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Living in a Van to Pay Off Student Debt

The two and half years Ilgunas spent at Duke was an experience that changed his outlook on life and money.

"As for money, I learned not to always crave what I didn't have, but to be appreciative for what little I did," he said. "My experiment could have been a total failure. I don't think I'd move back into a van unless I had to."


Pursuing your dreams can result in a fulfilling experience, he said.

"I learned that it's O.K. to follow through with my crazy ideas," he said. "Naturally, I felt a little reluctant at first, because there were so many 'unknowns.' If I could go back in time to when I enrolled in school, I'd absolutely do exactly what I did. I don't regret a thing. I learned a lot at Duke, but I arguably learned more about myself with my experiment."

Even students who have amassed a large amount of student loans can become debt free, Ilgunas said. Changing the outlook on how you view debt is the most critical element.

"Think of your debt as a sworn enemy and indebtedness as a life and death situation," he said. "You need to reframe the way you think about debt. You need to hate your debt. You need to get obsessed with it. Despise it. Anthropomorphize it."

Paying only 15% of your income toward loans like some financial experts recommend is not adequate, Ilgunas said.

"Do everything you can to put 100%," he said. "If your debt was truly a life and death situation, what would you do? You'd dumpster dive, you'd hop trains, and you'd live in a van."

People should feel an obligation to pay off their student loans in a timely fashion so they can be "free," and avoid accruing large amounts of interest, Ilgunas recommends.

"We live in a free country with hardly any free people," he said. "Everyone's paying mortgages, car payments and student debts. I think we'd be better off, individually and collectively, if we had less bills and more time to be free people. Taking the '25 year payment plan' sounds insane to me. It is best to begin to work immediately after graduating and pay it off as swiftly as you can."

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