Last week Time Magazine picked up an article that was written about me onWise Bread, a personal finance site. The story explained how I was able to pay off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years while making around $30,000 a year.
For the most part, the responses were amazing. I started this blog to keep myself accountable, but I also wanted to show people that if you really wanted to pay off your debt quickly, it was possible.
As with everything on the internet, people quickly started to comment. And boy, did the trolls come out. At first I was upset that people were trying to discredit my story (which was all true), but then I realized some things were missing from the article that I wanted to clarify.
Here are the biggest misconceptions:
1. I don’t know where in the article it said I don’t pay rent, but ever since I got my first job out of college (in Oct. 2011), I’ve been paying rent by myself. For the first two years out of school, I lived alone. It’s only been in the last year that I started living with my fiancé and a friend. While I’ve been able to contribute the most toward my loans in the last year, I was also putting down $400 extra a month while I was still living solo.
2. I realize that not everyone is lucky enough to have a partner they want to live with, but there’s nothing stopping you from getting a roommate. I’ve had friends find people to live with on Craigslist and even I had the opportunity to live with a friend’s cousin, but turned it down because I wanted a solo apartment.
Rent is typically the biggest part of anyone’s budget so cutting that down will mean you have more left over to throw toward your debt. Plus, you can save so much on utilities, internet and even groceries if you get a roommate. If you save $300 a month after getting a roommate, that’s $3,600 you could put toward your loans or retirement account. That could be all you need for an emergency fund.
3. As much as I love my fiancé, he has never paid most of my living expenses. We’ve split everything 50/50 (including the dog that we share). As far as travel, what I do is put my third paycheck toward travel, so in a year I would have about the amount I need. If you get paid every two weeks like I do, you have two months where there’s an extra paycheck. Both times I’ve traveled internationally, I’ve used those “bonus” paychecks to pay for my trips.
4. I think this one offended me the most. What’s wrong with Indiana? We’re the home of the Indy 500, corn and basketball. How more American can you get?
5. Actually my degree was in journalism, but close! I knew when I was in school that journalism was not going to be a lucrative career so I made sure that my loans would never exceed $30,000. I have friends who made $25,000 in their first reporting jobs and some who make less than $40,000 after 20 years in the industry. I worked as a reporter for my first year out of school and currently do PR and marketing for a nonprofit.
6. I love my parents dearly. They taught me about personal finance, how to pay off debt and why it’s important to save. But since I graduated, they have not paid for rent, bills or groceries. But since I’m being totally transparent, here is what they do pay for:
- Flights home: Every time I go visit my parents, they buy my ticket home.
- Cell phone: They pay my $30/month cell phone bill. I made a deal with them that if I put that $30 toward my loans, I wouldn’t have to pay it until I was debt free. So starting next month, I’ll be sending them $30 (we’re on a family plan). All of my phones have been birthday presents from them.
- College: My parents paid for 25% of my tuition and most of my college expenses, like groceries, rent, car insurance and utilities. Since college, I have paid for all of that by myself.
- Car: My parents gave me my car (a 1999 Toyota Avalon). Since graduating, I have paid for insurance and repairs by myself. The Kelly Blue Book value of the car is $2,099 so while I’m grateful for their generosity, most people could go out and buy this kind of car on Craigslist.
- Clothes: If I’m home and my mom and I go shopping, she’ll typically buy me a new pair of shoes or some jeans.
- Health insurance: My first year out of college I took advantage of the Affordable Care Act and stayed on my parent’s insurance. The last two years I’ve been paying for my own plan.
7. I’m pretty sure that full-time drug dealers make more than I do. The closest I’ve come to selling drugs is watching “The Wire.”
8. Ha! First off, I don’t know any lawyer making that much. My fiancé and I make about the same amount, but he certainly did not help me with my loans.
9. I never said that paying off debt was easy. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. But I’ve posted my budget on here before, so you can see that it is doable. And yes, I live in a city that is affordable, but I also have made choices to make my life cheaper.
So if you live in Chicago or New York, you probably won’t be able to do what I did. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a few changes to shave off a couple years off your loans or put that money toward your savings. Even though my life may seem atypical to people, the lessons I share can apply to most.
Have you accomplished a significant goal – and not had people believe you? Leave a note in the comments!
Brad @ RichmondSavers.com says
There are so many trolls out there and really it comes down to the fact that they are bitterly unhappy people and they simply can’t do what you did because they either don’t care enough or don’t think it is “possible” for all the pathetic reasons they listed.
I get some of these nasty comments at times and it is infuriating. You just have to let them wallow in their own ignorance and know that you are going to live a happy, wealthy life and they will spend the next 50+ years blaming other people for their poverty and unhappiness.
We all have choices in life, right?
So true! Thanks for reading Brad!
Amazing work! We all have people who have helped us financially (and beyond!) because we were a priority in their lives– and we should be thankful! I know that I am infinitely grateful for all of the support my parents gave me….AND I know how important it is for me to be financially independent. We all have different priorities and obstacles, people should be okay with that!
You’ve done a great job at budgeting and figuring out smart ways to have your lifestyle make it easier to pay off your debt. I’m glad to see that you have been so successful and that you’ve found ways to travel and live your life to the fullest. Congratulations! Wishing you continued success and happiness.
I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog.
I agree! Most of us get help in some way or another and while it was important for me to acknowledge that and be grateful, it’s also important to note that many people who get help don’t try to live responsibly. Thanks for reading!
Rachael Hite says
Forget the trolls, and I hate the fact that you felt the need to itemize and justify their comments. Every financial goal completed should be celebrated. I do not know where I would be without my parents and support system. I’m looking forward to your blog as well!! Going to give you a shout out on “the twitter” Keep up the good work!!!
Thanks Rachael! Glad you like it and thanks for reading!
Screw the haters. They are, as Mr. Money Mustache would say, complainypants throwing poopy diapers into the comments section because they don’t want to admit that they could be doing a lot more to be debt-free like you if they really got their priorities in order. But instead of realizing that they are actively making optional choices that lead them down a different path, they hide behind excuses and claim that it’s impossible for them to be doing any better than they are (with their “huge car payments” and fast-moving hedonic treadmills — totally crucial to a happy life, right?), and get to pat themselves on the back while avoiding any self-awareness. If they don’t want to be debt-free as quickly as you, that’s fine, but they’re deluding themselves by acting as if they have no control over whether or not they get on a similar path to you. Good for you, Zina! Don’t let these scared & defensive people get you down. You’ve made your decisions and worked hard to be realistic about what sticking to your priorities really meant, instead of keeping your blinders on.
Thanks Ramsay! I do think a lot of people are upset because they think they shouldn’t have to make some of the sacrifices I did, that they deserve to live a better life. Thank you for reading!
Cherie Lowe says
Oh girl, you cannot and must not read the comments any more. As you do more press, more crazy pants will come out in droves. I read the comments when we were in the WSJ and it held me back from SO much. Yes, there is something to be learned from holes in the story but when you’re featured on a large platform it isn’t worth your time or energy. Instead, pour into people who will listen to you instead of wasting your time who people who don’t want to really hear, regardless of how full you answer the question. Chin up girl. And CONGRATS. I am so proud of you!
Thanks Cherie! One of the main reasons I wrote this post was so people would get the full picture of my finances. I believe in being transparent and I hope I was able to clear up a few questions. But yes, it can be maddening trying to get people to listen to you while they’re off making their own judgments. Thanks for reading!
Sheena Sampsel says
The one thing that I noticed a lot was that most of them mentioned a car payment. I’m assuming they never got the memo that not everyone drives a brand new car and consequently not everyone has a car payment. It is all a matter of the decisions you make and owning them. Yes, I chose to get a new car and make payment for 5 years. But I won that decision because I wanted a car that no one had driven, that no one had messed up, that no one had dinked with.
Good job for sticking to your guns and making it work for you. Good job in turning that article and the trolls who decided to make their comments public into a worthy article for people to read.
So true Sheena! I think people are used to the status quo – car payment, student loan payment, credit card debt – and don’t see it as anything unusual. But you’re right, not everyone chooses to go that route. Thanks for reading!
Christopher Slager says
Congratulations, first and foremost. getting out of college debt early is difficult, even with the small amount you owed, which is average for the time period in which you graduated. I’m glad your parents were able to help subsidize some of the costs at college and even into your career. One of the toughest parts of college debt is that without subsidy (grants, scholarships, parents) many students face a much greater debt than you.
When I read the Time article I also dismissed your actions as misrepresentation, because they insinuated that you did this on your own. I assume that was the article writers fault and not your own as you clearly state here those parts of your expenses your parents shared. I think that’s what upset most people, and why they reacted. The article insinuates that you did this entirely on your own, when as you point out here and in other points in your blog, you did not. Not to deny your ability or tenacity, some of the bills you do attribute to your parents can be extremely costly (and mostly necessary) and by not mentioning them in the article the writer left out important details.
For instance, you say your parents cover your cell phone at 30, if you had your own plan the minimum cost is around 70. Health insurance is a huge cost. The average cost for a graduate is 100 dollars. Clothes, the average person requires about 20 dollars worth of clothing update per month (averaging winter coat costs, old shoes etc) With those three you saved 190 dollars by having someone else help defray the costs. That’s huge.
Instead of criticizing, people should take some of those left out ideas to heart. Yes you had some costs subsidized but many people can do the same thing. You can have family plans with friends to save cell phone costs. You can conserve clothing costs by going to Goodwill. you should look for jobs that have health insurance or as you did stay on your parents plan.
That said, either my math is off or some of your numbers are off. Looking through your blog I found the disparities, and again the Time’s article missed these points so maybe it would be better if you explained them. In your budget wheel, December 14 2012, you provide a total account of all your expenses, at 622 a month but that doesn’t match what it is required to get you paid in 3 years if you started with 30000 in 2011, that does match 4 years, but without any interest. In fact what you posted in your blog was there was extra money coming from other income sources that helped you achieve your goal faster. Gifts, freelance writing etc allowed you to drop lump sums on your debt.
I think a good addendum would then be how you translated gifts and other income sources into windfalls that helped change the time it took you to pay off your loans.
Regardless, congrats on dropping your debt. if anyone bothered they could learn a lot from your example
Yes it’s true, if I hadn’t put gifts or extra income toward my loans, then I’d probably still be paying them off. I also put “extra paychecks” (for the months where I got 3 paychecks instead of 2) toward my loans, which made a huge difference. I didn’t keep track of all the payments I made and where the funds for those came from (which I regret now, that would be interesting to track).
I’m also grateful for all the help my parents provided and you’re right, even if I hadn’t gotten their help, I could’ve found other ways to save. My fiance is on his own plan and pays $32 a month (and has some data coverage). I know other bloggers who use Republic Wireless which can be very cost effective. And most of my friends stayed on their parents health insurance either because of grad school, lack of employment or rising costs. It didn’t cost my parents any extra to keep me on their plan.
In short, yes I got a lot of help but I think most of us do, at some point in our lives.
Thanks for reading so intently!