Going to college it was a foregone conclusion that I would be using student loans to pay for my tuition. Financially, there was no way my parents would be able to finance my education. My friends who were also attending college were also taking on massive amounts of debt to pay for school in hopes of a career that would pay dividends. After an Economics class, I’m speaking with one of my classmates, Gregory*, who like me is from the Bronx. Like myself, his parents are separated and he and his sibling grew up in a single parent household. Imagine my surprise to learn not only were his parent’s financing his tuition but they owned a property off-campus which they rented out to students, which he was managing.
“That’’s not fair!”, I thought.
Comparison is the death of happiness. It’s easy to look at someone who appears to be in a better financial situation and think: what do they have that I don’t? This starts the checklist comparison. This can sometimes be seen in the FI community when readers will find the unfair advantage that a particular blogger has to FI: low cost of living area, military pension, a $200,000+ income, etc. These “unfair advantages” are the excuses we create as to why our situation is uniquely more difficult. The reality is your situation probably is not unique. Someone has had it just as bad and made it, some even have had it even worse and prospered. While these advantages should not be ignored, Mr. Money Mustache:
“Never question the individual details of anyone’s accomplishments. Instead, figure out the mentality that they used to get their shit done, then adopt and adapt it to your own advantage.”
I did not have parents financing my education or sending me a monthly allowance. When I graduated I did not have a career in waiting, much less a commanding salary. I got rejected from every graduate school I applied to and my job applications got lost in the Taleo dark hole. What was my unfair advantage? I did not realize this at the time but:
I. My student loan debt was “manageable” at ~$25,000. Making $25,500 a year out of college, this salary coupled with my low cost of living allowed me to make some progress. It seemed minute at the time but some progress is better than no progress (or worse, moving backwards).
II. When I eventually moved back home to the Bronx, I was able to life at home. While I did pay rent, it was much lower than renting an apartment in the city. This allowed me to continue to live frugally as I paid off my debt, started an emergency fund and then invested into my 401K.
III. I was adaptable. Some people come out of college knowing exactly what they want their career to be. I did not, which explains one reason why I went from an advertising company to a security systems company. When I started at Siren Security and overtime became available I jumped on it like white on rice. My base salary was $31,200 but I worked so much overtime my first full year I made just over $40,000. Being used to living on $27,500 (final salary at Dolphin Marketing), everything above that was applied to debt.
Yes, the advantages should not be discounted but find what elements you can copy and apply it to your situation. Maybe you are unable to save 60% of your income, but start with something. Look at your situation and work with what you have. If you are unable to save 60%, try 1%, then 2% and so on and so on. If you start today, you’ll begin seeing results one day earlier than if you start tomorrow.
What is your unfair advantage?