In October 2011 I moved to New York to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. I graduated from Boston University in 2008 with $85,000 in student debt. Although I had made some payments, by the time I moved I was closer to $90,000 in the hole due to rising interest rates.
I juggled multiple jobs to make ends meet: catering at a wine shop in Tribeca, babysitting kids on Park Avenue, copywriter for billboards, and of course writing any articles an editor was willing to assign and pay me. Most years I made between $28,000 and $45,000 before taxes.
Even though my finances were tight, I repaid my loans every month. These represented a sizable bill: for the first few years, my monthly payment was $1,040 per month. In total, I’ve paid over $100,000 since graduating.
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When the pandemic hit this year, I had just landed a dream job as a staff writer here at Grow. When New York closed, I made a decision. As long as I couldn’t do all the things that made New York my city (weird comedy shows, movies, hole-in-the-wall dumplings), I would move home to my parents in suburban Boston and be ready to pay off my loans. At the beginning of 2020, I had about $28,000 left. I’m now down to $6,517 being paid out before the New Year.
Here’s how I paid off my debt and my advice to anyone in a similar position.
Budget down to the dollar
I’ve always been obsessed with budgeting. I think that dedication helped keep my expenses in check.
Loans aside, monthly expenses typically included around $750 for rent in my Crown Heights apartment (two roommates, no living room), $10 a month for a Spotify membership, $35 for a membership in the Women-only gym and about $100 for a subway card.
I have been extremely strict about discretionary spending. I’ve allowed myself $150 a week for everything else, including groceries and rest. I would look at my upcoming plans and calculate exactly how much I could spend each day depending on what I was going to do. For example, if I went to a concert or celebrated a friend’s birthday, I would get paid $20 to $40 that day and maybe $0 to $5 every other day (for a latte).
I also constantly readjusted. If I overspent on one day, I would make sure I would deduct the amount I went over budget from other days.
Compare prices to save money
Knowing how limited my financial resources were, whenever I needed or wanted to buy something, I googled to find the cheapest pubs, thrift stores or supermarkets.
When I went out with friends, I would research places beforehand and try to suggest options that I knew I could afford and that wouldn’t drain my funds for the rest of the week. That way, even if I knew I was spending, I was a little less concerned about how much each dollar would end up hurting.
Hurry to build different income streams
As I said before, I rarely turned down a job for many years. Even though it had nothing to do with my intended career, I knew how much I needed to earn each month to cover all my expenses, including loans, and never stopped working until I reached that amount.
I was constantly turning up stories, I’ve reached out to friends to see if they know anyone who might want to hire a copywriter or caterer, I’ve been in touch with contacts who may not have had any vacancies at one time but who did Timing, and I never was. I shy away from asking people I’ve met—no matter how casual the encounter—if their job was an interview.
Limit the use of credit cards
I’ve never had a credit card. I think different experts will judge this decision differently, but I never liked the idea of spending money I didn’t actually have, especially when it would be so difficult to repay it on top of all my other expenses.
There were certainly months when a credit card would have made life a little easier, like when I was down to my last $20 and not sure when the next paycheck (often $75 to $300) would be coming would. But not having a credit card meant I wasn’t tempted to make big purchases I couldn’t afford, and it also meant I never got into more debt than my already heavy credit load.
Life on the edge was very, very stressful. But I did it.
The item “As I paid off $100,000 in student loans, I will make $28,000 to $45,000 a year” Originally) released on Grow + Acorns.