Have you ever felt like the weight of your student loan debt (or any other debt for that matter) was going to completely crush you? I have. I remember clearly sitting in the reserve section of the law library during my final semester of law school, opening up the website to view my student loan debt and feeling the weight of that student loan debt on my shoulders. I had no idea what repayment plan to choose. I didn’t have a job. I had a new baby. I didn’t know where to turn, who to talk with, or where to even start figuring out how to pay off my student loans. Have you ever lost sleep over something you felt you couldn’t quite control? That night was one of the only nights in my life where I didn’t sleep a wink. I just tossed and turned and worried about how I was going to pay off my student loan debt.
After speaking with several financial advisers, the financial aid department at my law school, friends, other students, and anyone else on earth that would listen to my questions, I resolved that I was going to pay off my student loans on my own, as aggressively as possible. I didn’t know how I was going to accomplish this task, but I knew I was going to do it.
I paid off $48,000 of student loan debt in 18 months by first committing to paying off my student loans. I read everything I could about personal finance and paying off debt quickly. I prioritized paying off my student loans above all other financial goals. I did things to earn extra money and lived on a tight budget. Would you be surprised if I told you that I actually gave money away during this time? And lastly, I did things to help me stay motivated.
So, here is exactly how I paid off my student loans in only 18 months. I had more than $48,000 of student loan debt that I once thought would drown me forever– I still can’t believe it is gone! Oh, and surprise! I paid off my student loans without earning a six figure salary and while my husband was still in school. So without further ado, here is how I paid off my student loans in 18 months, and more importantly, how YOU can pay off your student loans too:
Make the commitment.
The first and most important thing that I did to pay off my student loans, was that I committed to paying off my student loans as quickly as possible. And I know what you are thinking. Commitment can be scary. That is why so few of us millennials are getting married these days. But you can do this. Once my student loans went into repayment, I made the commitment that no matter what, I was going to pay them off myself. I knew I had a lot of options, including student loan forgiveness using the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. I was a little on the fence at first, but given that I didn’t have an enormous amount of student loan debt (unlike my husband’s +$600k!) plus the fact that I didn’t want to be pigeon holed into public service for 10 years (which is required for public service loan forgiveness), I ultimately committed to paying off the debt on my own, without student loan forgiveness. It was important to choose one path and stick to it. Once I made the decision, there was no more sitting on the fence because every dollar that I put into paying off my loans would have been wasted if in the end I went with the forgiveness route. In short, I went all in and never looked back.
Since I didn’t know much about paying off student loans (or other debt) I read everything I could about debt repayment strategies to make sure I was choosing the plan that was right for me. I can’t overstate the importance of educating yourself on your available options for dept repayment. That lead me to reading everything I could about personal finance and how to make and keep money. It prompted me to start this website, where I do my best to simplify student loan debt repayment and help you get out of debt by living on a budget, increasing your income, or simply choosing the right student loan debt repayment plan for you. (Check out our student loans simplified series where we explain each repayment plan so you can make the best choice for you.)
Prioritize paying off student loans above all else.
I prioritized paying off my student loans above all spending or other financial goals. And when I say I, what I really mean is we (me and husband Danny). We made (and continue to make) paying off student loan debt a priority. It had to be a family affair. If you share money with someone, you can’t pay off debt unless everyone involved is on board, and willing to prioritize the debt above all else. We prioritized paying off student loans by not only making the minimum payment each month
I sold anything and everything that my family no longer needed to help pay off our student loans. I went through our home and gathered every single thing that we no longer used. Fortunately for us, that included a lot of weird dental equipment from Danny’s dental school. That weird equipment was really expensive, and we sold a good chunk of it on Amazon. We also sold some big ticket items locally, like an old DSLR camera. We sold smaller stuff too, like phone covers and books and in the end, we pocketed THOUSANDS of dollars that we were able to put towards student loans. (Learn everything you need to know about selling things on Amazon here). When I initially had the idea to sell some things around our house, I really just intended to declutter and hopefully make a couple hundred bucks. I had no idea that we had thousands of dollars just sitting around wasting space in our apartment. So, you might surprise yourself. Go through your home and gather up things that you no longer use or need and start selling!
After I was committed to paying off my student loans, I refinanced my student loans. My interest rates weren’t crazy high to begin with, but having them lower obviously aided in the process of paying off debt as quickly as possible. Refinancing your student loans means that you basically sell your federal loans to a private lender, who then lumps all of your loans together and generally provides you with a lower interest rate than what you are paying. It’s super easy and fast to check whether or not its worth it to refinance (and does not impact your credit score). If you have interest rates above 5%, depending on the balance of your loan(s), it is probably worth it for you to refinance your student loans. For my husband’s +$600k of student loans, refinancing literally saves us a couple HUNDRED THOUSAND dollars. So it is definitely something that is worth looking into if you haven’t yet.
Get a good job.
Getting a job is kind of the first obvious step to paying off your student loans. I didn’t worry about my student loans for one second while I was in school. But all of the sudden, the weight of my student loans hit me hard right before I was about to graduate without a job and with a new baby in my arms. From that moment forward, I searched high and low for the perfect job. Most of the areas I was interested in were not big money makers. On top of that, I had a new baby that I was interested in seeing. I also, however, wanted to practice law. In the end, I took a job that was PERFECT for me. It was not a huge money maker, but it was a public interest job that I LOVED, paid enough, and afforded me time to be with my baby and to work on some of my side hustles. Once my baby was a little older and I had a little more law experience, I took a better paying job. Ideally, you should choose a job that you enjoy AND that pays you well. I can testify that they do exist! But this will take a lot of time and effort on your part hustling around to not only find that job, but then to get it. Trust me, it is worth the effort.
Find a good side hustle.
In addition to getting a job, you will likely need some sort of side hustle to help increase your income so you can make even more payments on your student loans. For example, I started this blog. I took photographs for people. I used free cash back apps for all of my grocery shopping. I painted houses, babysat, mowed lawns, and took online surveys. I reviewed, negotiated, and drafted contracts for people. (and still do!) There were few things that I wasn’t willing to do for a little extra cash. And in the end, it paid off big time. It would have taken me MUCH longer to pay off my debt if I only had my day job. Start by finding something that you either enjoy or you are good at. Do you like driving and talking to people? Consider being an Uber driver. Do you like riding your bike? Consider offering delivery services being a Postmate. Do you have a unique talent? Blog about it. Get creative.
Create and stick to a budget.
Creating and sticking to a budget is KEY to paying off your student loans. It does not have to be a needlessly complicated budget. Just a simple budget that tracks your income and spending so that you know how much extra money can go towards paying off your student loans each month. We budgeted every penny that we earned. I started being more careful with grocery spending and other areas of our budget that were somewhat easy to control. We sat (and still sit) together every Sunday night and plan out how much money is going to go where for the coming week and month(s). If you don’t have a budget, you can learn how to create an easy budget here.
Give money away.
I know it seems counter intuitive, but I paid 10% of my income as tithing to my church while I was paying off my student loans. I truly believe that if you are willing to give money to a good cause, it has a way of coming back to you. Kind of like karma. It just seemed like the more willing I was willing to help other people, the easier money came back to me. Hoaxy, maybe, but it worked for me. It is never going to get easier to give money away. In fact, in my personal experience, I’ve found that the more money I have, the harder it is to give some of it away. So get in the habit now of being the kind of person that gives. Even if it is selfishly motivated– because that money will find its way back to you and then some. You won’t magically become a giving person the day that you pay off your student loans. You have to practice being a giving person and the best time to start is now. You don’t have to give 10% to a church– you can give whatever you can afford to whatever cause is near and dear to you. My man Brian Tracy says “being a more generous person will help you attract more wealth and become a happier person.” So find some ways to be generous! It can range from giving money away to devoting some of your time to a good cause.
Do things to stay motivated.
Probably the hardest part about paying off student loans is staying motivated. It can be a long and grueling process. Even though we paid off my debt quickly (in 18 months!) we still have well over $500,000 of student loan debt from Danny’s dental school and master’s degree. Some days it can just flat out get you down, but staying motivated is key to paying it off. But how do you stay motivated? A few things we did– we checked the balance of our loans frequently. We had weekly money meetings to chat about our debt and budget. We reminded ourselves about interest and how each day, interest is accruing and accruing. We also set goals for things that we will do after our debt is paid off. We even budgeted for splurges while we were still paying off student loans, such as taking a beach vacation on a tight budget. This helped us bond as a family, blow off some steam, but all while not allowing our spending to go out of control on vacation.
So, there you have it. If you want to pay off your student loans, simply commit to it, educate yourself, make it a priority, increase your income, live on a budget, be generous with your time and or money, and do things to keep yourself motivated. If this list seems overwhelming to you, simply start at the top and work your way down over time. So, you would start by simply committing to paying off your student loans. Once you make that commitment and allow it to burn deep inside of you, everything else will fall into place. You will find a job, and a side hustle (or two or three or four) to help get you there. If you have that commitment, it will enable you to live off a budget so that you can keep track of where your money is going and how long it will take you to pay off your student loans. If you are committed to paying off your student loans, you’ll be able to learn more about your student loans and be able to prioritize paying off your student loans above all else. Do you want to pay off your student loans? Simply commit right now to paying them off. Allow that commitment to fester deep inside you, and don’t let anything stand in the way of reaching your goal. The chances are really high that if you were smart enough to get into school and get into student loan debt, you are smart enough to get yourself out of it. You got this!
Have you paid off debt? What strategies did you use? We’d love to hear from you.