I graduated law school with massive student loan debt (long-time readers know this!). It’s the reason why I started blogging and ultimately why I ended up falling in love with personal finance and leaving my career as an attorney to become a financial planner.
The thing about massive student loan debt is that it takes a long time to get out of. And while everyone is interested in how you pay off all of your student loan debt, I want to share with you how I’ve paid off A LOT of my student loans so far.
My Student Loan Debt in Numbers
I started with $206,000 in student loan debt – a combination of private and Federal loans, with interest rates ranging from 4%-8.5% (most of them in the 7.5% range, unfortunately). My student loans were from my private undergrad education at Wittenberg University, one year of law school at The University of Dayton, and two years of law school at The Ohio State University Moritz College, where I graduated.
Over the last few years (4 to be exact), I paid off roughly $87,000 in student loan debt (I say roughly because of interest – my debt is constantly climbing throughout the month until the next month’s payment). I’ve actually paid a lot more than $87,000 toward my debt, but because my interest rates are so high, the actual total amount that it’s decreased is $87,000. My debt now stands just under $120k. It’s still a lot of debt that I have left to repay, but I’ve also repaid so much already. I want to share with you how I did it, and how I plan to repay the rest on a much smaller income than when I was practicing as an attorney. While I was practicing as an attorney, I made bigger payments on my student loans and didn’t adjust my lifestyle that much. Since those days are over, here’s what I’m doing now to get out of debt.
7 Strategies I Used to Repay $87,000 of Student Loan Debt
1. I live in an apartment that looks like a prison on the outside
I live in a one-bedroom apartment that looks very unappealing from the outside. It’s a building with four units that’s very old, and there’s a bucket for cigarette butts at the bottom of the steps. It’s a big, yellow, cement block. Sometimes my ceiling leaks. Not ideal. But, this keeps my rent cheap and expenses low. It frees up more money for me to put toward my student loans every month. I live where I do temporarily so I can pay off my loans faster.
2. I don’t use credit cards – at all
I’m a natural spender, so to remove any temptation, I don’t use credit cards. I’ve actually never had a credit card. I still have good credit because of my student loan debt, but really I’m paying cash. I know I miss out on rewards and points, but for me, it’s not worth the temptation. I like to spend it if I can, so I’d rather not have that option. By not having a credit card, I never go over budget – I literally can’t. This helps me pay off my student loans as planned.
3. I skip out on traveling
Traveling is bigger than ever for millennials right now – our generation is obsessed with it. And rightfully so. Traveling gives you unique experiences about life that you can’t otherwise get. I love to travel, despite appearances. I actually choose to travel very sparingly to save money and put more money toward my student loans. I will take one trip a year, maybe two. Typically the flight is a birthday or Christmas gift and I don’t think I’ve paid for a hotel as far as I can remember because I always stay with other people. So, when I do travel it’s a gifted flight and spending money for when I’m there. Cutting out travel is hard because everyone around me is always traveling and it’s easy to fall into the comparison trap. But when I focus on my goals and the reasons why I’m doing it this way, I remember I’m making the right choice for me.
4. I earmark windfalls for student loans
I have a rule that any extra money that comes my way goes to my student loans. So, if I get a big gift for a holiday, get a bonus at work, or get a tax refund, I put it toward my student loans. Having this rule makes it easy for me to follow through with because I never think about doing other things with these windfalls – I just know it’s going toward my debt. This has actually contributed greatly to my repayment progress.
5. I don’t have cable, and I have the cheapest internet possible
One monthly expense that I cut completely is cable. I have the cheapest internet possible, for a whopping $24 / month. And despite what everyone tells me, I can still stream with this crappy internet. I use my brother’s login for Netflix just fine! ☺
6. I budget very little for entertainment
When it comes to having fun, I find ways to do it for cheap. I rarely go out to eat, almost never go to concerts, and generally try to find ways to spend time with my friends doing things for free. In the summer, I spend a lot of time outside, either at the pool, riding bikes, or just hanging out on a patio. I really like doing other things, like going to concerts and eating out, but I live off a few hundred dollars a month after my expenses and student loans are paid, so I can’t afford it. This allows me to maintain the student loan repayment rate I’m committed to.
7. I drive a 10-year old car
I drive a 2006 Honda Civic. It’s low on gas, has been paid off for years, and gets me where I need to go. I have little to no car expenses, except maintenance. Eventually, more things will go wrong with it and I will have to trade it in, but I am hanging on tight, hoping for at least two more years out of it. Not having a car payment or any of the related expenses is really helpful because I can put that toward my student loan debt.
*Bonus tip: I avoid getting into more debt and focus on making more money
Not only do I cut back and find creative ways to free up the income I make from my day job, but I also focus heavily on making money on the side from my blog and freelance writing. The reason I’m so motivated to make extra money from blogging and freelance writing is to pay off my student loans (especially after taking over a 50% pay cut after quitting practicing law). I love blogging and writing, so I enjoy doing it, but it’s still work.
A final point to mention that I think is important is that I avoid getting into more debt. I’m 30 years old, so most of my peers are buying homes, cars, and having kids. All of these things are incredibly expensive. I am doing everything I can to keep my lifestyle expenses low, including not getting into more debt, while I repay my student loans. I think that’s key to my success.
- Related: How to start a blog
A Final Note!
The 7 strategies above show you how I’m getting myself out of student loan debt. Basically, they all describe how I’m cutting my expenses and increasing my income at the same time. Doing this allows me to crush my debt. I would be crushing it faster if I was practicing as an attorney, but I knew for certain that law was not for me. In order to be fulfilled in my career I made the change even with my student loan debt remaining. This is why it’s more important for me now more than ever to make money on the side (blogging and freelance writing). I want to get out of student loan debt asap!
One final note about the list above: the list above is meant to help inspire you to think of ways you could get out of your debt, but it’s not meant to be what’s “right” for you. Everyone is different, so you may want to do something completely different. I still treat myself to things that other people wouldn’t while getting out of debt. For example, I still pay to get my hair colored professionally. And I will continue to do that until the day I die. It’s THAT important to me. ☺ I’d rather find more ways to make money and afford it on my journey. But you may have something similar that you’re just not willing to give up, and that’s okay. It’s your life, your money, and your debt. No judgment from me, that’s for sure. Find what works for you, and do that.
I’m sending you lots of encouragement on your journey to becoming debt free! It’s absolutely a journey when you have massive student loan debt. Celebrate the wins along the way – it helps!
Up Next: read more student loan blog posts
What are you doing to get out of student loan debt?