Three weeks ago I posted an entry talking about how my student loan debt had dropped down to $40 thousand. Well, here we are not but three weeks later and I’m pleased to say that my student loan debt has taken another big drop. No, it’s not down to $39 thousand or even $38 thousand… it’s lower. That’s right. As of today my student loan debt is sitting at $37 thousand.For this update, my words of wisdom really shouldn’t be that awe-inspiring or revolutionary. The title of this entry notes that the combination of focus, research, and action can make almost anything happen. In my case, I decided two years ago that I was done with the student loan albatross that weighed down my entire life and I was going to focus all of my efforts to rid that debt from my world as soon as possible. I didn’t want to be one of these people in their 40’s or 50’s or even their 60’s talking about how they’ve been paying off their student loans for decades.
Those people are victims – and the vast majority of those victims are in that situation because they allow themselves to be. I’m not a victim. Those people are victims of their own inability to focus on their problems, research solutions, and put those solutions into action. They allow themselves to get bogged down in the misery of a number (“I owe $XX thousand!”). It’s ridiculous.
After I made the decision that I was going to rid myself of my student loan debt, I did some extensive research on my financial situation. I mean I did go to college and graduate school for a total of about seven years – if I knew anything after all of that education it was how to sit down and analyze a problem! So that’s just what I did. I sat down and did some research on where my money was coming from and what I spent my money on each month. I thought about which expenses were totally necessary – the type of costs that I absolutely couldn’t get rid of (rent, utilities, student loan payments). I thought some more about which expenses were, essentially, discretionary – the type of costs that I could dramatically cut, reduce, or even eliminate (cell phone bill, cable packages, grocery store visits, new clothes, entertainment money, etc). I also put some thought into financial security. For example, how much would I need in a “just in case” savings fund to survive if I lost my job? How much should I set aside in my savings account today versus in a few years when my student loan debt wasn’t accruing at a high interest rate? What was the long-term difference in interest rate earnings versus interest rate payments?
These are just a few of the many questions that I sat down and asked myself during the research phase of my student loan elimination strategy. But I didn’t just ask myself these questions and ponder the possibilities – I found answers. I found solutions.
Some of the answers to these questions weren’t easy to find; other questions came up with answers that I didn’t particular care for, but I recognized that there are real solutions out there if you have the capacity to be truthful with yourself. Sadly, many people live in a world that is formed by their own delusions and thus they’re not able to be truthful with themselves. It’s a pity that their environment as well as their personal and professional educators allowed them to grow up in that manner. In fact, it’s the real bane of the current “occupiers” around the nation, but we’ll get to that in a few paragraphs.
Anyway, once this research was finished I was determined to put those solutions into action. I knew that I could reduce expenses and I did. I knew that I could earn more money by working at my job during the day and starting a website company on the side – so I did. I also knew that I had the credentials to earn extra money by teaching during my free time – so I researched the opportunities available and got hired at two colleges. Slowly but surely I built up my “just in case” fund. When that was set, I began shoveling what seemed like an incredible amount of money into my student loan payments each month. The minimum payment on my private student loan was about $375 per month. First, I sent them $400 each month. Then I sent them $450 and then $500. After a few months of focusing, I was sending the private student loan company some $1,000 per month. That eventually grew to over $2,500 per month during 2010 until I paid that loan off completely about one year ago.
In short, I focused on the problem, researched the solution, and put the answer into action.
This is why I get enraged when I see people on television occupying different parts of the country complaining about a $20,000 student loan debt or a $50,000 student loan debt or even a $100,000 student loan debt. I started at $120,720 in student loan debt in July 2006 and here I am about five and a half years later and I’ve whittled that debt down to $37,000.
I am not a rich person or from a rich bloodline. I do not make huge gobs of money. I do not have access to anything special that these protestors couldn’t get the same access to in their lives. The difference between me and the protestors is that I refuse to be a victim. I refuse to turn my back on my debt and obligations.
And for the few occupy protestors who manage to find their way to JerseySmarts.com, let me say this…
Look, I know it’s hard. I know it’s a bitch. I hear these protestors complaining about putting their lives on hold and I understand every last word of that complaint. My life is on hold, too. I put off relationships (which will push off marriage and a family until later in life). I put off buying a house (also a “later in life” situation). I put off buying a new car and instead I drive an old, beat up Honda. I put off buying the top brands of clothing. For about a decade I’ve put off going to the bar regularly as well as spending money on things that are entertaining in the moment or would build more social relationships. I know what the occupiers are complaining about down on Wall Street – I really do.
But the time has come to stop being victims and make “it” happen. I don’t know what “it” means to each of these protestors and their personal situations and I would never project my success as a path for their success. However, there is some type of power in focus, research, and action. I’m sure that each of those protestors who are complaining about their student loan debt burden can find a way out of the darkness. It might mean that they have to do things that they don’t want to do like get two or three low-paying jobs and stop spending money on expenses that are, in reality, discretionary. For some, it’ll mean a hard splash of reality and there’s nothing that any of us can do about that to help them. For others, it’ll mean facing the reality that they shouldn’t have bought that new car and now they need to turn it in and drive a clunker for a few years. Yeah, you may not be able to keep up appearances or social statuses with your friends who have iPads and brand new cars and are buying homes and getting married, but life’s tough sometimes – get over it and get to work. Everyone’s story is different and everyone’s solution will be different.
It is time for solutions and those solutions will only be successful if they are created by each person, individually.
Oh, and did I mention that I managed to repay $84 thousand ins student loan principal and some $30 thousand in student loan interest all while donating 10% of my pretax income to nonprofit organizations and also working full-time at a nonprofit organization? Don’t tell me that you can’t be socially responsible or a “do-gooder” and still not have the discipline to annihilate student loan debt. I don’t buy it.
Stop being victims and start finding solutions to your problems. If months of occupying with absolutely no change in policy on the horizon as a result of those occupations can teach the protestors anything it should be that no one is going to fix this problem for them.
In May 2006, I graduated from Rutgers University with a Masters Degree and $120,720 in student loan debt. Since I started repaying my student loans in July 2006, I’ve repaid a total of $61 thousand in principal to various lenders including the federal Perkins loan program, the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, and CitiBank. I currently owe $37 thousand in principal to the United States Department of Education’s Direct Loans program – a loan which started repayment in July 2006 with a balance of $59 thousand. To date, I’ve repaid well over $30 thousand in interest to these lenders. Follow my student loan repayment story on JerseySmarts.com.