Debt can feel like a crippling part of the lives of many. It may seem like you’ll never be out of the red. And when that triumphant moment occurs when you see the other side of your debt, you are likely to want to celebrate.
Mandy Velez, a New York City-based journalist from the Daily Beast, recently did just that in the most creative of ways: She celebrated the “death” of her student loans by holding a funeral.
When Velez was able to pay off her $102,000 balance of student debt in approximately six years, she knew she had a tremendous reason to celebrate.
She dressed up in her funereal best and had a playful, celebratory photoshoot in a local cemetery to commemorate her achievement.
Was it easy? No. Worth it? I’m smiling in a cemetery. 102K lifted from my back. You tell me.
“I finally killed them. It was a slow death but was worth every bit of the fight,” Mandy wrote on Instagram.
What Mandy did right
Mandy’s story is one that is familiar to so many of us. When she graduated from college in in 2013, she did so burdened by about $75,000 in student loans. For a long while, she was paying them off at the most she could afford – about $1,000 per month.
However, Mandy was determined to be debt-free by the time she turned 30, and so, as the years passed, she started to take more drastic and extreme methods.
To do this, she cut her budget in a big way and lived off of less than a third of her monthly salary.
Many quickly discovered many little ways to save a lot of money. She started to packing her own lunches (buying lunch out every day adds up fast!), quit using taxis or Ubers, and traded in brunch dates for walks in the park.
She also supplemented her demanding full-time job by taking on odd jobs, like dog-walking, babysitting, and getting work as an extra on TV shows for extra cash.
By doing this, she managed to eliminate $32,000 of her debt in just eight months
“I celebrate my freedom but I don’t feel we student borrowers deserve the hardship that comes with these loans: high interest rates, sketchy providers, yearly tuition hikes, the list goes on,” she wrote.
But it’s not for everyone
Mandy did a fantastic job eliminating her student loans. Her hard work and determination immensely paid off, but there’s something else to consider.
“I love how Mandy hustled to decrease her debt,” said Jen Narciso, founder of Investor Mama. “She is clearly a baller who knows how to get things done!”
Not everyone looking to eliminate their debt is in the same flexible place in their lives as Mandy. More urgent expenses caused by dependents such as children make it much harder to save.
“I really appreciated that she said, ‘not everyone could do what she did and that the game is rigged.’” said Narcisco. “I 100% agree with that and that’s why I think it’s so important for readers to be educated,” said Narcisco.
How to reduce your debt differently
Although Mandy did a remarkable job and accomplished quite the feat by eliminating her debt, she clearly acknowledges that this may not be an approach for everyone.
However, here are a few suggestions that others may want to consider in their approach to debt repayment.
The best way to pay off loans is to increase revenue or decrease expenses.
“The three largest expenses that a person typically has are 1. housing, 2. car and 3. groceries. If you can reduce these three items, you can use the difference to pay-down debt so much faster,” said Narciso.
To reduce housing costs, you can also “house hack.”
“It’s an awesome strategy where you buy a single family and rent out rooms or a multi-family,” said Narciso. “Live in one unit and rent out the rest. Tenants pay off your mortgage letting you live rent free.”
This allows you to multiply your savings rate by eliminating majority of your housing expenses and putting it towards your debt.
“My husband and I did this with a child by purchasing a two family, allowing us to live in a high end neighborhood with great schools and paying a fraction of the cost to own m or rent,” said Narciso.
Mandy also did a great job with reducing her food bills.
“If you have a family and can’t reduce your grocery bill as much as she did, you can still meal prep for the week and buy in bulk. Spending a few minutes at the beginning of the week planning, can help you save hundreds of dollars a month,” said Narciso.
There’s a lot we can learn from Mandy:
Establish a household budget
Mandy established how she could reduce her monthly spending by reducing food consumption, uber use, and entertainment.
“By committing to reducing her spending, she had more disposable income to use to pay off her debt obligations,” said Robert Gauvreau, an award winning CPA and founding partner of Gauvreau & Associates CPA who specializes in helping entrepreneurs grow, scale, and turn a profit.
“One of the best ways to eliminate debt is to live within your means and use any increases in compensation, not to increase your spending and lifestyle, but rather to utilize these amounts to repay debt at a more rapid pace,” said Gauvreau.
So many people continue to work within their 9 to 5 and use the rest of the time to rest, refresh, and live. If eliminating your debt is a priority, there’s another way to think about your time.
“One way to find a quicker approach to eliminating debt would be to find a passion and/or side hustle, that can generate some extra income which can be used to eliminate debt obligations,” said Gauvreau.
Even better, as you enter into a side passion project, you may find a real opportunity to focus on your passion and earn income while pursuing it.
The debt-snowball method
This is a debt-reduction strategy that focuses on paying off accounts, starting with the smallest balances first.
“When the smallest debt is paid in full, you roll the money you were paying on that debt into the next smallest balance, while repaying the minimum payments on larger debts. This is certainly an approach that focuses on small wins and creates momentum towards the debt elimination. It has proven to be an effective approach to debt elimination,” said Gauvreau.
“One of the major reasons so many people get themselves in a position where they feel ‘stuck’ in their position, not able to eliminate debt in their lives, is due to high interest loans which require significant interest payments, and once these are taken care of, there is nothing remaining to start paying it down. Typical debts of this nature include credit cards (usually in the 19% to 21% range) and other high interest loans. It would be beneficial to review these high interest debts with a traditional lender to see if they would be willing to transfer these high interest loans into a more traditional, low interest loan, that will have a fixed term of repayment (and an option to add ‘extra payments’ over the term),” said Gauvreau.
Pay high interest debt first
“Although the snowball method is an effective approach to debt repayment, if you would extrapolate the payment of small loans off first, rather than focusing on paying off high interest loans first, the system is slightly flawed. Any opportunity to eliminate high interest loans off your debt portfolio will have a significant impact on your ability to accelerate debt repayment,” said Gauvreau.
Some people may not be as willing to eliminate all aspects of social life as Mandy was, and that’s okay too.
But if you’re truly focused on speeding up your debt payments, “you will need to commit to a budget, and find extra money, on a weekly basis, to make additional payments towards principle repayments,” said Gauvreau.
Have you ever looked at a mortgage or car loan and had the loan provider demonstrate the difference between $1,000 monthly vs. $250 weekly payments? If you did, you would know that the individual who pays the weekly amounts will pay off their debt much faster and will eliminate their debt years earlier.
A debt funeral is in your future too
At the end of the day, Mandy’s success is inspirational. We can learn not just from her strategies for debt repayment, but also from the unique and ecstatic way that she chose to celebrate her impressive achievement.
Your success deserves to be celebrated — even if it’s a with a funeral.
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