Tell us a little about yourself
My name is Tyler, but you can call me FLA as I run the Fresh Life Advice website. I’m currently 27 years old and a single man with no kids. I was born and raised in NJ. I graduated from a state school with a mechanical and aerospace engineering bachelor’s degree. I’ve lived in both Colorado and Virginia for work, but I am back to living in NJ. I’ve worked as a mechanical engineer for 5 years now. I truly enjoy finance, music (EDM), movies (psychological thrillers), and sports (baseball) as hobbies.
What was your money mistake and when did you make it?
My biggest money mistake was taking on bad debt. My debt stemmed from my student loans and my car loan. The student loan was $31,052.56 and the car loan was $16,435.40 for a total of $47,487.96 debt. I was 18 years old when I first took on the student loans, and I was 23 years old when I took on the car loan.
What led you to making the mistake?
I chose to invest in myself, specifically in my education. I know college is a controversial subject, but I weighed the pros and cons. As a result, I make a calculated risk that the degree in a STEM major would lead to a high paying job and eventually offset the debt. I personally think no 18 year old is educated enough to realize how much debt they are truly taking on.
How did you recover from it?
The strategy to pay off debt is relatively straightforward: automation is key. When you set up automatic payments, you will set it and forget it. At that point, you will not forget a payment, and your money will be going towards your debt.
In addition, I actually publish my side hustles every month for transparency. Month-to-month, the side hustles don’t feel noteworthy. But once you look at how much it adds up annually, it’s amazing to see side hustles generating almost $5,000 every year!
I eliminated the car debt in November 2020. I will be finished with the student debt in August of 2022. I eliminated the car debt in 3 years and followed the loan term schedule. I also followed the student debt schedule and it will have taken 8 years total to pay off.
My thought process was that my investments compounding is more important than paying off the debt sooner. I understand some people may enjoy the peace of mind of being debt-free so they will prioritize debt first. However, I strongly believe in the 8th wonder of the world: compound interest.
What would you have done differently?
Drive used cars, try to live rent free, and don’t succumb to the constant urge for the latest and greatest gadget.
How can others avoid the same money mistake?
Do not dive into debt, unless you really understand what you’re taking on. If you can afford to make monthly payments, then the debt may be for you. But at the end of the day, you never, ever want to dig yourself into a hole you can’t get out of.
“Good debt” is when you borrow money to buy an appreciating asset. Typically, you want to borrow at a lower interest rate than the return your asset provides. (For example, you get a mortgage paying 5% interest, but the property is making you an 8% return… In this scenario, you are making money at a faster rate than the debt is costing you, so this is good. The more you borrow, the more you make.)
Debt also has other advantages, like maybe tax deductions and freeing up your cash for other opportunities. BUT, all this being said, if you are not comfortable with debt and it makes you nervous, be very careful leveraging beyond your comfort zone.
If there’s any advice I would give a new real estate investor it’s to not do what everyone else is doing. Instead, do what you feel is comfortable for your situation.
Most importantly, what did you learn from your money mistake?
During this entire process, debt will be an absolute killer. Yes, you may already have some debt which will impact your numbers for sure, but don’t make it harder on yourself by adding more.
You are focusing on SAVING money with this plan, not SPENDING it haphazardly (i.e. spending so much that you have to borrow).
Of course, you’ll have money to spend and enjoy while you’re working on early retirement. But spend within your means and don’t go into debt or you’ll definitely delay your retirement date.
Anything else you want to say?
Don’t be discouraged. Track debt using a spreadsheet or another tool. Seeing the overall debt number is overwhelming, but breaking it down in smaller quantities is much more manageable.
There’s no doubt about it. Debt can be overwhelming and scary. But there are plenty of success stories to learn from. If there’s anyone that is capable of getting out of debt, it’s you. Cheers!
Jeff is a fan of all things finance. When he’s not out there changing the world with his blog, you can find him on a run, a Mets game, playing video games, or just playing around with his kids.