Last year Gisele made in one day what my husband and I owe in student loans for one undergraduate and two graduate degrees. If I lived on a diet of sunflower seeds and divided my waking hours between Pilates and CrossFit for the next year, my chances of commanding Gisele’s daily rate would still be laughable. It would be as likely as throwing a rock and hitting the moon. Depressing. I know.
When you owe more money than you’ve ever written a check for, it can seem overwhelming and beyond your control to get a handle on repayment. However, as with most things in life, debt is considerably less intimidating when broken down into bite-size chunks.
Contrary to Navient’s prediction, we refuse to be shackled to this resource-suck for the next 22 years. Don’t get me wrong, the amount is substantial and will take time to pay off. But it seems considerably more manageable now that we understand the loans that make up the total (a process we completed using the spreadsheet at the end of this post).
Once everything was outlined, we devised a repayment plan that includes tackling the loans under $3k (7 in total) to keep us motivated towards the ultimate goal. Of the seven, we’re zeroing in on the one with the highest interest rate and working backwards. For each one paid off, the minimum payment (plus extra) will be re-rerouted to the one with the next highest interest rate. We’ll follow the same principle as Dave Ramsey’s snowball method because that makes sense for us.
You must, of course, do what works best for you and your family, but outlined below are some tips to help you take hold of your student debt.
Accept it. You owe the money. Stressing about it will only cause you sleepless nights. No sense being saddled with debt and dark circles under your eyes.
Know your debt. Who do you owe? How much exactly? What are the terms? All that information can likely be found by logging into your debt provider’s website. All you need is a little patience to copy and paste.
Start a budget. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as a couple of columns on a spreadsheet to keep track of what you’re bringing in and how you’re spending it. See spreadsheet below.
Find the “extra”. Now that you understand what you’re bringing in, how you’re spending it, and directing where it should go, keep your eyes open for the leftover dollars in your budget. Better yet, be proactive and cut back on a couple of line items to generate the “extra”. Nothing too drastic. Make it manageable. As an example, you’ll notice in tab 2, column G2 of the spreadsheet that we sent $63 extra dollars to our loans this month. This was cobbled together by taking excess money from last month ($34) and shaving a few dollars off several flexible items on our budget this month: $15 from the food allotment, $4 from the Christmas club account, and $10 from the weekly lunch. The amount isn’t important, the shift in mindset is. Make it a habit to critically analyze your spending for areas to cut back and be disciplined about using the savings to pay more than the minimum on your loans.
Appreciate the dollar. Every dollar, quarter, dime, nickel, and penny over your minimum snips away at the number of years, months, weeks, days, and hours you’re held hostage by debt.
Celebrate to stay encouraged. Laugh if you must, but I’m not above high-fiving myself for a job well done. Don’t wait until you’ve paid off huge chunks to celebrate. Take pride in every smart decision made to bring you closer to your debt-free goal.
Don’t beat yourself up. Some months you’re going to hate having to be so responsible. You’ll cry, “Why can’t I spend that $100 on nosebleed tickets to see Beyonce?” Trust me, I understand. It sucks. Acknowledge that it sucks, but stay on course. And if you do fall off course, do as the late Aaliyah said, “Dust yourself off and try again.”
Share your thoughts. How are you handling your student loans? Do you feel in control of them, or are they controlling you?