How I Paid Off $60k of Student Loan Debt in 4.5 Years: A Timeline

2015 – The year I graduated college

In May of 2015, I graduated from James Madison University with a degree in Computer Information Systems. In July of that same year, I would start my first “real” job as a business analyst for a small consulting company.

Me and my sisters at my college graduation

I’m originally from Northern Virginia, but my new job would be located in Raleigh, North Carolina. I didn’t really know anyone in Raleigh, and had only been there a time or two, but I was beyond excited to move to a new city and begin this chapter of my life.

Before my first day at work, my Dad and I took a trip down to Raleigh so that I could find an apartment. It was the first time I’d live totally on my own, and I was thrilled!!

Raleigh, North Carolina

For the first few months that I lived in Raleigh, I was getting used to my new job, meeting new people, loving my 1-bedroom apartment and making more money than I ever had before.

I had no financial obligations besides my basic living expenses (rent, groceries, gas, etc.). I paid my bills and then spent the remainder of my paychecks however I pleased.

 

When my grace period came to an end

That would all change come November, though, because it was then that my grace period came to an end. A grace period for student loans is a period of time after you’ve graduated or left school, when you’re not required to make student loan payments.

Grace periods give borrowers a little breathing room. My grace period was 6 months long.

With my grace period ending, I realized for the first time just how much student loan debt I had to pay back: $60,000. I knew I owed back a good amount of money for my college education, but this was the first time I really understood the burden. I wasn’t happy about having to share my income with my student loan lender.

So now I knew that I owed $60,000 for my college education and that I would have to start making payments of over $300/month for the next 25 years or so. I accepted this fate at first.

I adopted a mindset of “I’ll pay this off eventually” and decided to put my student loans on the back burner. After all, debt’s normal… right?

Not saving money during my grace period is one of my biggest lessons I learned when it came to my student loans. I wish I had saved up during my grace period so that I could’ve put a big chunk of change toward my student loan debt when my grace period was over.

 

You can read all about the other student loan lessons I learned here.

 

From the end of 2015 to the beginning of 2017, I was living paycheck to paycheck and I continued to spend my money with no real financial goals. Money management just wasn’t a priority for me.

There was one thing that I did manage to figure out, though. Luckily, I had learned to contribute at least a little bit of my paychecks to my 401(K). So starting from my very first paycheck, I was investing for my retirement.

Otherwise, my spending habits were cyclical. I would spend my entire paycheck before my next one would come in. When I needed money, I would use my credit card. Then, when I did get my next paycheck, I would use it to pay off my credit card, thus making that paycheck much smaller and ultimately causing me to repeat this cycle.

I was travelling most weekends, going to concerts and music festivals, going out multiple times a weekend and buying all the new clothes and home décor that my heart desired.

None of my choices were “wrong” by any means, but I wasn’t being intentional with my money, and I chose instant gratification over delayed gratification every time.

If I wanted something or I wanted to do something, I bought it or I did it – even if it meant I couldn’t truly afford it at the time.

I was always a little nervous about credit card debt, so I never let my credit card balance get too high. Luckily, my spending never got too out of hand during this period of my life. Obviously, my debt free journey would’ve taken longer had I had student loan debt and credit card debt to pay off.

 

2017 – the year things started changing

At the beginning of 2017, reality struck for one of the first times. I was filing my taxes for the 2016 year, and I received a form in the mail specifying how much I paid in interest for my student loans that year.

The amount was somewhere around $5,000. This meant that $5,000 of the money that I put toward my student loans didn’t even go toward actually paying down my total debt balance.

This was an eye-opening, painful moment for me, but also one I’m grateful for because it was the catalyst that I needed to start getting serious about paying off my debt.

Now I would start paying more than the minimum payment toward my student loans. If I could find an extra $50 or $100 to put toward my debt, I would.

 

Discovering Personal Finance blogs

In September of 2017, I started a new job as a data analyst for a healthcare company. It was around this time that I stepped things up, likely because of the bump in salary that came with my new job.

In this season of life, I vividly remember discovering the blogs of Mr. Money Mustache and Ramit Sethi.

I loved their blogs, and it was through them that I learned about financial independence, or the goal of one day not having to rely on others, even an employer, for money. So I thought – if investing my money and getting rid of my debt could one day allow me to live a life where I didn’t have to physically work for money, I might as well try.

This mindset eventually had me creating my first-ever budget (something I was sure I would never do) – and, not to sound dramatic, but… budgeting really changed my life. My confidence in my ability to pay off my student loans skyrocketed once I learned how to budget, and it was the first time in my life that I felt in control of my finances.

 

Want to see how I budget? Check out my budgeting guide here.

 

2018 – the year I created my blog

2018 was much like the end of 2017. I was trying hard to put extra cash toward my student loan debt. I was finding countless ways to pay off my debt faster than ever and no amount of money that I made from a side hustle was too small.

In November 2018, I created this blog : ) I had about $40,000 of student loan debt left, down from $60,000. I had made some progress in ~3 years, but I still had a long way to go!

I started my blog because my debt free journey was all-consuming. Being debt free was my #1 goal, and I didn’t really have any one to talk to about it because no one in my personal life was also on a debt free journey.

Writing for my blog was my way of talking about all the money things that I was going through, and I wanted to share my journey with other people who were going through the same thing.

 

Click to read my first ever blog post, back when the blog was called Debt Free Determined!

 

2019 – the year of ~sacrifice~

Two months later, in February 2019, I had the idea of getting a part-time job. I wanted to make more money to put toward my student loan debt, and a part-time job sounded like a great way to do that.

 

Getting a part-time job

Within a few days of searching on Indeed.com, I found a job scooping ice cream at a local ice cream shop. I had an interview rather quickly and was hired not too long after that.

 

You can read all about the pros and cons of having a part-time job here.

 

At first, I scooped ice cream 1 or 2 days a week. I was making about $9 an hour, plus tips, which came out to about $12 or $13 an hour. I worked anywhere from three to six hour shifts (sometimes more) after my full-time job on the weekdays and on the weekends.

As time went on, I started working 3 to 5 days a week to make as much money as I could.

working at my ice cream job
Working at my ice cream job

 

Creating @ImperfectTaylor

One day in the Spring of 2019, I was driving to ice cream from my full time job when I had the idea of creating an Instagram. I’m not sure what came over me that day, or why I hadn’t thought about creating an Instagram account sooner, but almost immediately after getting the idea, I created Imperfect Taylor formerly known as “Imperfect Finance”.

Creating @ImperfectTaylor was huge for my debt free journey. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people who were also paying off debt, which meant I was constantly inspired and motivated to keep going. I felt so much less alone!

Imperfect Taylor2

At this point, I had about $34,000 of student loan debt left.

I was growing more and more determined to pay off my debt by the day. Any and all extra money I was able to make or come across went straight toward my student loan debt.

 

Moving and finding a roommate

In July 2019, I wanted to kick my debt free journey up a notch. My lease was coming up in August, and I wanted to move out. At this point, I had moved a few times and was now living in a one-bedroom “penthouse” apartment that was costing me $1,400 a month.

I started to feel like my rent expense was holding me back from paying off my debt more quickly. As cute as my apartment was, I didn’t feel that it was worth $1,400 a month.

 

my penthouse apartment
My apartment at the time

I also figured that if I’m moving, it might be beneficial to get a roommate, too. I swore I’d never have another roommate after I graduated college in 2015, but I knew if I was already decreasing my rent by moving somewhere cheaper, getting a roommate would save me even more money.

I found a roommate and moved to a townhome on the outskirts of Raleigh which ultimately saved me $600 a month in total. That was $600 a month that I could now put toward my debt.

outside the townhome with my mom and sisters
Me, my mom and sisters outside my newly rented townhome lol

Between my full-time job as a data analyst, my part-time job scooping ice cream, decreasing my rent by $600 a month and all of my other side hustles, I was able to get my debt down to about $21,000 by the end of 2019.

 

2020

The first half of 2020 was a grind. I was budgeting, side-hustling, ice-cream scooping (lol) and doing whatever else I could to put more money toward my student loan debt.

Full transparency – I was also given a sum of money from a family member at this time. I’ve chosen to keep the details of this private, but you can read more about this on my Instagram here.

 

Creating Student Loan Basics for Beginners

Lastly, I spent the first half of 2020 creating a Student Loan Guide eBook. My Student Loan Guide was a sort of “farewell” to my debt free journey, and went into great detail about all the things I did to pay off my debt, including various side hustles and debt payoff strategies.

I wanted to document everything I did to pay off my student loan debt to help and inspire others to become debt free, too. I launched this eBook right before I became debt free, and the profits from it went straight to my final debt payments. I no longer sell this ebook.

When May 2020 rolled around, my debt free journey was finally coming to an end.

 

Making my final debt payment

On the weekend of May 15, 2020 I headed home to Virginia to make my final debt payment alongside my family and my boyfriend, David. My family surprised me by decorating the house, and we had a barbecue on the back porch.

Surrounded by my family, I called my lender to make my final payment, and officially became debt free. You can watch the video of me making my last payment here:

 

Lastly, I can’t write a post about how I paid off my debt without acknowledging the people who helped me along the way. I didn’t do this alone!

My family cheered me on. They worried at times if I was stretching myself too thin, but they never doubted me. And my partner David was a blessing. I couldn’t have asked for someone more supportive or understanding to stand by my side.

My closest friends were so excited and supportive, too, and of course, my Instagram community was cheering me on since Day 1. Some even sent me money through Venmo to help me make my final payment! I could go on, really.

celebratory cake from my friends!
A celebratory cake my friends got me 🙂

Bottom line: debt free journeys are tough, but it helps tremendously to be surrounded by a supportive community in the process. If you are trying to become debt free or you want to become debt free, just take it one day at a time.

Make choices each day that will move you closer to the finish line, and one day you will get there. Don’t give up!

 

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Imperfect Taylor in a coffee shop.
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About Taylor

A few years after graduating college, Taylor made it her mission to become debt free. After paying off all $60k of debt, she began to blog about what she's really passionate about: personal development. Nowadays, Taylor blogs about the topics of Mindset, Money, Health, and Career for women. Read more about Taylor here.

"It's Per$onal" is a super popular and anonymous blog series about the personal lives and finances of women all over the world. Check it out!

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