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Life was good. I was completing my degree on time, I had finished up a round-the-world trip, and was enjoying my last semester at university. One morning early into my last semester, I remember checking my email; it was an update from my student loan program – OSAP. It’s very name before had brought elation to my mind – it was the bringer of money, and my ticket to a university lifestyle. Now, all too soon, the name had become a source of stress – I owed 28 thousand dollars.  While it had always been there at the bottom of my mind, university life had lead me to forget about it. What was I going to do?

When my exams finished, I went through a few days of stressing, wondering what I was going to do. While, 28 thousand dollars, not being a large amount of student loans for some, was certainly large enough for me – I didn’t want to be indebted to anyone – so I formulated a plan.

At the end of this journey, I can’t say that everything has gone according to plan, but I followed it more or less. I learned many things about myself, and about finances as a result, and am proud to say that on April 9th, 2015, less than a year from finishing my exams, I have paid back all my student loans.

Have I got your attention? Here’s how I did it.

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I payed back my debt by cutting things out I didn’t need.
My cell phone barely worked, my clothes were old, and I wanted a new iPod. I basically ignored everything that I didn’t absolutely need, and instead placed all of my money towards loan payments. I cancelled my cell phone plan – if your job doesn’t require you to have a phone number, don’t have one – I can’t honestly remember the last time I used the phone function of my phone.

I set aside a certain amount of cash every month to allow for incidentals, but I would only allow myself to purchase experiences – not material possessions. Materials break, need to be replaced, and often don’t do us much good in the long run. Experiences allow us to grow, reflect, and change – in my mind, they were simply worth the investment, loans or not.

I payed back my debt by getting jobs that included housing and food.
This isn’t going to be possible for everyone – but it’s always a possibility. I applied myself to jobs that offered a salary, in addition to covering living expenses. Working as an on-the-road recruiter for a university, and for a cruise line, allowed me to sink the majority of my income directly into my loans. I was working outside my field, but I had planned to do that anyways – I wanted a lifestyle of adventure before a lifestyle of career. While working other jobs that didn’t cover these things, I tried my best to save by living rent-free with my family, staying with friends, and eating cheap foods – occasionally splurging on fried chicken.

I payed back my debt by planning out everything in advance.
When I got over the initial shock of owing such a large amount of money, I sat down and spent a few days planning everything out. With an internet connection, and a Google Docs spreadsheet I built an impressive budget calculator. I anticipated certain jobs, and built several spreadsheets for all possibilities. I planned my spreadsheets until my loans fell below $5000, since at that point I saw that amount of money as being manageable. Every month I returned and updated my spreadsheets to the actual amounts, so I could keep track of where I was and how I got there.

I payed back my debt by paying more than the minimum amount.
As soon as the burden of my loans became apparent to me, I started liquidating all my accounts and assets. I sold things I didn’t need online, emptied tax-free savings accounts, and drained my personal bank account. I left myself with an emergency fund of about $500, and placed everything I had immediately into my loans.

While student loans are often advertised as being “interest-free” for a grace period after your studies, that’s not often the case. My loans, once I graduated, immediately commenced charging me interest at the federal level – but not the provincial. The interest I was earning from keeping a few thousand dollars in a personal savings account did not exceed the interest I was building on top of my loans – so I took everything I had and put it in immediately. It didn’t make sense to do anything else.

I payed back my debt by working multiple jobs.
There was one point in which I was working 3 part time jobs in addition to my full time studies. Don’t compromise your marks for work, but anything extra that you feel you can take on will obviously benefit your financial situation – providing you don’t spend it on liquor. I worked every opportunity I could. Part time as a camp counsellor, a resident assistant, a tour guide, and even freelance as a graphic designer. The most important thing you need to keep in mind is that every little bit counts.

I payed back my debt by being healthy.
I skipped the gym – memberships costed money. I took up body weight routines online, and running in the park next to my house. When I did get a gym membership, I made sure it was cheap, and made sure that I used it to its full advantage. I’ve got a bad habit for eating a lot of chocolate and junk food – but every dollar I wasn’t spending on a Snickers bar was going into my loans – it also had the fortunate coincidence of loosing weight.

I payed back my loans by being persistent.
I kept my loans at the front of my mind, but didn’t allow myself to worry about them. At the end of the day, it’s just money, and there’s always more available to pay it back. Worrying about it creates unnecessary stress – something I definitely don’t need in my life. Keeping it at the front of my mind allowed me to make regular payments. Visiting the grocery store, I always thought about my loans – do I really need the most expensive brand? Do I really need this steak dinner? Do I really need this box of poutine (the answer in that case was yes).

It felt good to pay back my loans. To press send on the final payment, and post the Facebook status bragging about it – it’s my god-given right. I went out later that day and bought myself some new clothes, a present for all the hard work, and later went and started planning out more. I had done more than pay back my loans in a year, but learned financial independence, and how to spend my money wisely. I teeter now between wanting to save for the future, and live in the moment – so I do a bit of both, and right now, that’s good with me.

To all of you who still have loans, who are looking at the numbers online and wondering how you’re going to be able to do it – bit by bit – you’ve got this.

Comments

  1. If I knew I could pay my loans off in a year if I minimized expenses, I would, but given the amount of debt I have, it would take me 4-5 years. I am lucky to have a FT job, but even my salary is just a fifth of my debt, and that’s before taxes.

    What you did is very impressive, and demonstrates a lot of courage. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Keep it up! The feeling that you get after receiving the payment-in-full letter is wonderful. Little by little, you’ll get there. Thanks for the kind words!

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