It’s 1 AM here in Austin, I’m completely exhausted, and I really should be fast asleep. However, I feel like there’s something that I must address before another work week–or work-seeking week, as is the case for (too) many people–gets under way.
Within the past six days, my story has been featured in media outlets such as WSJ, CNN/Fortune, Huffington Post, and Yahoo! Finance. It all started last Tuesday with an innocuous interview with John Byrne for a small website called Poetsandquants.com, a site that caters to pre-MBA individuals. The fit between his site and my story seemed obvious and I was excited to do the interview.
His piece got syndicated by Fortune, and then it got picked up by other Big Media firms. My blog went from getting about 300 hits a day to tens of thousands.
Over the past few days, my inbox has been flooded with hundreds of emails thanking me for being an inspiration; some folks have asked for advice on how they can do the same thing.
When I started this blog, I wanted to write a low-key story to entertain close friends and family with my journey. I never promoted my blog anywhere save for a status update on my Facebook for the first five posts and the capstone.
I never thought I would be successful in paying down my debt within ten months, but I thought that I would have fun failing and let others have fun at my expense along the way.
But then I succeeded. Wildly. I saved and sold like I never thought I’d be able to. And over a month after succeeding, my blog was cast into the spotlight of the general public, a far cry from my original target market.
I’ve found that there are three main groups of people reacting to my story. The first group is comprised of people who are very similiar to my own demographic. They understand, for the most part, what the blog came to be about. Outside my close friends and family, the people in this group are my original target market.
From a fellow alum:
I am HBS ’08. I just read the article about your quest, and had to send a note of congrats. I took a very similar path out of school, and seem to be one of the few debt-free members of my class.
At any rate, rate congrats again and great job on the blog.
This email below is just one of the many I received from my former classmates and sectionmates:
Joe, why stop now? Keep going and pay off my HBS debt as well. That would make a great philanthropic story. :-)
Awesome story, congratulations.
To those who say that anybody making six figures can easily pay down their five-figure student loan within seven months, think again. The gentleman who sent the note above is a consultant for one of the top three (Bain/BCG/McK)–he didn’t exactly go non-profit, and is likely pulling down more than $150k/year. These are the folks to whom I was trying to tell my story.
The second group is comprised of people in (sometimes dramatically) different situations than my own that have been able to find inspiration from my blog:
I just finished reading your blog while sitting at work and honestly I’ve never been more motivated to try and get my life back together and fix the financial train wreck I’ve spent my self into. I’m 25 with 2 kids and I’ve been in the process of getting divorced for the last 3 years. Between my own irresponsible spending, credit cards and student loans, and the number my soon-to-be ex-wife has done on my credit I couldn’t even get financing for a pair of used tennis shoes. I’ve been reading articles from “get-out-of-debt” experts for several months now but they all seem so abstract and cliche, obviously not written by people who’ve been there and had that depressing feeling you get from a stack of bills and debt that’s as much as you make in a year. It’s really inspiring to see someone with the willpower to make a goal and stick with it like you did, I’m going to try to adapt what you did to my situation, I only hope can be half as disciplined as you are.
Thank you for the example and the inspiration, good luck with your future endeavors.
I have a love-hate relationship with the email directly above. On the one hand, I love that I could inspire this man to turn his finances around even though we have such little in common. On the other hand, I hate the situation that he currently finds himself in, and my heart goes out to him and I wish him all the best in the world. I hope he meets success.
The third and final group is made up of people who are also in a different situation than mine, read the articles, consider my earnings and assets, and throw their hands up in the air and ask in completely understandable frustration and anger, “Why is this news? How does this help me?”
University costs are rising at an astronomical rate. Stafford rates are set to double to 6.8%. The job market sucks, with only one in two recent grads able to find work. How does a story about somebody making six figures with toys in his garage and money in the bank help the “average” grad?
For example, how does it help this person who emailed me yesterday?
What if I only make $35,000 a year before taxes. There is no possible way I can erase my $115,000 student loans.
Or this person, who emailed me this morning?
I read your story on Yahoo today and it was inspiring and quite impressive! I am also working on my MBA and will graduate with close to $120,000K in student loans (including undergrad). I currently work full time and although I am blessed to have a job, it is relatively low paying.
I moved back home to try to save some money, but even then I am still struggling to make the minimum payments on my undergraduate student loans. What advise do you have?
To be honest, I’m afraid I don’t have any ideas. This person obviously took the right step to move back in with her parents rather than rent an apartment, and I have to assume she looked for a better job, but couldn’t find one. As far as next steps go, I really don’t have any ideas. I’m deeply sympathetic to her plight, and if I knew what to say I would say it, but I just don’t. I’m sorry.
There’s a lot of anger in this country right now. And unfortunately, I’ve been asked to be the poster child and pose as a solution to rising university costs, rising student loan interest rates, and diminished job prospects. But making six figures as a single guy in a cheap city, I simply don’t fit the bill.
I’ll gladly sign up to be the poster child for gainfully employed, brainwashed over-spenders who need to be inspired to develop the right mindset to freedom-fight their way out of debt and get off the treadmill via frugality and anti-consumerism.
But a solution to a deep, multi-layered, interdependent problem? It is most certainly not “go find a six-figure job.” The solution is to fix the economy, put education costs back in check, and provide a low-interest funding mechanism to improve accessibility to education.
How do we do that? There are no easy answers, and I’m not going to make the slightest conjecture on how we go about righting the ship.
What I do know is that students have a duty to fulfill throughout all of this. They owe it to themselves and the rest of this country to pursue majors that have consistently proven to be high-ROI and to practice personal accountability and live below their means (e.g., no Starbucks and new cars) until their debt is paid off.
Thanks and goodnight!