How I paid off $30K in student loans over 6 years. Here’s how


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Imagine graduating from an MBA program ready to take on the world, only to find yourself unemployed. 

Sadly, this isn’t a unique situation. Considering the current work landscape, I, like many other graduates, found myself struggling to land a job after college. 

I studied business at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, netting both a Bachelor’s and an MBA upon graduation in 2009. The student loans set me back about $30,000. 

Of course, this was during the height of the recession, so my only fast option was a sales position, which wasn’t what I wanted.

I instead decided to spend a month in Slovakia, where I was born, and eventually made my way back to the U.S. to landed an analyst job at an investment bank.

I didn’t think about the loan at first. My dad was helping me pay the bare minimum amount each month, so it didn’t weigh on my mind at first.

I did manage to save some money after my first year of work. I decided to start making minimum payments so that my dad didn’t have to.

Getting more serious

I was still making the minimum loan payments when I met my wife, Ruby. I knew that these student loans were important, but it didn’t feel as important to me until I mentioned that I still had student loan debt (and the needle on the loan hadn’t moved that much). I started taking it more seriously when Ruby half-joked that she wouldn’t marry me if I still had loans by our wedding day. 

With a lot of hard work, I paid my last loan payment on December 21, 2015, which was the best Christmas gift ever. I remember feeling proud, free and glad to be rid of the worry.

Here’s how I did it:

1. Have an eagle-eye focus

My loans began to evaporate once I began taking them seriously. It became my mission to pay down the debt, and that focus ended up being its own reward.

I figured out how to save money so that I could make more than just the minimum payments. I decided that eradicating this student loan debt was going to be my main focus for the next few years. 

My wife was the catalyst for that focus. I know that if she wasn’t there to motivate and encourage me, I wouldn’t have been as aggressive in paying my loans off. 

The lesson here is that even when making debt repayment your main focus, you need support and guidance along the way. I was lucky that my dad and my wife helped. Even if you’re single, you can always look to friends and family for support. These people can be your sounding board or even help you with solid advice.

2. Frugality FTW

When I decided to save more money, I adopted a frugal lifestyle. I didn’t have a side hustle, so I relied on my current salary in order to tackle the debt. 

I took at look at my financial behaviors and decided to stop eating out. I no longer went out for nice dinners and brunches on Sundays. I also loved going to the movies, but stopped doing that while paying down the debt. Whenever I needed to buy clothes, I made sure to never pay full price.

If you have large amounts of debt to pay off, you don’t always need to become a super-frugal person. 

If you cut yourself off from all the luxuries you enjoy now, you may rebel and not make any progress at all. Instead, you can start cutting back slowly and see what you can eliminate altogether. 

Yes, I did cut out dining and movies, but I didn’t totally deprive myself. I did cut back on clothes shopping, but didn’t eliminate it altogether. In other words, you can still enjoy your money even though you’re paying down debt.

3. Gratitude

Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned throughout my debt repayment journey is that gratitude is key. I was so grateful for the moral support and a steady paycheck. I never took what I had for granted and worked hard to pay off my debt. I wasn’t really a big spender in the first place, but my wife helped to shift my mindset to saving more than I ever thought possible. This eventually helped me to become debt-free. 

It may sound cheesy, but if you can find ways to be grateful, rally support and be focused, then you can pay off debt no matter how impossible it may seem. I’m not the only one who found success this way.

Resources for paying off student loans

When it comes to paying down student loans, sometimes it’s important to take advantage of the resources around you. 

If you have private student loans but aren’t considering Public Service Loan Forgiveness, you may want to refinance. There’s so much competition in that space that you can get paid a few hundred dollars to refinance. That’s on top of lower rates and a simpler debt repaying process.

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