Allie Hall is a nurse and founder of The Debt Free Nurse. After struggling with student loan debt, and working overtime to pay her bills, Allie became burned out. She began sharing her journey online as she explored debt management. Nurses paid attention as she paid off $46,000 of student loan debt in 18 months. Today Allie teaches nurses how to earn more, debt less, and change their relationship with money – all without sacrificing the things they truly enjoy.
Tribal Health talked to her about her experiences and her advice for nurses.
Allie, how did you get started on your financial journey?
Around 2016 or 2017, I shared on my personal Instagram about my student loans and how I really wanted to pay them off. Influencing wasn’t really a thing at the time. There weren’t many personal finance influencers or nurses talking about paying down their debt, just Dave Ramsey and the debt free community. Their advice was mostly “do this, do that.”
I read a few self-development books and it changed my relationship with money. So I gravitated away from the debt-free community but still kept sharing my financial goals: “this is what my debt is and how I’m paying it down.” I would take screenshots as I paid down my student loans.
That was in 2017 – and I paid off my student loan debt in 2019. So it was two years of me sharing this journey of paying down $46,000 in 18 months.
My friends kept saying, “Thank you for talking about money, I feel so overwhelmed.” Me just being vulnerable and sharing my story, and the different ways I was making income as a nurse – that really resonated with people.
How did you take that to the next level?
I had a friend who was a business coach. She said, “I think you have something here. Not a lot of people are doing this. You should teach a course or do 1:1 coaching.”
So I was doing budget and debt pay-off plans templates for people. On Zoom calls, I’d ask them, “Do you know what you make? What are your goals? How do you want to get there? How much debt do you have? What is your budget?” I got a lot of responses. My social community grew and a couple of people who were big in the nursing community got involved.
So I created the course I now have online and it goes over the financial education I wish I would have gotten. That includes the habits and the mindset. You can get all the education you want but if you don’t change your habits or address your trauma around money, nothing will change.
I don’t know if this is too personal, but were you influenced by any messages about money that you heard growing up?
Nothing is too personal! I love talking about this stuff. When I first started, my parents felt attacked – but it wasn’t even necessarily about stuff they told me as much as what society told me.
My parents got divorced when I was 13. My dad made the most of the money but he was gone most of the time. He would buy things for love. So, I had a weird relationship with buying and love. I remember asking how much my dad made when I was 6 or 7 years old and everyone said, “You can’t ask that, it’s rude!” There was a taboo around talking about money.
My mom quit nursing when my sister was little but went back to nursing when my parents divorced. We were living in a hotel room for a while. Watching my mom go through all that, I had a weird relationship with money too.
I got a scholarship to a private high school in Southern California. I think it’s $20,000 – $30,000 a year now. I was surrounded by people with a lot of money – and my family didn’t have money. So I had a weird relationship with designer items and went into a lot of credit card debt because I thought I needed those things to be accepted.
Then after getting divorced, I had a lot of blockages and stories around divorce and being financially ruined after divorce.
So there was a lot to sort out when I started all this. Am I buying things because I value them? What actually makes me happy? As a kid – I wanted what looked expensive. I had to get out of that mindset, especially now with the push of consumerism and overconsumption. I asked myself how I could align my spending with my values because in the past I wouldn’t. I had to scale back.
What are some money issues for nurses and other healthcare professionals?
As a nurse, I thought I’d be making all this money and I really wasn’t. I felt like I was drowning. I thought I’d be richer if I got married but I was better off financially on my own, doing my own thing.
I think salary transparency is great – and in a female-dominated profession, I think talking about money is huge. For instance, when I moved to North Carolina, I didn’t know they start nurses at $21/hour, which is what I made as a nurses’ aide in California. If I knew the pay and the breakdown and taxes, I might not have taken the job.
With pay transparency, people have more options. Should I take this job or find one that makes more money? Overall, I think the nursing profession is moving in the right direction.
What are some common mistakes or spending/saving issues?
One is not knowing your actual salary breakdown. When I was a nurse, I thought I’d make all this money and I could afford this fancy apartment that was over half my salary and then I couldn’t pay my bills. So, I signed a contract for 4 shifts a week. I was burned out at the end of my first year. By the third year, I didn’t want to be a nurse anymore.
There’s a lack of connection between graduating nursing school and getting a job. There can be a lack of understanding about what your paycheck looks like and how to create a budget and how to save a certain amount of money.
I think a lot of nurses are ill informed. Often they think they’ll have a big lifestyle shift when they become a nurse and they don’t save or start a retirement account. Then they’re depending on overtime to pick up more shifts and they’re not even able to live off their income.
Do you have any advice and recommendations do you have for nurses?
Financial education in nursing school – a course or something – would be helpful. Paying nurses fairly and being educated on money helps. Nurses should have an emergency fund where they’re making money and a high interest savings account, instead of leaving it in a regular account.
And they should understand what it means to have a retirement fund or invest your money. How to utilize resources. Nurses like to be experts so they don’t always search out other experts! When I got separated, I wanted to set myself up for retirement. I called and asked my company, “What am I investing in? This is where I want to be in X years, what should that look like now?”
And stop relying on overtime to buy things. A lot of nurse influencers and travel nurses are out there, emphasizing, “I take all these vacations. I buy all this stuff.” But what would be great is, “I work only 3 days a week and my money is working for me and if I quit, I’d be in a great situation instead of being at the mercy of the hospital in a job I hate. I don’t have to stay just because I need the money.”
Getting divorced opened my eyes to women not being in a good situation and depending on partner to manage finances. You have to be prepared for everything.
Nursing school student debt can pile up. Do you have any tips for paying it down?
I paid down my credit card debt first, because of the higher interest rates. Student loans had lower interest rates. When you have so many debts, you pay a lot of minimum payments. So I addressed those first and then paid down student loans.
Find other ways to make money without working extra. Get more money for what you’re already doing. I gave up weekends for 2 years and got paid for 3 shifts and only worked 2. I did respite care, which was paid in cash, and I threw all of that money at my loans because I could live off the 2 shifts a week. It was a low stress job I could do 2 days a week, 40 hours a month, with an extra $1000 for my student loans. Sometimes I’d pick up a shift in the middle of the week. So I was working full time hours but making more money.
It also helps to make bi-weekly payments or 13 full payments a year instead of monthly payments. It cuts the amount of interest you pay over the life of a loan. Even just making an extra payment every now and then helps.
I didn’t sacrifice everything – my slogan is Saving without Sacrifice. I kept things I enjoyed doing but cut out the rest. I didn’t buy the newest tech and I didn’t eat out a lot – just occasionally. I cut things out I didn’t value. A lot of it was figuring out financial priorities and what I would spend and what I would set aside.
It’s like a diet. If you’re too strict and cut out a lot, it’s not sustainable. Even if I paid off my loans a little slower, I didn’t want a quick fix. That often doesn’t work. You need to keep some things.
So many nurses say, “I made so much money last year and I don’t know where it went.” Others have stressed the importance of stockpiling a “freedom fund” for if/when burnout strikes. How can nurses do a better job saving what they earn?
My biggest tip is to pay yourself first (save first) so choose a percent and save that! Also know where your money is going so money doesn’t just disappear from your account. Savings automation is the easiest way to do it. Put that money in an account that you can’t see every day.