Making sacrifices: A veteran prioritizes higher education

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What do accountants, students, firefighters, teachers and veterans all have in common? You guessed it: financial stress.

On Veterans Day, we look to recognize the courageous heroes who have sacrificed to help protect our country. Unfortunately, however, serving in the military doesn’t exempt you from the everyday struggles of spending money wisely and budgeting properly. Melissa Early, a military veteran who currently resides in Virginia, knows this well. Grim thoughts of student loan debt had put Melissa’s higher-education plans on hold, but after realizing time was ticking, she decided to manage her finances more carefully in order to begin pursuing her degree.

The next line of duty

Melissa joined the military a few weeks after graduating high school and received an honorable discharge in May 2002. She began fulfilling some of her other dreams shortly afterwards, such as starting a family and beginning a career in the banking industry. In fact, today, the mother of two has worked her way up to First Vice President, Enterprise Inclusion Consultant for Culture Enablement at SunTrust.

Once her children were older, Melissa knew going back to school was more possible than ever before. So what made her hesitate? Unfortunately, her post-9/11 education benefits were coming to an end, leaving Melissa with a great deal of financial stress and an urge to give up on her dream of earning a degree. “I was not in a place financially where I could afford tuition. I was trying to reduce my debt and did not want to take out a student loan.”

New types of sacrifices

In order to stop her goal from slipping away, Melissa started doing what a military veteran does best: making sacrifices. Instead of purchasing a new car, Melissa chooses to drive an older, completely paid-off vehicle with visible wear and tear on it. This sacrifice makes affording her own education and saving up for her children’s college funds that much easier. “I receive occasional grief from my friends, but I am not worried about what people think of the car I drive. It’s only temporary.”

Melissa has also sacrificed her cable by switching to Netflix to help save even more on a monthly basis. She eliminated her house phone and cut out eating at restaurants whenever she exceeds her weekly grocery budget. “Each change was so that I could reallocate that money to areas that were more important to me, like saving for the future and paying for school.” Little by little, each sacrifice has helped eliminate some of the stress that comes with paying for a degree.

A path to freedom

Freedom. That’s the word Melissa uses to sum up her overall journey from financial stress to confidence. “Financial stress can take a toll both physically and emotionally. The whole family can feel the stress, which adds even more stress. Finding freedom from financial strains offers relief in so many areas.”

What’s next for this brave veteran? Melissa hopes to attain her bachelor’s in business management and continue adding value at SunTrust. Most importantly, however, Melissa wants to keep setting positive examples for her children and continue teaching them the importance of financial mindfulness.

Thank you to all of our veterans. Our country is better because of your bravery, courage and sacrifice.

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