Life lesson: Debt doesn't disappear unless you get serious about it.

When I graduated from college, my student loans were approximately $25k. It might not seem like much compared to the national average, however, loan payments can take a large portion of your paycheck each month no matter what the total number is.

It’s even worse when you see the principle to interest ratio and realize that most of what you are paying each month is interest, not even the money you borrowed in the first place.

After about six months of making payments and feeling as though I was making absolutely no progress, I decided to get serious about repaying my student loans. For me personally, I didn’t see any real progress until I doubled and sometimes tripled my monthly loan payments. I did this by reorganizing my financial priorities for a short time period.

It wasn’t always easy, but reminding myself that I was making these changes for a positive reason helped me to stay on track.

I also want to note that rather than focusing on making more money, the changes I made restructured my current financial situation. My financial mindset at the time focused on keeping expenses, especially fixed expenses, as low as possible. That’s why I made changes to keep expenses as low as possible when debt repayment was my priority. 

How I Successfully Doubled My Student Loan Payments:

1. I lived with roommates for a year.

This is probably one of the most obvious things a person can do to save money. And as a married couple, this was an incredibly hard decision for my husband and I to make, especially after living on our own for three years. But it was ultimately one that helped us pay our debt down faster.

We live in the middle of a city (for work and by choice) and rent is not cheap. The opportunity arose to move in with two other people for a year the would save us nearly $900 in rent alone. It wasn’t an ideal situation, however, being able to pay off our debt was worth it.

The numbers worked out this way for us because they had a better deal on a two bedroom apartment than we did on a one bedroom. Your situation might not be this way, but reevaluating your housing expenses and seeing how you can cut back even for a year can make a huge difference. Natalee made a similar change as well and also had a positive result.

2. I got strict with our grocery budget.

We found a cheaper grocery store and took the time to search for coupons on items we planned to buy. It really helped for us to create a meal plan each week so that we wouldn’t waste food and also wouldn’t be distracted by anything that looked good while we were shopping.

Additionally, we cut back on eating out. One meal out in the city can easily cost more than $50. We cut back to going out once per month until our loans were paid off.

From these two changes, we were able to cut nearly $400 from our monthly grocery and food totals. I’m not going to lie and say this part was easy for me, because it wasn’t. I definitely missed eating out and coffee dates but knowing that I was putting an extra $400 a month towards debt made me feel better about the temporary cuts.

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3. I didn’t travel.

Travel is important to me as I truly believe it helps us grow as individuals. I also frequently travel from the west coast to the east coast to visit family.

To make debt repayment a priority, I cut back on my trips cross-country and did not plan for any international travel until my debt was gone. Of course I had the desire to travel, but my goal for the next 12 months was to pay off my debt, the time (and money) to travel would come afterwards.

I actually stopped reading travel blogs and posts during this time because all it did was make my wanderlust stronger. It just wasn’t something I could afford at the time.

4. I spent more time on free hobbies than paid ones.

Hobbies, even those like reading that seem relatively inexpensive, can still be costly. It’s important to fill your time doing things that are low-cost and keep you busy. You won’t feel as if you’re missing out while you’re focused on debt repayment.

Reading is one of my favorite hobbies, but I couldn’t afford to buy new books every week during this time. Instead, I read books that were free through Amazon, purchased second-hand, or gifted to me. Other hobbies I picked up were watching YouTube videos and Netflix, trying out new recipes, and of course, blogging.

I also started working out a lot more. I went on runs and even ran my first half marathon during this time period; other than the right pair of shoes, you can run in pretty much anything.

The biggest reason paying off my loans a priority was because I was tired of seeing a huge chunk of money disappear every month. I would much rather have been putting that money into savings. For me, that feeling was very motivating.

I think working for the opportunity to live debt-free is the best gift you could ever give yourself. It’s so freeing to not be tied down by a loan payment every month. With some lifestyle changes and strategic planning, you can find financial freedom, too.