a lot of things. I think that there’s not a push for financial education in nursing school or even in high school and there’s this myth that nurses will always have a job and that will always make really good money and it really pushes us into a corner and it makes us believe that we will always have this opportunity for overtime and we really burn ourselves out. It’s a very unique profession because we have all of that endless opportunity. But it also forces us to work more and more and more and have less and less and less because we get into that cycle of we work more, we spend more, and then we don’t really reassess and evaluate and plan for the future. So I think first there’s a lack of financial education. The second is a lot of us don’t plan for the future because we’re in a profession where we see a lot of people die, and I think a lot of times subconsciously we think, well, if that could happen to someone else, why do I need to save for the future when I need to live in the moment now? So I think that’s also something that we don’t really talk about or think about, is that we see so much death and so much sickness and we don’t really plan for the future. And I think the other thing is the stress overtime and we have all this opportunity to work extra, make extra money, and then we burn ourselves out and then we treat ourselves. And it’s this vicious cycle of work overtime, not don’t save it, don’t plan for the future, don’t have any money, spend your money. And so I think that really those are the big three things that make nurses not super great with their money. And we also get into credit card debt and especially in nursing school, because nursing school is expensive and we want to treat ourselves as new nurses, and you’re making quote unquote, big money and you just want to do whatever you want with your money. And so I think instead of seeing it like that, we need to actually look at it as I want this profession to be sustainable. I want my money to work for me. So if I set myself up as a new grad or as a new nurse, then I will be able to have choices and options in this field and I’ll have more devotee instead of us having nurses burnt out at year two, three, four.
Eric Sutton [00:09:25] You know, I can absolutely relate to what you said around to having difficulty saving when like it could all be taken away from you at any minute. It’s interesting to hear you say that about nurses, because I’ve often thought, you know, I have the same feeling and I have had that, I guess, for as long as I can remember. And I’ve always thought that it was strange, but I can absolutely see how folks in the health care profession, you know, facing that day in and day out would have an even more difficult time justifying putting aside money for later, quote unquote, you know, when they could just use it. Now, that makes a whole lot of sense. But you also mentioned what I think is the common denominator we’ve uncovered in talking with so many health care professionals, which is the lack of financial education. And we’ve heard that regularly from so many doctors and nurses and dentists that we’ve spoken to in the recent past and, you know, to address that gap. One thing we’re doing at Laurel Road is creating an accessible financial literacy hub for nurses with tons of tools and resources that are specific to a nurses financial journey. And we’re making that content easily navigable and easily digestible. So I have a two part question for you. The first question is, would a resource like this have helped you address those challenges you faced early on, do you think? And then secondly, you know, just to help us in covering what’s really important to nurses. Could you tell us what you know now that you wish you had known then?
Allie Hall [00:11:15] The first, yes, I think it would have been super helpful. One of the biggest things that I did when I first wanted to get more financially literate was I changed my bank. And so I went from one big bank to a different bank. And I really feel like I was able to ask those questions that I needed to ask. And I think that was a big turning point for me, was that I wanted to start fresh. And I think that if I would have had the education on, you know, what’s a credit score, what impacts your credit score, how does interest work, the fact that student loan interest accrues daily, you know, what perks or what benefit do having federal student loans versus private student loans? What’s the difference? I never had private student loans. So just the fact that there’s a lot of people that do and that there are options like the things that you guys have for really great interest rates for people who have private student loans. I thought that was awesome. I’ve said so many people there because they’ve gotten such great interest rates, but I would have had no idea. And so I think thinking of things like that, just the basics, the basics of investing, the fact that time is so important in the market and that I should have signed up for my employer sponsored retirement accounts when I started nursing, just little things like that that would have set me apart from the beginning and wouldn’t have taken so much more effort, you know, seven years ago, it really would have helped me. And so I think resources like that, just like the basic education that we don’t get that we should have gotten in high school would be is just so important. And really just speaking to nurses as I feel like a lot of times there’s this one specific meme that actually spoke out about about nurses talking in shifts about like one shift equals this thing that you buy, another shift equals this thing that you buy. And I basically turn it on its head. And I said, What if we thought about our shift this way? One shift we set aside money to invest. Two shifts we set aside money to pay off our debt. Another shift we set aside money for guilt free spending. And then the other two shifts we live off of. So for me, I think when you speak in a shift language as opposed to maybe like the salary language that a lot of maybe other fields talk in, it’s more specific to nurses, which is very interesting. But I hope that answered both of your questions.
Eric Sutton [00:13:49] It did. Thank you.
Aja Evans [00:13:51] I love that – changing the language. And I know just the way we speak and the language we use around money psychologically really does play a role in how we treat our money and what we do with it and how we behave with it. So that’s fantastic that you flipped that to just think about how can we bucket our shifts, if you will, into using your money differently and thinking about how you’re working differently. So I know you mentioned just paying off your debt, and I think it’s really important that we talk about that. How did you make your plan and thinking about how you executed it, deciding from the moment of, hey, this is a problem and I’m going to take the reins to the point where you reached your goal. And of course, I’m going to ask how that made you feel. But based on what you’ve been through now, financially and emotionally, what do you think is one piece of advice you’d give nurses who are starting their financial journey now?
Allie Hall [00:14:46] Okay, so I’ll answer the one piece of advice first and then I’ll go back and answer kind of my story. The one piece of advice is just to look at it. I feel like so many people are burdened with anxiety and fear. And one of the biggest money mindset shifts I have taught people and I have I have made for myself, is I used to look at my bank account and get so stressed out and think that money wasn’t coming in and I would get so disgruntled about bills. And instead, now I look at my bank account and I look at my bank account without fear and anxiety. And I’m grateful for all of the bills that I have to pay. And I am grateful for all the money that comes in. So instead of thinking in such a negative mindset of I’ll never have enough and have to pay all these bills, and how am I going to afford this? I really just turned it and flipped it to something else. So really just actually changing your mindset around what you’re looking at and changing your reality is really important. That would be the biggest piece of advice is just to start to look at it differently. But what I started with was not what I eventually ended with as the way that I went about it. So my credit card debt, I attacked the very aggressively. I used a very popular method that I don’t actually really agree with anymore. And I was very aggressive. I cut a whole bunch of things out. I was working a lot of overtime. I wasn’t investing while I was saving and paying off my debt. I just was just paying off the debt. That’s all I cared about. I had $1,000 emergency fund and I thought that was enough. And then a couple of things happened and I realized I didn’t really want to live my life like that. So once I paid off the 15,000, I started saving again and I felt much better. And the little things that were inconvenient that would have been detrimental to my finances before were only just inconveniences. From there, I kind of changed my mindset around money and realized that I could make money lots of different ways. I didn’t have to work so hard. I could work smarter, I could work a weekend job and make more money. I figured how could I maximize my income before I started cutting a whole bunch of things out. I figured out what my priorities were. I looked at my core values around where do I actually want to spend my money vs. where is society telling me that I need to spend my money. I had a lot of mindset shifts. I looked at paying off my student loans a little bit differently. I wasn’t so aggressive. I picked up an easier job and I threw all of that money to debt. So really, to break it down, the three things that I did were , number one, changed my mindset and didn’t take an aggressive route. I tried to work smarter, not harder, and figure it out how I could maximize my income as a nurse. Then I figured out my core values and where I actually wanted to spend my money and didn’t cut those things for my budget. And I said, regardless of how long this is going to take, I know I’m going to pay my student loans off, but I’m not going to cut these things out. And I think that was really huge for me. And the third thing that I did was that I just released that stress and anxiety around the debt, and I actually looked at it in a different way and I said, what does this debt allow me to have and how can I stop resenting this debt that I have? Because it actually put me in a better situation. And so that was really big for me too, because instead of sitting and looking at it and being like, I need to pay this off right now because it’s so terrible and it’s the worst thing ever and debt is terrible. I really just changed my language around it. And so I think that was huge for me.
Eric Sutton [00:18:43] That’s impressive. First of all, thank you for telling us about that in such detail. It’s very clear and I think will be helpful for a lot of our listeners. It sounds like that mindset shift really helped alleviate some of the anxiety you had. And so you just were able to feel a little bit maybe lighter about it because you had a plan, which is awesome. So, Aja, we’re talking about mindsets, we’re talking about anxiety. I can’t help but think of your work as a financial therapist, and and I’d love to hear about a little more about that. And I’m sure our listeners would, too. So before I hand it over to you, I just I’ll do my best at explaining what financial therapy is, which, as far as I understand, is a process informed by the therapeutic and financial expertise that helps people think, feel and behave differently with their money – how they interact with money, and how it would consequently impact their feelings and behaviors, just like Allie demonstrated through her story. So Aja, could you talk a little more about that and maybe about, you know, what that means right now?
Aja Evans [00:20:03] Sure. I think first, Allie, your story and just the the journey that you went on for yourself and just kind of asking yourself those questions and changing your mindset and getting honest with yourself about what you wanted and how you wanted to go about achieving it to me is a beautiful example of what I’m trying to do with my clients. What I want to encourage other people to do, just in general, is to just really think about how you’re looking at your money because it is emotional, and our life experiences, whether they’re good or bad, all impact our relationship in some of our beliefs with money and ultimately how we behave with it. So taking the time to be vulnerable, if that means by yourself and just kind of asking yourself the hard questions or if it’s going to be with somebody who’s trusted in your life, a friend or family member or community member, and discussing money in general and really taking the time to look at that balance and address some of the anxiety that might be coming up. And I think to your point, Allie, when you share that story about being at the gas station, that is something that a lot of people can relate to in terms of how it feels when you are just not where you want to be financially and may not be able to afford the things that you need, right? You need the gas to get to work and how difficult that is and how you can very quickly go into anxiety, into having low self-esteem and just kind of being negative on yourself and even as much so as when you’re paying off your debt. So it’s just really important to look at what you’re feeling emotionally. How is it impacting your life? So that’s what I do as a financial therapist and just kind of encouraging people who might be having a hard time asking themselves those harder questions, to take a pause, to take a breath and just really start diving into what is the language they’re using, is it negative, what are the thoughts? How can we kind of flip the script a little bit to reframe it in a more positive way? And I think you did that so, so beautifully. I know you’re able to talk about your mindset and kind of shifting and shifting the language, but are there any emotions that you can think of that you were going through while you were on your journey to pay off your debt?
Allie Hall: Well, it didn’t help that I was following a big community of people on Instagram who are basically faceless. The debt-free community was huge when I started and people were paying all this debt off so quickly. And so it went into comparison. I’m actually now divorced and my ex-husband told me that he wouldn’t marry me if I had debt. So that also led in to my self-esteem with debt. And that was so miserable and so terrible. And I just felt so anxious and I felt so behind. And a lot of feelings came up when I got separated, like, I’m supposed to be at this point in my life when I’m this age and I just felt so behind and believed I was behind financially compared to my peers. I felt like I should have figured it out. I felt like, how did I get myself to this point? Will I ever get better? And so for me, all of those feelings were really difficult to deal with and. I think it really contributed to me paying off that first credit card debt pretty quickly because I wanted to change so badly. And I think that the biggest thing was that when I went into paying off my student loans, I was like, I don’t want to feel like this. I want to feel like I’ve already paid them off because I want this to be a good experience. And I think that really helped me save and pay off debt at the same time, because I knew that if I could do both, then I could really set myself up to be better in the future. And going from someone who couldn’t keep $100 in her bank account to someone who now has over $100,000 in net worth. I think that’s crazy and awesome. And it was a big, huge milestone for me. And it just proved to me that you can kind of get yourself out of anything and you aren’t behind and those feelings are temporary and you can shift.
Aja Evans [00:24:34] Yeah, I love that. And I’m so glad that you were able to kind of make those shifts and go through the emotions, but do so in a way that kind of motivated you and were able to see like, hey, look, I don’t have to feel this way and now look at where I’m at and I’m able to do it. Thank you for sharing that because it’s so powerful to hear. So, I think it’s important also that we acknowledge in general that we know how hard it is to talk about money and how debt seems to be taboo in and it shouldn’t be. So with your work as a coach and an educator, you’re working to change that. And you’ve talked about how important your mindset was around money. Why should nurses in particular start talking about money?
Allie Hall [00:25:25] So I think there’s a huge push right now for pay transparency, especially with everything going on in the last two years. And there’s a lot of turnover in nursing. I was just talking about this a couple of days ago to someone. In most other fields, there is a minimum amount that you will get paid for that job and it’s posted. So, you’re able to negotiate your pay. It’s common to job hop. In nursing, there’s none of that. It’s thought to be bad. The thinking is you need to stay at your job. You know, talking about money is bad. You’re not supposed to negotiate your pay. I didn’t know I was going to get paid $20 an hour until I got my offer letter. It wasn’t until I recently applied for a new job that they told me before I interviewed what I be getting paid. And it’s actually way higher market value now that we’re talking about pay transparency so much more. I live in a big area for a lot of big medical institutions. I think a lot of them are losing nurses to one in particular because they’re actually raising their a minimum for nurses. And I think what happens is in some areas where there’s only one hospital or some areas where it’s not talked about how much people get paid, it keeps the salaries down. And I think that’s what’s happened in nursing for so long is that we just don’t talk about it and we’re taught not to. It’s a mostly women dominated profession and we’re all taught that it’s rude to talk about money. And so I think there’s this big shift right now in nursing that we need to be more transparent and nurses need to use their voices to advocate for what they’re worth because we do do a very difficult job and most of us are not paid, what we should be getting paid. So, that’s why I think it’s so important.
Aja Evans [00:27:18] Yeah, definitely. And to your point, the last two years have been incredibly difficult, particularly for health care professionals. With everything happening with COVID-19 and the public health crisis based on Laurel Road surveys, we know that 72% of Americans under 40 say managing their finances is a strain on their mental health. And the majority of them also said that the stress would be alleviated by more education around financial wellness. So what’s one thing health care professionals might be able to do to work smarter, not harder, as you were talking about in your story and to keep from feeling burnt out.
Allie Hall [00:27:58] So I think the first thing is really advocating for a higher pay and advocating for getting paid your worth. And that starts with being able to negotiate, knowing what jobs are paying, asking the questions. Realize that you’re not stuck in one job and advocate for those higher paying jobs. And number two is really putting yourself in a position to, since you are making more money, to use that money so that you don’t have to work overtime. And that would mean paying off your debt. It would mean you set yourself up with the retirement accounts, get yourself into a high interest savings account, save that emergency fund, all of those things that will really give yourself the peace of mind and give yourself the freedom and the flexibility to work as little as you want to. Because we work hard and I feel like a lot of people, instead of seeing their finances as self care, they look at it as, “oh well, I work really hard, so I’m going to go buy myself that pair of shoes or I’m going to go buy myself this vacation.” Whereas if you just spent a couple of minutes or even 10% of your income investing and putt it into savings and all of that, then you would actually have more peace of mind and feel better self care by doing that than taking a trip or buying those shoes.
Aja Evans [00:29:34] Thank you so much, Allie. This has been amazing and hearing your story and just taking us on your journey of where you were at and then how you got to where you’re at now, I really appreciated listening. You have given so many great insights and ideas on how to tackle the financial challenges that come up for nurses. So thank you.
Eric Sutton [00:29:57] Thank you so much for talking with us today. As a closing thought. I feel like we’re all on the same page after our discussion that nurses deserve better and they need more when it comes to financial literacy. Aja and Allie, you’re both working on solving that through your your coaching and your other efforts. And Laurel Road, as we mentioned, is working to solve some of that through our new financial literacy hub and other solutions for nurses. But Allie, I’m curious to hear, what do you think employers such as hospitals, for example, could do to help nurses in this area?
Allie Hall [00:30:40] One, like we talked about, offering better wages and then offering support for financial resources. So whether that is some sort of financial education, explaining their benefits more appropriately and then really taking that off of the employee because the employee has to take time to actually know to ask those questions. So I think it’s a twofold answer.
Eric Sutton [00:31:05] Yep, that makes a lot of sense. Proactive financial assistance. Sounds like it would be really helpful for for everyone, not just nurses. That sounds like something hospitals could do to help nurses on their own financial journeys. So thank you so much, Allie. And thank you, everyone, for listening today. Next month, we’re going to have a new episode that focuses on advice for medical residents. And we’ll be discussing financial tips from our guests, Dr. Sanjay Juneja and Dr. Chirag Shah. And we’ll hear all about what they wish they had known during residency. Thank you again for joining us. It’s been amazing having you on the show.
Allie Hall [00:31:49] Thank you so much and thanks for having me.
Disclosures [00:31:52] Any opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in this podcast are those of the participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of Laurel Road. In providing this information, neither Laurel Road, nor KeyBank, nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering any tax, financial, accounting, or legal advice. Our guests, Nurse Allie Hall and Financial Therapist Aja Evans, have promoted Laurel Road and have received compensation for their time. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank and a Member FDIC, and Equal Housing Lender. NMLS number 399797.