Can you imagine paying off a $74,000 debt in two years — and then deciding to do it all over again? When assistant professor and HR consultant Matthew Burr realized his choice in a master’s program prevented him from growing beyond his specialty in human resources, that’s just what he did.
It’s never easy to accept that the thing we invested in studying has turned out to be the wrong choice. And the thought of investing more money into a different education could be almost too much for some people to consider.
But Matthew realized what he wanted and wasn’t going to stay stuck. Since he had already knocked his student loan payoff out of the ballpark once, he knew he could do it again.
Now, he’s about to finish an MBA, has landed a job as a professor at his alma mater, and is running his own business. Here’s how he’s managing to do it all — and how he plans to replicate his student loan debt payoff success.
Paying off $74,000 in two years
When Matthew graduated with his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, he was left with $74,000 of debt. Once he calculated the interest he was paying on his student loans each month, he decided to act fast.
As Matthew tells it, he was a few months into his repayment when he started tracking it and discovered that it was increasing by $100 every week. Incredulous that it was moving that fast, Matthew’s feelings then turned to anger that so much money was being made off of his payments. That was all the motivation he needed.
Even though some of his friends thought it was too ambitious, Matthew decided he was going to pay it all off in two years. So he created a budget that had him living off of less than $1,000 per month.
Living in Northern Michigan and being able to find reasonable rent certainly helped. But so did a decision to use only basic cable, to not buy a new car when his current car was paid off, and to avoid credit card debt. He then used a signing bonus at his first job and all of his tax returns to make lump-sum payments on his debt.
Matthew was paying anywhere from $2,500 to $4,000 per month on his loans — all because he decided speedy payoff was more important to him than fulfilling any instant gratification that spending his hard-earned money would bring.
And it worked. In fact, it worked so well that he decided to write a book about paying off his debt.
Matthew attributes his success in paying off his $74,000 student loan debt in two years to sacrifice, dedication, and goal setting.
Deciding to jump back into school — and more student loan debt
One of the best things about paying off debt is the freedom of choice it brings. Just as Matthew was paying off his student loan debt, he also realized that he wanted more from his career.
Having transitioned into building his own business as a human resources consultant, Matthew started to feel “handcuffed to HR.” In reality, he’d always wanted an MBA and began to understand that the work he most enjoyed involved finance and operations.
At the same time, Matthew scored a gig as an adjunct professor at his undergraduate alma mater, Elmira College. He realized an MBA would help him teach even more courses and open up more opportunities to do the work he craved.
So, Matthew made the calculated decision to leap into graduate school again.
With or without the MBA, things are going well for Matthew. His hard work paid off and led him to debt freedom. He was able to celebrate with a dream trip to Ireland, and was given the opportunity to move out of adjunct and become a full-time professor at Elmira.
Of course, that also means he’s busier than ever. Now in the last few months of his MBA program, Matthew is teaching full-time and running his consultancy. And he makes sure to talk to his students about debt so that they can be empowered to face it head-on and with a winning strategy.
But what about that looming debt?
Next up: Pay off $117,000
Why would someone who already paid off a significant amount of debt go back into it? In short, Matthew wasn’t afraid to wade back into debt since this was a problem he could solve.
To be clear, Matthew is not a fan of debt. In his words: “I don’t believe in good debt and bad debt. I believe there is horrible debt and bad debt. I don’t want any debt.” It’s all about taking it “one day at a time” and looking for small victories to create and celebrate.
And it doesn’t hurt to enable your friends to motivate you either. As Matthew says, “I’m surrounded by a network of people that are supportive and keep me focused.”
Finally, Matthew understands that the situation is temporary, which makes it easier to stay focused. “I work all the time. It’s the decision I’ve made right now to achieve the goals I have for myself. Yes, it’s hard work, but the harder you work, the luckier you get.”
What we can all learn from Matthew’s success
Once he finishes his MBA this winter, Matthew plans on having the same exact budget he had before, although the higher amount of debt could mean stretching the two-year payoff goal.
The principles he lived by the first time, and plans to use again, are principles that we can all follow in our financial journeys:
- Know the difference between a want and a need.
- Avoid mass marketing and its creation of a desire for instant gratification.
- Learn to sacrifice and live off of very little.
- Create a budget.
- Avoid credit card debt.
- Prioritize for basic needs and saving for wants.
And seeing how much you can save if you get rid of those student loans faster doesn’t hurt, either.
All of this is simple enough in theory but can require a great deal of focus to maintain. In the end, the reward can make it all worth it — a life free of student loan debt.
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