Give a man an education and he will build a new world, but give a man a loan and you can own that man forever.
Ever heard the saying, “nothing in this world can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”?
…They forgot to add student loans.
As a two-time college dropout, your frugal friend accumulated $4,000 in student loan debt (which doubled to $8,600 from deferment). $8,600 may seem like a joke to those that are six-figures in debt, but I’m not laughing. I have NOTHING to show for my studying and time other than a monthly bill, a tax write-off, and Facebook memories. Regardless of how much you owe, it’s time to dig yourself out of debt and break free from bondage with these solid strategies:
If you haven’t started college
- Screw society’s standards: “Go to college”, they said. “It’ll be fun”, they said. What they didn’t mention was that you’ll be knee-deep in debt by age 25. The standard cycle is high school, college, career, marriage, kids, retire, die. That may have worked in the 1950s, but the world has changed. We have more opportunity and freedom than ever before. Not going to college isn’t the end of the world, especially if you have a plan. “But you won’t make as much money.” Yeah okay, you also won’t have five-figures of compound interest to pay off, so now what? Society isn’t footing the bill for your student loans, so screw them. Do what’s best for you.
- Think long and hard: The only way you can get rid of student loan debt is by paying it off. Student loans are the one thing you can’t erase from your credit…EVER. Filing bankruptcy WILL NOT relieve you from student loans. Chances are you’re 18-20 years old, with a lifetime ahead of you. Are you prepared to carry five to six figures of debt for the next 10-15 years?
- Be of sound mind before you sign: Weigh all your options, make a pro and cons list, calculate how much you will owe your lenders after four years (with interest). A general rule of thumb: Don’t take out more than you expect to make a year after you graduate.
- Take a gap year: You’ve been in school for the past 12 years, taking one year off could do your brain some good. You could have a nice chunk of change saved if you start working once you turn 14. Even if you take the summer off to do a cross country road trip, you’ll be glad you did. Venture out, see the world, find yourself. College isn’t going anywhere.
- Scholarships, scholarships, SCHOLARSHIPS: Free money is the BEST money. There are scholarships for everything, from being left-handed to being a Zombie Apocalypse enthusiast. Seriously, I’m not making this stuff up. If you’re in Virginia Beach, VA (my hometown) there are a plethora of scholarships available here. For those outside of Virginia Beach, ask your counselor for advice. Also, Google is your best friend. I literally typed in “I need help finding scholarships” and got 44,900,000 results.
- Save money, then go to school: The legal working age ranges from 14-16, depending on which state you live in. Even if you saved $100/month, that’s $1,200 a year. You could have $4,800 if you start working at 14. $2,400 if you start working at 16. Take advantage of having little to no expenses. Save money while your parents legally have to take care of you.
- Community college could be your saving grace: The first two years of college are prerequisites. Translation: you’re essentially learning the same thing you learned in high school, now you’re just paying for it …with interest. Going to a community college gives you a chance to see which courses are right for you. It helps you balance school and the real world. Maybe you could move into your own apartment while enrolled and have a part-time job on the side. Or you could work full-time and take night courses. This simulates being at a university without the 4-year commitment. Go for two years and earn an Associate’s Degree then transfer to a university. Now you have one thing that most undergraduates don’t: a degree!
- Join the armed forces: The U.S. Government has a plethora of benefits for members of the military. My former boyfriend enlisted in the Navy for four years, and now has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree. ALL EXPENSES WERE COVERED BY THE GOVERNMENT. He’s 28, two degrees, NO DEBT. Of course, he had to sacrifice his freedom, but now he gets to enjoy the fruits of his labor. Think about it, if you enlist at age 18, pull four years, you’re done by age 22. The military also pays for everything; housing, insurance, and schooling. All the money you’re making goes straight to your bank account. Side note: Be sure to choose a rate (aka job) that transfers to civilian life. He chose Information Technology (IT), which is EVERYWHERE. He was making $70,000 before he obtained his Bachelor’s Degree. Four years in the military equals four years of work experience. This can put you ahead of college graduates with no experience.
- Trade school: No I’m not speaking a foreign language. Trade school is also an option that is rarely mentioned. According to TheSimpleDollar.com, “A trade school, also known as a technical or vocational school, is an educational institution that exists to teach skills related to a specific job. The average trade school degree costs $33,000, which, compared to a $127,000 bachelor’s degree, means a savings of $94,000. ” You can be an electrician, nuclear technician, mechanic, pharmacy tech, the list goes on. Here’s the kicker: You’re done in two years! Imagine being done with school and having a career at age 20. Here comes society saying, “But you won’t make as much money in the long run.” BULL CRAP! You could start your own business and make way more. Do you how much mechanics, technicians, electricians, and plumbers charge by the hour? You set your own prices and your own schedule. You’ll never be out of business.
- Study abroad: The cost of higher learning is ridiculous in the United States. You know what they say, “if you can’t beat them, STUDY ABROAD”. Many European countries offer free to low-cost education to international students. Imagine getting your bachelor’s and traveling the world simultaneously?! #LifeGoals. Here’s where you can study abroad for free.
If you’re still in college
- Make payments while you’re in school: Interest makes up the majority of your student loan. Trust me it’s hard, but you could save yourself THOUSANDS of dollars if you can take a fraction of your refund check to put towards your debt. Even if you pay $20/month while you’re in school.
- Use scholarships: High school students aren’t the only ones that get scholarships. Grants and scholarships exist for those already enrolled. Scholarships.com has over $19 billion in FREE MONEY FOR YOU. Sure you have to write essays and fill out applications, but imagine getting paid $1,000 to write an essay. That money could pay for your books, housing, or meal plan.
- Divide and conquer semesters: Ever thought about spacing out your education? Complete one year, take the next year off. Alternating semesters is also an option. You can work to pay off your student loans or save up for your next courses during your break. The time frame doesn’t matter because college isn’t going anywhere. Who cares if it takes a little longer? A degree is a degree.
- Ask for cash for your birthday and holidays: If people ask you what you want for your birthday, ASK FOR CASH, or ask if they’ll be willing to pay a portion of your student loan payment. They can write a check addressed to your creditors, to keep you from spending it. This may sound a little weird, but hey, every bit helps.
- Word of the day “JOB”: Wait tables, flip burgers, drive Uber, walk dogs, pick up trash, DO SOMETHING TO MAKE MONEY. A lot of employers are flexible if you’re honest about your schedule. Even working on the weekends could bring in $100. What do you do if your university doesn’t let you work while you’re in school? Honestly, I would find a new school because I think that’s a scam. You’re an adult and are responsible for handling your schedule. You’re not allowed to work, but you’re allowed to accumulate five-to-six figures worth of debt? However, if you’re already enrolled, then work as hard as you possibly can over the summer. Put that cash towards your student loans.
- Study (and practice) money management: I know your professors assign daily readings, but I promise these books will actually help you in real life. It’s never too early to learn about personal finance. Start while you’re young. Imagine being debt-free in your 20s and enjoying the fruits of your labor without financial stress. Most of your peers are probably broke, but that doesn’t mean you have to be. Leave the “Broke College Student” stereotype behind. Be different, educate yourself, and make your money work for you.
- Consider community college: Most university courses have nothing to do with your major until your junior and senior year. Chances are you’ll be $20,000 in debt by the time you get there. Your first two years are filled with yoga and art class…even if your major is Biology. Community colleges offer the same information for a fraction of the price. Here’s how much one semester at my alma mater, Tidewater Community College (TCC) cost:
Now let’s compare to my other alma mater, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU)
You could take three semesters at a community college for the price of one semester at a university.
If you survived (I mean graduated) from college
Congrats, grad!!!! You have accomplished an amazing feat and should be VERY proud of yourself.
- Put your degree to use: College SHOULD come with a job guarantee if you graduate, but it doesn’t so now you’ve got some work to do. Send your resume everywhere. Carry copies with you wherever you go. You have credentials, you’re young, full of life, and ready to hit the ground running.
- Graduation gifts equal CASH: ASK FOR CASH! Trust me, you’ll need it. Friends and family give big bucks to college grads. They throw huge parties too. This is a call for celebration, but it might be wise to ask for a smaller party and receive the difference in cash. Ask your relatives if they’ll be willing to write a check to your lenders because student loan debt is REAL.
- Don’t immediately worry about what’s coming next: It’s okay to not have your life figured out. Postgrad confusion is real. Take a break, take a trip, give yourself time to regroup. But don’t give yourself too much time, because that 6-month deferral period moves faster than Usain Bolt.
- Call your lenders and get repayment options: Student loan lenders are surprisingly flexible, because they know there’s no dodging repayment. It doesn’t matter how much money you give them, as long as you give them SOMETHING. Your options range from income-driven repayments, extended, graduated, and consolidation. You can find a detailed description of all your options here. Whatever you do, DO NOT DEFER! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE DO NOT DEFER YOUR PAYMENTS!!!
- Use the same methods as us college dropouts: We’re not so different. Student loan debt brings us together 🙂 (see below)
If you dropped out of college
Dropping out of college can be seen as taboo. Here comes society with its gavel, judging your life choices. You dropped out of college, you didn’t murder anyone, it’s not the end of the world. Don’t feel bad, college wasn’t for me either (both times). It’s not for everyone, but hey, at least you tried. It takes guts to drop out of school and admit that it’s not for you. Do you know who also dropped out of college? Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg, Ellen Degeneres, Your Frugal Friend, Steve Jobs, Maya Angelou, Madonna, and Lady Gaga. They all seem to be doing just fine. They actually seem to be doing better than most college graduates. People are going to have their opinions regardless, so why not do what’s best for you?
This doesn’t mean that you get to be a bum (unless that’s your dream. If it is, go for it). It also doesn’t mean that you’re going to be stuck working some low-level job for the rest of your life. You just have to be a bit more creative and work a little harder. Devise a plan and let’s execute it. Don’t worry, your frugal friend has some tips for my fellow college dropouts. We’re in this together!
- DO NOT DEFER OR POSTPONE YOUR PAYMENTS: I don’t care if you can only pay $1 towards your loans, DO NOT DEFER BECAUSE THE COMPOUND INTEREST WILL KEEP ACCUMULATING! $4,000 was my original student loan amount. $4000 turned into $8600, and I still didn’t have a degree. Below is an actual representation of compound interest working against me. Talk to your lenders and try to get your monthly payments as low as possible. There are a few different options. From income-based repayments to consolidation.
- Create (and execute) a plan: Failing to plan is planning to fail. Luckily, you have a frugal friend to help you out. Create your currency canvas, pay off your student loans, and live your best life!
- Work, work, work, work, work *In my Rihanna voice*: Side hustling is the name of the game. I don’t care if you have to work five jobs, we’re gonna grind and get out of this debt. You can walk dogs, drive for Uber, babysit, flip burgers, deliver food, sell a kidney, sell drugs (just kidding), DO WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO TO GET RID OF THIS DEBT. Your frugal friend worked seven days a week, 80 hours a week, and had four jobs to get rid of this debt. Would you rather be a slave to your student loans for the next 20 years or pick up an extra job and be done in 3-5 years? Pretty sure you chose the latter, so let’s get to work.
- Educate yourself on money management: I CAN NOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH. You have to read, read, read. I know you did tons of reading in college, but personal finance books will help tremendously. Suze Orman, Dave Ramsey, and Your Frugal Friend are wonderful authors with life-changing material. Highlight, take notes and apply these fundamentals to your life. You might not agree with all of our principles, so take what you need and leave the rest.
- Interest is not in your best interest: 85% of my student loan repayment was going to interest. $33.74 went to the principal. $195.38 went to interest. WHAT KIND OF S*** IS THAT?! Try your hardest to send any extra money you have to your loans. Be sure to specify that you want additional payments to go to the PRINCIPAL. These lenders will eat you alive if you let them.
- Divide and conquer: Student loans come in all shapes and sizes from all kinds of lenders. The interest rates vary depending on the type of loan. Below is a screenshot of my student loans. I chose to start with the smallest principal $364, then paid off $1000 at 6.550%. From there I chipped away at the other $1000 loan at 3.610%. I held off on paying the $1887 and $3242 until the very end. By then, I had gained confidence and momentum. It doesn’t matter where you start, it matters that you finish.
- Above all, practice patience and do your best: Paying off your student loans seems so far away. Payment after payment after payment, then here comes interest adding fuel to the fire. It’s going to take a lot of discipline, some days you’re going to lose your s***, some days you’re going to feel like it’s not enough, some days you are going to lose hope. These are the days that matter that the most because these are the days that build character. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Trust and believe that you will pay off your student loans. My first payment was made on December 21, 2015. My final payment cleared 741 days later on September 13, 2018.
What do you think about the methods listed above? What are some methods you use to pay off your student loans? Drop them in the comments below!