Remarkable student lived two years in van to avoid debt and loans

Attention elected officials: A fiscally responsible, hard working, young man has shared his remarkable story of the determination and discipline it took to pay off his loans and graduate college debt-free.

Ken Ilgunas is the man who secretly lived in a van for two long years on the campus of Duke University so he could earn his master’s degree without taking out another student loan.

And his new memoir, “Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom,” should be required reading for every student, not to mention every elected official and candidate for office.

Ilgunas graduated the University of Buffalo in 2005 with two of “the least marketable fields of study possible – English and History,” he told Business Insider.

Rejected from 25 paid internships, facing $32,000 in student loans, an $8 an hour job at Home Depot, and adamantly refusing to turn to his parents for a handout, Ilgunas said he was “getting kind of frantic.”

“[Ilgunas] moved to Alaska and spent two years paying back every dime,” Business Insider reported. “And when he enrolled at Duke University for graduate school later, he lived out of his van to be sure he wouldn’t have to take out loans again.”

This extraordinary young man, who said he was inspired by the frugality of philosopher Henry David Thoreau, wrote a bit about his experience for the Huffington Post where he shared what life was like secretly living out of his van on a college campus:

Once upon a time, I lived in a van for two years at Duke University. When I enrolled in grad school I was broke and desperate, possessing little more than a suitcase full of clothes and a backpack full of camping gear. But I was determined to get my degree debt-free. So, without any better idea, I bought a 1994 Ford Econoline for $1,500 and secretly lived inside it in a campus parking lot.

“Vandwelling,” you might expect, had more than its share of drawbacks. Mice would move into my ceiling upholstery, washing pots and pans became so inconvenient I stopped washing them altogether, and the bathroom was a quarter-mile sprint from my parking space.

But people adapt, mice are flattened with frying pans, and bladders grow firm and strong. In the end, living in a van would prove to be a life-altering education — in personal finance, in the resiliency of the human body, and in how we can turn our wildest, weirdest dreams into realities — an education arguably more valuable than that which I’d receive in the classroom.


Ken Ilgunas Facebook
Photo Credit: Daily Mail
The man with the van Photo Credit: Huffington Post
The man with the van
Photo Credit: Huffington Post
Ken Ilgunas
Photo Credit: Daily Mail
Ken Ilgunas
Photo Credit: Daily Mail


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