Recently I have had some serious low blows in terms of keeping motivated during debt payoff. Things just don’t seem to be going my way and it’s making it hard to stay motivated. I’m extremely stressed at work this year, which is making me extremely tired. This then makes it hard to get myself to all of my side jobs in the evenings. I recently tried refinancing my student loans only to be told I have too much debt. Why thank you sir, I’m aware I’m drowning in $156,000 in student loan debt, but do you see that I’ve paid off $44,000 in 14 months?! I feel like my life revolves around my student loans and it’s been incredibly hard for me to keep pushing myself recently, especially after being told I can’t refinance because I have too much debt. However, there are some ways I do motivate myself when I feel like giving up.
Focus on your accomplishments.
The first thing I always do when I feel unmotivated is look at how far I’ve come in my debt payoff and remind myself I’m doing everything I can. I look at my monthly payments that I’ve made and see how much they have increased over the last 14 months. It’s important to acknowledge and celebrate the big and little victories in this long journey. I celebrated paying off my first loan this past year and celebrated breaking into 5 figures for my private loans. It’s important to do that to make this journey a little less overwhelming.
Recognize the sacrifices you’re making.
When I’m feeling unmotivated I remind myself about all the sacrifices I’m already making for my debt payoff. I remind myself that I’m already doing so much, I don’t need to do more than I’m doing right now. I work 4 jobs currently, live with my parents, and budget my spending each month. For my sanity, I need to remind myself that it’s enough, I can’t do more than that.
Find others who are going through debt payoff.
By far the most motivating thing for me to do is to head over to Instagram and Pinterest and find others who are working on their debt free journey. I find it so motivating to hear other people’s debt free stories and how they got to debt freedom. It can be hard to find people around me that can relate to my situation and want to pay off their debt, which is why the Internet can be a wonderful thing.
I hope these few things can help you when you’re feeling down on yourself about your debt payoff. I know it has helped me when I feel like I’m never going to finish paying this debt off. What are some ways you keep motivated when you feel like giving up?
I graduated from graduate school in August 2015 with about $200k in student loans from undergrad and grad school. My private loans went into repayment on November 2nd, 2015 and my private loans in March 2016. My debt free journey has been going on for exactly one year. I truly can’t believe it’s already been a year and I think it’s super important to reflect on my first year of repayment to see ways I can improve my current plan.
Amount Paid Off Including Interest This Year: $36,342.51
Total Principal Paid Off to Date: $37,264.73
Current Payoff Date: December 31, 2022
Debt Free Journey: How I Paid $36,342 towards my Student Loans in One Year
Sacrifices. As a twenty something who recently graduated from grad school, the first thing I always wanted to do was rent my first apartment and start my teaching career. However, I knew that wasn’t the best choice for my current financial situation. Instead I found a teaching job 20 minutes from my parents house and moved back in with them. This was the biggest way I have been able to pay off so much in one year.
Budgeting. This year I have really cracked down on my budget and tried to be very strict with it. This has helped me immensely to pay down my debt this past year.
Side Income. This was huge for me this year. Throughout the year I managed to add 4 different streams of side income through 2 different after school programs, private tutoring, and babysitting. At this point, I am able to almost afford all of my monthly expenses, except my student loans, with my side income. This has been amazing for my student loans because my salary can almost all go to my loans each month.
Debt Avalanche. Since I have such high interest rates, I have chosen the avalanche method. This allows me to focus on my highest interest, largest accounts first and then apply that payment to my next account. This continues until all accounts are paid off. This has been working out wonderfully for me. I paid off one account this year and was able to apply that payment to my next account making that payment even larger. This has helped my loans get paid off even faster.
Debt Free Journey: My Plan to Make Even Larger Payments
Budgeting. I plan to look at my budget even more and find more ways I can save even more each month. I’m trying really hard to search through my house and use what I didn’t know I had before going out and buying it. For example, whenever I run out of my favorite shampoo or conditioner, my first thought is I need to buy that kind again. Now, I’m looking through my house and bathroom closets to see if we have any kind of shampoo or conditioner that I can use instead of buying new.
Side Income. I don’t think I’m going to add any new streams of income, but I plan to do more within the streams I have. Right now, I only work 2 days at the after school program, but I’m planning to pick up any extra shifts I can and find more students to tutor and kids to babysit.
I’m very proud of myself for being able to make my money work for me and pay off so much of my student loans in my first year of repayment. My current goal is to finish paying off these loans by my 31st birthday, which would be April 29th, 2023, which means my current progress gets me paid off early! I’m so excited to improve my strategy and plan to pay off even more in the next year to pay off my debt even earlier! How much were you able to pay off in one year of repayment? What was your strategy?
Debt payoff can be tricky, especially when you’re on a pay schedule that doesn’t provide you with a paycheck every month. However, with some planning and budgeting, it can be easy to get around this problem. I’m a teacher and am on a 10 month salary, meaning I don’t get a paycheck during the summer months. But I was still able to make extra payments on my student loans in the month of July, with no paycheck from school. Continue reading to find out what I did to lower my debt by over $4k in the month of July.
Plan for the Months Ahead
It’s so important to plan and budget in order to make your debt payoff plan work for you. My monthly minimum payment is roughly $1,500 for my student loans, so I knew I needed to set aside $3,000 for my loan payments in July and August. This way I knew I had enough budgeted for at least my student loan payments in case I wasn’t able to find a job over the summer. So, $3,000 spread across 10 months is $300/month, it really wasn’t bad at all.
Find Side Hustles
Side hustles are the best thing ever. It’s always exciting to make extra money to put towards your debt. I know, that sounds crazy, but I seriously get a rush of excitement every time I make an extra payment and lower my daily interest I’m paying. I’m pretty sure these loans have made me a little crazy ha! But, I do after school tutoring at school during the school year and tutor local kids over the summer. I have also found a wonderful family to babysit for this summer.
I ended up not even needing that extra money I saved throughout the school year, as you can see from my July loan payment. I easily made my minimum payment of $1,500 and was able to payoff much more than that. It’s amazing what you can do with a little planning ahead 🙂 What have you done for your debt payoff on an unpredictable pay schedule?
One of the things I always read about on personal finance blogs was to financially prepared for the unexpected. You never know when something is going to happen that’s going to rock your budget and make you frantically scramble thinking how you’re going to afford this. This happened to me when I realized I broke even on my budget, before I even applied my extra student loan payment I make each month. Life throws curve balls at us everyday and it’s important to be financially prepared for them so they don’t hurt us as much.
June was an interesting month for me. I had two large unexpected expenses that basically was my entire extra student loan payment I plan for each month. The first one was my new teacher mentoring fee that goes to my mentor teacher, $550. The second was when I brought my car in for an oil change and they told me I needed all new brakes and two rotors replaced, see ya $955. The second was completely unexpected, and what really hurt my budget. I take my car in for it’s oil change and they always inspect the brakes for me. Everything was fine at my last oil change and suddenly 4,000 miles later, new brakes and rotors are needed.
This was hard for me and made me make a tough decision. I could either make my extra loan payment for June and pull the money from my savings, or not make my extra loan payment and not need my savings. My immediate reaction was to make the extra loan payment and pull from my savings because of my aggressive goal to payoff my loans by the time I’m 31. I looked at my savings and realized even if I did pull that $1,500, I would still have enough in my savings to last me a couple of months.
This made me decide to make my extra payment to my student loans in June. When hit with the unexpected, you need to closely look at your goals and decide what is most important now and for the future. For me, paying off my student loans as soon as possible is my most important financial goal. How have you planned for when unexpected expenses come up?
I was pretty carefree with my money my freshman year of college. I didn’t think about my student loans, didn’t get a job, and just kept pulling money from my savings account. Not the smartest moves on my part, but you live and you learn, right? 6 years later, 2 degrees, and about $200k in student loans, I definitely wish I did a few things differently back then. Don’t make the same mistakes I did, think about your financial future before you even step on campus.
Saving Money Before College
Carefully fill out the FAFSA form. Make sure you correctly fill out the FAFSA form, if you have any questions, I strongly recommend getting advice through your high school or college. Filling out this form wrong can result in you getting much less financial aid.
Apply to scholarships. Apply to every scholarship you can find, and then apply to more. There is SO much unused scholarship money out there, it’s crazy! Look for local scholarships where the pool of people will be much smaller, but also apply to the larger national ones as well.
Check in with the scholarship committees. This is one I never thought to do until I was in graduate school and it paid off incredibly. I went into the scholarship office every two weeks to check in until I finally got an answer. That poor woman knew me by first and last name, but it paid off because she had a face to a name and knew I really needed the scholarship.
Ask for more financial aid. As soon as you get your financial aid package, call the financial aid office. Typically your financial aid package will arrive sometime in the summer before you head to school, call them immediately when it arrives. I learned this trick after my freshman year and was able to get more financial aid for my sophomore year. The schools send out financial aid packages and then a lot of students don’t come to the school. This makes more money available and they give it out on the first come basis.
Saving Money in College
Price compare for textbooks. Look everywhere for your textbooks before immediately buying them at the bookstore. Yes, the bookstore is convenient and you will know that it’s the correct book, but it’s also usually a lot more money! I usually found the best deals on Amazon for buying and selling my textbooks all throughout undergrad and grad school.
Sign up for student deals and discounts. There are so many deals and discounts out there only for college students, sign up for them! My all time favorite one was definitely Amazon Prime Student, which also made buying and selling my textbooks so much easier. I could easily procrastinate buying my textbooks and still get them in two days, FREE 🙂
Work, Work, Work, Work, Work, Work. I just had to reference the Rhianna lyrics here, get out there and WORK! There were so many job opportunities presented to me, especially if you have work study as part of your financial aid package. Most universities will even pay you to be a note taker for the classes you are already taking notes for. You’re basically being paid to be a good student! It really is a win win for you.
These were some of the things I learned throughout my college experience and learning how to manage my money. It’s hard managing your money in college and trying to plan for your financial future with potentially so much debt. I wish I had known these things when I was a senior in high school so I could plan better for my future after college and have saved a lot more. Like I said, you live and you learn, right? What tips and tricks did you learn about saving money throughout your college journey?
Back in August 2015, before I even started paying off my loans, I posted about my student loan binder. This thing has turned into the best thing I ever made. It has allowed me to stay organized and motivated throughout my first 6 months of debt payoff. When you have almost $200k in student loans, you need something to motivate you. Fortunately for me, just seeing the numbers drop is motivation enough. I also use ReadyForZero, which is a huge motivator. It allows me to see my debt payoff day get closer and closer and my daily interest drop as I make each extra payment.
I use this binder to keep all my different kinds of loans organized. I have set up my binder into 4 different sections: Debt, Private Loans, Federal Loans, and TEACH Grant. In the debt section is where I keep my planning sheet and my debt payoff tracking sheet. This allows me to see the big picture of my debt payoff, like which loan I’m focusing on first and how much I payoff each month. In both my private loans and federal loans sections I keep individual debt payoff sheets for each of my loans. This allows me to see how much I have paid off for each of my loans and how much I left to pay off. Its exciting to see where I started with each of these loans and how much I have paid off.
Since this binder has helped me so much in this crazy journey, I thought all you lovely people might find these sheets for my student loan binder useful. Click the download button to get my binder cover sheet, a planning sheet, a debt payoff tracking sheet, and an individual debt payoff tracking sheet to make your very own student loan binder!
When I was in grad school and finally came to terms with the fact that I was going to be roughly $200k in debt when I graduated, I began researching. I spent hours finding tips and tricks to get out of debt and to do it fast. One of the biggest things I took from my research was that I shouldn’t be embarrassed by my debt. So many people hide from their debt, ignoring it exists. I didn’t want to do that. I began telling my friends and family about my debt, when it came up in conversation. They couldn’t believe it. They didn’t understand how I could have possibly racked up that much student loan debt. But, it’s possible. For some reason our society thinks we shouldn’t talk about debts because it’s normal to have debt. So often I hear people brush of debt like everyone has it and it’s the only way to live. Oh, but student loans are “good debt”, no debt is good debt! I don’t want that life, forever needing to give my hard earned money over to the company I borrowed it from years earlier. I want to keep my money!! Which is why I decided not to hide from my student loans.
I know many people who are simply ignoring that their student loans exist. I’m serious, they are letting their credit score absolutely tank and not worrying about it. They figure in seven years it will be wiped away and then I can start over. But, then you need to rebuild your credit and doing that after destroying your credit is incredibly difficult. It will take years and extreme diligence to bring it back up. Not to mention that having a bad credit score makes it incredibly difficult or impossible to rent an apartment, get a car, so many things that a 20 something would typically be doing. For right now, I live at home, but eventually I plan to move out. When that happens, I want to have the freedom of renting a place, if that’s what I choose to do. I don’t want my student loan debt to hold me back, even more than they already are.
I understand when you graduate from college you’re most likely in your 20s and think that it is an absurd amount of money. I get it. I was there, sitting in my college apartment staring at my computer screen in complete shock at the massive amount of debt I owed. How did I possibly rack up such a high number?! But you need to accept your debt, and make a plan to tackle it as soon as possible. Get angry, and get motivated and be sure to make a realistic plan for yourself. So, what’s your student loan plan, are you going to pay them off or ignore their existence?
So, the day finally arrived that I had been anxiously waiting for, my first student loan bill arrived in the mail. I just finished my graduate studies in August and knew it was coming. My private loans did not have a grace period, so I assumed my first bill would most likely be due by November. Sure enough, my first payment is due November 2nd. Before I got the bill, I wasn’t sure how much my payments were going to be each month. I guessed that they would be around $1,500 a month because that’s what my sister pays with a similar amount of debt. Of course, I budgeted for the worst and went for $2,000, since I went to grad school. It turns out all the debt I paid off during grad school was worth it, my private student loan payment is $1,400, much less than I thought it would be. My federal student loan payment was originally $600 each month, but I switched to an income based repayment plan and got it lowered to $250. It was a tough decision to switch to a different payment plan, but I wanted to be able to put as much money to my private loans, since they have much larger interest rates.
Where to Begin: Get Angry
Like I have mentioned in previous posts about my amount of debt, when I first really acknowledged the amount of debt I had, I felt like I would never be able to pay that off. I mean, $200K is a massive amount of debt. I don’t want to be paying this off still when my children are starting college, which is what will happen if I stick to the 30 year repayment plan. Honestly, that’s what really lit the fire under my butt, knowing I wanted to buy a house, have kids, send them to college, things that will be much more difficult if I have this massive amount of debt looming over my head. Plus, who wants to be paying off their student loans at age 50, definitely not this girl. Get angry at your student loans, put things into perspective and get crazy mad at that large sum of money that is preventing you from doing more things and saving more money. And just think about how nice it will be once it is all paid off 🙂
Create a Plan to Payoff the Debt
Once you have reasons to motivate yourself to payoff your debt, create a plan. Some people need to use the snowball method because they need motivation in the beginning to get going. Others think more long term and prefer a method that allows them to save the most amount of money, or the avalanche method. Personally, since I have such a large amount of debt, I’m thinking long term and how I can save the most amount of money. So, I’m sticking with the avalanche method. This means that right now I am focusing on one of my debts that has a 8.05% interest rate and started at just above $40,000 (I’m proud to say that this debt is now at $12,000 after chipping away at it for the last year during grad school, WOOHOO!!!). After this debt is paid off I will move onto my next largest interest rate and so on. If two loans have the same interest rate, then I pick the loan that is largest amount. I strongly recommend using ReadyForZero, I basically swear by this website in my debt payoff. It does take some time to type in all the information each month, but it provides me with a graph of my progress and when I’ll be debt free. Also, it’s completely free and has an app that allows me to check my progress wherever. I find it extremely motivating to see my daily interest go down after I make all my payments each month and to see how much sooner my debt payoff date is.
Update June 2016: I officially paid off that first loan!!! This means that I have now moved onto my next focus loan, which also has a 8.05% interest rate, but it is much smaller, only $16,000. I plan to pay this one off in one year, June 2017.
How Much to Pay Each Month
It can be difficult to decide how much you can afford to pay towards your debt each month. I strongly recommend paying extra each month, any extra money you have, even if its $20, can make a difference in your debt payoff date. For me, I can afford my required payment in one paycheck, so I pay my bill on the 15th, when I’m paid. I never budget for my additional payment. This may sound odd to some people, and for a lot of people this might not work. However, I am currently in a very different situation than most. After I finished grad school, I moved back in with my parents in order to really tackle this debt, and they live 20 minutes from my job. This means that I don’t have many bills each month. Also, I work other jobs each month, like tutoring and babysitting, that make my income vary month to month. I do budget for gas each month, my bills, my 2 savings account, and my 403b account. You’ll notice that I do save each month, it’s not much, about $250 across the 3 accounts, but while I’m living with my parents I want to make sure I’m saving some money while I can. Since I pay my bill on the 15th each month, this allows me to make my additional payment at the end of the month when I am paid again. This is when I go through my budget for the month and see how much money I have left over that can go towards my debt. I hope to be able to pay an additional $1,000 each month.
Update June 2016: Since writing this post my monthly payment plan has completely changed, I found ways to make it much more aggressive. I made it a goal for myself to pay off all my student loans before I turn 31, that’s in 7 years. So, I went to my ReadyForZero account and changed my debt payoff date to determine what I would need to pay each month to pay it off by then. Turns out an extra $1,000 allows me to be debt free by my 31st birthday. I’m currently paying at least $2,600 each month with my teacher salary, living at my parent’s house (thanks Mom and Dad!), working extra jobs, and lowering my savings withdrawn each month. Instead of $250 I only put $125 into savings each month so that I can focus on my student loans.
This system might not work for you, but it’s what is working for me and my current situation. If I wasn’t living at my parent’s house, I don’t think this system would work for me since I probably would not be able to afford paying my entire bill in my one paycheck. What’s your debt payoff plan? What strategies have worked for you?
Now that I’m finished with my grad degree, my loan payments are about to begin. This might sound crazy, but I’m actually really excited to start this journey. As I shared in my student loan story I have about $200k in student loan debt, mostly from my undergraduate studies. When it all really hit me how much I owed, I quickly began searching the internet and Pintrest to find out as much information as possible about debt payoff. This was almost a year ago now (Fall 2014) and I can’t wait to put my plan into action. Through the process I found these helpful tips that I have been using throughout grad school, and will really start using next month when my first bill comes in the mail!
Find a budgeting system that works for you, and stick with it! I was shocked to find how much I was carelessly spending each month, mostly on going out to eat. The easiest way I have found to budget is to use Mint to track all my spending. I have all my banking accounts linked up to my Mint account and created a budget for the things I spend money on each month, like gas and groceries. Also, it reminds you of the bills you have to pay and you can get a free credit check with advice on ways to improve your score! They even have an app to make it super easy to check and edit your budgets whenever you want.
2. Manage your Loans
For me, this meant using ReadyForZero to manage my loans. This tool allows you to enter in all of your loans and create a plan to pay off your debt. It even has this nifty tool that lets you see how much faster you would pay off your debt and how much your would save by making larger payments. Also, it shows you how much your daily interest is, talk about motivation!!! I have to say I am not planning to follow my plan completely that they mapped out for me because I don’t love the order that they pay loans off in. They go by the smallest loan with the highest interest rate, and that just isn’t something I want to do. However, this tool is wonderful to see your progress and easily calculate daily interest rate, how much is left, etc.
3. The Snowball or Avalanche Method
Look into Dave Ramsey, the man is a financial genius. He has some great tips about managing your finances in general, but has a debt repayment plan called, the snowball method. This method has you focus paying down one specific loan by putting all of your extra money towards this loan. All your other loans you should make a minimum payment on. When your focus loan is paid off, you apply that payment to your next focus loan. How you pick your focus loan should have some reasoning, either you are focusing on loan amount, interest rate or a combination of both. If you’re focusing on the smaller loans first, this would be the snowball method. This method plays more to emotions because you get small victories in the beginning to motivate you through the end. If you focus on your highest interest loans, this is the avalanche method. This method is purely mathematics and allows you to pay less in interest. Personally, I am focusing on my highest interest rate loans first, if I have more than one loan at a certain interest rate, I focus on the larger one.
4. Get Organized
This is going to look different for everyone, but it is important to find an organization method that works for you. Personally, I use a combination of ReadyForZero and a binder. ReadyForZero allows me to keep track of the bigger picture of my plan, how much I’ve paid off, my daily interest amount, etc. While a binder keeps all those pesky bills organized because they tend to go missing if they don’t have a home, and it helps me keep track of each individual loan I have.
5. Have Fun
During grad school I said no to doing a lot of fun things because it would cost me money. At the beginning, I was in hardcore debt payoff mode, and wanted to put as much money as possible to my loans. But I sacrificed having fun with my friends, and eventually the stresses of going to grad school full time and working full time weighed down on me. I realized I needed to enjoy myself and quickly found ways to do that without spending a lot or any money. My personal favorite is having a potluck with friends. What’s better than great food, great friends, and wine. It’s a lot of fun, and pretty cheap, too.
The goal of paying off student loans is pretty hefty, with a plan it makes it much more manageable. I hope these 5 tips help you as much as they have helped me to plan my debt payoff. What are some tips you have for making a debt payoff plan?
You might be wondering why I wrote “paid off”, because I didn’t truly pay off that amount during grad school. Like I shared in my student loan story, I created a strategy to make grad school work and pay down my loans during it. Some of the $23,000 was truly paid off, but most of it was just redistributed I guess you could call it.
I highly suggest poking around on Pintrest if you have large amounts of debt. It’s what I did when I first started realizing I needed a plan to pay my debt off. There is nothing quite like reading other people’s success stories to motivate you to get serious about debt pay off and money management. Also, I recommend looking into Dave Ramsey, he is brilliant when it comes to debt pay off and money management. I’m planning to use his snowball method to pay off my debt.
During my one year of graduate school I truly paid off about $3,500 of the $23,000. I did this by working 2 jobs while going to school full time. It was definitely a lot, but with some organization and time management I was able to pull it off. If you’re going to work almost full time (I roughly worked 30-35 hours a week), I highly recommend working jobs that require minimal take home work. What I mean by this is, work jobs that allow you to do very little work at home once you leave work. For me, that involved working in a toddler half day classroom, babysitting afterwards, then going to class at night. The toddler classroom required minimal take home work and babysitting never required any work at home. Actually, babysitting worked perfectly because I could do work during the toddler’s nap time. Also, I lived by a budget and cut spending wherever I could, while still making sure to save 10% of my income every month.
The other $20,000 was paying off some of my private loans with federal loans. Even though I only needed a couple thousands to make it through graduate school, I still took out the maximum amount of federal loans they would offer me. I know, this sounds crazy and when I first decided to do it, I thought I was crazy too. But, I’m a teacher, meaning there are a lot of great federal loan forgiveness programs in place for me. This didn’t help me much since I had a ton of private loans (with super high interest rates) from my undergrad. By taking out federal loans to pay down my private I was kinda swapping the same amount of debt for a better interest rate. My particular private loan I worked on paying off with my federal loans carried a 8.05% interest rate and the federal loan had a 6.21% interest rate. I was very pleased 🙂 It might not seem like a big difference, but interest is the absolute worst, so getting a lower interest rate is always better.
What are some strategies you used to pay down debt while still in school?