My 7 Step Blueprint I Used To Become Debt Free In 14 Months - Smart Money Seed

4/3/18

My 7 Step Blueprint I Used To Become Debt Free In 14 Months



Let's go back in time for a moment to May 10, 2015. 10,000 of my closest friends (including our very own Ty Henze) and I are dressed in our finest black robes on what was inevitably the hottest day in the history of mankind.

It's finally time to put the college days behind us and join the real world.

After Archie Griffin's speech about regaining Woody Hayes' trust after fumbling on his first collegiate play, I admittedly start daydreaming about what's to come instead of cheering on the 1,000 or so new doctors getting their names called individually (yes that process is as brutally boring as it sounds).

Here's a brief synopsis of 21 year old Alex's life:
  • Starting job at Marathon in just over a month
  • Upgraded from the '94 Corolla for the 1.5 hour daily commute
  • Signed up for a $19k car loan for my new 2015 Ford Focus
  • $11k in student loans
  • Dwindling bank account under $1,000 for the first time since high school (the east coast baseball trip and countless beers were totally worth it)
  • Moved back to Bucyrus to save money on rent (and enjoy plenty of home cooked meals)

That equated to about $600 total monthly loan payments, $0 in rent, and about $200 per month in gas for the long commute.

To summarize, my financial situation looked like this:

$30,000 Debt
$800 Monthly Payments ($200 non-debt payments)

I was by no means in dire straits especially when you consider that the average student loan debt and average auto loan are $30,000 each. But the idea of throwing that $600 out the window each month for the next 4 years really pissed me off.

SO I DECIDED TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!

I'll never tell you that paying off your debt is the only way to achieve financial success. But if you really feel like your student loans or other debt is your biggest obstacle holding you back, then quit complaining and do something about it.

Get focused, make sacrifices, and change your life.

/rant.


My Debt Free Blueprint

My story is a little bit different than most, and I'll be 100% transparent about three important factors.
  • Becoming debt free was not my plan from day 1.
I knew I wanted to save money to allow for financial flexibility in my life, but I didn't know until about 6 months in that becoming debt free was what I wanted to do with that money.
  • My plan did not maximize my return.
Since I valued flexibility so much, I decided to make my normal monthly payments and save the extra money in my bank account until I was ready to pay everything off at once -- then I spent $25k in one day. I could've saved a few bucks by making payments along the way, but I preferred the flexibility of building up my bank account. 
  • I did not make every possible sacrifice to pay debt as quickly as possible.
I had plenty of fun going down to Ty's apartment almost every weekend to hit up the bars and the Ohio State football games, taking trips to New York to see Amanda. We believe we're here to enjoy life and balance short term gratification with long term success. Sure, I could've paid off my debt a few months earlier, but I wasn't putting myself or anybody else in any financial danger by enjoying myself within reason (I took the bus to NYC twice -- never again). 

I would never recommend completely throwing away your early 20s to pay off debt unless your situation absolutely calls for it which is certainly the case for some. The key is to understand your situation and to live within your means. If you've lived outside your means in the past and now have loads of credit card debt, you should probably be making more sacrifices now than if you just have student loan debt. 

Step 1: Maximize Income

Regardless of what I was going to do with my money, I knew I wanted to make a lot more money than I spent especially for those first couple of years right out of school. Amanda had 2 years left until graduation, and I didn't exactly know where life would end up taking me at that point. I did know that I wanted to be prepared for wherever that was.

I worked my full time job at Marathon, mowed 2 lawns, and worked several weekends (including holidays like Labor Day and Memorial Day -- my birthday weekend) at Home City Ice. I spent my free time building a business with my dad (which wasn't successful but taught some important lessons) and a blog with Christian (which led to Smart Money Seed as you all know it today).

And yes, I still made time on the weekends for Ohio State football games and general shenanigans with Christian, Ty, and the rest of my friends. No, I wasn't neglecting Amanda -- she spent the 2015-2016 school year in New York City.

Step 2: Educate Yourself

I spent most of my 1.5-hour daily commute listening to Dave Ramsey, Pat Flynn, and Tim Ferriss. Pat & Tim provided the knowledge and motivation I needed to start working toward my dream of entrepreneurship, and Dave put this bug in my ear to start thinking about how quickly I could accumulate wealth if I wasn't throwing away $600 each month.

Like I mentioned earlier, I wasn't in dire straits like seemingly half of Dave's callers. Although making incredible sacrifices to throw every penny I could find at my debt would've maximized my return and allowed me to pay it off in about half the time that it actually took me, I didn't feel the need to go extreme. 

I still had my fun and spent money on stupid shit from time to time, but the idea of a debt free life became very appealing. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to pay off my debt so I could start investing in myself and my entrepreneurial journey.

Step 3: Set Your Target

Once I decided I would work toward my goal of becoming debt free, I set a target to pay off my debt in 2 years total. I planned to live with my parents for a year and save like a madman during that time. I finalized this goal after about 6 months (I had already started saving the second I started getting paid), so I had about a year and a half from the time I dialed in my focus until I planned to be debt free.

I actually ended up working a little more for Home City Ice than I had anticipated and spent an extra 8 months with my parents which really helped me supercharge my savings and pay off my debt in 14 months -- a full 10 months ahead of schedule!

Step 4: Make A Detailed Plan

I'm not going to sit here and pretend like I made a detailed budget to turn my debt free journey into an exact science, saving the same exact amount of money each month. That would be a bold faced lie, and you know I love you guys too much to lie to you.

I did make a calculation to figure out how much I needed to save each month. I knew some months would be more expensive like December when I bought Christmas presents and a New Year's Eve trip to NYC for Amanda and me. I also knew some months would be less expensive like February when I hibernate besides going to work. I also knew some months would bring in more money because I get paid bi-weekly and some mowing months are busier than others.

The moral of the story is I did make a detailed plan in the sense that I knew how much money each month made the math work, but I did not follow that plan to a t. I tracked my progress each month and made adjustments as I went. Clearly this plan worked for me because of my ridiculously low expenses, but I would expect most people realistically may need to be a little more scientific and disciplined in their tracking than I was.

Step 5: GET STARTED!

I often suffer from analysis paralysis. As I mentioned, I didn't fully commit to a goal of becoming debt free until 6 months in. Luckily I had made up my mind from the start that I wanted to make saving money a priority (not my ONLY priority), so I wasn't starting from scratch at 6 months.

Having a goal you're motivated to work toward is always the most important factor -- not necessarily having a perfect goal. If you've committed to a goal of becoming debt free, GET STARTED! Quit listening to the people telling you about how stupid your decision is and how much better return you could make through investments. 

You've done your homework, and you know exactly why you're doing this. Quit seeking validation and get going. I wanted flexibility to do whatever I want with my income by lowering my fixed costs and effectively giving myself a $600 monthly raise. 

Step 6: Check & Adjust -- But Stay Committed

Like I mentioned earlier, my living situation didn't play out exactly as I expected, and I was able to pay off my debt ahead of schedule. You may change jobs (for better or worse), relocate, or start a family during your debt free journey. We all know the only constant in life is change. 

You need to be adaptable enough to change your plan to accommodate whatever curveballs (good or bad) life throws you. The key is to make sure you're not making excuses or becoming undisciplined and unnecessarily delaying achieving your goal. Stay committed and be honest with yourself.p

Your goal isn't really about the debt itself. Visualize what it is you really want to do with the money you're not throwing away to your debt payments every month. Keep that in mind when you experience temptation to cheat yourself and make a bad decision that would knock you off track.

Step 7: Make That Last Payment & CELEBRATE!

Whether your plan includes chipping off chunks of debt over time or one large lump sum payment like mine, the point is YOU DID IT! Tell your friends and family and go celebrate! I definitely should've had better plans for my first debt free day -- I didn't really do anything special. Make your plan early to help you visualize and stay committed throughout your journey!

Are YOU On A Debt Free Journey?

Paying off debt is really hard. If you're on a debt free journey, let us know so we can help support you! We'd love to answer questions whenever you have them or just offer a pat on the back from time to time. Accountability is key when working toward any goal. 

If you're not comfortable sharing your journey with the rest of the squad, slide in our DMs on Facebook or Twitter (don't tell Amanda, Kayleigh, or Rosie), or email me at Alex@smartmoneyseed.com. We want to help you kick debt's ass!

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