If you’re a millennial like myself, then chances are you took out a hefty loan (or loans) to get a degree and a job that is not paying as much as your 18-year-old self hoped it would because that was what we were told to do.
The thing is, after graduation, no one really tells you how you’re supposed to pay back all the debt you’ve collected while trying your best to adult in every other aspect of life. I went away to school for four years to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Media and Communications, which left me $60,000.00 in the hole because while being a journalist is my dream job, it’s not exactly the most lucrative. I was pretty sure that I’d be eating an off-brand cereal like, “Toasty O’s,” for every meal until I paid it all off.
Thankfully, that hasn’t been the case. I can proudly say that at 29-years-old, I’ve not only finished paying off my loans, I’m actually shopping for a condo! And, I can afford to eat Cheerios. My peers are super-impressed that I have paid off my debts without resorting to any illegal activities, or even worse, getting involved with a pyramid scheme. Many of them have asked me how I did it.
I wish I could tell there was some magical secret I could share but there isn’t. Tbh, most of what I’m about to say you’ve probably heard before, but maybe you haven’t or maybe it will click this time for you in a way it hasn’t before.
Here are three simple things that made it possible for me to pay off my $60K student loan debt before 30.
I’m second generation Nuyorican, born and raised in Brooklyn, New York by a single mom. I grew up watching my mom’s work ethic, which is insane. Your family circumstances play a huge role in paying off your student loans. Eventually, I watched my mom buy a house that has been my home pre and post college, rent-free.
My mom said I could stay under her roof for as long as I agreed with one non-negotiable request—save. And, I did. Now, not everyone is able or willing to stay at home, which is totally understandable. But sometimes, folks feel as though they shouldn’t or can’t stay at home because they’re “too grown” or because they don’t like the house rules. We all harbor those and a number of other inconsequential excuses. I am telling you, if you have thought that way, think again.
There were plenty of times I had the urge to branch off into the world, on my own. Then, I would see my friends trying to pull me into pyramid schemes to pay their rent and I’d quickly retreat back to my childhood bedroom with no qualms.
Get Knowledgeable Beforehand.
If you’re just starting school or will be soon, my number one advice is to stay in-state. While I lived in a dorm in college, I was only an hour away from home. And while some might think that was a waste of money, it was affordable. I still got the full “college experience,” without the exorbitant out-of-state fees.
I also didn’t take out any private loans. Federal Stafford loans were my saving grace because they are subsidized, which means there’s no interest. When I tapped out of those, I was then able to qualify for an unsubsidized Stafford loan, which had interest. I started paying off the interest, while still in school, so it didn’t accumulate. When shopping for loans, whatever you do, make sure you do your homework
Work Hard and Save, Save, Save.
I always had a job, ever since I could. In high school, I worked in the summers. In college, I worked evenings and weekends. And post-grad, I worked two jobs as an editorial assistant by day and in retail at night. In high school, I opened a savings account, which has grown into my down payment for my first property purchase.
Make no mistakes, I don’t make a 6-figure salary, but when budgeting, I always make sure I pay myself first which means, save not shop. My student loans were always automatically deducted and taken out of a separate checking account. The other thing I did was when I could pay more than the minimum due, I always did. For example, any tax return money went straight to my loans.
It was also helpful that I held no debit cards or any way to access my savings account other than to go down to the bank in person which avoided me dipping into these funds. Later, I signed up for money saver apps like Digit, Stash and Acorns that help you set saving goals so that you can save, without lifting a finger. Other bills would get paid after I paid myself and my loans.
Everyone’s debt situation is different, but I have found that it’s important to do your research and share what you find with your peers. If the powers that be aren’t going to help us, the least we can do is help each other make money moves.
(Photo: Getty Images)
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