The actual amount was $33,583.31, but who’s counting! I graduated from a private college in May 2016, and like most millennials, I had roughly the national average student loan debt. It could have been much worse for me. I was also fortunate to have a job during my last few years of college that gave me a full-ride scholarship. However, I did acquire several loans during my first year that included federal subsidized/unsubsidized loans and a private loan with Wells Fargo.
I won’t even get into the travesty that is under-education during the loan signing process with freshmen. But I do want to focus on fast and hard debt pay off. There are a few principles that I followed that allowed me to achieve this massive goal:
1. Having a Plan
I knew going into this debt payoff journey that it would be a marathon, not a sprint. I was working full time without any real consistent side hustle job that brought in extra income. It was just me and my husband living day in and day out the plan. We put together a monthly budget and decided how much we would throw at debt each month. The amount was roughly 35-40% of our take-home income. We never fluctuated (besides December 2017, and when our tax refund came in April). We would throw any extra income or leftover cash to the debt. We did keep other categories in our budget, like personal spending money and going out to eat, because we didn’t want to feel like paying off the debt was our only focus. We were living in a new state and newly married, so we still wanted to enjoy life as much as we could. We were conservative in all budget categories, though, and rarely spent over the allocated amounts each month.
2. Sticking to the Plan
This was undoubtedly the hardest part of the journey. There were times that our friends would say, “You guys don’t do anything fun” or “You are really missing out if you don’t come.” Even though we had personal money and eating out budgets, we were nowhere near spending the average amount of our peers. We had $100/month put aside for eating out and $50 each for personal money. Some might be blown away at the measly $100 for eating out each month. But it was a number we were comfortable with that would still fund our Chipotle cravings a few times a month. We brought lunch to work every day, instead of spending the extra on buying it out. Our date nights became very frugal as well. Chipotle was our idea of a nice dinner, walking in the nearby park became an easy day date, and the small gym at our apartment complex gave us a free activity to do together on a regular basis.
There were times that we wished we could do more or spend more, but we were driven by our goal. Each month, we were able to see the amount we were chipping away at, and that kept us going. You have the power to do this, too. You will be questioned by your peers and even made fun of a few times, but don’t lose sight of your goal. Because while they are eating out every day for lunch, your debt is going down at a faster rate. Financial freedom is in your near future. Decide with yourself what amount you feel comfortable with, and have a partner, friend, or family member hold you accountable and be an encouragement to you.
3. Dreaming of Life After the Plan
This is where the fun comes in. It is what kept us going through the 9 months of our debt payoff journey. We formulated a few financial goals that we wanted to accomplish soon after paying down the debt. Our big dream was to have a fully-funded celebration trip to Italy in September 2018. Instead of monotonously living each month to just pay down our debt, we dreamed of what was to come. We created a trip itinerary, watched flight costs, perused AirBnB, and soon, our dream became our reality. We traveled all over Italy in September, and celebrated with all the Italian wine our hearts desired.
During our debt pay down we also dreamed of building wealth. We shopped around for the best high-yield savings accounts and money market accounts. We built even bigger dreams for what those accounts could grow to by the end of the year. Because of our dedication during the debt payoff stage, our dreams of traveling and building wealth became a reality. Our big dreams kept us going. What are the dreams you have? Paying down your debt is a stepping stone to those dreams, not an impossible wall separating you from the life you dream of.
Get a plan in place that is doable for you. Set up your budget (I have a free template on my website). Tell somebody about your plan. Have them be your cheerleader you when you feel like you won’t succeed or when you want to give up. You can do this, and you will be living your dream sooner than you think.
Mariah Mortellaro works full time in accounting at a university in metro Detroit. She recently started an online clothing and community brand to encourage the millennial generation. Millennials Managing It is a hub for apparel, meaningful conversation, and inspiration. Join the conversation on Instagram @millennialsmanagingit.
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