Hey ya’ll! My name is Kyle. I am a high school teacher who grew up and has always lived in the Midwest. I was about as normal as it gets for the first 27 years of my life (I’m 31 now), as I graduated college with a bunch of student loan debt and made the minimum payments for about 6 years. I also made the decision to go back and get my Master’s degree during this time (not the smartest at the time), pumping my debt up to about $33,000 at one time. When I finally turned things around and got after my debt, I wiped out that $33k in just over 18 months!
How did you acquire the debt and what did it consist of:
My debt was all student loans. I really only had 1 credit card in my life, and minus a couple months when I first graduated college, I never carried a balance on that. “Student loans are good debt,” or so I thought. I went to a public four-year university to earn my teaching degree, and really didn’t think twice about going there or the student loans I acquired. Honestly, I hardly checked my student loan accounts throughout college or even the first couple years after graduation. I used my student loan money to pay rent, buy books, and just live life. By the time I looked up about 6 years after graduation and starting my master’s program, I owed nearly $33,000.
I calculated how long it was going to take me to pay them off if I continued on my current track, and it was nearly 10 years. I was in so much shock I spent the next couple of months learning as much as I could about money. I read personal finance blogs, researched budgeting, looked up part time jobs, sold stuff, and I was intense from the very beginning.
What did having that debt feel like?
Honestly, I didn’t feel it from the time I acquired it until about age 27 or 28. I really had no clue how these things worked or how little me putting an extra $20 or $50 towards them would do in the long run. I didn’t know I would have to attack these things with ferocity to get rid of them. I didn’t know I would one day wake up and be obsessed with crushing my loans.
When I did realize what the hell I was doing, it was like a weight on my back for about 18 months. I plowed through the loans quickly, but it didn’t seem like it during the payoff time. Seeing $22,000 or $17,000 seems like a huge number that will never go away. I was worried that I wouldn’t have a normal life if I didn’t do something about these loans. I’d never be able to buy a house, travel, or do all of the “normal” things I’d always wanted to do. Little did I know, having the loans is “normal” for most people, and me being debt free one day would make me “weird.”
How long did it take you to pay it all off?
As dumb as this is, right before I figured all of this financial information out, I went ahead and took on more loans to finance my Master’s degree. This probably only set me back about 6 months in the end because I cash flowed about half of this program while paying off debt. Altogether, it took me about 18 months to get rid of $33,000 in student loan debt. I also saved up and bought an engagement ring during this time, so I could have done it a bit quicker, but I’m happy with the time it took.
What resources did you use?
In terms of resources, I can really only think of one big one. Everydollar is a budgeting app from Ramsey Solutions. Dave Ramsey is the main man that I can say truly changed my views on personal finance. I listened to his podcast every single day when I worked out and learned that his system worked for thousands of people, and it worked for me as well. Everydollar is an easy to use app and website that allows you to track every single dollar that you spend each month. It forces you to use a zero-based budget which means that you give every dollar a name. I tracked every single purchase down to the penny. I tracked purchases of things most people don’t think of, like soda or fast food. This really allowed me to see how much money I could towards my debt each month. It also allowed me to see the future and showed me how fast I could pay this off if I continued to save and budget. The time period kept getting shorter as I went along, and my original goal of being debt free was surpassed by 1 full year!
Did you face any challenges along the way?
I wouldn’t call them major challenges or life changing troubles, but the one challenge I had was trying to maintain my lifestyle I had before I was paying down my debt. It was simply impossible to do so. Going out to eat, getting drinks with friends, taking my fiancee wherever we wanted to go on trips or nights out, couldn’t happen anymore if I wanted to achieve my goals. My fiancee was 100% supportive of me even though I’d be lying if I said it was easy. I did not put off purchasing an engagement ring during this time, as this was something that could have taken away from my debt payoff savings, but I didn’t allow it to. The only other challenge was just being patient and not getting frustrated. I am not patient, I was “gung ho” about this and always wanted it to go faster and be done “now!” Looking back, it was pretty smooth considering all that could have gone wrong.
What Tips do you have for others looking to pay off debt?
Honestly, the number one tip I have for anyone with any kind of debt is to get organized and get everything down on paper. If you have no clue how much debt you have, or what your income is, or where your money is going each month, you will never get out of this cycle. Track your spending and slowly start looking at your habits. Find 1 or 2 things to cut back on each month and you will slowly start making progress. The number one tool to get out of debt is your income. If you can increase it by getting a side hustle, I strongly encourage it! As a teacher, I have a couple months off in the summer. I was able to accelerate my debt payoff by working as much as possible during those summer months and put all money towards my loans. It really was great to be able to do this and see how fast I could achieve my goals.
What is life like debt free?
When I finally made that final payment I thought it would make life completely different for me, it hasn’t. Sure, I’ve definitely eased up on my food budget and am more likely to dine out or take a cheap vacation. However, those habits that I created during my debt payoff have stuck with me and will stick with me the rest of my life. I hope they will at least! I now have a fully funded emergency fund, and have saved for an upcoming wedding, as well as a new *used car purchase for which I’ll be paying all cash! My next financial steps are to save for a house and start investing in retirement on top of my mandatory teacher pension.
I do not feel different, although I will admit that I no longer wake up every single day and check my bank account. I no longer check my student loan account every day.
The best feeling of all is knowing that I no longer owe money to anyone, and I never will again! I’m debt free and don’t plan to go back!
Kyle is a personal finance blogger who paid off $33,000 of student loans in 18 months! His goal is to share strategies, tips, and tricks for getting out of debt and saving money! Check out Kyle’s blog at dollardiligence.com or follow him on Twitter @dollardiligence.