By Melody Barthelemy
Melody’s story is not uncommon. According to Student Aid.gov, the majority of student loan borrowers take out loans from the federal government, with a total of 43 million borrowers that have $1,447.1 billion outstanding in student loan debt. Although these numbers seem daunting, with a plan and focus, it is possible to conquer this debt. Melody shared her journey to paying off six figures in student loans.
My Back Story
The majority of my student loan debt accumulated while I was in grad school, but I had also taken out student loans while completing my undergraduate degree. When I reached the end of my grace period after grad school, my student loan balance was at $89,275.11. I didn’t borrow that much, but my graduate loans were unsubsidized, so I started accumulating interest the moment I took the money.
Initially a spender, I worked a lot from the time I was in high school, but I never had anything to show for my money. I was spending it all on sneakers and nonsense. When I got a credit card my senior year of high school, I thought, I will start using it to build my credit and it was a domino effect after that.
I did not grow up learning one good thing about money. I don’t ever recall seeing any family members even going to the bank. Unfortunately, I did not grow up learning about investing, saving, and using credit properly.
Making the Decision
When I received the letter from FedLoan Servicing that my grace period was ending and I would have to start paying, I was sick to see how much money I owed. I didn’t think there was a way out of the mess I had created, and I needed to figure out a way to solve the problem that wouldn’t take me 20-30 years. I was not okay with spending two to three decades accumulating interest daily and putting my life on hold. I want to retire early, travel, and enjoy a life that doesn’t involve giving away my money!
I was completely at a loss on how to pay off my debt. While scrolling through social media, a friend shared her debt free journey. I reached out to learn more and she told me about a course she took at church about finances. It just so happened that a local church was also teaching the course. I signed up, and the instructor took the time to walk through my budget with me and pointed out that I was spending close to $700/month on eating out, buying snacks, coffee, etc.
With his help, I outlined my monthly expenses down to the last penny. I included holidays, gift giving, and my monthly tithe to church. After I learned more about my incoming vs. outgoing, I worked on creating a plan to pay off the loans. My goal was to bring in as much extra money as possible to get rid of the debt. I took time to find a good full-time job and get a consistent side hustle. I made little to no payments on my loan during that time because my income fluctuated significantly.
Here is what I did to meet my goal:
1. Created a timeline for my student debt payoff goal, which was 4 years. The plan was to pay off the debt by the end of 2020.
2. I calculated my daily interest rate to determine how much was added to my total balance monthly.
3. I determined what I had to pay every month to meet my goal, including the daily interest.
4. Reviewed my incoming vs. outgoing – I determined in order to meet my goal, I needed more money. I locked down a permanent side hustle and a seasonal side hustle.
5. Every Friday, I made a payment on my loan from my side hustle. Every other Friday, I made a payment from my full-time job, in addition to my autopay.
6. I used every penny that came to me to pay off the loan: bonuses, gifts, etc. I picked up every shift that was available, oftentimes working all day, and every weekend.
I started my plan in December 2016 and finished in October 2020. From June 2015 to December 2016: I paid off $3,568.23. Then, from December 2016 to October 2020, I paid off $103,896.09.
Setting Other Financial Goals
One of my goals is to move, so I started a moving fund. My ultimate financial goal is early retirement. I’m focusing on a bridge account to hold me over during the early retirement period. I also now invest in my 401K and Roth IRA to build a nice cushion for my later years.
Featured Image via Shutterstock
Melody lives in Providence, RI. She loves to travel, eat good food, and play a mean game of UNO. She recently transitioned from healthcare and the medical device industry to staffing and recruiting. You can follow her on IG @frugalgirlbudgeting.