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This past week, I had the pleasure of hopping on an InstaLive session with Dr. Unorthodoc once again. In this week’s Live, we talked about my recent post: 10 Steps for Financial Success for New Grads. She even threw in two bonus recommendations, which you can surely review on her Instagram @dr.unorthodoc. In typical fashion, I’ve spent the last few days conjuring up a few afterthoughts that I wanted to share in this post.
Regarding Financial Success:
“Financial success” can mean different things to different people. The vision could include accumulated wealth, fancy things, or financial freedom. For me, it is certainly the latter. A quote that I recently read sums up my idea of success:
“A nice car and a big house are the old status symbols. The ultimate flex is freedom. Time freedom, location freedom, and financial freedom.”
Obviously what was success to my parents’ generation is not financial success to me. The same goes for a peer of mine who might hold different values, be in a different situation, or have a different upbringing. There is no judgement in that fact. It is simply an observation. When I talk about my own journey, I don’t want to exclude people and make them feel like the information is irrelevant to them. I want them to tailor my experiences to their own needs and versions of financial success. Because of this, not every tactic we discuss will apply to everyone and certainly the order in which you do things may change. We went into some of those details in the InstaLive so feel free to check it out!
Regarding Where to Spend Your First Paycheck:
Some of my classmates spent their first paycheck investing in the stock market or contributing to their 401k’s. Some saved up for their first home’s down-payment or upgraded their cars. I used my first paycheck to pay for a financial planner. (The two recommendations we mentioned in the podcast were Travis Hornsby from Student Loan Planner and Andrew Paulson from White Coat Investor.)
This is a prime example of how we can use our money to get closer to our ideas of financial success (wealth, stuff, and freedom). For me, I wanted to be free from debt or anything that would prevent me from living as I please in a day-to-day basis.
Regarding Financial Literacy:
What this also shows is differing levels of financial literacy. I think that’s what makes my financial journey so relatable is the fact that I started at the bottom with zero financial literacy. Meaning, I have been through every possible stage of wealth accumulation so many people can relate to the different phases of my financial journey.
I have classmates who have more money awareness than I did at graduation. Heck, I had friends who had more money period! One of my closest friends spent his mornings in dental school investing in the stock market. I was not even exposed to that world at that point in my life. I also did not have access to generational wealth being a zero generation immigrant.
I am not saying this in an accusatory way or anything like that. But, certainly, they were better versed and can invest in things right out of school because they were at a stage in their life where they were already set up for that. Just because I started at the bottom doesn’t mean every has to hire a financial planner. You might already know everything a financial planner has to tell you!
Remember: the path to financial success is mutli-factorial. The level of financial literacy, current phase of wealth accumulation and your personal definition of financial success all play a role towards your path post grad.
Regarding Student Loans
The best advice that I can give is to choose a path that works for you.
Not everyone should aggressively pay student loans back, and I don’t mind going on record saying that! Those whose definition of financial success falls under wealth accumulation or having nice things would be better off with the loan forgiveness program, granted that they invest their money in preparation for the tax bomb at the end of the 20-25 years. Those who yearn for freedom or value frugal living would benefit from paying it off aggressively.
The question new grads need to answer is, “What lifestyle do I want to live?”
Since my values are centered around gaining financial freedom, the reasons why I decided to pay my student loans off aggressively are as follows:
- I don’t like having debt looming over my shoulder. It causes me stress and holding on to debt has a psychological and emotional toll on me. Even when it comes to a to-do list, I am the type of person that prefers to check off tasks as quickly as possible, in order to alleviate worry. If you asked my husband, my famous saying that would follow me to the grave would be, “Let’s get it over with!”. Regardless of whether the task at hand is enjoyable or not, the part that matters more to me is getting it done. At the end of the day, it gives me more peace to get rid of my debt.
- I am not the type of person to only do one thing for the rest of my life. Right after graduation, I knew that I wasn’t going to be the type of dentist who would happily work a 9-5 shift Monday through Friday, running a practice until I was 65 years old. I am a creative person and I wanted to have the choice to quit dentistry all together, whenever I want. If anything, the last four years since graduating has been proof that the 25 year loan forgiveness is not for me. I’ve already quit once (here I wrote about How to Gain Enough Financial Independence to Quit Your Job) which happened to be a job that did not bring me joy at a time when I wanted to recreate myself (we can blame that on Saturn’s return.) I’m the type of person who wants to be a baker some days, a writer other days, a pet caregiver on my time off, and a world traveler not tied down by a consistent job. I want to work remotely in my pajamas at home sometimes, and interact with people other times. I want to think up of ideas as much as work with my hands. Because this is the person I am, I decided having no debt gave me more freedom to live wherever, work however, and be whomever. This required a deep understanding of the true me, which is where the real work lies.
- Lastly, I am a numbers gal and while there is wealth growth potential to doing the loan forgiveness programs, it appealed to me that paying the loans off in ten years time is still cheaper than waiting 20-odd years – cheaper by more than $100,000! Of course that profit margin increases even more if you pay it back quicker than 10 years, which is what I am trying to do!
Regarding Emergency Funds:
I like emergency funds because it gives me that layer of added security and ease of mind. That being said, emergency funds don’t have to be that traditional idea of putting away a monetary amount in a savings account or in a safe under your home. I don’t like that idea anyway because that prevents you from growing your wealth. You should at least invest it as a hedge against inflation. I like to make every single dollar work for me and I love the idea of passive income. There are many ways to have an emergency fund without reducing the chances of wealth accumulation.
- Open a brokerage account and invest your savings into something. Even a mutual index fund like SPY, VTI, or VTSX will be better than keeping it in a savings account, especially if you don’t know much about stocks. Your brokerage account can be you investing in stocks, but also a source of funds in cases of true emergency.
- We travel hack a lot so that we never have to spend our hard-earned dollars on our travels. Which means we have multiple credit cards open at the same time that have maximum limits. Since we pay all our credit cards in full every month, we have those funds readily available for emergencies. Between my husband and I, we have over $100k in unused credit card spending (I alone have $83k) and that is a source that we can turn to in case of a true emergency.
- Depending on your loan situation, you could use pivoting your plans to gain access to more money during tough times. For example, even though I am paying off my loans aggressively, I remained with REPAYE the first three year’s to benefit from the program’s promise to pay half of the interest fees. My minimum monthly payment was $900 per month, but I was paying $6,500 or more per month. When 2020 hit and my husband lost his job for 10 months, we paid only the minimum payments to my loans and used the left-over to cover his income loss. Luckily, the interest rate since the pandemic has been at a miraculous 0%. Regardless, this was a good example of using loan repayment pivoting in cases of emergency.
- Just like you can gain access to money by selling stocks, you can do the same if you have equity in real estate. We own a commercial/residential property and can sell it if things go south, immediately gaining access to our equity.
We briefly touched on investments here but I think the InstaLive had better content within the banter that Dr.Unorthodoc and I had. I just want to summarize with the following: Investments are GREAT but require a bit of heeding. Do your research, don’t let emotions carry you away, and use your head.
Regarding the big picture:
I am all about balance – as you can tell from my lifestyle. Paying loans off aggressively does not hinder us from
-maxing out our 401K
-buying a property
-growing our wealth and investing in stocks
Do a bit of everything! It makes life more fun and interesting. I view life as one big social experiment. Novelty is good for the soul and honestly, I know very few people who can do the grind and truly call themselves happy.
I am choosing happy.