Do you have student loan debt? If so, you are not alone. According to ValuePenguin, the average debt among student loan borrowers in the United States is over $32,000. Ouch.
When I graduated college, I was near that average with $30,000 in student loan debt. And then, I got married and joined my finances with my husband. Combined, we had over $70,000 of student loan debt. We paid this off in 5 years as recent college grads. And while I can look back and rather have not spent over $70,000 in paying off debt, I’m eternally grateful for our student loans. Here are the biggest lessons I learned from paying off student loan debt.
1) My Financial Situation Doesn’t Define Me
Student loan debt is just a number. I learned my financial situation doesn’t define me.
I can have debt and still say yes to things. I can say no to other things. Debt isn’t good or bad….it just is. Money is important, but it certainly isn’t everything. Now that I’m debt-free, my life isn’t drastically different.
When I was in debt, I spent a lot of time making it mean something about me. I thought it meant that I was irresponsible, and that I didn’t deserve to spend money. I beat myself up over even buying something off the dollar menu at a fast-food restaurant.
Looking back, I wish I cut myself some more slack. We had a solid plan to pay off our student loan debt early. I wish I trusted in my plan a little more, and allowed myself to live a little. After all, isn’t that what life is all about?
2) My Student Loan Debt Was Not a Mistake
Again, student loan debt isn’t good or bad. It just is. It certainly wasn’t a mistake.
I spent a lot of time regretting my student loan debt. How could I have let myself borrow so much? Why didn’t I work more throughout college, or go to a community college first in order to avoid taking out so much in loans?
As I did more mind work, I realized my student loan debt certainly wasn’t a mistake. It provided me with so many opportunities. Without it, I wouldn’t have launched my career, met my now-husband, or be the person I am today. My student loan debt launched my personal finance journey, and has given me so many opportunities. Sure, it was not the easiest lesson to learn, but I’m so grateful I did!
3) Making More Money is Fun than Being Cheap
When I first graduated, I had a bare-bones budget. It was all I could do to scrape together enough to pay the minimum required payment to my student loan debt each month!
Frugality works, but it requires a lot of work and can only get you so far. I found myself living with roommates, couponing, eating rice and beans, and even going on a shopping ban for three years!
Then, I started freelance writing and earning extra money on the side. At first, I started writing simply because it gave me a creative outlet after my day-job. Although at first, I was only earning a few hundred extra bucks a month, it was enough to pay my minimum student loan payment. I could then free up a little bit of my budget. I allowed myself to spend a little on my day-to-day spending to be less frugal, but then I put the rest towards my debt, making nearly double the minimum payment at first.
Once I started freelancing, the opportunities really began to take off in both my day job and side gig. I job-hopped and worked hard in order to quadruple my income at work. I also started charging more for my freelancing services, and found more clients. During busy months, I started bringing in an extra $5,000 in freelancing cash!
Most of this went to our student loan debt. While extreme frugality maybe could have worked, it was so much more fun to spend my time growing my freelance business than it was clipping coupons. Plus, now that my debt is paid off, I still get to enjoy the extra income and put it towards our savings goals!
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4) I Love Being In-Tune With My Money
When paying off my student loan debt, I checked in with my money daily. And guess what? I still do this.
I actually love checking my bank and investment accounts. It’s so fun. No matter what financial goal I’m working on, I love being in-tune with my money.
Learning to love my money has been a game changer. And when my mindset shifted, I started thinking of my debt repayment journey as a game. It was so liberating to see just how far I would get in meeting my debt repayment goals!
5) I’m Grateful for My Debt
After graduation, I resented my debt. I was so mad at everything. How could I let myself get into debt? Why did my parents let me take out so many loans? Why does public schooling still cost so much? Why don’t we get more financial support?
Once I stopped blaming other people for my debt and owned it, it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I was able to push aside all of the negative thoughts I had about debt and about myself, and truly learned to love the journey.
While I wasn’t grateful for my debt at first, I learned to love it, even when I was still paying off my loans. And looking back, I see how many opportunities my debt provided me. It allowed me to take leaps into higher paying roles at work. It motivated me to start my freelance writing business. It gave me the means to attend University. It takes a lot of work to become truly appreciative of debt, but once you start the journey, your life will change for the better.