We can sit all day and go back and forth about the benefits of putting extra money into retirement vs paying off student debt, but I’ve made it my goal to get rid of my debt as quickly as I can. No matter how hard I work, money I make while I am up to my ears in debt doesn’t feel like it’s actually mine, and that’s why I’m on a mission to pay off my student loans as quickly as possible. Here are 17 ways I am contributing to a quicker debt payoff date.
17 Tips for Anyone Looking to Tackle Student Debt Fast
I don’t know about you, but paying bills is one of my least favorite things to do. I work hard all week to bring home a paycheck and then I watch as most of it is gone before I’ve hardly had time to blink. We’ll always have some bills to pay, but when I looked at my student loans and saw it as a bill that I could work to get rid of forever, I immediately made a plan to make that happen.
I’m going to share with you some of the ways my husband and I have helped ourselves to stay on track to pay off a substantial amount of student debt in just over 2 years.
1. Find Inspiration & Motivation
Any larger goal starts with the motivation and inspiration — then comes the need for self-discipline. Start with the good feelings that come from inspiration to get yourself started and excited. For us, it started with daydreaming about the freedom of a life without a student debt payment each month. We realized that we were fully capable of taking this daydream and making it a reality.
2. Read or Listen to Other’s Success Stories
One cool thing about dealing with student debt is that there are tons of us in it together. It doesn’t take long to search and find stories of people who have successfully paid off their loans. Read through these stories and take note of where people are mentioning their struggles and the resulting successes. No real ground is gained without sacrifice, so these stories are great for inspiration and to prepare yourself for the reality that there are likely to be tough days ahead.
3. Become Very Familiar with Your Monthly Budget
Have you ever spent time home sick, stuck in bed with nothing to do but to stare at the walls and ceiling. The sickness passes and you are so glad to get better and get out of that room. Well, that’s how familiar my husband and I got with our budget. We are “sick” with a bad case of student debt and our budget is what we are spending a lot of time staring at. We know every penny of what it costs to get us through a month, and oh man… it’s going to feel great when we “get better” and get to walk out of that room.
4. Set Aside a Little Emergency Fund
Part of getting started on our campaign to pay off all our debt was spending just a little time gathering a small emergency fund. We basically pretend this money doesn’t exist, but whenever we have a financial crisis pop up (read: car troubles, medical issues) it’s a huge comfort to know we have that money set aside to help soften the blow. It’s not much, but it’s been worth the peace of mind.
5. Adopt the 10 Day Waiting Period
My husband and I love to shop. It can be a problem, and it requires self-discipline, but we’ve managed to tackle most of our bad spending habits by instituting a 10-day waiting period. What this means is that we won’t buy an item we don’t need right when we see it. Instead, we wait 10 days to see if the want for this item has decreased. Most of the time, we realize we can live without it. However, there are times where you just can’t get something out of your head and it’s worth the splurge (within reason).
6. Discover Free Entertainment
If you’re like us and you hear free entertainment and think “nothing worth doing is free,” then you are partially correct. Any activity, no matter how budget-friendly, probably requires some form of investment. However, being smart about the types of entertainment and activities you get involved in can be a huge help to staying on track financially. For example, my husband and I take long walks after work when the weather cooperates and play board games when it doesn’t. We invested in some tennis shoes and some second-hand board games. These small investments have turned into hours and hours of entertainment and won’t break the bank. When money is tight, a little creativity and an open mind goes a long way!
8. Write Your Blessings List
When you have to turn down an opportunity like a fun weekend trip or tickets to a concert, it can make you feel a little down. However, we’ve found that compiling a list of all the amazing blessings in our life has helped to keep us stay committed when breaking the budget seems most tempting. Have you thought lately about how amazing it is just to have a bed to sleep in at night? How about having clean, running water? Get granular. It helps.
9. Rewrite Your Blessings List
This is on the list twice. I know. But it’s definitely worth repeating! The best way to stay committed and check your heart and motivations is to count your blessings. It’s cheesy. It’s annoying sometimes, but it’s 100% the best budget-friendly way to give yourself a boost.
10. Check In and Keep the Conversation Going
If you live with a significant other, this is an easier tip to accomplish, but it’s still possible if you’re tackling your student debt on your own. Have frequent, scheduled conversations with your significant other or yourself about how you’re doing. Spend time checking in on your payoff date and how you’ve been successful lately. Reaffirming the reason you started and acknowledging your successes are key to staying strong.
11. Share Your Goals & Successes
If you’ve been turning down fun activities and staying in on the weekends, your close friends and family are probably aware that there is some sort of budgeting going on. Much like sharing diet and exercise goals helps to increase accountability, sharing your student debt goals with your friends and family can be a great way to gather up some of their encouragement and hold yourself accountable.
12. Keep a Dreams Journal or Notepad
I’m not talking about your sleep dreams, but if you record those that’s cool too. I’m talking about the life dreams that are bound to surface as you go through the process of paying down debt. I am always writing down my latest thoughts on DIY projects I want to attempt and dreamy travel destinations. Writing these dreams down helps them to feel more permanent, and also gives me something to read through when I am needing to remind myself why we set the goal to achieve life without student debt.
13. Treat Yourself – But Be Smart
This one goes with the 10-day waiting period, but if there is an affordable item or experience that you feel like you must have, make it happen. You don’t want to take yourself off track, but you don’t want to turn into a sad, resentful hermit. Treat yourself when there is a reason to celebrate or you need a little boost and you can afford it. Just don’t make it a habit!
14. Cut Out Some Luxuries
Nobody likes this one, but it’s key to really squeezing every extra penny out of your budget. Figure out which luxuries you can not live without, and get rid of the rest. For us this has meant cutting cable, using more affordable phone plans, summers without A/C, and eating out less often. There were some non-negotiables for us which included: high-speed internet, a gym membership, and just a few dollars to get breakfast or lunch together on Sundays after church. (Bonus tip: fun, affordable traditions like brunch after church are a great way to give yourself something to look forward to during tough weeks!)
15. Take Care of What You Have
When you are living without a lot of slack in the budget, buying new furniture, paying for car repairs, and replacing broken items can feel very stressful. In order to keep these expenses from popping up as often, we try to be intentional about taking good care of what we have. This means regular vehicle maintenance, keeping the house relatively clean, and putting things away when they aren’t in use. The most annoying accidents seem to happen when you let too many balls drop at once, and so the extra work in the moment might be saving you from a bigger expense down the road.
16. Challenge Yourself to Short Bursts of Intense Saving
It’s not reasonable to live like a hermit all the time – see tip #12 – but short bursts of complete hermit-ness can help to send some extra money towards loans. When we know we have a couple weekends coming up with no plans, we’ll purposely leave them open and spend that time hanging out at home and spending as little as possible. It’s fun to see how little you can do and how much it saves!
17. Take Some Naps
Don’t have the money to go on an adventure this weekend? Spend some time cozied up on the couch with a good book and a cup of tea. Sneak in a nap or two. Not only are naps free, but there are definitely times where a nap can help you feel refreshed and even motivated to clean up the house or get a workout in. Two more free activities! See? Naps are good.
18. Do Not Complain
This is the final tip, but it’s the one I struggle with the most and also one of the most important. Nobody likes being on a budget. Nobody likes bills. However, the more you vocalize your budget, goals, saving money in a negative way, the more you internalize negative feelings about it. This doesn’t help you to stay committed to the end goal, and it also doesn’t make the people around you feel good about what you are doing. Be proud of yourself for your self-discipline, celebrate your successes, and focus on the positive when you are discussing your goals with others.
More Tips to Stay on Track & Be Debt Free Faster
Getting out of debt is a big goal, but with the right amount of persistence and self-discipline, I think we can do it! If you’d like to read more about how I work hard to stay on track financially, or more about how to feel content while you are waiting, check out my other blog post: