We Have $50k of Student Loans, But We Live Financially Free
WITH TRAVIS MATHEWS
How could anyone live financially free with $50k of student loans?
They must have caught a windfall. Or eat rice and beans every meal...
These are common thoughts 'normal' people living under Mother Culture's reign think at first glance.
But Travis and Sarah's story is different.
They've completely turned around their financial life over the last 6 months, and achieved a financial peace of mind that people following normal financial advice rarely experience.
The best part is Travis has outlined exactly how they created their new life for you below.
And along their story, I highlight key points that will help you find your own hidden green.
If you want to jump around here's a table of contents.
With that, let’s start!
Let's do this. So what's your background, man? Your money story?
I had grown up comfortable in a middle, upper class family with parents who didn’t do a good job with saving for retirement till the later part of their careers.
I grew up mountain biking with my dad, and going on fun trips, and exploring, camping and we used to travel together and go to mountain bike races.
We always had so much fun together.
He was always able to provide for me, provide for our travel, all that sort of stuff.
So I never really grew up with the stress of finances.
While Sarah did.
Sarah grew up in a lower middle class family with wonderful, super talented parents.
Her parents did everything to make their lives comfortable and happy, and they were just really incredible parents.
So how was college financially for you? What happened then?
So I didn’t have any student loans.
Anything I wanted to do for fun in college — I just made that my work. I studied outdoor experiential education.
I would lead climbing trips, worked at the climbing way on campus. And would lead kayaking trips, backpacking trips, things like that.
My initial goal when I was in college was I wanted to move to Patagonia and be an Alpine climber and NOLS Instructor down there.
I needed money to have fun. And I made money by having fun.
Haha, I’ve never said that till now. Haha But that’s awesome.
So yeah, I spent years doing that.
And by the time I graduated college I realized that I was so sick of taking people out into the woods that I knew that I didn’t want to work for Outward Bound or NOLS or anything like that.
Noticed here how Travis early on aligned his income stream to come from doing things he loved. This is a huge part of financial freedom, and something Travis unconsciously nailed.
But, as you continue, look for how one unplanned day Travis' "dream job" quickly changed and how not saving during this dream job phased quickly put him into a stressful situation.
If you have a job you love, this will show you why it's still insanely important to be stashing.
And around my Senior year in college I had a professor who kind of gave us a financial course. And I realized that, “Alright, I probably need to make some money in life and figure this out.”
So, what happened next? Did that financial class change anything?
So I took a job designing and building zipline and climbing walls, and made pretty good money with that.
I had no rent. I lived out of my Honda Element. And they would give us $40 per diem per day and I got paid $150/day to do it.
So I was this intern making like $200 a day doing this stuff.
And once again, I’m making decent money in my life, I’m debt free and I'm just having fun.
But EVERYTHING I was making was going in to buying new mountain bikes, new climbing gear, all that.
I'd be willing to bet that during this time Travis was under the influence of "Spaving."
Spave is the act of spending when you think you are saving. It's when you see a sign that says mountain bike gear — save 30%! So you buy it and feel good cause you think you saved money, while what actually happened is you spent $500.
Don't fall prey to mother culture by spaving your freedom away! It's one of the 23 reasons you'll always be poor.
Because everywhere we would go we would always bring our bikes and our climbing gear because everyone on the team did that.
So everyday after work we would grab our bikes after working like 10 hours of some of the hardest shit you could imagine and go mountain bike like 20 miles.
And we’d finish that up, get some beers and we’d just party every night.
It was this freaking great life, but like I said, at that time I had absolutely no concept of saving.
Like I had never been a saver my entire life. Everything that I earned I would spend on outdoor gear or going out and drinking at the bar with friends.
Wow, that sounds like an ideal life for you at that time. Why'd you leave it? What changed?
And after finishing up building a course in Denver, I decided to quit and moved to Boulder, Colorado.
Because I had just spent 40-50 days building that course I had saved up a few thousand dollars.
But I was hit with expensive rent in Boulder of $900/mo while also not making any money and I just didn't know how to handle it financially.
A house hack, or finding a way to lower your housing costs, is an insanely great way to stash an extra few thousand dollars every year.
Think if you can lower your housing by $300/mo, that's +$3600/yr to go straight to your freedom. Here's an 7 ways to make a house hack happen.
I actually went on food stamps to pay for food, and I even think my grandma had to pay rent for me one month.
So 4-5 months later, I moved back to North Carolina and took a job down on the Gulf Coast managing the zipline, paddle boarding, kayaking courses that we had built down there.
So what was happening with Sarah during this time?
She took off and traveled the world in Korea, Brazil, Columbia... Like all over the place.
And meanwhile her student loans that were initially $40k had accumulated $20k in interest in the course of those 5 or 6 years.
So by the time we got married we had $60,000 in debt.
I had never had debt in my life and I had never saved a penny in my life because everything I made I spent on going on epic trips, new climbing gear, surfboards, mountain bikes, whatever...
So I had spent everything.
And so when we moved in together in San Diego we had a hell of a deal on rent. We were a block off the beach in Encinitas and only paid $900/mo.
Sarah had moved in there three years before we got married and the landlord was some old guy who had owned the place and he just didn’t care about making money on it.
And so we were living there and we kind of started to pay down her student loans.
We were just doing the monthly minimum, the like $500/mo, that at the time we thought was the way you paid off student loans.
Which would be a 10+ year repayment period for that $60,000 loan.
And so I was lost financially, I just had no idea what to do.
We are living in a house only paying $900/mo. We have a dual income for the first time. And together we are making more money then we had ever made before in our lives.
But we just kept doing the same things.
We made one small positive step in starting to pay back her student loans, but in reality what we were doing was just paying the interest every month.
When you're paying minimum debt payments, you're often just paying interest not principle. In simpler terms, you're forking over a few hundred dollars each month to a banker in a suit and tie sitting atop a New York sky scraper, while your debt balance doesn't go down.
Can I get a "Holy mother! That's the last thing I want to do with my hard earned money."
If you want to live stress free and financially free, you've got to take care of the jail cell, time bomb that is your debt ASAP. Here's an article that will help you figure out how much to put towards your debt and your savings.
Other then that we were just working hard with the goal of increasing our earnings.
We literally never saved a dollar over our first year of being married. Even though our incomes were increasing. And we had this huge debt over our heads.
Just quick: Normal people think increasing their income puts them on a path to freedom.
You also need to control your spending for increased income to work. That was the problem for Sarah and Travis previously. They didn't have control of their spending. Learn why we don't care your friend makes $100k/yr.
A little over a year after being married we had planned this big trip to Europe.
We had got our flights super cheap. I think it was like $750 round trip for each of us.
We even actually booked our unit out on AirBnB during the vacation. So we would have made like $1200 while in Europe.
So we are about to go on this trip and then we get a letter from our landlord that says we have 30 days to get out.
And we were like, "Well, we’re leaving for Europe in two weeks." So we had to act really quickly to find a place.
We cancelled the AirBnBs and were immediately confronted with the reality of living costs in San Diego.
And we got stressed you know, we were really super nervous.
Yeah, this is right around the time we met. So you guys took off to Europe next?
That's $1100/mo more than were spending before.
So we were kind of freaked out because we're about to go on this big trip, but we had to pay first months, last months and then half of the month that we would be gone in Europe's rent.
So together we had to pay $5000.
That was literally all we had in our accounts before we went to Europe.
So we have to pay $5000 up front and are about to go to Europe and we’re like, “Oh my god, we’re so screwed.” Haha
We go to Europe and we pay all this money like two days before we leave.
And in Europe we’re just using a credit card, which we’d always used, but I had always been diligent about paying credit cards.
Like we had never once even in our marriage never accumulated credit card debt. I had never in my life been hit with an interest payment on a credit card.
And that was the one thing I knew, “Pay your credit cards.”
We come back and we had to continue using the credit card to pay for life expenses when we got back because we didn’t have any cash on hand.
So we had accumulated $6500 of credit card debt over the course of a month just from that huge financial hit, the trip and then returning home without a savings cushion to take care of us.
We couldn’t pay our credit card for the first time. So we got a $300 or $400 dollar interest fee or whatever it was, like some ridiculous 20% interest.
And then, right after, we got hit with next months rent of $2000.
Notice how fast this all piled up for Travis and Sarah. And it was completely unexpected.
Unexpected moments happen in all our lives. Stashing helps make those unexpected moments flow by live with a much greater peace of mind.
Sarah and Travis are going to undergo their complete 180 turn around next. And it doesn't consistent of focusing on things like a $4 latte. Because saving for freedom was never about that anyway.
So we were totally freaked out. “We are in credit card debt right now. We’re paying $1100 more each month for rent.“
And that’s when my buddy, Sterling, told me about you.
And we called you and suddenly the fire was out. Haha
That is so awesome. So how have things changed the 5-6 months since then?
So I was super open and receptive to everything that you would say.
But the hardest part for me was actually taking action and developing the habits of doing it.
And eventually adopting the mindset of how we should view our finances.
Like the last five months have been huge.
For the first time in my life we have a savings, we have a plan to pay down our student loans in 18 months and then start investing. And after that we basically have a 25 year retirement plan.
So it’s pretty awesome. You saved our lives.
Hey man, that’s like the truth. We have this kid on the way and we have a beautiful home now with a second bedroom, and we’re saving more money now spending $13,000 more a year on rent then we were ever before.
When you and I started we had this 2-4 week period where we would get together and our focus was on your food budget.
We’d talk about it, and you’d get super psyched and pumped, but then we’d leave and you wouldn’t take action.
What was going on then? And what was the turning point to where you had it under control?
Yeah, so it took like 2-3 months till we actually started to get it down.
And you know, it’s still in the process of getting better.
It was like our third month where we got it down to like $800.
Where before it was like $1400 our first month. And that’s a lot of money.
Sarah and I are like big health freaks.
We care about what we put in our bodies. Everything we’re buying is organic. We’re buying high quality food for ourselves.
But we were just spending so frivolously.
We wouldn’t meal plan for the week. We’d just go out every night of the week and hit the grocery store to buy something new for dinner because we both love cooking.
And because we’re not buying things, and not reusing ingredients…
Where now if we meal plan for the week, which we’re doing most weeks, (Sarah’s a lot better at it then I am haha), she’ll get a number of ingredients paired with spices that we have here and everything will just build into what we already have so we’ll have enough to get through the week with that.
So I think the part for me that was hard was convincing Sarah that we could do it.
Because for me, I could honestly just buy some rice, beans, spinach, avocado and maybe a ton of mangos and be fine. I could live off $50/week on food and be totally happy.
But Sarah likes to have more diversity in food choices and she’s also been pregnant during most of this time so her cravings have changed.
But for her, the tough part I think was she truly didn’t believe we could cut that down.
Our first month we hit $1300, and our goal was $700 in food spending.
We would talk about it and she wouldn’t really act upon it because it was a stressful thing to think about.
But now that I’ve shown her the numbers in the forecasters you’ve given us, and what can happen if we're saving that extra bit of money it’s been totally eye opening for her.
I’d say it’s kind of like magic where we’re still eating just as great, just as diverse as we always have, but we’re spending like $800/mo vs $1400.
And I feel like nothing’s changed.
I feel like that’s just a consequence of being mindful of how we’re spending. It’s just a part of who we are now.
Sarah and Travis made their turn around because freedom for their future family and themselves became valued greater than frivolous spending.
When your Perfect Life is crystal clear, spending decisions become easy.
Travis and Sarah and I during our first few meetings rarely talked about money or strategy. It was more about comeing up with their perfect life. After we had that, then we could build money back into that picture.
So it’s been you and Sarah working together. How has that been? Having the shared finances and working through the turnaround together?
Yeah, Sarah is 100% on board with all of this. She is 100% stoked on our financial future.
Like I said, Sarah hadn’t been educated about finances, where I knew that eventually I was going to need to get my finances in order.
So she’s ultimately given me the reins on it. Receive the education from Ryland and what ever you say I’m happy to do.
But the funny thing is she’s also the one that is on top of everything. She constantly reminding and helping me get done the things that we need to do.
Our personalities work together really well in that sense, where I am the one who maybe has the vision, the excitement about it, but she is the one that ultimately that will make it happen.
Like, “Hey, did you actually go into Mint and do what you said you were going to do.”
So it is a huge team thing in the end. Though it took a long time to adopt the mentality, she’s also been the one the whole time making sure that I was doing was I said I was going to do.
Yeah, I remember that. I literally used to message her behind your back saying, “Hey, can you bug Travis because he’s needs a kick in the pants.
Yeah, totally. And she would do that.
So that’s what makes us a good team. I’m kind of the dream, the visionary and she’s the one that says, “Okay, here’s you’re dream. I’m on board with it now. Let’s stay on task and make sure you actually do it.”
And it’s been cool of how she talks about The Hidden Green now too.
I know there was a point where she, even more then me, was stressed out about our finances. I mean she was in tears when we got back from Europe. It was really scary, man.
And she doesn’t have that fear financially anymore. And I mean we have some hurdles to get over with the baby coming and her not working, but she’s not afraid of it anymore because she knows we’re in control.
I think for her she doesn’t want to think about the finances. She just wants me to direct and guide and she wants to know what she can spend per month.
Money in relationships can become a huge friction point. But when it works it can also be something that brings two people closer together.
One thing I do with all my couple clients is work with them to define financial roles and responsibilities. Who's going to track the finances? How will you make mutually beneficially financial decisions?, etc.
And so that’s been a really cool thing for us to do.
I think it was our second month with you that we were able to give Sarah a “freedom spending” per month so she can have guilt free spending.
Because when we were coming out of that credit card debt she felt guilty about every purchase she made. And that’s exactly what you told us not to feel.
You shouldn’t feel guilty when you’re spending money.
So now she can buy things within those parameters guilt free.
Going after financial freedom shouldn't come with an everyday since of sacrifice or scarcity to hit savings goals.
Instead, it's about feeling 100% happy in the present and 100% happy with the outlook of the future. That feeling comes from knowing how your finances work. Here's the personal finances system that grew my +$100K net worth.
I think the eye opening moment for her was when she said, “I wish I had more spending money every month. This person gets to do this, etc… I want the freedom to do that.”
And I told her “Well, we’re not in a place where we can experience financially freedom right now, but let me explain to you what that looks like.”
What financial freedom to me looks like is when we have $25k in our savings, and we’re paying down our student loans.
Imagine the freedom and feeling your going to have two years from now when we’ve paid down all of your student loans and we have like $50k in our savings account.
At that point we can basically do whatever we want.
And we have like tens of thousands of dollars each year going into investments.
That’s the freedom that we’ll get to.
And when we’re at that point — we have no debt, an awesome savings and we have a killer investment strategy we’re pumping money into — then like sure you can take an extra $200 every now and then.”
And I could see the weight of finances on her shoulders immediately lifted when she thought about having no debt, a massive savings account and investments making us money in the background.
And the freedom in knowing our retirement is taken care of because we’ve developed these practices.
It was really cool to see her get it, you know?
I totally know. Isn’t that the best moment?
What’s your approach now to taking on $50k of student loans?
I get people that email everyday that have five figures of debt and are freaked out and unsure what to do about it.
What makes you feel so much more comfortable?
And honestly, it was kind of upsetting for me.
I was like, “I’ve never had debt. I don’t want to take this on.”
So I tried to just ignore it by making the minimal payments.
But now the strategy for us is two things:
- We need to have our savings in a place to where if something catastrophic were to happen, we would still have money to live off of for six months.
- Once we hit that mark, take the entirety of the money we were putting into our savings, which should be 30-40% of our income per month, and put that towards her student loans.
Before I had this thought in the back of my head that I’m just wasting money paying down this stupid debt and that sucks.
But now the mentality that I have is this is an investment. This is a 6% investment that I’m making every month right now.
We have a 6% interest on the loan, so every time we put money into it we are keeping an extra 6% of whatever we paid to it.
The goal is to be putting that entire savings ratio (30-40%) into the student loans and paying it off in 12 to 18 months after hitting our savings goal.
And the coolest thing is once we're done with the loan, we’ll have developed this habit of putting 40% of our income toward investments, which will at that point be actually going towards an investment that makes us 6% rather then keeps us from losing 6% each month.
Learn how Travis and Sarah know exactly how much to put toward their debt each month in this article, Should I Pay Off My Debt or Save My Money?
And sure, we could take half of that 40% and put it into our savings or into the market.
But at the end of the day, the freedom from having no loans and not knowing what’s going to happen with the market, I mean we have a guaranteed 6% return every time we make a big payment on those loans.
So that’s our goal to pay those off, not have to worry about them and have the habit formed so we can easily transition into investing once we’ve built the foundation.
I mean money is fun and exciting for me now.
Paying down this debt is an exciting thing for me. It’s not this dreadful thing in the background.
It’s literally exciting to think about a year and a half from now after we’ve paid off $50k in debt and we have the rest of our lives to increase our wealth.
Beautiful. Love it. So what do you do to stay focused?
Yeah, you know I need to put a reminder to look at our Mint like every other day. I can’t be on that thing enough.
And also, I have other friends that are going through the program with you.
We actually we out and had a beer together the other night and we talked the entire night about money and strategy.
And I have so many friends that I talk about it with, and they are just like, “Ah I need to call this guy…”
But they aren’t acting on it and it’s so stupid.
And I don’t know if this is something you want to include, but I’ll say the money that we invested in meeting with you is the best money we’ve ever spent in our life.
It saved our life financially. It’s the best financial decision I’ve ever made to put $1200 toward The Hidden Green coaching because now we have an education, a plan…
Where some people are scared to spend that $200-$300 per month to guide them through and coach them financially, but I can not stress enough how good of a decision that was for us.
And like sure, we’re spending an extra $200 a month, but at the end of it we are coming out WAY on top.
There is a poor person and rich person mindset when it comes to spending money.
Travis here is explaining the rich person mindset of "Hell yes, I'm willing to pay $1200 (the cost of my one-on-one coaching) to be nearly guaranteed to stash $20k+ every year forever."
By thinking this way he is massively improving the chance his time and money investment pans out, and as you can see from above it has. Here's a killer article by Forever Jobless about how a rich person makes spending decisions by valuing their time.
Looking back, what are the most helpful changes that have really made the difference?
I think often times when you come out of school or are a young adult, you’re getting money you have never made before and so you just want to buy all the things you’ve always wanted.
And sure you had that money in your bank account, but my thought is you actually haven’t earned it yet.
It’s earning the things that you buy.
It’s also paying attention to what we were spending on our food. More then just “thinking” about it, but actually tracking every dollar with Mint.
And it was being smart about the decisions we were making financially and not just making decisions to buy things “to buy things.”
So it’s just earning what we get or sell something to buy it.
Another big thing was having a clear understanding of what it takes to be financially free and being able to define what is “financial freedom” to us.
I think having that mindset of being financially free and not burdened by our finances and having the knowledge about how to act upon that to achieve that has really helped us get to the point we’re at now.
Travis and Sarah don't yet have financial freedom by the numbers — the state when their passive income from investments covers their lifestyle cost.
But what they do have is the knowledge and tools they are putting to use so that they know with 99%+ certainty that their financial future will be amazing.
With that type of financial understanding you can begin adoping the financial freedom mindset long before you have the financial freedom numbers. Read about how to do this using a strategy I call, "Bridge Funds."
That’s awesome. Yeah, you can have the mindset of financial freedom before you hit your financial freedom number, right?
And you’re free by that too.
Like I don’t feel burdened by our finances at all right now, and we owe $50,000. Haha
And that is awesome.
And obviously, we didn’t hit the Powerball and we’re not financially free right now.
But we are free within our own minds at least in knowing that everything is going to be okay because we have a plan that we have fun with and can stick to.
So that feeling is really special to have.
I think there is freedom in having a plan, acting upon the plan and knowing that if you do that you’ll achieve your goal.
That's what we're doing, so I don’t have the stress.
And now we have our credit cards on auto-payment. And so many things are just automatically happening that it’s kind of mindless now.
Yeah, that’s the other thing, I think everyone thinks you have to put so much thought and effort into it.
But once you get to a place of having it all automated it’s minimal thoughts and efforts.
If you just have the mindset and you’re spending the way you should be spending because you’ve developed those habits, everything else is just automatically happening in the background so you’re not having to think about it.
It’s funny to think that you are in, by the numbers, a worse situation then people with $20k of student debt.
But for you it’s as mellow as it could ever be just because you understand the tools and the ballpark of where you’ll be in the future. Love it.
If you could go back and talk to 22-year-old Travis, what advice would you give him now?
What does it mean for you to be finically free in your future? And then make a plan and actually stick to it.
So often for the last four years I’ve known about Roth IRAs, etc. and I’ve always said that someday I’ll open one up and start putting money in it.
And I’ve always done the full match for my company’s 401k…
But if I could go back and shake Travis then, I would have told him, “Dude, start saving now.”
Like if I had been putting in the amount we’re saving now each month, we’d probably have $35,000 stashed away potentially compounding for us.
Especially since I was in a position with no debt, that would have been the call.
It would have been so easy to have done it, but I didn’t do it at all.
Where might Travis be?
Well assuming a take home pay of $25k/yr and stashing 40% (their goal), he'd have an extra $50,000! That's HUGE for freedom.
Now, I'm not doing this to knock Travis and Sarah. They are already killing it on their path. I'm doing this to get you into gear today. Seriously, start focusing on financial freedom now.
You were saying make a plan and stick to it. What is the magic to sticking to it?
And a tanker ship doesn’t turn around over night. It takes a long time to turn around because it’s super tough to change directions.
But once it’s changed directions, it’s super hard to get it off that new found path.
So for us, we still have that debt, but we are paying it down, building wealth and having fun in the process.
It ultimately came down to, which was the hardest part of it all, developing the habit, the mentality and truly understanding and believing in what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
I just never had the “Why” with my finances, but now I do.
I have a wife I want to support. There is a kid on the way.
Building habits with The Hidden Green to get to where we need, and having a big “Why” for why we were doing it is what's made it stick.
That tanker ship is full speed ahead going the opposite, the right direction now.
Love it, man.
Well, it was a total blast working with you and Sarah. Congrats to you both!
If anyone wants to follow your story or ask a question to you, where can they reach you?
Well, I don’t have Instagram or Facebook at the moment, because they were total life sucks.
But I’ve been feeling kind of bad because I have so much family that’s been like, “What are you doing with you life?” Haha Because they don’t see me on Facebook. So I might bring those back.
And thanks again, Ryland. We are so grateful. We'll definitely stay in touch!
TOLD BY: TRAVIS MATHEWS
Travis is a surfer, climber and mountain biker based in San Diego, California.
Keep reading. You won't regret it.