Welcome to another installment of iontuition’s Q&A series with personal finance bloggers. We have the Cash Cow Couple, Vanessa and Jacob, sharing their financial tips with us today. Their blog provides actionable financial advice that is detailed, yet easy to understand. As Jacob is currently finishing his Ph.D. in financial planning, his education and experience allow him to share content that is more based on empirical evidence, and less based on opinion.
What’s the best piece of financial advice you ever received?
Build your human capital when you are young so that you can earn much more over your lifetime. That might mean getting an advanced degree, or becoming an expert in something, or learning a trade. Once you are earning good money, make saving a priority.
What’s your advice for those who already have student loans?
It depends on the interest rate on each loan and if the individual qualifies for a loan forgiveness program. Current student loans are often 6.8 percent or higher, but in the past some were offered with low interest rates. At low interest rates, it might make sense to make minimum payments if you have other debt with a higher interest rate. For example, always focus on paying down credit card debt before student loan debt. If you qualify for loan forgiveness through the government, it might make sense to pay the monthly minimum until the loan is forgiven. These are important considerations that a financial professional can help with.
How do you stay ahead on paying your student loans back?
Vanessa and I got married shortly after both graduating with a bachelor’s degree. At that time, we had almost $30,000 of student loan debt. We made a decision to prioritize getting out of debt and paid off all student loans within 10 months. This required sacrifice – for example, selling Vanessa’s car and keeping only mine, selling all the personal items we didn’t truly need, moving into smaller housing, working hard to grow an online business, etc. Being debt free was worth the effort, and I would recommend the same process to those worried about their debt.
If you could go back in time and give your 18-year-old self a piece of financial advice, what would it be?
First of all, I would say that a degree is a degree, unless you are going to an Ivy League School. Shop around and apply for as many scholarships as possible, then go to a reputable school with the lowest overall cost (probably a public university). Also consider living at home to save for a few years if that’s an option. You will eventually miss your family and miss those years.
I would also tell my younger self to explore various careers. Think about the professions that interest you, and then call and intern with as many professionals as possible. You need to pick a degree, and eventually a career, that you find interesting. Earning potential is an important factor, but far from the only thing that matters. Find something that you can imagine doing for a long time. I spent four years getting a degree in chemistry and biology, preparing for dental school. I entered dental school because the earning potential was outstanding, but I hated doing dentistry. After finishing my first semester of dental school with straight A’s, I decided to leave. Life is just too short to be miserable in a career, even if the pay is great.
Would you go to a different school if you knew what you know now about student debt?
Yes. My first semester of college, I went to a small liberal arts college that was expensive (after my scholarships were applied). When I visited, they talked about the great quality of the school and the traditions, and really convinced me that this college had something that a larger university would not. That was not true, and I left after a semester. That was an expensive mistake, considering I turned down a full-ride scholarship to our local university. I ended up getting a different scholarship to that university, and things worked out, but I still flushed a lot of money down the drain in that first semester. Always consider the cost of your education.
Any other financial tips for our readers?
Work hard while you are young to set yourself up for success in life. That applies to almost every aspect of life, including money. When you start earning real money, don’t spend it all. Save some of it to buy yourself financial freedom. It’s a great feeling to know that you have enough money set aside to change jobs, or change careers, or make a major life move without fear of lost wages. This freedom will spill over into your relationships as well. You will have better relationships when you aren’t worried about money.