One Man’s Quest to Tackle Student Loan Debt

Living out of a van, one college graduate pays off his steep student loan debt in three years. He shares the tale of his quest toward financial freedom.

| July 2013

  • Walden on Wheels Book Cover
    After graduating from college with a bachelor's degree and $32,000 worth of debt, Ilgunas set out on a simple mission: to get rid of the debt as fast as possible, and never go into debt again.
    Cover Courtesy Amazon Publishing/New Harvest
  • Mounting Student Debt
    There was no controlling my debt. It grew and grew and grew. It was a mountain of coins that rose with interest every month to such staggering Himalayan heights that it made me feel — when I thought of its immensity — small and weak and insignificant. It was huge. My debt was a black hole, a swirling abyss that sucked from my clutches all my hopes and dollars and dreams.
    Photo By Fotolia/Full Image

  • Walden on Wheels Book Cover
  • Mounting Student Debt

Similar to many high school graduates, Ken Ilgunas dove blindly into college without understanding the implications of the student loan debt he would accrue. He spends the next years with a radically unconventional approach to affording his graduate degree: he lived in a van. "Cart Pusher," an excerpt from chapter 1 of Walden on Wheels (Amazon Publishing/New Harvest, 2013) introduces you to his budding frustration with the educational system.

Cart-Pusher

April 2005 — University at Buffalo
Debt: $27,000 and growing

I dreamed of the grizzly bear. It was my only recurring dream. Ever since I’d turned sixteen, I would dream this dream over and over again. It was always the same: A half mile south of my parents’ home, in a neighboring suburban development, I’d happen upon a grizzly bear grazing on someone’s lawn. It would spring up onto its hindquarters, inspecting me from the top of his bulky blond tower of fat and fur. I’d look back at it, paralyzed, awestruck, exhilarated.

That was it. I had this dream repeatedly. And afterward — when I’d be lying in bed in that half-dreaming, half-awake state — the dream would feel so real that I’d often wonder if it was in fact a dream, or if it was a distant memory that I could only vaguely recollect. I’d always wanted to believe that I’d really seen the bear, but I knew that that was impossible because: 1) There are no grizzlies in the suburbs of western New York, or anywhere near New York for that matter; and 2) I’d somehow gone the first twenty-one years of my life without experiencing anything even remotely interesting.



It was my fourth year of college. Many weekday evenings and weekend mornings, I’d tie an orange apron around my waist and collect orange shopping carts strewn across a giant Home Depot parking lot in Niagara Falls, New York. I’d gather a dozen at a time, press them together, pivot them around curbs, and march them to the vestibule inside. When all the carts had been accounted for, I’d work inside the store, stacking lumber, folding cardboard, reorganizing shelves, emptying garbage bins, and lending a hand to any customers who needed help loading drywall or bags of Quikrete. I was a cart-pusher.

For your ordinary college student, pushing carts wasn’t the worst job local industry had to offer. I’d considered it a step above jiggling a we buy gold sign for the local pawnshop and a few steps below the indentured servitude of an unpaid internship, where students, though unpaid, could at least hope that their career paths were leading them to a more prosperous destination than stacking four-by-fours in the lumber department.

Scot Lyf
8/26/2013 3:50:59 PM

Ken wrote a bunch of nothing,...... just a bunch of word collections of much the same meaning. Apparently he's a superb bullshitter, knows how to fill up chatter space. It's the art of putting words together. I don't have the time to read the same thing over and over with different word collections.