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Ask Dave

Get the Gorilla Off Your Back

Stephen has $190,000 in student loans for a bachelor's degree and master's degree in music. Does Dave have any suggestions for getting his income up and cleaning this mess up?

QUESTION: Stephen in Nashville has $190,000 in student loans for a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in music. He’s paid off $5,000 in debt in the last few months, and he’s about to eat into his emergency fund because his jobs aren’t yet lucrative enough. Does Dave have any suggestions for getting his income up and cleaning this mess up?

ANSWER: So some kind of self-employed thing where you can grow this more than just picking up the occasional opera gig is going to be necessary to earn enough to be able to clean up this $200,000 mess, I guess, mathematically, right?

Hourly is not necessarily the best route. The bottom line—and you already knew this before you called me—is the more money you make, the faster this mess goes away. What I would be doing is saying . . . You’ve already put a couple of your dreams on hold just to get the quality of your life back and get off the road. If you put a couple more “production dreams” or whatever on hold because you could go earn some serious jack somewhere doing something that’s legal and moral and get this mess cleaned up, then that would be the thing to do. In other words, if you gave up two years of your life but you could find something making some serious money, I would go do that—whatever that is.

That could be a self-employed thing. That could be that restaurant gig. It could be . . . I don’t care what it is, but for you right now to get this monkey off your back—to get this gorilla off of your back, this 800-pound gorilla off of your back—it’s all about income. If I’m in your shoes, I’m working like you said. You’re not afraid of hard work. That’s great news for you because you’re going to be doing a bunch of it.

You’re going to be saying, “What two, three, four jobs can I do that make me the most money?” I don’t care if it’s opening your own dog-walking business or if it’s working for somebody hourly or if it’s a self-employed thing or it’s a straight-commission thing or it’s a restaurant gig with tips. I don’t care. You do whatever you’d like to do, but if I’m in your shoes, my goal is to make as much money as fast as I can in a moral way, obviously—an ethical way—to clean up this mess as fast as I can so that you can get back on track to do some things that maybe aren’t going to pay as much on the front end. But for a little while, you need to be all about the money just to get this 800-pound gorilla off your back so that later you don’t have to be all about the money.

I’m really sorry you’re facing this, and I’m not here to beat you up for that. I do beat up the concept out there to keep people from doing what you’ve done, but now that you’re there, we’re definitely here to help you, and we’ll try to do that any way we can.