We’ve been thinking about having a guest post for a while and when we read Mark’s instagram post on paying of his debt we immediately knew it was a fit, especially since a lot of what we write about, (other than weddings), is on minimalism and our journey in trying to live a more simplified life. Mark, from Cluney Photo, is a wedding and portrait photographer based out of Missoula, MT and we connected with him a few years ago when we hired him to mentor us on business related stuff. Since then, he’s become more than a mentor; an inspiration of all sorts and his recent accomplishment of paying off $82,000 in debt in 5 years was a huge encouragement to us and something we knew could be helpful to other people.
Mark went to the Academy of Art University for 2 years (2009-2011). When he finished, he had around $82,000 in student loan debt (not counting interest…half the loans were federal, half were through a private company with variable interest rates). The repayment plan they gave him, which lasted 20 years, had him paying a little over $950 a month. 5 years later, Mark and his family made the final payment on those loans and completely paid them off. Mark and his family sacrificed a lot to be debt-free. They lived in a studio or one bedroom apartment the past 5+ years when they’d really like something with more space. They have one car when having two would be far more convenient. They haven’t indulged in a lot of the luxuries their income probably could have afforded them. And they still gave to others, even when they didn’t comfortably have the finances to do so. A lot of the time they felt hopeless and like they’d never be completely free of the debt. They had to put almost 50% of their income towards the payments, and weren’t able to make any payments for a whole year when Mark took a year off of work for personal reasons. But, even then, they rearranged their lives and finances with eliminating debt as a priority.
We asked Mark a few more questions to help expand on how exactly he paid of the debt in 5 years. We hope these answers inspire you, wherever you are in your journey, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or burdened by debt, (whatever the size), just know it’s possible to make changes and sacrifice to get to the other side.
7. Was there any useful tips you picked up along the way that helped you in your journey? The most helpful thing for me in paying off debt was something I read in the book “Voluntary Simplicity.” The author suggests “buying only what is used productively,” and when I read that, it changed my whole outlook on finances. It made paying off debt far easier, because many of the things we wanted didn’t fall into that category. And it helped us to gauge our purchases and budget based on that; what’s really important. If we needed something, we’d get it. But most of what we buy in our society isn’t based on need, it’s based on fleeting wants. And this process killed a lot of that habitual, thoughtless spending in our lives.
10. What do you feel are some of the most important things you learned from this experience? Tons. I can’t list all of it but we learned that we can be happy without excessive spending and material excess. We’ve learned to live below our financial means. We’ve learned that there’s an end to debt; that sacrifice is worth it. We learned that quality > quantity. We’ve learned that keeping longterm vision (and holding each other accountable as a family in maintaining it) can help you achieve seemingly impossible things. We’ve learned that most of what we think we want, we don’t really need…and that when we get what we think we want at the expense of our financial independence, it’s always a giant let down. There’s more…but it could go on for pages. Really, this experience will shape the rest of our lives and how we live on a daily basis. It’s a terrible thing to be $82k in debt, but what you get on the other side is priceless.