We all know it, we all hate it – student loan debt. Some folks have the opportunity to forgo paying loans; however, if you’re like me [and most of us out there] we are stuck paying back the big guys.
Now, I’m not here to give some BS motivational speech about how working hard can get you where you want to be or throw out vague ideas on budgeting/saving that every article I seemed to read would be about.
Below are specific tactics and lessons learned that allowed me to pay off my student loan debt before age 30.
PAYMENT PLAN SELECTION
There are a lot of payback options for student loan debt. My advice would be to choose the option with the lowest required payment and then pay extra when you can. With this option, you’re not confined to paying a large monthly amount that could hinder any future financial emergencies such as car troubles etc.
THE GRACE PERIOD
If you get a job before or soon after graduating, do NOT use the ever so enticing “grace period.” That’s six months of interest you do NOT need to accrue [I’m talking thousands, folks]. Start paying off the student loan debt as soon as you can.
PAYING DEBT VS. SAVING
Once you know your loan payment, take a look at all your debt and savings goals and start prioritizing where your money will go. An example priority is save > credit cards > student loan.
Save, save, save
Whether it’s $10/mo or $200/mo, whether you have debt or not, start saving money automatically from a checking to a savings account. Pay minimums on everything until you have a decent emergency fund. Having this will help alleviate swiping credit cards in the future. If you’re in the unfortunate event where you pay minimums on everything and still can’t save, find a side hustle or downsize some things. Extra money isn’t going to just be handed to you.
Tackle high interest debt
More than likely any credit card debt you have will be at a higher interest rate than your student loan. If you’re not sure, Google a calculator, calculate the monthly interest you’re paying for each, find out which one is higher, and prioritize paying it off first.
Pay minimums and then some on student loan debt
Start with the minimum, and once your savings and credit cards are in good order, start putting extra money towards this. I know it’s hard seeing extra money you now have go to debt instead of fun things, but believe me – you can have just as much fun in your 30s vs. your 20s.
Just because your credit card debt is paid off and all you need to worry about at this point is rent, a car payment, student loan debt and maybe some other things, don’t go all Jay-Z and Beyonce. Continue to save for emergencies, vacations, weddings, babies, and anything else you foresee and want to prioritize in your future.
MANAGING DEBT, SAVING, AND HAVING A LIFE
Even if you’re in a position to be financially responsible when you graduate, you might not be ready to be a hermit who doesn’t have any fun. The key to managing debt, saving, and having fun is constant BUDGETING. Budget everything. Every day. Every paycheck. At least three months in advance. The nice thing about constant budgeting is that it is more fluid. You can see areas where you can give and take rather than be married to one super strict budget for the next 30 days. Similar to those crazy diets – if you restrict something for so long you’ll eventually cave and over indulge.
I tried things like Mint and other apps, but once I got to the end of the month I ended up running out of money. I essentially wanted an app that accommodated a “paycheck to paycheck” structure. Paycheck to paycheck kept me more accountable more frequently.
I use an app called Balance My Checkbook. It’s more of a manual process, but I like that because it keeps me focused on this new dynamic I have with spending money. When apps aggregate all my stuff in one spot it’s hard for me to stay focused.
- IF you want to have an app that aggregates all your accounts to keep track of how your debt has gone down or how your savings has grown, go for it. But I would keep the manual app for every day spending that overtime, can help you get to longer term goals.
HOW TO USE THE BUDGET APP
The below is a hypothetical example of app usage and manual budgeting. The example is with a bi-weekly pay of $1,200.
Add your paychecks for the next three months or so and go through the process of deducting mandatory bills based on the bills due date. Once you do that, your list of paychecks will now show how much money you have to spend in between paychecks [i.e. the 490.00 & 550.00 you now see instead of the 1,200.00 in the below image].
Also, instead of just bills, you can add transactions you know are coming up. Are you getting your hair done two months from now? Need to pay for a hotel stay in a few weeks? Know someones birthday is coming up and want to set a budget for their present? Adding future expenses will help alleviate any “oh crap I’m out of money and need to swipe the credit card” moments.
Track every day expenses. Our phones are on us ALL the time. So why not take two seconds and jot down the $25 you just spent. Even something as small as $2. Keeping track of everything you spend will keep you on course. If you don’t track even the smallest expenses, they add up over time putting dents in future budgets. I round up so I don’t get hung up on cents. If you want to have a fun night out and not worry about it, that’s ok, just check your bank account the next day and make sure you document the damage in the app. You may have to forgo eating out for lunch the next few days, but that’s the price you pay for delicious cocktails.
Tracking every day expenses will help you see how much money you have left in between paychecks. In the below example after logging some expenses there is $376 to last until the next paycheck.
I hope this process I followed for YEARS [yes, years] can help you in some way. In all honesty, even now that my debt is paid off I still use the app. It’s a great way to stay on track not just for paying off debt, but saving too.