In the Fall of 2008, Bakhtiyar Baidaralin enrolled in Bryant University in Rhode Island to study International Business.
Bakhtiyar, who is originally from Kazakhstan, had been living in the U.S. for seven years at that point after immigrating with his family in 2001.
After pursuing his education, he graduated with a mix of federal and private student loans to the tune of $53,000.
Entering the real world
Upon graduating in May 2012, Bakhtiyar scored a job as an International Sales Manager for a science company based in India. For his job, he lived in Mumbai and New Delhi to help business operations locally.
Though his job was a great starting point after graduating from school, the pay started out at $45,000 — less than what he owed on his student loans.
Between his job and his student loan balance, he felt stuck and knew something had to change. In order to be truly free, he realized he needed to focus on paying back his debt.
Setting a deadline
Bakhtiyar decided that he would do everything in his power to be debt-free within five years.
“I set a clear mark of no more than five years to repay my debt because I did not want to enter my late 20s and early 30s still worrying about student loans when I could move on to bigger financial decisions,” he says.
By setting this deadline, he said that the choices he had to make going forward became obvious.
“All of my purchasing decisions and career prospects were tied to my strategic goal of becoming free from debt,” he explains.
Working toward debt freedom
To successfully pay off debt, Bakhtiyar realized that he needed to get a firm grasp on his income and expenses. He dutifully tracked every single expense and dollar he made via a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.
On top of that, he cut out any extraneous purchases. Which, for him was, fairly easy to do.
“I was brought up in a post-communist developing country in Asia so I was not exposed to the consumer culture of the U.S. until I was in my teens,” he says. “Cutting back was quite easy because I saw no point in having the latest cars or latest fashions if it made me suffer financially in the long run.”
Though cutting back came easier to him, he still notes that it was important for him to keep his emotions in check and to not buy something he’d end up regretting later.
In addition to his work as an International Sales Manager, Bakhtiyar started to side hustle as a freelance writer to make extra income. He was able to make an extra $150-$200 per month through freelance writing.
On top of that, he also sold items on eBay and Craigslist to supplement his income.
Dealing with setbacks
Bakhtiyar made a big move and decided to quit his first job without having anything lined up. He was unemployed and postponed his student loan payments for five months.
“This was pretty difficult mentally because I felt like I was failing my goal,” he says.
Luckily, his enthusiasm for paying down his student loans helped him out during this time. He had put so much toward his student loans beforehand that he was a full two years ahead on payments.
He later started working in higher-education and again focused on paying back his student loans. Through intense dedication he was able to make his very last student loan payment in January 2016.
Pursuing his dreams of travel
Several months after making his last payment on his student loans, Bakhtiyar decided to make another bold move. In May 2016, he quit his job to pursue his dream of travel.
“I quit my job to travel because it was always my dream to do it,” he explains. “And after I paid off my student loans I no longer had a fear of having to pay any bills.”
He ended up selling his car and his belongings and left for the open road in August 2016.
“I figured that I have 40+ years of my life until retirement, taking some time off to pursue my own dreams would only enhance my life,” he says.
Currently, he funds his travels through freelance writing and a cushion of savings. He is now galavanting around South America having an experience of a lifetime.
Advice for others
Quitting your job and traveling the world is a common dream — but can seem so far out of reach because of student loan debt. However, Bakhtiyar is proof that it is possible.
If you want to follow in his footsteps, he suggests making student loan repayment a priority.
“The best advice I can give is to take charge of your student loans and deal with them on your terms,” he says.
He also suggests prioritizing your spending, paying more than the minimum, and doing everything you can to align your life with your financial goals.
“When you build your life around your own financial goals, as opposed to building it around student loans, you will be much more successful because you won’t rely on circumstance anymore,” he says.
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