How I Got Where I Am Today
Mr. Money Mustache says:
Your Debt is not something you “work on”. It is a HUGE, FLAMING EMERGENCY!!!
“What you don’t know can’t hurt you!” they say, but it’s not true. What they really should tell you is: What you don’t know will DESTROY your future! Whoa, did that get your attention? because it finally got mine.
I thought I had a pretty good life, I thought I had my finances under control, I thought I had a great retirement to look forward to! As it turns out, I was just lying to myself through the egregious sin of ignorance. In reality I am in the middle of a DEBT EMERGENCY!!! And not just that, but I have been in a debt emergency for 5 years!! 5 YEARS! And I didn’t even know it.
How did I get here? How could I be so stupid? Why did I do it?
To answer these questions I went back to the beginning in an effort to illuminate the decisions that have lead me here.
I come from a comfortable life. My father was always able to put food on the table, sent me to the best private high school in town, and even bought me a car when I turned 16. He did this all with a high school degree having never set foot on a university campus, a model of the America Dream if I have ever seen one. Yes, life was good. However, despite this cushy existence, by the time I turned 18 and graduated from high school I was eager to leave it all behind and go do my own thing. I wanted freedom! and independence! and College was the way I was going to get it.
About that time every college in the country was sending me nifty little postcards and full color brochures that all said the same thing: We have the most beautiful campus! Our classes are the best and our professors the brightest! Your future will be better if you get your degree here! And you know what dear readers? I bought it. Hook, line, and sinker.
You see, going to college was the new American Dream, the prerequisite to becoming rich and powerful and they made it look so easy. And dammit, I thought, I deserve the American Dream just as much as anyone else! And the easier the better! Oh the folly of young ambition. Anyways, I applied to eleven schools all across the country and every single one of them accepted me. Most of them even offered me a small scholarship to help out with the astronomical cost.
So, I chose the best school on the list which also happened to be the second most expensive (about $40,000 in 2007) and then I called Wells Fargo. That first year I borrowed $30,000. I had already borrowed more money than today’s current average total student debt per graduate and I hadn’t even set foot on campus. It was the first year of my DEBT EMERGENCY that I didn’t even know I was in.
I won’t lie to you, dear readers, I loved college. I had an amazing time. I met some of the best people that became my closest friends; I lived and studied in Europe for 4 months, I drank and partied, and I even ended up learning quite a lot. In the end I graduated a quarter early with a pretty good 3.7 GPA, a couple of internships under my belt, and a part time job, and oh yeah, $3,000 in credit card debt, $92,000 in student loan debt, $20,000 in parental debt, and no career. But I was on top of the world and loving life!
Now, to the trained eye of the mustachian I was in a DEBT EMERGENCY, but still I didn’t know it yet. I had a job that paid me pretty well while I looked for a career-job and I had six months before my first student loan payment. I was living the glorious post college life with no classes to attend, no debt yet to pay and plenty of beers to drink. As I always like to tell my friends, I was living the dream.
After 11 months of searching and writing some 40 different cover letters, surviving 20 different interviews, even turning down four different job offers, I finally took a cushy, middle class, post-college career-job in a town far, far away. I would be making big money and the company even gave me $2,500 just because I said “yes, I will work for you!” I was living the high life and as any other true-blooded, good, American, consumerist I began to buy things.
I leased a nice apartment in the city close to work. I bought a 48” LED TV (12 months same as cash!). I bought a beautiful stainless steel barbecue, because something had to go on the balcony. I spent another 700 or so dollars on a table, lights, new clothes, etc. etc. all of the things that are required to fill up a new, consumerist routine. And I was loving life; again, I remind you that I didn’t know that I was in the middle of a DEBT EMERGENCY!
My first pay check came, actually on the same day as my first student loan payment, and it easily covered all of my expenses. I had (and still have by the way) what can only be described as a painless life. Alas, I wasn’t a total dolt in those days, I paid off my credit card, started saving in a 401(k), put a little extra in savings, and then bought a new iPad 3! DOH! But, overall my carefree existence was good.
A few months ago (about a year after I began the career-job) I began to slowly come to the realization of what dire straits I was really in. I looked back at my full twelve months of beautiful, on-time student loan payments and realized that almost none of the principal had disappeared! How can this be! I pay 900 bucks a month to this shit! Now, I knew from the deep recesses of my brain and a finance class from long ago that this was due to interest, the dear friend of investing and the cruel mistress of debt.
My interest payments were greater than my principal payments and on top of that I was paying interest on the interest that had accrued through the four years of college. Wells Fargo had given me this money and now they wanted it back and they wanted me to pay them to give it back to them! The nerve! After an entire year of this I still had 14 years to go! A very long time to someone who has only been on this earth for two and a half decades.
So I did what any other self-respecting millennial does when they face a problem… I went to the internet! I knew there had to be someone on this planet that had found a way to hack the system and get outa debt quick. And you know what? I found that person. Enter Joe Milhalic, the guru of student debt and purveyor of NoMoreHarvardDebt.com. I read his entire blog in about two days. Joe had the answer I was looking for but had found it in a way that I was not prepared to commit to. Joe had hacked his student debt by working his ass off.
There you go dear reader, the only answer to getting out of debt quick: You have to work your ass off.
Now, I’m no schlup but I was not prepared to commit myself and focus my entire being on the task of taking down my debt once and for all. So I read Joe’s blog as a nice story of something I wish I could do but then made excuses for why I can’t: I don’t make as much money as he does, I live in a larger and more expensive city, I like the good things in life! I can’t give those up, and so on and so on…
So I continued my consumerist existence, paying the regular debt payments, and living a nice life. Even after reading Joe’s blog and dreaming of being debt free I still didn’t realize that I was in the middle of my very own DEBT EMERGENCY! I would soon find out though and Mr. Money Mustache would be my kick in the butt.
A few months after discovering Joe’s blog the thought of his accomplishment hung around in the back of my mind. I kept thinking about how great it would be if I was in his exact same situation, then it would be so easy for me to do what he did and pay off all of this debt. I went back to his little corner of the internet and clicked through to some of the blogs he was linking to. This is when I found Mr. Money Mustache and my whole perspective on the situation I am in changed.
Where Joe’s blog had showed me my crazy situation in broad daylight, Mr. Money Mustache was the guy who called me out on my excuses, my apathy, and my idiocy. It was just what I needed.
Mr. Money Mustache told me that I was being an idiot, living a life of voluntary slavery when I could be doing whatever I wanted! I was taking the easy way out and making excuses for my inaction. He also told me that I was in a DEBT EMERGENCY! And the light-bulb went off. I learned that I am missing out on my future because I want to live a comfortable, materialist lifestyle today. He helped me realize how incredibly stupid it would be for me to give Wells Fargo an extra $40k just so that I can give them back their money. I finally understood the gravity of my situation and now I am going to do something about it.
With the help of the hacks and blueprint set out by Mr. Money Mustache and No More Harvard Debt (and many other valuable personal finance blogs that I am just now discovering) and also the accountability that a very public blog brings, I am vowing to rid myself of this insane debt. I will do whatever it takes to wipe it out as quickly as possible and as efficiently as possible. I have already identified a few simple ways to begin today (note, links to my inspiration):
- Cut the cord and bid adieu to Comcast.
- Cut my transportation budget to zero until the debt is gone.
- Stop paying for music.
- Stop paying to read books.
- Cut my grocery bill in half.
- Cut my electric bill in half.
- Drink LESS.
And in the long term I can:
Well there you have it. My resolution, my goal, my manifesto, my end-all be-all. I now have the audacity to put myself on the path to financial freedom. It is in writing, set in the stone of the internet and now the long trudge up that path begins.
I am lucky to be so young and to realize the error of my ways. However, I don’t trust myself. I don’t trust myself to continually make the tough decisions and prevail in the face of materialist temptation. That is why this blog is here and I am sharing this story with you. This blog and you are going to keep me honest. Coming back to my posts and being able to measure the progress I make will hopefully help to keep me going. And by sharing my mistakes (I have a multitude to draw on) I will recognize my errors which is an important step in learning to not repeat them.
So if you have anything to share or suggestions to make I want to hear it! I want to know if there is something I am doing wrong or if you have any kind words of encouragement. E-mail me on the contact page or leave a comment below.
1. This is an estimate, most likely an under-estimate.
2. Modern Day Serfdom.