Happy Tiny Friday friends! I’m excited for another installment of Student Loan Conquerors. Student Loan Conquerors is an interview series. I talk with some awesome people tackling their student loan debt head on. Finding out how they are doing it and what inspired them to start in the first place.
If you are interested in participating please contact me and share a little information about your student loan debt situation.
Today, I’m thrilled to have Kevin from Financial Panther sharing how he paid off all of his student debt. Kevin is a lawyer that paid off $87k of student loans by not living like a big shot lawyer. He started his blog to share what he’s learned along the way about money, saving, investing, and side hustling in the sharing economy. Now onto the interview!
1. When did you graduate and with what degree?
I graduated from law school in 2013 with a JD (as I like to say, I’m a doctor…a Juris Doctor) and I graduated from college in 2009 with a BA in History and Economics.
2. What was the maximum amount of student loans you owed and where do you stand now?
I owed a total of $87,052 at the time I graduated from law school. All of my student loans came from law school except for about $500 that I had left over from undergrad. I ended up paying off all of my student loans in 2.5 years through a combination of earning a good salary, making my loans a priority, and avoiding lifestyle inflation. Today, I have zero student loan debt in my name.
That’s not the end of the story though. I recently got married and my wife has a significant amount of student loan debt that she took out for dental school. Her debt – which is now really our debt – stands at a little over $129,000. So, after getting out of debt, I’ve gone right back into debt! Once my wife starts working (she’s currently in an unpaid specialty residency), our plan is to continue living like we’re making one income and basically throw all of her salary towards her student loans.
3. When did you start to focus on your student loans and what motivated you to do so?
I started to focus on paying down my student loans at the beginning of 2014, right when I began my first year as an associate at a large law firm in the Midwest.
My main motivator was just the desire to give myself more flexibility. The life of a big law associate wasn’t something that I envisioned myself doing long term, but I couldn’t really do anything else until I was debt free. When you have a lot of debt, you don’t have a lot of wiggle room since your student loans are an unavoidable fixed cost each month. Getting rid of the debt gave me a lot more flexibility in the type of money I needed to make and what I needed to spend each month.
4. What is the one action you’ve taken that has made the biggest difference in your finances?
Without a doubt, it’s doing everything in my power to avoid lifestyle inflation. A lot of people think that paying off debt is just automatically easy when you’re making more money. And while it’s definitely easier to pay off debt when you make more money, it’s never easy.
Paying off debt takes work, no matter who you are. In my experience, a larger paycheck often means more temptation to spend in order to keep up with your high earning peers. Once you upgrade your lifestyle, it’s much, much harder to downgrade later on if you find yourself wanting to save more money or reach other financial goals. If you can just keep living like a student for just a few years, you can really put yourself in a great financial position later on.
5. What is the best piece of financial advice you’ve received?
The big thing that changed my life was learning about the impact of a high savings rate. For some reason, it never occurred to me that if you could save 50% of your income one year, it meant, in theory, that you didn’t need to work the next year. Save 50% of your income for enough years and you might never have to work again for the rest of your life. Understanding the importance of savings rates has really changed the way I think about money today.
6. What is one piece of advice you would give to others paying down student debt?
Do everything in your power to be happy with what you have and avoid lifestyle inflation. Once you enter the real world, there’s going to be so much pressure to buy stuff. You’ll see people all around you with much nicer things and there will be real pressure to get those nice things too, especially if you’re in a career where you’re expected to have all that nice stuff. Try not to fall into that trap.
Instead, you have to train yourself to be happy with the things around you and to keep a sense of humbleness to your life. That’s part of the reason I deliver food on my bike in my spare time using delivery apps. Not only does it help me to get exercise, it also helps to keep me humble and grounded. It’s hard to feel like a big shot lawyer when you’re also working as a “lowly” delivery man on the side.
7. If you could do it all over again, would you? Why or why not?
Honestly, probably not. I went to law school because I didn’t really know what else to do and didn’t know of any other way to make money. If I could go back in time, I’d probably have tried to go the entrepreneurial route. I especially wish I had known about blogging, YouTube, and other forms of online content creation back in the day. There’s just a huge amount of people you can reach out there.
The other type of gig I think I would have enjoyed is doing something like pharmacy or optometry. I don’t know why, but for some reason, I like those sort of professional, quasi-retail type jobs.
8. Are you actually utilizing your degree? If not, why not?
Yes, I currently work as a government attorney. I’ve been a practicing attorney now since 2013, so I guess I’m entering my fourth year of legal practice.
9. Anything you’d like to share with LDMW readers?
If you’re interested in learning more about me or my story, want to find interesting ways to make more money, or just want to learn more about personal finance in general, be sure to visit my blog at www.financialpanther.com Sign up for my mailing list too so you can get all of the latest posts right to your inbox!
Thank you, Kevin! I appreciate you being a part of Student Loan Conqueror Series. Good luck to you and your wife with the rest of your journey to debt freedom (I’ll see you there one day!).