Phil Risher is not a millionaire, but he knows how to manage his money.
In fact, the Geneva College graduate, who took a job as a customer service sales representative, was making only $48,000 per year when he decided to tackle his $30,000 student loan debt.
"In life," he says in his blog, "our parents and others we respect tend to funnel us into 'the plan': Go to school and get good grades so you can get a good job. Once you complete school … go to work to make money to pay your bills — repeat."
But Risher had something else in mind. "I don't like things being held over my head," he tells CNBC Make It. "I want to live a worry-free lifestyle, where I can take risks and not worry about making payments. I wanted to get rid of the debt as fast as I could."
So he came up with a plan: To pay off the full amount of his loans in one year.
Here's how he did it.
To cut the cost of rent, Risher moved in with his dad, who lived in Washington.
"I told him I would cut the grass, be an on-call babysitter, do gutter duty and stuff around the house," Risher says. "He said, 'Yeah, that sounds great,' so, I moved in."
Then Risher created a budget, a skill he says he learned from his mom.
Making $48,000 per year, he estimated he would have about $3,000 each month after taxes. To reach his goal, he paid $2,500 on his loans each month and lived on $500.
To make that work, Risher brought his lunch every day and drove a 12-year-old Saturn, which had no car payment and cost "20 bucks [in gas] every other week," he says.
Like Redd Horrocks, who paid of $39,000 in debt in five years, Risher used the snowball method, paying his smallest loan first and then focusing his payments on the next highest one.
In just one year, his debt was gone.
"When I paid my final loan," he writes in the blog, "something changed in me. I knew, at that point, if I wanted something [badly] enough, I could stick to a plan and execute."
Now Risher had one more goal in mind. He thought if he could save $30,000 in one year, he could double that amount in two. And he wanted to buy a house.
He renegotiated a contract to stay at home for two more years, only this time paying $200 a month in rent. During that time, "I was excelling at my job and getting promotions and pay increases," he says. "However, I never lost focus of the goal.
"I continued to execute my budget and began looking at properties to figure out how to buy a place in the sixth most expensive place to live in the country [at the time]."
At the end of two years, Risher found a condo and used $60,000 in cash to buy it.
Now he's the founder of Young Adult Survival Guide, a website that aims to help millennials budget their money and pay down their debt.
In addition to his customer service gig, he's taken up motivational speaking and coaching youth basketball. And, in March, he's planning to travel the continental United States with his dog, Tuney.
His advice to those in debt: "Don't be normal."
"Strive to be different and make a difference," he says. "I can't tell you how many times people thought I was crazy for saying I would buy my first place with cash. Or, for wanting to sacrifice so much to pay off my loans in a year. But it was worth it."
Also, he says, create a budget and set goals.
"It's crucial to have financial goals. [But] a goal without a plan is a wish," he says. "You need to stay focused … and your budget needs to correlate with your goals. My five-year goal was to buy my first place with cash and I was able to do it in three.
"When I share my story, people say, 'Man, this guy has it made, gets lucky or is in the right place at the right time.' To that, I'd say, it depends on how bad you want to achieve something. Someone has to be successful," he says. "Why not us? Why not you?"
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