Responding to “No More Harvard Debt”
On August 29th, 2011, my friend and former classmate Joe Mihalic started something I wasn’t sure he would finish. Joe said he would pay off $90,717 in student debt from Harvard Business School within 10 months.
He started a blog called No More Harvard Debt to chronicle every minute financial decision he made in this time period, as a way of holding himself accountable to someone.
The reason I was a bit skeptical about the project is that Joe enjoys living life to the fullest. I assumed he could afford to continue doing so, like many HBS grads, at least on the margin. Yet, I know something else about Joe: the guy has immense willpower and refuses to back down from a challenge. While skeptical, I was optimistic that he’d pull it off.
His blog got some good traction early on, and I remember telling Joe that he should turn it into a book, or at least do some appearances on the Suze Orman show. Joe was concerned that folks would think he was doing this as a stunt to get famous, or to profit off his desire to increase his financial freedom. He wanted to keep a low profile, but still have the his friends and the general public hold him accountable.
Well, despite his best efforts, it looks like Joe may be the most famous member of our HBS class! Joe paid off all $90,717 within only 7 months and is now completely debt free. His story got picked up by multiple news outlets, and Joe recently appeared on CNN to give an interview:
Joe’s gotten a bit of flack from his adventures as well. Most of the criticism goes the following way (with less friendly language): “This guy has a Harvard MBA. He’s making a much higher than average salary. He’s living in Austin, TX which is cheap. He is single. He started this whole thing with a couple vehicles, $30,000 in savings, and a house he owned. Why is this guy a hero? There are people with much leaner resources looking to get by in life, with much greater responsibilities.”
They’re right: Joe Mihalic is not an everyman. He’s not Joe the Plumber. He probably doesn’t represent 80% of America. But, that said, the guy did completely change his life, sold off most of what he owned, took a second job, and depleted his entire life savings (including 401K). All this he did to achieve a modern virtue: to live life with maximum flexibility and within his means.
I salute Joe for achieving what he set out to do, and within record time. What is important here isn’t that Joe is a true ascetic; it’s that he accomplished something that most of us wouldn’t have the guts to attempt and wasn’t afraid to show us how he did it.