The student debt repayment journey has taught me a lot about myself. Choosing to tackle it head on, difficult as it was, is the major event that I attribute my personal growth to. That’s what happens when you choose the untrodden path. The challenges help you grow. At the time, it was an act of desperation. I wanted out. The reasoning to throw all my money at the debt was that simple. Looking back, I realize it was also courageous, determined, inspiring, and powerful. But if I am being very honest, I only felt shame, sadness, and defeat at the time. I’ve learned a lot about myself since then. I’ve learned that I have more power in my hands than I thought. That I can shape and mold the future to some degree. That willpower and a good community can get me there. I’ve also learned that I was naive. I knew nothing of the financial world. My viewpoint surrounding money was shaped by my narrow and negative experiences. I didn’t know that finance could be a wonderful thing. Not that scary monster I once envisioned it to be. Often, I think to myself, if only I could write to my past self and send the letter back in time. Here are lessons I’ve learned while aggressively tackling student debt.
Getting professional help is worth the spend.
As someone afraid of spending money (and accumulating debt), it was surprising that getting professional help was the first thing I did. Probably, I was too lost to know where to go. I had to turn to someone. Looking back, that professional help saved us tens of thousands of dollars. It changed the trajectory of our lives, and allowed us to live exactly as we envisioned without giving up on our debt. Why do I leave it up to the professionals? Because I can’t know, learn, and do everything. I have realized that the team I create to support me is even more important than any determination or skill I can possess. Professional help can be expensive but you’ve got to approach it from the net profit you gain. I have always recommended Travis Hornsby from The Student Loan Planner for student debt help.
Tracking things diligently is the only way to measure progress.
You can get farther when you know just where you’ve been. Paying off debt is like shaving off a few pounds. People who wish to lose weight won’t do so if they aren’t tracking calories in and calories out. Without data, you lose the control. It goes the same way with finances. It’s difficult to consistently pay down the debt each month if you don’t know how much you make and (more importantly) how much you spend. Unless what you earn is grossly more than what you spend, you will unlikely hit your aggressive monthly student debt payment every single month. We use YNAB to track all our finances. It is my favorite budgeting tool!
Constant method evaluation is key.
Unlike investing in stocks, the set-it-and-forget-it way is not an efficient tactic for aggressive debt repayment. Constant re-evaluation of my methods helped me to improve them tremendously. I continually ask myself, “How can I do this better or more efficiently?”, “Is this the best use of my time?”, “What am I missing?”, “Where am I failing?”. So many times, I have stumbled across more creative ways to approach money. I’ve run a micro-bakery, built a dog-sitting business, and created a blog space that makes passive income. I’ve also found fun ways to be frugal, and made it a game to become 1% better every day.
Understanding personality matters. Knowing your weaknesses and strengths is an advantage.
I am an Enneagram Type 1. My biggest financial weaknesses are fears of not having enough, the pull to keep up with the Jones’s, and my resistance to facing difficult times head on. My strengths are the community I’ve built around me, my creativity and curiosity around ways to be better, and my ability to do without. Even though I give up easily, I have found that the best way to get around tough times is to do without. Reduce my needs, reduce the obligations, and reduce the stress. All of this while also reducing spending. YAY! I wrote about personality types and how it relates to money here. I recommend analyzing all of your strengths and weaknesses, and then going from there.
Feeling like you’ve reached financial independence isn’t the same as reaching financial independence.
This comes to me as a double-edged sword. I felt like I reached financial independence way before I thought I would. Even though our student loan repayment has been on pause since the pandemic-relief 0% interest rate went into effect, I felt like I reached financial independence when I quit a job that I hated while my husband was also out of work. That was the moment I stopped fearing money, or lack thereof. It was also the moment I stopped being dependent on work. I used to force myself to go in when I was sick. I used to choose work over family every single time. It wasn’t healthy, but I feared being seen as less than and ultimately losing my job because of it. Times have changed since then. The younger generation is teaching me a lot about mental health, live-work balance, and setting boundaries. Meanwhile, I am building my life around things I value, rather than the money itself.
So why is it a double-edged sword? Because perceiving I’ve reached financial independence takes away the motivation to PHYSICALLY get there. Mentally being there isn’t the same as physically been financially free. After two years of taking a break from paying down student debt, I’ve realized that our trajectory has plateaued since quitting that job. And while I’ve broken the shackles that kept me in fear for so long, I am now starting to know that the loans are still very much there. Luckily, I’ve come to this realization now, which has sparked a newfound interest in continuing on with my aggressive repayment journey!
Dreaming big gets you farther than those who think realistically.
Last but most importantly, dream big. Have AUDACIOUS goals. The more impractical the better! And believe in them too, whole-heartedly. One of the only reasons I was able to pay off my student debt aggressively was because I believed in it. Realistic thinkers will only go as far as the limitations they set themselves. Limitless dreamers will go even farther than that. Dream, believe, then act. You WILL surprise yourself!