The Real Reason Doctors Can’t Pay Down Their Student Debt

I was sitting at work once (and many times after), talking to colleagues of mine who were all in their early thirties – fairly young by doctor standards. We were talking about student loans (what else?) and how steep the price has become to get an education (in this case dental, but it applies to education in general). We were going through our numbers and they were going through their excuses as to why it was impossible in their situation to pay down debt. Of course, me being me, I gently stated the obvious which was that the real reason doctors “can’t” pay down their student debt was because they thought they deserve more than everyone else.

This statement may hurt many doctors’ feelings, but actually, it’s true.

For example. I had one person complaining about drowning in student debt. He blamed it on the kids and the fact that he is a single income household. Fine. But he also just bought a brand new Tesla SUV. He gets a nanny to watch his kids so that it’s easier on his stay-at-home wife. He gets help (did he say $100k a year??) from his in-laws that is budgeted for the kids. His dining out bill is $800 a month. But he can’t afford his student debt.

Another person also bought a brand new car after graduation, enrolled his 6-month old in Montessori private school, took wild vacations (without travel hacking!), and bought a grand house for their family of three.

Yet another person owns two medical-grade massage chairs in his home, bought his girlfriend a Tesla, and drops $10k on trips around the world.

What if I told you that this story is repeated many times over? I have spoken with my fair share of indebted graduates, especially after releasing my own personal story with ChooseFI.

They all wish to banish their student debt. They also don’t wish to do the work.

Here’s the thing I see most often with doctors. They work very diligently to get through school. They do anything to get to their dream career, including taking out a huge sum of moolah (hell, I did too).  They sacrifice the best of their young years. They put off buying a home, earning money, and settling down. Then graduation hits and they think, “I’ve made it.” For a brief second, they breathe a sigh of relief thinking it’s all going to be worth it.

So they buy a new car to celebrate. Then they buy a home or a practice. They go out every weekend for food. Sometimes they dine out a few times a week! They want to live in affluent communities. They want to go on vacation. They throw themselves a dream wedding. They buy nice clothes and expensive Figs scrubs. But more than all this are the little purchases. They want the daily coffee, the trinkets from the $5 section in Target, the happy hour events, the spin class – you know, the harmless stuff.

They become obsessed with the high-life and quite quickly, they refuse to give it up. 

And if you think I’m being extreme, I’m not.

Because when I graduated, I wanted all these things, too!

The most excruciating part about facing my student debt, the part that nearly killed me, was realizing that after every sacrifice and sleepless night, after giving up the best of my youth, after working three jobs during school, after wracking my brain on ways to extend $40 for another week, after being a model student, the good daughter, the most loyal employee, the most valuable I could be to the community – the work was still not done.

And when I tell new grads coming to me for advice on making loans disappear that they have to use their beat-up high-school ride, possibly move-in with their parents or take on a roommate, cook dinner every night, manage a budget every week, wear their same scrubs from dental school for five more years, and try their darndest to travel for FREE – well, their faces fall and I can see the disappointment plain as day scrawled on their furrowed brows.

Only thing is, I can’t tell if the disappointment lies in the fact that they have to continue living like a college kid for ten more years or if the disappointment lies in me – because I wasn’t the magic genie they wanted that would grant them their wish.

I can tell you how to repay your loans. You just might not like it.

99% of graduates with more than $350k of debt choose to stay with loan forgiveness. Probably because it hurts the human psyche too much to know that everything you’ve done thus far is not enough.

Becoming a doctor does not end the day you graduate. Not for me. It ends the day everything you need to become a doctor is behind you. Loans included.

Not everyone thinks this way, though. Many people truly believe that the hardship stops the day you get the degree. Ahhh, time to sit back and enjoy the benefits of all our hard work. But how can that be when you don’t even know what a hard-earned dollar looks like?! What makes you better than the rest of ’em?

I know I’m making enemies here but I must pose the question. If not I, who will?

I don’t blame the docs. They were merely children when they signed their lives away for a chance at the American Dream. I blame our upbringing for creating the expectation that a doctor’s life is a rich and easy one. I blame the institutions that are set in place that allow universities to charge this much money to get educated. I also blame lending companies who are handing out loans this large. Child robbery, that’s what I call it.

I implore to all the existing doctors that make it seem like being a doctor is easy. How will we ever change the trajectory if we keep implying to young ‘uns that pursuing this career path will mean they won’t have to work hard for the rest of their life. How will they realize and make an informed decision when the time comes?

I know the real truth.

That behind the facade of wealth is an increasingly long list of medical professionals patiently waiting 25 years for loan forgiveness to hit. Behind every confident thrust of the credit card is an avoidance technique that makes life a bit easier to live. Behind all our heroics and saving lives lies a coward afraid to face our social responsibility to pay back debt that we chose to take out. And behind every accomplishment lies a lifestyle creep that is avalanching too fast out of our reach, propelling doctors further forward towards an unsustainable way of living.

The real reason doctors “can’t” pay back student debt is because they won’t.

They choose not to work hard anymore. It isn’t burn-out, although that stuff is real too. It’s the social expectation that a doctor’s life is breezy. The mindset to pay back debt just isn’t there. Many cannot accept that graduation is not the end-game. They think they already won.

There will be excuses. I don’t buy any of it.

There will come a day when I will finish my loan repayment journey, and people will think it’s a miracle. They’ll think I was one of the lucky ones, rather than a penny-pinching maniac. Perhaps the stars aligned and the pandemic gave me this “unique” ability to pay back loans faster because I was not being charged interest for six months. My parents must have helped me out. An investment strategy probably worked out for me but not them. I can’t wait to see the excuses they make. But none of that will be true.

My current car is a high-school ride that I’ve had for 13 years. The passenger’s rear-view mirror doesn’t match, because when someone broke it (probably to re-sell it), I didn’t want to pay an extra $60 to get one that was white when the stock color was black. Mike even helped me put it on the car myself because I didn’t want to pay a service fee at the auto shop. My neighbor came out of his garage this past week and looked at me funny when he saw me physically hand-washing my car. He said, “That’s … nice…” and walked away slowly.

I sometimes have to wipe graffiti off my windows, because I chose to live in a lower income neighborhood so that I could buy a business storefront AND a dwelling at a very low price. Last Friday night, it was getting ratchet at the club next door since they moved the party outdoors due to COVID restrictions. I’ve had to run away from my own home before when the riots first started and they fired fireworks at the cops.

I spent a third of last year working midnight shifts. I still wear my USC scrubs that I was forced to buy upon entering dental school in 2012. I run with the Nike’s that my husband bought me as a gift when I was attending dental school so that I could “be cool”. They used to be orange but now they’re mostly black. I sell my de-cluttered stuff on Poshmark. I research heavily in order to travel the world for FREE. I come home from work to work. I still actively budget every week. I aim to spend only $200 a month in groceries for the two of us and $150 a month in dining out. I created a lifestyle where my job is three blocks away, to reduce the gas I have to buy. TO REDUCE THE GAS I HAVE TO BUY. I spent my last birthday repainting our bathroom. We spent Mike’s birthday picking up birthday freebies. Heck, even our cat was free.

Do you know the real reason THIS doctor can pay off student debt?

Hard work and a willingness to.

It’s not rocket science.

Finance: Financial Independence is for times of COVID

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

There are circulating rumors that this pandemic has deemed the FI movement dead. Articles in mainstream media have been claiming that people who are in the midst of attaining FI are now struggling to live. As a FI defendant and warrior, I would like to say that the opposite is true. In fact, this pandemic has shown our little family that the path to financial independence is strictly for times like these. Not saying that I ever expected any of it to happen. I mean, there’s no way I could have predicted this and I certainly did not wish it upon the world. But the financial independence journey is the reason why this pandemic was so good to us. Here’s why.

Why FI is for times of COVID

FI is built on a number of different life-hacks that enable one of my life’s core values: freedom. The word independence itself is crucial to the term FI. Many of the principles in the financial independence community center around independence from other things such as your job, the market, societal expectations, debt, and of course, money. All of this was affected by the pandemic.

Those who are following the FI principles are more likely to have embraced job independency through side-hustles, entrepreneurship, self-employment, or simply creating multiple income streams. Many FI families had an emergency fund to carry them through times such as these past few months. If you’ve taken my course, you also know that mastering a budget is a super-power. If you’ve truly mastered your budget, you would have control of your spending, created a savings, and also planned for the spending a few months ahead. Most FIers lack debt. I, of course, have a huge student debt, one that I’ve also worked diligently to free myself from (see the progress here!). But even this single choice to aggressively pay down my student debt has helped me significantly during COVID-19! I mean, who would have ever predicted that you could get six months of 0% interest rate on student loans? Nobody, ever.

Meanwhile, the market is crashing and FIers with money reserves in their mastered budget can invest at low rates. They can buy rental properties due to their stellar credit history. They can survive off of an emergency fund in case of a layoff. Better yet, they can use their additional income streams or refocus their money-making to their side-hustle business. I’m not saying this is the time to brag, but perhaps it’s the time to pivot.

How COVID helped our financial journey.

Perhaps the reason why people think that the pandemic will negatively affect FIers is because not many of us have been sharing how it has helped. I can’t speak for all FI families, but for us, here is what happened.

  1. Mike had wanted to pursue coding for a while. We decided to sign him up for a course in January and paid the tuition upfront and in full, which we were able to do thanks to our great budgeting and savings (Our entire budgeting method is compiled in this course that I wrote, if you’d like to follow in our steps). In February, about a month before the March 15th California lock-down, Mike offered to be laid off from a company that was down-sizing by forty percent, in exchange for a severance pay that would help with the transition into coding. After the severance pay ended in April, he qualified for EDD due to the lay off and got an additional $600 a week that the EDD was paying out to those who just found themselves unemployed, thus easing the transition even more. In fact, we had expected to receive $1800/mo from EDD prior to COVID 19. Due to the additional $600, Mike gets “paid” $4200 per month to study a course. What does this have to do with FI? Well, we wouldn’t have been able to pay for the course upfront without a savings. We wouldn’t have felt comfortable with Mike switching careers without a stable financial background. And we wouldn’t have been so non-chalant about the lay offs without a back-up plan (which is our other income streams).
  2. I have multiple income streams. I own a corporation as a dentist and pay myself. As a dentist, I work at two different offices which also increases my chances of always having work. I also owned a bakery which I closed a week before the COVID shutdown (for real! What timing…) but which I considered turning back to if both dental offices remained closed (they didn’t). I also had a dog-sitting business on ROVER, as well as this blog wherein I make commissions through affiliate linking. I was out of dental work for a week and a half wherein I spent most of my time writing about it. I then went back to work (three days a week, half the amount of time I usually worked) and poured more time into this space. It has grown tremendously the last two months! All of this to say, I had options in terms of career.
  3. All public student loans got reverted to 0% interest until September 31. This means that any student trying to pay down debt aggressively has a chance to make the money snowball go faster! Of course, I paid only the minimum monthly requirement for these COVID months just to keep cash liquid in case of emergencies, but now we’ve found ourselves sitting on a big chunk of change that we could use to buy a rental property. This gives us choice. I could drastically reduce the loan repayment journey to 2.5 more years, or I could invest in more long-term passive income.
  4. We house hack which means we have someone living with us which helps us pay mortgage. I would count this as an additional income stream for us.
  5. Speaking of mortgage, we refinanced our home. Due to our great credit, there was no hitch when we decided to refinance. The refinance gave us an additional $500 a month to put towards something else!
  6. We paid off Mike’s car in May, therefore paving the way for quickening the loan repayment journey now that we can funnel those would-be-car payments into student loans.
  7. We used COVID related benefits for health professionals and medical doctors such as retail discounts. Some of these benefits continue until the end of 2020.
  8. We got free food when fast food places. I think we made use of free tacos on Tuesdays from Taco Bell four times. Mike got a free meal from Cafe Rio. Mike’s dad and grandpa live in a 55+ community and they received weekly boxes of nearly-expiring groceries. They picked what they wanted and Mike and his sister (and me) benefited from the rest, which then reduced our grocery bill.
  9. COVID inadvertently reduced our monthly spending. Our cleaner couldn’t come for her bi-weekly cleaning which saved us $200 a month. Why would she when all three of us were home to clean, anyway? Mike had no work so there was no need to commute. He took online courses at home, which saved us $100 a month in gas. The aforementioned free food from Mike’s dad and grandpa saved us $100 in groceries per month. Since the yoga studios and gyms were closed, Mike and I had to replace our new-found love for yoga with running outdoors, thus saving us $250 a month.
  10. COVID prevented us from traveling. All our trips got cancelled, which made us quite sad but at the same time, it saved us close to $10,000. (Between March and July, we had trips planned to Japan, Maldives, Hawaii, two trips to Norcal, one to San Diego, a bachelor party for Mike in Colorado, a bachelorette in SD…). We had two weddings that were also sadly cancelled.

Let’s add this all up, shall we?

During COVID, the following things changed in our monthly budget:

$4500 from EDD for Mike’s work transition
$500 per month savings from the home refinance
$585 per month savings from paying off the car
$200 savings from not having a cleaner
$250 from not having a gym membership
$100 gas savings from not having a commute
$100 from the food box donations
$1400 a month of interest that the government isn’t taking from my student loans

That’s $7,635 savings per month due to COVID. Multiplied for the two months we’ve been in this lockdown.

Plus the $10k that we saved from not traveling.

I would assume we have saved near $25,000. Plus the liquid cash I kept from only making the minimum payments for student loans ($16,500).

Now you know why we are looking at a second home.

The FIers are not going to suffer from COVID. If anything, they are likely the least to suffer. I know of FIers who have bought one rental property a year for 15 years straight. Most of them make passive income from real estate or intellectual assets. Many are entrepreneurs, self-published, self-employed, self-sustaining. Most don’t have debt and they ALL have funds to rely on. On top of that, they have a well-balanced investment strategy that is mostly hands-off which protects them from panic-selling during times of market volatility. We are frugal, make use of opportunities, are in the know of life-hacks and benefit from financial situations such as these. That’s what FI is about. And everyone can become FI. Even though the media and the general public would like you to think otherwise. Just like they tried to tell me the loans would be unwise to pay off.

Is FI for you?

If you’ve recently lost your job due to the pandemic, perhaps it’s time to create a space for yourself. There are many pros to being self-employed. Even something semi-self-employed such as creating contract work under your name is a great option. Additionally, now may be the time to chase a dream of yours by picking up a side-hustle. Do something you love, and make money doing it. I did that with this blog, and if that interests you, perhaps you’d like to learn more about how to do that here. If you want to make money dog-sitting, apply to Rover today.

If you felt the crushing loss of a job and didn’t have an emergency fund, then the last few months may have been difficult. The EDD stipend of $600 a week to those who are unemployed has helped many, certainly, but really, having an emergency can also alleviate that stress. Start by mastering your budget. It’s the first step to all financial independence journeys.

If you have a lot of debt, it’s time to start paying it off. Student loan questions in particular? Now is the time to talk to a professional. Our recommendation is Travis Hornsby of Student Loan Planner. Schedule an appointment through my affiliate link, here.

It’s never too late to start. Trust me. I started from the bottom. Negative $575,000 bottom.

Finance: The Third Year of Paying Down $575,000 in Student Loans, An Update

Every May, I post an update on how we are doing with our path to financial independence, which largely depends on our student loan repayment plan. If you haven’t already heard the story,  I graduated at the age of 26 years old (turned 27 a few weeks after graduation) with more than half a million dollars in debt. A weight that was too heavy to bear, I decided to shun the common notion of waiting 25-30 years for loan forgiveness and instead to get rid of the debt as fast as I can.

Three years of aggressively tackling my loans is coming to an end, and what a journey it has been! You can read about my first two years here and here. As every year before, I will summarize what we have accomplished financially since last May, and how we plan to move forward and snowball our way down to being $0 in debt.

A Summary of Accomplishments for Year 3

This past year, there have been numerous accomplishments that I am very proud to share. It has been a year of experimentation and discovery for us both. But also, a year of triumphs over a few financial hurdles. Here is what we’ve done.

  • I opened a bakery and managed my own small business with one employee for an entire year. One of my life goals was to pursue my hobbies and possibly make them into mini-side-hustles. Other jobs that I had last year on top of dentistry was this blog space and dog-sitting via ROVER. After a year of baking for local restaurants, coffee shops, and markets, I closed my bakery two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic took place.
  • My husband wanted to switch careers. He has been interested in coding for some time and he decided to take a coding boot camp in order to be able to do systems analytics for large data sets. We enrolled him in a program which started January 2020 and paid for the schooling in FULL (it cost $8k) without reducing the amount we put towards student loans. We took the money from our “emergency fund” and built it back up over the course of 3 months. In February of 2020, when the company he was working at was doing lay offs, he requested to be considered for it due to a nice severance package for two months which ended on April 7, 2020.
  • COVID-19 epidemic happened which ended up helping us financially. My husband, whose severance ended in April, then applied for EDD and instead of getting very little money during this period of professional transition, he gets paid $4200 a month from the government.
  • As a dentist during COVID-19, I was in a precarious position. I split my time between two dental offices and was working 6 days a week prior to March 15. However, the government decided that dental treatment should be limited strictly to emergencies, thus causing one of my offices to shut down for the time-being. Luckily, the other office located 3 blocks from my house stayed open and I was able to work 3-4 days a week due to a particular patient pool. A 3-mile radius around our office houses over 330,000 residents who are mostly within a lower social-economic status. They usually do not have time to worry about preventative dental care and go to the dental office only when something hurts. Thus, emergencies ran amok. Additionally, 80% of the patients I see have Medical. Therefore, Medical covered all root canals and extractions at 100%, and everyone who came in with a medical emergency pretty much had a free pass at getting the treatment started on that day. Since most other dental offices were closed, patients from 30 miles away were driving to see us, too. If it were any other dental office, I would have been sitting at home like all my other colleagues but due to sheer luck, this actually kept us afloat.
  • COVID-19 helped us even further by reducing the interest rate on student loans to 0% until the end of September. This is a dream for all graduates paying off student debt, especially if they are paying it off aggressively. With the uncertainty that came in March, we paused student loan repayment and kept all our incomes liquid. However, now that we realize that the stipend from EDD for Mike and my work situation puts us at a stable financial position, we have enough set aside for student loans to bring us in the $300,000s ($375k to be exact)! Which is CRAZY! That means that in three years, we were able to go from $575k to $375k at a 6.8% interest rate. So now, we are tossing and turning the option of partially withholding some of that loan repayment money and putting it into buying a second property that we can use as a rental unit – thus increasing passive income. We are still up in the air about whether to experiment with real estate or focus on paying down loans. Perhaps we get both?
  • This past weekend, we finished off my husband’s car payment, a loan that lasted five years. My husband has owned three cars and three motorcycles. Five years ago, he was convinced by the dealer that he should take out a car loan to improve his credit. His other motor vehicles were always bought in full and in cash. The dealer recommended a car loan to improve his chances of being able to get a house mortgage in the future. Since Mike has no history of accruing debt, opening his first credit card AFTER graduating from college, he technically had “bad credit”. Mike signed up for a car loan and while I agree it improved his credit tremendously, I also get weak in the knees thinking about all the money we lost on interest. It’s a screwy system. But now it’s all over, which adds that monthly $585 car payment towards liquid assets which we can put into our loans or a rental unit.
  • Speaking of mortgages, we are finishing up our home refinance, which if successful would reduce our monthly payments by $500 a month. Add this to the savings from the finished car payments, and that’s an extra $1k to put towards snowballing our path to FI.
  • Lastly, we made a few adjustments including switching our car insurance and our homeowner’s insurance to a different company so that we can shave off an extra $100 per month. Now that Mike is at home working on his course, we have saved money on dining out since someone is always home making meals. Also, without the bakery, I have less stress and can focus on improving our finances and other aspects of our personal life.

How to Continue Snowballing

There are many ways in which we are snowballing the loan repayment so that we gain momentum and speed as time progresses. An example of this is the car being fully paid off, which then adds an additional monthly $585 towards our repayment plan. We had created many ideas along the way on how to make our repayment system better. Here are a few ways.

  • The Repaye program pays 50% of interest for the first three years of the program. By switching to REPAYE within the first year of repayment, we have saved thousands of dollars on interest. The final year of REPAYE is this coming year. We hope to reach mid to low $300k by the time it ends.
  • After the 50% perk of REPAYE ends, we hope to be at a low enough dollar amount to refinance the entire student debt. If we can refinance at 3% instead of the 6.8%, that would speed up our progress tremendously. Also, as the principal amount decreases, more of our repayments go towards the principal itself.
  • We are debating about purchasing a second property as a rental unit. If we do, we are searching for one that would at least cover the mortgage and it would be swell if we could find one that can actually rake in a bit more than the mortgage per month. This builds equity under our name and sets us up for passive income in the future in case we pursue early retirement. As we get closer to the end of the student loans, we always have the option of selling it (assuming it accrues value) towards the end of repayment to get a chunk of liquid assets and put it into the loans. Of course, the latter option is less financially savvy.
  • Currently, with me working and Mike unemployed, we can still afford our monthly $6.5k student loan payment and our living expenses. My hope is that Mike will get a job after the coding program that he enjoys and we can funnel 100% of the additional income into loans.
  • Currently, we are renting the bottom floor of our loft to my brother’s girlfriend for a very cheap rate to help her out. My brother is currently in Arizona starting his second year of dental school in the Fall. There has been discussion about them moving in together in a year or so. Of course, we would love for her to stay with us forever and ever but if she does choose to move to Arizona, we can definitely rent the bottom space closer to market value. Since our live-work-loft is commercially zoned and faces a downtown area, we can rent the bottom space to either a business or a resident. Our options are widened by the fact that it can act as an office space or a storefront.

When we first started our student loan repayment journey, we thought it’d be great to pay it back in less than 10 years. The first plan we made put us at 9.8 years. We made such good headway the first year but it wasn’t until Travis Hornsby from Student Loan Planner tipped us off on switching our repayment plans in order to save more money that our trajectory put as at paying back the debt in 7 years. With COVID-19’s help, I did the calculations at the current rate, I can repay it in 3.5 more years. But assuming Mike gets a job soon after his coding camp ends in June, I think we can actually finish this in only 2.5 more years.

And to think that people almost convinced us not to do it. They said life would be very difficult for us personally and financially. Yet we are the only couple we know who are calling the shots at work, creating our own schedules, switching professions if we wanted to, pursuing hobbies as options to replace work, traveling the world freely, and living a relatively stress-free life. Choosing the harder path, the road less traveled, really set us up for a different life.

Which is to say that sometimes, it pays off to follow your gut. Reach for your dreams. Look at more than just numbers. Surround yourself with like-minded people, cut out societal expectations, go rogue and run like vagabonds toward the nearest exit signs. Be afraid and do it anyway. Live life to the fullest, you’ll have no regrets.

Here’s to Year #4! Cheers!

Tips for New Grads with Large Student Debt

  • Get a consultation with Travis Hornsby of Student Loan Planner. I know it costs money and it feels difficult to pay more money when your goals are to save and pay back debt. But you don’t know what you don’t know and Travis is well-versed in student loan repayment options. Even when we were already aggressively tackling our student debt and working with an amazing financial planner whose wife was a dentist herself, Travis still taught us a few things we didn’t know. He saved us about $10,000 by simply placing us in a different repayment plan!
  • Run the numbers. This may be hard without someone’s help, but you’ve really got to run every possible repayment scenario to see which one saves you the most money. Of course, in the end, you may choose the one that affords you the lifestyle you want. In our case, we chose the one that does both. By choosing to aggressively pay back debt, we are saving more than $100,000 than if we just waited for forgiveness 25-30 years later. We also are freeing ourselves us 15-25 years sooner than our peers, which is a huge psychological benefit. Notice that I said we chose the one that saves us the most money. Travis will argue that we didn’t choose the one that would make us the most money. Which is true considering you can invest over 25 years of working. But I guarantee you we chose what was right for us.
  • Figure out your priorities in life. The best thing our financial planner did when we started talking about our finances was to spend a few sessions in the beginning asking us the hard questions to try to figure out what exactly we wanted. It was like marriage counseling for money. The top few items we had were to spend time with family, travel the world, and have the freedom to pursue our interests and hobbies. Freedom and independence dominated the conversation, and it was because of this that we decided aggressive repayment was the way to go.
  • Master a budget. You have to start somewhere. Mastering the budget is where you have to start. You can always increase your income, but if you never learn to curb your spending then there is no point. I made this course FREE on my blog to help as many people out. We use YNAB to manage our budget.
  • Surround yourself with a community of like-minded people. There is that saying that you are as good as the 5 people you surround yourself with. I choose to surround myself with finance resources. My favorite finance podcast is ChooseFI, but there is also Afford Anything and FIRE drill. My favorite book is Your Money or Your Life  by Vicki Robinson but other goodies are The Simple Path to Wealth and Goodbye Things. And then, of course, there are blogs, including Mr. Money Mustache, Mad Fientist, JL Collins, and The Frugalwoods.

Frugal Challenge: Practice Minimalism

In my life (as it is now), minimalism came first. By practicing minimalism, everything good in my life fell into place, financial clarity being one of them. Every time I choose a life of less stuff, I enforce a habit of not relying on external stimuli to make me feel whole. I am also deconstructing a fallacy that we were taught from birth, one that says we can buy our way to happiness. Minimalism is, after-all, a modern by-product of Zen teachings on how happiness resides within ourselves and the worlds our minds create. Any external stimuli only prevents us from tapping into our inner state of calm or peace by acting as a distraction from true happiness. Without the material things to distract me, I am able to focus on the more important (non-material things) in my life, such as paying down $575k in student debt! I can confidently say that I would not have been as successful with finding frugality and working towards financial independence without first practicing the art of saying Goodbye, Things.

My frugal challenge for the month of October is to start practicing minimalism. After all, it goes hand-in-hand with frugality. Practicing minimalism can cut down costs in many ways. Here are a few!

  • LESS SHOPPING, ERGO LESS SPENDING: After you’ve de-cluttered a lot of your items, you will naturally develop a hesitancy with buying something again (unless it’s something you realized you really need or want). The de-cluttering process, when done right, is a tedious process for the average American because of how much stuff we tend to accumulate. I guarantee that once you’ve really pared down, buying things is not as attractive as it once was, which means you will spend less money on shopping.
  • LESS STUFF MEANS LESS LIVING SPACE: Having less things allow for a smaller home, which usually leads to cheaper rent! Many minimalists find that once they are freed from the burden of material objects, they are suddenly free to live alternative lifestyles, such as pursuing the small space movement! Housing is one of the largest expenses in most people’s budget, so reducing the cost of housing will greatly catapult your path towards financial freedom.
  • LESS UNNECESSARY SPENDING FOR REPAIRS AND REPLACEMENT. Minimalism is a lesson in being grateful for the things we already have. Because minimalists surround themselves with only their most beloved things, they are more likely to preserve, mend, and fix a broken thing than they are to throw it away and replace it. They aren’t going to buy things for convenience sake and they are more invested in maintenance. Because of this, they save more money.
  • LESS KEEPING UP WITH THE JONES’S: Minimalists do not participate in keeping up with the Jones’s. In fact, they think the Jones’s are making a dying, rather than making a living. And minimalists prefer to live life rather than work themselves to death in order to buy material goods. And since minimalists do not participate in upward social comparisons, they are not as easily influenced or frequently bombarded by and with advertisements. They aren’t called upon to be consumers. And if they are, the calling is easily ignored. Overall, they don’t spend money in order to keep an appearance. Minimalists save their dollars, preferring to build wealth rather than build social status.
  • LESS STRESS RELIEF BINGES. When we are stressed, we tend to spend in order to make ourselves feel better. We want to take a vacation to run away from stressful work. We go out to drink during happy hour after a difficult 8-5. We binge on food and eat our misery away. We even have retail therapy. A practice in minimalism leads to more space physically, emotionally, and mentally. Minimalism reduces stress by reducing the external stimuli in our environments. With all this Zen, there is less cost dedicated to stress relief practices.
  • NO EXPENSIVE FRIVOLOUS EVENTS. Minimalists do not want to celebrate big life events with lavish parties, nor do they want to receive a tower of gifts. What will they do with all of this stuff? I may be speaking for myself, but my ideal celebration involves people and homemade food in a warm setting. I like gatherings in small spaces because you can feel the presence of others and there’s no nooks and crannies to hide in and stare lovingly into your phone. A good example of this was our wedding. We got married in an empty warehouse and the decor was handmade. My father tied gold streamers onto a string, and I made a backdrop for the photobooth area. My aunt collected wild flowers and put them in vases, and Mike’s grandmother made cookies and her famous magic bars. Our friends provided local beer for the reception as their wedding gift. We hired a taco truck and had donuts for desert. I’d imagine the same would go for children’s parties, funerals, graduation, & c. No frivolous events means no expensive events!

These are just a few ways that minimalism can help build a frugal lifestyle. The truth is, minimalism goes a step further than frugality. When I became a minimalist, I reduced the distractions in my life. I honed in on who I was and what made me happy. Because of this recently tapped in energy, I performed better at work and increased my income. I then found a few interests that became side hustles (writing being one of them). This further allowed me to make more money. And as I became happier, I also became less dependent on buying my way to happiness. My work made me happy, and I funneled even more time into my passions. And so the cycle snowballed, and slowly, our debt repayment changed from 25 years to 10 years to 9 year, to 7 years, to hopefully less than 6 years! All because I got rid of my things.

As all minimalists argue, if minimalism involves shedding physical burdens in the form of material possessions in order to be liberated to live the life that really matters, why isn’t is called maximalism? Frugal maximalism.

Feature: How to Manage and Pay Off Multiple Credit Cards with Andrew Rombach

I LOVE credit cards. I think that credit cards are really useful when their perks are used efficiently, in things such as travel hacking for example. We use them frequently to fly to places around the world for free. However, my relationship with credit cards wasn’t always good. In fact, I used to hate them. My money egg story here explains how my perception of money was greatly shaped by my parents’ influence. At sixteen years old, they had me open a few credit cards under my name, and then maxed out those credit cards. By the time I was a freshman in college, I was getting letters in the mail saying that the credit card minimums are not being met and that my credit score was being affected. When I confronted my parents, their answers were “Don’t worry about it. We have it under control.” Since 2007, they had maxed out my cards at $20,000. Eventually, when I was 21 years old, I became brave enough to say “No more” and shut down all credit cards that they had access to so that they couldn’t keep using them. To this day, they still owe $8,000 towards that debt. This relationship with money is what made me fear my student loans, and it is eventually what propelled me to knock ’em down! Because this means that all this time, my parents were paying massive amounts of interest on credit card debt, and they still have not been able to pay it back. Credit cards have some of the highest interest rates and unless they are paid back in full at the end of every month, they only work to hurt your financial journey. Therefore, while I advocate the use of credit cards in order to propel you forward in reaching your finance goals, I also warn that you must have the wherewithal to be able to handle credit cards well. If you are starting from a place with existing credit card debt, my advice would be to work with all you’ve got to pay it down … OR COMMIT FINANCIAL SUICIDE! We don’t take credit card debt very lightly around here. So when Andrew Rombach from LENDEDU asked if he could share some tips with my readers, I was all on board. If you are struggling with paying off your credit cards, I hope you find some useful info in this post. 

Do you find yourself in the vicious cycle of trying to pay off your credit card debt? Do you have multiple cards and aren’t sure where to start? You’re not alone in that struggle. Credit card debt is a common problem for consumers. It’s all too easy to fall into. Just take a look at a few nationwide statistics.

According to the Federal Reserve, households in the United States owed a collective $999 billion in credit card or revolving debt by mid-2018. Some sources put average credit card debt at over $6,000 per consumer, and cardholders typically have 4 credit cards. That’s quite a hefty sum to deal with for any household, and if you find yourself in this situation, then you may find yourself stuck paying the minimum endlessly on several cards.

While getting out of excessive credit card debt is hard, it’s certainly not impossible. There are a few ways to manage your credit cards or transfer the debt that can save money, make your life simpler, or both. Check out a few of these tips if you want to find a different approach to your credit card debt.

Try Debt Consolidation Loans

A debt consolidation loan is basically a personal loan used to pay off various forms of debt, or credit cards in this case. To put it simply, you apply for and take out a loan from a bank or lender, which is usually unsecured. That loan pays off your credit card balances. Now you must make monthly installment payments on just one loan instead of various credit cards.

Consolidation loans provide the benefit of simplifying monthly payments to just one payment; plus, it adds certainty to repayment because you can stick to one repayment schedule with an end goal in sight. Furthermore, clearing your credit cards may lower your credit utilization ratio. Finally, a possible interest rate reduction on your debt could save money. This new debt consolidation loan comes with a new rate, so it could be lower than your credit cards depending on your credit.

A drawback is the eligibility requirements for a new personal loan. Lenders prefer applicants with a great credit profile and high income; in fact, those applicants are more likely to get lower interest rates. Also, remember to use newly-cleared credit cards wisely moving forward. You don’t want to be left with a loan balance and mounting credit card debt again.

Time Your Payments Accordingly

Some credit card debtors consider timing multiple monthly payments to save on interest. Interest cuts into your principle payments and extends the repayment process, but timing additional payments can help reduce your principal balance before interest accrues.

After making your monthly interest and principal payment, your interest balance should be lower moving forward. Before it accrues again, it may be worth making an extra payment on your cards. This will cut into the principal balance more significantly, and it also reduces the amount of interest paid on the next scheduled monthly payment.

On the negative side, not everyone has the extra cash to make a second payment each month. If you don’t have the money, then you may need to settle for another way to save money and expedite repayment. 

Try Either the Debt Avalanche or Snowball Method

The debt avalanche and snowball methods are two different ways to handle multiple credit cards over time, and neither requires taking out a loan or new credit card.

The avalanche method requires you to make large credit card payments on the account with the highest interest rate, while paying the minimum on all other accounts. After you pay off the high-interest credit card, you repeat the process with the next high-interest card.

It’s counterpart, the debt snowball method, works in a similar way, except you must prioritize low-balance credit cards. You would make larger payments on the credit card with the least debt and maintain the rest. When paid off, start paying more on the next low-balance card.

A major benefit of these methods is simply organization. They help you get on track with a plan of action. By prioritizing high-interest debt with debt avalanche, you’re paying off multiple debts more efficiently which should save money (eliminating high-interest debt reduce interest costs). With the snowball method, you can simplify repayment by cutting out low-balance cards from the equation. It’s generally accepted that avalanche saves more money than snowball, but that is still up for debate.

These methods are ideal because they require budgeting with your own cash (no loans involved), but this may also be a drawback because it’s very hard to pull off without the extra money for larger payments.

Balance Transfer Credit Card

If you opt for this method, you will take out a new credit card that comes with a lower interest rate, preferably a super-low or 0% rate during an introductory period. You then must transfer your credit card balance to this new card and begin repayment. It’s similar to debt consolidation, but the debt is transferred to another revolving account instead.

The point here is to get a lower interest rate on your credit card debt in order to save money. Ideally, you can get a zero-rate offer for up to a year or more which would save the most money. The goal is to pay your debt before that intro period is over.

Like with debt consolidation, you may be tempted to rack up more charges on a freed-up credit card. Remember that the debt doesn’t go away; you still need to pay it off. Also, balance transfer cards may be less suited for transferring multiple balances depending on your new credit limit.

Find the Method That Works Best for You

Each method offers its own set of benefits and drawbacks. One method could suit your budget perfectly, but another may not be the best fit. If you have the cash and organization skills, then maybe debt avalanche/snowball would work best. If your credit is stellar and you’re used to loans, a debt consolidation loan could be the solution.

Finding the method that works best for you is what matters most. Be honest with yourself and look at which style will best suit you – and then starting acting on it.

Andrew is a Content Associate for LendEDU – a website that helps consumers with their finances. He got his start in content and finance by writing all about credit cards. When he’s not working, you can find Andrew hiking or hanging with his cats Colby and Tobi.

Freedom: In Taking A Month Off When Owning Your Business

About a year ago, I heard of a man who worked for himself as a photographer. During Christmas time, his calendar for booking a photo shoot was entirely grayed out, indicating that there were no days available for last-minute holiday cards of procrastinators. At first, one would think, “Entirely booked for the holidays – he must be doing well!” Until one looked at the bottom right corner and saw an asterisked note.

“*We are accepting no bookings in the month of December in order to dedicate our time to our loved ones.”

To some, they may still come to the same conclusion. “He must be doing well to take THAT much time off.” But to others, myself included, a lightbulb flickers. An “Aha” forms quietly on the lips. And I think the inverse instead: “He’s got it all figured out, that which makes him well.”


R E :   M Y  T A K I N G   A   M O N T H   O F F 

In the month of June, I turn thirty years old, with my date of birth landing directly on Father’s Day, as it sometimes does. Life has been one crazy ride these last few months, and I thought to myself, why not take the month of June off?

Okay, not entirely, persay.

But my time has been disproportionately skewed towards my recent baking venture, and I have been looking for an opportunity to swing things back to a more balanced state. I’ve missed writing, and feel the loss of the introspection that only a year ago predominated my life. Plus, I also miss that slow lifestyle that has so rambunctiously sped up. I’ve quite made up my mind. I want to be like the photographer. I have my own bakery, and no one is requiring me to bake. In an effort to exit my twenties full of opportunity for moments of self-reflection and enter my thirties with half my wits about me, I have decided not to take any orders for Aero Bakery during my birthday month.

Off course, I will still be working as a dentist during part of my birthday month (we leave for a two-week trip to Alaska towards the end – how we get our flights for free here), and I will still continue helping Rye Goods bake off their bread and pastries. But with regards to my own business, I will close in observation of this life event, and in an effort to respect my mind and body which have both been craving time and space.

In addition, I have decided to quit the midnight shifts at Rye Goods after June and focus solely on Aero when I return in July. It was a difficult choice since both gave me so much happiness, but I had to choose between the two, or continue to deprive myself of the lifestyle which I have worked so hard to build. So, you see, I couldn’t keep both. I wished not to keep both. The choice ultimately came down to which one I had more control over, and Aero happened to be the winner. 


R E :   B U S I N E S S   O W N E R S   T A K I N G   A   M O N T H   O F F

I think it’s important to address the freedom in taking time off when owning your business. While it may seem straight-forward, unfortunately, the majority of business owners do not realize this freedom. As with most American dreams, less is not considered more. Closing a business (for a month or more, no less!) is considered business suicide. Taboo, almost. Many suffer from the feeling of, “No choice”. One simply doesn’t do it. Or at least, that’s how they want you to think.

Business owners experience a lot of pressure in competing with other business owners. Held prey to a scarcity mindset (you know, that sinking feeling that if someone else is getting a customer, you are, in turn, losing one), many owners fear taking the time off. In fact, they are less likely to take the time off than a person working for someone else.

I hope to remind you that it isn’t really the case.

It takes a whole lot of courage (and even more trust) in your abilities, or self-worth, or what-have-ye.

But it’s worth it.


R E :   F R E E D O M   I N   T A K I N G   A    M O N T H   O F F 

We talk a lot here about financial independence, and it is this freedom that this life affords.
The ability to say, “No, not today.”
The ability to walk away.
The confidence that it will be there for you when you return,
and if not, then you can build another.
Eventually, I want an entire life built around this freedom.
A simple one, free of debt, so that all I have to earn is the food I am going to eat.
I wish for a life’s work that is in my hands.
A job that we don’t depend on, because we don’t need to make money.
The ability to choose a different path, in an instant, without hesitation.
Eventually, I hope to work mostly for myself.
In fact, I hope to l i v e only for myself.
There. That’s better.


R E :   O W N I N G   A  (D E N T A L)   B U S I N E S S 

People in this space ask why I don’t own a dental practice, so that I may be free from my student debt sooner. But just as I refuse to work full-time as a dentist, I find that owning a practice gives up freedom now for freedom later, and the cost is too great.
I want to do work that is not dictated by money … nor insurances, nor patient wishes.
Currently, I counter-balance the need to fit into a box dictated by what is just, and good, and scientifically-proven, and paid for by insurance, and perceived by the patient, et cetera, with baking for myself, and myself alone. This is kind of where my life is headed. I wanted to be a dentist to be of use to people. I likely will not give up dentistry entirely any time soon, because I find that there is truth in my initial intention. But in dentistry, I cannot say with certainty that the end-product is truly my work. It’s manipulated by other people, factors, institutions, and the politics doesn’t allow for something more pure. It is because of this I do not own a dental business. And there is some pride in that.


R E : C A P

Regardless, looking forward to having a month sort-of-off. Looking forward to a lot of memory hashing and story-telling. Looking forward to, well, looking forward. My twenties were chalk full with life-affirming moments. I wish for my thirties to be filled with much the same. And much less ranting. As, I am sure, do you.

 

 

The Importance of Fun Money in Financial Sustainability

We all know that I talk a lot about sustainability, harboring borderline ad nauseam (debatable). Most oft, it refers to an environmental topic, but once in a blue moon, it will refer to something finance related. This is because tackling a student loan of $550K+ has taught me a thing or two about how to set yourself up for success with paying down debt, one of which is that the looming debt seems to most an insurmountable task that very easily deters a person from pursuing a tackling of said giant. And if you were as crazed as I about financial freedom and you did pursue freedom from debt, I would postulate bet my money on the fact that we are looking at a journey long-term. In other words, opportunities abound for insecurities to start kicking in, and there are many forks in the road that either lead you back to where you started from (in our case, on a 25 year loan forgiveness plan) or to a dead end. So we must talk sustainability if we are to expect a level of success. More importantly, we must talk sustainability if we are ever going to c r u s h this game (which we are!)

Related Posts:

Finding Financial Sustainability

Saving every dollar towards achieving a goal can be a grueling task. Most inquiries from outsiders center around how we survive the suffering. Surely, we must be starving ourselves of LIFE in an effort to be free?

ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Firstly, if you think that’s the case, then you don’t know us at all. I think both of us are averse towards doing anything we don’t feel is right. Read also as anything we don’t want to do. And while that seems bratty at best, it’s actually the perfect recipe towards a happy life.

Secondly, I agree. Anyone who is bogged down by the stresses of meeting payment requirements may have difficulty enjoying “the finer things”, but who gets to define “the finer things”? Only you. So while society spends their hard-earned bucks on Rolexes and Teslas, your idea of a finer thing could be a cup of coffee, a morning of solace, a day outdoors, yeah?

And lastly, even when it comes to purchasing stuff, we have the ability to, but with mindfulness. We don’t have a tendency to purchase things right when we see them anyway, and scoff at that on-demand-pull that gets most people to do some regretful spending. What we do have is a category in our budgeting tool (this link will take you to my course on how to set up your own budgeting tool). We have to thank our CFP (who is no longer doing CFP work but who have been invaluable in sending us on our way to a healthy, financially fit life – see The Value of Having a CFP) for teaching us about the importance of having a category for spending on OURSELVES.

Yes! I am talking about a category dedicated towards FUN money.

Sustainability comes from a variety of inspirations and motivations. Just when the going gets rough, one can find the push they need in a community, in the re-evaluation of perspective, in a reminder of the reason WHY we started in the first place. Sustainability can also be found in a bribe – a reward persay … but a calculated reward. This is what fun money is.

How to Set Aside Fun Money

Fun money is literally a category in our budgeting tool. It sits under the “Wants” grouping, and gets allocated a monthly amount. Nothing large by any means. We are talking $50 a month. If we want something more than $50, then we have to save for a few months.

We have our own separate categories for fun money, and we can spend our fun money however we want. Fun money is spent towards things we want but we both don’t benefit from. So, for example, if I want to buy a book about bread, then that will come out of my fun money fund. Or if he wants to buy a video game to play with his guy friends, then that will come out of his fun money account.

There isn’t anything extravagant about the fun money bucket. Because the amount is so small per month (less than 1% of our entire income), there is no guilt associated with it. Because we each have our own category, there is no blame when one spends their fun money. And because we already planned for the spending ahead of time, there is no buyer’s remorse. In fact, the opposite is true. It starts the habit of serious consideration prior to purchasing, because you realize how long it took to build up your fun money fund, and makes you assess whether there are better methods of spending. In fact, I think fun money is a great way to teach kids about appropriate spending habits, especially if the percentage set aside towards fun money is small compared to what they actually receive from birthdays, holidays, and rewarded chore duties.

How Fun Money Helps With Sustainability

So you can buy a few items. Whoop-dee-doo. How does that help with paying down a massive student debt?!

The psychology of working essentially for free and putting all your hard-earned dollars towards a debt that allowed you to work in the first place is difficult to describe. The taxation on the mind, as well as the emotional roller coaster that one experiences, cannot be stressed. Some days, you wonder what it is exactly that you’ve done. You start to question whether it was all worth it. Eventually, you’ll come around. But the hoops you have to go through to continue on this journey … it’s comical how emo the whole thing is. Like I said, the insecurities roll in like a fog. You don’t realize their coming, but they sneak up on you. It is during these times that you may need a little boost of confidence. Moral support does the trick, but there are days when I feel like no one else TRULY understands. Because how could they? We all travel different paths, and no two are exactly alike. An activity helps as well, but only momentarily, as it steals the mind and takes it elsewhere. The insecurity doesn’t fade, however, and soon you are left where you started. Unless the activity spans a long period of time, all you can do is wait.

However, the human mind responds very well to a reward system. In fact, it responds so well, that many people are obsessed with rewarding themselves, so much so that they suffer from excess consumption. No need to go down that rabbit hole now (AGAIN). Reward systems are involved in positive reinforcement, or in bribing people to do what one wants them to do. So really, I guess I’m bribing myself. Or at least, I am psychologically tricking the mind into resetting to a more positive thinking space.

The human mind doesn’t respond to starvation. Nothing lives after that. But the reward system, the mind understands. Fun money allows me to give myself calculated rewards. Things that I have already budgeted for, the purchasing of which is controlled. I don’t need much, as we already know, but occasionally, I need a push. I need breathing room. I need a break. And then, I can keep going.

Fun money makes this work sustainable. Less scary, somehow. More manageable. It makes me less of an anomaly, and more human. Hopefully, it makes me more relatable, and shows people that this isn’t me performing some heroic. It’s something that’s achievable for others too. I hope it gets them to start on their own journeys, knowing that sustainability is possible, and that fun money doesn’t make you less dedicated, nor does it make you less successful. If anything, I will dare to say that it’ll feed your fire, and make you succeed where others only dare dream.

Pictured: My most recent purchase, supporting Two Days Off, an ethical clothing line by Gina Stovall based in Los Angeles, CA.