The cost of going to college in this day and age is insane.  Not only has the cost of college gone up fivefold since 1985; not only is it more and more necessary to get a bachelor’s degree (or more) to stay afloat in today’s economy; in addition to this recipe for disaster, student loan interest rates are once again on the rise.  In other words, kids are forced to pay out the nose for a college education with deteriorating value, shackling themselves to a decade’s worth of debt that is nearly impossible to get rid of, even in bankruptcy.

Five years ago, as I made one of my $300-plus-dollar monthly student loan payments, I decided that I’d had enough.  It was time get these loans the hell outta my life.  It’s been a hell of a fight, and I’ve had to save money I would’ve really liked to spend, but I made my last student loan payment in September, 2017.  Five years ahead of schedule.

I graduated in 2012 with around $30,000 of student loan debt at 6.55% interest, which is just about the average for a 2012 undergraduate.  Things have changed a bit in recent years, so your mileage may vary with my advice below, but the debt-paying principles remain the same.

Here’s a collection of ideas, advice, and things I wish I’d done earlier along the way:

Step 0: Create a Budget

Just like in the Step 0 of The Financial Independence Flowchart, the first thing you need, need, need to do is create a budget.  I can’t stress the importance of a budget enough.  It’s changed the way I look at money, and my life is significantly less stressful now that I know where my money goes on a daily basis.

However, the benefit is not only psychological – it helps your wallet, too.  Just being aware of your spending has been shown to make people more mindful about what they spend their money on.  You’re killing two birds with one stone.

There are plenty of budgeting tools out there, but personally, I can’t recommend the You Need A Budget (YNAB) software and tutorials enough.  I’m not sponsored by them, but I’ve used their product for years, and it’s legitimately saved me thousands of dollars.  It’s a $50/year membership, and it is 100% worth it.  You can try it free for 34 days, and students get it free for their first year.  Give it a try!

Step 1: Choose the Avalanche or Snowball Method

The Avalanche and Snowball debt-repayment methods are two different ways to handle debt.  Compare the two, and decide which method (or combination of the two) works best for you.

I used the Snowball Method.  Would I have paid less if I had used the Avalanche?  Yes.  However, using the Snowball gave me the satisfaction of eliminating smaller debts quickly, which gave me the motivation to attack the remaining debts more aggressively.  There really is no “wrong answer” when it comes to aggressively paying down debt – the more aggressive you are, the less you’ll have to pay in the long run!

Step 2: Stick to it!

After you’ve chosen the debt-repayment method that’s right for you, do your best to budget as much as you possibly can to your debts.

NOTE: By no means do I advocate throwing away your social life or becoming a hermit!  Going out with friends, having fun, and being social is an extremely valuable part of life, and spending your money on that is a very worthy cause.  Just the debt payoff a priority in your mind.  You’ll feel so much better when you’re rewarded with thousands of dollars of avoided interest payments.