I had plenty of money in college. I was rolling in it. My parents had given me a credit card so I could charge anything I needed, like groceries, utility bills, oil changes, and more. They paid my rent and didn’t ask questions when I spent more than $250 a month on food.
I worked during college, too – sometimes two jobs at once. Those jobs helped me buy what I wanted (which was a lot). If you’ve ever been to a college town, you know that there’s a plethora of shopping options nearby. Within a five-minute walk, I could access boutiques, vintage shops, and record stores.
If I wanted food, I could get anything delivered. Even if I had a fridge full of groceries, I’d get pizza, pad thai, or fried chicken delivered to my house. In a given month, I’d spend more than $100 on eating out.
I never told myself “no.”
That is, until I graduated.
Welcome to the real world.
The summer following graduation, I had an unpaid internship and a part-time job. For the first time, money was tight. I was paying my own rent that summer and commuting an hour one way (this is back when gas was close to $4 a gallon).
Suddenly, I had to reign in my spending. I said no to going out and shopping. I read blogs about couponing, cooking cheap meals, and getting free stuff.
That summer was a wake-up call. I couldn’t keep spending the same way. When I finally got a full-time job and started being totally responsible for all my bills, I realized how important it was to budget. I was only making about $28,000 a year, and after bills and student loan payments, there was hardly anything left.
Even though my budget was cramped, I decided I wanted to pay off my student loans early. I started tracking every dollar religiously. I was now saving money with the same intensity that I had spent money in college.
I found freebies, coupons, and special deals. I shopped at Aldi — my favorite discount grocery store — and stocked up on the essentials. I avoided eating out and always brought my lunch to work, even when it was Chef Boyardee ravioli.
In 2012, I created my blog to chronicle my debt payoff progress. I wanted to see if I could actually pay off my debt in three years. I thought my blog could serve as inspiration to anyone else trying to do the same thing.
A year after I started my first job after graduation, I got a new job and a small pay raise. When my rent went down, I put the difference toward my loans. Any time my expenses decreased, I just added that money toward my debt.
When my then-boyfriend and I moved with another friend, my rent was cut in half. Again, I put the amount I was saving toward paying down my student loans. That year, half of my paycheck went toward my debt. In November 2014, I made my last student loan payment.
Friends and family members started asking how I paid off my loans so quickly. I directed them to my blog, where I had written about my debt payoff journey. But soon I decided that I wanted to create one simple place where people could go and learn how to pay off their own student loans.
That’s why I created the Student Loan Knockout: A 20-Day Journey to Debt Freedom, my self-paced online course where you can learn the steps I took to become debt free. There are action items for each module and basic steps you can follow. This is not a course for finance experts. It’s for people like you feeling overwhelmed by your student loans and wondering where to turn.
In the real world of money after college, you need to make tough choices and get serious about your budget. Even though the road to debt freedom was filled with sacrifice, being debt free feels sweeter than any shopping spree or take-out meal.