When I finished grad school, I found myself underemployed and buried in $75,000 of student loan debt. I knew I would have debt, but I had naively believed that a master’s degree from a competitive school would be a golden ticket to an amazing career. I was wrong. My first full-time job paid so little that nearly 50% of my income was going toward the minimum payment on my student loans.
I felt hopeless, and I worried that I’d be trapped in debt for the rest of my life. After reading a few personal finance books, I decided to pay off my loans as quickly as possible using the debt snowball method. In order to do this, I had to make some major changes. I cut out unnecessary expenses, started a bare-bones budget, found a higher-paying job, and began doing freelance work on the side. I also decided to rent a room from my parents and to continue driving my 18-year-old car.
Paying off debt isn’t easy. It requires hard work, discipline, and sacrifice. There have been many times when I’ve felt frustrated and impatient during this process. Sometimes it feels like my debt will never be paid off. To stay positive while paying off debt, I make sure to do these five things.
1. Focus on the end goal
It’s hard to feel positive while paying off debt if you focus too much on the present. There will be challenges, but it will all be worth it when you’re debt free. When my student loans are paid off, I’ll be able to travel, enjoy fun experiences, buy a house, and give generously. These things are far more important to me than how I feel right now. It’s crucial to be able to think long-term when you’re paying off debt.
2. Find free things to do for fun
Even though I stick to a strict budget, I feel it’s still important to have fun once in a while. Prior to starting to get out of debt, I often went out to dinner or to movies with friends. Now, I try to find free things to do instead. I’ve gone to free yoga classes, had board games nights, gone hiking, and checked out free museums with friends. It doesn’t need to be expensive to be fun! Sometimes the most enjoyable activities don’t cost anything. What matters is spending quality time with the people I care about.
It’s easy to feel down when we don’t take care of ourselves and our health. I can’t afford to go to a spa or join an overpriced gym, but there are still plenty of things I can do for free to stay healthy. I use the gym at work every day, I go for walks outside (or walk at the mall during the winter), and go to free yoga classes often. I also work out at home occasionally to workout videos I find on YouTube. Exercising gives us endorphins, which reduce stress and anxiety.
4. Ignore what others say
People judge me all the time for my choices. I’ve been told on many occasions that I’m “too frugal” and that I should take on more debt because “that’s what everyone does”. These statements usually come from people who are terrible with money. If I followed their advice, I’d end up as broke as they are. I ignore what they say because I know that someday when I’m debt-free, they’ll wish they had made smarter decisions with money. In our society, debt is normal, and “keeping up with the Joneses” is what most people do. I don’t want to be “normal.”
5. Practice gratitude
It’s easy to feel jealous of others while paying off debt. When I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, I see my friends traveling to exotic places, buying beautiful houses, and starting families. I wish I didn’t have debt holding me back. That being said, I know that I am extremely fortunate to be able to pay off my debt so quickly. My husband and I both have good jobs, and we have the option of living with my parents, which saves us thousands of dollars each year. We are blessed in many ways, and I am grateful for this. Whenever I feel frustrated or jealous of others, I remind myself that we have so many things to be thankful for.
One Last Thought
Paying off debt isn’t easy. It takes time, patience, and persistence. It’s easy to feel frustrated and to compare ourselves to others who don’t have debt, or who seem to “have it all.” When I find it difficult to stay positive during this journey, I remind myself to focus on the end goal, find free things to do for fun, exercise, ignore what others say, and practice gratitude.
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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