Home Blog BiggerPockets Money Podcast

Hacking Your Life to Live for (Almost) Free with Craig Curelop

The BiggerPockets Money Podcast
51 min read
Hacking Your Life to Live for (Almost) Free with Craig Curelop

Graduating from college, Craig Curelop had amassed an impressive $25,000 savings account—AND $85,000 in student loan debt. Conventional advice is to pay off your student loans BEFORE investing. In this episode, we hear how Craig ignored this advice and started buying properties to house hack in the hot Denver real estate market while making the minimum payment on his student loans.

Fast forward a few years, and now Craig generates significant income through his primary residence and can concentrate on aggressively paying down his debt, all while living the life he chooses.

Craig has found ways to optimize his life so he can move toward financial freedom. He also takes advantage of several “life hacks” that reduce his living expenses to almost nothing.

Wondering how to get started? Craig’s story is a must-listen.

Click here to listen on iTunes.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast show number 35, where we interview Craig Curelop from biggerpockets.com.

And so, just kind of polishing and you just have these weeks where you just spend such little money, and I still have fun because the activities that I enjoy doing; which are hiking, just hanging out with friends, playing volleyball in the park, frisbee, all that kind of stuff; they don’t cost any money. So, I would just go do those things and still lived a very fulfilling life, but I just didn’t go out to the bars and spent $400 on the table at a club.

It’s time for a new American dream, one that doesn’t involve working in a cubicle for 40 years, barely scraping by. Whether you’re looking to get your financial house in order, invest the money you already have or discover new paths for wealth creation; you’re in the right place. This show is for anyone who has money or wants more. This is the BiggerPockets Money Podcast.

Scott: How’s it going everybody? I’m Scott Trench here with my co-host Ms. Mindy Jensen. How you doing today, Mindy?

Mindy: I am doing fantastic today, Scott. How are you doing today?

Scott: I’m doing great. I’m very excited to interview my good friend Craig here, who is an active investor in the Denver real estate market and just an all-out, balls out approach to financial freedom guy. I don’t know how to describe him more than that. I’m sure he’ll have more choice words than that, but-

Mindy: Well, no. Excuse me. Can he invest in real estate? Denver’s a hot market. There are no deals to be found.

Scott: I thought that you couldn’t invest in Denver real estate or make anything work, in general, until I talked to Craig and he actually got my interest back in Denver. I was actually going to look out of state for a long time until I talked to him and figured out how you can make it work in the Denver Metro area.

Mindy: Oh. Well, I would really like to hear from Craig and hear how he makes it work in the hot Denver market, but first let’s hear a note from today’s sponsor.

Protect your real estate investment with the SimpliSafe home security system. It’s a great protection against burglars, secures your property24/7, keeps working during power outages and downed Wifi, and lets the authorities know if there’s an emergency. But that’s just the start. What about basement floods, frozen pipes, leaky carbon monoxide releasing furnaces; real threats to your investment and your safety? SimpliSafe looks out for them too. It’s a complete security system. See how SimpliSafe’s 24/7 security can protect your property at simplisafe.com/biggerpockets. That’s s-i-m-p-l-i-s-a-f-e.com/biggerpockets. Simplisafe.com.

Scott: Alright. Big thanks to today’s sponsor. Craig, welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. How’s it going?

Craig: Hey. Thanks for having me guys. It’s going great here. How are you guys doing?

Mindy: I’m doing really great. So, Scott was just saying that you invest in real estate in Denver and you’re doing very well with it; but you’re 20 something, you just moved here, it’s a hot market, there’s no deals to be found. So, obviously he’s full of crap.

Craig: Yeah, it’s kind of full of crap. Yeah. Denver is definitely a harder market to invest in nowadays, especially if you’re just going to go about the traditional route. I’m sure there are better cash flowing markets out there, but for someone my age and in my situation, it makes sense to kind of try to figure out, like you got to take what the market gives you, and that’s kind of what I feel like I’ve been doing. You can’t really overpower the market.

It’s like in sports and stuff, especially in basketball. My basketball coach used to always tell me, ‘you got to take what the defence gives you; whether they give you a jump shot or they can give you like a lane to drive the whole in, you do that’. So, in Denver here I feel like the play right now is single family homes rent by the room, and that’s kind of how you can get a cash flowing property that also has a high likelihood of appreciating over time.

Scott: Awesome. Well, let’s tease all of our listeners with that preview and then jump back to the beginning and start with your story here so that people can get acquainted with you, how you built your financial position such that you can actually invest in Denver and do it successfully here now.

So, let’s start with, maybe, what your situation was like graduating college?

Craig: Yeah. Let’s take it even a few years further back were even in high school. So, basically, I’ve been working since I was working for my dad, since I was five years old; but I’ve been working for someone that’s not my parents, like immediately when I could get a job at, like, 14 to get a worker’s permit, I started working and I’ve always been a perennial saver. Like, I’ve always been saving, saving, saving.

And so, I didn’t know what I was saving for and I always enjoyed watching that number in my savings account go up. So, by the time I got into college, I had a couple of grands saved up and I had a whole bunch of student loans and all that kind of stuff and I didn’t spend all that much money in college. I always worked throughout college. Again, I kind of just broke even all throughout college. So, I came out of college still in significantly negative net worth because of my student loans, but at least some cash in the bank. I went to a school, too, that did internships and they’re all required to be paid internships and you got paid a reasonable salary for someone in college; it was like $25 to $30 an hour for these internships.

Scott: Wow.

Craig: Yeah. So, it was like, basically, a normal living wage and I did not really have school expenses during that time. I was basically like a real adult in college, and so that allowed me to save even more during those times. So, by the time I graduated college I had about between $20,000 and $30,000 saved up.

Mindy: In your bank account?

Craig: Yeah.

Mindy: Okay. So, where was college?

Craig: College was Northeastern University in Boston. They have this co-op program where basically students do these six-month internships. Basically, they go six months of classes, six months of internships; and they do that rotation for three years, and for a businessperson they’re mandatory paid internships. So, they have to pay us. That’s one of the great parts about Northeastern; to get my home school a shout out.

Mindy: Yeah, I’m going to give your home school a shout out too. So, instead of going for nine months on school, no job, whatever; you’re attending school for six months and then for the other six months you’re working in a mandatory paid internship that’s paying you $25 an hour?

Craig: Yeah, it ranges from $15 for your first one up to $35, even $40, for your last one.

Mindy: Yeah but $15 an hour for an intern is amazing.

Craig: Yeah. It’s a really good program.

Mindy: Wow.

Craig: You get the experience, too, of course.

Mindy: Well, yeah. So, you graduate college with a degree and; how many years of experience; like two solid years of experience in like a real job.

Craig: When I graduated college, I had like four legitimate jobs on my resume to send out to potential employers that I could work for and I was 22 at the time. So, I think that was probably the most valuable thing that Northeastern has to provide.

Scott: Well, so it sounds like you had a really fantastic college experience that really prepared you to enter the workforce, but then also you were just smart with your money in general in college. What was your mindset at this point? Was it ‘I need to save this up so I could make an investment’ or was it just ‘I’m going to be frugal and conservative’ or what was going through your head while you were accumulating that cash?

Craig: It’s like in my blood, I swear. It’s just that I’ve always been taught to save, and I guess my parents have always been pretty frugal growing up. I’ve always been, ‘don’t live in the super nice place’. I was going to live with a bunch of buddies and have fun, so I didn’t have my own bedroom until my senior year of college. I was fine with that, but sometimes you get kicked out and whatnot; we don’t need to get into that.

Mindy: Family friendly. Family friendly.

Craig: But yeah, I think that’s part of college. It is like the whole roommate-dorm kind of living.

Scott: Why did you choose to save that cash as opposed to pay down your student loans at the time?

Craig: I just did not even think of that as an option; to pay down my student loans at the time. I was not very financially aware. I just knew that I needed to save. I enjoyed saving money. Probably would’ve have been a better option to pay down the student loans because they were just basically interest only loans; garner interest; at the time.

Scott: Fair enough. So, what happens afterwards?

Craig: So, after school, at my last internship I had Northeastern, I got a job out in California. A job I enjoyed for the first six months and despised for the last 12. During those 12 months, of me not loving my life, I just kind of stumbled upon, I guess, financial independence through just basically having a weekend where I wanted to spend time with someone I really enjoyed spending time with and not being able to spend time with that person because of work and coming home on a Sunday night at 10:00 PM, having to get a report out Monday morning; I feel like that was a preview into the rest of my life, thinking ‘man, I don’t want to be spending my Sunday nights, when I have a family and kids, working for someone else because I need to get this report out’.

That was when I was like, ‘Okay, there’s no way I can be working for the next 40 years like this. I don’t enjoy this’, and so then I stumbled upon Brandon’s book on rental property investing and kind of stumbled upon BiggerPockets and financial independence and all that kind of stuff, and then just went very far down the rabbit hole.

Mindy: You know, that’s funny you say down the rabbit hole. That sounds like everybody that we’ve ever talked to is like, ‘oh, once I discovered financial independence, I can’t get enough. I keep finding all these different blogs and all these different concepts to try and figure out how I can make it happen faster’.

So, you found Brandon Turner’s ‘The Book on Rental Property Investing’?

Craig: Yup. That was the first one, believe it or not. I typed in real estate investing in Amazon and bought the first book I found, and I thought BiggerPockets is like this sketchy site at first, honestly. And then I saw that it was touted in the rental property books, so I figured it must be legit. Then I realized that you guys published the book. Now it all makes sense.

Scott: That’s awesome.

Mindy: Totally legit site because the book-

Craig: The book mentioned it.

Scott: So, during this period, I’m assuming this is the latter 12 months where you despise the job because that’s when you kind of discovered this concept, what was your approach to money like in California working at this other job. Were you still saving aggressively? Were you investing? What was your kind of mindset there?

Craig: So, this is a debate I have with a lot of people. I was not saving any money from my pay-check per se, on like a month to month basis. However, the big reason for that is my employer offered a 100% 401(k) match. So, up to $18,000 per year, they matched it dollar for dollar.

Mindy: What?

Craig: Yeah. And I wasn’t making all that much money at that time and so I basically, you know, I put every $750 pay-check into my 401(k) and they would match it for $750 every single time.

Mindy: Oh my god.

Craig: So, I did that for a while. I was probably losing money from my savings account that I initially built up because I was just taking the advantage of that, and so that’s kind of what I did for a couple of years. I feel it’s a fairly sizable 401(k) for someone who’s like 23/24 years old at the time.

Scott: Yeah, I bet.

Craig: Yeah.

Mindy: You said you’re probably losing money in your savings account. No. You’re using that money to live off of while you are making a 100% return on your investment instantly by taking advantage of this situation with your employer. That that was a really smart move. Don’t say, ‘oh, I probably didn’t do this’. You did that absolutely right.

Craig: At the time I didn’t know, but now I know.

Mindy: Yeah, now you know. That was a really great move. So, what was your living situation? You were in the bay area, which I believe is a slightly elevated price range.

Craig: Yeah. So, for a lot of that time we found this dump of a house and everyone that ever visited the place always made the comparison to the house of Breaking Bad. I don’t really watch that show, but I’m sure a lot of our listeners have. And so, whatever the breaking bad house looked like, it looks very similar to that.

Scott: Which breaking bad house?

Craig: The one with the meth.

Scott: The one that the meth addicts live in, with all the junk crumbled everywhere?

Craig: Yeah, it was like the doors didn’t close, the bathroom was stained; there was like red stains in the bathroom.

Mindy: That’s just rust.

Craig: Just rust. Yeah. And then we found out, maybe like a week after signing the year or the six-month lease, that the prior person living there killed himself in the house. And it was not like ‘a take a bunch of pills to kill yourself’, it was like he used a gun and shot himself in the head. Killed himself in the house and we’re like, ‘oh, this is great’. That’s the story of the house.

Scott: So, you got a great deal?

Craig: We did get a great deal. I mean we were paying, so we lived two blocks from the office in downtown Palo Alto, which is like a really yippity kind of place to live; like walking distance all of the bars and restaurants, walking distance to work and we were paying $750 for like our own bedroom.

Mindy: Wow.

Craig: I’ve never heard anyone have a better deal like that in the bay area. If you have, feel free to send me a message and prove me wrong. But yeah, that was great. It was a good deal.

Scott: Sounds like a bloody good deal.

Mindy: Oh, Scott, stop. Oh, yuck. I just realised Craig and Scott are the two guys that go back and forth with all the puns in the office. Oh. The end of the show is going to be awful.

Craig: This is going to be a really funny episode.

Scott: We’ll see.

Mindy: That’s horrible. Scott. What an awful thing to say.

Scott: I’m sorry. Lets move on.

Mindy: And California is one of the states I believe you have to disclose-

Craig: You do.

Mindy: -a death in the last three years.

Craig: Yeah, you do.

Mindy: So now by giving you guys a six-month lease, it’s not the last owner or the last tenant, it was the tenant before them or the tenant two people ago or whatever. But still, that’s gross.

Scott: Is it haunted?

Craig: Some people would say it was. I never saw anything, though a creepy thing that happened was there was an earthquake in the middle of the night. That’s kind of freaky.

Mindy: That just happens to all the houses. It’s not your house wasn’t special.

Craig: No, I know. I know. But when you see everything’s shaking and everything is moving, you’re like, ‘oh my God, what is that?’. It’s a game of horror all over again. And I guess the ironic part of that was that it was actually like one house away from Tim Cook’s house.

Mindy: Tim Cook, the guy from Apple?

Craig: Yeah. The CEO of Apple lived like one house down from us. So, that was really funny.

Scott: Did his house look a little different?

Craig: Just a little bit. Yeah. There’s a lot of apple trees in this yard.

Mindy: Why are you living in this dump of a somebody-killed-themselves house and then Tim Cook is down the street?

Scott: On BiggerPockets there’s like a new thread with a debate about are you required to disclose a haunting or what should I do if a tenant sees a ghost. So, that’s why I was asking this. You know, there’s, there’s no consensus among the community about how to deal with that.

Craig: It’s definitely a state by state.

Mindy: Yeah. It’s definitely state by state. You aren’t necessarily required to disclose. In California, you’re required if it was sensational. No, maybe in Colorado it’s sensational. I can’t remember. I did some research on it because my neighbour died in his bathtub and then they sold the house with no disclosures, but in Colorado you don’t have to disclose. So, that’s kind of gross. Did you ever feel weird staying there?

Craig: I never felt weird. Some of my roommate’s felt weird. I’m not really like afraid of ghosts or anything. I just try to like think through ghost logically. Like they are transparent. They can’t pick anything up. They can’t touch me. The worst they can do is like blow through me and give me some cool air, which I don’t mind once in a while. So, I have never really been afraid of ghosts.

Scott: We’re going to tweet that later. That’s going to be the tweet of this show. ‘I try to think through ghosts logically’.

Mindy: So, I don’t care about ghosts either. They don’t affect my life and my house is not haunted. It turns out 40 years ago somebody killed themselves in my garage.

Craig: Wow.

Mindy: They hung themselves. However, that was the original garage. That garage has since been bulldozed and they turned it into like this Garage Mahal; kind of giant garage; and whatever rafters were there, aren’t there anymore. I don’t feel any ghosts. It’s not like there’s unexplained things going on, and I don’t care. It doesn’t affect me. I think if you’re looking for something, you’ll find it. Didn’t Debbie say that?

Scott: In a different context though.

Mindy: Very different context. And you know what? Here’s my thought. If one of your tenants sees a ghost in their house and they want to get out of their contract, let them out of their contract. You will be far better off just letting them go.

Scott: See, I brought this up mostly facetiously, but it looks like we’ll go with it. Let’s go back to money.

Mindy: Yeah.

Scott: So, you’re living in the haunted house. You’re saving a boatload of money because it’s bloodstained bathroom, former murder. What happens next?

Craig: So, after a few months there we moved down to San Jose. Basically, I jumped around the bay area. Other than San Jose, I lived in San Francisco, and I’ve never paid over a thousand dollars a month for my own bedroom in rent in San Francisco and San Jose.

I was just on craigslist for like three to four hours a day at the job I loved oh so much, and it was just basically looking for good deals. So, I would just email them and go on interviews and all that stuff, and I kind of just got lucky and found the fairly cheap places to live. They weren’t luxurious or anything, but they were decent enough for me and still allowed me to save a decent amount of money each month.

Mindy: So, that’s really interesting that you never paid more than a thousand dollars a month and you got your own bedroom. I had a friend who was living in San Francisco. He is a little more particular and less frugal than you. He would not pay less than $3,000 a month. He would have his own place. It would be like a studio. He’s only paying $3,000, of course it’s a studio.

Craig: Yeah.

Mindy: That’s amazing that you spent this time. Now, how long did you sign leases for?

Craig: The one down in San Jose was for a year and that was with my buddy, so that was just a very good time. And then, in San Francisco, I actually didn’t have a lease. I called the lady there my San Francisco mom, because she would like do all these nice things for me. It was more of like a family type feel than like a ‘I’m your landlord’ type feel. But yeah, I just paid her $1,000 every month, and I always paid her early and I think she appreciated that. And so, we always got along nicely.

Mindy: Yeah. Pay your rent early and your landlord will love you forever. Okay. So, that’s interesting. You didn’t know about house hacking at the time, I’m assuming?

Craig: I did not.

Mindy: But, I mean, if you’re making not amazing money in San Diego or San Francisco, you’re not going to be able to buy a house. Everything there is like a million plus.

Craig: Yeah.

Mindy: So, you’re house hacking in a sense because you are still looking for these low-cost properties and finding them.

Craig: Right. Yeah.

Mindy: Housing is your biggest expense. You have cut that down. What did you do for a car out there?

Craig: We didn’t have a car out there just because I always was particular about living close to the train station, so I would take the train from San Francisco to Palo Alto or San Jose to Palo Alto. In San Jose I had a bike that I would use to bike to the train station. And then, in San Francisco, the place that I was renting was right next to the train station, so I just walked out the door; rolled out of bed and a hopped on the train.

Mindy: Okay.

Craig: The train wasn’t paid for by employer, but we could pay for it pre-tax through our employer. So, it would save you a couple hundred bucks a year.

Mindy: Nice. Okay. And then what’s the third biggest expense?

Scott: Food. What’d you do for food?

Craig: Food? I would mostly just go to the grocery store. I knew going to go to the grocery store was cheaper than going out to eat, and so that’s kind of what I did. I would always just stay along the outsides and buy the stuff that’s healthy for me; the vegetables and all that kind of stuff. Maybe I’d venture the aisles and pick up a jar of peanut butter or something, but that was pretty much the extent of me going within the aisles. So, just healthy food that’s relatively inexpensive. I mean, I ate fine; chicken, salmon, all that kind of stuff.

Scott: So, what was your position in when you left California to come and work here at BiggerPockets? What was your financial position as a result of all of this?

Craig: I had still had a fairly significant negative net worth when I left San Francisco coming here and that was mainly because of the student loans, but I had probably about $30,000 saved up at this point. I use a Betterment account, so in through Betterment. And so, I could probably squeeze a down payment if I wanted to, go out, come out to Denver, and do that.

And so, that was it. I was fortunate enough to land a job here at BiggerPockets. When I came here, I had to buy a car, and so I bought a car. And then right after I bought a car, I bought a house, like, a month later. So, that was kind of like the things I needed to do while coming here. I just made a list of things I had to do and did it.

Scott: So, to prepare yourself financially to buy your first property; your first real estate investment in Denver; really it boiled back all the way to your college experience where you’d saved up a ton of cash, then got this job at San Francisco. You pile all this money into your 401(k). You’re not really saving anything, maybe slightly depleters but keep around the same amount of cash that whole time in your savings account, from your net pay funding your lifestyle. And then you come out to Denver where it’s a better market for opportunities to invest in real estate, I guess. And that’s when you’re able to then leverage this $30k that you’ve got in order to buy your first place. Is that accurate?

Craig: That’s exactly correct.

Scott: Yes. So, tell us about that first investment because you had an interesting spin on how this works in the Denver market.

Craig: Yeah. Actually, I’ve just realized that the place I was living in San Francisco actually kind of inspired this investment in Denver. So, the first property I bought was a duplex about a mile and a half from the office; which is a pretty decent location, about five blocks north of Denver’s largest park. It’s like a townhouse duplex. So, I have like a duplex on the end of like a row home.

My strategy was to rent out the top unit and live in the bottom unit, but I wanted it to completely eliminate my living expense. And so, I had to get a little bit creative. I basically rented out my bedroom on Airbnb, and I put up like a sketchy divider and curtain, and basically slept behind a curtain for a year, unlike this futon; that I then transitioned out after a year. So, I Airbnb-ed out the bedroom and that allowed me to cashflow fully on the property.

Mindy: Okay. So, why did you have to live there for a year, and what do you mean you rented out the top and then Airbnb-ed the bottom? Can you explain that a little bit? And then I’d like to talk about numbers, too.

Craig: Yeah. So, I had to live there for a year because when you buy an owner occupant loan, it allows you to buy a property for basically from 3 to less than 20% down. So, I chose a 3.5% percent FJA loan, and as a stipulation in that loan, you have to live there for a year. If you don’t, that’s mortgage fraud and you can get in trouble. So, I decided to live out the rules of the loan and lived there for a year.

What was the second question?

Mindy: The second question was, what do you mean you rented out the top and then you Airbnb-ed the bottom?

Craig: I rented out the top; like a full-time tenant signed a lease, all that kind of stuff; and that went pretty well. And then I Airbnb-ed out the bedroom because in Denver in order to innovate you need to be living in the residence. And so, that allowed me to Airbnb-ed the bedroom out while still living in the unit.

Mindy: Okay. And this is a one-bedroom unit?

Craig: Yeah, it’s a one-bedroom unit.

Mindy: Okay. So, essentially somebody else’s sleeping in your bed and you’re sleeping on the couch.

Craig: Exactly.

Mindy: I love that. I love that outside the box thinking. So many people would be like, ‘Oh, well it’s a one bedroom. I can’t Airbnb it’. Sure, you can. I probably wouldn’t. I’m a woman. If I was single I would probably not Airbnb the house that I’m living in, and I don’t do it now that I have kids either. I like that you went that direction.

What are your numbers? What is your mortgage on this property? Because this is where it really gets fun and really makes a lot of sense. I can hear people; like I just said ‘oh, I would never do that’; saying I would never do that, but let’s talk about the numbers to show them why that’s not such a bad idea. So, your mortgage was?

Craig: Yeah. So, my mortgage was about $2,000.

Mindy: Okay. $2,000. You rented out the top half for?

Craig: For $1,750.

Scott: And that includes principal interest, taxes, insurance and PMI, right?

Craig: Yeah. Everything.

Mindy: Okay. So, rent was $1,750. Now you’re paying $250 a month of your mortgage every year.

Craig: Right. Yeah.

Mindy: Okay. And then what did you Airbnb your property out for? Your bedroom?

Craig: It varies from winter to summer. In the summer it’s closer to $1,500 a month. In the winter it’s like just shy of a $1,000. So, I just say like $1,100 to take the average.

Mindy: Okay. So, wait, you were paying $250, and now $1,100 minus $250 is-

Scott: More than $2,000.

Craig: More than $2,000.

Scott: So, we’re at $850. You’re making $850 a month?

Craig: Yeah, I was making a $50 a month.

Mindy: In a hot market where you can’t make any money because there’s no deals to be found yada yada yada, you’re making $850 a month and sleeping on the couch.

Craig: Yup.

Scott: And my first reaction to this was ‘man, this is going to really destroy his social life’, but that ended up not being true. Right, Craig?

Craig: Yeah. That’s not true. It was really good. And I think the best part about Airbnb, too, is that you get to meet people. As you know, as many people know, I really enjoy traveling. And so, when you host an Airbnb, you meet travellers from all around the country and all around the world, and they satisfied my travel blog because I could talk to people from Portugal and Australia and New Zealand, and I’ll just have like a new visitor every single day. It was just really cool.

Mindy: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. So, you’re making $850 a month with pretty little effort on your part?

Craig: Yeah, hardly any effort. I mean, the whole living situation, you just get used to it. It was definitely weird for like the first week, maybe, but then you just get used to it. It’s like anything else, right? It’s the whole hedonic adaptation thing that Scott describes in his book; where the first week or two it takes a little while to get used to whatever it is, but then after the third week, you get used to it. It’s a habit.

Scott: But this was not your permanent plan. You went into this property, literally, you mentioned, one year’s my commitment for this mortgage. After that, the intention is to move out and do something different. So, you went into this with the intention of making this an investment property, right?

Craig: Yeah, sure.

Scott: What are you doing now with this property and what are you doing now for your living situation?

Craig: Now, I’m now renting out this property fulltime. So, I’ve moved out. I’ve turned the futon that I was sleeping on; I purposely bought a futon for this reason; into a couch by just lifting the handle. And then, I took away the curtain and I threw away the cardboard box that was falling apart by the time I moved out.

Mindy: You used a cardboard box to create your- Oh my God.

Craig: Yeah. I paper clipped the curtain to the box, so there is no space that you can see in between.

Mindy: Oh my God.

Craig: That was pretty innovative for me.

Mindy: No. No.

Craig: Basically, like the next MacGyver.

Mindy: That’s pretty 22-year old of you. Okay. So, now it’s a whole unit.

Craig: So, now it’s a whole unit. Now I rent that out full-time and it’s making me, pretty easily, over a thousand a month.

Scott: So, you’ve got this duplex now, that I’m assuming the top was renting for $1,750. Now, you’re making $2,750, $2,850, somewhere in that. I don’t know what the rent is on the top unit now.

Craig: Yeah, it’s still the same.

Scott: Okay. So, you’re making, not a killing, but probably some reasonable cashflow; if you consider that operating expenses and all that in vacancy are going to be a couple hundred bucks a month. You are probably still cash flowing a few hundred dollars a month; net of all of that. What was your down payment for this?

Craig: It was $17,000; that includes the downpayment and closing costs and all that, and everything that goes into it. So, all in $17,000.

Scott: You’re probably making a pretty decent cash on cash return for that 17% down and you’re going to be benefiting from appreciation of it and all that kind of stuff.

Craig: Yeah. When you factor in all of the wealth generators of real estate, I’ve already made my money back on that.

Scott: That’s awesome.

Craig: Pretty handily.

Mindy: That’s fantastic. And for people who aren’t in the Denver market, this is really important to realize that in the Denver market right now there’s this thing called the 1% rule; where you rent out the property for 1% of the purchase price per month. So, $100,000 property rents for a $1,000 a month. And, in Denver you can’t find a 1% rule. I mean, you can, obviously. Craig has come pretty darn close to that, no you’ve done better than that. Well, no.

Craig: No. I’ve let it for $385, so not quite there.

Mindy: $385. So, you’re not quite there, but you’re pretty close. What I’m seeing when I’m analysing deals is 0.5% 0.6%, and that’s barely enough to cover the mortgage with the 20% down loan. So, you’re really doing well just having a property that cash flows in general, but its cash flowing really well for this market. That’s awesome.

Craig: Most definitely. Yeah.

Scott: While you’re living there, what are you doing with your financial position; where are you investing and how are you preparing yourself for the next move?

Craig: While I’m living in a duplex?

Scott: Yeah.

Craig: So, at that point I was just kind of heads down; focusing on working at BiggerPockets and just trying to save as much money as I could at that point. I was making sure to not go out to eat all that much. If I were to go out with friends, I would just kind of, you know, get a water and an appetizer rather than get a whole bunch of drinks and all that kind of stuff. I did pretty much a little over a year without even having a sip of alcohol, so that helped a little bit. The vacations I took were, any vacation I take, is always reasonable. So, you just have these weeks where you just spend such little money.

I still have fun because the activities that I enjoy doing; which are hiking, just hanging out with friends, playing volleyball in the park, frisbee, all that kind of stuff; they don’t cost any money. So, I would just go do those things and still lived a very fulfilling life, but I just didn’t go to the bars and spend $400 on the table at a club.

Scott: Awesome. Tell us about the next transition, the second place that you spot.

Craig: Yeah, so I was looking again for a duplex in Denver and, as Scott alluded to earlier, they are just very hard to find here in Denver. So, I went a little outside of Denver. I’m 10 miles north of Denver in a town called Thornton now, and I bought a large single-family house; a five-bedroom, two-bathroom, single-family home; and put 5% down. And now I live in one bedroom. I have my own bedroom with like a door and a closet and two windows.

Scott: What a real pad.

Craig: Yeah, I tell you that you become really grateful after you spend a year behind a curtain and then you get your own bedroom. The first day I was just opening and shutting the door.

Yeah. So, I’m living in one room and renting out all the others and it’s doing really well.

Mindy: So, are you comfortable showing numbers with that?

Craig: Yeah.

Mindy: So, what is your mortgage?

Craig: My mortgage there, again it’s about $2,000, just north of $2,000.

Mindy: $2,000 a month. And you are renting out four bedrooms?

Craig: Four bedrooms, yeah.

Mindy: Okay. So, the rent; do you want to just give a total?

Craig: Yeah. It’d be easier. The rents are a little different. So, the total rent is $3,100.

Scott: Is that including your room or did you not include your room?

Craig: I did not include my room. So, from four bedrooms.

Mindy: So, you’re cash flowing $1,100 a month on rent from just having roommates.

Scott: And you much did you put down on this?

Craig: I put about $20,000 down and I put another $10,000 in for like some rehab stuff.

Scott: It’s a $30,000 in.

Craig: $30,000, yeah.

Scott: Okay. So, on $30,000 you’re making $1,100 a month; pre-vacancy and operating expenses, outside of insurance and taxes. That’s awesome.

Craig: Yeah, that’s great.

Scott: That’s probably $700 a month in cash flow net of everything. That’s phenomenal here in Denver for any investor.

Craig: Yeah. For sure. When I move out too, that’s going to be another $700 or so on top of that. So, I think this is going to be a fairly lucrative property for me in terms of a cash flow position. It is in Thornton so it’s not going to see the appreciation that Denver would, but I’m okay with that.

Mindy: It’s 10 miles from Denver. It’s not long enough.

Craig: It’s a very nice place.

Scott: You’re still able to bike to work, right?

Craig: Yeah. Again, I strategically bought a place near the bike path so I’m able to hop on the bike path, and it’s 90% bike pathway here. So, it’s a 10-mile ride to work every morning and it’s wonderful.

Mindy: I see you biking to work all the time, but I didn’t realize that you were biking to work from Thornton.

Scott: And he rents out his place to roommates that are also workers here at BiggerPockets.

Craig: That also helps.

Mindy: Now, can you afford the mortgage if everybody just decided to leave instantly? Can you afford the mortgage on this property?

Craig: Yeah. I could. I wouldn’t want to, but I could. 

Mindy: You wouldn’t want to, but this is something that I don’t think is spoken enough about in real estate investing; being able to afford the property. So many people got caught up in the economic downturn where their properties, all of a sudden, they were vacant and they can’t afford the mortgage because they’ve got 27 properties at 0% down.

So, I just want to reiterate. I already knew the answer to that question. I know you can afford it, I just think it’s really important to be able to afford it or be comfortable with the amount of leverage that you’re at.

Scott: I think neither of these investments sound like they were anything that you depended on working out in order for your financial position to remain secure. They’re both additive to your financial position and you obviously hope to produce the cash flow and all that kind of stuff that’s going forward there, but you’re not dependent on the financial performance going meeting your projections exactly on either of these, it sounds like.

Craig: Nope.

Scott: And that’s the position from which to invest. That’s why, in my opinion, it’s very likely to be successful over the short, medium and long term because each of these investments is a very calculated, thoughtful approach that’s creative, that makes the most of your situation in the market that we’re in.

Craig: Yeah, for sure. Yep. That’s exactly right.

Mindy: What does rent cost in Denver? I haven’t looked for a property in Denver; but if you’re just going out to rent, you’re not going to be saving that much money from the mortgage payment that you’re already making. Right? If you were going to go out and get a one-bedroom apartment that’s at least a thousand dollars, it’s probably way more than that.

Craig: Yeah. Depending where you are, probably between a $1,000 and $1,500 here in Denver, so that isn’t all that much more. And you can use your roommates to make it even less.

Scott: What would the rent be without roommates, if you just rented it out to a family?

Craig: To a family? I would say it’d probably be about $2,200 or $2,300; 5-bed 2-bath in that area goes for about that much.

Scott: This was my problem. When I’m looking at the Denver market, including the 25-mile radius of Denver here, there’s almost nothing that I’m seeing on the MLS where you can have properties rent and cover the mortgage by $500 to a $1,000 or more. You’re making it work because you’re being creative, finding places that allow you to rent by the room. You can’t rent by the room in Denver in the same way without violating some of the laws here; but in Thorton, the rules are such that you can actually do exactly what you’re doing and you can take these properties that are being overlooked as investments. Probably most of your competition was private families or folks that are looking for a large single-family home. You turned it into an investment opportunity.

Craig: Yeah, exactly.

Scott: So that was a big revelation for me. Just because the traditional method is not working right now or is extremely difficult, doesn’t mean that there are really good ways to make this work, and when you think about it from a downside perspective, in a down market rent by the room is going to be one of the least effected versus these nice-

Craig: -luxurious complexes.

Scott: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. These guys who are living here just want a fairly inexpensive place to live. They’re quiet. They’re clean. That’s all they’re looking for, so it’s like a cheaper place to live. They don’t care about the roommate situation and all that kind of stuff. So, definitely.

Mindy: Yeah, that’s nice. And the property that you bought; a five-bedroom two-bathroom property; that’s not going to be as attractive to investors or tenants. Did you have a lot of competition with that property or did you get it under contract fairly easily.

Craig: I got it on the contract surprisingly easily. I don’t know if it was because the guy who was selling it was just kind of like a family guy; didn’t really know too much about real estate or anything; but I just had a really good conversation with him. We were like playing with his pets and stuff when we were looking at it. I think that actually played into a part of why he accepted our offer because he just felt like we were normal human beings buying a house. We were like genuine people.

Scott: That or there was another grizzly horror story that we aren’t aware of yet.

Mindy: Have you googled your address?

Craig: I have not, maybe I should.

Scott: We might not be laughing after that.

Mindy: Yeah. Sorry, not laughing.

Scott: Okay. So, what is going on with your financial position otherwise? Like asides from real estate, how else are you approaching things? What are you doing with your student loan debt for example?

Craig: Yeah, so after purchasing this property I have basically started to, more aggressively, pay down my student loans; because now I’m at the point now where I believe once I pay my student loans off I feel like I’ll be at that financial independence number. So, that’s kind of been my main goal here, to pay those down. Maybe this is the best way to go about doing it, but I’ve split the way I save now; anything generated from my properties goes towards buying another property or as anything extra I make through some side hustles and stuff like that would go towards my student loans.

Mindy: Okay. So, you’ve mentioned your student loans a couple of times, but we’ve never asked how much student loan debt did you start off with and how much do you still have now?

Craig: Okay. I was fortunate enough to spend New Year’s in Aruba. And so, I was swimming in the ocean and all, and I was just talking with my mom. I was like ‘I’m paying off my student loans. By the end of 2019 my students will paid off’ and she was like ‘okay’. At the time, I had $85,000 in student loans.

Mindy: I’m glad I asked. So, that’s a significant sum of money.

Craig: Yeah, it’s a significant sum. And so, now they’re a little under $60,000; I’m at like $59,000 $58,000; and that’s just through aggressively saving throughout the course of this year. 

Scott: What’s the interest rate on your student loan debt?

Craig: It’s about 5.5/6%.

Scott: I don’t know how if you ran the calculations or did the math, but I would bet that if you went back and looked at your approach to this over the past couple of years, you’ve done it pretty much exactly right according to the projections, the expectations that you might have set for what you’re trying to do or invest. Starting with the 401(k) match, you’re getting 100% return pre-tax on your money and you’re deferring all of that, right? And you’re getting $18,000 a year in free money, right? It’s silly to pay off your student loan debts with any extra cash rather than make the minimums when you have that kind of return.

Then you moved to Denver and you house hacked, right? And I assume that your projection model and what you’re putting in there says ‘I’m going to make well over a 100% return on the investment I make on this, if things go averagely well’. Of course, things can go poorly and you can lose. But if things go average well.

You make a second house hack, again with similar projection models. Now, what’s happening, however, is your net worth, entirely outside of your student loan debt, is starting to climb, right? Probably approaching or exceeding a hundred or maybe even thousand dollars against your student loan debt, right? It’s much harder going forward. It’s going to be much harder for you to get significant returns on significant chunks of money, like you were with these first two house hacks. If you run it in a modelling fashion, and now you’re starting to turn your attention towards your student loan debt, which to me, walking through this – maybe I’m giving you more credit than you give yourself, I don’t know if you’ve done all this-

Craig: I appreciate it though.

Scott: But this is perfect. This is a fantastic kind of approach. An example for other people to kind of hear from is you had great investment opportunities. You’re probably going to have more opportunities in the future, but they may not be so astronomical and with such significant portions of your investible net worth, that it makes investing in student loan or paying off your student loan debts much more attractive.

Craig: Right. Well, people always mention that want to get rid of all your debt first. I don’t know if I 100% agree with that. Again, if you have an opportunity such as house hacking, if you would just wait a couple of years to start paying off your debt, you can start paying it off much, much faster – as you can see – than if you were to pay it off all at once.

Scott: Yeah. I think it would’ve slowed you down considerably to have paid off the student loan debt prior to getting into the position you’re in now.

Craig: I still wouldn’t have a property at this point.

Mindy: That’s a good point and that’s not something that I have looked at the other side of. I’m always under the assumption that you should pay off your debt first, but I liked the way that you explained that it’s not always the best option to pay it off first.

Craig: As I mentioned, again, remember that this is not like credit card debt that’s 15% interest, so people could argue either way; whether you pay off aggressively a 5% or 6% loan.

Mindy: Right. That 15% loan, I would absolutely say you really need to either transfer that to a different percentage rate or a different interest rate or, you know, just pay that off.

Craig: Yeah.

Scott: And you talk about your PHI number, I don’t know what that number is, but it’s going to be fairly low for you, I assume; because you’re going to have no housing expense, once you pay off your student loan debt you’re going to have no student loan expense, you have a paid off car and get around primarily by bicycle, and you eat pretty healthily normally with your food. Right? Is that correct.

Craig: Yeah. Well, you’re missing a side point that I no longer have a car.

Scott: That’s right. Tell us about that one. Tell us how you hacked your car and how that worked out for you.

Craig: I think a lot of people have questions about this so I’ll absolutely share the story. So, after coming to Denver I bought a Toyota Prius C, which is like a really good gas mileage; like 55, 60 miles per gallon car. The original intent was to Uber, and so I Uber-ed for like three months and got sick of that pretty quickly.

So, once I got my first property, I decided to rent my car out on the site called Turo. Basically, it’s like the Airbnb for cars. So, someone, like people on vacation or who needed the car for a day or two, would come and rent the car. I’d give them the keys and they’d go on their way, and I would bike to work. I just didn’t need my car very much. And so, for a while that was making me between an extra $400 and $700 a month for about a little over a year; basically, from July 2017 to probably 2018.

But recently, last weekend, I got a call from someone renting my car and he calls me up and he says, ‘Hey, Craig. So, you know, your car?’. I’m like, ‘Yes, I know my car’.

Mindy: I can’t imagine any conversation starting off like ‘so, you remember your car’.

Craig: Yeah, you should probably forget it. So, the car got totalled, like it completely jacked up. The whole front of it was just completely mangled, and we can put pictures in the show notes if you want to do that. But it was just completely totalled. Thankfully he was okay, and his girlfriend who was in the car was okay. Everyone was okay; which when I look at the car, I can’t imagine. Every single airbag was deployed. It looked like there was like a head that would have went through the windshield; I don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t their head. I asked him. I don’t know what the heck it was, but I’m glad it wasn’t their head.

So, the car is completely totalled. And a lot of questions people have had around Turo is how does the insurance, how does that stuff all work. So, over this past week I was talking to the insurance agent and all that, and so I received the claim back and basically after renting it out for a year, probably made about six or seven grand over the course of the year just through the car rental. They are giving me a little over $11,000 back for the car, and I only paid $10,000 for that car.

So, this is like the best possible thing that could have happened to me because I was going to take it off of Turo in about six weeks or so anyway, and the fact that it got totalled; everyone was okay; I got all of my money back plus more for the original investment; the car; and I was making money over the course of the last 13 or 14 months or so. It’s the perfect scenario.

Scott: What are you going to do with that money?

Craig: My original intent was to like spend half of it on the car and keep half of it, but I still don’t know if I want to buy a $5,000 car. I don’t know if I deserve that quite yet.

Craig: So, I’ll probably get like a $2,000 or $3,000 Subaru Forester.

Scott: Good Lord.

Craig: Then just pocket that-

Scott: Don’t deserved that yet? You slept behind a curtain for a year.

Craig: I just don’t get the need for a nice car. I just need something that is reliable. And the thing is, I feel like I’m in a position where; because I don’t drive a lot; I can buy a car with a lot of miles on it because it’s going to take me probably 5 or 10 years to put 50,000 miles on this car. I’m just going to use it to go to the mountains once in a while and maybe on a snow day or something when I have to come into work to bring it for that. But for most days I will continue to bike.

Scott: Fair enough.

Mindy: So, this morning Craig sent me a note via our inter-office communication and he’s like ‘oh, my car’s not on Turo anymore. I can talk about that today’. And I’m like, ‘oh, I thought this is going to be a really juicy story’. First of all, I’m glad that everybody’s okay, but I thought you had a problem with them; with the company itself.

Scott: No, they’re actually fairly easy to work with in terms of that.

Mindy: Yeah, that’s really nice and I’m glad that everybody’s okay.

Scott: Yeah.

Mindy: So, is this your only side hustle? You mentioned side hustles. Do you have other ways to make extra money?

Scott: Yeah. So, one thing I’m doing is one of my friends has a condo and I am renting the condo from him and Airbnb-ing the condo. So, basically, I pay him a rental fee every month. I put the property on Airbnb and he knows about it obviously, and I pay him rent every month and then I keep the difference for the Airbnb. So, that’s another way to make some arbitrage. They call it like Airbnb arbitrage. That’s kind of what that is. And it helps, especially in the summertime, you make $1,000, $2,000 more than the rent through Airbnb. So, that’s one of the strategies have been using to pay down the student loans.

Nice. You told him you were going to do this. You said he knows about this; you told him you going to do this. I liked that you told him ahead of time. We had an interview on the BiggerPockets podcast with Zeona McIntyre, who did this, how she started getting into Airbnb as she was just Airbnb-ing her own property, but she didn’t tell the landlord, and then she started feeling really bad about that. She did eventually tell the landlord or maybe she got caught. She doesn’t do that anymore.

I just want to point out that this is not a good way to make money; to lie to your landlord or lie by omission and just rent a property and put it up on Airbnb. You can get yourself into a lot of trouble. That landlord will probably evict you. I’m seeing more and more in leases that ‘can this property be rented out on Airbnb or similar, yes, no?’ and so landlords are really cracking down on this. If this is something that you want to do, double check with your landlord. Not every landlord is going to say yes, but not every landlord is going to say no.

Scott: Right.

Craig: You have to make sure you check with your landlord that anything you do is moral and don’t cheat. Don’t do anything out of your ethical code.

Mindy: Exactly.

Scott: Airbnb is getting better and better at preventing the horror stories too. You’re not hearing nearly as many of like, ‘oh, a bunch of frat boys came to my house and destroyed the place because you have these reviews’; both the Airbnb tenants and the hosts have reviews now so you can get a creative situation where you actually could rent these out with high probability, and the landlord shouldn’t be as scared as they were in the past. If a tenant came to me and said ‘I want to Airbnb my place’, I would say ‘sure, as long as you pay me extra’, whatever, a portion of the split. Right?

Craig: Yeah. That’s actually what I do with my friend too. At this point I’ve had hundreds of Airbnb guests and I have not had a horror story yet; in terms of everything trashed, completely wrecked, all that kind of stuff. You have to knock on wood

Scott: Obviously, our stories are fairly similar in that, but you’ve taken the things that I did a couple of years ago and taken them farther and done better and getting a much better return and all that kind of stuff. One of the things that I think we share on perspective is that doing this right out of college with your first few years in the workforce as a single person is a huge advantage in kind of getting a huge leg up on this. It’s much more difficult, it seems like, for a family or whatever to replicate this rapid acceleration towards PHI that you’ve created or that maybe I did in the first few years.

What’s your thought on that and is there a way around that for somebody else?

Craig: There’s no way around it. It’s absolutely easiest for someone who’s just getting out of college to do this and I think Scott, you and I were fortunate to stumble upon; I think you stumbled upon Mr. Money Moustache and I stumbled upon BiggerPockets; very early in our lives. For those who have families and are just figuring this out now, there are changes you can make, but they’re just not going to be as rapid or as aggressive as the way Scott and I have pursued it.

One thing is purchasing a house with additional dwelling unit and you can Airbnb that additional dwelling unit and that could potentially cover your entire mortgage. Stuff like that. I understand that if you have a family, you don’t want to be sharing your house with strangers.

Scott: Or your bedroom or your bedroom.

Craig: Or your bedroom. Yeah. That’s one way I can think of off the top of my head that a family could potentially do it.

Scott: Yeah. I think what’s great about your story is that it is repeatable. Anybody who is single and willing to make a sacrifice for maybe a year can have a very good odds of replicating the kind of results that you’ve produced. Right?

Craig: Yeah.

Scott: This is not like some sort of secret formula; it’s simple discipline, hard work, a little bit of sacrifice, and now you’re sitting up quite a bit of money from where you were a year and a half ago.

Craig: Oh, for sure. They always say you track your net worth and stuff over time, and I looked back and charted too, and when you look at the chart it’s very nice to see that chart go up into the right and it’s much faster than it was a year and a half ago.

Scott: We like up into the right charts.

Mindy: Up into the right. Yes. I’m laughing because Craig says he charts it. Craig is our excel guru at BiggerPockets and he’s always on these spreadsheets.

Scott: Yeah, we use Craig whenever one of our graphs is not up into the right.

Craig: I just delete the numbers and put new ones in.

Mindy: Okay. So, do you have any other side hustles besides Airbnb?

Craig: That is pretty much it. We’re starting something new with my cousin. We’re starting to do some BRRRRing out in Jacksonville. We’re under contract on a property right now, we close on Friday.

So, that’s like another thing that we’ll get going hopefully, close and get it rehabbed and rented out by the end of this year. That’s kind of the next thing.

Mindy: Okay. Not everybody who listens to this show listens to the BiggerPockets of Real Estate Podcast. So, can you explain what BRRRRing is? That’s b-r – is that for ‘r’s; b-r-r-r-r?

Craig: Yeah. So, it’s like when it’s December and you’re outside playing in the snow.

Mindy: Shut up.

Craig: So, BRRRRing is a real estate investment strategy. It is an acronym and it stands for Buy, Rehab, Rent-out, Refinance, and Repeat. Scott actually helped me out with this strategy in terms of thinking it through. You buy a really crappy house for like $30,000 $40,000. You put $50,000 into it and appraise. So, that’s $90,000 totally into it. Hopefully it appraises back at $120,000 and then you can basically get an 80% mortgage on the property and you put all your money out that you invested, and now you have basically a cash flowing property.

Mindy: For free?

Craig: For free. Yeah, you put it all in and then you can just recycle that money and do it again and again and again and again.

Mindy: And you said you’re doing this in Jacksonville? Jacksonville, what state?

Craig: Florida.

Mindy: Okay. And does your cousin live there?

Craig: So, one of my cousins does live there but not the one that is my partner on the deal, and he’s not like the boots in the ground or anything. We just kind of picked that place because we just looked at the housing prices and it made sense, and talking to Scott and David Greene; some of those guys; they all like Jacksonville. So, with those things, I think you could spend years trying to find a market to invest in. I think you just have to pick one and run with it and the deal is kind of on a deal by deal basis, not on a market by market basis. I’m sure there probably is a better market to invest in, but we just picked Jacksonville and we’re going to run with it.

Mindy: Awesome.

Scott: This is the approach that I was thinking I would pursue and I may still pursue it, in addition or outside of Denver, because I was so frustrated at the lack of rental opportunities here in the market. So, then I talked to Craig and he was doing what I guess you should be doing, which is both.

Craig: Yeah, we’ll see, I guess. That’s still information.

Scott: Again, you could certainly lose, but the way I perceive what you’re doing is its fairly high probability. It’s better odds than not taking action.

Craig: Yeah, exactly. Better rather than just running analysis all the time.

Scott: Well, awesome. Anything else we should cover before we get to the famous four?

Craig: I think that’s all, unless you guys have something else.

Mindy: I can text you for hours. We’ll just have to have you back.

Craig: It sounds good.

Mindy: Okay, so it is now time for our famous four questions. These are the same four questions that we ask every guest. What is your favourite finance book?

Craig: I feel like I want to say The Book on Rental Property Investing. Like the first one that came to came to my mind, but I don’t know if that is a finance book.

Mindy: Oh, it’s not, but if you got financial advice from it-

Scott: It has to be a non-BiggerPockets book because your work here

Craig: I have to go with Rich Dad Poor Dad. I know it’s super cliché. My wheels are spinning like crazy, but it took all of my thoughts that were jumbled up and just articulated them so nicely into a very little book that’s very easy to read. So, I enjoyed that one.

Scott: Awesome. What is your biggest money mistake?

Craig: I am unfortunate to not really know, but probably the student loans, I guess. So, not the fact that I went to Northeastern; because I think that provided me with a lot of great opportunities, but not knowing that coming out of school with $85,000 of debt would be significant, and not trying to find ways to look for scholarships and all that kind of stuff to try to make that amount a little bit smaller.

Mindy: Okay. So, you didn’t get any scholarships to college?

Craig: No, I did. I did, but I probably could have applied to more. They were just the ones that were basically given to me. I didn’t really apply for any. Although, I would like to add this. This is like a tip for anybody in college or going to college; one time someone came into my school and said, ‘hey, you should just go to your financial services department and literally just ask them for money, like ask them for a scholarship’. And so, I did and they said, ‘oh, yeah, just write like a paragraph and we’ll see what we can do’. So, I went home, I wrote a one paragraph statement saying why I deserved a scholarship, and they gave me $5,000 every year for the next three years. From one paragraph. That was the easiest $15,000 I’ve ever made.

Scott: There was more out there; if it was that easy to get that scholarship.

Craig: Yeah, exactly. I probably could have done more but I was just really happy with that. So, anyone in college or thinking about going to college or if you have kids about that age, go to your financial services office and just ask them. The worst they’re going to say is no.

Mindy: What is financial services office? Is that at high school?

Craig: No, sorry. It’s at your college.

Mindy: At your college?

Craig: Well, yeah. The college will give you a loan and stuff to help you out. They help you with financing, all that kind of stuff. So, if you don’t know where it is, look it up, but I’m sure each college has one.

Mindy: Okay. So, I’m going to get my aunt on to talk about student scholarships. My youngest cousin is 18, I think, and she just went to college. My aunt had this really amazing description of how she and her daughter applied for all these scholarships in her first year; it’s completely paid for; and the way she says it, it’s so easy. There’s so much money out there. People want to give you money and it goes ungrabbed.

Scott: Yeah. All these people set up these little scholarship trusts and then no one applies for them.

Craig: Which defeats the purpose of setting up your scholarship trust.

Scott: Yeah, exactly.

Mindy: Or one person applies. Well, maybe that person gets it because one person applied.

Craig: That absolutely could have been me.

Scott: What I love about this is from a guy who seems to make very few financial mistakes in your life, your biggest one that you reflect back on is the one that was passive. That you just accepted the student loan debt mostly passively, it sounds like, without kind of thinking through the ramifications of it. That’s what millions and millions of people do when they’re going to college, but that’s like the one thing. That’s what you refer as your biggest mistake. It is just something you did maybe without thinking it through and analysing it the way you have applied that analysis to every other decision. And it’s such a shame that more people don’t do that with college debt.

Craig: Yeah, it’s true. I mean, it was really easy.

Mindy: I’m going to call my aunt and ask her if she’ll come on.

Craig: You should.

Mindy: Okay.

Craig: Red ant or black ant? Sorry.

Scott: Oh, man. Come on, now. You could do better than that. What did the pink panther say when he stepped on it?

Mindy: Dead ant. Dead ant.

All: Dead ant dead ant dead ant dead ant dead ant.

Mindy: Do you even know who the pink panther is?

Craig: Isn’t that like Steve Martin or Chris Martin? What was the guy’s name?

Mindy: Do you remember in the beginning of the show I said, ‘Oh yeah, Craig and Scott are the here. The end is going to suck now.’ What is your best piece of advice for people who are just starting out on their financial independence journey or just starting out in life?

Craig: Find ways to be creative and save as much as you can so you can just get into that first investment property or that first investment period. It’s definitely worth the ‘sacrifice’ right now. You can sacrifice and work really hard for 5 to 7 years so that you can have 40 to 50 years of freedom. I mean get uncomfortable and just say, even do, the things now; like even living behind a curtain, it wasn’t even that bad. Like it sounds bad and we laugh about it now, but a year is a long time and I didn’t really hate it all that much. It was actually pretty fun. So, again, just get uncomfortable and figure out ways that you can save money and get creative.

Scott: You’re sitting on two investment properties and multiple streams of income outside of your job and freedoms that most other people don’t have, and you’re the crazy one?

Craig: Yeah. People think I’m crazy, but that’s okay.

Scott: Cool. Okay, they think you’re crazy. Most people your age, most people our age, are saving less than like $100 a month maybe if they contribute to a 401(k). This is most people with good jobs that are able to fortunately make in that kind of medium to upper middle median income in their twenties. They’re accumulating nothing. In my opinion the definition of crazy is that you don’t fit.

Craig: Yeah. It’s like what they say, right? Live like no one else now so you can live like no one else later, or however that quote goes. Like, that quote hit me hard. Do what everyone else is doing and you’ll have an ordinary life, do things that no one is doing and you’ll have an extraordinary life. So, I hope to have an extraordinary life.

Scott: You will.

Mindy: You’re on a good path. Okay. Before Scott asks this next question, I’m leaving.

Scott: Alright. What is your favourite joke to tell at parties? I’ll retell it to Mindy because she can’t hear us anymore.

Craig: She actually left. What kind of party are we talking? If it’s like a super bowl party or something, we usually make puns out of the names of people. So, we usually start the party off with what comes before part B.

Scott: Part A.

Craig: Part A.

Scott: Oh my god!

Mindy: I can already tell it was terrible. I don’t need to listen. You’re not done?

Craig: Oh, no. This is like a marathon. Why do seagulls fly over the sea?

Scott: I know this one.

Craig: Oh, you do?

Scott: This one I heard from my four-year old cousin. Because if they flew over the bay, they’d be bagels

Craig: Yes exactly. Which would make a lot of people very happy, but I like seeing the seagulls.

Scott: Nice.

Mindy: Oh, my goodness.

Scott: Keep going.

Mindy: No.

Craig: Let’s see, what else?

Scott: If you could.

Mindy: What do you mean? You want to see if you can keep going.

Craig: What’s the difference between roast beef and pea soup?

Scott: I don’t know.

Craig: You can roast beef, but you can’t pea soup.

Scott: Oh, man. Alright. Alright, let’s move on to the last question here. Mindy, do you want to go? She actually laughed at that one, though.

Mindy: I’m not laughing as though I think it’s funny. I’m laughing like, ‘oh my God, I can’t believe’.

Scott: Craig is laughing the hardest.

Mindy: Yeah, I can’t believe I started this and we’re recording this at 10:00 in the morning, so I’ve got the rest of the day to hear this. They’re going to be going nuts with these jokes.

Okay. Where can people find out more about you?

Craig: So, you can find me on BiggerPockets, I’m pretty active. I’m friendly on Facebook or LinkedIn. I do have a twitter; I don’t really use it much. So, I would say Facebook, LinkedIn and BiggerPockets are the three best.

Mindy: Okay. And we will include links to all of his social media links on the show notes at biggerpockets.com/moneyshow35. All right, Craig. Thank you so much for your time today. This was really fun. I love your story. You’re a millennial, right? That is your generation is millennial. I am not, obviously. You’re millennial and millennials are bad with money and they’d never own property, and you live in Denver, so you can’t possibly find a property that cash flows, and you’re like, ‘You know what? I don’t care what you’re saying. I’m just going to go do it anyway’. And I love that you’re so optimistic and look, it worked out.

I like this quote ‘whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right’. If you think you can’t, you’re not going to try. You think you can and look, bam, you did. So, I love your story so much. Thank you for sharing it today on the BiggerPockets Money Podcast.

Craig: Yeah. Thanks for having me, guys. Really appreciate it.

Mindy: We’ll talk to you later.

Craig: See you, guys. Bye.

Scott: Alright, that was Craig Curelop from biggerpockets.com, one of our colleagues. So, what’d you think, Mindy?

Mindy: I love talking to Craig. He’s so funny, well, maybe not funny. He does all those stupid jokes you like. You think it’s so funny.

Scott: I think he’s hilarious.

Mindy: I think he’s so optimistic and he’s such a nice person, and thinking outside the box, he has changed his whole financial trajectory for life. And one of the things that I didn’t say during the actual recording of the show was he said, ‘oh, well if you make sacrifices right out of college, it’s not that big a deal’. How is that a sacrifice? You’re just continuing to live like you lived for the last four years or three years, or however long he was in college for. You’re having a roommate like you just did. It’s not like you used to live in this lap of luxury and now you’re living in a slum with 100 people in 27 rats. You’re just doing what you’ve continued to do.

Sam, from Financial Samurai, also did this. He had a job at Goldman Sachs or something, making ridiculous money; and he lived in a one-bedroom apartment living on the couch or living in the closet or something. Like having a roommate so that he could save up all this money, and he had a very short career and now goes around the world doing nothing.

Scott: Nope. I certainly was able to continue to maintain my college lifestyle in the first year and a half outside of college and had no trouble with that. I had my own bed; my own bedroom.

Mindy: I was going to say you shared a bed?

Scott: I wasn’t sharing that with another human being in a tiny confined space with cement walls, you know? So, everything above that was a huge step up. I didn’t care about sleeping at friend’s couches or whatever, when we would go out on the town or you know, visiting another place. Like it didn’t matter. That was more fun and it was a huge step up in luxury over what I was doing previously. And then it’s just been a small incremental boost ever since. Just much slower than I think what most people go through when they come out of college. But anyways.

Mindy: It’s just such a great story. So, should we get out of here, Scott?

Scott: Let’s get out of here.

Mindy: From episode 35 of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast, where we interview Craig Curelop from biggerpockets.com, this is Mindy Jensen. Over and out.

Watch the Podcast Here

Help Us Out!

Help us reach new listeners on iTunes by leaving us a rating and review! It takes just 30 seconds. Thanks! We really appreciate it!

Podcast Sponsor


One of the easiest ways you can protect your properties—is investing in a great security system. By far, my personal recommendation, is SimpliSafe.

SimpliSafe is awesome. It’s really reliable, with really fast response times, which is huge. It’s really easy to move between properties. And there are no contracts either.

I really like it, and I’m not alone—it’s CNET’s Editors choice, and the Wirecutter calls it “The Best Home Security.”

Go to simplisafe.com/pockets to learn more.

In This Episode We Cover:

  • Craig’s background story
  • How he worked paid internships while studying in college
  • His mindset when it comes to saving money
  • How Craig discovered the concept of financial freedom
  • His approach to money after he achieved financial freedom
  • His living situation in the Bay Area
  • His house hacking experience
  • His financial position when he left California and started working at BiggerPockets
  • What his real estate portfolio looks like
  • Thoughts on paying down his student loan debt
  • How he “car hacks”
  • What side hustles he’s undertaken
  • What the BRRRR strategy is
  • And SO much more!

Links from the Show

Books Mentioned in this Show

Tweetable Topics:

  • “Find ways to be creative.” (Tweet This!)
  • “You can sacrifice and work really hard for 5 to 7 years so that you can have 40 to 50 years of freedom.” (Tweet This!)
  • “Live like no one else now so you can live like no one else later.” (Tweet This!)

Connect with Craig

Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.