Any time you talk about money you run the risk of offending people, having your financial situation compared to someone else’s, blah blah blah. 🙂 So, with that being said, let’s get a few disclaimers out there.
- I realize that having about $30,000 in student loans is minuscule compared to what others may have. I also realize that it’s a lot more than others had to worry about, too. But whether you have $10k, $50k, or $100k, student loans are a pesky little thing that will stick around forever if you don’t make it a priority.
- I’m very grateful to have had partial academic and partial athletic scholarships throughout college. And even though I transferred after 2 years (and lost the athletic scholarship), I am very grateful to have had a partial academic scholarship at the school I transferred to.
- My parents, both self-employed and successful business owners, probably could have paid my way through college and beyond. But I’m glad they didn’t. Why? Because this experience taught me to prioritize debt and learn how to manage my money, much more than any college class could have.
I’m thankful for my parents who taught me the importance of paying off debt and creating an emergency fund in order to be successful and have financial freedom. I was taught to live within my means, budget effectively, pay far more than the minimum payment (while still enjoying life), and never worry about “keeping up with the Jones'”.
How’d I do it? It’s simple, really.
- Pay as much as you physically can each month. You have 6 months of “peace” after graduation before you’re required to start paying your student loans. If you have a job lined up right away after graduating, that’s great! You can start making your payments early. But if not, that’s okay, too. I walked with my graduating class in May of 2015, finished my summer classes in July of 2015, and started making payments on my student loans in November of 2015, when I officially started my first “big girl” job. The minimum payment I “had” to pay each month was around $92 if I remember correctly. SO many people just pay the minimum payment instead of really dialing in on their budget and paying as much as they physically can instead. If you only pay the minimum each month, you will pay WAY more in interest, and it will likely take you over 5 TIMES as long to pay them off. Do some strict budgeting and allocate as much as you can!
- Set up automatic withdrawals and never skip a payment. In other words, just make your student loans a priority. When your payment automatically comes out of your account, you don’t really have the option to skip a month or pay less on a given month.
- Finish college in 4 years! The longer you draw out your college experience, the more money you’ll rack up in student loans! Finishing in 4 years was very important to me (and my parents). And even though I transferred schools half-way through, and changed my major, I still made it a priority to make up for that time with summer classes and a full schedule each semester. Graduating in 4 years paid off in more ways than one!
- Work side-gigs! Even while I was a student, I worked – even 3 jobs at one time (I don’t recommend that :)). After college and during my first 3 years as a professional, I was making a good living, but I still worked some jobs on the side! I was extremely intentional about using my “side-gig money” for my student loans. While my side-gig money didn’t ALWAYS go directly toward my student loans, it certainly helped me get ahead in my overall budget.
- Limit the daily and monthly expenses that add up all too quickly. If you consistently go through Starbucks, go out for lunch/dinner instead of cooking your own, and have a habit of paying for monthly subscriptions that you don’t “need”, your budget can be severely depleted even though those expenses seem small at the time. I packed my lunch for work almost every day, and I’d say that I only ate out an average of 3 times per month, if that.
- Use “extra” money, such as gift money, tax returns, and bonuses to pay down your debt! While it was tempting to use my tax returns and bonus on “fun” things, I knew that paying down my debt would pay off much more in the long run.
- Be frugal, but not so frugal that you lose your mind. 🙂 I think it’s so important to be strict with your budget but also to still enjoy life. Within these 3 years of paying as much as I could on my student loans, I still “splurged” on things that were important to me. I love clothes, traveling, nutrition, and investing in my business. So, those were a few extra things that I still spent money on even when prioritizing my student loans. I still bought occasional new outfits for work (within reason), went on a few amazing trips with friends, and paid for gym memberships and things that helped me live a healthy lifestyle in general. Were those things essential to my life? Not necessarily, but they were a few “extra” things that I treated myself to throughout the 3 years and still allowed me to prioritize debt.
For the first YEAR of paying off my student loans, I was paying ALL toward the interest. That just made me sick that I didn’t really “get ahead” during the first year. But, it just motivated me that much more! Some of my final payments were extremely painful — paying anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000 per month. But what motivated me to pull some money from savings, pull money from side-gigs, and budget even more in the last few months was THE THOUGHT OF HAVING THEM PAID OFF. I frequently imagined what it would be like to no longer have this massive payment that was stealing my hard-earned money each month. 🙂
I know 40-year-olds who are still paying off their student loans. I know people who counted on their spouse to pay off their student loans. I have NO JUDGEMENT if you’re one of those people, but I never wanted that to be part of my story. I was so passionate and disciplined about paying them off on my own, because I knew it would be much more rewarding for me in the long run, and it would be a great learning experience that would help me from years to come.
Even though I’m very proud that I paid off $30,000 in under 3 years, I definitely could have paid them off even sooner. I could have been even more frugal with my budgeting decisions, but as I mentioned above, I still made a point to enjoy my life and spend money on things that I was passionate about!
I’m very thankful for my education and college experience, but I’m even more thankful for what this financial experience has been like for me!
Debt is gross. I wanted it GONE and out of my life. I worked my butt off to make that happen.
I hope my experience helps you or inspires you in some way!