Mindfully Spent is about managing finances, time, and more in pursuit of meaning. It chronicles my journey to use money and moments for things I truly love.

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Guest Post: Conquering Student Loan Debt on a Math Teacher's Salary.

Guest Post: Conquering Student Loan Debt on a Math Teacher's Salary.

Jacob of Dollar Diligence recently paid off $25,000 in student loans in less than two years on a Math Teacher's. Since we at Mindfully Spent will be tackling a similar goal in the months ahead, we thought it would be great to hear more about how he conquered student loans and the side hustles he took on to rapidly pay down his debt...

Jacob's Financial Journey

As a newly-minted college graduate, I was ready to take on the world.  I had a degree from a great school and a job offer. I knew that my life was on track.  I was ready to succeed…and then I received my first student loan statement.

I knew that I had taken out a lot of student loans to pay for my degree.  Like many college students, I relied on student loans in order to fund my college education.  Yet opening up that first statement was a shock.  How could I owe so much money?  $25,000 seemed like so much money — especially given my starting salary.  As a high school math teacher, I was not exactly poor, but I also was not making Wall Street money.  How would I ever pay off my student loans so that I could move forward with my life? Like many others, I realized I needed a stronger plan.

To say that my student loans stressed me out would be an understatement.  I knew that I could make my minimum monthly payments — but that I wouldn’t have much left over after taxes, rent and other basic living expenses.  The idea of making these payments for 10, 20 or 30 years completely overwhelmed me.  How could I ever pay off $25,000 in student loan payments when I wasn’t making that much money in the first place?

Coming to Terms with My Finances

Like many college graduates, I was in a position of having a relatively low paying job — and fairly high levels of student loan debt.  I was losing sleep over this debt and how I would ever manage to buy a house, save for retirement and make other plans for the future with this much debt hanging over my head.  Finally, I made a decision:  I could no longer have my head in the sand when it came to my finances. 

I started by facing down my student loans.  As a math teacher, I knew that I had to look at the numbers to see what exactly I owed.  I made a list of the loans that I had and the interest rates on each loan.  I then made a decision to refinance my student loans.  At this point, I had been working for a while and had built up a good credit rating by making regular, on-time payments of my student loans and other bills.  I knew that I could try to qualify for a lower interest rate on my student loans by refinancing them — and that by refinancing for a shorter loan term, I could save thousands of dollars in interest on my loan.

Making Changes to my Life and Budget

The next hurdle for me was figuring out how to afford the higher student loan payments that would come with a shorter loan term.  I needed to reconfigure my budget, so I started with my biggest expense: housing.  My aunt and uncle lived nearby, and generously offered to allow me to live with them while I paid off my student loans.  Doing this allowed me to devote all of my spare funds to my student loan payments — on the shorter, refinanced loan term.

After moving in with my aunt and uncle, I knew that I still needed to cut costs even further if I was going to get out of debt quickly.  I made a decision to cut all unnecessary expenses.  I mostly ate at home, packing lunches and avoiding meals at restaurants.  I rarely went out to bars, and tried to focus on free activities for fun.  Finally, in addition to my full-time job, I picked up some side gigs to supplement my salary.  Freelance writing and photography were already hobbies of mine, and turning them into paying jobs allowed me to put extra cash towards my student loans each month.

The Final Result: Fantastic Financial Improvement

The end result was that after just 15 months, I had paid over $25,000 in student loans.  Doing so changed my life.  I made a number of sacrifices to pay off my loans so quickly, from moving in with family to passing up on a lot of activities with friends in favor of my side hustles.  But doing so gave me a much bigger reward: financial freedom.  Without student loans, I am free from the burden of high monthly payments — and I can devote my free time to things that I enjoy.  I still do freelance writing and photography gigs, but now I do it so that I can take great vacations.

Looking Back on My Journey

Perhaps most importantly, my journey to paying off my debt taught me that finances don’t have to be complicated — and that with some strategic planning and hard work, I can accomplish my other financial goals.

Jacob tracks his journey to financial independence over at his blog Dollar Diligence. You can follow him on Twitter for more advice and (questionably) funny jokes.

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