How Switching Your Student Loan Forgiveness Plan Can Save You Thousands of Dollars!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

How would you like to save thousands of dollars a year, simply by switching the loan forgiveness program you are on? We know we did! A recent conversation with Travis Hornsby of Student Loan Planner informed us that we could speed up our loan repayment simply by switching from IBR to REPAYE! The information that Travis shared with us was so valuable, because it could in fact save us thousands of dollars on our student loans! That’s equivalent to refinancing to a lower rate, thus cutting down our repayment timeline, while still allowing us the safety net of being in a loan forgiveness program. After conversing with Travis for an hour, I would highly recommend Student Loan Planner as the starting point for any student or new grad looking for student debt advice.

So how do we save $$$ this year? It’s simple. All we need to do is to switch from IBR to REPAYE. Today, I will outline why.

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A Case Study: IBR VS REPAYE

We were under the IBR program since we embarked on this journey to repay our student debt of $574,000. Before you consider which loan forgiveness program you want to choose, you should probably read Finance: Student Loan Forgiveness Options: IBR VS PAYE VS REPAYE. We had initially chosen IBR despite the fact that the monthly payments would be 15% of discretionary income vs REPAYE’s 10% of discretionary income because of this one factor: IBR allows you to file taxes separately as a married couple and it will only consider the loan holder’s income, versus REPAYE which will consider the income of your spouse as well. Since Mr. Debtist also makes a six figure number, we figure that we would have the better deal using solely my income.

Here is an example of how to calculate that:

Let’s use estimates from our personal story to calculate the difference.

Assume that our loan is an even $550,000, my income (the debt holder) is $125,000 and Mr. Debtist’s income is $120,000.

Under IBR, they would calculate our yearly loan payment by multiplying my income by 15%.

125,000 * 0.15 = 18,750

Now we divide that by 12 months to find the monthly payment.

18,750 / 12 = 1,562.50

Therefore our monthly payment would be $1,562.50 under IBR.

Under REPAYE, we need to use the total household income of $245,000 to calculate the yearly payment, however we will only be paying 10% of our household income.

(245,000 – 1.5 * 16,460) * 0.10 = 22,030.85

To find the monthly payment, divide by 12 months.

22,030.85 / 12 = 1,835.90

Therefore our monthly payment would be $1,835 under REPAYE.

As you can see from this example, IBR would be the better payment plan because you would be paying the cheapest amount per month and allowing the program to forgive as much as possible.

HOWEVER, there is a rule with REPAYE that IBR does not have. REPAYE will subsidize 100% of the interest accrued for the first three years for subsidized loans, and 50% of the interest accrued after the first three years, which changes the game. Note, if you have unsubsidized loans or GRAD PLUS loans, they will only pay 50% of the interest accrued, period. Let’s see how.

Under REPAYE, the government will subsidize the interest that does not get covered by your minimum payment. In my case, I took out GRAD PLUS loans, so that would be 50% of the interest that accrues. We have already calculated the monthly payment to be $1,835.90. Let’s convert that to yearly payments.

$1,835.90 * 12 months =  $22,030.85 owed this year under REPAYE

This year, based on last year’s income, we owe $22,030.85 in total payments under REPAYE. We also know that interest on $550,000 at 7% is $38,500. Therefore, our payments under REPAYE are not even enough to cover interest, as is usually the case with a loan this large.

So the difference is calculated as follows:

$38,500 – $22,030.85= $16,469.15 * 0.5 = $8,234.58

Which means that for our case, the government will subsidize over $8k per year! You would be missing out on thousands of dollars just by being on the wrong program! We certainly did.

Why We Stuck with IBR in the past

We decided to be under IBR right when I got out of dental school, BEFORE we decided to pay back our loans aggressively. The reason being in my first year, I only worked for the last three months of the year, having waited for my license to be approved after graduating in June. In my first year’s taxes, I made $25,000. So taking 15% of $25,000 would be cheaper than 10% of $145,000. Now in the second year, the numbers completely changed since I started working full time for the entire twelve months. My salary jumped from $25,000 to $125,000. The ultimate question: Why didn’t we make the switch?

In April of my first full year of work, we had decided to pay back the loans aggressively. Meaning, our monthly payments were MORE THAN the minimum amount required. In order for there to be excess interest accrued on the loan, our monthly payments should not exceed the interest gained, which was about $3,000. But since we were paying our debt like CRAZY, we were actually paying $6,500 towards the loans, so no interest was accruing and it did not matter if we stayed in IBR or went to REPAYE.

Or so we thought…

We were VERY wrong!

A Common Misconception

According to Travis Hornsby of Student Loan Planner, REPAYE calculates the difference between the interest accrued and the amount paid back on the loan at the beginning of the year. REPAYE assumes that you will only make your minimal payment each month, which means that they lock in the assumption that $11,500 would be accruing in interest (for our particular example). Every month, they will subsidize a portion of your loan to make up for the interest that will supposedly accrue, REGARDLESS OF THE MONTHLY PAYMENT YOU ACTUALLY PAY. It doesn’t matter if we pay $6,500 towards the loans or if we pay the minimum amount. Either way, REPAYE will subsidize the difference between the minimum payment and the interest that’s being charged. So we have actually missed out on an opportunity here! What’s passed is past, but we are definitely jumping from IBR to REPAYE ASAP!

What Switching from IBR to REPAYE will save us.

We need to make this jump because of the following:

  • It will save us tens of thousands of dollars in the long run.
  • Making the change will be the equivalent of refinancing to a lower rate without actually having to refinance! Which then gives us the safety net of staying in a loan forgiveness program. If ever life throws us a curveball (such as an accident, layoff, disability, sickness, or our worlds fall into chaos and we cannot work), then the loan forgiveness program will give us the flexibility to not HAVE to pay $6,500 per month.
  • After all the money we save, we can cut our repayment timeline down to 7.5 years!

Off course, not everyone under IBR should automatically jump to REPAYE! You have to pick the financial path that is right for you, considering your personality, your goals, your lifestyle, and more. If you are looking for sound advice on how to create a student loan repayment plan customized for your situation, don’t hesitate to contact Travis Hornsby, founder of Student Loan Planner, using my affiliate link. It will be a very rewarding hour! And check out my second podcast episode with Travis, to be released in 2019! Stay tuned.

Tackling Student Debt: Exploring Refinance Options

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

As you all know, we’re in the midst of refinancing my gigantic student loan! We started at $575,000 and in one year, reduced the total to under $500,000. I have shared why we decided to refinance, and what the hold-up has been since then. Now it’s actually time to bite the bullet. There are many companies to choose from, and what is necessarily best one person isn’t the best for another. Therefore, there is no one formula or equation that would allow me to tell you the refinancing agency you should go with. My advice is to do what we did — shop around!

Figuring out which refinancing company is best for you is easy. You can visit a number of them online and get a quote. Here are some decisions you’ll have to make.

  • Fixed interest rate vs variable interest rate: I like the stability of a fixed interest rate, even though variable interest rates give you a lower rate initially. Unfortunately, you may find that low rate changing as time goes on, a surprise I am not willing to chance.
  • Number of years for repayment: You can also choose the number of years you want to take paying down the loan. They may offer you anywhere from 5 to 20 years. If you are refinancing out of IBR like I am, the smartest choice will be to choose the least number of years as you can comfortably pay… except for one exception. If they offer you a lower rate at 10 years instead of 5 years, then I would take the 10 year option at the lower rate, and simply pay it down more aggressively, so that you still finish in five years. It’s a way to take advantage of a lower interest rate!
  • The amount of your loan you will refinance: I put this here because sometimes you simply can not refinance your loans in its entirety. For example, some of the companies that we looked into max out at $300,000. Some are even career-dependent or level-of-education-dependent, and cap at lower numbers such as $150,000. This caveat specifically applies to us, because my loan is so huge! In fact, I have not found any lenders to date that would refinance more than $500,000 of student debt, which is why it was so important for us to pay down my debt until it was under $500,000.

Now that you’ve made some decisions, it’s time to make the big decision: Which lender? I would recommend going to each of the following websites below to see what they can do for your specific case. A pre-application will at least give you a rough ballpark estimate of what they can do for you. Below, you will find some affiliate links to each of the companies we explored.

Things to note:

  • Once you refinance out of IBR, you cannot re-enter IBR again. I’ve spoken of this before, but please make sure that you are able to pay the required monthly payments under the newly refinanced loan. I would like for you to consider any possible complications that may occur over the repayment timeline. If you or your spouse experience disability, will you still be able to pay? If you have a lifestyle change, such as an addition to your family, or move to a different city because of your job, would it still be doable? The last thing you want to do is refinance and get yourself stuck with a payment that you won’t be able to make. Off course, no one ever knows what the future holds, but try to ensure you have a fallback plan in place.
  • Pre-application rates have expiration dates. You can fill out a pre-application form, but do know that they have an expiration date. The quoted interest rates may change if you wait too long to go through with the refinancing process. Rates are always changing. Do not be surprised if you re-apply after your first application has expired, only to find a higher rate than before. If there is a rate you really like because it is very low, I would say move quickly, or risk losing it. Of the same token, don’t start gathering rates until you are absolutely sure you are ready to re-finance.
  • Soft credit pulls do not affect your credit score. Some pre-applications may request making a soft pull on your credit report. These will not affect your credit score, however, if they request making a hard pull, then that will have some effect. Therefore, you want to avoid hard credit pulls unless you are 100% sure that you will be going with a particular company. I have discussed how credit scores work once before.
  • Do not add your spouse as a cosigner unless you are willing to tie them down to your debt for life. Consider this gruesome inquiry: What happens to your student loans in case you pass away? A conversation I implore everyone to have. If your spouse co-signs with you on that refinanced loan, if you happen to pass, then your spouse is still on the hook to continue paying back that debt. If, perchance your spouse does not co-sign, should you pass away, that debt is erased. Off course, you must read the fine print of the contract they send you to confirm this, but that is something to consider. You may receive a lower rate with a co-signer, but is that worth it? Maybe for some whose loans don’t approach half a million dollars, but for us, I don’t think so.

Feature: Discussing Hyperdebt with ChooseFI

Today, my interview with Brad and Jonathan from Choose FI was released. In it, we discuss the topic of hyperdebt among recent grads. The podcast can be found at their website, so please have a listen!

If you enjoyed the content, here are other related topics that you may also find useful!

My Financial Story:

For New Grads:

On Saving Money:

Also, since the podcast’s recording, we have successfully been able to purchase a home! On top of paying down student debt at a rapidly fast rate! Here are a few samples of the new set of posts regarding property ownership.

Property Ownership:

Feel free to contact me with any questions, or simply to share your own stories. Like I mentioned in the podcast, I do not know of anyone else tackling a debt this large, but it’d be nice to create a community of said people.

Frugal Challenge: Don’t Buy Snacks

I am going to be the first to say that I am the least opposed to having a mid-afternoon treat. A firm believer that chocolate fixes all things, you won’t see me denying a cupcake when it’s sitting on the kitchen counter for the taking. My family knows that once you set out the dessert at a holiday gathering, I’m going to be first in line holding an empty plate.

That’s just the problem. It’s difficult to say no to something when it’s taunting you from right underneath your nose. However, it is very easy to pass up on something that you never knew was there. So here is my next, and long-awaited, frugal challenge for the month of October. Stop buying snacks!

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This challenge is not a practice that just recently came about in our household. In fact, it is a habit that we are quite accustomed to. The origin story goes way back to the moment I was diagnosed at age 22 as pre-diabetic, despite the fact that I weighed 100 pounds. You’ve oft heard the saying, “Never judge a book by its cover”? Well, it’s true. A skinny, young girl can be diabetic. At 22, my body was doing a great job at metabolizing all the sugars that I was consuming, but it was also already starting to fail. Without getting too extremely technical, having a normal blood sugar level does not mean that your body is not suffering. Your body can be fighting to keep itself healthy by pumping out a TON of insulin to get rid of those sugars, but eventually, your handy dandy pancreas will not be able to keep up with the work load, and it will start to fail. By the time you notice a high blood sugar level, it is already too late. Your body has had enough.

So when I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes, I knew something had to change. Having been trained to eat ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (yes, I have done that all in the same day… quite frequently), and growing up in a household where snacks can be found in the pantry every single day, I knew that it was my diet that was causing my body to suffer. I was taught that soda was exchangeable with water, and that juice was “healthy”. Every day after school, my mom would require us to eat merienda, which translates to a snack in Tagalog. Unfortunately, the snack list included chips, cookies, cereal, ramen, mac-and-cheese, and more thoroughly processed goods.

I was in my first year of dental school when I cut out sugar from the grocery bill. In doing so, I nixed mostly every snack possible. I not only said goodbye to my beloved cartons of ice cream, but also the chocolate bars and the cookies and the juice. I even cut out most cereals, with the exception of Cheerios (and not the Honey Nut kind). It was here that I first learned that the most efficient way to cut down the grocery bill is to get rid of junk food. I was grocery shopping for Mike and I, swimming in student debt, and I proposed that we limit our combined grocery bill to $50 a week, a rule which we still stick to to this day. $50 covered at least six days worth of breakfast, lunch, AND dinner for two. That’s how I got through dental school. But that means our limitations couldn’t stop at sugar. We also cut out chips, frozen fries, pizza pockets … even cheese and crackers.

Once we did that, we realized that $50 a week was completely doable. And I am not talking about eating spam or peanut butter sandwiches every day. I am referring to decent, home-cooked meals that taste better than going out to eat! Off course, there are many more perks to cutting out snacks than simply hitting a grocery budget. Here are the top 5 reasons why you should cut out snacks, in general.

TOP 5 REASONS TO CUT OUT SNACKS

  1. Decrease spending. Have you noticed that snacks cost so much for what you get? A protein bar for a few dollars?! A box of fruit roll ups for $5?! You’re practically paying top dollar for useless carbs that will shorten your life span or increase the chances of you needing to pay for medical bills to treat underlying conditions because of unhealthy food choices during your hay day. When you put it that way, all of this pointless eating costs more than the food itself. You may want to cut out snacks to decrease overall spending, for now and for the future.
  2. Cut down on sugar. In case you haven’t heard, all processed foods contain tons of added sugar. It doesn’t matter if they sell it in the form of “agave sugar“, it is still processed sugar that is unnecessary. Cutting down sugar was my number one reason to cut down on snacks. But there may be other reasons as well..
  3. Cut down on cholesterol. My extended family has a history of high cholesterol. When I think about how much salt lies in my once most favorite snacks (ie: Cheetos, Ruffles, French Fries, Ramen, etc), I can feel my arteries clogging up. Decreasing snacks can really do a body good.
  4. Become more productive. Let’s face it. A majority of us use snacks as a means to distract us from work. I remember the days when I needed to study for a test, and suddenly, my mind focuses on food when it should be focusing on the textbooks in front of me. How often do people at work take “snack-breaks”? Work-at-home-bloggers, you know what I am talking about. When I cut out snacks, I find that I eat more regularly. Three meals a day at approximately the same time. I stop “craving” a lot of things, which allow me to focus on my work, whether that’s dentistry or blogging.
  5. Help planet Earth. A majority of snacks are packaged in plastic. When we cut out plastic from our grocery list, we were already primed for success, because we have been cutting out snacks for a few years. Think about it. Individually packaged candies, bags of chips and cookies, even popcorn is in a paper bag wrapped in a plastic bag! We cut out frozen foods completely, as well as jugs of orange juice and bottles of soda. We aren’t only helping our bodies, but we are also helping the planet too.

Off course, there are many more reasons not to eat snacks. But these, for me, are my top five. So try it out for the month of October! Extend it past your grocery list and avoid buying snacks at all times. Do you need that mid-day coffee from Starbucks, or that extra bag of chips from the gas station to satisfy you during the commute home? If you do go out for dinner, is it necessary to get the appetizer and the dessert? Or a cup of soda, even though it’s unlimited re-fill? I know that at first, habits like these are hard to ditch. But try it for a month, and see how much you actually save. You may be extremely surprised, in a good way.

 

Property Ownership: Happiness Does Not Lie in Double Vanity Sinks

I never thought there would come a day where I would have to write about double vanity sinks. I guess that is just the space this blog is taking me to. Excuse my short interlude amongst my usual property ownership writing, but I am seeking respite from a thought that refuses to leave my mind. I turn to writing it all out, and (hopefully) letting it go. It has something to do with double vanity sinks, and everything to do with people’s concepts of what makes this life worth living.

We looked at two properties (this time around) before we decided on the one to buy. The first time we were looking at a live work loft, our agent was walking through the home with us, while the seller’s agent awkwardly stood downstairs. We were exploring the third floor where the bedroom and bathroom resided, a floor plan quite similar to the one we were renting. I walked into the newly renovated bathroom and commented, or rather, exclaimed, how nicely done it was. Our super rad real estate agent, who we love, flippantly added to the appraisal with what I presume she thought all prospective buyers wanted to hear.

She said, “The nice thing about the bathroom is that it has a double vanity.” She looked at us expectantly and then followed up with, “Do you have a double vanity in the bathroom you currently rent?” When we said we didn’t, she said, “That’ll be a nice upgrade then!”

I was quite confused by her comment, but smiled and continued asking questions about the home and moved on with the rest of the tour. It stuck with me as nothing but a funny comment, and it was pushed to the recesses of my mind.

Until our dear friend helped us move in to our new place (the one we actually picked) two Sundays ago. (How time flies! Was it already two Sundays ago??) After all the lifting, sweating, scuffling, and off course, gorging on food to replenish depleted energy stores, we were sitting on the couch catching up on each other’s lives. A thing that used to be an everyday occurrence in college but that you miss once everyone finds their place in the world. He excused himself to use the restroom and returned to the couch with a big smile on his face. “I like how you have double vanities. So nice!”

Mike and I kind of did this super obnoxious look that we give each other sometimes, at the risk of being borderline rude, and we smiled. We then proceeded to explain how we didn’t think it mattered how many sinks were in the bathroom, as long as there was a sink in the house. Our friend assured us that it’s because we have not experienced “double sink life” just yet, and that we would soon change our minds.

So I asked, “What is so special about double sinks?!” Quite in a similar intonation as the text implies.

He kindly informed me that it was nicer to have one’s own. He said that we each have our own stuff that we want around the sink, and it would be nice to have our own place to store them. He alluded to the stereotype that women want to keep a ton of products around their sinks, and men have shaving supplies to worry about. Plus, it would be such a convenience now that we don’t have to share a sink in order to brush our teeth.

After one week of living in this space, I still don’t get it.

First off, let me show you a picture of our sinks.

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As you can see, the only thing on it is a pump for hand soap, and Mike’s toothbrush. There is absolutely no other thing on the sink.

Secondly, what’s wrong with sharing? We can take turns brushing our teeth. Or, as is more often case, brush at the same time, but take turns using the sink. We tend to roam around the home while brushing anyway, and old habits die hard. Usually, I’ll accumulate my drool much more quickly than Mr. Debtist does, and I am using the sink before him. If anything, it makes for good laughs, moving each other aside in order to expectorate. It’s even funnier when we don’t quite make it.

Ultimately, I think I know what bothers me most. It circles back to when our real estate agent assumed that double vanity sinks is what buying a home is about. Or the inclination that double vanity sinks lead to a happier life. It relates to the concept that “more is better”.  And it still implies that convenience is key to happiness. I kinda miss our single sink. I miss pushing each other out of the way, and trying to steal water from over each other’s hands. I talk a lot about “less is more” but in doing so, I am feeding into this idea that more is better. Less is definitely LESS, but that can be a good thing, too.

Deciding whether a home is the right home for you does not depend on double vanity sinks. Sinks do not even define “an upgrade”. What’s the point of “upgrading” to double vanity sinks if, say, the mortgage is too much for you to comfortably pay. Doesn’t that downgrade you to a more stressful life? Why do people use sinks as a measure of how nice a home is. Shouldn’t we comment on other things? Like, how kind the neighbors are, for example. Or how it cuts your commute to a mere three blocks (yes, that’s my commute to one of my offices now. It’s glorious). I do admit, I may be bent-out-of-shape and hung-up on some small, insignificant thing. But I have got to say that as long as people are measuring worth in terms of double vanity sinks, there’s going to be a lot of happiness-searching without actually any happiness-reaching in this world.

 

Property Ownership: Overcoming Buyer’s Remorse

I was lying in bed on a Sunday night, exhausted from a grueling week of spending every spare moment readying the house into a home. My heart won’t seem to slow down, my mind won’t seem to shut up. We’ve moved every big piece of furniture and a majority of our few belongings that morning with the help of a brother and a close friend, yet there’s still a million things to think of. My brain couldn’t help but tick through the to-do list on repeat, as I try to clear my mind and get some shut eye. Then, it started to turn onto a bleak subject.

I turned to Mr. Debtist and asked, “What have we done?

As the city street lamps glared into our upstairs window, and I heard the shuffling downstairs from an equally unsettled roommate, I started to miss the curtained windows at our previous place. I looked outside to the main street below, and I started to miss the buildings that I frequently stared at. I sat up in bed and set my feet down on the cold cement floors, and missed the tufts of carpet.

I’ve moved ten times before turning thirteen, and I’ve moved a total of sixteen times in my life. Each time, I go through this phase of longing for what once was. The first night is always the most difficult, and I knew that. However, this was different. As if settling into a new environment wasn’t emotionally draining enough, there is the added mental weight of knowing just how much we’ve put into this new home. Invested wouldn’t be the correct word. Gambled might be a better term. On the first night, I feel like the most appropriate way to describe the feeling is a feeling that you just lost it all.

Here’s something every new home-owner experiences. Buyer’s remorse. And it was coming over me like grey skies, gathering for a downpour. If it wasn’t for Mr. Debtist reaching out a hand and telling me “It’ll be okay”, who knows what kind of tumultuous storm might have been unleashed that night.

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When a deal closes on the home, the seller tends to feel like their house was taken away from them at a bargain rate, and the buyer may feel like they were jipped of their money’s worth. It is normal for both sides to feel this way. However, whereas seller’s remorse will likely dissipate in the upcoming month, buyer’s remorse will have the audacity to do its best to linger. Buyer’s remorse is way more complicated, since it is being compounded by other anxieties, most of which have nothing to do with the actual home. Anxieties that involve job stability and its correlation with the ability to pay a mortgage. Anxieties about someone’s health failing, and the complications of trying to balance a home loan with medical bills. Anxieties about the market crashing, or a natural disaster striking. Anxieties about the world collapsing.

While everyone may suffer from a momentary panic attack about their most recent home purchase, it will be unfortunate to have these same worries follow you forever. In the mildest of cases, the remorse is nothing a few aspirin tablets can’t handle. Or in my case, a good night’s sleep. But for others, the thought is so ravaging that they try to break the contract.

Amidst all of this, we center on one single fact: you’re buyer’s remorse at its core is nothing but raw, naked fearThis fear comes from your perception of the value of the home. How do you know if this is you? The symptoms are pretty common, and very easy to spot. Are you doing any of the following?

  • Reading real estate listings more intently than you did before signing the contract. You spend your days searching for similar or nicer homes with lower asking prices.
  • Continue to tour open homes. Don’t be surprised if you see remorseful sellers at these same open homes.
  • Endlessly discuss your purchase with your friends, neighbors, business associates, and any being with two ears. You want to probe other people for their opinions on your home-buying actions. You will likely take anyone who confirms your suspicions as telling you the truth, when in reality, they likely have no idea about anything regarding the current market.

Physically and emotionally drained yet? Because you will be, if you keep this up. It’s enough to make any human go bonkers. Hopefully, you discover soon enough that your fears are groundless. Here’s the real truth.

Facts defeat fear.

The faster you get to the facts, the less you’ll suffer. Overcoming buyer’s remorse relies heavily on your trust in the decisions you’ve made when purchasing your home.

As explained here, a home can have more than one correct price. Pricing and negotiating are arts, not sciences. Never mind the asking price. As long as the purchase price is in line with the sale prices of comparable homes, you’re in the clear! Read up on how to know a home’s market value.

To learn more about home buying, use the book we used.

When I woke up Monday morning, I turned to my side of the bed and stared outside the windows to a crazy skyline, and clear skies, thinking to myself how much I love our new home.

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Dear College Kid: Pursuing Medicine Will Not Get You to Financial Independence Faster

Dear College Kid is a series I decided to write to my younger self. I would send them too, if I could somehow teleport myself via time machine to my late teens and early twenties. I hope other college kids find these letters, and garner some foresight that I myself had lacked. I hope it changes their lives.

Dear College Kid,

Have you ever heard of the term FI? More importantly, do you know of the FIRE community? Standing for “Financial Independence, Retire Early”, FIRE is a concept that aims for the option to be free from needing to spend forty years of your life working. Not to be confused with your life’s work, FI aims to free people of your job, if and when you choose to do so, in order to do your life’s work.

What I am here to tell you is this. If you’re dream is to pursue FI, then the medical profession is not the best, most practical route. I’m a dentist, who graduated from dental school at age 26 with more than half a million dollars in student debt. Now imagine being a doctor finishing residency at age 30, or an oral surgeon finishing at age 34. What you have as a college kid that I no longer do is time on your side. Time to get a head start, time to reach freedom more quickly and efficiently. Time to start opening doors.

At 21, I had no idea FIRE existed. It’s unfathomable for me to even think that I would have understood that work is not necessary in order to live a good life. A 21 year old graduating with zero (or very little) student loans, pursuing a desk job and saving  their income will have a 5-10 year head start on a 30 year old medical professional graduating with hundreds of thousands of student loans and saving none of their income because it is all tied up in debt. I will start at 36 years old at $0 in the bank if I spend all my income right out of school and funnel it to paying down my student loans (something I’ve talked about before). Meaning, the 21 year old with the desk job will have 15 years ahead of me in savings. On top of that, those savings have been racking up compound interest for 25 years. Assuming a moderate 6-7% return rate, those 15 years makes a whole heck of a lot of difference!

Off course, if you are pursuing the medical field, I am not dissuading you entirely, if it is what you WANT to do. The medical field is great! I love my job, but that’s because I did not go into it for the money. If you want to become a medical professional because it’s what you want to do for a long time, then by all means, you will be very happy! If you want to enter the medical field because you want to be RICH and that’s your goal in life, then you will be successful. BUT, if you are pursuing freedom or FIRE, and you think the medical field will get you there quicker because of the higher salary, you are incorrect. There are people in the FIRE communities who retire at 30 years old. If you go into the medical field, unless you have relatives that can pay for your entire tuition and you graduate debt free, well, you’ll still be at net-zero at 30 years old, but at least you have the means to get to FIRE by mid-to-late thirties perhaps. Most parents, however, cannot support med school, and if you graduate with a medical degree AND a ton of student debt, then you’ll be reaching FIRE later than your other FIRE friends. See what I mean?

This does NOT mean, pursue a desk job that you hate in order to reach FI. We reach for FIRE in order to be happy. There is no point putting yourself through misery in order to get to FI because you’ll be giving up happiness in order to do it. Some people say, “Well, I’ll just put in the work and hate my job but get to FIRE faster and THEN I will be happy.” But will you really, though? Reaching the end and never working a day in your life does not guarantee you will be happy. True FIRE pursuers recognize that it isn’t about the end goal, but the journey. It’s about gaining your freedom in the future, without giving up your freedom now. Otherwise, you’ve read FIRE all wrong.

Alternatively, FIRE is not entirely about Retiring Early. It’s about having the option to not work at a job, in order to pursue something else in life that will lead to more happiness. Ultimately, this all boils down to entering a profession for the right reasons. If you find a profession you love, you may not need to retire at all. I find myself happier than a lot of my colleagues, some of whom have only been out a few years and are already “sick of it”. They want out! Unfortunately, they are far from being free because of their lifestyle, or their debt, or a combination of the two. I am happier because I did not enter the field solely for money. I am happier because I do not need as much money in order to live, and can therefore choose how much of my life I need to give up in order to live a happy one. As I’ve said many times before, having money dictate the way you live your life is not a good thing. Whether that’s a lack of money, or a plethora of money. My dream is to free myself from student debt, go FIRE, and eventually travel the world and work for free as a dentist in third – world countries. To give back to communities that dentists never touch. I will likely never be “rich”, but my life will be. I am very, very happy, because I am doing what I love.

So in summary, enter the medical field if it is something you are very interested in or really want to do. (Sage advice: enter ANY profession because it’s what you want to do.) Do NOT enter the medical field, thinking it is the quickest way to get you to financial independence. It’s not the fastest, and it’s not the easiest, either.

For those just hearing about FI, here are a few of my favorite blogs and podcasts:

Welcome to the rabbit hole.

Property Ownership: Taking Renovations Nice and Slow

Buying a home comes with so many strings attached to your emotions, and its got you moving in all sorts of directions. One of which is this desire to create your fantasy dream home, RIGHT AWAY. In this post, I am going to avoid digging into the recesses of our social upbringings to address how we are shaped to want such a thing (*cough* HGTV *cough*) for the sake of time, which I am admittedly currently short on amidst all the property fixes, the packing, the moving and student loan tackling. Rather, what I am going to say is this: Take renovations nice and slow.

First off, Congratulations! You have a new home! Have you even  taken the time to celebrate that? We are trained to seek more, more, more, that few of us take the time to be grateful for what we have. I know I am much the same. It isn’t long after I’ve accomplished something that the following words are out of my mouth: “Okay, what next?” How about stopping, taking a breath, and seeking the NOW? As cliche as it sounds, take time to smell the roses.

Now, if you’re like most people, you likely had to take out a mortgage for your newfound space. Which also means you likely spent a good chunk of change for the down payment. Dare I say that for a number of people, the down payment makes up a majority of your life savings, especially if you are young and just out of college like me. I can attest. We took 100% of our emergency fund, and spent it ALL to make a 5% down payment on a $499,900 home in Orange County, CA. While you judge us however way you wish in the way we spent that money, we are now starting from where we were two years ago, when I graduated with $575,000+ in student debt while owing my then boyfriend, now husband, an additional $20,000. Except we have paid down $100,000 towards that debt and we now have a home. I have faith that we will be just fine.

If you could get over the judgement, here is what I have to say. The focus is not to renovate the space into a dream home. It’s to build your life around something that makes you ultimately happy. Comforts of an emergency fund included, digging yourself further into financial debt is not. Rebuilding our emergency fund is where a majority of our focus will be for now. So what if the counters are cheaply made of wood, and have minor signs of water damage? So what if the sink does not properly fit into the counter-tops and caulk was used to seal it up? Never mind that the cabinets have multiple holes in them from the handlebars that were there previous to the current ones. Or that the bathroom stall has glue stuck to the walls. Yes I want a brand new couch to replace the hand-me-down that I received from my college roommate in dental school. But I’ve lived with it for five years, and looking back and seeing what I’ve done with my life says maybe it’s worth sitting on that couch a few years more.

I can tell you that most buyers, myself included, can find unlimited furniture upgrades, faulty appliances, and remodeling projects, all of which will quickly deplete the incomes of even the rich and famous. In the voice of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!” These temptations will prevent the most frugal among us from saving their hard-earned incomes. Some even rack up high interest credit card consumer debt! Feeling a squeeze in the budget is normal, but you have control over that constriction. I would recommend taking a very lean approach to your budget, and take renovations nice and slow. Personally, my goal is to go ham with the student loan debt while rebuilding that emergency fund (substitute your important financial goal here). I assure you that you will be able to transform your place into something beautiful, in time. Meanwhile, be glad that you have a comfortable place to sleep, a functioning stove, a roof over your head – all things that many people around the world can only dream about.

If you are at the point where you want to take on renovations, you may be asking, where to start? Surely, not with the cosmetics. We are fixing only those that require most attention. For example, the bathroom in our roommates space only emits hot showers. And while hot showers are nice, we do need to add cold water for fine tuning. Additionally, the fridge that’s included with the space has no water filter. So we’ve installed a water filter under the sink, to avoid plastic bottles. Lastly, we spent our entire weekend taking off the shelving and wooden floorboards that the previous owner left behind. With that comes wall spaces that needed patching and re-painting. There was a closet door on the first floor which they’ve cut a hole into, so we bought a piece of wood and cut it to create a new door. I then painted it to match the rest of the house. A majority of the work we did on our own, with the help of a cousin and uncle. Someone quoted us $500 to remove the floorboards, so we did it for free instead. Alas, here is the “nice” part to the “nice and slow”. Doing the work ourselves saved us a lot of money, taught us a few things about property maintenance, and strengthened us as a team.

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Meanwhile … we have started the re-financing process!!