When John Kapetaneas finished his master's degree in journalism in 2013, he had $90,000 of student loan debt and $10,000 of credit card debt … before interest. In total, he owed $111,354.
What's more, the New York City-based journalist had never made more than $20,000 a year freelancing, and he had zero savings.
His mindset changed as soon as he read Joe Mihalic's blog, No More Harvard Debt. "This was a guy that finished his Harvard MBA with around the same amount of debt that I had and ended up paying it all off in under a year by implementing a plan of financial discipline," he tells Torabi. "I really looked at it as, if he could do it, why couldn't I?"
That's when Kapetaneas, then 25, decided to buckle down. And, after two years of extreme sacrifice and taking on as many freelance projects as he could to increase his revenue to six figures, Kapetaneas was completely debt-free.
His journey out of the red all started with a simple first step, he tells Torabi: "I took my student loan bill — that $90,000 monster — and I drew a bullseye on the highest-interest principal loan, which was around $25,000. And that was the starting point.
"That bill, from that point forward in my mind, was no longer a bill. It was now a target."
"I didn't really have a plan yet," continues Kapetaneas, who currently works as a producer and writer for ABC News. "That would develop organically. I just knew that I wanted it gone and that single action of drawing a target around the bill caused a change in perspective for me, from one of hopelessness to one of purpose."
Once he had the right mindset, paying down his $111,000 tab in two years boiled down to sacrifice: "What I learned is, how fast you do it will depend on what level of discomfort you're willing to endure. ... What I like to call 'embracing the suck.'"
That being said, "every little extra bit that you put down on your loan, it will be a small win," says Kapetaneas, and as you gain momentum, "you don't even think about all the sacrifices that you have to make."