Today, I’m mostly talking to you, college students, and parents of college students: You can get through college debt-free.
Student loans have become the status quo but you don’t have to just accept that debt is part of the college process.
This isn’t an exhaustive list but it’s my experience. I did it. And I know I’m not the only one. But honestly, if you can get through school debt-free, you are light years ahead of your peers—well at least 10-12 years ahead—so, way ahead!
#1: Decide That Debt Is Not An Option
Because it won’t be easy. It will look hard. But when you decide debt is not an option, you start making different decisions. You are forced to get creative and you will be resourceful in ways you never would have developed, had borrowing money been on the table.
This doesn’t have to be all or nothing—although I think you’ll see better results if you treat it that way. It’s not binary; it’s gradual. There is a lot of gray. But if you just tell yourself now, “Debt is not an option. What else can I do?” You will start to see a whole bunch of other things open up.
#2: Budget, Budget, Always Budget
Give every dollar a job and be intentional and smart with your money. This is a time in life, where in many ways, you don’t need as much, and you can get by with less.
We give YNAB 4 to students for free and we are working on the modeling around offering the new YNAB to college students. But either way, it is a great resource. No matter how little you have, budget every dollar.
#3: Slow Down
You may have to go a little bit slower—as a strategic decision. Maybe to work a little bit more. If you can find something in your field, great. But work—whatever it takes. If you can find something that pays well because it is horrible—do that thing. I shouldn’t say horrible, I should say hard. Hard stuff isn’t always horrible and horrible stuff isn’t always hard. But in many cases, certain high-paying college-jobs (sales, manual labor) pay well because they are hard. Find something hard.
I’m really gunning to have my kids do hard labor, because it pays dividends down the road. And it pays really well.
#4: Fight For Scholarships
There are loads and loads of scholarships out there. And it takes loads and loads of time to find them and apply for them. But do it all. Because someone else won’t take the time, and if you put in the effort it might just pay off. Focus on just knocking out every single possible scholarship application you can. Apply to everything. You have to do good work—and do do a lot of it. It will take tons and tons of time, just so much time. It’s really like another part-time job. But there is money out there, be one of the people who claims it.
#5: Get Creative
Start at junior college and transfer. There are all sorts of different strategies and options to get through school without any debt, if you really force yourself to find them. Decide now. Decide that you will get through school debt-free and watch as your creativity is unlocked and all these unexpected options present themselves.
#6: Work Hard
I’ve already said this, but it deserves its own point. Be prepared to work hard. Be prepared to really buckle down. This isn’t a time to play—it’s a time to be an adult and really get to work. As you do that, it will pay off for you tremendously down the road.
The Problem With Debt
The reason that we don’t like debt, isn’t because it is bad in and of itself. It’s because most of the time debt keeps you from being able to have your money do what you really want it to do.
I do not want you to be sitting there when you are 35, and still paying for the choices you made when you were 25. I hate the fact that really young people with no financial understanding are making huge financial decisions. I feel like it’s a scam. We do a huge disservice to young people in telling them—or letting them believe—student debt is the only way. It is not the only way.
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Your Next Step
Budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. So what do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress?