8 Things We Did to Pay Off Over $51,000 of Student Loan Debt in 17 Months While Raising a Family in the Bay Area – Part 1

A couple months ago, we paid off my last student loan – all $51,606.49 of it in 17 months, while raising two little ones in one of the most expensive places to live today – the Bay area.

It has been exhilarating and freeing. And the timing was just down to the wire.

My husband’s monster loan kicked into full gear in June – with our minimum payment jumping to almost $1,900 per month. Had we not been able to pay off my student loan by May, we wouldn’t have been able to cover both student loan payments every month. So we are ecstatic!

It wasn’t easy, but it can be done. And if we can slowly chip away at our student loans, so can you!

I want to share the 8 things that we did that enabled us to succeed in this feat. And, I hope you can find some ideas and inspiration to apply to your own debt pay-off journey.

Note: I had intended to write this as one post, but I just couldn’t stop writing about our experience (I guess I get pretty excited talking about this stuff 😉 ), so I decided to chunk it out into 3 parts.

Here are the first 3 things that enabled us to pay off over $51,000 in 17 months.

1. We Set an Inspiring Goal for Ourselves

8 Things We Did To Pay Off $51K of Student Loans

Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”

Tony Robbins

After paying off two of our smallest student loans, we gained the traction and momentum, which motivated us to keep going. We started to believe that we actually had a shot at paying off ALL of our student loans before all our hair turned gray!

So, on a high from paying off our two smallest loans, we set a crazy goal of paying off our remaining $150,000 student loan balance in 3 years – by December 2020.

When we set this goal, we weren’t exactly sure if and how we’d make this happen. To this day, I’m still not sure if we’ll make it happen. Still, we thought to dream BIG.

Why not?

We’re shooting for something anyway. Might as well go BIG.

If we want something drastic to happen, we need to take drastic action.

Although this goal seems quite crazy in that we aren’t sure how we’d accomplish it within that deadline … it is inspiring. Just thinking of all the possibilities and freedom that we would gain is so promising!

And this is where setting inspiring and challenging goals come in.

As the famous sculptor, painter and architect Michelangelo said,

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”      

The sooner we can get out of debt, the sooner we can begin to build a financially secure future for our family.

Setting and having this goal made our dreams of becoming debt-free more tangible. It stopped being these drifting clouds of wish and hope. And instead turned from something that was out of reach into a real possibility – something actually attainable.

It’s the first step in making it real – giving us a target to shoot for and get us moving in the right direction. It gave us something to aspire for and helped us focus on what we needed to do.

Take Action: If you’re in a similar situation of being buried in debt and wanting to get out of it, set a goal a for yourself. Give yourself a target. Make it inspiring enough, so that it pushes, motivates and forces you to dig deep. Get it out of your head and capture it on paper, your phone, tablet, or wherever else you prefer – just as long as you get it out of your mind.

2. We Paused to Know on Our Why

8 Things We Did To Pay Off $51K Student Loans

Once You Know Your Why, You Can Survive Almost Any How”

Anonymous

Have you paused to think about why you’re doing some of the things you’re doing and striving for?

Why are you working towards your master’s degree?

Why are you putting in those long or late hours at work?

Why are you committed to volunteering at your child’s school?

Why are you starting an entrepreneurial pursuit?

Why do you want to make more money?

In our busy schedules, which have little to no margin for anything else, it’s so easy to get on the train of doing and forget to pause and reflect on our reasons for why we’re even doing what we’re doing in the first place.

This is why I asked my husband if he was willing to write out his reasons for why he wanted to pay off our student loans as quickly as possible. Me writing for my husband would not be as effective as my husband thinking through and writing it out himself. Besides, he journals fairly regularly, so this wasn’t a big ask. 😉

While we’re working to achieve this goal together, we captured why we wanted to be debt-free on paper separately. We knew – from a general sense – that our whys would be similar. But we each wrote up our own, so we could mentally process and externalize them – giving each of us the opportunity to work through our thoughts and feelings, and express ourselves about our desire to be debt-free.

So, why are we trying to aggressively pay off our student loans?

At the end of our exercise, even though we wrote them out separately and in our own words, it boiled down to both of us wanting financial security and stability for our family. We don’t want to place our family in a precarious situation due to our finances. We want to be able to provide for our kids today and invest in their future, as well as ours.

Clearly identifying our reason – what’s driving us – was and continues to be integral in helping us endure this challenging journey. Having a reason bigger than ourselves was a driving motivation to keep going.

And, keeping this front and center helped us push through and stay on course when times got tough and we wanted to take the easy road, which would pull us away from achieving our goal – such as ordering take out multiple times a week because I’m too lazy or tired to cook, or charging a vacation on a credit card because we haven’t traveled in a while, or simply ignoring our budget because it was just too much work.

There are so many inspiring stories today of people paying off insane amounts of debt in crazy timelines. And it’s so easy to jump on the debt pay-off bandwagon because it sounds great and seems awesome (note: I personally think it’s awesome). But jumping on this bandwagon for the sake of jumping on the bandwagon – while it may get you off your butt initially – without knowing why you’re going on this journey in the first place, the chances of you falling off the wagon are far greater.

We must each find our reasons why – ones that truly resonate with us – behind the things we are striving for.

Take Action: After setting your goal and before outlining your game plan, pause and ask yourself why you’re shooting for that goal. Why is it important for you to achieve it? What makes it meaningful for you? Just like your goal, externalize and articulate this somewhere you can easily refer to.

Knowing your WHY can help you stick to your HOW (plan) for achieving your goal (WHAT you desire) even when things get tough.

3. We Created a Plan, Took Action and Revisited Our Plan Regularly

8 Things We Did To Pay Off $51K Student Loans

A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

After we set our goal and externalized why it’s important to us, we then put together our plan of attack – the tactics and details needed to achieve our goal.

I don’t know about you, but the goal of paying off $150,000 in 3 years is beyond intimidating. Where would we even begin?

Well, the only way to get anywhere is to put one foot in front of the other – one step at a time. And, that’s what we did to start moving in the direction we needed to.

So what we did first was we broke down our big goal into smaller, more manageable (and less intimidating) goals – or milestones.

At a high-level and to keep things simple, we estimated that we’d need to pay about $50,000 each year to be able to hit our deadline. Which meant we’d have to pay about $4,167 each month.

But we knew that there was no way given our income and living expenses that we’d be able to swing $4,167 a month when we started this. So, we decided to build towards that – paying what we could and looking at how we can increase our income and decrease our expenses further along the way.

We also knew that it is a bit challenging to plan exactly what to do for the next 3 years. There are so many factors that could change in that time period. We won’t know what our income will be, and if or how our job and living situations would change. So, we set rough projections for our goals each year (our milestones) and planned to review them every 6 months to see if and how we need to adjust things.

We then focused on and got more detailed with our plans for our first year.

With our milestones in place, we thought about all the things we needed to do – our tactics – to move us toward our end goal. Here are some of the tactics we deemed essential in order for us to succeed:

  • Pay close attention to our numbers – total income and expenses each month
  • Set a budget each month and stick to it
  • Pay at least the minimum payment required for our student loan every month
  • Apply any leftover money at the end of the month toward our loan
  • Look at all potential sources of income we could use to apply toward the loan – get creative
  • Figure out a way to increase our monthly income
  • Reduce expenses where we still can
  • Keep our goals front and center
  • Check our progress along the way
  • Limit eating out
  • Be mindful of our Amazon purchases

Then, we took action. A plan is only as good as our follow-through with it. Using the plan we mapped out as our guide, we did our best to do or not do certain things, as prescribed in our plan.

And, as I mentioned above, we reviewed our plan regularly to keep it fresh in our minds and adjust as we needed to.

Take Action: Now that you’ve got your big goal and know the reason behind it, it’s time to create your plan. First, set your milestones by breaking down your long-term goal into smaller, more manageable ones. Then, think of all the tactics you need to implement in order to hit your milestones. These are the actions you need to take and the behaviors that will move you closer to your end goal. Then, take action! Remember, your plan is only as good as your follow-through of it. And lastly, don’t let your plan gather dust! It’s what will guide you in your journey. Keep reviewing and revisiting it along the way, and adjust it as you see fit.

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