How to Pay Off Student Debt: Live in Your Car for Two Years

John at home in his bedroom. Photo: Sam Blum

The Honda Fit, a compact car that gets great gas mileage and has a tiny turning radius, isn’t exactly the ideal place to store all your belongings. The Fit is 160 inches long, 37 inches wide and 60 inches high. It’s big enough to jam full of camping gear, and spacious enough for lost receipts and loose change to accumulate beneath its seats, but the Honda Fit is no place for a human being to live year-round. However, a certain Honda Fit that regularly traverses neighborhoods across Brooklyn is the all-purpose, roving-home-on-wheels of a man named John. He says he’s intentionally homeless, and he’s lived in his car the last two years while working a full-time, salaried job in New York City. His reason for choosing a life ensconced in a Honda is simple, and it speaks to a financial issue that affects many people in his age group: student loan debt. 

John, who graduated from Framingham State in Massachusetts in 2013 with $26,000 in student loans, is remarkably relaxed. Not many people would be able to withstand a permanent habitat of plastic, fabric, engines and motors, but John continuously shrugs off the challenges. “It’s fine,” he says with a smile.

But John has made a great sacrifice that flips a middle finger to the exorbitant cost of living in New York City. “I get a New York City salary without the New York City rent. It’s awesome,” he says.  

John first packed his belongings into the Honda Fit when a living situation at an apartment in Bed-Stuy went sour. “They were nice people, but we didn’t see eye-to-eye on almost anything,” John says of his former roommates, noting that when he initially broke his lease, he didn’t look for a new apartment. What started as a few nights spent sleeping outside work soon grew into a month-long adventure behind the steering wheel. John was instantly pleased with his fattened bank account.

“I saw that in the first month I had an extra thousand bucks,” he says. “I just kept doing it.” In the back of John’s mind was the mountain of debt he had yet to seriously tackle. He felt hampered, continuously bogged down by the thought of funneling hard-earned money into the financial chasm of paying rent as a recent college grad in New York City . 

John has acclimated to his constantly roaming life, using what he knows about fashion design (his major in college) to construct certain tools that often conceal his whereabouts. “I made curtains, so I can basically black out everything, and no one can see into my car,” he says. 

The knowledge he’s gained has made him something of an urban sage, and his advice on how to save money is constantly solicited by various users on Reddit. John says he logs onto the social forum website “five times a day,” and fields questions from people as often as every week.

The Reddit craze started two years ago, when he posted that he was living in his car to save on rent payments while he dealt with his student debt. That post garnered so much buzz that the Reddit community asked him to perform an “AMA,” or “Ask Me Anything,” session. The excitement from the crowdsourced interview saw John field a media request from CNN and meet with a Honda marketing executive.

Currently, John is one week away from completely paying off his debt, but doesn’t really want to give up his frugal existence just yet. “Im gonna keep doing this for probably another year and have a huge savings,” he says.

Quite simply though, John doesn’t think his life is that difficult. He’s able to shower at the gym and do laundry at work, and he’s grown accustomed to the memory foam mattress he rolls up into the back seat of his car. John admits that he’s lucky, saying, “I have a great situation… I have really cool co-workers and they let me store some stuff in the building.”

But if there’s anything John wants others to glean from his experience, the lessons won’t be about him really, but about the price of education in the United States. “Europeans and Australians think it’s crazy how we can’t travel when we’re young, but we can’t because we’re in so much debt,” he says. 

Follow Sam Blum on Twitter @Blumnessmonster 

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