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How to Pay Off $87,000 of Student Loan Debt

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Last week, my husband and I accomplished the biggest goal so far in our marriage: we paid off $87,000 of student loan debt.

Yes, you heard that right–$87,000 of student loan debt. The last 2.5 years of paying off debt have not been easy, but it was doable.

70% of college graduates carry student loan debt after they graduate, and we were part of them. My husband, Jacob, and I attended a private Christian University where we met 5 years ago. We got an amazing education and had a wonderful experience, but it definitely came with a cost!

Jacob graduated in 2014 with about $40,000 of student loan debt, and I graduated in 2015 with the same. By the time we got married in July 2015 and had over $80,000 of debt hanging over our heads, we knew that things had to change.

2.5 years later, we are 23 and 26 years old, and we have honestly never felt better. I remember the stress that we felt on a daily basis. Just starting our careers and not making a whole lot, living in an expensive city, and trying to scrape by so we could put every extra dime to loans. We had dreams about our future, but had no idea how they would ever happen with student loan debt.

Flash forward to today and things look a lot different. We are both working jobs that we absolutely love. We are planning our next vacation that we always dreamed about. And we are starting into the house-buying process as we look to purchase our first home.

The world seems a lot brighter when you don’t have student loan debt hanging over your head. But I probably don’t have to tell you that twice. Everyone knows how much student loans suck.

All of this to say… The journey to paying off student loan debt isn’t easy. It’s hard and exhausting. But it is more than worth it in the end. Here’s how we paid off $87,361.61 of student loan debt in less than 27 months:

We Dreamed Big

When we were poor and starting out, we dreamed about what we wanted our future to look like. We knew that we wanted to have a house and kids, but we knew doing all those things wasn’t going to be easy if we had student loan debt hanging over our heads.

We wrote down our life goals and then came up with a plan with how we were going to get there. That meant making some serious sacrifices and paying off every dime of our student loan debt.

We Used A Monthly Budget

Every month we made a monthly budget that was specific to that month. We made a zero-based budget (you can learn how to make a budget here) meaning all of our income equals all of our expenses. Every month we would make a plan with our money by using a budget and tell every dollar where to go before we even received our pay checks. Then throughout the month, I would track all of our spending and compare what we budgeted to what was actually spent.

It takes about 3 solid months to have a budget figured out. Give it time and don’t give up. You can make a budget with pen and paper, apps like EveryDollar or Excel (my fav!).

We Paid Off Student Loan Debt Using the Debt Snowball

Dave Ramsey made the debt snowball famous. The concept is that you list out your debts smallest amount to largest amount. Then you pay minimum payments on all debts, but put anything extra you can to the smallest debt. Once the smallest debt is paid off, you take what you were paying to the smallest debt and add it to your payment of the next.

Meaning that when you pay off a loan, you don’t put less to your overall debt. Instead, you keep paying the same total amount to a fewer number of loans. You can learn more about the debt snowball here.

Once we paid off one debt, we took what we were paying to that single debt, and put it to the next. This helped us gain momentum and those last few loans got paid off fairly quickly!

We Cut Our Expenses

While we were paying off debt, we only bought things we truly needed: food, shelter,  and transportation (learn more about basic needs here). When we first started our journey, we spent on average about $200 a month on food, $1200 a month on shelter, and $50 on transportation. Towards the end, we made changes and spent $200 a month on food, $200 on shelter, and $125 on transportation.

All other expenses besides these were extras and we had very few. While we really cut down on our spending, we always made it a priority to give to our church and Africa New Life–a missions organization, and save each month to give extra to a food bank. Here is what our September 2017 budget looked like:

As you can see, we lived very basically. Just focusing on our needs and spending just a little bit on the extras. This meant that we said no to a lot like eating out, big vacations, and personal spending. But we therefore got to put about 70% of our income each month to our student loan debt!

We Increased Our Income

The best ways to find more money to put to your loans each month is to decrease your expenses and increase your income. Since we cut our expenses (a lot!) we also worked to increase out income. This calendar year, Jacob and I got new jobs that pay more and also had some promotions. This allowed us to put our extra income from our raise straight to our loans. You can learn more about how to budget for a raise here.

I also started a side hustle this year. I do side work for a small business to help with the marketing and website content. It’s something that I’m able to do from home a few hours a week, which is nice, and provides us with extra income to again put straight to our loans! You can learn more about side hustles here. 

We Stayed Focused on Our Goal

I’ll be honest, the time we were paying off debt was hard and really not all that fun. We stayed so focused and intense on paying off student loan debt that we didn’t get to do a whole lot. We sacrificed a lot and said no to most things so that we could continue with reaching our initial goal of becoming debt free.

There actually were times that we almost gave up. We so badly want to have a house of our own, and during the spring of this year, I thought that we should instead save for a house instead of paying off our debt. But staying on course and paying off our student debt first was the best decision for us.

Things will get hard during your debt-free journey. It’s going to be long, and hard if you’re truly all in. But I wouldn’t have changed a single thing that we did. Paying off our student loan debt is by far the biggest accomplishment we’ve reached so far in our 2 years of marriage and I could not be happier with our decision to pay off our debt.

All in all, paying off debt is a relief and is totally worth the short-term pain. If we can do it, so can you. Student loans suck, but you don’t need to hold onto them for 20 years. My hope is that you will find encouragement and know that this is possible. Don’t give up because you think that you are too young or don’t make enough money. No matter your circumstances, you can make at least a dent in your debt if you are serious about it.

Here’s to the next chapter of our lives: life without student loan debt!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my terms of use for more information. 

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  • Anita Durley

    October 14, 2017 at 4:54 pm

    Congratulations to both of you. I am happy you had enough left from your paychecks to have accomplished so much in such a short time. You both have made good use of your college education, and that you stuck to your plan. “You are 23 already!” Anita D.

    1. Marissa

      October 14, 2017 at 5:04 pm

      Thank you Anita!!!

  • Suzanne Angelo

    October 14, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    I’ve been reading your blog from the beginning. I have been continually amazed at your determination to do this. One thought keeps popping up for me: I enjoy the blog but wonder if you shouldn’t take this farther a field. For example, talking to kids graduating from college, church youth groups, etc. Your story would carry more weight than parents would. My kids were fortunate to graduate debt free. But we did watch as they struggled with goals. Alyson and her husband gave up everything to save for a home and decided they couldn’t afford Portland so they live in Vancouver (happily). Nick and his girlfriend saved everything for a year before moving to a new city for a fresh start (Detroit) where the cost of living doesn’t take every paycheck dime and they are already looking at purchasing a duplex. Budgeting is not something millennials do. You did it and I congratulate you!

    1. Marissa

      October 16, 2017 at 12:17 am

      Hi Suzanne! Thanks so much for reading my blog from the beginning! I truly appreciate that and your support.

      Those are awesome ideas that I have definitely toyed with. Last month I spoke at Corban University in their Personal Finance class and it was awesome! I even got a lot of questions and classroom participation! I would love to continue to share our story with high school and college students as they really are the ones who need to hear this stuff!

      Thanks again for following along with us in this journey, Suzanne. 🙂

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