24 Things I Did to Pay Off My School Loans Before I Turned 24

debt freeExcuse the blurry photo, but this is how I feel!

Okay, I’m not an expert in this subject by any means. And, I’ve only had one round of practice (student loan debt), but the following is a list of 24 ways I paid off over $35,000 worth of student loan debt before I turned 24. That’s one and a half years out of college. It’s hard, but not impossible. Disclaimer: what worked for me may not work for you. You have the freedom to adapt this list to fit it to your lifestyle. However, please know that if you want your circumstances to change, your lifestyle is going to have to change.

  1. View debt as risky and try your best to avoid it

My friend Josiah Kenneally wrote Debtless, a book about how to avoid debt. You should check it out, it definitely has some great tips on how to avoid and eliminate debt. It’s always free on Kindle. He was able to remain debtless through undergrad and graduate school.

  1. Live with a family member
    • Or someone who will allow you to live there for free or cheap
    • See also, Pay with another means, Thing # 24

This is by far the most crucial thing you can do. No, it’s not popular. No, it’s not easy. You can’t always do it, like if you have a family. But if you have the ability, like after college, I would recommend you do this. Rent is one of the biggest expenses. Cut down on expenses and funnel your funds into your loans until they’re gone. It’s that simple. Not easy, but simple.

  1. Lower your financial cushion
    • Temporarily, but drastically
    • It’s a risk, but so is debt

Only do this if you are able to do Thing # 2. If you live on your own, there are more things that could come up, and I wouldn’t advise bringing your cushion down drastically. If possible, however, I would still lower it. Dave Ramsey, author of Financial Peace University, speaker and radio host who helps thousands of people like you and me get out of debt and stay out of debt, says you should have a financial cushion that could cover 3 to 6 months of expenses if you suddenly lost your job or something (Baby step number 3). I think you should follow all of his 7 Baby Steps, and getting out of debt is before the cushion.

  1. Put as much as possible each month toward your loans
    • Paying on principal eliminates much interest
    • Multiple payments
    • Each check
    • You get a bonus? Loan
    • You get a birthday card? Loan
    • You get a raise? Loan
    • You have to want to get rid of your debt badly enough to drastically alter your situation in order to eliminate your debt so quickly.

With some exception. You get sick and you need to go to the doctor. Please, do so. But if you are well and able, if you are working hard and are paying the minimal amount for housing, food, and other expenses (utilities, phone, insurance, car, etc.), put the rest toward your loans. I usually only made one payment each month, but I made sure they were large, over $1,000 usually, sometimes upwards of $3,000. I know, not for everyone. But with me being a single person, and I don’t have many other bills, I could do this. Actually, in April of 2018 I got kicked off my dad’s state insurance, and I couldn’t get any through MNSure, because that didn’t qualify as a “life event”. Since I had no health insurance payments, I funneled that money into my loans.

  1. Set physical reminders

I made make-shift posters with dollar amounts that I could physically cross off after I paid them. They were really fun to make. I got excited to watch my calculated amounts get lower and lower with each month’s projected payment.

I think it’s also important to keep physical notes of encouragement, because getting out of debt can be a mental battle too. All sports are mostly mental, like marathons, you have to train your mind to not be affected by others around you, or your circumstances. You grit your teeth, breathe through the pain, and keep running, one foot in front of the other. Getting out of debt is a lot like running a marathon (which I’ve also done- an ultra), not a sprint.

Place notes around your home, on your night stand, on your mirror- “You can do this”; “A little while longer”; “One day you’ll be free to live differently, but for now just eat your affordable Aldi veggies”; etc. That last one was way too real for me.

  1. Get a second job
    • Work evenings and weekends for a season
    • It may suck, but the sooner you have less bills, the sooner you can do what you really want

This is a hard one, because time is often something we don’t want to sacrifice. You may be salaried at your nine to five, but pick up an hourly job somewhere. Work as often as you can. It doesn’t matter if you make $10 per hour. If you work four hours three nights a week and one eight-hour shift on the weekends, that’s an extra $200 per week, $800 per month. It adds up fast. Depending on your debt load, that second job could be the difference of being debt free several months to a year sooner than without that second job.

Personally, I worked a six-hour shift at the restaurant and went straight to my grocery store job for an eight-hour shift, at least five days a week. I usually didn’t have a full day off for several weeks at a time and just worked at one or the other two days a week, for a break. This is extreme, but if you can, you should do it. I don’t regret paying off my loans. It definitely takes a toll on you physically and mentally though, just be aware.

  1. Reward yourself
    • Like physical reminders for your debt, set physical reminders for your rewards

Make another physical reminder poster for your rewards for paying off your loans. If you usually spend a lot of money on fast food or ice cream. Be strict on yourself until you pay off a certain amount and then get Cold Stone. Just once. Repeat until finished. Increase the reward incentive for the milestones. At the end, take a vacation, because you deserve a break.

Physical reward reminders can be helpful to get you through the day. Sometimes that’s all you have to do is get through the day. There is this app I have called “Time Until”. It’s a countdown app. Keep your budget tight and then set that timer. You can check it whenever you need. I hope you’ll be surprised: “Oh, wow, I’m almost halfway through my two-month goal” or whatever works for you.

  1. Tithe

A tithe just means a tenth. It is a Christian principle that states that the first 10 percent of your income should go to the Lord. It has been tested time and time again, by Christians and non-Christians.

Proverbs, the book of wisdom, says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine,” (3:9-10).

Jesus blesses what you give, and He gives you much more in return. Don’t believe me? Dave Ramsey has written on his blog about examples of folks whose finances got worse when they stopped tithing, even though theoretically they had “more” money. Those who give to God are blessed. I’ve read financial books where the author is not a Christian at all, but he knows that tithing helps. Somehow it does. They don’t know, but I do. God blesses it.

  1. Pray
    • for your situation
    • for your future situations
    • for people around you

Praying is free. If that’s the only reason you do it, then there you go. If you’re praying you’re not spending money, how’s that? Praying changes circumstances, situations, atmospheres, and oftentimes outcomes.

  1. Read the Bible
    • There are so many teachings and principles that are time tested and time approved that they work.
    • The. Whole. Book. Read it. Meditate on it. Put it into practice.

Solomon, the author of Proverbs, was the richest and wisest man in the world. Want to be rich? Read Proverbs. Want to be wise? Read Proverbs. Want to stay broke and in debt? Stay where you’re at.

  1. Make friends with like-minded folk

Make friends with those who understand and push you toward your goals. You become like the five people you spend your time with. Are your friends bad influences? Be a good influence. Help your friends get out of debt together. Make a support group! Just sit at home and eat dollar store popcorn and talk. Talking is free. The popcorn is cheap.

  1. Become future minded

We become what we think most about. Train your brain. Every time you think about your current situation or something you want to buy, think of the future. Think of how one day you’ll be debt free and then you’ll do that thing. One day you’ll be debt free and you won’t be in such a tight situation.

It’s like working your body out. You put your muscles under pressure, under strain so they grow bigger and become stronger. Do that with your mind. Train it differently.

  1. Take every opportunity
    • Side jobs, whether in your profession or not

I took every opportunity I could. I cleaned a couple people’s houses, I did yard work, I paid on my loans. Then, when an opportunity came along for some freelance writing and editing, I took it, and paid on my loans.

  1. Be consistent

It is hard, but if you keep at it, you’ll get rid of it. Even if you feel like your climbing Mount Everest, if you take a step at a time, eventually you’ll get there. One step at a time.

  1. Stay humble and be honest

I do not have enough money for a new iPhone. Or a smart watch. Or that cute sweater I saw so-and-so wearing. Or whatever. Someday I might, but I don’t now, and I have to be okay with that.

  1. Leave your wallet in the car

Don’t tell anyone where you keep it. Cut up your cards if they tempt you too much—don’t worry about your credit score right now. Have a debit card, cash, and gift cards. If you keep it hidden in your car somewhere, if you want something you’ll have to walk all the way back to your car to get your money and go all the way back inside the store or the house before you buy something. It really puts value and meaning into what you want—is it worth it to walk all the way back to the car? I saved so much money this way. Also, don’t buy stuff online, really limit your shopping. If you want to buy something online, make it one of your rewards!

  1. Stay home

Stay home and watch one of the movies you already own or read a book you already own. Heck, take a nap, that’s free!

  1. Eat at home

This one is a tough one. We’re so on-the-go as a society. It’s hard to find time to eat at home, let alone cook. Make time to prepare your shopping list, meals, and so on. It takes a lot of time, but it saves a lot of money.

Brown bag it to work. Imagine spending on average $10 a day for lunch. If you work five days a week, that’s $50 per week, over $200 per month.

Shop at Aldi. I bought groceries for just myself and spent less between $60 to $75 per month, but often I spent less! Yes, I ate cheaply, but it was worth it, hey, I like their produce. That $60 to $75 included what I brought to work for lunches. At this point I was often working at two places. If you do get a second job, please implement this tip into your routine, because if you work both jobs five days a week, that doubles your cost of food. $100 per week, over $400 per month, for food, just from the cafeteria or wherever. Now, I know those numbers are high, and maybe you spend $3 per meal. I just used $10 as a round number, but $3 here and there certainly adds up too!

  1. Have free fun

If you like video games, get a Steam account and only play free games—if you have that much self-control. Watch Youtube with ads, listen to Spotify with ads. Purchasing something so you can have convenience though you’re over your head in debt is not an ideal purchase. Debt is not convenient. Get out of debt and then you can afford your convenience!

  1. Get a library account

If you like to read, or if you don’t like to read, get a library account. You can have access to thousands of books: print, online, audio, magazines, movies, video games. For. Free. Take advantage of it! If your computer breaks, they have those there too, free to use! Get out of debt and then buy a computer.

  1. Buy used

If you do have to buy something, buy used. Thrift stores or consignment shops, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, countless apps. Find the best rate for the quality. Be safe, don’t get bed bugs or roaches—that’s an added stress and bill to get rid of them. Even though I just finished paying off my loans and could now afford a more expensive computer, I purchased a refurbished business-style laptop. It’s a little bulkier, but it’s good quality and a fourth of the price  of a new computer with a better hard drive and capacity.

  1. Work out at home

If you’re in debt, don’t get a gym membership. Cut that out of your budget and add it in as a reward on your second to last payment, or something like that. Watch Pilates, yoga, aerobics videos; do push-ups, sit-ups, run around the block; etc. No, this is not a popular opinion, but it’s something I waited on. Lifetime Fitness memberships range from $60 to $150 per month. Even if you have the base rate at Planet Fitness at $10 per month. That’s still $120 per year that you could put on lowering your debt. If you use your $10 membership nearly daily, good for you. Keep doing it then, but if you could do your workouts at home, do that.

I know this is getting a little repetitive but the more you can pay on the principle the more money you’ll save in the long run. Take a debt of $30,000 at an interest rate of 5.500% (which is a low rate). Typically students and others choose the lowest monthly option, which can be anywhere from $150-300, maybe more if you’re way over your head. I’m choosing $150 for this analogy. If you make a $150 payment per month, you will pay $51,510.53 on the interest alone over the course of 544 payments. Five hundred and forty-four months is over 45 years. Forty-five years for $30,000. If you’re only paying the minimum payment, usually more than 75% is just paying on the interest. Is it worth it? Take on a larger payment. Attack that principle balance. You can do it! I believe in you. Oh, I so believe in you!

  1. Sell things you don’t need

Using Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Ebay, or other sites, sell things you don’t need or use any more. If you haven’t worn some clothes in over a year, put them in a pile. Same thing goes for anything you don’t use, really. Post those things with a price and sell it! I did this with a lot of my aunt’s things that she wanted to get rid of this year, and some of my stuff. It can really add up quickly.

  1. Pay with another means
    • Indentured servanthood
    • Work in exchange for rent

This tip kind of goes along with living with a relative or friend (see Thing #2). If they are busy, offer to do all of the cleaning, cooking, yard work, snow removal, etc. It is definitely time consuming and inconvenient, but if you had a place of your own or rented with friends you’d be doing your share of all of that anyway. Do theirs too in place of rent or other goods, if possible.


I hope this list was helpful. Becoming debt free is an incredible achievement and I feel so honored that I have the support system that I do. I would still have several thousand left if I had to rent here in the metro, among other things. If you have let me chill at your house or eat your food, thank you, you saved me a couple dollars. If you went on a walk with me instead of to a movie, thank you for letting me save money. If you have debt and want to hang out with me because I am okay with doing free stuff, just let me know! Life is lived best in community. Get yourself a community of folks who will push you toward your goals, who understand and encourage you in them.

I know this was a long post, but I hope it was worth it. Good luck in pursuit of your freedom!

2 thoughts on “24 Things I Did to Pay Off My School Loans Before I Turned 24

    • Thanks, Donna! Your example and family’s example is a powerful motivator as well. It is incredible to know that people can pay off debt, all you have to do is believe you can and strive for it. I mean, 1 income, 2 kids, and $40,000+ debt payoff in a year is crazy!


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