YEP – We did it. We paid off all of our student debt (over $80,000 in total) in under three years. In fewer than 36 months, we budgeted to put thousands of dollars towards what FELT like filling an endless pit.
We were INCREDIBLY LUCKY to be able to set all that money aside. (I just want to start with acknowledging how fortunate we are to have had relatively smooth sailing during this process.)
However, there were a lot of choices and sacrifices we made in order to make paying off our debt possible.
We Paid Off over $80,000 in Student Loans in Less than 3 years
Debt is an energy drain. Just THINKING about it makes me feel overwhelmed.
We decided that the nagging thought of student debt wasn’t something we wanted to deal with over a period of a decade or more. We wanted it gone.
Why Did We Have so Much Debt?
My husband and I each attended a four-year university. We both funded our education completely with loans (and any grants & scholarships we managed to get).
The debt piled up because being a full-time student made it tough for us to work and study at the same time. We prioritized our classes above the need for income and that resulted in a LOT of student loans.
What Motivated Us to Prioritize Paying Off Loans?
When we sat down and figured out just HOW MUCH of our future money didn’t belong to us, we decided to fix it. (I think we just about died when we calculated the interest we ALREADY owed. HAAALP!)
Taking out student loans instead of working to save up for a university education was our choice. We signed the paperwork every year.
None of this debt was a surprise, but I don’t think we had truly understood the gravity of the situation until we were looking at our very first paychecks and realizing there wasn’t going to be much leftover.
Even so, student debt isn’t a punishment for getting an education. It’s the outcome of prioritizing education over financial stability.
Paying back loans is NOT a choice – but we decided to take the process into our hands and get rid of it as quickly as we could.
Instead of dragging these payments out (and paying WAY more in interest), we decided as a team we were going to work REALLY hard to put most of our money towards our debt.
Two Incomes, No Kids: Student Debt Payoff Budget
So this might be why you clicked here. What did our payoff plan REALLY look like?
Well, here’s a visual for how our income was broken down while we were making monthly payments:
- 60% of our net income went towards the student loans.
- 28% of our net income went towards general life expenses like food, fuel, savings, entertainment, car repairs, family events, gifts, etc.
- 12% of our net income paid the rent and utilities for our apartment.
In order to make this work, we had made a few decisions BEFORE starting the debt payoff journey.
Decision 1: we drove affordable cars that we paid for in cash. No monthly car payments meant that we could put more money towards student debt.
Decision 2: we stayed in a college apartment. We only planned to change the situation if we had gotten pregnant during this process, but otherwise it was our goal to keep rent and living costs as low as possible.
Decision 3: we accepted help where we could get it. We are lucky to have supportive friends and family who were willing to let us bring a load of laundry along when we came to visit. They were understanding when we explained that our budget was tight, or when we had to sit out of an event or activity that was going to be pricey. All of their support made a huge difference, and if we had been too stubborn to accept it, the payoff process could have been so much worse.
Paying Off Debt Instead of Improving Your Lifestyle
Let’s be real: when you come home from working all day, you do not sit and daydream about sending your next paycheck out the door.
You may dream about the day when that monthly payment ends, but you certainly won’t find yourself waking up day-to-day feeling excited about the fact that debt-payoff FEELS like there’s no return on investment.
There were days we seriously discussed quitting.
We had days where we even wallowed in self-pity for having chosen to go to a four-year university when there are SO MANY GREAT CAREERS doing things that don’t require digging yourself a debt hole.
Why would anyone put themselves so far behind, financially, on purpose? Why did we think this was the right way to go? What sort of trick did we fall for?
But honestly, these thoughts got us nowhere. We had to be VERY intentional whenever they came up. It was crucial that we both understood our mission statement and could repeat (without having to think very hard) exactly why we were paying down debt instead of so many other things.
The world is an incredibly tempting place. (I work in marketing. It’s my JOB to tempt people to do things!)
3 Key Pieces of Advice for Paying Off Student Debt before Age 30
If I could sum up our experiences in just a few short pieces of advice, it would be these three things. These factors are really what made us successful in paying off our $80K+ in student loan debt during the first three years of our marriage.
Create a Mission Statement that Matters to You
I am a big believer in the power of a good mission statement.
By “good” I mean one that finds a home in your head, your heart, and your hands.
What does that mean? It means that your mission statement should be something you will work towards with enthusiasm. It has to hold authority over your emotions. The mission needs to make sense in your head. And you have to be willing to DO THE WORK to make it happen. (Heart, head, hands)
This mission statement should be agreed upon between you and anyone else who is on the team. It needs to be realistic and easy to repeat.
We had to repeat our mission to ourselves and to each other SO MANY TIMES over the last few years. If we didn’t have a good enough reason to make this work, there is no way we would have followed through.
Make Follow-Through Your New Favorite Hobby
Speaking of follow through! It’s important. Especially when it comes to making decisions about finances.
Learning the seemingly impossible art of follow through is the key to being a “get ‘er done” kind of person.
Follow through is about doing what you said you’d do, how you said you’d do it, and when you said you’d do it. It’s about holding yourself accountable.
We said we were going to pay off our student loans, and that we wanted to have it done before we bought a home.
During the times that giving up seemed most tempting, it was often the self-respect that comes with the idea of following through that kept us going. We would often say to each other, “but we said we were going to do this. We need to finish what we started.”
Plan for Your Post-Debt Future
The final and most FUN part of our payoff journey was making plans and daydreams for what would come after we met our goal.
First of all: I am pretty realistic. My daydreams are usually pretty tame. Something like “won’t it just be SO nice when we can do our laundry at home?”
Making plans for a future that excites you is a HUGE part of keeping spirits up.
Figure out what excites you (and your team members if there are any) and talk about it. Make the daydreams a part of your story for why you’re following through on your goal.
Without our little daydream sessions, I am not sure that we would have been able to remember that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. We all need to see the light sometimes – even if it’s just a tiny speck!