Yes, you read that right. I paid off 45k in student loan debt in 2 years as a teacher.
This post will show you how I did it.
First, if you’re unfamiliar with my background, I graduated college at 22 years old with a degree in music education. I spent 4.5 years completing my undergrad in Virginia before moving back home with my parents in New York.
At this point in my life I was excited to be back in my home state, ready to start my career as an educator. What I wasn’t excited about was my student loan debt.
In fact I was very unexcited about my debt. That piece of paper framed nicely in my childhood bedroom left me with 45k to pay back, and that was after a substantial amount of financial help from my parents!
Now you’re probably thinking, so what, set-up a repayment plan, pay it off over the next 15+ years and be done with it. After all, that’s what most people choose to do. For 2020, the average student loan payment is $393/month, and the average time to repay those loans is 21 years.
I don’t know about you, but having student loan debt for that long was not happening for me.
Having student loan debt, actually any debt, felt suffocating to me. I hated having debt.
You know that feeling when you get gum stuck to your shoe, and every step you take you feel that gum suctioning your foot to the floor. That’s what debt felt like for me. It was like constantly having gum on my shoe with no stick around to scrape it off.
So I decided to tackle my debt head on.
Granted, at this point I was 23, living with my parents, with no full time teaching job yet.
I literally had NO reason to feel confident or optimistic that I would be able to pay off much of anything.
But I digress.
My plan was super straight forward:
1. Decrease my expenses as much as possible
2. Increase my earnings as much as possible
3. Use the amount I save to pay off debt
That was it. Doing these three things super well was my plan.
So, I just began..
Over the course of the next two years I did a bunch of things…
- Worked as a substitute teacher
- Got a leave replacement teaching job
- Got a full time teaching job
- Taught 20 private music lessons per week
- Did some painting for my dad
- Worked as a standardized patient at a hospital (Look it up, such a sweet side gig!)
- Continued living at home
- Continued to drive my old used car
- Ate all meals at home
- Didn’t go on vacations
You get the point. I basically lived extremely frugally and side hustled as much as I could.
Then, after two years, I finished paying off my debt.
All 45k by age 25.
The best part is that I didn’t actually get my first full time, tenure track teaching position until a year and a half in. Go figure.
There were a lot of benefits to reaching this goal. I could start maximizing my investment accounts, saving money was easy, I could spend on things that brought me value, and I had a lot more financial freedom. From a psychological perspective though, I had peace of mind. No worrying about those monthly payments, and no feeling of being tied down. To paraphrase Dave Ramsey, I no longer was enslaved to the lender.
What did I do differently?
A lot of people try to pay off all their student loan debt quickly, but fail. They side hustle, they make a few initial big debt payments, and then after a few months they start only paying the minimum.
Why? Because paying off debt quickly is a marathon. It takes continuous effort and sacrifice over a long stretch of time to successfully make it happen.
I know this because I experienced it.
My plan to simply earn more, spend less, and pay off debt did not take into account how to prevail over the long term. It did not take into account how to keep pushing forward when I wanted to live a “normal” 24 year old life.
This is why I came VERY close to stoping my large payments and reverting back to paying the minimum after only a few months. Seriously though, after a measly 3 months, I had had enough of this frugal living, debt destroying shit. I wanted out. In fact, around this time my friends were planning a trip to the Bahamas and I was the first one to say COUNT ME IN!
None of this was part of my initial payoff plan!
So what shifted? How did I prevail?
Well, the Bahamas trip ended up falling through. I was pissed.
The big thing though was I put strategies in place that would allow me to be successful. In good times and in bad. Strategies that would help me to stay the course.
These are 3 things I did.
1. Own your “Why”
Why are you trying to pay off your debt quickly? Do you know your answer?
It’s easy to lose sight of this if you don’t fully believe it.
This is a personal thing, and it’s what will drive you to continue making those payments when you REALLY want to upgrade your car or get a new iphone.
For me, my “Why” was so I didn’t have to be financially tied to anyone. I hated that I just worked my butt off in college, was ready to start my life but had to pay someone hundreds a month for the next 10-15 years. That bothered me so much. I was willing to make sacrifices in the short term to get myself out of that position.
Think about your why and own it.
Write it down and post it to your bedroom wall. Look at it before you got to bed and look at it again when you wake up. Knowing your why and revisiting your why will carry you through.
2. Track your progress
Most likely your loan servicer will track payments for you, but I found it helpful to do my own tracking. That’s because the action of writing down how much you have paid so far and how much you have left is exhilarating. It sounds ridiculous, but it is. Whether it’s an excel spreadsheet or simple pen and paper, you’ll find yourself getting excited to manually change the numbers.
You may not be too excited early on when you still have 95% of the way to go, but once you cross over that 50% mark, looking back on your progress will feel amazing. So amazing that you’ll feel energized to keep pushing forward.
3. Accountability, Accountability, Accountability
Did I mention throwing everything at your debt is really hard? Yea, it sucks. You’ll come up with every reason in the book to stop doing it – I should really start investing, I need to start saving for a house, extending my debt payment another year isn’t so bad, and my favorite, you only live once so I should really start enjoying it. Yea these are all the excuses straight from my mouth. Don’t buy it though, it’s just your brain trying to protect you from the hardship that is paying off a lot of debt.
To make sure you don’t let your brain win, set up external accountability measures. I suggest sharing your debt repayment goals with friends and family. I told anyone and everyone that would listen! This way I knew I had people that could kick my butt if I started to cave. You may also want to chronicle your journey through a blog. Same concept but with virtual butt kicking instead.
The Bottom Line
If you’re thinking about throwing everything at your student loan debt and paying it off quickly, DO IT.
There is no greater feeling than making that final payment and realizing you have complete financial freedom. Especially while you’re still in your 20’s.
If my story teaches you anything, it should be that anyone can crush their debt. Even the teacher that has to side hustle to make ends meet. If I can make it happen, you can too.