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I Paid Off My Student Loans! I’m Debt Free!!

I'm 22 years old and I paid off $21,000 in student loan debt in 1.5 years.

I’ve been writing and re-writing the first few sentences of this post over and over. It’s taken me a while to write because I didn’t know how to just come out and say it. It feels almost surreal to even say it to myself, let along the internet.

Let’s talk about debt. Debt is a turbulent and pesky little (big?) thing. It sneaks up on you. It shows you that anything is yours even if you can’t afford to fully pay for it at that very moment. I used to have the typical view of debt. I thought it was normal and just a fact of life since lots of other people had it too.

My first tango with debt happened when I was 17 years old. I was going to high school taking several AP classes, working a part-time job, doing tech work for my school’s theater productions, and also doing 1-2 community college classes every semester.

My parents had gone through a lengthy and trying divorce that left both of them with several thousands of dollars of credit card debt and emotionally drained. Due to my parents spending habits, they said they wouldn’t be able to contribute to my university expenses.

It was a shock even though I sort of knew it was coming given that I was paying for the textbook and class expenses for my early start community college classes. Debt suddenly became there for me. It consoled me and showed me that I could go to university and get my bachelor’s degree.

Everyone else my age was signing the loan documents without a worry. The adults around me assured me that my student loans were “good debt” and that I would get a good-paying job right after university and be able to pay the loans back. I believed them.

Throughout university, I stayed conscious of my student loan amount and tried to minimize it as much as possible. I opted not to stay in dorms my first year of college, instead choosing to live out of my car. I took a full schedule of 15-18 hours every semester, worked several jobs, unpaid internships (ugh…), and went to events with free food whenever I could.

After graduating university in 2.5 years with my bachelor’s degree, I soon found out getting an entry-level job in my field was harder than I ever imagined. The worse part of it was I started getting letters and emails about my debt. $21,000 in student loan debt. 

I had all of these things I wanted to do: move out of Texas and to a different state, travel, contribute to retirement. But I couldn’t do any of those things to the extent I wanted because I had debt creeping up on me, the grace period slowly winding down.

I ended up in a dreadful job unrelated to my major and got to work. I stayed late, took extra work, came in on some of my days off, and worked to make as much money as possible to pay off my debt. Whenever I had more free time, I hopped on Craigslist and Upwork to find extra work.

Debt was no longer my friend who consoled me. It was my enemy and I was determined to get rid of it as soon as possible. I set a goal to pay off my debt in 2.5 years. In a charged fit of anger and motivation, I grabbed a piece of paper, jotted down some words and taped it to my bedroom door and in my car. The paper read:

How bad do you want it? 

I looked at those words every day and kept them in mind whenever I got exhausted and wanted to quit. That piece of paper was my accountability when I had no one to turn to. People around me called me cheap, stingy, and teased me about driving an old car and not going out often.

My parents preached the benefits of getting a new car. It was hard not to listen to them. It was hard because I was a guy whose car would break down every few months and I didn’t have a someone close to lean on when I needed an in-between car. My mom’s husband would shake his head and tell me to stop being stingy and just finance a new car. I didn’t want to.

Then things got worse. My dreadful job started to take a heavier toll on me. I fell deep into depression, lost my appetite, and started losing weight at an alarming rate. I became pale and would wake up in the middle of the night sweating. Everything felt wrong and I didn’t know how to make it right. I still had my debt. I was still in my shackles.

Fortunately, after some care, I started to get slightly better. My mood was in a better place and I began to look at options. I came across a post about teaching English in Thailand and decided to move abroad for work. I quit my dreadful job, my mood started to get better, and I was finally able to start traveling.

But I still had debt.

So, after getting settled into my new full-time job, I began doing a tutoring side job, working at a language center and also offering private lessons to students. I found some online work and started doing that as well.

And the same situation as back home started happening. People around me didn’t understand it. My fellow foreign teachers would joke about me being too cheap and not knowing how to have fun. While they went off on weekend trips and holidays to other countries, I stayed in my small apartment, typing up blog posts and doing private tutoring lessons. They paid their minimums while I paid extra.

Whenever I did travel, it was usually in a basic manner. That Great Wall of China photo? It was taken during a hurried 20-minute walk while I was on a layover in Beijing to go visit back home. The original 3-hour walk didn’t happen because of delays. The Myanmar photos? Those were taken during a hurried 1-day trip to Bagan in which I had to argue with several taxi drivers because they kept trying to rip me off. I only got to spend 2.5 days in Myanmar because I had gotten a flight deal and it was all I could afford. And the reason you don’t see me in a lot of my photos? It’s because I was usually a haggle sweaty mess from hauling my small Jansport backpack everywhere since I didn’t have any suitcases and didn’t want to pay for luggage.

People back home continued to like my photos and thought I was living a wonderful life abroad when in reality I was usually working all the time with not a lot of vacation time.

My work from putting in extra hours became more evident as money continued to pile up in my savings account. I noticed something bad was happening. I was hoarding money in my savings account instead of putting it towards my debt. I did it because I was scared. I was scared of not having a lot of savings and having to go back to a dreadful job again. I was battling a financial scarcity mindset and it was hard to beat.

I mention all of this because, like many, the journey to becoming debt-free is a turbulent one. There are ups and downs and everyone just doesn’t seem to understand your mindset. You’re looked at as weird and cheap. Instant gratification and FOMO constantly rear their alluring heads at you.

People look at you with a dishearting smile and say “You shouldn’t focus so much on your debt. Live your life” to which you could whisper back “I’m doing this so I can fully live my life.”

A few days ago,  I made the decision to take a large chunk out of my savings to finally pay off the rest of my debt. It felt scary at first because of my scarcity mindset but ultimately I knew it was the sensible thing to do. It made no sense to keep a lot of money in my savings account while also having debt.

I logged into my student loan service provider and made the final payment.

And suddenly, just like that things changed. My name is Colin Ashby, I’m 22 years old, and I just finished paying off $21,000 in student loans in 1.5 years. I’M DEBT-FREE!!!!

I envisioned my “debt-free day” to be this big action-packed movie sequence where I would bust through window, glass shattered and drive off into the sunset waving dollar bills in the air. Tom Cruise would be portraying me.

As you can tell, I’ve got an over-active imagination sometimes 🙂

Even though I’m not blasting through windows on a motorcycle, being debt-free in reality still feels pretty badass!

Welp, this post has crossed 1500 words, I should probably stop. I made a some video talking about being debt-free and revealing the meaning behind my blog name Rebel With A Plan. 

The video ran super long so I had to cut it up a bunch and make it into two videos. The first one about becoming debt-free is below. My 1 year blogiversary just happened so on Wednesday the self-titled post, Rebel With A Plan, will go up talking about the meaning behind the blog name. Stay tuned!

Hold On Or Let Go?

Hold on or let go? Choosing the quick cash vs. the slow burning route

Life has felt a lot more relaxed lately. In the past month I’ve had several free weekends and they have been glorious. There is less of a rushed mindset and it all has to do with quitting my side job.

My main side job for the past several months has been English tutoring. I worked at a language center teaching classes of 2-6 kids. It was fun but the workload started to really take a toll on me. You know, the kind of toll where even getting up to eat food is a chore. 🙂 

A bit of a background on this. In Thailand there are three main ways parents have their kids learn English. The first is to have them go to a school where there are English teachers that teach them 2-4 hours per week. This is the most common scenario. The second option is to sent them to a fancy school that has a dedicated English program where they get the majority of their lessons taught in English. This is a pricey option that requires a semester tuition payment. The third option is to send kids to an evening and/or weekend language center where they learn English in a small group for two hours per week. A lot of English learning Thai kids have a combination of options one and three.

The school I teach at for my full-time job has a dedicated English program where most lessons are instructed in English. They also have lessons in Thai and two Chinese classes.

My school pays a very good salary in comparison to many other schools, so I feel lucky. But I knew that in order to save up some more money and also pay down more debt, I would need to pick up additional work. Enter tutoring and various side hustles.

In terms of side hustles, I have done some basic design and website management work for people.  It hasn’t been a lot but it was something.

Tutoring, the other extra money making endeavor, is one I originally only did two classes per week of. The language center I worked at was new and I was one of only two teachers. I liked the classes I taught. Very quickly as more students started to enroll, my boss gave me more classes. I was excited at first! More money!

New students and classes kept pouring in and my tutoring paychecks started to become a very good sized amount. There was just one problem: I never had any time off.

Mondays through Fridays during the day I would work at my full-time job. Then on Mondays and Wednesday nights I would have private classes at the language center. On Tuesdays and Thursday nights I would do blog work. Over the weekend I would work up to 14 hours tutoring several classes.

Let me tell you, hearing 3-6-year-olds screaming and jumping around for several hours a day really makes you think about whether you want to have kids or not. I would always be super worn out. On Sunday nights I would come back to my apartment, climb into my bed, and try to write while sighing every few minutes. When Mondays rolled around, I had to do it all again for my full-time job.

I felt constantly “on” all the time and it was so draining.

I wanted to quit and work less hours but I kept thinking about building up my savings and paying off debt. How bad do I want it?

I’m still currently in debt (only student loans) there isn’t a ton left on them but I do want them gone as fast as possible. The question I ask myself is How fast do I want to pay them off while still having some sort of life?

Working 7 days a week is good in the short term but it isn’t sustainable. Eventually, a crash will happen. Last month I finally quit my language center tutoring job. It was difficult to do but I knew it needed to happen.

I was at a crossroads for a while deciding whether to hold on or let go. Did I want quick cash or the chance to really build something I liked (which is this blog). 

Is it better to chase quick cash or go the slow burning route? For me, I want the latter. Doing a quick cash side hustle is fine if you’re main purpose for the money is to pay off debt or ramp up savings. However, if you want to build something that allows you to learn new and practice new skills and satisfy your personal development, choose the slow burning route.

Which one would you choose? 

Grow The Gap

Or in other words, Why picking sides between spending less or earning more isn't thinking of the full picture.

Or in other words, Why picking sides between spending less or earning more isn’t thinking of the full picture.

Gaps are important. Write that down and say it three times! Haha. It’s true, though. Gaps are important and they’re talked about all the time. Usually, it’s with emergency funds (growing the gap between bank account zero and a few months of expenses).

In terms of building actual wealth? It’s so important. When it comes to your unique money management, what is best? Spend less or earn more? How about neither? Let me explain.

There is a rifle debate in the personal finance world of whether to focus on cutting back and spending less or, on the flip side, earning more. In fact, when you get on the path to being better with your money, the first step mentioned by several financial blogs, podcasts, and people is to comb through your monthly expenses and see where to cut back.

Cut the cable subscription, cut down on eating out, stop getting lattes, and stop going out and spending so much on entertainment. There is even extreme tips about cutting out all junk food, cell phone service, TV, downsizing to just one car, foregoing all fun and letting your soul die…(<—maybe not that last one).

You might balk at the tips and think about how you don’t want to do without certain things because you want to enjoy life. But then you read crazy inspiring stories about people who have paid off mountains of debt. Ahhh, those “person paid off [insert crazy amount] of debt in [insert a super small amount of time]” stories everyone loves to read.

The people who have paid off the debt talk about how they cut out a lot of their expenses and lived minimally. They detail how doing without cable and kicking their latte habit were the big reasons they don’t have the debt monkey on their back anymore. You read the stories, while sipping with your *bomb-tastic* delicious Starbucks mocha, and think about how you need to give up monthly indulgences. The thought sounds blasphemous. You look down at your latte and whisper “I’ll never let you go” a la Titanic-style.

Growing the gap in personal finance. It's all about growing the gap between what you spend and what you earn! Click through to read!

Switching between browser tabs, you stumble upon the other side of personal finance: earning more. The blogs tell you like some sort of fantasy fairy godmother that earning more is the more important side to focus. After all, there is only so much you can cut back on. Earning more is infinite!

As it turns out, earning more money doesn’t have to be something solely achieved through promotions at work or getting a higher-paying job. There are lots of different money making opportunities. Some of them require going on and getting extra part-time work. Others are about making money online.

So which one is better to focus on? Spending less or earning more? It’s neither and here’s why. Size matters.

When it comes to money management and reaching your financial goals, it’s all about growing the gap.

What is the gap?

The gap between what you earn and what you spend. You want to grow this area as much as possible. Pay attention to it, treat it like a precious little puppy and help it grow. Growing it will help you reach your financial goals faster.

And let’s be honest, most people, especially twenty-somethings, have lots of savings goals they want to hit. There are weddings to save up for, other people’s weddings to save up for, a three to six-month emergency fund, house downpayment, travel fund, personal development, and more.

It’s important to tend to both sides to increase the gap. There are always ways to cut back even if you’re frugal and there are always money-making opportunities to be done.

I used to dismiss the whole “spend less, cut expenses” advice of personal finance. I thought I was good with money. Back when I was working my first job entry-level job out of college, I thought I was a pretty frugal person. I didn’t have a car payment, I didn’t buy lots of clothes and go out a lot. With my entry-level wage, I thought I was saving all I needed to save. It wasn’t until I started more closely tracking my spending and doing no-spend challenges, did I realize that there was usually room to cut back.

Being more conscious with grocery shopping, I was able to cut my food budget further. For my cellphone, I got a slightly cheaper provider. Even on an entry-level wage, not making a lot of money, there were still areas I was able to cut back in.

Since I’ve gone through the cutting expenses part, my focus lately has been on giving some TLC to the other side: earning more. Because, as mentioned earlier, there is unlimited potential when it comes to earning more. I like that and I’m sure you do too.

It’s all about growing the gap. Stretch each side as much as you can! It’s a journey that requires tenacity. I’ll be keeping you updated on how it progresses for me. 

How do you go about growing the gap between what you spend and what you earn? 

Debt Doesn’t Have to Feel Isolating #WSPD16

Debt doesn't have to feel isolating. As part of World Suicide Prevention Day, I talk about how debt doesn't define you and it doesn't have to be isolating. Click through to read.

This blog post is part of the World Suicide Prevention Day blog tour. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit

Many people have some form of debt. Student loans, credit card debt, and medical debt are common types. Debt  has become more of a burden for many people and yet, we still don’t talk about it enough. People still feel isolated and alone. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Debt doesn’t have to feel isolating.

Often times, being deep in debt can leave us with a crippling feeling like there is no end in sight. The debt feels big and there seems to be no one to turn to.

We’re scared of discussing our debt, scared of being judged, worried people will think we’re dumb. According to a survey conducted by NerdWallet, 55% of millennials with credit card debt said they would feel judged if friends or family knew how much debt they had.

Debt doesn’t have to feel isolating. We can change the conversation.

Discuss money topics more

When I started talking more about my student loan debt around friends and acquaintances, a wonderful thing happened: people responded back to me and talked about their own situation with debt.

By talking about my debt repayment plan with people around me, a new door of discussion opened up and friends, co-workers, and family started to talk about money as it fit in different areas of their life. A friend asked me questions about debt repayment methods and co-workers would ask about budgeting resources. Money became more comfortable to talk about.

Seek assistance if you can’t make your payments 

Look into different debt repayment methods, talk to your creditors about your situation and see if you can get payment lowered. There are options out there.

Realize you are not your debt

Your debt isn’t your identity. You are important and necessary and debt doesn’t define you. Talk with yourself every week or every day and think about who you are without your debt. Visualize what debt-free life would be like. Write down your interests and desires. Share these with people. Use them as a goal to hold onto.

Check out the resources below for guidance:


Dear Debt: A Story About Breaking Up With Debt: A wonderful book by Melanie Lockert, who climbed her way out of $81,000 dollars of debt. The book is part memoir and part-how guide on getting through the emotional impact of debt, realizing your worth, and breaking up with debt.

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking: a book for people who have had a hard time fully embracing optimism and positive thinking. It talks about helpful habits to build and ways to use negative emotions to fuel your goals.


Don’t Kill Yourself Over Debt

Please Seek Help


National Suicide Prevention Hotline

Crisis Text Line

Dear Debt: A Story About Breaking Up With Debt

Dear Debt: A Story of Breaking Up With Debt, book review. How one woman was able to pay off $81,000 in student loans (without living with parents or making six figures). Click through to read!

Being in debt is lonely and mind numbing, but it doesn’t have to be. Dear Debt is a story of one woman on a journey getting out of $81,000 of debt, without living with her parents or making six figures. She launched a new career and money mindset in the process.

Melanie Lockert, author of the book, is a freelance writer and event planner, who runs the popular blog, Dear Debt, which won the Best Debt Blog award at the 2015 Plutus Awards. The site features a diverse group of people writing letters of action to break up with their debt.

Dear Debt was actually one of the first blogs I read when I started to get interested in personal finance. I found the site from my google searches of hating debt and wanting to get rid of my student loans. It’s been a great relief to read people’s different debt stories and the mutual hatred of debt. Who knew debt hatred could be such a bonding and relatable experience! 🙂

Recently, Melanie released her first book, Dear Debt: A Story About Breaking Up With Debt. The book chronicles her first tango with debt at age 17 when signing up for student loans, all the way to graduate school and later on with life and the presumed societal inflations of lifestyle.

The book was released on Friday and I devoured it over the weekend. I kinda got really enveloped in it to point where I forgot about finishing my binging of Stranger Things on Netflix. So yeah, the book was more important to me than “netflixing”, that should tell you how good it is!

The beginning of the book frequently mentions the psychological and societal attitude towards debt. People, starting when they’re teenagers and signing for their first set of student loans, are led to believe debt is a normal thing and not something to worry about. Everyone’s doing it. Melanie talks about how she broke free from the perspective and took charge of her debt situation.

People like to say money isn’t everything. While that’s true to an extent, I firmly believe the only people who say that are people who haven’t been face-to-face with being broke or feeling buried under debt.

Melanie went through college and graduate school pursuing various creative endeavors in theater and the arts. She got her bachelor’s degree in theater and master’s degree in performance studies. Because of her activities in the creative field and non-profit work experience, she thought she was destined to a path of low wages and struggle.

Many people have similar mindsets to where she was at. They think they will never be able to reach financial independence or be in charge of their money due to their situation. The book breaks down different steps on moving past a limiting money mindset to developing a proactive view towards money.

Money is not good or bad. Money is simply a tool for opportunities

Melanie talks about the negative toll her student loan debt took on her and how got out of a rut. She details different steps she took to start saving, even through seasons of underemployed and a low-wage nonprofit salary.

The book covers how to get started with side hustles: strategy, building your brand and dealing with things like taxes.

The biggest lesson is shifting your money mindset. We all have a unique mindset when it comes to money: the way we view saving, making more, and spending triggers. Mindsets and bad habits can be remedied and improved upon. Changing your money mindset is arguably the most important thing towards staying motivated to eliminate debt and achieve your financial goals.

Being in debt doesn’t have to be a miserable and lonely experience. This book helped me remember that.

Dear Debt: A Story About Breaking Up With Debt is available now!

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