Update: Since I typically link this post to those wondering how I did it, I want to direct you to the rest of my journey as well and not just the payoff post. I started this journey in August of 2014 and almost every blog post after that was related to my student loans and personal finance. Feel free to go to the archives in the sidebar, starting with August 2014, and read all the way to this post for the full "experience" :)
(Don’t worry YNABers, I hid this category and didn’t actually delete it – deleting just sounds better :’D)
Holy fucking shit guys I did it. I fucking did it. I am typing this with tears in my eyes as I can finally move on with my life and achieve my life goal of buying a house and starting a family.
$48,496 of mostly student loan debt (I included my car in this total) paid off in 19 months - 12 of those months I was making just $40-$41k/yr at my full-time job.
I graduated college in 2012 with a bachelors degree in graphic design and over $100,000 of student loan debt. I was the first to go to college in my family, and let my terrified parents handle all of the finances while I focused on schooling. Not knowing how in the world we would pay for this, they took out a massive amount of student loans - around $50,000 in my name and $68,000 (we recently discovered it was less than the $84k we previously thought) in a ParentPlus loan in my dad’s name.
My first job out of college landed me a measly $30k and I moved out for the first time with my now fiance (got engaged last month). With push from my parents, I purchased a reliable used car for $16k and put down around $7k, leaving me with a $9k loan on top of the student loans. I made my minimum payments and paid my bills, but realized I wasn’t getting anywhere - something had to change.
In August of 2014, I picked up the book “The Complete Guide to Money” by Dave Ramsey and within 48 hours I was hooked. I read all of his other books in the next week. It was like something in me snapped and like Dave said would happen, I got pissed. I realized all the things I wanted to do in life, like get married, buy a house and raise a family, were unrealistic goals while I was sitting on almost $50k of debt in my name and making shit money.
I got gazelle intense.
I started working THREE other side jobs in addition to my full-time job in which the entirety of the income from them went to my student loans. I picked up more overnights for the pet sitting job I had throughout college, I opened an Etsy shop that did well and kept me busy on nights and weekends, and in the very little amount of spare time I had (like while pet sitting or lunch breaks), I freelanced web and graphic design work. Then, when I decided that wasn’t enough, I got a new full time job in March of 2014 that paid $10k more - I was now making $40k/yr. Three months in I got a COL raise that brought me up to $41k/yr.
Since August of 2014, I have successfully paid off:
- $3,500 student loan @ 6% in October 2014
- $9,000 car loan @ 4% in January 2015
- $13,000 student loan @ 6% in September of 2015
- $23,000 student loan @ 6% as of today
When I had just $1-2k remaining of the $13k student loan, I accepted a new job in my field (web design) making double my previous salary. Despite the massive increase in income, I continued to work my three additional jobs - I wasn’t messing around. I wanted this shit out of my life and I wanted it out FAST. Obviously, the doubling of my income made paying off the remaining $23,000 a lot "easier," but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I knocked out more than half of my debt on my previous salary in just one year. And it most certainly doesn’t take away from the fact I worked around the clock (literally work 8-5, go home for an hour, then pet sitting 7PM-7AM and repeat) and sacrificed a lot of time with my fiancé for all 19 months.
I know it's discouraging when people that make high incomes make these posts, but I want to stress everything I did before getting the new job, when making an average salary like most people. The THREE other jobs I worked throughout my entire journey easily brought in an additional $15-20k while making the original $40k - bringing me well into the $50-60k range, which I consider high income. This wasn’t me “getting lucky,” it wasn’t something that just fell into my lap, or something the average person couldn’t do. ANY extra job, no matter the job, will speed up your goal. Deliver pizzas, sell stuff, freelance, work night shifts in retail, pet sit like I did, Uber, etc. There are lots of options to rake in a similar side income that you can dedicated 100% to your loans.
My life was scorched earth, but I honestly don’t think I made any extreme lifestyle changes. I was never a very social person with lots of friends to begin with, but I did stop going out all together, stopped buying myself video games, stopped buying myself anything that weren’t necessities really (send help), canceling any sort of service I wan’t using enough, etc. I was never one to buy coffee in the mornings or lunches at work, so there weren’t many habits to break. I did pretty basic things that helped make a dent, but not a significant life-altering changes in my life.
I live in Massachusetts, which is a high COL area. Luckily for me, I live way down in the south shore, away from the insane $3k/mo rents that you get in and around Boston. Unfortunately for me, the town I live in is no place to raise a family and riddled with drug problems (like much of the Cape Cod area). Since nothing has actually happened to us in the 3 years we’ve been here, I think the trade off is worth it for what we pay to rent an actual house, which is $800/mo.
Yes, for me, this is split 50/50 with my fiancé, meaning I only pay $400/mo in rent. Yes, I know this is good, but it was all I could afford on my very first salary of $30k. Keep in mind what I said about location, too - there are always cheaper places to live no matter where you are if you’re willing to risk potential problems. I also now commute an 1 1/2 hours (this includes the traffic) each way to work to ensure my rent continues to stay low while I save for the house down payment.
But don’t take out your pitchforks yet. While the rent is good, some other expenses not so much. Winters in New England are shitty and cold. When you have electric heat like I did (up until a few weeks ago when we got converted to gas), you’re paying $532/mo (not a typo) for electricity for more than half the year. Fun!
Otherwise, we had very normal living expense (plus the expense of two cats), but tried our best to keep them low. This meant calling FiOS every few months to negotiate a better promo, switching my phone from Verizon to Ting (went from $70/mo to $25/mo), watching sales for food items and sticking to a weekly meal plan, and just being aware of what was out there and seeing what we could do without.
Hands down this played a huge role in helping me allocate my money and squeeze out every little penny I possibly could to throw on my loans. I used YNAB, and I don’t have enough good things to say about it. It wasn’t until I read Dave Ramsey’s booked and snapped that I ever cared about my finances, so budgeting was suddenly a fun new game that I looked forward to every time I got paid.
In order to kill your debt, you have to take control of where your money is going. Giving every dollar a job and sticking to it was crucial in my pay-off journey.
This was tough. I started this journey when I was coming up on 26 and I just turned 27 in March - watching ALL of my friends getting married and buying houses absolutely wrecked me. I dream about a house more than my wedding day and have made it my life goal, so seeing people, who also had tons of student loans, buying houses made me want to throw in the towel and say “fuck it” numerous times. If they can do it with $50k of debt, why can’t I? Or, why I can’t I have a husband who pays all my living expenses and buys me a house?
Jealously will get the best of you, so I had to find a way of turning it around. I started blogging about this whole debt free journey and other personal finance related things. I talked about my student loans ALL THE TIME, and often educated my friends/peers, who in turn felt inspired to tackle their own debt. I took pride in every milestone I passed, designing a debt-free chart that I set as my Facebook cover photo and my phone background to keep me going. I came here to post in every TT thread, no matter how insignificant it was. People started coming to me for advice on their student loans and how to pay them off, which made things seems less shitty in spite of it all.
Despite this sub’s recommendations, I did use the snowball method. A big part of it was because I NEEDED the motivation before I ran out and bought a house. I needed the quick wins and faster progress. If I had started with the $23k loan on my $40k/yr salary, I would have barely had any extra cashflow (or at the very least less of it because side jobs) to even make a dent in the amount, since I would still have the minimums to pay on the other three. Knocking out the smallest one first freed up an extra $50/mo, plus all my side job money, and it snowballed from there. By the time I got to the final loan, I had $600/mo going towards the very last loan, plus the extra income from my new job.
Overall, I saved about $12,000 in interest by paying these off in less than two years by working the extra jobs. If I had just snowballed the debt without the extra income, I wouldn’t have completed this goal until March of 2024.
Aside from the increase in income during the last 6 months of this experience, there were no windfalls of money that helped me along. No inheritances, no duel income or husband to help me pay them down (I told my fiancé I was doing this alone), no help from parents, and a below average salary for the majority of the time. There is no secret to paying debt off fast except hard work and I fucking killed it.
I am finally free to start the next chapter in my life, which is saving for the down payment my fiancé and I need to build our first home (he builds houses for a living and owns the business with his grandfather). As soon as that’s complete (about 10 months), I’ll be re-starting this whole journey to eliminate the $68,000 my dad has in a ParentPlus loan. I currently pay $310/mo to my dad to put towards this loan and obviously feel 100% obligated to pay it off, despite the fact it has zero ties to me. He took this out for MY education and even though he and my mom always considered it a gift to me, I know it stresses my dad out, and I want to help.
This whole thing has been an incredible test of my patience and determination and I can’t believe this day is finally here. It’s completely unreal.
4 down, 0 to go.