How I Paid Off My Student Loans in 10 Months
At the start of this year I set one goal: pay off my student loans before 2016. If I achieved nothing else this would be the one thing that I had hoped to accomplish.
Before I get into how I paid off my student loans, a little about myself. I’m a recent college graduate and started working as a consultant in August 2014. My student loan repayment began in December 2014 and I quickly realized that I needed to get rid of this debt as fast as possible or else I would live with it forever.
I will also note that I live just outside of Washington D.C. in Northern Virginia, which is one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S.
For the first couple months after starting my job I had no budget, no student loan payments, and spent too much money on stuff I didn’t need. I was a high-earning poor person. The day I made my first student loan payment was the wake-up call I desperately needed.
Student Loan Debt: The Facts
The most stressful and concerning financial challenge for millennial’s is student loan debt. In fact, the average student loan debt for the Class of 2015 is now $35,000. It has also become an increasingly hot topic in the 2016 presidential election. No matter where you stand, student loan debt impacts us all in one way or another.
My Journey To Becoming Debt Free
After I made my first payment I set out to get rid of my student loans. I started with over $23,000 of debt and was determined to pay it off in just 12 months. I started by creating a budget.
Creating a Budget
There are tons of ways to create a budget, but not a lot of people end up following the budget they set. Enter YNAB (You Need a Budget). YNAB is an easy to use budget tool that works seamlessly across all my devices. YNAB’s proven method forces you to give every dollar a job. I developed my budget in YNAB and it made me realize just how bad my spending habits really were. I was spending way too much on clothes, restaurants, and other worthless things that were only keeping me in debt longer. Creating a budget forced me to improve my spending habits and become more responsible with my money.
I’m also a user of Mint.com. Mint.com is a nice free alternative to YNAB, but I don’t believe it’s as effective at changing spending patterns because it’s very automated.
After I entered in all of monthly expenses and set budget amounts (Rent, Electricity, Cable/Internet, Car Payment, Transportation, Restaurants, Groceries, and a small amount of spending money) I set hard limits on a few categories.
No more random shopping trips, significantly less eating out, less driving and more use of public transit, you get the picture. All in all, spend less money. This helped me realize how much extra money I could be applying to my student loans. At the end of each month I would finalize my budget and apply any extra money not utilized to my student loans.
While my current salary is well above the average in my age group, it alone would not allow me to reach my goal. If I wanted to hit it before 2016 I was going to have to find new ways to generate additional income. Enter RelayRides.
The Sharing Economy Slashed My Car Payment
One of the ways to reduce my monthly expenses was to cut down my car usage. Thankfully, I don’t need a car to get to work as I am lucky enough to live within walking distance t0 the D.C. Metro. Taking the Metro 90% of the time for my transportation has saved me thousands of dollars and countless hours sitting in traffic, this year alone.
After seeing how much money I could save by not using my car I decided to take it a step further and begin renting it out. I decided to start renting out my car in the Spring of 2015 on Turo (formerly RelayRides) and will admit to being a little apprehensive at first, but after my first couple renters turned out successful, I was quickly growing it into a business.
I would typically spend no more than an hour managing each rental request (communications, marketing, meeting renters, etc.). Additionally, to reduce rental management time and increase revenue I would often book longer term rentals (1 week or more) whenever available.
RelayRides was successful and to date I have generated over $3,000 in extra income, which almost completely covers my car payments for the year.
Startups On The Side
You know how people say it’s important to stay connected to the people you meet in college — It’s true!
In January I started working on a part-time basis with one of my college connections, Nick. Nick has a couple startup companies that have seen steady growth over the last 2 years and he needed more expertise and manpower to continue growing the businesses. When I first started working with him I was simply an independent advisor and not involved in any of the day to day operations. I wasn’t even paid.
Fast forward 5 months, I now work about 10 hours a week and am a paid company employee. Although everyone in the company works remotely, we have made sure that relationships and trust are at the center of everything we do.
Not only has working with Nick and the startups helped me generate over $2,000 to date, but it has also allowed to me develop new skills and passions. Because of my experience I have realized that startups and entrepreneurship are something I want to continue pursuing for the rest of my life as much more than a part-time gig.
Hard Work & Sacrifice
By this point you might think I am a little crazy or I got lucky. The truth is I am both, but I also worked extremely long and hard days and made significant sacrifices to pay off my student loans in just 10 months.
Working as a consultant right out of college is not easy. It takes a toll on your mind, your health, and your life overall. It’s a big adjustment. I’ve had many sleepless nights, tears shed, and days when I just wanted to quit. While consulting is not easy, I am extremely thankful for the experience it has provided me.
Sure consulting is hard, but when I started working part-time on the startups I really pushed my limits. Working on average 60 hours a week made me question if this is really worth it. Finding the balance between consulting and startups was hard at first, but it opened my eyes to future opportunities that I may have never considered.
The biggest thing I learned is that it’s ok to fail. So many young adults in todays world are afraid of failure due to pressure’s society has put upon them. As hard as it was to fail repeatedly, I learned that it is the only way to know success. As Elon Musk famously said, “Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”
Don’t be afraid to fail, if you don’t you won’t find success.
There were many months where I broke my budget and failed. What I learned was to not let failure drag me down, instead use it to motivate me to get back on track. I still lived my life to the fullest and was able to have fun while taking on this huge challenge. I got creative and it paid off, literally.
When I finally paid off the remaining balance last month I felt a boost of confidence and sense of freedom. When I go to sleep at night I have less to worry about. Paying off my student loan debt early enables me to take risks both professionally and personally. I will no longer be held back like so many of my peers, stuck in corporate jobs they hate with no choice but to continue on.
You Can Do It Too
If I can do it, you can too. Whether it’s student loan debt or some other financial challenge, chances are you can do better. Take action, create a budget, reduce your spending, develop better habits, find ways to generate additional income, and embrace failure. You can do it.