Living a debt free life was one of the best decisions I ever made!
I remember when I had just received the college booklet after my acceptance into art school and I was still in the euphoria stage. I opened up the packet and in it was the billing information along with a catalogue of how to afford school, including loan options and grants I might be able to receive. I looked over the loan options and noticed the fine print, which stated that I would not only be paying interest on the loan while I was in school but I would be paying interest on that interest!
I came from a lower middle class single parent household. I knew from a young age that if I wanted something in life I would have to get it myself and have worked consistently since I was 12 years old to help pay for things that I would need. Working from a very young age taught me both the value of money and the value of my time, as well as what truly is worth investing in my life.
Looking over the school loan information I started having flashbacks to 6 months before I applied to art school. I was studying art at community college and had this huge itch to travel. I had a plan to set out on a 4 month journey across South America and eventually over to New Zealand. However, there was a huge push from my family to get my bachelors degree and the fear of letting my family down always weighed heavy on me. I felt like I wouldn’t be good enough if I didn’t finish. While finishing school was important to me too, I knew I needed to do whatever I had to to keep my dream of exploration alive.
I knew taking out loans was not an option for me. I feared the debt would quickly become overwhelming and I would be unable to keep up, which would then result in compromising on a lifestyle I didn’t desire for an education I wasn’t 100% sold on. I knew I would have to decide a plan that didn’t involve taking out debt. I chose an in-state school to attend, of which tuition started at $9k a year. I figured out how many hours I would need to work throughout the year in order to fund school. I also chose to live at home to save money on room and board.
When I started school I was working every weekend along with some week nights. My weeks usually added up to about 70-80 hours between school and work. It was very hard work but I always kept my goals at the top of my mind to keep me motivated.
There was nothing more rewarding than the day of commencement: I grabbed a white sharpie and proudly wrote ‘Debt Free’ on my hat, while thinking back to everything I went through to get me to this point. It was so much work but it all paid off! When I took a seat in my spot at graduation, the video camera grabbed a glimpse of my hat and projected the shot onto the large monitors in the room. The entire crowd started to roar with excitement! I rose my hand up with a huge smile on my face. I felt like I was fighting for a cause and for my future generation; I had this overwhelming feeling that this moment was a significant one in my life. When I left the ceremony so many people stopped me and asked me “how did you do it?” I felt like a campus celebrity! But the biggest revelation came from the fact that I felt more proud of myself for graduating debt free than I did for graduating in general. That moment caused a real shift in my mind with how I thought about money and what I truly valued in life. That was really a catalyst for me to continue on the path of a totally debt free life.
Trust me when I say you can do the exact same thing no matter what your income is (I didn’t have a high income by any means while working through college). The most important thing you must do is to evaluate what you desire most in this world and the steps you can take to realistically obtain it.