How I Paid Off $25,000 in Student Loans: The Life-Changing Journey to Becoming Debt Free 38

debt free

This is a guest post by Jaime Lopez. He has degrees in film and history and spent the past decade working in both education and the A/E industry. You can connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

The following post is Jaime’s personal story of how he got out of debt, and the life-changing transformation he experienced as a result. He also shares the valuable lessons on the way and the sacrifices that had to be made so that he could become who he is today.

It’s a story of developing a powerful mindset, dealing with obstacles, keeping hope alive and turning hardships into a great learning experience.

I believe that the following reading can encourage you to do something about your life today, can show you that anything can be overcome and freedom can be reached, and can remind you of the power of education.

Enter Jaime, and see what helped him take back control of his life and the powerful lessons he learned.


I want to develop my potential and help others do the same, as I believe we’re all born, to some extent, as diamonds in the rough.

Based on my own life experience, I subscribe to the idea that becoming better human beings and better at the things we pursue depends and how actively and continuously we educate ourselves. With so much information in today’s world, it is important to process information effectively and purposefully, without also completely ignoring our need for leisure that can feed our soul.

There is almost nothing that means more to me in life than education. At every step of my life I have pursued it, even when there’s been very little or no support for me to do so.

Last night I made my last student loan payment. The range of emotions and memories that are racing through my mind seem almost unreal. I graduated from UCLA in 2002 with $25,199 in student loans, which after 13 years with interest probably amounts to somewhere between $30,000-$35,000.

The Financial Nightmare

The journey of paying for my education has been long and rough, but nonetheless extremely priceless.

Immediately upon graduating I worked up to 4 jobs at a time, trying to start my adult life on strong financial footing. I wanted to do more for myself, for others, and more than anything I wanted to continue my education. I was tired of being poor.

I saved up enough money to entertain the thought of investing in real estate, which at the time was heavily encouraged by almost everything I heard and read. I saw this investment as a means to help me accomplish my goals, although it would ironically prove to make my goals less obtainable.

In 2005 I bought a condo and kept up a mortgage for 8 years, paying almost $100,000 during that time, only to have ended up with a short-sale. In December of 2007, on the same month that economists now agree marks the beginning of the great recession, and not even half-way through my 8 years as a homeowner, I was laid off from a job.

The next five years (2008-2013) would be a financial nightmare for someone who had always done “the right thing” – going to college, working hard, saving money, and making “wise” investments. Instead, what I experienced were continued poverty and unthinkable opportunity costs.

The Sacrifices on The Way to Becoming Debt Free

The financial strain I faced saw me renting out my condo numerous times, renting rooms where I slept on the floor, and sleeping days at a time in the office. But I kept fighting and believing in myself, even when I perceived that I was viewed as a failure, or worse yet, a joke.

During 3 of those 8 years, I took two LSAT prep courses, spent countless hours studying, and took the LSAT 4 times with unfavorable results. But in the process, I learned how to dissect arguments and identify fallacies, abilities that I will possess as part of my analytical skills for the rest of my life.

I took the GRE three times with somewhat better results, and though I’m still not in graduate school, I expanded my vocabulary tremendously and solidified my disciplined approach to most things.

Making the experience less rewarding along the way, I helped out my family in whatever way that I could, though my generosity has hardly been recognized, much less appreciated. I have a younger sister who accuses me of acting like her dad, when all I’ve wanted is the best for her and everyone else in my family. This perception has killed me, but I have to trust that someday my experience and my willingness to share every last part of it will be better understood.

But I’m lucky. I learned valuable lessons that will help me in the future. At 36, I feel young, and after working for everything I’ve accomplished since I was 16, I feel very blessed.

Since turning 16, almost nothing has been given to me, and though this may seem sad, and in many ways it is, I now wear this fact as a treasured part of my identity.

The person I’ve become along the way means more to me than all the money I’ve lost.

Transforming My Life Thanks to The Power of Education


As people sometimes say, money comes and goes, but an education is something no one can take away. My experience is the experience of someone who has roughed it out for almost 2 decades with seemingly very little to show for it on the surface, but today I feel so free and in many ways wealthy.

Not because I have financial wealth or a fancy title per se, but mainly because I’ve proven to myself that not only can I survive the toughest of times, but that I can do it without compromising my character, my soul, my culture, my life-experience, and my continued efforts to educate myself, even after college, and especially at a time when people often question the value of a college education.

Today, as I walk around in life, I’m empowered to know that those $30,000 to $35,000 were probably the smartest and most valuable investment I will ever have made in my youth.

In conversation after conversation, with people of all educational and financial backgrounds, I am reminded at how important it is to think critically, and how lucky I am to have gained that ability, especially at a time when anti-intellectualism runs so rampant in our society.

I am as inspired as ever to keep growing intellectually, and I’m convinced that there is still so much work to do. I’ve confirmed to myself that experiences that add to our knowledge of the world such as reading books, watching thoughtful films and documentaries, traveling, and seeking out interesting people and events that inspire and educate us are perhaps the wisest investments we make, not only with our money, but with our time.

In these past 13 years I’ve been through a great deal, but I’ve also had the opportunity to do amazing things:

• I’ve traveled to 1/3 of the United States and visited 12 countries (which includes seeing some of the world’s greatest art and architecture);
• survived the removal of a tumor;
• read over 100 books since college (I keep a running list);
• watched over 500 films from a list called “1,000 Movies to See Before you Die”;
• watched all of Roger Ebert’s 363 “Great Movies” and reviewed 111 of them (I’ve since become friends with Roger’s former boss at the Chicago Sun-Times);
• ran 3 marathons (thanks to Melissa) and 10 half-marathons;
• went sky-diving over the Swiss Alps;
• visited 3 of the 7 wonders of the world;
• watched a match at the French Open;
• attended 4 World Cups;
• contemplated the power of Iguazu Falls within a few hundred feet;
• got to see UCLA win their only College World Series;
• was admitted to UCLA’s film school (which is statistically harder to get into than Harvard medical school);
• wrote, directed, and produced a short film on 16mm;
• tutored students of all ages;
• college-counseled 65 students across 3 states and attended about 20 of their high school graduations;
• have taken classes in graphic design, personal finance, Chinese, college counseling, technical writing, political philosophy, and international relations;
• attended dozens of concerts;
• enjoyed foods from dozens of countries;
• read hundreds of New Yorkers articles (my favorite publication);
• have consumed and processed hundreds of book abstracts, podcasts, and articles;
• and have been loved by a most amazing girlfriend;
• I’ve been vegetarian for almost a year now;
• I’ve been car-free for 8 months (and not planning on looking back);
• I’m almost done visiting a list of 178 landmarks around Los Angeles with Melissa.

Gratitude, Freedom and Looking Forward to What’s Next

I’m feeling very emotional about my life right now because in many ways I’m not even supposed to be here. My existence was not planned, I was not bred to succeed, and I was definitely not given a fair shake in many other respects.

I’ve always felt like life is one big party I wasn’t invited to, but I’ve nevertheless crashed it.

I’m here, I’m as empowered and overjoyed about life as ever, and I’m feeling utterly grateful for EVERYTHING. And why, because life is absolutely beautiful, and to waste it, to waste our potential would be criminal.

A lot of this is luck, a lot of this is thanks to generous people along the way (some of whom I’ll soon begin to visit and pay my respects to), the complicated but also unconditional love of my family, and a voracious appetite to understand my life and the world I live in.

Nothing that is worth it comes easy. As a person born with few if any advantages in life, I’m feeling proud of what I’ve done, something I’ve rarely allowed myself to feel, but I’m allowing myself to stand proud today.

I am as of now 100% debt free, and I’m super excited about what’s to come.

I’m excited to one day obtain the elusive graduate degree I’ve chased for years, I’m excited for my future adventures with Melissa, I’m excited to learn more, I’m excited to see more of the world, I’m excited to give more to those in need, I’m excited to help save the planet, and just as importantly, I’m excited to correct the mistakes I’ve made along the way.

I’m not one to ever care for celebrating my own birthday, but this week, after all these years, paying for my education is something that I will celebrate with the utmost joy and pride.

I’ve recently been asked to speak to incoming students at UCLA about their student loans and financial aid. I could not feel more honored than to share my experience with them.

I just wanted to share this powerful and meaningful moment with you, as I’ve always wanted nothing more than for everyone to be their best and live life to the fullest in whatever way you define it.


I’m happy Jaime found me through my blog and decided to email me sharing all this. Stories like that need exposure as many people out there are struggling with the same issues. And, often, it’s just a success story like that which will give them a confidence boost and inspire them to take action.

I’m sure the good things for Jaime are only just beginning. With such a desire to learn, explore, create, give and help, he has all it takes to achieve anything in life.

What do you think?

If you have a question for him, make sure you connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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What the Richest People in the World Have in Common 6

What the Richest People in the World Have in Common

Getting rich is something everyone dreams about.

For those facing financial hardships, getting rich seems the only way out to tide over shortage of money. For the bourgeoisie – the working class – getting rich conjures up visions of stuff they want to buy for luxury or higher social status. Millionaires also wish to get rich: they want to become billionaires and enter Forbes List of the world’s wealthiest people.

Unless you inherit a fortune or get lucky at lottery or sweepstakes, getting rich can be quite tough.

Yet, there are countless rags-to-riches stories around the world. Enterprises such as Amazon, KFC, Facebook or SpaceX have become runaway successes within a short span. The reason: their founders have several things in common, which is rare among other people.

Here we look at various traits that the world’s richest and most successful entrepreneurs have in common.

The Common Traits of The World’s Richest People

The Common Traits of The World's Richest People

1. Serving People.

“If your only goal is to become rich, you will never achieve it,” said John D. Rockefeller, who laid the foundation stone for America’s giant petroleum industry and his own enterprise, Standard Oil. The same adage holds good today.

Facebook, for example, was launched by Mark Zuckerberg and his roommate, Eduardo Saverin to allow Harvard University students to share profiles and pictures

There are countless such examples of ordinary people striking rich. However, they share one thing in common: serving people. The main objective of launching these enterprises was to make life easier or enjoyable for people rather than earning money.

2. Reading Books.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, celebrity TV show host Oprah Winfrey, SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Berkshire-Hathaway CEO Warren Buffet and several other extremely rich people of the world have one more thing in common: they are avid readers.

Bill Gates reads at least 50 books every year – an average of nearly four and a half books per month.

Elon Musk owes his success at SpaceX, the project to open space tourism to his love for books and the knowledge he gained from them about rocketry. Oprah Winfrey attributes her success to dozens of books, including some 70 top titles she read on her way to success while Warren Buffet spends about 80 percent of his day reading books.

3. Long-Term Financial Strategies.

A report by CNBC states, all wealthy people depend upon long-term financial strategies rather than short-term gains. They utilized their earnings and savings to invest in safe stocks that would assure gains in the long run rather than indulging in risky trading that can offer high returns.

Such financial planning and decisions ensured they do not lose money. Further, they invested money in their enterprises without the hope of immediate returns.

These wealthy people first focused on building a brand, offering value for people to identify with the brand. And later, popularize the brand through word-of-mouth publicity, which is more effective than traditional advertising.

4. Never Say Die.

Yet another common character trait shared by the world’s richest people is, they are not quitters.

Like every other human on Earth, these wealthy folks also witnessed ups and downs in life. Some of these were so overwhelming most ordinary people would have called it quits and gone in search of easier ventures.

Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Bleckharczyk, founders of Airbnb, the world’s largest hotels and accommodations aggregator were plagued with financial problems.


Heavily encumbered with debts, bankruptcy was staring at these entrepreneurs in the very eye. Yet, they did not budge. They innovated their service that made Airbnb the world leader in its field today.

Another excellent example is Colonel Harland Sanders, whose recipe for fried chicken was rejected as many as 1,009 times before it was accepted. Col. Sanders is the founder of global chain Kentucky Fried Chicken or KFC.

5. Accepting Criticism.

Most people flee from criticism of any sort. Rather than learning from negative comments arising out of their behavior or work, they take umbrage rather quickly. Yet, they do not bother to amend their behavior or work pattern.

All wealthy people, however, are different. They are willing to be criticized for introducing new ideas or thoughts.

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, rightly says that those who will try and do something new must be willing to draw criticism.

Steve Jobs, founder, Apple, Inc. puts it in even stronger words: “If you want to make everyone happy, do not become a leader; sell ice cream instead.”

The success of Amazon and Apple proves their founders were right when it came to accepting criticism.

6. Out of The Box Thinking.

how regular life looks like and why it won't make you happy

Thinking outside of the ‘box’ or a typical mindset is often impossible for most people. Understandably, because everyone draws their mindset from factors and circumstances they are raised and educated in.

This mindset eventually becomes a formidable fetter for anyone wanting to become an entrepreneur. Generally, most people follow the flock and take professions they falsely believe as best suited for their skills. Others try to follow footsteps of their parents.

The wealthiest people in the world never followed flock or took lucrative professions of their parents.

Mark Zuckerberg’s father was a dentist and mom – a psychiatrist. Bill Gates’ dad was a banker father while his mother was a lawyer.

Despite coming from wealthy families, they chose to follow their passion rather than confine their thinking to the proverbial boxed mindset. Col. Sanders had lost his parents at a young age of six years and had to shoulder responsibilities of his siblings.

Other Examples of What The Wealthiest People Have in Common

As we can see, these qualities or personality traits are common to the world’s richest people. It sets them apart from others. Most of them launched small enterprises with the sole purpose of bettering the lives of people. Their products or services gained popularity because money was never their consideration. Widespread use of their technology, products, and services eventually led them to become wealthy.

These traits are not typical to the US or the western world, as one may mistakenly come to believe. A glance at some richest people in India and elsewhere also reveals, they share the same characteristics with their American counterparts. This amply proves that richest people around the world share something in common, regardless of where they live and flourish.

Another common trait that all rich people share in common is philanthropy.

Since childhood, they believe in giving back to the society and helping the underprivileged. They practiced charity when they were not so rich and continue to donate money for the betterment of the society even after becoming billionaires.

These richest people on the planet never waited to become wealthy. Instead, they were philanthropists since childhood – a trait most other people pathetically lack or try to foist upon themselves to gain popularity.

In Conclusion

It is not easy to become wealthy. Or everyone would become a millionaire. People who do make it to the top have a different way of thinking combined with an undying zest for learning new things and educating themselves.

They do not consider conventional learning at universities as the end of their education. Instead, they try and acquire new skills every day and find ways and means to become better humans rather than focusing on fattening their purses.

The world’s wealthiest people also share one common trait: they are not people pleasers, despite their generosity and willingness to serve the society. Because they know, trying to please everyone will get them nowhere and could mean possible failure.