4 Things I learned While Crushing $148k of Debt

5 min read

A little background about my debt

I got out of grad-school in 2012 with a degree in healthcare. At that point, I had absolutely zero concept of personal finance, debt or investing.

The Debt Setup

My next first steps in life were simple and already laid out for me. All my peers were also going the same direction:

Buy a nice new car!

Buy a new house!

-Society

Yep yep! Well-deserved graduation gifts, right?!

But what about the $125,000 of student loan debt?

Oh whatever dude! Get off my shit. Haven’t you heard? Student debt is GOOD debt. Bro, I’m gonna make 6 figures right out of school. I totally got this, bro. I’m just going to pay the minimum every month and I’ll be alright.

I have a lot more self-quotes like this one.

First, I bought a new car (for a relative) for $17k. I didn’t even have a job secured yet and the dealership finance department approved me with minimal down payment!

Second, I opened another credit card and tacked on another $6k mix of clothes/shoes/electronics for good measure.

F*** yeah I can buy whatever I want. Feel the powaaaaahhhhh!!!

Yup, I now owed 125k + 10k unpaid interest + 17k + $6k = $148k.
Throwing money down at the Guacamole Debt
Raise your hand if you’ll do ANYTHING for Chipotle!

Next, I entered the workforce, and *for some subconscious reason* started building a 6-month emergency fund.

Well, shit dude, you never know…

A hint of common sense after-all.

The Wake-Up Call of Debt

I randomly logged into my loan servicer account one day of Spring 2013 to find this:

Student Loan Debt Total: 125k + interest!
125k total. That’s not counting unpaid interest! Look at that 6.8% too!

Then it suddenly hit me like a freight train:

When is this debt shit going to end? I’m barely making a f****** dent in this thing.

Maybe I can declare bankruptcy? Not pay???!!!

Nope and nope. Student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. So Chapter 7 ain’t an option, and Uncle Sam can actually come for your wages when you don’t pay.

And if I kept paying the minimum on everything, I calculated that I’d be debt-free in…12 years.

12 years…

Then my work situation started becoming unstable. If I lost my job I would be in deep, deep trouble.

I had dug myself into this hole. It was time to pull myself out.

Come up with a plan to annihilate debt

Hustle More

Through very helpful friends, I was able to land a part-time gig at the local hospital.

I would go from my 9-5 straight to my side gig until 10pm as well as Saturdays and Sundays. “How long” you ask? Well I sustained this rhythm for about 40 days before burning out.

Eventually, I backed off on the second job. The money was good and it took care of credit debt and the car and more.

Armed with solid work experience, I was able to land a higher-paying gig that gave me more freedom.

One common theme: All my new co-workers were still paying the minimum on their own student loans but not me. I was determined.

Spend Less

That actually and naturally took care of itself. Because I was busy hustling, I ate out less. I bought less stuff. I stopped drinking on the weekends. You’d be amazed at how quick those things add up.

Be grateful for what you have

Up to that point, I had actually held off on the new house purchase because my living situation was comfortable. In the continuation of grad school, I house-sat for family and in exchange just paid taxes, HOA, insurance and upkeep on it. Not a bad deal but also not all rosy dealing with leaking roof, incessant barking dogs from the neighbors, broken A/C unit and water heaters.

Nevertheless, it made my living costs cheaper.

Negotiate when your skills are in demand

I took on a higher-responsibility role at work but that meant being away from home during the week. I sat down with the company owners and negotiated a housing, car gas deal on top of a monthly bonus based on numbers. The extra money I didn’t have to spend on an apartment away-from-home and gas all went toward debt!

PTO, housing & gas stipend, etc… You have more NEGOTIATING POWER than you think, especially if your skills are rare, in demand or if your job creates inconvenience.

Financial Samurai touches upon negotiating

The majority of people won’t do what needs to be done to destroy debt

Sounds harsh, eh? But it’s the reality… I still laugh at myself about this one to this day.

When my housing stipend ran out, I had to turn in the company apartment keys or face paying up $1.5k per month.

Immediately, I found an all-inclusive rent-a-room deal in town with a Vietnamese lady. Basically I lived in a run-down shack in her backyard, close to work. She cooked me food once in a while and she had truly funny-ass stories to share. In return, I saved a huge amount of money.

rented room
Don’t worry, I swapped out the beds

People around me, including relatives, started asking “you make good money, why don’t you get a more luxurious place or buy a house?

Because I didn’t need it. Because I was determined. And because compounding was working against me.

Now I get statements like “I wish I were debt-free too“.

Eventually, the credit card debt got paid off. Then the car note came off.

Finally, I re-financed the student loans with lower interest as a safety net, but still paid down very aggressively. Every time I got a bonus or extra money I would throw them at the debt without thinking.

Things were pretty much on autopilot until June 2016. That’s when I finally decided to throw that last big lump payment, 6 months ahead of schedule, just to see it GONE.

So satisfying!

It literally felt like I was alone taking on this task. Like living on a deserted island.

Most people are uncomfortable doing “weird” stuff like this. And then they turn around and complain about their financial situation. I say “you have a goal in mind, why not just go for it?

4 things I learned along the way

  • Accept reality, devise a plan, execute, and stay the course
  • Be grateful for what you already have
  • Negotiate when your skills are in demand
  • People are soft with money. But they’re not paying your bills.

My question to you: Do people call you “crazy” for some of your lifestyle decisions?

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