9 Lessons from Paying Off $80K in Under 3 Years
Before I created a system to set and achieve goals, the O.G. of all of my goals was paying off $80K in graduate student loans between October 2012 and April 2015.
If you think I was making six-figures during this time, think again.
I started at about $62.5K working as an Executive Assistant at a bank in Beverly Hills and tutoring in the off-hours (and no, the irony of paying off student loans while tutoring is not lost on me). I probably got my earnings up to $70K by the end.
And you know what happened after I had finished?
I got laid off and was given a three-month severance!
Which allowed me to go to Denmark to be with my folks for a month.
And freelance in the entertainment industry.
And live my California dream without 6-8% interest nipping at my heels.
I wanted to share some things I had learned in this process for whatever B.H.A.G. you’re working on - whether it’s an aggressive debt repayment plan or weight loss - because many of these lessons translate, especially if you're doing hard things.
If there’s no why, there’s no point. When you embark on a B.H.A.G., you NEED to have a compelling reason because when things become hard, you’re going to want to abandon ship. (That's not you being weak; that's you being human). The issue is - you can’t. Not if you’re serious. My why in this exercise is that I didn’t come out to Southern California to be an EA and I didn’t want the long, slow bleed of interest to make this loan cost always twice as what I purchased it for, taking sizeable chunks out of my paychecks for the rest of my life. That was an anathema.
I had had enough: When I finally had that “I had it” moment, it was the point of leverage I needed to make the change. In working with clients, Hitting bottom SUCKS, but sometimes it's necessary because once you hit bottom, there's nowhere to go but up.
A silent anger drove me. Sure, I present as sunshiny and cheerful, but during that period, I was SO angry. For me, that anger told me that I had violated one of my fundamental values: freedom. I wasn’t angry at UCLA per se; I was angry at how I went about the whole process that jeopardized my purchasing power. In retrospect, I should’ve moved to SoCal a years prior, taken a full-time job to get the in-state tuition, and only spend two years (not three) at UCLA. This anger, this fire drove me to get super clear on what I wanted and propelled me to get it.
I had to chunk things down. $80K represented nine different loans, each with different interest rates and different amounts. Using the snowball method, I paid minimum payments on all of them, then chunked all extra money to the lowest possible amount. Once that was paid off, I moved up to the next one and so on and so on. Doing this made it manageable because I could focus on what was doable and move up from there.
I felt extremely weird for doing this. Aggressively repaying loans isn’t normal. (That's probably our culture tilts towards convenience. Whatever is the path of least resistance tends to, sadly, be an easy and mass-marketed sell). I don't think my family or friends really understood why, and I kind of didn't care. I just wanted to create more freedom for myself).
It became addictive. In seeing a loan balance go to zero, you get a dopamine hit. No joke. It became an odd course of silent fun as I kept on slaying debt after debt. The more I did it, the more I wanted to do more of it. And that increased momentum perfectly served the increasing size of the loans I had to pay off.
I never regretted it. To date, paying off $80K was one of the hardest and most difficult things I've ever done. (And this was during a period of my life that saw three crosstown moves, the dissolution of my engagement, a bedbug infestation, gallbladder surgery, and many, many long-ass days of work). But this was life, and life could be challenging. But I proved to myself that I could meet any challenge and push through it.
It gave me a thirst to set and achieve more personal goals. Intentional, hard-core goal-setting became fun. I realized that yes, goals can be adventures and goals can help you get more out of life, especially when they're difficult.
I couldn’t have done it without a budget. Yes, I worked more and spent less, but a budget helped me to optimize this process. Since I was operating in a time-is-money paradigm, the less money I spent on these stupid loans in the long-term meant more time I'd have in life eventually to do other things (like retire). A budget gave me a plan, and it gave me a direction to focus my behavior and life.
I could do on and on about how amazing budgets are (and, don't worry, in upcoming posts, I will). For me, I don't believe that there's a better tool to help people take control of their money (and lives).