10 lessons Learned From Paying Off $33,555 Of Student Loan and Other Debt In Less Than 3 Years Earning Just Above Minimum Wage
Debt is a pain in the ass, and if your in it you’re told to deal with it. If your not then you scream for others to get out of it. The truth is you don’t have to stay in debt, but you and only you can decide to get out.
Update April 15th 2018: It has now been 2 years and 11 months since I committed to paying off ALL my student loan and credit card debt. And I’ll be honest, it has not been easy, it has been a long and difficult journey getting here, but it’s been ABSOLUTELY worth it. Knowing, that if something were to happen to me tomorrow, my family wouldn’t have to carry the dead weight of my debt on their shoulders has been a HUGE relief and proverbial “monkey” off my back. It’s a great feeling.
Ok, If you’re like me, you never saw yourself getting into debt in life, it just “happens” right? Wrong. Debt doesn’t just happen, we will it to happen. For me, it was like quick sand, one minute I’m fine and managing to stay above it all, and the next minute I’m up to my eye balls in itand suffocating me. If you’re there right now, I want to assure you, there is a way out.
In the next few dozen sentences I’m going to share with you the 10 things you and I didn’t learn in school about money, debt, and investing, and how I used these strategies and tactics to pay off $29,555 of student loan debt and over $4,000 in credit card debt in less than 3 years while earning just above minimum wage.
Total student loan debt was at it’s highest of $29,555!!!
Here are screen shots of my credit card debts.
The credit card I got right out of college was at a 7.99% interest rate and I ended up spending $4,023 on it.
This being said, it’s better to avoid buying on credit when you don’t have the money to repay it immediately. Don’t listen to people who tell you that it will ‘free up capital’. Unless that expense will earn you money then it won’t free up any capital for you, only for your creditors…
Lesson 1: Avoid the Debt Trap…
If you never get into debt in the first place then you don’t have to worry about fighting off debt. It’s one of the easiest ways to get rid of debt, just avoid it. And you may be thinking to yourself “well how am I supposed to avoid getting into debt if I need the money now?”. The same way our ancestors did it way back in the the 1950’s, they SAVED FOR THINGS!
If I had that advice when I was first getting out of high school I wouldn’t have gone to that fancy college or spent my summers traveling on borrowed money, I would have WORKED. That’s right, worked. I would have gotten a job right out of highschool earning $45,000 a year (instead of -$5,000 a year at college) and learn a valuable skill. Sales.
If I hadn’t gone to college and instead pursued a degree in L.I.F.E. I probably would have learned some of these harder lessons sooner, like not leasing a car without an established business, or how to invest my money for growth, not using credit cards to live off of, or how to save my excess income. Who knows how far along I would be if I had someone like me telling me about all their experiences and mistakes along the way.
The advantage you have is that, if you’re reading this and you haven’t yet fallen into the sales pitch, ehem*, mindset that school is the only way to get further in life, then you are lucky. Take opportunity for what it is and learn to recognize when there is opportunity. Because it is everywhere.
So if you are still interested in going to college and getting a degree (I’m all for learning, but you don’t NEED school to learn) then by all means, but instead of learning on borrowed money find scholarships, grants, or even just work your way through school. No one cares if you have a 3.4 or a 4.0 in your major, if you showed that you can work during school, didn’t go into debt to get out, and are able to competently do your work and it’s GREAT work, then you WILL be hired by someone. Eventually. But Do not think that going to school is your golden ticket to endless money and fun in life or even that it is the safest bet for income, because quite honestly it’s not.
If you want a safe job then go into the military or work for the government, and invest every single extra penny into stock and bond indexes, you will become a millionaire by the time you are 35 if you start when you’re 18 and if you are older than that you can still become a millionaire AND you’ll have a pension.
But if you are utterly disinterested in that, then instead pursue what you ARE interested in and WORK your way through school, or even better get funded.
The less you have when you graduate the faster you can become a millionaire… And yes, it is possible to become a millionaire even on the most modest salaries. If you don’t believe me then you need to read Andrew Hallam’s book The Millionaire Teacher and check out his website http://andrewhallam.com. There are absolutely no excuses why you can’t do what he does but you have to start now.
Lesson 2: You Absolutely Need to Build a Budget…
Budget does not = starving. Budgets are how you plan your money. When I wasn’t planning my money I was broke, in debt, drinking away my problems on the weekend, desperately seeking a way out. When I started planning my money, I was on a mission, a mission to destroy my debt and become FREE. Now, just 3 short years later I AM FREE and it’s a breath of fresh air to say that.
“A Fool And His Money Are Soon Parted”
– Someone 460 years ago-
One of the most important things is knowing what is happening with your money. Know where it is going and where you are directing it.
“If you don’t know where your money is going then you won’t know where your money went”
Once I started making a budget each month, I soon saw areas where I could cut spending and re-invest the savings into faster repayment of my loans (which meant more money in the future because of the simple fact that money is worth more now only when it is not growing in the future at a constant rate). This accelerated the payback process and caused the repayment to begin to compound on itself, thus snowballing.
Just like ripping off a bandaid feels less painful when you rip it off fast, so does debt. And you can literally save yourself thousands of dollars not just in interest but in regained investing growth by paying off your debt even 3 years sooner.
To find out how much your debt is costing you plug in your debt amount, interest rate and monthly contribution (the amount you pay each month) into the following calculator: http://www.calculator.net/student-loan-calculator.html
Here’s what mine looked like:
By paying an extra $1000 a month towards my debt I could have had my debt paid off in just 1 year and 4 months, thus saving $5470 in interest, when invested for 25 years in the stock market ends up being over $55,354 in just 25 years.
Thats a brand new MERCADES!
So what this teaches us is that the sooner that we can get our debt paid off the better.
Use these loan calculators to find out how much you could be saving when paying extra on your student loans (taking the difference of what you would pay over your term and the amount of interest you pay if you pay early).
Who knows, you could afford to buy yourself a new mercades in retirement or even by a home with all the money you save paying off your student loans early.
Lesson 3: The Best Way To Start is to Start
Well, most people just start out with a pen and paper, and then move into writing using excel to track their income and expenses. I ended up using money aggrigators to check my accounts, like mint.com or personalcapital.com, and honestly they did little more than tell me how broke I was at the end of each month.
Eventually I heard about budgeting software like youneedabudget.com, from Phil over at theartoffinance.com (check his site out when you get a chance he has some real good knowledge to drop on you about being a starving artist and not having to literally starve) and once I started using youneedabudget I was in the fast lane.
I was able to pay as much as $3,900 in a single month, using bonuses and overtime pay, and was able to shorten my repayment cycle YEARS using this program. Which if you’ve been following me thus far can be the difference of buying or not buying that dream car you’ve always wanted…
If you don’t already have a foundation in budgeting then just start with writing down all you expenses and your income each month. Here’s a template that I used for the first year of repaying back my debt and getting my finances under control.
Any extra money that you haven’t allocated to groceries, rent, gas or insurance you can direct towards your loan and debt repayment. You don’t need new clothes every month, you don’t need new shoes, or to eat out every day or even week for that matter. In all honesty, as I talk about in 10 Reasons You Need to GET THE HELL Out Of Debt!, there are a lot of things that we as Americans “think” we need but really just WANT. Don’t let your wants rob you of your investments and your future.
Now more on the ‘HOW’, the goal is to pay off the highest interest rate 1st, then roll the excess of that payment (don’t reduce how much you are paying) into your next highest loan until all your loans are paid off. The faster you do this the sooner you will begin investing and the more money you will make in the long run.
Here’s a screen shot of how compound interest works (investing over the long run).
It doesn’t matter when you start, the important thing is to start. And the sooner you pay off all your debt the sooner you will begin to invest for wealth.
Lesson 4: Get An Emergency Fund Together TODAY:
Save at Least $1000 and Then NEVER Spend It!
This is called an emergency fund and you absolutely need one. It’s not there just to make you feel comfortable, it’s there to come between you and emergencies!
Things that you will not be using it for include: buying new clothes, new tires for the car, or a bunch of crap to clutter up your house.
This is a brick wall protecting you from catastrophy, like a storm wall, once it’s up it will be there for years and you don’t have to do anything to it except not touch it.
You won’t have to add money to it, to protect it, to water it, to re-plaster it. It just sits there, and you do nothing with it.
Once you have your Emergency fund up you will be able to rest easy each month and know that your budget can be balanced at $0 and you will still have money set aside for true emergencies (unforeseen medical expenses, your car motor goes, you lose your job, etc).
Lesson 5: Living With A Room Mate Isn’t Just For College Kids
All 4 years of college I had a room mate, even when I was in Hong Kong. I moved back home to live with my dad while I figured out how to earn a good income, eventually starting my own business, and that saved me tons of money on rental payments and house payments.
My advice to anyone not starting out with a trust fund and a hearty investment account out the gate is to rent the lowest cost apartment you can. Avoid places that are older than 20 years, and avoid bad neighborhoods with lots of police reports. You don’t want to put yourself in danger just to payback your loans. And definitely inspect the place for roaches…I’ve had that before and they are a pain to get rid of…
Keep utilities use to a minimum by showering at your company gym and building a fire in the winter and layer your bed with warm blankets you bought at the local thrift store. Which leads me to my next point…
Lesson 6: One Person’s Old Shirt Is Another Persons $123,764.05 In Savings
It boggles my mind how much people actually spend in clothes each and every year. I see some of my college friends getting new clothes every month and spending as much as $300 each time. By not spending that money on new clothes it’s amazing how much one can save.
If we took even a modest spending of say $100 a month on new shirts, pants, shoes and suits and instead invested that in repaying of our debt, or heck even better, investing in the stock market with index funds we would see amazing results.
Knowing this principle I didn’t buy new clothes for the first 4 years out of college. I bought a suit once for a friends wedding and a belt from Nordstrom’s Rack. And even then I felt like I over spent money on something I didn’t need.
My philosophy was, If I don’t need it for work and I don’t need it to live then I don’t spend money on it. And if I did need clothes I first looked at local thrift shops and second hand stores to find what I needed. If I still couldn’t find what I needed then I would shop at a nearby budget store like Walmart or target (when they have coupons or sales).
I also read and studied minimalism and learned that by having fewer choices, a 3 pack of black t shirts and white t-shirts, 2 Pairs of shoes (a pair of brown leather dress shoes, and a pair of black Nikes), and just 2 pairs of Jeans I was actually happier, less stressed and had less decision fatigue in the early morning chosing what I wanted to wear for the day.
Of course I had workout clothes but all together I own maybe 10 shirts and 4 pairs of pants, along with 12 pairs of socks and 5-7 pairs of underwear.
Lesson 7: Reduce your Auto Expense And Save Yourself A $97,816.58 Headache…
First off, whatever you do DO NOT LEASE A VEHICLE OUT OF COLLEGE.
I learned the hard way that it is the worst idea for a recent college grade and was given bad advice.
Thankfully I got out of it, only after it cost me $3,900 to sell it and eat the loss, but it taught me a valuable lesson. If you don’t have the cash to buy the car then you shouldn’t lease it either.
So selling your expensive car or lease and getting a used Japanese car will save you thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars in the long run.
Here’s what I would have ended up paying for a 2015 Mazda 3 hatch back lease over the course of 3 years:
Now that’s a LOT of money for a recent college grad who is making MAYBE $45,000 a year… I know I wasn’t. So for that guy to sell me that lease, shame on him, but he does have to feed his family. So knowing this if you still go down that path shame on you…
And this mistake cost me nearly $100k in savings over the next 25 years…
Now, I invest in vehicles in a totally differet way.
After reading Andrew Hallam’s book, The millionaire Teacher, I learned that buying a used car CASH is the safest way to lessen the blow of depriciation and to not get stuck with a rediculous car payment like my former lease.
Oh and if you are stuck with a stinker like I was get out as quickly as you can, sell the car new and pay off the lease and then take your losses and run!!
I used a service called Beepi, who coincidently also went bankrupt as I was about to be with my stupid lease, to sell my car and get out from a payment costing me more than my student loans each month.
Now, I look for cars following the criteria that I lay out in How To Actually Make Money On Your Next Quality Used Car Buy: 7 Things To Know Before You Buy. If you follow those guidelines BEFORE you pickup your next used car you could avoid my mistake and safe yourself literally THOUSANDS of dollars like I illustrated above.
But Kristian I don’t have $3,000 saved up to get a decent used car…
Well don’t you think it’s time to start saving then? Only kidding. I get it.
Even if you live in the United States though, which has some of the worst public transit systems in the ENTIRE WORLD, and I should know I’ve been to every major city in the United States and seen all of the shitty systems for myself, for a first world country. Even then, it is still possible to minimize your transit expenses and maximize savings to help pay off debt or start investing.
Get a bike
You can invest in a good used bike with a solid chain with minimal wear from a retail store, thrift store, or even at a garage sale. I got mine as a hand me down bike from my mom’s old cyclocross days and I’ve seen at least a dozen good condition bikes at the thrift stores that I’ve patronized in the past 4 years.
You don’t have to do this but I chose to ride it everyday to work on any day when it’s above 32 Fahrenheit (if you live in colder climate I am not advising that you follow suit, but you can still afford to ride the bus no matter where you are).
Find a Carpool or Ride Share with a Friend
Alternatively you can ride share with a room mate, co-worker, or even your significant other in order to save for a decent used car or to just simply save money. Check with your employer to see if they have a ride share network or offer a local bus pickup option near your work.
Remember, you are doing this temporarily to get yourself to another level, this is not forever.
Lesson 8: Create a List When Shopping…
One of the best ways to cut down your food costs is to set a monthly spending budget and to stick to it. And one of the best ways to avoid over spending is to make a list, check it twice, then go to the store and shop. And if you’re hungry you will end up buying more food than if you have a snack before you go. Don’t believe me? It’s science… Check it
According to this study, by researcher Allison Jing Xu of University Of Minnesota, “Xu and her team ran a series of five behavioral experiments that included a total of 379 people…when it came to their desire to actually acquire these items, hungry people wanted to get significantly more of both the food and the non-food items than their better-fed peers…” https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/hunger-makes-you-buy-more-stuff-even-if-its-not-food-180954345/.
Knowing this, when I first started out budgeting I chose to set aside a nominal $183 personal shopping budget for groceries. What I would do prior to going to the grocery store, is write down a list of everything that I need for the week and shop only once per week. A practice that I picked up from reading The Millionaire Next Door By Thomas J. Stanley.
This exercise forces us to stick to what we need and not what we want in the moment. I’d would also recommend eating something before going to the grocery store. Hungry shopping makes for bigger grocery bills.
Writing down a list of items you need in the grocery store will also help you to save time while shopping, or you can try having a personal shopper do the shopping for you once you have eliminated debt and you have more valuable ways of spending your time (aka you make more money per hour doing that higher value activity than it costs you to pay someone to do your shopping).
Lesson 9: Make Yourself Employable…
Get a hair cut, say yes sir, yes ma’am and smile when you’re at work actually get your job done. They are paying you to accomplish your work, not sit there.
If you were hiring someone to get a painting job done or to finish the roof on your house would you want to see them sitting around doing nothing or rather trying to accomplish the work as quickly as possible, safely?
Do a good job and you will be rewarded with dividends.
I worked some really crappy jobs in and out of college.
I’ve been a waiter, a burger flipper, scrubbed toilets, flown a desk for a number of years, sold home appliances on the road, sold advertising over the phone to people who slam the phone on you, and I’ve worked door to door sales driving all over town.
The thing that hasn’t changed in any of these roles is the fact that people pay you when they receive value. If you do a good job in those roles and you deliver real results, consistently, you WILL be noticed and you WILL be given more responsibility.
Having your budget set and your investing in alignment will mean that you will eventually not need to work any of those jobs, unless you truly enjoy them, but for now we MUST work a job to reach our financial goals.
Or, find another way of bringing value such as starting your own business.
Which leads me to my next point…
Lesson 10: Why Not Start Your Own Business?
This is never as easy as bloggers and online advertising makes it seem; however, it is totally possible to start your own business and change your financial future.
The biggest advice I can give you is don’t listen to big ticket courses or fancy talk about being able to own a business where you don’t have to do any work. This is a sleazy sale technique that marketers with no scruples will try and use to get you to buy their overpriced courses.
The truth is, you have to have some sort of valuable skill or process that can be sold or marketed. House cleaning, is a skill which can be sold and marketed.
Writing valuable sales copy is a skill, which can be sold or marketed.
Analytics. Accounting. Contracting. Writing. These are all skills. Heck, teaching is a skill as well.
Some of the best advice I have every gotten on the subject of “where to start” was to start where you have knowledge. If you’re a nanny, start with that, focus on writing, educating, and training other people on how to be a better nanny.
If you are a 16 year old kid with a lawn mower, why not start there? If you’ve been keeping the books for a big company 9-5 why not then start keeping the books for some of your family or local businesses around town who could use some help on the weekends.
If you are offering a valuable service that people need and are willing to pay for then they will beat a path to your door. Start by simply telling people about what you do. Post your occupation on facebook and reach out to your network and let them know that you are starting a business in X.
I wouldn’t go for MLM’s unless you really want to learn sales and marketing and you are comfortable with a high turnover sales force that you have to constantly be training.
Dave Ramsey goes over a lot more of these concepts in his best selling book “EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches”
Start a blog…
Something like this where you can share with other people what you know, refer a few products to your readers and earn a little affiliate commission each month.You can start out with a free service like Blogger.com, WordPress.com, or even Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest or Tumblr.
If you are ready to commit to starting, and running a blog full time, then you can head over to Blue Host, Host Gator, Name Cheap or GoDaddy and setup a Domain name and WordPress managed site that will host all your content.
The benefit to having your own managed site is that you can start marketing and advertising from day one, rather than having WordPress ads on your site or the branding of the blog host on your site (usually found at the bottom of the page). This option is good if you have an existing business that you wish to transition online from day one.
If you are brand new to running your own business, don’t have a lot of working capital to invest, or aren’t sure where to start, consider setting up a free WordPress or blog and just start writing and sharing content. Be sure to link to your other social media and don’t have expectations of replacing your income in year one.
Point is, this doesn’t require a sizable investment of $300+ and you are only required to put in the time and work. I know many people earning a couple hundred dollars each month from their blogs and a few that are making a full time income ($40 – 70k a year) from their blog or site who started virtually free
You don’t need $10,000+ dollars to invest anymore to start an online business. You just need to constantly be learning and growing, and if you are starting with little capital to invest then you must put in sweat equity.
If you don’t have experience in SEO (optimizing how your site comes up in the search engines), web design, or online marketing then you can either buy a bunch of courses or look for something all in one like what SBI offers. For anyone who is looking for a crash course in how to design websites that earn you an income, not just pretty sites that don’t work, I suggest taking the SBI course. The goal with SBI is to get a profitable site up that provides value to your customers and the search engines (such as google) rank extremely high.
A good example is raw-food-health.net. Andrew Perlot started as a journalist who also enjoyed raw foods and who’s health benefitted greatly from taking on a raw food diet. Andrew’s site is now one of the top ranking authorities on raw food and health.
If you are serious about starting an online business then SBI is a very good course for your to learn everything you need all for one low price. (insert affiliate link).
Leverage Affiliate Marketing To Earn Residual Income…
The one component that you will need to have in order to make a website work and make a small to very large income, is some type of offer. You will need to offer something of value that your readers can buy. This can come in the form of your own products, affiliate products that you market for others, or even trainings and content that you sell.
One of the quickest ways to begin earning an income online from a site, blog or any other marketing medium (facebook, email, text, blog) is to sign up for free affiliate marketing programs that pay a commission upon referral. The important thing here is to make sure that your offers align with your audience.
In otherwords, know your audience. Avoid marketing sewing machines to people reading your article on personal finance unless you know that your audience is mostly people who enjoy sewing machines. Instead, try writing a site about sewin as a hobby and then marketing that low, medium, and premium sewing machine to those customers. If you imagine your site or your online presence like a store, a physical store, what type of a store is it? An arts and crafts store? A Thrift store? An electronics store? Sports and out doors?
If your customer walked into your sports and outdoor store and found cooking supplies for their home kitchen do you think they would be inclined to buy? Probably not. If they walked into a CPA firm trying to get their taxes for their business done would they want to know about sporting goods? No.
So be mindful of who is reading your content, aka what you are writing towards, and then offer them goods and services in alignment with that content. Likewise if you have an online store (such as Shopify or wix commerce) and you sell motorcycle helmets then write content for that audience that applies to the goods you are selling and the sport that you are catering to. Your audience is motorcyclist, not stay at home moms. Do some of them ride motorcycles? Sure! It’s possible, but do MOST of them? No.
So keep it relevant for your audience.
Now, If you aren’t aware of affiliate programs and what they pay out then just simply do a google search for “affiliate program ________” and you should land a few good ones.
Here are just a couple programs out there that you can get started with today:
Amazon Associates – https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/home
Rakuten – https://www.rakuten.com/
Commission junction – http://www.cj.com/
Turn Pennys Into Hundred Dollar Bills Garage Sale-in’…
This is one of my favorites. You can easily get on eBay and Amazon by setting up a free account and start using their FREE seller apps right now to make money selling things you find around your home, at local garage sales, estate sales, book stores and even your friends house (if they want to sell it) for money, sometimes big money.
Here’s a screen shot of one of my accounts and the profit that I made on just 4 items my girlfriend and I found garage sale-in’:
As you can see, you can start with very little upfront capital and start earning income on the side, this weekend, scanning and sending in games, books, dvd’s, even gently used electronics (old tv’s with a vcr sell best), and open boxed toys that just need to be resealed.
If you aren’t sure where to start, just start with books, and if you’re still lost then check out the proven book sourcing course at provenbooksourcing.com. It’s a very simple but effective course that teaches you everything you need to know how to buy books and flip them on amazon and ebay for a very good profit. By the end of the course you will be able to profitably scan books and flip them online for a very decent profit.
Most other items you find at garage sales and estate sales can be resold in new condition. If the box was opened and the item was never been opened then you can take that home, reseal the box and send it in to Amazon to sell it, usuallyfor a great profit.
For a complete A-Z guide of how to sell online check out the Proven Amazon Course.
Learning to sell online will require you to learn a bit more about how to actually evaluate certain things, but start out with something you know. I started with used electronics (televisions, VCR’s, video games, etc) and books. I’ve found used iPhone’s at garage sales for $10 and sold them online for hundreds of dollars. I’ve also bought used stereo equipment for less than $50 once and it sold for over $500.
One of the best resources I know of for online selling is Seth Kniep’s youtube channel, as of this writing he steps you fully how to source and sell for private label online and even gives you access to a free tools called Amazeowl which is a compete product research tool in one. It’s what I use and it’s what I recommend any newbie start out with.
Once you start making about $500 a month from your business then I would look at investing in a coach or in a program but don’t do that until you are profiting at least $2000 total.
Using these strategies I was able to pay off $33,555 in student loan debt and credit card debt even though my rent rate went up, my job income started at only $10 bucks an hour and I was $33,555 in debt.
If I can do it, so can you. And you have the advantage of learning from my mistakes too.
I hope that some of these strategies truly help you and that you find them to be profitable and beneficial for your financial life. For some of us the pathway to financial freedom is a short one that is a fairly easy path to walk, for others (myself included) it’s a multiyear process with some bumps along the way and some bruises.
If you are down on your luck right now or struggling with the process then know that you are not alone. There is help. You just have to know where to reach out to get it. I’ve included some resources in the “resource tab” of the site if you are struggling with getting your finances straight or are struggling in life in particular.