I left college with almost $70,000 in student loans.
I guess I could have had any of those things but instead I got two degrees that I don’t even exactly use for my career now – but I also don’t regret my experience at all!
You know what else came with that education? Seven years of having to pay it off.
Every paycheck in my life from 24 to 31 years old was about paying off that debt. Yes, of course, I lived an awesome life in between but I also spent a huge chunk of my income on those loans.
When I was 23 and bar tending, I might have put about $200-300 a month toward my student loans. But in 2018, when I was really on a mission to pay them off for good, I spent anywhere from $2,000-7,000 a month toward them (I did this through a combination of my salary and commissions).
Having a large debt like that definitely affected the jobs I took, how I negotiated my salary, and how closely I looked at my salary and commission paychecks – I needed every red cent to pay them off as soon as possible.
Happy to report: I finally did! In February of 2019, I paid off my very last student loan *cue happy dance*!
After all that, these are the lessons I’d like others to learn.
My favorite teacher that I’ve ever had in my whole life once gave me the worst advice I’ve ever received: she told my whole English class during senior year of high school that we should all go to college no matter what the cost. She said there are student loans for everything and that we could just take one out if we wanted to go.
I look back on that and I understand what she was getting at. She wanted us all to further our education and she was of the old-school mentality that in order to have a “good life”, we had to have a secondary education. I think, in the end, she just wanted the best for all of us and I totally appreciated that notion.
Come to find out, attending an expensive university isn’t for everyone and it definitely isn’t the only way to make a good life for oneself. Please refer to my previous post about not needing a degree.
How to Pay Loans Off
If you decide to go to school (and it isn’t free), this is how I paid my student loans off: budget your income and then set aside all of your extra money to pay off debts.
I made a spreadsheet of all of my expenses (rent, utilities, transportation, groceries, etc) and then I set aside an amount for myself that I wanted to spend on other non-necessities (shopping, alcohol, take-out, Netflix, etc) and that was my budget for the month.
If my income was $1,600 a month and my budget was $1,200 then I’d use $400 toward my student loans. As my career progressed, as did my income, I did the same thing and still put more money toward loans.
Don’t forget what The Notorious B.I.G. said, “Mo Money, Mo Problems”. If you start making more money, don’t think that you can spend more on superfluous things and then put debt on the back burner. If you make more money, it is even more impetus to pay off those student loans and other debt!
Once you’re debt free, that’s when you can take on more spending. Remember the golden rule: live within your means.
Salary Requirements or Working More
I can’t say enough about budgeting but you can’t budget if you don’t have an income.
In my 20s, I worked my tail off to make extra money. I could work 18 hours in a day if it meant that I’d make a little bit more in my paycheck. That extra money didn’t ever go toward a designer bag, it all went either toward debt or toward savings (savings is a lesson for another post).
My husband is a great lesson in this too. At one point in our lives, we had the exact same salary but I also made commission and he had better benefits than me. In addition to his full time job, he also had three side gigs. He would photograph weddings, work for a dance competition, and pick up catering jobs here and there. He used his salary to meet his basic needs then he’d work the extra gigs to pay off his debts even faster.
I fully believe that you can’t sit back and let life happen to you. You have to go out and get more if you want more for yourself.
Even if you are unable to do as much as Mr. Smith or you’re early in your career and can’t command a high salary, there’s lots of online ways to make more money. Pinterest is my favorite go-to for finding those kinds of resources. I know there’s Google, but Pinterest has so many blog posts from actual people who have tried these things and given their honest opinion about what works. That’s where I truly recommend you start.
My final takeaway is not that college is bad. Unsurmountable debt is the true enemy. Live within your means. Go to school if it’s what you truly want. Go to a school you can afford. Shoot for the moon but don’t ever get in a situation where you may drown in debt.
Did you also leave college with a lot of debt? How did you pay it off and was it worth it to you?