How I Paid Off $92K in Student Loans in 5.5 Years and Still Ate Avocado Toast

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Today I made my final payment on $92K in student loans ($107K with interest included). It’s hard to wrap my head around that amount of money that’s also equal to:

  • 13,375 Chipotle burritos (barbacoa, of course).

  • 29,314 Starbucks medium lattes.

  • 3-4 new cars.

  • A 20% down payment on a $535,000 house.

It’s easy to get consumed thinking about what that number could have bought, but so much more important to remember what meeting this financial goal means for my future.

In January 2014, I made my first minimum monthly payment of $630.95 while making $12 an hour at my first job out of college. I remember thinking I would never get out of this hole, as most of my payments were going more to interest than principal, but decided I needed to figure out how to do it anyway.

So I did some research and decided to check out Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeover, from my library. That book gave me the inspiration I needed and taught me steps to tackle my debt (read his 7 baby steps here). I finished the book and made a goal to not only pay off my student loans sooner than what was my current 30-year repayment plan, but to do it before I turned 30. With Dave Ramsey’s shared knowledge and a lot of hard work, determination, and hustle I reached that goal today – four months before my 30th birthday!

Student loans are a serious mental burden on my generation and not enough people are talking about it.

But, I’d like to talk about it. Because I’ve been there.

I want this blog to be a place of motivation for those striving to meet a financial goal.

To start, I’m sharing some things I did to pay off my student loans:

1. Changing jobs to increase my income. The article "Employees Who Stay in Companies Longer Than Two Years Get Paid 50% Less" truly sums up my reasoning. Over the years, I’ve gotten comments that I “can’t seem to stay at a job.”

You’re right, Nancy.

I can’t stay at a job that pays me $12 an hour when I’ve got $92K in student loans, because, you know, I’ve got goals. And now I’ve reached them.

Did you know, the average millennial will change employers seven times from college graduation to age 32? Gallup estimates that millennial turnover costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually. What if employers paid their current employees what they’re willing to pay a newcomer? What would the turnover rate look like then?

2. Side hustling. One of the biggest factors in eliminating debt is increasing income. I’ve freelanced, worked over-time when possible, and even worked those coffee sampling stations at Kroger; always putting the extra income toward extra loan payments.

3. Making a budget. And sticking to it. I have an excel spreadsheet that has 65 tabs for each month of my debt-free journey. Before the start of each month, I make a budget that anticipates my upcoming expenses and I make a plan for tackling them. This allows me to tell every dollar where to go instead of wondering where it went.

4. Living below my means. This is a big one and probably the most difficult. Living below your means can look like a lot of things to different people. For me it was choosing a studio apartment for a while (you had to walk through the closet to get to the bathroom … fun), shopping at consignment shops, saying no to a lot of activities and vacations (Adam and I have been on TWO week-long vacations together in 9 years which is hilarious), cooking at home way more than going out (and when going out, sticking to happy hours), still driving the same car I got before college, always putting tax refunds toward extra payments, and so on. While this debt-free journey has been hard, it has definitely taught me how to find appreciation in the simple things.

5. Working Together. I want to note that my fiancé, Adam, and I teamed up to kick my remaining student loans to the curb. In September 2018, we started working with a financial advisor. At that point, I had paid off 58K and we decided to tackle the remaining 34K together to become debt free as soon as possible.

Did I mention we’ve also been cash flowing a wedding since April 2017?? We decided to have a long engagement so we could pay for the wedding in cash while also reaching my goal to pay off my student loans. This has been a true partnership.

While tackling student loans is anything but easy, if you’re on the same journey, you’re definitely not alone. If you’re where I was 5.5. years ago, it’s never too late to start. I hope this blog can be a resource, motivation, or inspiration for whatever financial goals you’re trying to reach.

And if you’re still waiting on me to mention the avocado toast, well, I just make it at home (I mean avocados are like 49 cents at ALDI).