We got the chance to ask the creators of the personal finance blog, rich & REGULAR how they paid off a six-figure debt, how they stayed motivated, and how they are saving for their son’s college education. The couple paid off $200,000 in debt between 2013 and 2018, including student loans, and are part of the FIRE community – those looking to attain financial independence and retire early. The PLUTUS Award-winning money experts have a goal of “helping our readers breakthrough their obstacles, showing you the bigger picture, reversing some pretty alarming trends and serving as an example for a lifestyle that is both fulfilling and attainable.”
Tell us about rich & REGULAR.
rich & REGULAR (TM) is a name we [Kiersten and Julien] came up with shortly after our honeymoon. In 2015, we spent two weeks in South Africa and it changed our lives because it helped us to:
1) Re-structure our priorities to put ourselves first over our jobs and
2) To realize that despite our career goals, we were already “rich”. We just weren’t rich and famous. We wanted to share with our friends and family all we’d learned about budgeting, saving, real estate, investing and money but knew they didn’t really like to talk about money. So, we decided to make it interesting and talk about life, from a Black perspective, and all the little ways money plays a role in shaping it.
Since then, we’ve committed to writing a book with Portfolio Books [an imprint of Penguin Random House], we’ve been recognized by our peers in personal finance media, we’ve developed a complete video series that inspires people to talk about money and we’ve grown our platform exponentially. We now both work on the blog full time and are in the process of building additional businesses as online entrepreneurs.
Of the $200,000 in debt you paid off, how much of it was student loan debt? How did you approach your student loan debt and what advice can you offer others struggling with student loans?
Of the $200,000 about $15K was my [Julien’s] student loan debt. I made an early point to become a graduate research assistant at the school where I earned my MBA so that I didn’t take on the full cost of tuition.
The student loan debt I had before that was from undergraduate studies. The path to paying it off was pretty straightforward– live on significantly less than you make, drive an old debt-free car for as long as possible and avoid making expensive lifestyle upgrades. I worked for 5 years after landing a corporate role after college before making any significant purchases in my life. That allowed me to use as much of my salary as possible to go towards debt payoff to include tax debt, car notes, credit card debt and eventually, the mortgage on our old home.
What did you do to pay off all of your debt? How did you stay motivated?
The key for us was choosing to live small even though we could afford to buy a larger home. For years, we lived in a small townhome and instead of buying up, we chose to completely renovate it to make it more comfortable for us and a baby.
Then, we completely paid off the mortgage on that home and rented it out after we moved in. This allowed us to subsidize our new mortgage with rent while the property appreciated in market value. Between that, cooking at home and being intentional about how we spend and invest, we’ve been fortunate.
A big part of our motivation is wanting to see improvements in wealth accumulation in the Black community. We know all of the problems that plague our community can’t be fixed with personal choices but we also know that by living by example, we can inspire those who are able to reconsider how they manage their money.
What inspired you to open a 529 college savings plan for your son? How will you balance college savings with your other financial goals?
Kiersten was fortunate in that she got scholarships and her parents could afford to send her to her school. Julien had to rely on student loans and work full time while attending school. It was really difficult and quite frankly, we don’t want our son to go through that. The additional benefit of relatable affordable investment options and getting a state tax benefit made investing in the GA Path 2 College 529 plan a simple choice for us.
We balance our college savings like any other expense we incur throughout the year. Additionally, we make sure that whenever his grandparents want to give him a gift, they consider contributing to his plan as an option. In our eyes, it’s a great way for them to invest in his future.
What advice would you offer to parents who haven’t started saving for college yet?
Nobody can predict what the future of college will look like, but we can make some educated guessed based on what we see today. Even if it’s just a few hundred dollars a year, an opportunity to invest in your child’s future is always a good idea. We’d also highly recommend getting creative with fundraising on birthdays and other holiday celebrations. We see those as great opportunities for friends and family who don’t value material things to give in ways that may be more important to them.