Graduate Debt-Free

There was a time that I didn’t have much of an opinion on paying for college with student loans. That was before the advent of e-mail and thousands of messages all with a similar subject line: Help! I’m drowning in student loan debt! 

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That was before I learned that 85 percent of all college graduates do not end up working in their major.

That was before I heard from Jim P., who took all the student loans he could get to pay for college and law school. He assumed he’d land a big-bucks cushy job and pay back $200,000 really fast. The fifth time he failed the bar exam he gave up on being a lawyer. But the debt goes on.

That was before I met Peter K., who became a chiropractor on borrowed funds. Guess what? He couldn’t stand the profession. Now he’s teaching high school math. Too bad teachers don’t make enough money to service $160,000 in student debt. But the debt goes on.

Anticipate Your Way to Freedom

Try this: Add up your monthly expenses and deduct the total from your monthly income. Hey, not bad! You should have plenty of money with some left over. So why is there never enough? The answer is your selective amnesia. Most of us suffer from it.

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We conveniently don’t remember expenses that don’t recur every month. It’s easy in March to forget about summer vacation, back-to-school clothes, wedding and shower gifts, new refrigerators or myriad other inevitable expenses. The solution is to make all of your expenses as predictable as the rent, phone and cable TV bill.

I call my solution a “Freedom Account.” It forces us to anticipate irregular expenses so we can finance our own emergencies. 

If you remember Christmas Club Accounts, you’ll understand my Freedom Account. Basically you determined how much you would need for Christmas shopping. You authorized the bank to transfer 1/52 each week (or 1/12 if you did it monthly) from your checking account to your Christmas Club Account. It was painless because you didn’t miss money you didn’t see and the results were huge. You got a big fat check in the mail for holiday shopping. 

Back-to-School Breakfasts Kids Love

I haven’t thought much about “back to school” for quite a few years. But this year will be different. 


For the past five years, I have taken care of our sweet grandson, Eli, every Friday since he was 6 weeks old. That was a gift I gave to myself and my kids when he was born. To say that Eli and I have grown on one another would be a huge understatement. We live for Fridays and have a secret between us that Friday is our favorite day of the week! 

In just a few weeks, Eli will start Kindergarten, and my Fridays will change forever. Back-to-school will be bittersweet. Of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way than for him to be going to school and moving into that season of his life. What’s difficult is that I cannot believe five years have gone by so quickly. 

I’ve decided to embrace the whole idea of back-to-school by getting together a collection of kid-friendly breakfasts. What fun! Here’s a small sampling, from our friends at eMeals. They’re celebrating back-to-school at and you really should check that out, too (hint: use coupon code SCHOOL for 20% off an eMeals membership and their Back to School Survival Guide free with purchase).

My Minimalist Life

Faithful readers may recall a series of columns, Mary’s Big Remodel, where I kept you up to date on my husband’s long and agonizing remodel of our home. What you may not know is that no sooner had the paint dried, we put the house on the market for sale. To our utter amazement it sold in about 3 hours. Yikes! We were only testing the water. But the offer was something we could not refuse.

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And now for the rest of the story …

We had 30 days to pack up 27 years of our lives, which we put into storage pending a decision on where we would eventually relocate. 

We kept out a few bare necessities and moved into a tiny apartment, where we will live for about 18 months. Did you get that … a “few”? Clearly, I was not in my right mind when I decided what I would need in this microscopic kitchen. 

We’re talking a spatula, a wooden spoon, and a rubber scraper. That’s about it in my tiny utensil drawer. And that spatula? It’s 44 years old. I know because it was a wedding gift. It works better than ever and makes me laugh every single day.

But that’s not all. I had to put my slow cooker, pressure cooker, rice cooker and 99% of my kitchen into storage. That’s how small this place is. 

The Do-It-Yourself, Consumer-Protected, No-Fee, Hassle-Free, Totally Brilliant “Debit Card”

Debit cards are by far my least favorite type of plastic. The fraud protection is, at best, shaky. But beyond that, there is the temptation to use a debit card with a certain level of abandon–to purchase everything under the sun by swiping instead of writing a check or paying with cash. 


It becomes far too easy to empty your bank account using a debit card than if you actually had to write out the checks and think about what you’re doing.

I would rather see you use a credit card. 

What if I told you there is a way you can have a fully functional debit card without any of the problems and hassles that come with running up a credit card balance you cannot pay off in a single month. You’d say, “Mary, this is brilliant!” Well, get ready because that’s exactly what I have for you.

Would a Boatload of Money Help?

If you’re holding out for the life you love to magically appear once a boatload of money gets dumped into your lap, don’t count on it. 


You may believe in your heart that winning the lottery or getting an unexpected inheritance will make your life perfect. Perhaps you’re convinced that getting in on the ground floor of the latest and greatest multilevel marketing opportunity or stock offering will make you rich overnight. That won’t happen.

If you can figure a way to get that kind of money, good for you. But if you think money alone–and plenty of it–will give you the life you love, forget it. Money alone, no matter how much of it flows through your life, will not automatically materialize into the life you love. 

More money will only magnify your current situation because you will continue to manage it the way you’re handling it now. If you’re in debt now, more money will put you deeper into debt. If there’s never any money left at the end of the month, more money is not going to change that because your spending habits will simply escalate to accommodate the greater income. How can that be? Because you will use it as a down payment on something bigger and better and even more opulent. Or you’ll spend your brains out even faster than you do now. Money will not change your behavior. Only you can do that.

Got Debt? Do Something About It!

Doing something about consumer debt is good for your finances—and just about every other area of your life, too.  

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Health. Experts say there’s no question that carrying a lot of debt can be stressful–causing all kinds of health issues. It can result in worry, sleeplessness, communication breakdown, depression and anxiety. Credit-card debt takes a terrible toll on human health. Our bodies bear the consequences of the heavy loads our minds carry when we place our lives in financial jeopardy. Do something about your debt and you’ll be doing something good for your health, too.

Job. Being in a job you hate is an awful place to be. Every time you think about leaving, you realize you can’t afford to right now because you have too much debt to pay off. Get started today doing something about your debt to get unstuck from your unhappy situation. 

Muffins: The Perfect Solution

Mom was right. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. You cannot afford to miss it for many reasons, but here are three which come from recent medical research:


1. People who are successful at losing weight and keeping it off are faithful members of the “breakfast club.” 

2. People who eat breakfast may be better equipped to fight off colds and flu. An impressive study found that those who developed more than one illness over the 10-week study were less likely to be breakfasters. The reasons why breakfast might be a protective factor are not entirely clear.