When I talk with friends, it seems like it’s always a matter of “how much student loan debt do you have?” rather than “do you have any student loan debt?”. If you went to college, unless you had a full ride or very generous parents, chances are you are still paying off your loans.
Believe me I know that it’s extremely tough to graduate college, find a job, and then be stuck in this dark hole of debt making an obnoxious monthly payment. And depending on what part of the country you’re living in, this payment can be even more excruciating if your cost of living is high.
When it seems like you’ll be stuck with this debt for the rest of your life, I’m here to offer some hope. With a little bit of sacrifice, the 9 steps below will help you eliminate your student loans and reach financial freedom.
Follow one, or follow ’em all, it’s up to you…but just keep in mind, the more you sacrifice now, the faster you can pay off your loans!
- Live below your means. Don’t feel pressured to buy an expensive car or clothes, or rent an overpriced apartment, even if that’s what your friends are doing. Make sure you’re still living in a safe area, but look for reasonably priced housing, or consider taking on one or two like-minded roommates.
- Setup your monthly and annual budget using my FREE Personal Budget template.
- Reduce your monthly expenses:
- Work out at home instead of paying for a gym membership.
- Cut back on your monthly entertainment. Instead of paying for every subscription streaming service (Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, HBO, etc.), choose your top 1 or 2. For the extremely strong willed, cut these out completely!
- Buy luxuries in moderation, or avoid them completely. These include things that you don’t need in your daily life, like alcohol, Starbucks, and take out restaurants. Remember – this is only temporary…you can survive!
- Buy your pantry staples in bulk and meal prep. Stay away from buying perishable items that you won’t be able to finish before before the expiration date. Instead buy items that will last in large quantities, such as frozen chicken breasts, steel cut oats, frozen or canned vegetables, beans, and pasta, and buy perishable items in smaller quantities. Use up all of your fresh items to meal prep each week so you can take your lunch to work and avoid eating out every day.
- Consider carpooling or using public transportation. If you have a vehicle that’s paid off, drive it as long as you can. If you need to get a new car then buy a low cost and low maintenance new one (Toyota, Mazda, etc.), so you save yourself the added breakdown expenses over your 5 year term. Depending on where you live, a car may not even be necessary. If you work in the city, consider walking, biking, carpooling, or taking public transportation to work.
- Set up autopay for your student loans. After you establish your monthly budget, start by paying the most you can each month. Many student loan programs give you an interest rate discount for setting up autopay and then give you principal discounts once you hit certain payment milestones. The only way you can pay down your student loans faster is to pay double, triple and quadruple the minimum balance each month. There’s no magic formula or recipe. It’s simply digging deep and finding a way to pay more each month.
- Have fun! Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. Host game nights at your apartment, get involved with your local church, or explore free local art exhibits, nature walks/trails, and seasonal festivals. Sitting back and thinking about what you could be doing with your money instead of paying off your loans isn’t healthy and will cause you to fall from your plan. Try to stay positive!
- Find support groups online. Find other people who are going through the same struggle, and certainly use the Adult Struggle network for support. Open up and share your struggles, learn other best practices, and make new friends in the process.
- Find other ways to generate income. Go to garage sales and buy items you know you can resell online at a higher price. It’s a perfect side hustle for someone on an extreme budget because it can act as both a fun weekend hobby and earn you extra cash. Additionally, if you have nice relatives that give you money for graduation, birthday, or Christmas, use that money to pay down your student loan principal balance. I’ve also had quite a bit of success by selling my own gently used clothing items on the resell app Poshmark.
- Negotiate big ticket purchases and monthly rates. Negotiate everything you can from the price of your car and apartment to your monthly cell phone and internet bills. Also, if you end up following tip #7, be sure you’re negotiating prices at garage sales!
- Work on self development. This is a critical step most student loan blogs are missing. Just because you’re financially strapped now, doesn’t mean you should limit your potential for self development. Use this time to learn and practice meditation, study a new skill set online through Udemy, or read books on something you’re interested in. In 5 years you will not only be financially free from the burden of your student loans, but you will also be more intelligent because you took the time to develop yourself instead of letting your student loans hold you back.
Paying off your student loans is a fight, but one that I’m fighting with you! Just focus on following these steps and if you have any questions, reach out to me. Best of luck, and please comment below if you have any other best practices that have worked for you!
*Depending on what line of work you’re in (typically social/humanities) there are various government student loan forgiveness programs out there. Please look deeper into this if you feel you may qualify as this would significantly help you pay down your loans.