No Debt?! Let’s Talk to a Financial Badass

Hi guys! Today, instead of rambling incoherently about how awesome I am, I’m giving you a post from someone equally as awesome, Erin of Broke Millennial! She’s my Internet bestie so you best be nice to her. She’s the dog’s tuxedo, I promise.

This is Erin. Isn't she adorable?

This is Erin. Isn’t she adorable?

If you are missing me, you can flip on over to Erin’s site afterwards to read my post for the day. That’s right, we switched places! It’s like Parent Trap, but without the parents or Lindsay Lohan. I feel like we could definitely rock that handshake though…

Howdy Red Debted Stepchild loyalists. I’m Erin and yes, we did just want to confuse you. I’m the founder of Broke Millennial residing in the other hipster haven – New York City – and make all the same TV references as your regular Erin. We’re basically the exact same person except my hair isn’t the only thing that’s never been “in the red.” Let’s get to know each other a little better!

On May 4, 2007, I made the single-biggest decision of my financial life, thus far. I elected which college I’d attend purely based on financial support from scholarships.

The result? Debt free since, well, forever.


I can sense some grumbling because most loyal readers here are used to Erin’s witty repartee about becoming fiscally responsible and beating debt like a redheaded…well, you know.

While we share the same epic first name, Erin’s story and mine are quite a bit different.

Instead of a journey of getting out of debt, I’m on a quest to avoid the red (with the exception of a future mortgage).

My first financial bitch slap came at the tender age of seven when my father decided it was time to learn the truth about life and net profit. It’s a bit of a long story, but goes something like:

Girls wants to sell Krispy Kreme doughnuts during her mom’s garage sale.

Dad stakes the money to buy said doughnuts.

Girl and her little sister make a roaring trade by selling doughnuts at the marked up price of 50 cents each.

Dad is proud of daughters, but then makes Girl pay for the costs of buy the doughnuts and for using her little sister’s labor.

Dad explains to Girl that the money after expenses is her net profit.

Girl’s interest in understanding money (and secret revenge plot) begins.

Since that fateful day as a miffed seven year old, I’ve been fascinated with understanding money and learning to cultivate wealth. It also helped that my parents continued to raise me to be financially literate.

My sister and I were trained to evaluate the ROI of purchases by paying for 50% of toys we wanted, which crushed the urge to buy impulsively. Our money to do so was largely saved up from doughnut stands, pet sitting our neighbor’s evil cat and hoarding birthday money from our grandparents.

Whether it was a stuffed animal from a toy store or, later on, buying an expensive pair of shoes — I started running a quick cost-benefit-analysis in my head each time I made a financial decision.This compulsion is largely the reason I’ve made the decision to pick college based on scholarships instead of going to my dream school.

For many reasons, namely the outrageous cost of college, my story is not a practical solution for all prospective students. Taking out student loans to better your future isn’t necessarily a financial evil, but picking a school (and major) without evaluating the ROI of your education…that’s the stuff of my nightmares.

After two-and-half years of post-collegiate life, and being 100% off parental welfare after graduation,  I’ve continued to avoid the dreaded “d” word while living in the most expensive city in the United States.

My tricks to staying in the black are quite simple.

  • Know whether or not you can be makin’ it rain – Be aware of how much money is in your checking and savings accounts. No, don’t be a crazy person who checks the bank every few hours — but if you’re getting towards the danger zone you best not overdraft!

  • Set a budget (there is really no fun way to say that…) – There are multiple ways to budget. I’m a fan of crunching numbers once a week and allotting a set amount to spend. Others like to have pretty spreadsheets and graphs. Play around to find what works best for you.

  • Have the angel vs. devil debate with yourself when analyze purchases – Sure, sometimes I get drinks from overpriced coffeehouses or impulsively buy a new piece of clothing, but most of the time I spend an extra 30 seconds of my life mentally debating if I need said item vs. what else I could do with that money. Walking away from a purchase to “think about it” also keeps the impulse buying down.

  • Pretend XX percent of your paycheck doesn’t exist – Find the percentage that works for you and immediately “pay yourself first” be deferring money into savings. Even if that workable percentage is only $10 — just do it! Save money now so when you’re makin‘ it rain, you are in the habit of saving a chunk of your paycheck.

  • Take advantage of “free” money – If your employer offers a matched 401(k) you best be contributing. And don’t Liz Lemon eye roll me about how I’m not in debt so I don’t understand how hard it is to save when you are. Erin is still saving for retirement while paying off debt! [I also live in an expensive city on a very low income, so I empathize with the pain of scrimping by.]

  • Congratulate yourself on taking an interest in finances and making the effort to be financially responsible.

Bonus: Be amused by my childhood stories, frugal tips and other finance-related musings over at! Thanks for reading a post from “other Erin.” Now go check out your regular Erin’s post over here.

[Image from BuzzFeed]


  1. Your dad is awesome…at least looking back on it. Our Little Warrior is 8 months old and I will be doing a hell of a lot better at teaching him about money than my parents did.

    Of the actions to take to stay in the black, my favorite are to set a budget (stick with it too) and pretend a certain amount of your paycheck doesn’t exist. Too often, in the past, I would base my budget on the exact amount coming in. I wouldn’t first auto-deposit to my savings or to a retirement account. I would budget to the penny aka living paycheck to paycheck. The sooner the “youngsters” (I’m an old man at 29 😉 ) can learn these two basics, the sooner they too can build wealth staying in the black.

    The Warrior

    • Thanks, Warrior. I think he’s pretty awesome sauce too.

      I’m a big fan of automatic contributions to a retirement account and/or savings. I do my savings by hand, but automatically contribute to 401(k) and a pre-tax transit card.

      Glad to hear the little Warrior is going to grow up to be a financial genius.

  2. Michelle Adams says

    Erin, it was wonderful that both of you were guest blog posters on the other’s blog. I love the two of you and it’s great to see you share your wisdom with all your followers.

  3. Really great Erin! I, also, took a similar path and evaluated which college to go to based on financial support. At the end of the day all the colleges I chose had great academic success, so it was really up to how much they paid me to attend their school. It’s a great way to graduate debt free!

  4. This just goes to show how important it is to teach kids about money early. Not only did your dad teach you about money, he taught you about business and the infamous net profit. Awesome story Erin!

    • Thanks, Grayson! He did had a lot of sneaky money teaching tactics. Both my parents are natural savers and worked hard to pass that behavior down. It’s a trait I’ll always be grateful to have inherited.

  5. Great post! Sadly, I was offered a free ride at a state school and I turned it down to go to an expensive private university. I ended up going to that same state school for my MBA so I still kick myself in the butt for turning it down!

    • Hopefully you appreciate those undergrad memories. It’s hard to make such huge financial decisions at 18. At least you’re kicking ass with money these days and that’s still pretty damn young compared to a lot of folks.

  6. I went to an undergrad based on how much financial aid they offered me and surprisingly, it was private and the lowest cost to me! What got me in student loans was graduate school, which is something I warn people not to look into unless you can pay cash money for it or you get significant aid. Except for top tier law/business schools or medical school, no graduate degree is worth going into significant debt for. Like you said, you need to look at the ROI for the program you’re going into.

    • It seems a lot of smaller, private liberal arts colleges offer some great financial aid/scholarship packages. I know that was the case at my university. I like your grad school mentality. Too many millennials matriculated to grad school out of fear because of the economy and lack of available jobs. Plenty dug themselves into deep debt and still had a tough time finding employment.

  7. Finances was a big driver behind me applying for a position as an RA in the dorms. Yeah, busting up the dorm drinking parties didn’t exactly make me the cool guy. It did halve my financial obligations as room and board were covered as part of the benefits package. I also got to make some really amazing friends along the way.

    • That’s why I became an RA! MONEY! It was my steady job in college for sophomore, junior and senior years. I also worked at the film editing lab my senior lab for spending money. Most of my best friends (and my boyfriend) were also RAs — so I’m with you on making amazing friends.

  8. I think it’s great you’ve never been in debt. You’re already way ahead of yourself for “your age.” Did I just say that? Ugh, I’ve become one of “those people.” 🙂

  9. Loved the story 🙂

    I am currently in the black and plan on never going’ red’ ever again. Really great advice for anyone who want’s to remain debt free or is currently aggressively paying off debt

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