Student Loans Suck So I Paid Mine Off In 12 Months

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Student Loans Suck

We all know how important it is to have a college degree these days. It’s also a well-known fact that student loans suck! Right after that incredible graduation day, you come to the realization that you have a towering mound of student loan debt.

Did you know that the average student debt total per student is $31,172? Or that the total student loan debt total in the U.S. is $1.6 trillion dollars.

For fun, here’s the estimated cost of college for my daughter who is 2.5 years old. If I want to fully fund a 529 plan for her to attend my undergraduate college, Benedictine University, I will need $392,199 by the time she’s 18! If we don’t help pay that’s quite a large student loan debt total!

That’s some BS! Or maybe BA depending on what she studies.

In my case, I had to pay for my bachelor’s degree. I had previously obtained my associate’s degree from a community college where I did get financial help from family. Community college was the right choice for me at the time as I wasn’t ready to fully commit to a school and thought working was more important.

I don’t regret my decisions as it’s led to a great life.

Luckily, I saved money and was able to eventually go back to college to get my bachelor’s degree.

I ultimately decided to attend Benedictine University. The school was close to home which allowed me to keep working. I had also bought a condo a few years previously and due to the 2008 financial crisis…it wasn’t a great time to sell.

The cost to attend Benedictine University was roughly $25,000 per year at the time. Since I already had my associates degree, I only needed to attend for 2 years. My condo was within 10 miles so I didn’t need room & board. Benedictine had an adult program that met 2 evenings each week.

Luckily, the potential $50,000 cost was reduced by $15,000 due to grants & scholarships! That left me with $35k of possible costs.

I ended up switching employers at the time, with one main reason being they had an employer tuition reimbursement program. That company ended up paying for $10k of the total costs. Over the 2 years, I ended up paying down around $5k from my income and had $8,000 initially saved for college.

So, my student loan debt total that I owed after graduating was $12,000.

This was far less than it could have been but I despised the thought of owing this money for long.

The Right Mindset – Student Loans Still Suck

Mindset Changing

I am not a goal-achieving superstar. I wish I was but it’s just not me. If I was I’d probably be at the gym right now. The fact that I don’t have a six-pack is case in point.

From the day that I decided to head back to school for my bachelor’s degree, I had a plan and a goal. I decided to fully commit to reducing my student loan debt total as quickly as possible.

No matter when you decide to make reducing your student loan debt a major focus, setting a goal, and getting your mind focused on the commitment is key. It takes a lot of dedication over a period of time (this is the difficult part) but the day you pay your last payment will make it totally worth it.

Lastly, I read a lot of student loan success stories like this one to help get me motivated.

Budget For Your Student Loans

Budget for your student loans

Once I was mentally committed to reducing my student loans, the next step was to dive into the numbers. I knew that my monthly student loan payment was going to be around $136 every month. The interest rate for my student loan was over 6%, which meant roughly $60 of that first $136 payment was going towards interest.

Next, I needed to figure out how much more I could add to my loan payments.

Evaluating your current financial health and creating a budget is how you should start every monetary decision.

I love budgets and spreadsheets, don’t you?

No? Most people don’t, so you’re not alone. The key is to hunker down and just do it. The hardest part about a budget is getting it started. Once the structure is in place, you’re only having to make minor adjustments.

Here is a budget template on excel to help you get started.

Identify Ways To Cut Expenses

Cut Expenses

Even before creating my budget, I had planned to pay $300 a month towards my student loan debt. That meant roughly $3,600 would be paid annually towards my student loans.

At that rate, my loan would be paid back in just under 4 years. Student loans suck don’t they? Well, I wanted it paid back sooner.

I had to find ways to reduce my spending and apply those funds towards my student loan debt.

Here’s the list of what I cut out of my spending:

  • Starbucks Coffee – $9 weekly/$36 monthly/$468 annually
  • Eating Lunch Out (cost was $8 daily but added $3 a meal to make my own) – $25 weekly/$100 monthly/$1200 annually
  • Eating Dinner Out (cost was $35 each meal on average but added $5 a meal to make my own) – $90 weekly/$360 monthly/$4,680 annually
  • Cable – I was able to get them to lower this by $25 monthly/$300 annually

My total spending reduction was $6,648 annually. Add that to the $3,600 I had already dedicated and my total principal reduction was $10,248 in 1 year!

Almost there!

That left $1,752 in principal and roughly $400 in interest for the year. So, a total of $2,152 remained.

Scrounging for Every Last Dollar

Scrounging for money

I had the $300 monthly payment for my student loan budgeted. I uncovered an additional $6,648 per year that would go straight to the principal balance.

Yet, I was still short of my goal to pay off this student loan debt in 12 months.

I thought long and hard about how I was going to find this remaining $2,152 leftover.

TAX REFUND!

At the time, I was averaging about $1,600 each year in tax refunds when I filed my tax return. That trend continued as my refund was $1,675 that year.

Total remaining = $477

At this point, I’m a caffeine-deprived, ramen noodle eating proud graduate who just wants his student loan debt total to show $0.

Well, life wasn’t that bad and I was still spending time with friends…which meant going out for drinks.

Did you know that those $5 beers you buy at the bar are less than a dollar each at the liquor store?!

I wasn’t going out to the bars that often, but even 2-3 times a month can be costly. The average bar tab was $30. That totals $60-$90 per month.

Student loans suck so much that I was willing to give up some fun juice in order to pay them off early.

I cut my drinking bill in half (sniff sniff) AND HIT MY GOAL!

My Advice

Student loans suck, but they are a necessary evil for those who can’t pay for school with cash. If you’re in the same position I was, here’s some advice.

  • Don’t get overwhelmed. Take a breath, create a budget, and get to work.
  • Employer tuition reimbursement programs make a difference and something to consider early on.
  • The goal shouldn’t be to string your student loan debt out long enough for the chance it’ll be forgiven.
  • Do your homework as early as possible, even before starting school. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re drowning in debt after graduation. It’s one thing to live frugally to pay off debt quickly, and another because you have mounds of debt and have to.
  • Consider refinancing your student loans. Federal student loan rates are historically rather high. Due to COVID, refinancing federal loans isn’t recommended as no interest is being charged.
  • If you’re considering an option to consolidate your loans, only do this if it offers you a lower interest rate. It may be annoying to have numerous federal student loans, but worth it if it means a lower interest rate.
  • Stay motivated and take it day by day. The hardest part in budgeting is the beginning, once it’s in place and becomes a habit it gets easier.

Paul W

Hello! I'm Paul, finance expert and founder of The Income Finder. With over 15 years experience in the finance industry, a bachelors from Benedictine University and MBA from DePaul, I'm well qualified and ready to share great insight and tips on money management. Read More