How to pay off student loan debts from multiple degrees
After I finished high school, I was determined to stay in school until I got my doctorate. I started out by taking out loans for my undergraduate degree, living on campus during the school year, and trying not to add any extra fees. Every summer I lived with my family and worked in retail at the mall. I saved some money and applied it immediately to tuition and expenses for the next semester. I started budgeting very early on with Mint, which taught me to put money aside when I worked – it’s a practice that I continued in my adult life.
After the first cycle, I pursued a master’s degree in education. Instead of living on campus, I returned home with my parents and brother. I paid the school fees out of pocket and living with my family has helped me a lot. I taught during the day and went to graduate school at night – which was a lot, but it also meant I didn’t have time to spend a lot of money which was helpful, because I wanted to pay off my debt, not add more.
Growing up, my family did their best to live within their means. We went on vacation, but we didn’t splurge. I didn’t have a lot to cut back once I got serious about budgeting. In my youth, I had seen people struggle with credit cards, so I didn’t open one for a long time. I’ve seen how debt robs people of their freedom and their ability to do the things they want to do. There were serious consequences and I wanted to avoid that as much as possible. Now that I use a credit card, I treat it like a debit card, paying off the totals each month with the money I have.
Doing my best to avoid debt, I knew I had to make unpopular choices, like telling friends I couldn’t go out to restaurants or take long trips. Being honest about your boundaries helps, and I appreciate your understanding your friends.
Still, it took almost ten years to pay off my student debt and in many ways I think I could have done it sooner. I made mistakes, like buying a car before I graduated from college and not checking with my employer for reimbursement of part of my doctoral fees. I missed funding because of it. But even as I started my doctorate in education, I remembered to be flexible about my schedule for repaying my loans. The plan continued to be pushed back, but I was still moving forward.
As I continued with my EdD program, whenever I had money saved I put it on my loans. I was very lucky to live with a supportive family, which reduced my costs to a very low level. Beyond tuition, books, and travel, I didn’t have a lot of expenses. I used mint to help organize most of my loan repayment since the loans were coming from a few different lenders. I collected all the debts in the app and connected my bank accounts so I could track my money in one place. Watching my credit rating change helped me see how much of an impact reducing my debt was having.
When I finally got my doctorate, my loans were fully repaid. It took a few more years, but it happened. Now I am working as an elementary school teacher, leading a blended in-person and virtual learning class. My extensive training also allows me some flexibility in my career: I am qualified to teach from kindergarten to high school, and I can also work at the college level or in administration. I get the chance to do what I went to school for, but it also frees me up to have options – and savings. Now that I am working full time and not investing as much money in studies and loans, I had planned to spend some of my money on international travel, which I love, but with the pandemic, I am currently saving. I know I will need a cushion for my first home for repairs and expenses.
Getting my PhD debt free was the fulfillment of a dream I had had since I was a teenager, and a decade in the making. My next goal of becoming a homeowner at age 30 is delayed for a few years, and that’s fine. What I learned in this process is that milestones don’t always have to be age related, you can do it one day at a time.