n the Spring of 2015, my wife and I owed nearly $300,000 in student loans. By November 2016, we had $262,000 in student loans.
Today, we owe $0.00.
Over the course of a five-year period, we dropped our student loan debt balance from a combined total of $300,000 + to $0.00. As of July 2020, we were free and clear of our student loan debt – an exhilarating feeling.
We will be the first to tell you that paying off student loan debt isn’t always easy, it isn’t always fun, and in some cases, people won’t understand your dogmatic determination. That said, you can achieve student loan debt freedom, and today, we will share some of the steps to help you do so!
Paying Off Student Loan Debt – How We Did It
Sometimes the hardest step in life is the first one.
Insecurities, fear, doubt – you name it – can plague adults from trying new things. But looking at a $300,000 pile of student loan debt was more imitating than mustering up the courage to ask someone out on a date.
But the key to actually getting ahead when it comes to student loan debt (or anything for that matter) is just taking small baby steps. For example, when a one-year-old begins to walk, they take a step, fall, get back up, and try again.
Who said that attacking your personal goals, in this case for us paying off our debt, can’t be treated the same way? Below you will find the steps we took to pay off student loan debt that amounted to six figures.
Note: These are things we did. Take what you can use and leave what you can’t (some may not apply to your situation).
1. Learn To Say No
For us, the first thing we had to learn was how to say no to more things than we said yes to.
- Hey, want to go out this weekend? No.
- Do you want to take that trip with all of our friends? No.
- Want to go out to eat tonight? No.
- Can you make it to the wedding in Hawaii? No.
No, no, no. Learning to say no is not only a huge self-confidence step, but it is vital to pay off student loan debt. As the saying goes, “You can’t do what you have always done and expect different results.”
This means before you ever think about cutting expenses or making more money, you first need to learn to say no to things that cost money. Just like kids are taught to just say no, as adults, we have to say no!
2. Strive To Make Extra Money
Learning to make extra money on the side of our full-time careers was essential to making extra student loan payments each month. So whether you start a side hustle, work extra, pick up a part-time job, or even launch your own company – you will need to make extra money.
In this article, I list my top picks for making an extra $1,000 per month. That said, we have done the following to make extra money:
- Landscaping & Handyman Work
- Started a Blog
- Created a Digital Marketing Company
- Brand Influence & Affiliate Marketing
- Worked Overtime
- Sold Items Online
3. Pay More Than the Minimum
You want to make extra money so you can make extra payments towards your student loans each month. Out of all the steps to paying off your student loans, this might be the best tip.
To pay off your student loans faster, you will have to apply extra payments with some strategy (#4). Here is why:
- Let’s say you owe $50,000 in student loans and your minimum payment is $400
- Simply paying an extra $100 each month (25%) will accelerate your loan repayment by nearly two full years.
- This will also save you a ton of money in interest charges and help with saving money long term
- Paying extra will help you improve your debt to income ratio too!
Any extra amount you can use to pay off student loans is a plus! Just be sure to do it strategically and avoid spraying your money.
4. Use the Debt Snowball or Debt Avalanche
Perhaps you are the person who pays a little extra towards your car, some to the credit card, and a few more dollars go to your student loans. If that is you, pay attention!
When you don’t concentrate on your extra payments, you will inevitably pay more in the long run. That is why you must pick either the Debt Avalanche or the Debt Snowball as a technique to pay off your student loan debt.
5. Find Some Solid Financial Advice
After learning to say no, which took months to develop and can still be a daily struggle, the next step in dealing with our student loans was seeking out sound financial advice.
Most of the people in our lives fall into two categories:
- Older, and never had student loans
- Younger and weren’t in any hurry to pay off student loans.
So when we realized that not only was $300,000 worth of student loans extremely abnormal, we knew we would need some not-so-conventional financial advice.
We needed to talk to an expert.
One door a friend opened led to one of those friends of friend type scenarios. Before we knew it, we learned about an interesting approach to paying off student loan debt (That I cover under the “Open Minded” section later in this article).
The point is – we got excellent advice from a reputable person! However, before applying some newly acquired financial advice, we did what everyone could do.
6. Cut Your Spending Habits Back
Whether you use the debt snowball or the debt avalanche, the real key is freeing up cash flow to make the snowstorm you decide to use bigger and better!
Sure, cutting out things like…
- Eating out
- Reducing insurance plans with apps
- Gym memberships
- Extensive shopping sprees
All add up. Many fail to recognize that there becomes a point where cutting back on variable spending can only do so much.
And what is commonly not talked about when it comes to reducing spending is the big-ticket items: Cars and Houses.
7. Reduce Housing Costs
When most of our friends were moving into their dream homes, we lived in a townhome that I was fortunate enough to purchase in 2010 at an amazing price.
During the holidays, when people asked, “Do you still have a roommate at age 31?” the answer was still yes – even as a married couple.
In other words, we made sure we didn’t spend all of our money on keeping a roof over our heads. But what does this mean for you?
Make sure you keep your housing costs as low as possible when you’re paying off student loan debt! Here is how:
- Make sure your living costs don’t exceed 25% of your earnings each month
- Rent a room from someone, live at home, do what you got to do, but whatever you decide to do, don’t get an apartment and overpay!
- Hold off on buying your dream home for a few years.
- Rent a room out if possible, use the money to pay off student loans
- Downsize your current living situation
8. Check Your Transportation Costs
In 2014 I drove a $40,000 GMC Sierra. Today, my wife and I both have paid off Kias that have 95,000 and 117,000 miles, respectively.
With our combined incomes and credit scores, we could easily afford two luxury automobiles and the insurance that comes with them. But what some people fail to recognize when it comes to transportation is all the little things that add up.
Transportation things that add up like…
- Car payment
- Personal property taxes (Depends on location)
When we went from having over $1,000 in combined automobile expenses down to $350… we now had $700 to use towards our student loans!
Needless to say, be sure your cash flow isn’t getting eaten up by your car payments! As a general rule of thumb, make sure your car payment is less than 10% of your net income each month!
If you’re driving in style, you need to downsize and pay off those pesky student loans first. Then, there will always be another car to get down the road!
9. Check Your Lifestyle
First, you have the mindset behind taking action and saying no to countless opportunities to spend money. Next, you cut out some silly spending, and you streamline your finances to attack your debt.
At this point, you’re probably wondering if that is all that is needed to become debt-free? And the answer is more than likely NO!
What most people struggle with is adjusting their lifestyle. For example, cutting out spending is hard if you keep trying to do everything you have always done. Likewise, staying focused is challenging when you don’t feel like you’re putting a dent in your student loan debt.
Just how refinancing student loans is not always the same for every person, the same can be said for adjusting lifestyle choices. To pay off the student loans, we had to come to grips with two huge areas in our life: Social Life & Our Wedding!
10. Address Your Social Life
Contrary to what many think, you can spend your free time having fun without spending loads of money. However, this is something that many millennials struggle with.
I recently was at a wedding, and between eating out, drinking, our Airbnb and Uber rides, we easily broke the $600 mark. And while this was a wedding I wouldn’t miss for the world, there have been other similar scenarios we have had to say no to.
Because we could easily spend $200-$400 per weekend living and enjoying life, however, we had to really make adjustments to our social life. Truth be told, most millennials are STILL in debt because of their social life!
Just like how we didn’t get into $300,000 worth of student loans overnight, we weren’t going to pay them off overnight! However, we recognized it would be impossible if we didn’t focus for at least 3-4 years!
The biggest thing we recommend when people ask how we could pay off so much student loan debt is this: Do the opposite of everyone else!
And doing the opposite also means cutting back on your wedding!
11. Refinance Student Loans When It Makes Sense
If you read some financial articles, they will tell you that paying off student loan debt can be done by refinancing. Refinancing reduces your payment, but it doesn’t pay your loans off.
In fact, sometimes consolidating student loans, which is the result of refinancing your student loans, can actually be more detrimental. In some cases, it does make sense to refinance, but you want to make sure you know the pros and cons.
Start with answering these refinance questions before ever doing so.
12. Watch Your Wedding Expenses
If you’re already married, then just disregard this section. However, if you’re single, dating or engaged, here is what I can tell you:
WEDDINGS ARE FREAKING EXPENSIVE!
And truthfully, an expensive and over-the-top wedding can set you back for years to come if you’re on your own paying for it!
Just like how we had to learn to say no and adjust our social life to pay off $180,000 in student loan debt in three years, we had to be mindful of our wedding costs.
This meant doing things like…
- Smaller guest list
- Not as fancy of a wedding
- Only serving beer & wine
- Cutting costs on flowers and gifts
- Use these wedding saving ideas
This is really, really hard for some people, especially if you’re playing the keep up on social media game! However, paying for a wedding in cash ended up being a huge blessing in disguise not only because we saved a ton, but because of this:
We didn’t care if everything was perfect at our wedding, we just had an amazing time with our friends and family!
This leads to the last and final point when it comes to paying off student loans.
13. Be Open-Minded
You can’t afford always to say yes (literally and figuratively), but contrary to what I said earlier about learning to say no, you can’t be closed-minded.
When we were told about an opportunity that could save us literally thousands in interest by leveraging the equity in our home, we were not all in, but we were not close-minded either!
The minute you start taking those small baby steps, you begin to learn new ideas and perspectives. And with a $300,000 student loan problem a the cusp of our engagement, we were all ears!
I alluded to it earlier, but we had to do things differently and be OK with it.
This meant we also neglected really dumping money into our retirement. While a dollar in the market doubles every ten years, we knew that if we could down our debt, we would be happier and enjoy life earlier instead of waiting until 65.
While this wasn’t always easy, we just kept repeating this to ourselves:
If we can pay off $300,000 worth of student loan debt in four years, why couldn’t we invest $300,000 the next four years after?
And wouldn’t you know, we are on pace to be student loan debt-free by the end of 2020, just under five years of getting serious about our debt!
My Final Words on Student Loans:
While there is plenty of political hype surrounding student loans, from forgiving them to blaming the reason their so high, we learned two huge lessons on our journey of becoming debt-free:
- You can only control what you can control
- Everything has a positive lesson in the end.
Could we be mad at the system and hope for forgiveness? Sure. But when we realized we could only control what we could control, life got simpler, and our pursuit got easier.
And I certainly would rather tell you that over the last three years, we have saved $180,000, but learning to pay off our student loans instead has actually made us better people.
Chances are, without student loan debt, we wouldn’t have made all the personal strides to and achieve more. Something we are both grateful for!
As I close, I realize that most good things that happen in life are earned! So, keeping that in mind, make sure that you set yourself on a path of crushing goals and staying focused!