Checking my email one day, I came across an article posted on LinkedIn that a former student of mine had written. I was amazed to read that he was able to pay off over $66,000 in debt in only 14 months!
In my high school economics class, I teach the virtues of saving and getting out of debt, so you can imagine how proud I was as his former teacher, to read about this great accomplishment. So I reached out to Chris and we had coffee. I had to know more about how he pulled off this amazing feat!
All of us can learn from his journey.
Decide to Be Different
Chris told me that he witnessed the struggle his sister was having paying her student loan debt. It impacted her life in many ways. Not wanting this to be his fate, he decided that he was going to take action and not be the typical college graduate still having to make monthly debt payments 10 years later.
This decision to be different cannot be understated.
For it is this step that makes someone willing to make the sacrifice in the first place that allows them to achieve better than typical results. It is so easy just to resign yourself that you have no power to make things better and you end up doing what everyone else is doing. Chris decided that he could change his fate.
Do you want things to be different? Are you willing to do the things that most aren’t willing to do in order to get there?
Create Multiple Streams of Income
He didn’t just use his full-time income to accomplish this feat. He also sought out ways to make additional income. He bought and sold things on eBay. He also became the go-to guy for his friends that found themselves with gift cards they weren’t going to use. Chris would buy these gift cards at a discount and then sell them to others who would use them. He said this started with a few friends and then the word got out that Chris was the guy to see if you had a card you didn’t want.
By spending time with his entrepreneur hat on, he told me that not only was he making additional money, but this had the added benefit of spending less time on activities that cost money.
If you work more hours at your job or on “side hustles” you spend less money. There is much wisdom in this.
Find Ways to Keep Spending Low
The biggest way he kept spending in check was to move back to his parent's house. By saving huge amounts of money on what for most of us is our largest spending category (housing) he was able to shift this money to his goal of paying down his student loans.
Now some of you may be thinking that this step is not possible in your situation. This may be true. But don’t lose the lesson in the details. The point is Chris was able to spend low amounts on expenses that are usually high. For most of us, these big spending categories are where the greatest amount of money can be found to change our financial path for the better. Knowing Chris, if he lived in a city far away from his parents, I think he would have been willing to live in a crappy apartment with multiple roommates to keep his housing expenses low.
This is not the only example that he shared with me. He lived very simply during this time. By making lifestyle sacrifices he found money that was able to go toward his goal.
Track Progress to the Penny
He seemed a little embarrassed to tell me that he tracked this goal so much in depth, that at any given day in this process, he could tell you how much debt he had to pay off… to the penny. He had a spreadsheet that he created that used to track his goal and he looked at it frequently.
I thought this was great! This may be a bit overboard, but really when you think of it, this probably had a huge psychological effect on him the helped him to be successful. His debt goal was constantly on his mind because he created ways to keep it front and center.
Tracking progress on our goals often keeps them front and center in our lives. It reminds us to make good choices. To say no to things we don’t need. To continue the good financial habits in our lives that will make it possible to achieve the things in our lives that we strive for.
Focus on One Goal at a Time
This story exhibits the power of concentration. Chris didn’t spread his extra income around to 3 or 4 different goals. Instead, he focused on one task only. This goal became his obsession. Because of this, he found that his remaining debt started to go down fast. He saw his hard work and sacrifice making a huge difference which reinforced these actions. It gave him the incentive to truck on.
What is the one thing that would make the biggest difference in your life if you made it better? What would happen if you focused all your energy on that goal?
Think of the Possibilities
Chris achieved this amazing feat by the time he was 21 years old! (Oh, by the way, because he had college credit from high school and he focused on success in school, he was able to graduate in 2 ½ years. Chris is a man of action!)
Imagine the opportunity for his financial future. Achieving this goal of being debt free at such a young age will allow him to live a life free from debt burden and to set himself up to be very financially successful.
Imagine if he were to just take his initial student loan minimum payment of around $600/month and invest this going forward for the next 38 years? At an 8% annual return, he would accumulate over $1.7 million by the time he is age 60! I think he will be able to have an okay retirement.
If you want to read the original story written by Chris himself, here it is.
Ever since meeting with Chris I have shared his story with my high school students. I want them to see that becoming debt free can be done. Chris was a student just like them. If he can do it, so can they… so can you!
My hope is that sharing this story will have the same impact on you. If your finances aren’t where you like them to be, you can do something about it. Chris’ journey gives us a roadmap:
Decide that you will be different.
Find ways to make some extra money.
Spend less by living simply and making some sacrifices.
Track your spending and goals.
Prioritize your goals and concentrate on the most important one.
If you do these 5 things you will move to better outcomes with your finances.
If you want help planning this out, let us know.