Let me begin by stating that there is absolutely no program, hotline, or system that will get rid of your student loan as much as you want it to disappear. In addition, your loan might be non-dischargeable so not even declaring bankruptcy will do!

So for a moment, come back from your denial and start by realizing that no matter what is happening in the world or politically, you will still have to pay up. And get rid of the idea that you’re just gonna default because that’s gonna teach you nothing. Put on your big boy/girl pants on and let’s find solutions to your future. You alone are the secret ingredient of success in this endeavor.

Through the majority of our debt free journey, my wife was the main contributor making just 34K, and I was making less than 11K – which left us with a combined income of about 45K a year.

We do not have any kids and do not own a home, which it did make it easier on us. But emergencies came regardless – like when I needed dental work to fix eight cavities and broken crown, which came at a price tag of over $3,000. Or when I had to stop riding my bicycle to work because the route was too dangerous (my wife wanted me to live past 22), and we had to buy a car – we found one at auction selling for $1,800 and we ended up paying $5K just to have it run again and pass inspection.

So regardless of your annual salary, the expenses from the emergencies of life will end up being a critical part of your goals to build wealth and free yourself from your lenders. So start by creating an emergency fund of $500 or $1000 aimed at putting out the fires when they come.

Now, we are huge Dave Ramsey fans, and we recommend you do yourself a favor and download his podcast and give it a listen. My goal is to let you know that it is possible, and we are living proof.

Much of the possibility curve however is empowering yourself to begin facing this problem. Because unless you want to be like the rest of the over-educated poor Americans, you have to do something different. Regardless of your current situation, you need to begin thinking like an AmeriCAN not an AmeriCANT. Here are the 5 lessons we learned throughout our debt free journey.

Lesson 1: Budget, budget, budget!

No matter how hard, boring, and scary it is to sit down and plan out where and when you will spend your money, it has to be done.  It teaches you to keep your spending habits (or find them for that matter) in check. I don’t know how many times I decided not to log in to my bank account because I either thought I had enough money, or I didn’t want to think about how much I didn’t have.  When you budget correctly, you will never have to worry about that. You all of the sudden begin to take control of the very first thing that motivates you, MONEY.

This lesson will take time to master, and at the beginning, my wife and I were very inconsistent with sitting down and putting pen to paper.  After realizing the power of the budget, we now make time at least once per month to sit down and work it out. Like anything else you want, you have to practice.  Through consistent budgeting, you will learn the art of managing money well. This is the first and only step that will force you to think before you spend. Why do you think those shopping shows have a timer, or they give sales an urgent time frame? Because they know you are more likely to spend! I tell my students to think before they speak, and spending money is the same process, just think before you spend.

My wife and I prefer pen and paper and this link will take you to how we budget at least twice a month, but here are some great budgeting apps:

Mint: It’s free and it can connect to your bank account

Everydollar: Dave Ramsey’s app. It does charge a fee to connect to your bank account but it doesn’t have all the adds and distractions of Mint.

Lesson 2: Assume things cost more than they actually do.

If you spend $500 in groceries a month, tell yourself you’ll spend $600, so that if you end up spending less, you just gave yourself a small raise and the ability to put that extra cash somewhere else – towards debt, your rainy day fund, or ‘fun money’.  I have become so stringent that I even put the parking fee in the budget when we travel. Those are things you have to do in order to stop having surprises and be able to control your money. You are gonna want to get crazy and go on “beans and rice”–for breakfast, lunch, and dinner like Dave says–but begin slow if you need to so you don’t burn out so quickly. You want to see small victories before you get disappointed.

Lesson 3: An emergency fund magically gets rid of emergencies!

Whaddayouknow! Once you have an emergency fund, things are suddenly not an emergency. Following Dave’s advice, we have $1,000 at all times in a savings account only to be accessed in true emergencies. This can be a separate account that is easily accessible. Most people have a credit card for emergencies, but if you haven’t caught  on my opinion about debt – I would advise you use the money you actually have, because it won’t lead you farther into debt. Force yourself to define what an emergency really is. The trip to Cabo can wait, but emergency dental work can’t.

Lesson 4: Minimum payments won’t do the necessary damage.

The goal is to beat that interest rate to death. That said, you have to pay more than the bare minimum, because next month the interest rate is gonna catch up with you. If you budget well and put as much money on the loan as you can, you’ll be successful. Take a break from ordering pizza and eating out – count it as money towards the loan. The urgency can’t be understated – you have to start now.

Lesson 5: Do not get desperate.

Your time will come. For now you just need to begin by telling yourself that it is possible, and that you do not have to be like everyone else who has out of control debt. Take it from a immigrant kid whose family of six survived on $30K a year. I make no excuses for myself and never expected anyone to clean up my mess. Yes, I got some help along the way from people that had nothing to gain but a simple thank you, but I respect those people enough to meet them halfway by putting the work in myself.  Don’t give up on yourself or your dreams.  It IS possible to be debt free!

Summary:

  1. Have a CAN DO attitude.
  2. Budget every dollar to control it.
  3. Control your spending habits by planning for the worst.
  4. Have an emergency fund to cover your butt.
  5. Start making more than the minimum payment and sprint towards financial freedom.
  6. DO NOT get desperate! What matters it that you are ready to punch debt in the face.