Right after our wedding, my husband and I started saving for a down payment on a home. After running the numbers to see what kind of house we could afford, we quickly realized that buying a house at this point in our lives would be a terrible move financially, because of our massive student loan debt. Together, we finished college with a combined total of $117,000 of student loan debt. We had originally planned to pay our loans off over 10 years, and even this was challenging. My first job after grad school paid so little that 50% of my income was going toward my student loan payments.
We considered numerous different options; we thought about changing to a 25-year repayment plan on our student loans (which would reduce our monthly payments and give us enough room in our budget to purchase a home). This was a tempting option, but we decided against it when we realized that we would have ended up paying more than double what we owed. Compound interest is a nightmare.
We knew we needed to come up with a better solution. We became inspired by a friend who introduced us to Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball approach, and we committed to paying our student loan debt off in three years instead of 10 or 25. This method isn’t easy; it requires us to make many sacrifices. However, it will be well worth it when our student loans are paid off in full in just three short years. Here are the five main things we’ve given up so that we can achieve our difficult (and slightly-crazy) goal.
1. Outings with friends.
When you’re in your 20s, outings with friends typically include going to the movies, bar-hopping, or grabbing dinner at restaurants. None of these things are cheap. While we are paying off our debt, my husband and I have a three-year spending ban on outings with friends. We still get together with friends often; we have just found free things to do with them instead. There are a surprising number of things that can be done for free — you just need to be willing to look for them! We’ve tried free yoga classes, gone on walks/hikes, checked out free festivals and fairs, had board game nights and Netflix nights, relaxed at a pool and a lake, and cooked meals with friends at home.
In addition to our three-year spending ban, we also have a ban on buying non-essential items. We do make a few exceptions to this rule. For example, we pay for makeup, Netflix, and data on our phones. None of these things are truly “necessities,” but these are a few things we just aren’t willing to give up. I’ve never been a huge spender, but I used to splurge occasionally on things like fancy haircuts/colors at a ritzy salon, manicures, and tanning. I never spend money anymore on beauty-related rituals, aside from my once-a-year haircut at a cheap salon. I’ve gone back to my natural ash blonde hair color, so I don’t have to spend money touching up my roots every couple months.
3. New cars.
We drive old cars that are completed paid off; my car is 16 years old, and my husband’s is 12. Both cars (particularly mine) are what most people would consider embarrassing. They make a lot of cranking, squeaking, and rattling noises. We only get repairs when it’s necessary for safety reasons. The repairs have gotten a bit expensive, but it’s nowhere near what we would pay for car payments, higher insurance costs, more expensive tabs, and interest on car loans.
4. Our own place.
The biggest sacrifice my husband and I have made during our debt repayment is choosing to live with my parents and my older brother in a small, crowded house. I am incredibly grateful to my parents for allowing us to live with them, and I love my family dearly, but living with them is challenging. There is a common misconception that boomerang kids “have it easy,” but that is far from true unless your parents and siblings are the most laid-back people ever. When you choose to live with family, you’re giving up a lot of your independence, privacy, and personal space. It takes humility to admit that your financial situation is bad enough that it warrants moving back in with your parents at the age of 27.
5. Starting a Family
We won’t be able to have kids forever. In a few years, we’ll be 30, and my biological clock is ticking away. Deciding to delay starting a family was not an easy decision to make, but it’s the right choice for us. I take comfort in knowing that we will be free of our student loans when we do start a family. It will be much easier to teach our future kids to make smart financial choices if we can model good choices for them.
Final conclusion: It’s worth it.
Paying off massive student loan debt, or any other type of debt, in three years (on entry-level salaries) is not easy. Our culture encourages us “keep up with the Joneses,” and there is so much pressure to do things at exactly the same time everyone else does. When I peruse through my Facebook newsfeed and see my friends purchasing homes, traveling the world, buying new cars, and starting families, it’s easy to feel envious. The sacrifices we are making are difficult, but it will be well worth it when our student loans are paid off in just three short years.
Jen is an HR/Finance professional and frugal lifestyle blogger. Jen and her husband are paying off $117,000 of student loan debt in just three years. She writes about healthy eating on a budget, affordable wedding tips, destroying debt, and living frugally on her blog Frugal Millennial.
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