MONEY Fast Food

McDonald’s Wants to Replace the Drive-Thru with Drones

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Roger Kisby/Getty Images

That's the kind of revolutionary idea McDonald's wants to hear about at SXSW, the hipster festival where the fast food chain will be a big presence in the hopes of winning over millennials.

How’s this for an odd, arguably desperate pairing? McDonald’s, which just celebrated its 60th anniversary, and which has struggled mightily to gain favor with trendy millennial consumers, is serving as a “Super Sponsor” at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW), the annual music, movies, and ideas festival in Austin that’s a magnet for everything young, hip, and forward-thinking.

Not only will the McDonald’s logo be splashed throughout Austin during the mid-March festival, the fast food giant will be handing out food free of charge to attendees and will welcome startups to pitch ideas that could change how the company does business. “We want to be in the flow of ideas, offering our scale to interesting partners, with the intent to make the lives of millions of people who use McDonald’s a bit simpler and even more enjoyable,” McDonald’s explains of its decision to be a part of SXSW.

There will be three separate days for pitch sessions, each focused on a different topic, such as “Reinventing the Restaurant Experience” and “Mobilizing the Transportation and Delivery Revolution.” For the latter, startups are supposed to take the fact that “our existing idea of door-to-door delivery and drive-thru will soon be obsolete” into consideration when pitching innovations. Those with the best pitches could get a chance to win a trip to McDonald’s Illinois headquarters to explain their concepts to company leaders, and potentially become partners.

Apparently, McDonald’s really wants to hear about so-called “moon shots,” i.e. big ideas that stretch the imagination and may at first seem impossible, but which could prove ground-breaking and transformative if they ultimately come to fruition. Like so:

Imagine a world where drones could deliver you food while you’re driving down the highway. Seems crazy now, but technology is increasingly revolutionizing our everyday lives.

This kind of thinking is quite a step up for a company whose most recent “Big Idea” was bringing back Chicken Selects to the menu.

Gathering solid business ideas is probably not the primary reason McDonald’s is invading SXSW, however. More likely, the company is hoping to make inroads with influential hipsters and millennials, the generation that shows far greater preference for Starbucks and fast casual restaurants like Panera and Chipotle than it does for McDonald’s and other fast food players.

Yet millennials are famously difficult to win over with advertising, and the McDonald’s brand is often polarizing, attracting haters and critics no matter what move it makes. So the company’s supersized presence at the youth-dominated festival seems puzzling to some.

“The usual SXSW crowd is not the [McDonald’s] crowd. [Attendees are] usually edgier, healthier, more techy, definitely more millennial,” Wendy Liebmann, CEO of the WSL Strategic Retail consultant firm, told MarketWatch. “McDonald’s may see this as an opportunity to show it’s become hipper, trendier and [be] using SXSW as a platform to be seen differently.”

In which case, look out Burning Man festival goers. McDonald’s may be coming after you next.

MONEY Millennials

Sorry, Oldsters, Tinder Isn’t the Only Thing That Costs More if You’re Over 30

Tinder on mobile phone
Cyberstock—Alamy

Getting older is hard enough by itself, but leaving your 20s can also mean a slew of price increases and new expenses.

It can be tough out there for the over-30 crowd. Not that I would know— I plan to be in my mid-20s forever. But judging by my older friends, the influx of “just turned 30 (frowny face)” Facebook statuses, and the popular media, the big three-oh is a sobering moment when one comes to terms with the end of youth, the inevitability of death, and the realization that one should maybe stop going out on Mondays.

And that’s not all. Crossing 30 also makes life more expensive. Here are five things that get pricier as millennials enter—or simply get closer to—their next decade:

Tinder
Yes, even hooking up gets more expensive after your 30th birthday. The popular dating app Tinder recently announced that older users will have to pay more for its premium service, Tinder Plus. The service, which removes ads and includes a variety of extra features, will cost Americans $9.99 a month—unless they’re over 29, in which case the price doubles, to $19.99.

Tinder says it isn’t gouging older users, it’s simply offering younger users a discount because they’re “more budget constrained,” but that’s a distinction without difference for everyone stuck paying higher fees.

Health insurance
Thanks to Obamacare, anyone under 26 can comfortably freeload remain on their parents’ insurance. But turn 27 and your health care situation could deteriorate before your eyes. No more mooching off Mom and Dad means you’ll be left with whatever health insurance your work offers, which can be more expensive per person than a family plan, especially if your parents work in an industry with generous benefits. (And that’s assuming you’re currently reimbursing your parents for insurance. Those who don’t will be in for an even harsher wakeup call.) Plus, if you’re unemployed, be prepared to buy individual insurance through health care exchanges, which can be more expensive still.

Gym membership
Having to work out is bad enough, but gym rats over 30 may also end up paying more for the privilege. Local YMCA branches typically offer “young adult” discounts. The age cap on this deal can be as low as 22 or as high as 29, but we’ve yet to see one that extends to people older than their 20s. An adult membership will generally run you about $100 more per year, and that’s not including the emotional cost of being called a no-longer-young “adult.”

Traveling in Europe
Going backpacking through Europe is one of the most stereotypical young-person things out there, so it sort of makes sense it would get more expensive as you get older. Accordingly, Eurail, one of the most popular and cost-effective ways to explore the European continent, is 35% cheaper for travelers under 26. Air travel also gets more expensive for grownup vacationers. STA Travel, which bills itself as a full-service travel retailer, offers special discounts on flights to customers under 26.

Theater tickets
Young fans of the stage are in luck: a huge number of theaters offer special 30-and-under discounts to this coveted demographic. This is especially true in New York City, but since theaters everywhere are struggling to attract a younger crowd, it’s likely you’ll see similar deals across the country. Some locations extend special offers to patrons as “old” as 35, but the farther you get into your 30s, the more you should expect to pay for your arts fix.

MONEY financial skills

Who’s Worst With Money: Baby Boomers, Gen X or Millennials?

150304_FF_worst_1
Alamy

Older and younger generations alike face financial challenges, but they share different concerns.

A new report confirms what we all fear to be true: Americans, no matter their age, are generally terrible at managing their money. In short, we all need to save more. A lot more.

This insight comes from Financial Finesse, a think tank geared toward helping people reach financial independence and security, in its 2015 generational research study released today. Financial Finesse’s assessment of each generation’s financial health is based on employee responses to its financial wellness questionnaires, which is used at more than 600 companies in the country.

In this study, generations are broken into millennials (employees younger than 30), Generation X (30 to 54) and baby boomers (55 and older). Based on what people reported about their financial situations, no group gets bragging rights or much room to criticize their older or younger counterparts. As for how they scored, it’s pretty even: On a scale of 0-10 millennials got a 4.6 for financial wellness, Gen X a 4.7 and boomers a 5.7.

Millennials

The youngest segment of the workforce seems to do pretty well with the in-the-moment financial decisions. Essentially, these consumers were scarred by the debt problems they saw in the recession, and they’re more likely to spend within their means, have plans to pay off debt, pay their credit card balances in full and avoid bank fees than Gen Xers.

Despite being in the best position to prepare for retirement (the earlier you save, the easier it is to reach your goals), millennials listed it as their third most important priority, after paying off debt and managing cash flow. The other generations had retirement planning at the top.

The debt issue is really what sets millennials apart. More of their income goes toward student loan payments than it did for other generations when they were younger, and those payments may be cutting into savings potential. The lifetime cost of debt calculator shows how even low-interest debt can impact your savings.

Generation X

Gen Xers have a higher median income than millennials, but they have a harder time managing the bills. This report attributes that to having so much going on, with managing their own finances, supporting children and caring for aging parents taking up a lot of time and resources. At the same time, the report identifies this generation as focused on improving their credit, despite the trouble they have paying bills on time and spending within their limits. (You can see your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.)

With so many demands on their finances, Gen Xers generally don’t have enough savings to fall back on, sometimes leading them to take money from retirement funds in a pinch. With each passing year, it gets harder to catch up on retirement savings, which could really hurt Gen Xers as they near the end of their careers.

Baby Boomers

With insufficient retirement savings threatening the financial stability of many older Americans, boomers need to focus on analyzing their investments and adjusting their living standards to meet their resources. There’s not much time to make up for poor retirement saving earlier in life, so boomers may have to re-evaluate one of the few things they can really control: Their expectations.

We’re not all doomed for financial ruin, but this report highlights something that cannot be emphasized enough: Setting long-term goals and sticking to plans for meeting them should dominate your financial planning. Do it your own way — there are many effective approaches to balanced money management — but don’t dismiss the importance of planning ahead.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

MONEY online dating

Over 30? Tinder Will Cost You More Money

Online dating app Tinder's new subscription service costs more for older users: The price is double if you're over 30.

TIME Careers & Workplace

These Are the Terrible Mistakes You’re Making in Your Job Search

resume
Getty Images

These common pitfalls can sink your hunt

Job seekers are feeling more confident about the economy and about their prospects, and more of them—especially young adults—report that they’re keeping an eye out for new employment opportunities even if they already have a decent job.

In a new survey, recruiting software company Jobvite finds that 45% of job seekers are satisfied with their current job, but open to jumping ship — and half of currently employed people looking for work characterize their current job as a “stepping stone” or “entry level,” a figure which jumps to more than 70% of job-seekers under the age of 30.

Here’s the rub: These people might not have as much success as they imagine if they engage in some of the behaviors Jobvite’s survey highlights.

Today’s job hunters treat the pursuit of career advancement almost the same way as they would buying something on Amazon, says Jobvite CEO Dan Finnigan.

“It’s almost like purchasing a product online, where the one-click shopping experience is now the norm,” he says. This attitude is especially prevalent among job-seekers under 30, he says. “As millennials especially are working longer hours and leading busier lives, they’re not wasting any time missing out on competitive positions… the tech-savviest ones are leveraging mobile to job hunt when the have the time.”

In addition to the nearly half of job-seekers who say they’ve looked for work in bed, 21% who job-hunt during meetings and the nearly 20% who use bathroom breaks to find a job, almost 10% say they’ve searched for work while out at a bar.

Although searching for jobs on a smartphone makes it easier to check out the options and apply for work anytime and anywhere, happy-hour job-hunting isn’t without risks, Finnigan says. “[It] could put you in a position where you’re more prone to making a careless spelling error or forget a detail in your contact information,” he says. “It’s important to devote full attention during this process of the job search,” a task that’s harder after you’ve had a couple of drinks.

Jobvite also finds that the use of social networks to score job leads is rising. Aside from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, more people looking for work are hitting up Pinterest, Instagram and even Snapchat.

Again, while more avenues should mean a faster route to employment, job-seekers could create roadblocks for themselves if they’re not careful. “Any time you’re interacting with a company on social media, being professional, intelligent and careful is essential,” Finnigan says. While most professionals today treat LinkedIn as an extension of their “work self,” it might take a mental transition to think that way about a more freewheeling site like Snapchat.

And the temptation to exaggerate on social media spills over into people’s employment-related postings. Jobvite finds that 31% percent of job seekers inflate their skills on Twitter, and more than a quarter fabricate references on Facebook.

“People have been inflating and overstating their skills on their resumes for years, so it’s not too surprising — but it’s still a bad idea,” Finnigan says. “In today’s information-heavy age, this practice is even more risky,” he points out. With so much of our lives online today, it’s easier for people — such as hiring managers — to ferret out a fib.

MONEY Careers

The Stock Market Is No Place for Millennials

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Roberto Westbrook—Getty Images

Investing in yourself, not the S&P 500, often makes more sense for young adults.

When most people think of investing, they think of the stock market. But that is rarely the best place for young professionals to invest their hard-earned money. Instead, they need to be investing in themselves.

You’ve undoubtedly heard that it’s important to start investing early for retirement. Whoever tells you that will most likely mention the concept of compound returns, as well.

Compound returns are great. Heck, it’s widely repeated that compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. But I’m not sold on the stock market strategy for twentysomethings with limited cash flow.

Most recent graduates come out of school filled with theoretical knowledge about their major. Although this knowledge can be useful at times, it is often a challenge to apply it to real-world situations. It’s kind of like dudes with “beach muscles”: They hit the gym hard every day so they can look great on the beach. If they ever get into an altercation and actually have to use their strength, though, they fail miserably. That’s because they have no practical experience.

The same goes for theoretical knowledge in the real world.

We never learn about life in college. We don’t learn how to make or manage our money. We are not taught how to communicate effectively or be a leader. And we certainly do not get trained on how to create happiness and love in our lives. These are the valuable things we need to learn, yet we get thrown out into the world to fend for ourselves. So we have to take it upon ourselves to learn and grow organically after college.

The good news is there are plenty of programs, courses, and seminars that actually teach this stuff. But they cost money.

It’s this type of education that I am referring to when I say that young professionals need to invest in themselves. The notion that the stock market will set you free (in retirement) is only half right. It does not take into account myriad possibilities, one of which is that investing in yourself early in your career may be a better choice.

Let’s assume that you start out making $50,000 a year and indeed have a choice. Here are two simplified scenarios:

Option 1: You invest in a taxable investment account every year from the age of 25 to 50, starting with $5,000, or 10% of your first-year salary. Both your salary and your yearly retirement contribution grow 3% annually throughout your career. In year five, you’ll be making nearly $58,000 annually, and you’ll be putting $5,800 away toward your retirement. And assuming the investment vehicle has a 7% compound annual growth rate, you’ll have $350,836, after taxes, in 25 years.

Option 2: You take that initial $5,000 and invest in yourself every year for five years. You choose to attend various training programs covering the areas of leadership, communication, and other practical skills that you can put to use immediately. You gain life knowledge, allowing you to perform better and maybe even connect with a career about which you are passionate. As such, your income increases by 50% over five years — to $75,000 — rather than simply inching up by 3% per year to $58,000. Then, in year five, you start contributing about $17,000 per year to your retirement ($5,800 plus all the extra money you’re earning, after taxes). Projecting forward 20 years using the same rates for contribution growth and investment returns as in Option 1, you’d end up with $829,635 after tax.

After playing out both scenarios above, we can see that Option 2 leaves you with $479,000 more than Option 1 does.

Certainly, I have made a few assumptions — one of which is that you invest all your extra earnings in Option 2 rather than raise your standard of living. And there is no guarantee that by investing in ourselves, we will increase our income. However, this same argument can be made for investing in the stock market. The difference is that by investing in ourselves, we maintain control over that investment. It’s up to us to learn necessary life skills to excel at whatever we choose as a career or life mission.

On the other hand, when we hand over our money to the stock market, we give away that control, basing all results on historical averages. I’m a big proponent on focusing on what we can control. And, as young professionals, our biggest asset is our human capital, or our ability to earn income. Why not focus here first, and save the investing for tomorrow, when our cash flow is at a much healthier level?

———-

Eric Roberge, CFP, is the founder of Beyond Your Hammock, where he works virtually with professionals in their 20s and 30s, helping them use money as a tool to live a life they love. Through personalized coaching, Eric helps clients organize their finances, set goals, and invest for the future.

TIME Opinion

What Kayla Mueller’s Life Reveals About Her Generation

Kayla Mueller after speaking to a group in Prescott, Ariz. on May 30, 2013.
Matt Hinshaw—AP Kayla Mueller after speaking to a group in Prescott, Ariz. on May 30, 2013.

Charlotte Alter covers lifestyle, crime, and breaking news for TIME in New York City. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

And why she should be a role model for millennials

These days, it seems like every millennial is trying to be a role model, whether it’s by designing a multi-billion-dollar app or recording a blockbuster album or creating a critically-acclaimed TV show. Everyone wants to be the influencer, the one who inspires people how to act and how to be.

Kayla Mueller didn’t care about any of that–all she wanted to do was end suffering.

Mueller, the 26-year-old aid worker from Arizona who had been held hostage by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) since 2013, and whose death was confirmed by the White House Feb 10, lived the antithesis to the hyper-performative brand management practiced by other people her age. She did not want to to be seen helping people: she wanted to help people. She’s the role model we really need.

If we’re looking for tips on how to act and how to be, Mueller’s newly released letter home to her family is a better textbook than any quirky essay collection by a 28-year old or professional memoir. It reveals that Mueller represented the best qualities of the millennial generation–our idealism, our optimism, and our love of our families–without the troublesome ones.

Millennials are generally thought to be more socially aware and idealistic than their parents. And they are increasingly demonstrating their idealism through hashtag activism, socially responsible investing, and mobile charity donation (crowdfunding site Fundly said in 2013 that 58% of its users were 34 or younger.)

But that wasn’t enough for Mueller–she wanted to get her hands dirty, first by demonstrating on campus, then by living in the Palestinian territories (sleeping in front of homes threatened by Israeli bulldozers, and escorting children to school) and finally going to Turkey to provide support to Syrian refugees. “I will always seek God,” she wrote in a letter to her family in 2011, before she was kidnapped on her way to a bus station in Syria. “Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.”

We’re also known as an optimistic generation, but much of the research on our sunny attitude has been done in the context of financial sluggishness–53% of millennials think they don’t earn enough money now, but will in the future, and three out of four believe they’ll achieve their professional goals. Mueller took that optimism to the next level. Even when she was being held captive by a brutal terrorist group she still managed to hope for the best.

“I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful,” she wrote. “I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.”

Those of us who are pouty about our dead-end internships should take note.

Millennials are known to be closer with their parents than previous generations were– over half of us consider one of our parents our best friend. But Mueller’s devotion to her family was so profound that the thought of their pain eclipsed her own suffering. “If you could say I have ‘suffered’ at all throughout this whole experience it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through; I will never ask you to forgive me as I do not deserve forgiveness,” she wrote.

It’s not just that Mueller exemplified the best qualities of her generation–she also repudiated the bad ones. The stereotype of the “whiny” millennial could never apply to her. Because perhaps what’s most striking about Mueller’s letter is the lack of complaining, the omission of any information that might have pained her family to hear. “Please know that I am in a safe location, completely unharmed + healthy (put on weight in fact),” she wrote. “I have been treated w/ the utmost respect + kindness.” While it’s possible that this is true in Mueller’s case–another hostage told the New York Times he believed the female captives were treated relatively well– it’s also possible that she concealed elements of her captivity to spare her family pain. Unnamed US officials even suggested to ABC News that Mueller may have been “given” as a bride to an ISIS commander, which is consistent with the terrorist group’s history of rape and forced marriages with female captives.

So if millennials are looking for role models, we can look past Taylor Swift and Mark Zuckerberg. Kayla Mueller–who never courted the limelight–represents the best in all of us. I look up to her.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY retirement income

Forget About Retirement Planning for Millennials

piggy bank with locks for earrings
YAY Media AS—Alamy

The goal of achieving financial independence is more appealing than the idea of saving for a retirement that's decades away.

When it comes to millennials and money, many financial planners are focusing on the wrong issue.

The retirement advice most financial professionals provide was designed for Baby Boomers. Gen Y’s situation, however, looks nothing like this 30-year-old norm.

Few members of Gen Y get excited about the idea of working for the next 40 to 50 years, doing all the heavy lifting when it comes to ensuring they’ll have enough savings for the future, and then retiring to a life of no work and no purpose shortly before expiring.

Yet traditional retirement planning asks people to do just that. This doesn’t make sense for millennials — but that doesn’t mean they should throw their financial security to the wind and have no plan at all, either.

Instead, we planners should shift the focus from the nebulous concept of “retirement” to something concrete and accessible. It should be something that millennials can take real action to achieve in the short-term, not something that won’t matter for 40 years.

We should focus on preparing Gen Y for financial independence.

What Is Financial Independence?

Financial independence refers to a situation where an individual can generate enough income to pay all expenses for the rest of his or her life. Typically, that refers to passive income that comes from savings and investments, but it might also come from a side business, real estate assets, or royalties from past work.

Financial independence frees individuals from the obligation to work a particular job in order to secure a specific paycheck. It’s possible when you’re in your 20s to start building the income streams that will meet your needs for life and help you reach independence. Creating a side job that earns $500 a month today could build to provide $1,000 a month in a few years and $2,000 a month in five or 10 years.

Don’t believe it? You must not get around the blogosphere much.

Financial bloggers — not advisers or planners — have been championing this concept for years. The idea of financial independence is gaining traction thanks to bloggers popularizing it — and succeeding at it themselves.

One example: Mr. Money Mustache, a financial blog run by a man who reached financial independence in his 30s. By investing 50% to 75% of his income during his working career in his 20s and early 30s, he reached financial independence before 40.

Other bloggers have reached financial independence by building and selling a business or investing in multiple real estate properties that generate monthly income.

But the most popular way is probably the most accessible: save huge percentages of income. Bloggers, even the ones not as Internet-famous as Mr. Money Mustache, frequently report saving anywhere between 30% and 70% or more of their income. The majority of this group then invests that money in inexpensive, passively-managed index funds.

They don’t need $1 million to $3 million in the bank when they’re 63 years old. Instead, they may need to reach an investment goal of $250,000 or $500,000 in assets before they can start withdrawing 3-4%, because along with other income streams this is enough to cover their expenses each year for life.

Why Financial Independence Is the Financial Planning Answer for Gen Y

Financial independence makes sense for Gen Y because it’s more realistic, and it’s something that people don’t have to wait until they’re 60 or 70 years old to achieve.

Building income streams allows individuals to achieve financial independence within years, if those income streams are sound and stable. Even working toward financial independence via saving and investing can be accomplished in a fraction of the time it normally takes people to achieve retirement goals. Invest 50% of your income, for example, and you’ll reach financial independence in 17 years; save 75% and you’ll be there in 7 years.

And financial independence allows you to experience the kind of freedom that “retirement” does not. Free from the obligation of working a job because it’s necessary to pay bills allows financially independent people to explore new work, projects, businesses, and opportunities. It enables individuals to try new hobbies or go new places that old age and ill health may eliminate in traditional retirement after a decades-long working career.

We shouldn’t focus on traditional retirement planning for millennials. Instead, let’s give them the tools and knowledge they need to reach financial independence.

———-

Alan Moore, CFP, is the co-founder of the XY Planning Network, where he helps advisers create fee-only financial planning firms that specialize in working with Generation X & Generation Y clients.

MONEY Out of the Red

This Millennial Paid Off $23,375 in Student Loans in Just 10 Months

Jordan Arnold

"If you have a game plan, you can accomplish your goals," says 22-year-old Jordan Arnold.

Like many millennials, Jordan Arnold graduated from college five figures deep in student debt. Unlike most of his peers, he paid off all of his loans less than a year after graduation.

This is his story, as told to MONEY reporter Kara Brandeisky.

Jordan Arnold, 22
Bluffton, Ind.
Occupation: credit analyst
Initial debt: $23,150
Amount left: $0
When he started paying it down: May 2013
When he became debt-free: March 2014

How I started building debt

I always knew I was going to go to college, though I figured I’d go to community college for a year or two because it’s cheap. But my parents started talking to me about this private Christian school, Indiana Wesleyan in Marion, Ind. I took a visit, and I really liked it. It’s only like 3,000 students on campus, so it’s a tight-knit community.

Tuition and room and board was about $31,000 a year. And the first year I hadn’t applied for federal student aid, since I didn’t commit to the college until about 10 days before classes started. I got some scholarships and a grant from my church, though. So, ultimately, I owed approximately $9,000 that first year.

Getting to $23,000

I could only borrow up to $5,500 in subsidized loans from the government each year, so I worked to cover the rest so that I didn’t have to take out private loans. I also graduated in three years, which helped.

Still, altogether, I had to take out $15,150 in subsidized federal loans and $2,000 in unsubsidized federal loans. I borrowed another $6,000 from my parents.

My uh-oh moment

In the fall semester of my senior year, I remember being kind of nervous. I knew I had to start paying my debt within six months. It’s stressful, when you don’t have any money. And I heard all these stories about college students who get out of school, they have all this debt, and they can’t find jobs.

Getting my debts paid off was important to me. I didn’t want to get the point where I’d have to be paying student loans for another 10 years. Right now, I’m single. I don’t have any dependents that rely on my income. But I didn’t want to have these loans over my head when I’m trying to feed a family and put a roof over their heads. It’s not just about me, it’s about my future family.

My first step out of the hole

Luckily, I got a job right out of college at an insurance agency (I had majored in finance). I was on salary, and it was pretty good: $36,000 plus bonuses.

I didn’t have to pay my student loans for another four months, but over the summer I decided to go ahead and start making payments before interest began accruing.

I actually moved back in with my parents—which is hard when you have been out on your own. But I didn’t really have a reason to move out. And I was blessed that they actually preferred me to live there because I could help out around the farm they own, baling hay or feeding the horses. Living at my parents’ place for free was a lot better than having to pay $400 or $500 a month for rent.

Kicking it into gear

About four months into my new job, I picked up a second job, delivering for Pizza Hut, to help pay off my debt. I would start work at the insurance agency at 8:30 a.m., change in the bathroom at 4:50 p.m., get to Pizza Hut by 5, deliver pizzas until about 9:30, get home around 10, then shower, eat, and go to bed.

My monthly take-home pay from the insurance company was about $2,200, and I made about $1,000 at Pizza Hut. After gas, car insurance, tithing to my church, entertainment and food, I could put about $2,000 towards my debt every month.

At that rate, I was projected to pay off my debt in May 2014. But I got a $3,000 refund on my taxes, and paid off the rest of my debt with that.

How I celebrated being debt-free

I made my last payment the first of March, then I went to Florida with some friends two weeks later. It was pretty rewarding after a 10-month battle. I had probably worked 65 to 70 hours a week for seven or eight months. It was exhausting, but it was worth it.

What I’d tell someone else in my place

If you have a game plan, you can accomplish your goals. I have an account on Mint.com, that’s where I kept my budget. That’s a big part of it—just seeing your progress and knowing you’re getting closer.

Also, have an emergency fund. While I was paying off that debt, I had a small car accident. I was delivering a pizza, and I hit something in someone’s driveway. It cost me about $760 to fix the car. But I had a $1,000 emergency fund, which was kind of a buffer that I kept because life happens.

Finally, don’t be afraid to move home if you have to. That was a big part of how I got out of debt.

My plan for the future

I quit my Pizza Hut job in April after paying off my debt, and now work at a bank analyzing commercial and agricultural loans, which is more in line with what I wanted to do.

I actually haven’t moved out of my parents’ house yet. Instead I’m saving up for a down payment on a house. I’m putting away 50% of my take-home income for that, and I should have a down payment by mid-summer. I also started investing. I started a Roth IRA, and I plan to max it out this year.

Staying true to myself

Some people have made the argument, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t have paid off the debt so fast because the interest rate is cheaper than what it will be for you to borrow for a home.’

That makes sense in my head, but in my heart, I didn’t want this hanging over me. I want to be responsible with my money and build a strong foundation.

Are you climbing out of debt? Share your story of getting “Out of the Red.”

Check out Money 101 for more resources:

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