The Debt Crusher
Entrepreneur Bridget Eastgaard is her own bossJanuary 7, 2016
By Sheryl Smolkin
Today I’m interviewing Bridget Eastgaard for savewithspp.com. Eastgaard blogs on “Money after Graduation,” her financial literacy website for college students and new graduates. She writes about paying off student debt, learning to budget, saving money, and investing for the future.
She has a B.Sc. and an MBA in finance from the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary. For the last year she’s been a product strategist at Uncommon Innovation. However, in late October she resigned to devote herself to creating new products she plans to sell on her website. Other projected future sources of revenue include speaking engagements and brand partnerships with financial institutions and service providers.
Thank you for joining me today, Bridget.
Thank you for having me Sheryl.
Q: You live in Calgary, you just quit your full time job in the middle of a provincial economic downturn to devote yourself to developing a risky online business. What made you decide to take the jump?
A: It is pretty dismal here in Calgary right now and it feels a little crazy to take a risk like this, but in all honesty, switching to my own online business isn’t as risky as it looks at first glance. Watching my friends and family members being laid off from jobs – some of them after fifteen or twenty years – I think what’s really risky is relying on a single source of income where your employer can decide, “We don’t need you anymore,” and you’re gone.
Q: So tell me about your blog “Money after Graduation.” When did you start it and why?
A: I started it in 2011 because I graduated from my Bachelor of Science degree in 2010 and I owed almost $21,000 in student loan debt. At the time that was just an astronomical amount of money for me. I never earned more than $10,000 in a year so I couldn’t even fathom how I would pay off that debt. So I started the blog to really track repayments and keep me accountable.
Q: What do you think are some of the most important lessons about money that young people coming out of school need to learn?
A: How much debt really holds you back. I think I didn’t realize when I borrowed for school and many people don’t realize when they borrow for school how much money that really is. When you’re taking out 20, 30, $40,000 in student loans, that’s 20, 30, $40,000 of your net future income. And I thought, “Oh, well if I just make $50,000 a year, if I make $60,000 a year it will be really easy to pay this off,” and of course I wasn’t accounting for things like taxes, and living expenses. So I think that’s just the general lack of understanding of how little money there really is when you have a lot of financial obligations in adulthood.
Q: How long did it actually take you to pay off that loan?
A: It was pretty fast actually. I was debt free within 22 months.
Q: Terrific. You write about earning more money, paying off debt, and investing to build wealth. How often do you blog and how many hits do you typically get?
A: Now I’m kind of on a pretty relaxed schedule, I’ve taken it down to about once per week. I’ve been crazy busy lately. I got married last month. On days when I post I’ll get as many as 3,000 hits per day, and on days when I don’t post the blog probably gets 2,000 visits a day.
Q: Tell me about some of your most popular blogs.
A: I wrote one that just went viral and it still remains the most popular post on the website. It’s called, “30 financial milestones you need to reach by age 30.” I wrote it at 11:30 one night because I just felt like I needed to get a post and I was in the middle of my MBA and it took off like crazy – totally unexpected – but it’s just a list of financial milestones that you should have in order by the time you turn 30.
Q: What were some of the milestones on the list?
A: Be debt free, check your credit score regularly, start an investing portfolio. Some were really general, some were more specific like I suggested you should save at least $25,000 for retirement by age 30, so it’s a mix of big and small goals.
Q: I see you’ve just completed a 90-day shopping ban. Why did you embark on this project and how has it changed your perspectives about money?
A: So that was actually inspired by my friend Cait Flanders who is the blogger behind BlondeonaBudget.com and she did a one-year shopping ban I was so taken by how much this really changed her – changed her perspective, changed her behavior – it really had a profound effect on her.
I had done like one month shopping bans in the past and I thought, “Well I’ll try three months this time.” I knew I couldn’t do a year. Part of it is also because I had been planning to leave my job and it’s easier to do that when you have some extra money in the bank.
And it was also to teach myself to live on a reduced income; because I am pursuing my own online business now, I’m expecting my income will probably go down for the next three to four months.
So it was kind of a test run to teach me how to live with less. It actually had a much bigger impact on me than I expected because I really found that after the first two weeks it was just very easy to live with less and I really don’t need to buy as much as I typically do.
Q: So you have several courses on your website already. The Debt Crusher course is free. Tell me a little bit about it.
A: It’s an eight-module program that I created just to help young people get out of debt. I start with setting a budget, determining your loan repayment, negotiating with your creditors, and actually walk through all the steps that you need to take to pay off your debt. It works if you have a small balance of $5,000 or it works if you have a huge balance of $50,000. I just wanted to create a really solid financial plan for young people who are struggling under the weight of student or consumer debt, so they could have help and a method to get to debt-free.
Q: How has it been received? Have you had a lot of downloads?
A: Oh yes. I think are almost 500 by now. It’s been very popular.
Q: Your “Master Class Money” course is priced at $379 and has twelve modules. What are the goals of the course and how is it structured?
A: That course is the resource I wish I had had when I started investing in the stock market when I was 25 years old. We’re lucky because it has been kind of a bull run for the past almost seven years so I didn’t lose anything, but I didn’t have a strategy.
There weren’t a lot of resources for young people who want to learn how to invest in the stock market and there are still not a lot of resources for just your average retail investor. It’s really up to the professionals to decide how your money is invested, but a lot of people do want to manage this alone and it is something, I think, everyone should learn and should do.
So I created the course using my MBA in finance. It really walks the average retail investor through everything from the basics like “What is a stock? What is a bond?” to creating a portfolio based on your investment goals and risk tolerance and it even goes into some more advanced technical analysis. It’s basically a comprehensive resource that gives you the tools you need to start investing in the stock market.
Q: Is it geared only to young people or can people of all ages benefit from the course.
A: Everyone can benefit. I design it primarily for people in their 20s and 30s because they have the longest term investment horizon, but it’s the perfect resource for all ages.
Q: So how you do market the course and are you pleased with the response to date? Are you on target for projected sales?
A: I haven’t done really aggressive marketing with the course. I’m lucky that I’ve established a presence online over the past almost five years and I have a pretty strong e:mail list so, thus far, I’ve really only pushed it out to my e:mail list and my regular readers. The response to it, honestly, has been so amazing. It was more than I expected. It really what has inspired me to quit my job and go do this full-time.
Q: What other courses do you have on the drawing board?
A: I have a few in mind, but they’re not set in stone yet. I definitely want to develop some resources for people negotiating their salary in their careers because that’s definitely something I feel really passionate about and it’s something that people just don’t know how to do and it’s really scary. I have some other kind of financial boot camp tool kit in the works that I’m developing as well.
Q: What’s your goal in terms of time for generating revenue for your new business comparable to your last full time position?
A: I haven’t thought seriously about that yet. I mean, I’d like to be back to my full-time income within six months and I essentially would love to double my original income with a year. That might be an ambitious goal, but I’m optimistic that if I hustle and work hard it can happen.
Q: What advice do you have for people who want to take control of their own employment and start a business but think they can’t afford to take the leap?
A: Just be sure that taking the leap is not hugely detrimental to your finances. I would never suggest anyone leave their job without a plan. Start your business, make sure it’s generating a little bit of revenue, create a big savings cushion, learn to live on less, and then when you take the leap it’s not going to be as big of a risk.
Q: And where does saving for retirement and a home and all that stuff fall into this business plan?
A: I just set up a fixed amount of savings every month and it’s really important to me to always meet those savings goals regardless of where my income is coming from. You never want to sacrifice your savings to take a risk. I feel that if you set your goals and then you stick to a regular payment plan, it doesn’t really matter where your income is coming from as long as it’s going to the right places.
Q: So are you saving in an RRSP or a TFSA or both?
A: I do both. So I have TSFAs and RRSPs and I’m trying to max out the RRSP but that just seems like a really hard journey when you’re in your 20s.
Q: Thank you very, very much for talking to me today Bridget.
A: Thanks Sheryl.
This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted in September 2015.