As any millennial will tell you, paying off student loans is not the most enjoyable hobby to have.
Between my girlfriend and I, we see four large withdrawals leaving our bank accounts each month and going towards our combined 120k in student loan debt. At first, it was soul crushing for both of us, but that mentality was no way to live.
They say attitude is everything, and it was time for a serious attitude adjustment.
Despite the stress and turmoil created by being buried in such an astronomical amount of debt, we’ve found a way to see things through and start building wealth for our future.
It started with taking a good hard look at the current state of our lives and our habits.
Once we add up how much money we spend on takeout per month, and realize that over the course of the year we could afford a vacation to Europe, we start to wonder where else we’re throwing our money away.
We quickly committed to a new standard of living that many would label as “frugal”. For us, we didn’t identify as being frugal at first, we just saw it as not spending our money carelessly.
What eventually began to happen is a mental shift and instead of “spending less” or “saving more”, we looked at our efforts as securing our future financial freedom.
Instead of paying down our debt and using the rest of our cash to fuel a slightly luxurious lifestyle of dining out, going to the movies on the weekends, and VIP backstage passes, we changed it up and decided to cook more, stay in for movie nights, and discover either free or inexpensive things to do around the city.
We were shocked to find out how many hits we see when we google “Free Chicago Events”, especially in the summer.
Another thing we cut out of our lifestyle was driving. After all, having a car in Chicago can run us $200 a month for parking alone. That’s before city permits, street parking, insurance, gas, maintenance, and the stress of driving in Chicago traffic.
We decided to move close enough to work to eliminate the need for a car or public transportation. We chose to live in a smaller apartment closer to work rather than a more spacious one further away from work.
We ended up moving into a 700 sq. ft. one bedroom condo.
Our apartment is a 10 minute walk to work for both me and my girlfriend, which allows us to forego a combined monthly expense of $200 for unlimited transit passes. If and when we do need to venture out, our transportation costs might be a cab or a CTA train ride here or there.
We also learned that “afford” is a very dangerous word when it comes to eliminating debt and building wealth.
Sure, we could “afford” to spend hundreds of dollars each week at the bars, but we have new plans in mind.
We started bringing a limited amount of cash when going out for a night. While we knew we’d tempted to use credit cards for rounds of drinks, we had to make do with what we had.
This practice became highly effective and even kept us from a pointless trip to yet another bar at the end of the night. After our first month of doing this, we felt healthier and saw our financial stress lessen.
Naturally, our confidence began to grow as we saw our assets grow. We felt each paycheck becoming a new brick in our foundation.
Of course, we were still making those four large student loan payments each month, but we were also paying ourselves. Each home cooked meal we ate was another reason to celebrate our savings.
We still spend all our money, but now we were spending it on buying our future freedom.
Money is no longer a source of stress. Instead, money has become a source of happiness in our relationship.
Learning how to better manage our assets has brought us closer together as a couple and built a foundation of trust.
It’s hard to tell your significant other that you’re 100K in the hole with student loans or that you were just barely able to make last month’s minimum credit card payment. It’s hard to ask for help and tell him or her that you’re short on rent because of that Urgent care bill.
That’s life though, and what we learned is that it is really hard to take it on by yourself. We kept ourselves accountable and helped each other out. We wouldn’t have gotten far if we started off going in different directions.
The steps we took to build our assets were simple and we’ve heard them spoken a hundred times over; we started contributing to our employer sponsored retirement accounts ( 401k’s) and we set up IRAs.
We also automated all of our bill payments and the contributions to our investment accounts are handled without us ever seeing the cash.
We never missed spending money because we rarely saw the cash in our bank accounts.
That’s the benefit to automating as much as we can. Before long, we forget what we automated, but the joy of technology is that it will still work for us.
Don’t make the same mistakes we made. We spent far too much time stressing out about money and discussing how to pay our credit card bills. Make the decision to commit to a new lifestyle, and stick to it.
Now, we’ve eliminated all that time and stress, and have more time to enjoy ourselves, all the while having more money in our accounts. Only life is able to offer up such ironies.
I encourage everyone to spend a few hours each month learning about how we can better manage our money, even if it is small steps such as setting up our 401k or automating our bill payments.
If we spend two thousand hours a year earning a paycheck, we can easily spend a few hours each month learning how to keep it.
The end result for us is we will celebrate hitting a net worth of zero later this year. We still have a long way to go, but we are moving in the right direction. Together.
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