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how to set actionable goalsThere comes a point when you just have to look at how things are and work with what you’ve got.

Money is like this in a way. People have lots of opinions on how best to navigate personal finances.

Which is the best way to set actionable goals? Do you do the debt snowball or debt avalanche? Should you have an emergency fund or not? Are side hustles all that important? What about privilege?

One of the top things people say whenever there is an impressive debt payoff story, rags to riches tale, or financial breakthrough is “So…what’s the catch?”

Those Debt Payoff Stories

Everyone loves a good debt payoff story. The sensational ones where a person paid off a big amount of debt in a small amount of time.

I don’t think I have one of those, depending on who you ask. I graduated university with $21,000 in student loans. I paid off those student loans in 18 months, at the age of 22, partly while living abroad in Thailand.

I’ve been congratulated on doing such a thing. Critical comments have been about how that “wasn’t even a lot of debt” or “there must be a catch”.

Indeed there is a catch to my debt payoff story. The “catch” is that I worked overtime at my blue collar job, worked seven days a week while in Thailand, set actionable goals, and upon being sick of looking at my debt, paid off the remaining amount with a large part of my emergency fund.

No matter how a person paid off debt there is always some critical comments. If the person makes a high salary then people complain that it was easy for them because of it. If a person side hustled their way to debt payoff, then people complain about the person having to do side hustles to pay off debt.

A former co-worker once said to me “Well, I’d like to see a debt payoff story where the person worked a regular job and  didn’t make a high salary or do side hustles to pay off their debt!”

While I understand their sentiment, I’m not sure they will ever see one those due to this thing called math. You have to grow the gap between your expenses and income in order to pay off your debt. That’s what it boils down to.

Yes, it can be annoying when a lot of personal finance news stories focus on middle-class couples with good paying jobs who suddenly had a ~~magical epiphany~~ and decided to stop wasting money.

Although, when you break it down, paying off a lot of debt or making significant financial progress comes down to it.

Income – expenses = the gap (focus on growing it)

Do The Actual Work

Sometimes people put too much focus on one area while neglecting the others. This is really true when it comes to talking about (touchy?) subjects like privilege.

Privilege is a real thing. Some people have a leg up on others when it comes to situations and opportunities. Not everyone is able to live at home in order to save money on rent. Different socioeconomic backgrounds have advantages. The list goes on.

However, when you choose to solely focus on that one area, you start to miss out on other opportunities that could come from when you put in the work.

For the longest time, I was angry with the fact that other people had their parents pay for cars for them and pay for part of their college. Meanwhile, I had to work as a dishwasher, work lots of hours, and save up for months to buy my first car at age 17. I had to pay for my college education on my own through the use of loans and working. I didn’t even have a laptop for the longest time. Instead, I had had to go to the public library to use one.

Things didn’t start improving until I sat down, acknowledged my situation, and made a plan for growth from there.

You can choose to sit idle and focus on your limitations or you can make a plan based on what you have.

Put What You Learn Into Practice

I’m part of a few blog and business groups on Facebook. There was one massive online business group I was a member of. In the group, I would constantly see people posting critical responses of other business owners.

The post would catch on, attract hundreds of comments from people agreeing, and then a few days later the same type of post would pop up and the cycle would repeat itself. While criticism of things can be good at times, when you’re constantly doing it, it can give you a false feeling of having actually done something.

It’s kind of like when you read a self-help or motivational book. You go through it, highlight a bunch of motivational quotes in it, and talk about it on social media. While that’s great to do, it’s even more important to put what you learned into practice.

Related: The Problem With Motivational Quotes

Don’t just read some book on entrepreneurship and share quotes from it on social media. Use what you learned from the book. Test things out, see how it works. You’ll learn a lot more when you’re in the process of doing rather than reading self-help book after self-help book over and over.

The Cautionary Tale of the Underpants Gnomes

Gotta go to work, work, work, work! We won’t stop ‘til we have underpants!

-The Underpants Gnomes (South Park)

You don’t want to look back several months or years from now and realize all you’ve been doing is collecting underpants.

What the heck am I talking about, you ask?

It’s a concept I learned about in the book Level Up Your Life by Steve Kamb. In the show South Park, there is an episode where a group of gnomes sneak into people’s houses and steal their underpants and take them to a large underground cave each night.

The gnomes are stealing the underpants so they can have a mass collection to use when they build a highly successful business. When a gnome is asked why he is collecting underpants, his response is, “Collecting underpants is just phase 1!

When someone follows up with, “So what is phase 2?” The gnomes are confused and just say, “Phase 3 is profit! Phase 1 is collecting underpants!”.

They know what Phase one is (collecting underpants) and phase three (highly successful business) but they don’t know the critical phase two.

This happens when you read some amazing self-help book, watch an inspiring TEDx talk, or hear of somebody doing something amazing.

Don’t get stalled in the phase one stage of watching or reading something inspiring and then go, “Well, it’s easy for them!”.

Bottom Line

This post isn’t some call to “hu$tle harder” or “grind more”. It’s a call to acknowledge the situation and limitations you have and moving forward set some actionable goals. 

It may take longer or be harder for you to reach your goals compared to others, but small or slow progress is better than nothing.

What’s the catch? It’s figuring out your phase two and making a plan from there.

How have you been able to get past your limitations and setbacks? What is your phase two?

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Colin // RebelwithaPlan

Colin Ashby is the writer behind Rebel with a Plan, a website dedicated to people who choose to rebel against the norm of living in debt and feeling financially unenlightened. He believes everyone has an eccentric quality to embrace and that lattes are sometimes a necessity (despite what the personal finance community tells you).

Latest posts by Colin // RebelwithaPlan (see all)

4 Comments on So, What’s the Catch?

  1. Kayla Sloan
    March 23, 2018 at 4:28 pm (3 years ago)

    Boy do I understand your struggles! Although my parents did help me somewhat, I still had to work to get through college. Once I graduated I quickly found myself deep in debt. You are right on point that the reason some people don’t change their situation is because they aren’t willing to side hustle, sacrifice, or whatever else it takes. Good for you that you did what was needed to help your finances improve!

    • Colin // RebelwithaPlan
      March 23, 2018 at 5:17 pm (3 years ago)

      A lot of times people just get too in their head with what they need to do when it comes to side hustles. Information overload and not knowing where to start, that kind of thing. It’s always helpful to break things down and see the first few simple things you can do to get started!

  2. DC @ Young Adult Money
    March 28, 2018 at 1:58 am (3 years ago)

    I do have a lot of empathy for those who complain about debt payoff stories where the individual had a high income at their day job. To be honest it’s drastically different for someone making $35k a year to pay off student loans than someone who has the same debt but makes $80k a year. I think most debt payoff stories – especially in the blogosphere – are just clickbait and more or less are just easy ways to get traffic. Can I blame them, though? Nope : ) But I think most of the stories aren’t applicable to a large majority of people. Everyone’s situation is unique.

    • Colin // RebelwithaPlan
      March 30, 2018 at 1:40 am (3 years ago)

      I don’t mind the debt payoff stories by someone who makes a high income. It does bother me though when those start to be the most of the stories that are heard. I do like it when sites make an effort to give practical ways to understand your situation and go from there. For many people that involves seeking out additional income streams (which is why I love that you’re site offers a lot of that!)


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