John Kapetaneas managed to pay off $111,000 of student loans and credit card debt in 24 months — and the New York City-based journalist did it with zero savings and as a freelancer.
The secret, he says, boils down to how uncomfortable you're willing to get.
"When it comes to debt repayment, everyone's path is going to be different," Kapetaneas tells Farnoosh Torabi on her podcast "So Money." "It depends on the resources you start with, your skills, your opportunity for revenue creation, your assets, etcetera."
That being said, "If there's one secret — if you're not some multimillion-dollar earner … if you're just a regular person with a regular job — what I learned is, how fast you do it will depend on what level of discomfort you're willing to endure."
"It's what I like to call 'embracing the suck,'" says Kapetaneas, who currently works as a producer and writer for ABC News.
For him, that meant taking "a two-pronged approach: Increasing my revenue and decreasing my spend. … I knew I had to get my total earnings up and I had to get both my variable and fixed costs down."
Kapetaneas, then 25, started by taking on as many freelance projects as he could. "I capitalized, over the course of two years, on every opportunity I could possibly find to work," he tells Torabi. "That meant overnight shifts, holidays, weekends — every possible shift that I could pick up as a freelancer, I took."
The hours paid off: "I went from never making more than $20,000 a year before I graduated in 2013, to making six figures in one year. For me that was huge, but at that point, that wouldn't even be enough," which is where decreasing costs comes into play.
He started with his fixed costs and moved back home with his parents in Connecticut. It meant a much longer commute to work in New York City, but ultimately cut his fixed costs by 75 percent.
Next, Kapetaneas went through all of his checking and credit card statements from the past year and found out exactly how much money he was spending and where. "My goal was to slash [expenses] as much as I possibly could," he says. "For a period of almost two years, that meant cutting out things like going out to drinks with friends, going out to eat and taking trips to go see friends from high school and college.
"Everywhere I could squeeze money out of my self expenditure and plow it back into my student loans, I did."
With a willingness to deal with discomfort for a fixed period of time, virtually anyone can get out of the red, he says: "You embark on this journey, you take on this mission, you give it what you can as often as you can … and you will reach that target, whether it's two years like me or five years or 10 years or one year."
"And if it's anything like mine," he continues, "it will be one of the best days of your life."