Student loan debt often feels like the storm cloud that hangs above the head of a cartoon character. Sure, the character tries to go about their day, but they’re always painfully aware of the overhanging mass.
We all long for the sunshine of debt-free life. It can be overwhelming and sometimes downright dismal when facing thousands of dollars in loans.
But even in the middle of the storm, there’s a sliver of sunshine spilling through the clouds.
These five success stories give us hope that our own storm clouds are only temporary.
For those intimidated by the strict nature of loan repayment, Paul Hinckley may ease your worries. His story shows us that our journey to living debt-free shouldn’t mean we live joy-free, either.
Debt stories tend to iterate one important principle:
if you want to pay off your loans, you have to make concessions elsewhere.
Although Hinckley made many concessions, he didn’t completely stop spending money on things that mattered to him. It was about making the right concessions.
He took on another job, dedicating the wages from his work there to travel. “As I was beefing up my financial education, one thing that really resonated with me is the idea that you just can’t have everything you want,” Hinckley says.
Jen Smith’s (@modernfrugality) story is a bit unlike most student loan success stories, but all the more important for its differences. In 2015, Jen threw herself into repaying her student loans, which totaled to $85,000 when combined with her husband’s.
She maintained her payment schedule for two months before her body buckled. Unable to handle the stress, guilt-ridden for carrying the large percentage of the debt, and cracking under the pressure of 14-hour workdays, Jen’s body erupted into shingles.
She recovered and, with her husband, repaid their loans 21 months later. But there are three things she wished she’d done differently:
Her passion is admirable but also demonstrates the importance of realistic planning. Jen recalls wanting to mirror the motivational stories she’d heard of people working multiple jobs with long hours to pay off their loans. But people lead different lives – it’s only natural that they’re going to have different repayment plans. Finding one that suits you is the best way to ensure long-term success.
Learn more about Jen’s story and her tips on her website, Modern Frugality.
Guen graduated from UCLA in 2007 with $40,000 in loans. Struggling to make ends meet with her salary as a preschool teacher, she waited to pay back her loans. “For a while, I was living as if my debt wasn’t there,” Guen said. “It just became normal to have it.”
But when the time came, Guen got educated and took steps to keep up her commitment to her goal. She read Dave Ramsey’s “The Total Money Makeover” (a popular must-read book among those trying to pay back loans and commonly attested to by successful graduates).
The prospect of paying back thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt can be overwhelming. Research allows you to break down the issue into smaller, easier-to-handle parts and repay loans in the best way for your lifestyle.
Guen also listened to financial seminars and read up on success stories to keep herself motivated (so by reading this article, you’re already on your way to achieving that same success yourself!).
Another important step for her was setting a target date and creating an excel sheet to keep herself on track. Commitment is hard.
Repayment can require sacrifices, both big and small, that are hard to maintain. Giving yourself people to look up to, plans to stick to, and tangible goals to keep in mind will help you stay on top of payments.
With some budgeting and picking up extra income through side hustles, Guen was able to pay back her loans in full three years later.
After earning her MBA in 2010, Beth Walker found herself $75,000 in debt. After graduating, she worked full-time and lived with her parents. It allowed to cut down on costs and maximize the amount of money she could put towards her loans. When she later bought a home, she got two roommates to keep her cost of living low. Now she rents out a separate property to earn extra income.
The most striking part of Beth’s story is her ability to be independent while also demonstrating a willingness to accomplish her goals. By the time you have to start paying off your loans, the pressure is on to be independent.
Get a job, get a house, be a “real adult.” But that doesn’t mean you can’t ever rely on those around you.
Beth demonstrates perfectly how doing so can actually be the mature and financially responsible thing to do. Her decision to live with her parents, and later with roommates, allowed her to achieve financial stability – one of the many ways to measure independence.
Kevin graduated from law school and entered the workforce with a $110,000 salary. Still, he avoided “lifestyle inflation” (the concept of indulging in more luxuries once you earn a larger salary). He choose instead to pay back the $87,000 he had accrued in student loans.
In addition to his already-impressive salary, Kevin utilized side-hustles that allowed him to channel even more income towards repayment. From delivering food to dog-sitting, he used any extra means available to pay back loans. He got creative, too, earning over $1000 by selling items college students abandoned between semesters.
Side-hustles are becoming a more common source of extra income for those trying to make payments. Not everyone is lucky enough to get an income as nice as Kevin’s. But even a low-key commitment like driving for Uber is a small source of income that can go a long way in knocking off payments.
Learn more about Kevin’s story and his tips on his blog, Financial Panther.
Mugdha Gurram is a rising junior at Boston University studying International Relations. After graduating, she hopes to pursue a career in law. In addition to international and domestic politics, she is passionate about accessible education, including the ability of students of all backgrounds to pay for their education.