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And he embraced the personal finance community as he paid down debt.

3 minute read

After the Financial Panther graduated college in 2009, he found himself “underemployed.” This was during the infamous financial crisis. He told me his employment opportunities looked bleak, so he enrolled in a Midwest law school. He also took out a bunch of student loans — $87,000 worth.

“You never fully understand the impact of student loans until you have to start paying them back,” says the Panther. “$87,000 was just a number to me.  But once the bills started coming in, it began to dawn on me that I now had this huge bill to pay for the next decade or more of my life.”

Once he graduated in 2013, he landed a job at a big law firm making a great salary. Now, the Panther could have easily fell into the lifestyle inflation trap like so many other young professionals making large salaries. He could’ve traded in his modest apartment for a luxury loft and started eating expensive meals instead of ramen noodles. But he didn’t.

He says, “I gave myself one goal – to pay that debt off as fast as I could.” He started paying off the debt just after he landed the job. Around that time, he also started something else.

“I started getting into personal finance once I made the decision to pay off my debt as fast as I could,” recalls the Panther. “My first foray into the personal finance world was discovering videos on YouTube.  From there, I stumbled upon the world of personal finance podcasts and eventually the whole financial independence movement.”

During this time the Panther was 27 years old. He hung with many friends that didn’t practice law and he says that helped him stay grounded. “I was young and making more than double what my friends were making,” says the Panther. “I thought to myself, ‘If I could just live like a regular person instead of living like a big shot lawyer, I could basically still live the same lifestyle and basically throw the remainder of my income at my debt.’”

So, he kept living like a student. As far as his lawyer friends and their extravagant purchases, he says, “I didn’t really feel all of that stuff made sense for me, especially since I’d never had it before.  And I knew, if I did start upgrading my life, it’d be super hard to downgrade later.”

Instead of spending he found ways, through the personal finance community, to make more money by side hustling. His side hustles included:

  • Starting up a dog sitting business
  • Renting out a spare bedroom
  • Delivering food via a bike
  • Selling furniture and other items he found in the trash online

With the extra financial help, the Panther made his last student loan payment in June of 2016 — just two-and-a-half years after he started. He also took another job, making $50,000 less doing government work. And although he didn’t like leaving the extra money, he didn’t lose sleep over it.

“The nature of legal work is literally trading time for money,” says the Panther. “If you’re making a lot of money as a lawyer, it likely means you’re working a ton of hours too.  For me, I wanted to get a little bit more free time.  And since I was so used to living on less, I could afford to earn less to get more time back in my life.”

I asked the Panther if he could pass on some of his wisdom to our readers, and he provided these three tips:

  1. Avoid lifestyle inflation at all costs.  Learn how to live with less.
  2. Keep perspective in mind.  There are a lot of people out there making much less who still live perfectly fine lives.
  3. Push yourself financially.  Try to save just a little bit more every day.

And if you’re curious about his blog’s name, it comes from an episode of The Simpsons.  “D’oh!”

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About the Author

Brian Bienkowski

Brian Bienkowski

Brian Bienkowski has been writing about personal finance for over 15 years covering debt recovery, fraud, and credit topics. He has worked on several personal finance books and guides that help consumers navigate the US credit system. When he’s away from the keyboard he enjoys craft beer and fishing — and once enjoyed a cold Sweet Water IPA after catching a sailfish.

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