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Paying Off $80K of Student Loans on a $30K Salary: How I’m Doing It

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When I was 17, I signed papers that solidified my relationship with student loans, but I didn’t really know what kind of relationship it would be. For the last seven years, I’ve been diligently paying back my student loans.

In that time, I also went to graduate school and accumulated more debt at an even higher interest rate.

When all is said and done, I will have paid $81k toward student loans, plus interest. That’s a hard number to swallow, but I’ve learned not to get overwhelmed by it. I believe in my education and I made certain choices, and now I am working my way out.

A Reality Check on Student Loans

After undergrad, I started working and paying the minimum on my student loans. I thought that paying the minimum was all that was necessary; I hadn’t yet felt the gravity of the situation.

It wasn’t until I was considering graduate school and saw how expensive my program would be, that I finally started to have an understanding of what I was getting into.

My reality check came when I was in graduate school. I had a Mint.com account tracking my student income as well as my debt. Seeing the numbers in print made me physically ill and overwhelmed. I started questioning everything, including my decision to go back to school.

How was I going to pay this back?! My graduate loans at $58,000 had a mixed interest rate of 6.8% and 7.9%, and I saw paying interest as essentially flushing money down the drain. At that point, my daily interest was $11 per day.

After being honest about my situation and feeling the weight of my loans, I started to think of tactics to pay off debt.

Take Control of Your Finances

After I graduated, I realized that no one was going to get me out of debt but me. Regardless of my political stance towards student loan debt and education, I knew that I couldn’t wait for the government to “save me.” When you are in debt, it’s easy to get angry and want to blame someone; the media, schools, the government, the credit card companies, etc. But at the end of the day, we have to take charge of our financial life.

When I got serious about money, I started putting all extra cash toward debt.

I’ve always worked at nonprofits and never had a large income. Currently, I make in the ballpark of $30k before taxes.

I use to make excuses for myself and think I could never get out of debt or excel my repayment because I didn’t make enough money.

But I changed the way I thought; I started to think of my circumstances and how I could stretch my dollars. I moved to a low-cost area, where I split a studio apartment with my boyfriend. I don’t have a car, pets, kids, or a gym membership. I bike almost everywhere. I live a pretty frugal, minimalist life so I can prioritize my debt and future travel plans.

Work More, Pay More Debt

With such a low income, I could not have managed to pay off $16,000 in debt last year without side hustling. I love side hustling because you can learn new skills, try out a different career, have exciting experiences, meet new people, and make extra money to fund your goals and dreams! I have worked as a brand ambassador, event helper, babysitter, writer, Taskrabbit, and more.

All my extra income goes toward my debt.

In the past six years, I’ve paid off $37,000, with $24,000 of that being in the last two years. It’s nice to see progress.

With $43,000 to go, I’m almost at the halfway point out of my $81,000 total. I’ve realized that it’s important to just keep going, stop judging yourself, and trust the process.

There will be highs and lows, moments that you plateau, and times where you want to throw in the towel, but just keep going.

Topics:

Student Loans #Debt Finance Lifestyle
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Thank you for this article! I think you're probably the first person who didn't blame a third party about your student loan debt.

I have about half of what you have in student loans but I really don't mind paying them off. Education is expensive. I knew the amount I was going to acquire going into undergrad so I tried to maximize my skills to get a job in my field. If I didn't take out those loans, I wouldn't be where I am now.

This is excellent advice and if nothing else, the outlook and promise of hope is helpful. I have my MSW and a lot of debt. One thing I always encourage people to take advantage of is the public service loan forgiveness program. Basically, if you're working full time for a non-profit you probably qualify. If you make 120 on-time payments based on your income, the rest of your debt is forgiven. Now, that does mean you'll still be paying for 10 years, but it can come out to a lot less.

Alexandra Lemoine
Alexandra Lemoine

"Side hustling." I love it. Great read!

Thank you for writing this. Eliminating debt so we can be free and save for the future is so important! You're an inspiration!


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