Ok, so this post also has nothing to do with working out or fitness, but I think it’s an important topic. The stress I felt when I was paying off my student loans made me depressed. Being depressed made me overeat. It made me lay around on the couch eating nachos to drown my depression rather than going to the gym. The anxiety and stress wasn’t good for my health in other ways, either. Here’s the thing…if you’re in a significant amount of debt…be it student loans or credit cards or another kind of debt, you should make it a priority in your life to get rid of that debt. Your life will improve tenfold when you do. Trust me…I’ve been there. That’s why today I wanted to tell my story and give those of you out there who might need it a few tips from what I’ve learned.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the student loan debt crisis. I know I certainly have. You see, a little over a year ago I was one of those unfortunate millennials who was trudging along on a seemingly hopeless path to pay off an absurd amount of student loan debt on a salary that really wasn’t all that fantastic.
I’m not going to lie…it was hard. I was barely making enough money to cover both my student loans and the monthly necessities such as rent, food, etc. I felt like I was living life on a razor’s edge all the time and I had no margin for error. One layoff, one financial hurdle, and I would be sent careening into a pit of debt and despair that I would never be able to recover from.
The student loan debt crisis in this country is impacting so many young professionals in this country that it is shaping our entire society. The rise of the gig economy has been a boon to millennials everywhere because, quite frankly, our day jobs aren’t paying the bills and people are looking into side gigs to fill in the gaps. Many people in my generation are putting off things like buying homes and having children because the pressure of paying off their debt is too great. It’s a different world than it was for our parents, and the consequences of this debt crisis will have a profound impact on the future of our society.
I’m happy to announce, however, that about a year ago, I wrote my very last student loan check and I’m finally free from the nightmarish hellscape that was my life for so long. How did I do it? Well, there was a small amount of luck involved in the form of a generous bonus my husband received that finished the bills off. I will not discount my luck in that matter, but even without that amazing gift from the heavens, I had gotten myself to a point where I was looking at paying off the debt in full within 5 years had I stayed on the same path.
I would like to share what I learned with all of you who might be struggling with paying off your own debts, be them student loans, a mortgage, a credit card bill, or anything else in the hope that my experiences will help you in your own situation.
If you’re struggling with a large amount of debt, here is what you need to do:
Be honest with yourself about your situation.
I’ve spoken with so many of my peers who appear to be in complete denial about their situations. They carry this large debt burden but they just refuse to acknowledge that there are hard choices they will need to make in order to get the debt paid off. Many people just go on income based repayment and resign themselves to carrying debt for the rest of their lives. Others ignore it completely and live the life they want to anyway, which means usually racking up large amounts of credit card debt attempting to still have fun and go out all the time even with a large debt balance. Some do acknowledge the debt, but they think they will never be able to pay it off anyway so why bother? All of these attitudes are destructive. You CAN pay off your debt, but the first step in doing so is taking a look at your situation and resolving to pay it off no matter what.
Make some tough choices.
If you’re going to pay off your debt, you’re going to have to make some tough sacrifices in your life. This means finding a less expensive living situation and cutting spending in all areas of your life. This may mean living in a rented room, eating beans and rice all the time, and working nights and weekends as a freelancer or at a part time job in addition to your regular job. It’s going to be hard. You’re going to hate it. You’re going to look all around you and see your friends going out and living in their own apartments and going on trips and such and you’re going to want to give up. You’re going to spend some evenings crying over how tough your life is, but if you persevere, you WILL get out of this debt and your life will improve exponentially.
It sucks, but you might need to cancel your gym membership and just go on runs outside or do yoga from a YouTube video. You might have to say no to eating out with friends. You might have to shop at the Salvation Army for a new pair of jeans instead of a department store. You may be stuck driving an old junker car for longer than you might like. It won’t be easy. I live in Southern California and seemingly all my friends are rich. It wasn’t easy to say no to life’s luxuries all the time, but it was certainly worth it when I got out of debt.
Make a plan.
When I paid off my debt, I had a plan. I used online budget calculators to determine a budget to help me reduce my spending. I used online student loan calculators to determine payoff dates if I paid different amounts monthly. There are tons of resources out there for whatever you need. If your debt isn’t student loan related, the same tactics apply. Use calculators to determine a budget, reduce spending, and figure out a payoff goal.
If you can spare anything extra, pay more.
There will be times when you might have a little extra money. Perhaps it was a bonus at work, a salary increase, a birthday check from grandma. You might be tempted to put the extra money into something fun for yourself, but if you can keep disciplined and put it into your debt instead, those little instances of extra payments will really add up over time.
On that note, it’s so important to pay more than the minimum if you are at all able to. Minimum payments are just that….minimum. They are what the debtor requires you to pay to avoid them coming after you, but they don’t pay the debt off that quickly. If you only pay the minimum, you’ll end up paying a lot more in interest over the life of the loan. It can be tough to carve out more money, but pay anything you can possibly spare. Let’s say your monthly minimum is $400. If you’re able to pay $500 per month, you’ll pay it off much more quickly. Even an extra $20 per month will make a difference over time, though, so don’t be discouraged if you can only spare a little more.
The problem with compound interest is that the loan amount can actually grow over time because the interest gets added to the total. So if you’re only paying the minimum and your balance is high enough, your loan can actually grow! It’s horrible, but true. Pay extra each month to help reduce your principal. This will help lead to eventually paying off your debt.
Focus on one loan at a time.
When I was in student loan debt, I actually had a lot of different loans in different amounts and interest rates. What I did to help ease the burden on myself was to pay all the extra money I could into one loan. There are two ways you can choose to go about this:
- Pay it all into the smallest loan. Let’s say you have three loans: One for $10,000 that you pay $200 a month minimum for, one for $8000 that you pay $150 a month minimum for, and one for $1000 that you pay $100 a month minimum for. You’re paying a total of $450 per month minimum. Let’s say you can actually afford to pay $600 per month though. If you focus on the $1000 loan first and dump all extra cash above the minimums into that one, you’ll pay it off quicker, thus reducing your monthly burden to $350 per month minimum. If you can still pay $600 per month, now dump all the extra money into the $8000 loan and so on and so forth until you pay it all off.
- The other way you can go about it is to pay off the loans with the highest interest rates first. Say you have three loans, one with a 10% interest rate, one with a 6% interest rate, and one with a 4% interest rate, you’ll end up paying less overall if you pay off the one with the 10% interest rate first.
Which one you choose depends on your situation. I went with smallest to largest because I was having trouble coming up with enough money each month so I wanted to reduce my minimum to prepare for hard times. You know your own situation best, but definitely consider this strategy for paying off your debt.
Don’t give up!
It may seem like you’re just dumping money into a bottomless pit forever and ever. I understand. It does feel that way, but don’t give up! Push through those hard times and eventually you’ll achieve financial freedom. I’m rooting for you!