Two years ago I graduated college with nearly $30k in student debt. I don’t regret my education. I met my wife there. I met friends and mentors whose relationships I will cherish for years to come. But there was one not-so-tiny thing hanging over my head after graduation– debt.
Before getting married, I had a very lackadaisical approach to debt. I hit the minimum monthly payments like a boss and contemplated just how long I could push back paying them altogether. I lacked financial common sense.
My thoughts were that it wouldn’t matter if I had a little bit of debt because in a few years when I was raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars I’d be able to pay it off no problem (it’s okay, we can all laugh at immature Heath). Luckily I married Alyssa, who helped me change spending habits and challenged me to gain an entirely new perspective on debt.
This year, we kicked out an insane goal: to pay off $27k of my student debt, all in one year.
I know, it’s a pretty crazy goal for two 24 year olds. Especially while we are still “figuring out” the whole freelance life, marriage, and being grown up thing (wait, we have to pay our own phone bill now?). Paying off so much debt is a lofty goal, but we both came to terms with the fact that we didn’t want to be held back by our loans. We wanted to travel and live a life on our own terms, debt free. But where do you even begin on such a monumental task of paying off debt?
While listening to a Dave Ramsey podcast a few years ago I heard him talk about this couple who moved into a trailer and paid off an exorbitant amount of debt. They were also able to buy a nice house at a young age because they had saved so much money. I remember thinking to myself that I’d never feel comfortable moving into a trailer, I just need more of life’s comforts.
So.. what changed? Aside from marrying an awesome/financially literate woman, how did I go from someone attached to comforts to a guy aggressively paying off his school loans?
Well, I moved into a trailer.
Because… why not?
The rest of it we decided we’d make up along the way. We weren’t sure what would happen, how exactly we were going to pay for the entire thing, but we knew the jobs we had been working weren’t going to satisfy our craving for adventure and meaning. We found a sponsor to help us pay for our gas, we hustled our freelance butts off to find writing gigs for RV websites who would pay us anything at all, and we used our new film-making skills (yes, we had no experience prior) to even get some paid video projects on the road.
A year and a half later and we’ve fully supplemented in our income on the road and are doing work we really love.
The one thing that tried to hold us back before getting started, other than our parents’ pleas, was that fat stack of student debt. We were venturing from stable jobs into the unchartered territory of traveling (for us at least) and we had no idea when we were going to be able to begin paying on my debt. Fortunately, our desire for travel and adventure trumped the alternative of sitting in a cubicle until our minds went numb.
But the most impactful part of the entire was journey was this– we learned to live with less, together.
Our perspective on what we truly needed to be happy changed. I used to value expensive things like going to a movie or Top Golf, but now I value kayaking at sunset on the lake or climbing on top of our RV to grab a panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains (all about that Instagram life, come say hi!).
Also, traveling around the country in an RV this past year made us realize we could make a living from anywhere. While our sponsorship has now ended, our journey allowed us to pick up new skills as freelancers, writers, and videographers that’s given us new opportunities to make money while full-time traveling. This year we spent the first few months out in Santa Cruz, California hanging out in the mountains near the coast. Then I went on a 25 city book tour with an author I was working with for his book launch. Alyssa and I also made it to Hawaii, Alaska, and now find ourselves back where we were married in Austin, Texas (for the fall and then we are hitting the road again).
While we are back where we started (for the time being), so much of our perspective on work, money, and having a home has changed. We now see our RV in a new light. It’s not just a 29 foot trailer, it’s our home. Our home that is allowing us to live extremely cheap, be versatile, and even pay off our debts.
Last year during our travels we only paid a little over a $100 towards my student loans (I know, you started reading this expecting me to be all responsible). Once we finished the 48 state portion of our journey we realized the debt wasn’t going to go away, but neither was our passion for travel.
The solution was a plan we devised to pay off all of our debt in 2015. We would dub our project “The year of RV. VS. student debt”.
And so far we’ve held true to our goal. This year, as of August 20th, we’ve already paid off over $14k of our original $27k in student debt (over half way! woo-hoo!). By living in an RV we’ve kept our expenses low (our rent right now is $360/month on the lake) and have done our best to cut out as much non essential spending as possible. If you’re wondering how we made it to Hawaii and Alaska this year on a tight budget, that was a parting courtesy from our sponsor who funded both of those trips (thanks Snagajob).
After slowing down our schedule we’ve realized the ultimate freedom so many people have talked about when it comes to travel. We get to choose our work schedules and where we want to live. The best part is we are actively working towards a debt free life. If we both had stayed in our previous jobs we would have likely gotten a small bump in raises over time, but our spending habits would have stayed relatively the same while we continued to pay nearly $1,000 month for rent and utilities while also constantly eating out.
The change happened when we moved into an RV and realized that buying more things wasn’t going to make us happy. If I were to share any advice on paying off debt it would be this:
Leave as many comforts behind as possible (house, nice apartment, gourmet meals). It’s not the comforts themselves that are evil, it’s when they become our main source of pleasure. I still enjoy a great meal from time to time, but I would be just as happy eating a $1 breakfast taco. Once you change your mindset from constantly seeking things to constantly seeking experiences, you’ll realize you never needed any of the stuff. You will realize that since you need less things to be happy, you can put more of that money towards paying debt. The strategies for how to make more money will definitely help with this newfound mindset. But if you first don’t change your comfort-based mindset, nothing will help you.