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The facts don’t paint a particularly cheery picture: In-state college tuition rose an average of more than four percent a year over the past 10 years, a CollegeBoard study found. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a similar trend in federal unemployment, which grew by more than two percent during this same time span. And according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, there are approximately 37 million student loan borrowers with outstanding student loans today. With these grim numbers, it’s difficult to weigh the benefits of a higher education against the freedom of living debt-free.
But what about those graduates who reach a debt-free life in just a few years? There are some common characteristics and know-how among the financially free. We’ve outlined three common types of debt-free grads and how their example can keep you from years of frustration.
Here’s a cliché that’s true: Patience is a virtue, especially for the recent graduate. Dave Ramsey, real estate veteran, finance writer and founder of The Lampo Group, holds that the patient 20-something isn’t leasing a city apartment or a new car yet. S/he might even be living at home. Employed or not, debt feeds off choices that are impractical for someone who’s better off shrinking loans and building credit than dropping big money for things that will be reasonable later on, just not now.
Akin to the patient types, those who avoid materialistic tendencies are more conscious of things that have long-term value. The most effective purchases are needs rather than wants: food, basic transportation and items that relate to making money, such as work supplies.
We often take for granted the things that consume the most of our resources. Those who sacrifice them may not have convenience, but they’re the best-equipped when their payables come in. Trim your expenses and put the money you save on your debt. Watch what you spend on entertainment—there are lots of things to do on a budget. Sell your smartphone and get a flip-phone; cook your own meals rather than order out; skip the gym membership and go jogging instead. Shop Goodwill, not The Gap. You may be surprised how quickly you can amass a large sum of cash to put toward your debt.
Some people may have the means to obtain a lump sum of cash sooner by selling payments from annuities or a structured settlement they currently receive. Companies like J.G. Wentworth buy these payment streams and can provide you with the upfront capital you need.
At the end of the day…you’re not just making it to the end of the day. Those who are free of debt have an endgame further than a heavier wallet. No debt means a lot of things: less stress, less guilt, more credit and more opportunity when the time comes for the buys you waited to make. Have goals in mind—know where you see yourself when your payments level off, and know specifically how you’re going to get there. Numerous payment plans are at your disposal—for example, you’ll find an explanation of the Snowball Method on lifehacker.com, which enables you to pay off lowest-balance debts first and then move on to the others in a systematic fashion.
Craig Callen – After saving $1500 on holiday gifts last year, Craig considers himself a Cyber Monday expert.
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Good luck in your search.