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When you look up the word “albatross” in the dictionary, there should not only be a picture of a big white bird — but also a picture of a student loan balance.
Because that’s exactly what student loans are: “something that causes persistent deep concern or anxiety” and “something that greatly hinders accomplishment” (and your ability to save money).
If you’re ready to slay the albatross around your neck, keep reading. We’ve rounded up four financial bloggers — who collectively vanquished more than $200,000 in student debt — to share their best tips regarding how to pay off student loans.
Here’s what they had to say.
Find your motivation
What’s your reason for paying off your loans? Is it so you can kiss your landlord goodbye and purchase a house? Is it so you can be debt-free by the age of 30?
Determining your “why” can help motivate you through the marathon slog that is student loan repayment.
It certainly helped Whitney Hansen, who wanted to escape the feeling of being shackled — both literally and emotionally — by her student loans.
“I could feel how heavily the debt weighed on me,” she says.
“And I started to realize that debt was making decisions for me. Even when applying for jobs, I was focused more on which job paid the most instead of which job filled my soul. It was a combination of those feelings that got me started on the path to paying it off.”
Altogether, Hansen eliminated $30,000 of debt in just 10 months, while working two full-time jobs and earning $45,000.
Change your mindset
Pull out a piece of paper and write down everything you think and feel about repaying your loans. In doing so, you may spot a few beliefs that are holding you back.
“Mindset is key,” says Kate Kingsley. She paid off $105,000 of student loans in under three years, while earning $60,000 and relying on a partner to help with the bills.
“Instead of telling yourself you can’t do something, flip the script and ask yourself how you can do something,” she explains.
“Instead of saying to yourself ‘I don’t make enough money to pay off my debt,’ ask ‘How can I make enough money to pay off my debt?’… Keeping an open mind will help you reach those goals.”
Banishing negative self-talk was vital for Jen Smith, too.
“As simple as it sounds, believing that I could be debt-free one day was a turning point for me,” she says.
“I didn’t think it was possible so I didn’t try.”
After she started believing, Smith and her husband paid off $74,000 of student loans on a combined income of $88,000 in just 23 months.
Create a plan of attack
O.K., so now you know A) why you’re paying off your loans and B) that it’s achievable.
The next question, of course, is how you’re going to do it.
While you can just dive in, Smith says you’ll be more successful if you have a plan.
“Don’t rely on motivation to get started and keep going,” she says.
“Put systems in place that make good choices easier and let the momentum of your success be your motivation.”
Hansen agrees, saying: “A plan is everything.”
She, for instance, started with an exact (and lofty!) goal: paying off $2,500 per month.
She says setting such a specific target helped her determine how many extra hours she needed to work each month. It also prompted her to “go all in” on achieving her goal.
Once, she even started heading to Starbucks, but turned around halfway because she’d promised herself she wouldn’t purchase coffee.
“I knew a $3 latte wouldn’t make or break my plan, but it was my way of committing to myself fully,” she says.
By staying with the plan, she promises you’ll “boost your confidence” and “feel empowered that you’re the type of person who can stick to a goal.”
Make a budget
While you’ve undoubtedly heard about making a budget before, that’s because it works. All four bloggers, in fact, said budgeting was key to paying off their loans.
“I used to think I knew how much I spent, but keeping a budget showed me I didn’t,” says Zina Kumok, who paid off $28,000 of loans in three years on a $28,000 salary.
“It’s easy to forget about expenses, but everything adds up quickly. It’s even more crucial to do this if you’re living on a low income.”
Tracking spending was key for Smith, too, as it allowed her to confront her “impulsive and habitual” purchases.
“There were a lot of expenses I thought I deserved or made just because I had money in the bank,” she says.
“But I didn’t need or even value these things — and they were the expenses that caused me to go over budget every month.”
Once she noticed that, Smith was finally able to clamp down her unnecessary spending and put it toward debt repayment instead.
Stay positive — and start ASAP
Student loans can be intimidating and overwhelming, making it easy to believe you’ll never see that $0 balance.
“It took me three years to pay off my debt,” Kingsley says, “and in the beginning, I really thought that was the equivalent of eternity.”
“But in reality, it’s just a blip, and it passed way faster than I thought it would… All that matters is you recognize a long time isn’t equal to never.”
To stay motivated, Hansen recommends listening to interviews with others who’ve become debt-free.
For her, she says “it was a constant reminder that other people were doing it, and that I could, too.”
“I truly believe the repetition of stories helped normalize the journey and encourage me that my plan would work out and be worth it,” she adds.
The most important thing, according to the bloggers, is to just get started. Even if it’s hard.
“Don’t think that just because you made financial mistake upon financial mistake in the past that you can’t achieve or don’t deserve financial wellness,” Kingsley says.
“You can, and you do. But one thing is certain: You’ll never get there if you don’t take that first step.”