That’s right, you read it. As of Tuesday night I have crossed off the number one goal on my list for the year of 2012: pay off my student loan. And it feels damn good.
I am so excited to have a clean slate with my finances, and to really start saving for the future. It’s difficult to save for retirement when you’re paying high interest rates on your debt. I’m feeling quite proud of myself for paying off my loan exactly two years after graduating. It meant certain sacrifices to other parts of my life, but I am confident I have made the right choices.
I’d like to share some of my tips for paying off student debt, but first I must thank those who helped me reach this goal. Of course, my family and friends were huge supporters, whether it meant simply understanding when I couldn’t afford to follow through with plans, or a few particular times when they helped me out so I would be able to do so. I really appreciate the encouragement and generosity.
I also want to give a shout out to the brilliant minds behind a few personal finance blogs I follow; these people (who I actually have yet to ever meet in person) have truly helped motivate me in reaching this goal. It all started with Give Me Back My Five Bucks; following along with Krystal showed me I really could do this if I set my mind to it. I’ve also found many relatable and helpful tips from reading along with Blonde on a Budget, Young and Thrifty and Punch Debt In The Face. Thanks for the inspiration. (If you haven’t checked out these blogs yet, you should do so now!).
Just as these bloggers share their own personal experiences to offer insight to their readers, I’ll try to do the same by explaining how I paid off $25,000+ of student debt in two years (and also by noting some mistakes I made along the way).
THINGS I DID RIGHT:
I threw every extra penny I had at my debt
When I graduated from university, I had inherited a certain sum of money from my grandparents. I used a portion of it to travel to Europe to visit the town in Germany where my grandma was born (among touring four other countries as well), but I kept a tight budget for the trip so I’d be able to put the rest of it toward my debt. It gave me an encouraging head start, especially considering I was jobless at the time and saw no end in sight.
I could have doubled the length of my trip and also doubled the number of countries visited, but I didn’t. I had to set priorities. It was right around this point I knew I would never take the nine years permitted for paying off my loan (and accumulating interest). So as soon as I started finding work (and it wasn’t an extravagant salary by any means), I just made my debt my priority. I allowed myself a small cushion in emergency savings, but the majority of my paychecks were going toward my loan repayment.
I said no to shopping sprees
Over the last two years I have become a real deal hunter. I tried to limit my purchases to the sales rack and only when absolutely necessary. I’ll admit sometimes I wasn’t as successful at this as I hoped to be, but it still made a difference. I learned a new trick where I’d get my retail therapy simply by shopping for clothes online, filling up my virtual basket and then closing the browser before checking out. This has likely saved me hundreds of dollars over the years.
I picked up a part-time job for the weekends
As I hit a bit of a drought in my freelance writing career, I decided it was time to find a second job. This meant working almost seven days a week at times. As you can imagine, it has taken a bit of a toll on my social life since many of my friends and family members are off on weekends, when I’m heading to work. But it was something I had to do in order to reach my goals and I am glad I took the steps necessary for getting there.
THINGS I DID WRONG:
I let the initial six month “grace period” pass before making payments
As many of those with student debt know, you are allowed six months free of any payments before you are required to start making your monthly deposits. I took this time for granted; ignoring the fact I was charged over $700 in interest just in this time period alone. If I could offer one piece of advice to those who have recently graduated, it would be to put any lump sum you can afford toward your debt immediately, so as to chip away at your total balance. The less your grand total stands at, the less you are charged in interest fees.
I didn’t even think about my student debt until after graduating
Sure, I knew it was accumulating by the day. For all those Thursday pub nights and mid-week shopping trips I needed to “de-stress”, I was just digging myself deeper into a black hole of financial prison. I wish I had been smarter about my financial decisions from day one so I would not have been as stuck upon graduating. But you can’t change what’s already happened. I definitely learned from my mistakes, and hopefully some of you might too.
Now it’s time to start making some new financial goals. I look forward to sharing my progress with you, and hope you will do the same in the comments below!