Next Loan Payment Due: 6/28/2015

Day 186 | $67,506 paid | $23,211 till freedom

If nothing else, I’ve bought some time. Check it out–a snip of a screenshot from my homepage on the Federal Student Aid website.

I can wait over three years until I make my next student loan payment. I won’t, of course, but it’s pretty cool to see that I could if I wanted to.

Landscaping Business Shuttered
Michael and I gave two on-site landscaping consultations to a couple of potential clients several Sundays ago–it was in the middle of the cold, rainy day, and we were out in people’s yards helping them design their landscapes. Including the commute, the whole ordeal took a few hours, and I had to cancel plans to do it.

After the on-site consultations, Michael and I then developed the formal quotes. He did the graphical designs and I costed them out in terms of materials and labor, then we sent the quotes over to the potential clients for review.

All in, I’d say we spent about six to seven hours each to build both quotes.

We took the pictures in the left column and included the pictures in the right column in the quotes.

Customer 1:

 

Customer 2:

  

 

   

 They both replied back fairly quickly, expressing interest and asking follow-up questions to which Michael and I replied immediately.

We never heard back from the first client. The second one emailed us yesterday. Choice excerpt below:

Yes, I realize it is long term but I can’t afford the big chunk of money right now. I understand the labor is extensive, and to haul away…I can appreciate & understand you have to make money. No doubt about that. However, I have to be smart, and stick to a budget regarding my yard. I have come up with other options..getting my supplies at Whittlesey in Round Rock and doing it myself with help from family & friends.

Whittlesey? Interesting…that’s exactly where we get our supplies. So let me see if I’m understanding this correctly: We went out to her yard, spent an hour with her and her husband walking through our plans for how to design and xeriscape their yard, then sent them pics showing what we could do, along with a description and quantity of materials we would have to purchase, and they said thanks, but no thanks, we’ll do it ourselves?

Sounds like in our zest to sell her on our services, we enabled her to hire cheaper labor and contract the job herself.

I’m trying to stay positive, but I feel robbed.

This was our fourth free quote we’ve given somebody with no return. I can’t say for sure that all of our prospects have chosen to use our designs and hire cheaper labor on their own, but between the hours spent on providing fruitless quotes and the fact that I’m looking like I will meet this NMHD challenge on time, the weekend landscaping gig–if you can even call it a gig since we only did two jobs–has lost all of its luster.

Were we completely out of price position? Were we unprofessional? Was it obvious that we were amateurs, that this was a weekend job? Or were our quotes simply way too informational, making it too easy for the customer to contract the job themselves?

I called Michael up last night after getting that email, we talked it over, and agreed to shut down the business.

I don’t regret any part of this experience. This business did generate a profit over its short lifetime, so there were no expensive lessons, other than the opportunity cost of my time, and even that time was well spent. I still remember how excited Michael and I were building the business–creating the site, putting up flyers, fielding customer calls, etc. There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and it was a lot of fun.

I’ve learned a lot. When I was shoveling dirt into a wheelbarrow after putting the finishing touches on the completed landscape of our first job, I got a sense of what it would be like to work for myself, and the feeling was AWESOME. I have no doubt I’ll be back to try something else at some point.

Surplus Check
I got a $112 check yesterday from my mortgage company due to a surplus on my escrow. Killer! It offsets a decent chunk of the $255 ticket I got hit with last week.

Meet Andrew Schiff
A recent WSJ blog post introduces readers to Andrew Schiff, a New Yorker who thinks he has a problem: his $350k salary is making it hard for him and his family to get by. The article and accompanying video are simply fascinating.

Schiff lives in NYC and makes $350k/year as a marketer for his brother’s Connecticut brokerage firm. Despite a salary that is high by almost all measures, he claims in an even more fascinating Bloomberg article about bonuses that he’s struggling to make ends meet.

His version of “making ends meet” is renting a duplex in Brooklyn, paying the $32k/year tuition for his daughter’s private school, and paying for his summer rental. (But hey, as he puts it, it’s not like the summer rental is in St. Barts or anything.)

He feels frustrated because when he was growing up, it didn’t require being super-rich to afford these kinds of things; he feels like he’s been robbed of his dream.

Here’s a clue, brother: cut back your expenses and/or get out of New York City! I lived in Hell’s Kitchen for three months in 2008 and rented a 400 square-foot bedroom out of a woman’s apartment for $1,100/month. Hardly affordable, especially compared to the $1,400 mortgage on my upgraded 2,000 sq ft 3bed/2bath Austin house that was built in 1998. And that figure includes property tax and insurance!

Yes, New York City is expensive. No, you can’t afford everything you’re currently trying enjoy. Quit your whining and get outta there, and/or cut out the summer rental and private school!  

Hey, bud, I’d love to live in downtown Austin, but I can’t afford a $400k+ 2-bedroom condo. So guess what? I guess I’ll keep living in my shack in North Austin and try to get by.

This is the absolute epitome of keeping up with the Joneses. From the Bloomberg article: ” “Could you imagine what it’s like to say I got three kids in private school, I have to think about pulling them out? How do you do that?”

Uh, gee, I don’t know…swing by in a cab and pick them up?

The other article, the Bloomberg article, opens with Schiff standing on a highway in a traffic jam, screaming profanities. He explains, “I’m not Zen at all, and when I’m freaking out about the situation, where I’m stuck like a rat in a trap on a highway with no way to get out, it’s very hard.”

No, you’re not Zen at all–not in the way that I try to be Zen, anyway.

And you say you feel like a rat in a trap on the highway during that traffic jam? I’m sure you do. But guess what? Even after you get out of that traffic jam, you’re still a rat on a treadmill. Time to get off, dude.

The reporter adds his own commentary in terms of the negative public perception of Mr. Schiff: “Americans are generally still fine with people getting wealthy. What they don’t tolerate is people making a salary that puts them near the 1% and complaining that it’s not enough. What Americans resent is not the wealth…it’s having a level of wealth and complaining it’s not enough, especially in these tough times.”

Ouch.

That reminds me of a post I revisited on my own blog recently: “My S2000 just died. Pic of the rides [Murano, motorcycle, and S2000] below. All are paid off, but as of this weekend, only two are operational. When I’m not riding my bike, I’ll have to drive that brown thing…ugh. This sucks.”

That “brown thing” was my perfectly good Murano. Geez, talk about tone deaf. The WSJ reporter point out that while Schiff’s comments are completely valid among his circle of friends–just as mine would be–the wider population doesn’t share that same appreciation as his fellow Wall Street friends might. Likewise, based on a scathing comment I got, my complaint also rubbed some people the wrong way. I actually cringed at the post myself when I read it the other day, and that was before reading the Schiff article. I was clearly in another world when I wrote it.

Leading by Example?
I can now count two buddies of mine at work who have decided to accelerate their student debt paydown, and they attribute their newfound missions directly to me.

After I was done talking shop with a colleague at work, she asked me something completely unrelated–whether she should take the $400/month payment plan for 25 years or the $800/month plan for 10 years to pay down her $70k of student loans. Believe it or not, she was seriously considering the former plan.  This question led to a conversation about how much she spends on her rent: $1,700/month to live in a single bedroom apartment downtown. Ouch.

I advised her to go rent a room out of a house and go with the $800/month plan. She didn’t like that idea very much, saying that she was 28 and thought she had arrived–it wasn’t “fair” that she should have to live with somebody else. “The  thought of having to share a washing machine sickens me.” I just laughed and shook my head when she made that comment.

I told her that I had gotten sick to my stomach thinking about the sacrifices I would have to make before I took the plunge in late August last year. With $67k down and  $23k to go, though, I can almost see the freedom I’ll have once I become debt-free. I did my best to paint this vision, this feeling for her.

She has some financial rehab to go through, but I think she’s going to decide to do the $800/month plan.

Do you remember how I told you I’m in a WhatsApp chat group with my four closets friends here in Austin? Adnan sent this pic out over the wire a couple of weeks ago and told us he was thinking about trading in his Lexus for it. He even took the car home for the weekend, which is a tactic some dealerships use to close their toughest sales.

He told us he’d be financing a deecnt chunk of it, and he wanted our advice on whether to buy it or not. He said he’s wanted a 911 ever since he was young, he didn’t think he could have one once he starts a family, and he wanted to feel accomplished.

Everybody told him to go for it except for me.  A lot of people aren’t sold on early retirement–I’m still not sure I am–and they don’t really want the concept shoved down their throats. So I didn’t pull that card. I just told him he could always get it later when he’s in a more financially stable situation (i.e., can pay cash for it).

I also told him that he didn’t need a car to feel accomplished.

That was a couple of weeks ago, and he still hasn’t bought the car. I don’t know if it’s because of what I said or because his girlfriend doesn’t want him to get it, but he’s held off so far and hasn’t brought it up in awhile.

The latest hullabaloo in the chat group? Refinancing mortgages and going for 15-year notes. All four of my friends own their own homes (and live alone), and the latest buzz is that they know a mortgage broker who can refi them into a 15-year mortgage at a super-low rate.

Bravo, boys. Bravo. Now we’re talking about some smart financial decisions. I’d probably be in on this, too, if I weren’t in such a cash-poor position.

Now, one of the guys did mention the other day on WhatsApp that he’s going to watch the Formula One race in Shanghai on 4/15 followed by trips to Hong Kong and Macau. So much for frugality! He did ask if anybody wanted to join him and nobody confirmed. I’m not going to get carried away and say my friends are turning into a bunch of frugal dudes, but it’s definitely interesting to watch it all unfold.

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26 Comments

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26 responses to “Next Loan Payment Due: 6/28/2015

  1. Mike

    Nice post. I don’t know what your margins were, so I can’t comment on the business. You seem to have provided a lot of information, *perhaps* too much. I’m not so sure I would have disclosed materials planned, for example!

    Looking back at your prior posts, though, were y’all in this to make money or to truly fill a need? It kind of seems like it was the former (based on your prior posts about it), which might have detracted if a) correct, and b) clients figured that out. It’s a fine line sometimes, but to me the business seemed designed primarily to capitalize on the trend and make easy money (sorry if this comes across as harsh!).

    -mike

    • Definitely in it to make money. Aren’t all businesses in it to make money? I’m not following you. We’re not going to give away landscaping services, just like Apple isn’t going to give away its iPhones. I seriously doubt we came across as money-hungry, insenstive guys who were going to put in the bare minimum to collect our payment. We were fulfilling a need and expected to be compensated for it.

  2. You’ve come full-circle in your values since you first started publishing this blog.

    I’m proud of you–you actually sound like a guy I’d want to be friends with now.

  3. Wow, it definitely does sound like you were robbed from that customer. That really stinks.

  4. As jpelker said, kudos on really making this a learning experience. It’s been great to watch the transformation from your previous lifestyle to the current one that provides more contentment with less stuff.

    And your financial commitment is encouragement to all and not just me, I’m sure. I’ve been pretty resolved to pay down my own student loans since I got out of school, but your posts provide the encouragement to keep going!

  5. Amanda

    Re: Your advice on the load to the coworker. In some cases, taking the lower loan payment over the longer time can be better, as more of your over payment is going to principle. Additionally, it gives you a cushion for potential rough times ahead–especially if you are talking a 10 year-plus repayment schedule. Do you know what problem you are going to run into over the next 10 years?

    And remember, no matter how poor you are or what happens to you, student loan debt can *never* be discharged. Never. Ever. (http://consumerist.com/2010/09/student-loans-gateway-drug-to-debt-slavery.html)

    It would likely be worth it for her to run the numbers and look at where she would be if she took the lower monthly payment, but made the $800/month payment, with the over payment going to principle every month.

  6. They posted that 350K guy’s article on yahoo too. I assumed they posted it so everyone could just blast the guy with hate. (Think of it, all your Harvard debt is being matched 2.5 years of his daughters elementary school) Also, the country club memberships and lets not forget that other guy who spends 17K per year on his dogs.

    I found this section particularly hilarious “The smaller bonus checks [. . .] are making it difficult to maintain the lifestyles [. . .] according to interviews with bankers and their accountants, therapists, advisers and headhunters.” Thank goodness they can afford therapists.

    I didn’t realize that paying extra payments allow you to push back your next payment. I think I assumed they just took your money, ran with it, and still expected you to make your scheduled payments every month.

    • I was surprised, too. Whenever I’ve taken out an auto loan, and even with my mortage, the guidance is always: you can pay more than the required amount due, but you will still be responsible for a full payment the following month.

  7. You definitely inspired me to pay down my student loan debt early.

    Say, do you plan on keeping up the blog for a while after you finish? It would be great to get some retrospective on how your journey has changed your behavior over the long term, after you don’t need to be saving so aggressively.

    • I’ll probably post once in awhile to let everybody know how the financial siutation is going–I’ve gotten asked by a handful of folks, so it looks like there’s some wide interest in my not going completely radio silent at the end of all this.

  8. Sarah

    I laughed throughout this blog, you are hilarious! Regarding the Schiff article, I too can’t empathize at all with people who feel poor on a high six figure salary. Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived in Austin since 1988. That salary would go crazzzzy far in this city.

    Was Adnan the same guy you said was the least supportive of your mission? It seems like he’s changed his mind, good for him! Love that you told him he doesn’t need a car to feel accomplished…if only more 20s understood that.

    Per your recommendation I picked up “Sacred Hoops” and the Breaking Bad dvd from the library. Thanks and keep the recommendations coming.

    • Dude, right? On $350k, I’d retire in like five years. Sik.

      Yep, that’s the Adnan. Yeah, I don’t want to make any early assumptions, but the 911 thing was a bit ridiculous. I have another friend who drives a 911, but he got his for much less–$30k. Still expensive, but almost half as much.

      Let me know what you think of Sacred Hoops and Breaking Bad! :)

  9. Sorry about the landscaping business. Kuddos to starting your own business though. I would love to do that at some point and I’m sure there’s a steep learning curve. If you ever try it again, it will probably be much easier. It does sound like maybe you gave them a little too much info regarding exact quantities. But what do I know?

    I’ve mentioned this before, and you said you plan to stop this blog in June, but I will second Mustachian Acolyte. Now that you’ve made such a financial transformation, I would love to continue hearing about your financial decisions even after your loans are gone.

  10. CA

    Nmhd, I now have a specific plan for repaying my student loan for my MBA since reading your blog in 14-16 months. I had been chipping at it with kind of a good plan but when I saw your intense focus and that spreadsheet was super impressive, I got busy and now have a great plan and am much more motivated.

    I also would like to continue hearing about your journey once in awhile.

  11. Jade

    Kudos on your goal. Have you ever considered using airbnb.com so you can monetize on your extra space more efficiently?

    Even the grass in my backyard is offered as a potential campsite. (“Urban camping adventure — free and fast wifi while camping.”) I live near downtown Mountain View, CA, near public transit, so my occupancy rate is pretty high. Essentially, I live close to rent-free in an area I love, as long as I’m comfortable occasionally taking my own couch.

    • That is AWESOME. If my roommates ever cut out of here and leave me high and dry, I might check that out. Thanks for the tip!

      • Outside of work, I’m actually co-founding a startup that’s airbnb for dining/entertainment (e.g., a peer-to-peer social platform for hosting events and getting compensated). Let me know if you’d be interested in beta-testing our platform. :)

      • Also, if you’re taking long car trips, and you’re going some direction anyway, you might as well post your ride on RideJoy.com and make back the cost of your fuel and then some. I was cash-flow positive on a trip to LA.

  12. CA

    Reading Sacred Hoops, great book THANKS for mentioning!

  13. Casey

    I realize this is a late comment to your blog, but I wanted to say that I have had the exact same issues with people when we owned a landscaping company in the Austin area. We would spend hours designing their yard exactly how they wanted it, provide blueprints and photos like yours, along with material lists and an estimate. They would then turn around and either do it themselves or hire illegals to do it. We ended up losing about $100K in a year and shut the doors. I don’t think people realize how they selfishly disrespect people’s time by doing that. I’m happy for you that you were able to see what was happening and shut the business down before you went down into the spiral. Congratulations on meeting your goals, that is awesome!

  14. mark

    Same thing happened to me. I’m an avid road cyclist. I am in no way looking to sell my bike as I put on 1000+ miles a year and bike several days a week march-may and again september-november (It’s a hot climate too and I typically only do a day or two over the summer).
    Anyway, I’ve considered buying a mountain bike to do gravel trails. I found one for $75 on Craigslist which is a very reasonable price. Everyone in my family told me $75 is nothing compared to my overall budget. But to me, it’s something. So far, I’ve held off on buying it for 24 hours hoping that time will tell how badly I ‘need’ this bike.

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