Katelyn is 26 years old and has learned to hate debt (go Katelyn!). And, she’s learning to conquer with the best of them. I hope you enjoy her story as much as I did.
Student loan debt is the worst. There are so many things I would have done differently if I had known what $44,000 in student loan debt does to one financially, mentally, and physically.
I have two degrees – a BA in biochemistry and a MPH in public health. Both degrees cost me just over $22,000 in loans for a total of $44,103 in student loan debt. Add in the thousands of dollars of interest and I’m looking at over $50,000. Oh the things I could do with that kind of money!
I began by just paying the minimum on my undergraduate loans. Hey, that’s not so bad! My loans went into deferment while I was in grad school, which was awesome (for the moment anyway). It wasn’t until my graduate student loans came out of their grace period that I was faced with over $500 a month in payments. Talk about a swift kick to the chest that woke me up!
Between paying for expensive repairs for a slowly dying car, feeding myself, and paying my student loans, I could barely make ends meet. I became extremely stressed out to the point I was making myself sick. It wasn’t until I got a new job with a higher salary that I finally got my act together.
I wanted to pay off my student loan debt as soon as possible.
The Methods I Used to Pay Off My Student Loan Debt
As I write this today, I currently have $18,178.86 in student loan debt. Within the past 18 months I was able to pay off close to 60% of that initial $44,000. It wasn’t always easy, but I made it my priority. Here’s how I did it.
I lived for 26 years without a budget. Now I can’t even function without one. Creating my first budget was my major key to success. I opened a free account with Mint.com and tracked all my expenses. I was able to see where I was spending unnecessary money and areas I could cut back on. Like….Starbucks. I also dumped my $100 a month cellphone bill for a $30 a month plan. I started to find extra money that went directly to my student loans.
Lesson: Creating a budget and tracking your spending is a true wake up call. Don’t be surprised to see you’re wasting a ton of money each month. Personal Capital is a great tool to track your spending and create a monthly budget.
2) I Started an Emergency Fund
I was living paycheck to paycheck. Most Americans do. It is extremely stressful. I spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out how I was going to afford my latest car repairs and feed myself. I started putting about $50 a month into a separate emergency fund at an online bank. I used an online bank because it made spending that money much more difficult. Within 6 months I was able to increase that to $100 a month. Recently I had to use my emergency fund for a root canal and crown. My dental bills cost me over $2000 out-of-pocket. Ouch! I thank my lucky stars that I had an emergency fund.
Lesson: Everyone needs an emergency fund. Start small with $1,000. From there you can build it up to at least 6 months of your living expenses.
While I cut back on a lot of my expenses, I could only realistically cut down on so much. A girl has got to eat! In addition to the spending cuts, I looked for ways to boost my income. I was an active triathlete so it was only natural that I started teaching spin and fitness classes at several local gyms. That added anywhere between $300-$600 additional dollars to my monthly income. Then I started writing and blogging. My writing business was slow to grow, but now I make anywhere between $500-$1500 a month through freelance writing.
Lesson: Start side hustling. Find something you are passionate about and turn it into a business. You can do anything from dog walking to gardening to computer programming. The sky is the limit!
4) I Use the Snowball Method to Pay Off My Loans
You can pay off your loans any way you want. I chose the snowball method. While some people will argue that you should pay off the loan with the highest interest rate, I wanted instant gratification. Paying off my smallest loans gave me the momentum to keep going. Each month I would pay an extra $150 to one loan until it was paid off. Then I would move onto another loan. Within a few months I had my first two SallieMae loans paid off!
Lesson: Pick a debt repayment method and start paying extra. It could be as little as $5 a month, but it’s something.
Did I need that juicer? How about that triathlon bike that was collecting dust? Nope. While I was making great progress with the snowball method, I wanted to speed up the process. I’m not a patient person. I started selling things I didn’t need. It just so happened that I was also planning on moving to Australia in a few months so I looking to downsize. I sold everything from my triathlon equipment to snowshoes to clothing. I made close to $7,000. About half of that went towards student loans while the other half went right into my travel account.
Lesson: Sell things you don’t need. Chances are you have a closet full of clothes you don’t wear and a basement full of stuff. Sort through your items and start listing them on Craigslist, eBay, or hit the consignment stores. You’ll be surprised how much money you can make.
6) I Tracked My Progress
Paying off student loan debt is not easy. There were times when I would have rather gone on a shopping spree or spend the night out on the town with my friends. To keep me motivated I kept track of my student loan debt progress in Excel. I kept detailed charts and graphs of all my student loans. I loved watching the balance go down every month.
Lesson: Track your progress somehow. I prefer an Excel spreadsheet. Maybe you want to keep a graph on your fridge? Online tools like ReadyforZero can also help you track your progress.
7) I Started Blogging and Talking with My Friends About It
Some people need accountability. I’m one of them. When I say I’m going to do something to someone else, then I’m also sure to follow through. So, I made my student loan debt story public through my blog. I openly started to talk to my friends about my debt. It kept me honest and focused on the end goal – to be debt free. My friends cheered me on when I paid off loans and they motivated me to continue my progress. Making your debt goals public is a great way to stick to your goal and keep you motivated even when you’d rather spend your money elsewhere.
Lesson: Tell someone. It could be your spouse or your mom. Or just tell the whole Internet! Making your goals public will help keep you accountable in the long run.
Paying off your student loans aren’t going to happen overnight, unless you just so happened to win the Powerball. It’s going to take time and hard work. By cutting down your expenses, staying positive, and paying extra on your loans each month, you can pay down your debt in less time than your friends who are out spending their money on fancy cars and expensive cocktails. It’s working for me so it can work for you!
My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.