Do you have student loans that are so high you feel like it’s impossible to pay them off?
It’s kind of ironic isn’t it…we are badgered to go to the best colleges that happen to be the most expensive so we can get good jobs. Then we leave school with debt so high it will take years, possibly decades, to pay them off with that said “good job”.
So we basically spend the first years of our working lives trying to chip away at this debt that we can barely make minimum payments on.
I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way. You can pay off your student loans quickly (well, quicker than a decade) if you really want to.
I want to preface this post by saying I am NOT a financial expert. I actually really struggle when it comes to saving money. And, this really isn’t a financial blog. But, I figured my fellow stay at home moms (heck, even the full time working moms) could all relate to wanting to pay off debt fast.
It wasn’t until a year into my marriage and getting pregnant that I realized getting out of debt was a possibility. I grew up thinking debt was the norm. But it doesn’t have to be.
When we were first married we had $52k of debt. Now here we are, a year after starting our debt free journey, with only about $4k to go and no student loan debt!
If you want to know how we paid off $36k of student loans in 2 years, keep reading!
Set a goal + know your WHY
Being debt free is hard work, especially if you already have a huge pile of debt. There needs to be a motivating force behind all of that work. WHY do you want to pay off your student loans fast?
What are you short term and long term goals? Why does it matter?
Our short term goal is to buy a house. We wish to put 20% down on a home and stop wasting our money by renting.
Our long term goal is to have a solid retirement plan and to be able to leave something for our children. We want them to be secure and stable.
Also, we want to be able to give to the less fortunate. There is freedom in knowing you can donate to causes that are important to you, without having to worry if you can pay the rent at the same time.
So, make a list with your spouse. Discuss why paying off your debt is important to each of you. Write it down and remind each other of those goals daily.
There is a TON of information out there on how to pay off debt effectively and fast.
We decided to invest in Financial Peace University, by Dave Ramsey and his associates. It’s probably one of the best investments we ever made.
We listen to his podcast daily, watch his videos and read his books. There are many other great financial experts out there, but the point is you should educate yourself as much as possible.
The more you understand your finances, the easier it will be to become debt free.
Determine your loan amount
This sounds obvious, but back when Brendan and I first got married, I really didn’t have a clue as to the exact amount of debt I had, including student loans.
Take time to sit down, open up all of your accounts, and list them. You can put them in categories or list them smallest to largest.
Below is a table we created in Excel listing out all of our loans. I have starred our main categories (vehicles and student loans) as well as the current balance section of the table.
You want to make sure you list out all of your student loans separately and not in just one lump sum. Some student loans have higher interest rates than others. I will explain the importance of knowing this later.
Determine interest rates
You will want to determine your interest rates for each loan. The reason why we wanted to know this is because some of our student loans had significantly higher interest rates than others.
When we first started paying off our debt, we focused on the loans with extremely high interest first. This is what we did before learning about Dave Ramsey and the debt snowball (explained in next section). So, I thought it was worth mentioning as another strategy for paying off debt.
Regardless if you pay off the loans with highest interest first, it is still worth knowing your interest rates and how they work. To learn more about interest rates, check out this Understanding Interest Rates article.
In the Excel table below, I have starred the column with interest rates. To make things visually easier, we darkened the highest rates so we could focus on paying off those loans first.
Create debt snowball
Once we paid off the loans with extremely high interest and after learning more about Dave Ramsey, we focused less on interest rates and more on the debt snowball.
A debt snowball is when you focus on paying off your smallest loans first. You pay the minimum payments on all of your loans except the smallest loan. You continue to put any extra cash towards that smallest loan.
Once the smallest loan is paid off, you roll the money you were paying to the next smallest loan, and the cycle continues.
The reason why paying off the smallest loans first is most effective is because you get a lot of gratification and motivation after paying off a loan. Once you see that you’ve paid off one loan, that motivation will carry over to the next one.
You can find examples of debt snowballs in this article.
For us, once we finished paying off the highest interest loans, we then focused on tackling the smallest loans. In our table we made a column which prioritized our loans smallest to largest.
DON’T save until debt is paid off
It’s a concept that took me a while to grasp, but if you think about it, it makes sense.
Why would you build up savings when you currently have debt piling up? If you add up your net worth, and you still have debt, those savings will cancel out anyway.
After you save up at least 1k of emergency funds, you should be throwing everything else at your debt. It seems scary, but that savings isn’t really your money – it’s your debt’s money.
We actually had quite a bit of money in savings, so after throwing it all at our student loans, we made significant progress.
Make a budget + track your spending
Oh how my natural spending, free spirit heart loathes budgeting. But it is essential if you are trying to pay off your loans fast.
We use Excel and the EveryDollar budgeting app (it’s free) to make our budget. The app is very user friendly and can be accessed via your phone or desktop.
It’s important to make a budget and stick to it so that you can put as much money as possible to your loans.
We spent the first month or two tracking our spending and seeing where most of our money was going, then we created a budget. It won’t be perfect every month and it isn’t easy but it’s necessary!
Track your progress
Excel is your best friend when you’re paying off your student loans, or any debt for that matter.
I only showed one table we use in this article, but we have several graphs and tables we use to track our progress with paying off our debts.
I would love to share all of the tables and graphs we use in Excel (with the help of my husband) in future posts.
Sign up below for these future financial related blog posts:
- How to use Excel to help you get out of debt
- How to get in a money saving mindset as a natural spender
- How to create and stick to a budget
- Tips on cutting grocery costs
Paying off student loans fast isn’t easy. But as Dave Ramsey would say:
Pray like it all depends on God, work like it all depends on you