I spent almost a decade in school learning to become a healthcare professional but I have to admit I learned very little about personal finance. Like most dental students, I thought my profession would be recession proof but didn't realize that the high tuition loans would haunt me many years later. It's no secret that the cost of higher education is going to continue to rise and I wish I knew then what I know now about income versus cost of living. Anyways, I had to start somewhere. Here are five things that have helped me pay off almost a quarter of a million dollars of educational debt. (Yes, it really cost that much!)
1. Live Below Your Means. Yeah, I know---it sucks and feels almost unfair. You worked so hard to become a professional and now you have to sleep on your parents couch and eat beans out of a can. Well, not exactly. Recycling and reusing all kinds of goods is an excellent way to decrease your out of pocket expenses. Buy a used car instead of that super shiny one you fantasized over while studying for boards. Graciously take those baby clothes offered from friends and family. Lots of baby clothes aren't even worn more than once and can actually save you time and clutter when you continue the process and pass them along to others. Commute to work via public transportation. Sure, it takes me an extra twenty minutes but my commute has proved to be my alone time to read and think! Another way to save is to dine in. One of my favorite pastimes is eating out with girlfriends, but with motherhoood and exhaustion, staying in is actually more convenient. Food shopping and preparing meals at homes is not only more economical but healthier for the entire family.
2. Find a Loan Repayment Scholarship. Working in public health is not only an excellent opportunity to help the underserved but may also offer a chance to pursue loan repayment through a federal agency such as Indian Health Service or National Health Service Corp. By serving in a community with a shortage of healthcare providers, you may be eligible to receive a scholarship in exchange for your service commitment. There's nothing like a large lump sum to put towards your student loan balance. Another option for loan forgiveness is to work for certain federal agencies or non-profit programs that participate with the Public Health Loan Forgiveness Program, which can also alleviate significant student debt.
3. Pay More than the Recommended Minimum. Increasing the value of your payments by even a small margin can have a great impact on the life of a student loan. One of the burdens associated with outstanding student loans is the ever compounding interest. Some loans have fixed interest rates and payment timelines while others may have variable conditions for the loan terms. Contact your lender and inquire about changing your payment amounts and possibly even consolidating them to help reduce your burden even more. For a long time, I was intimidated by the actual borrowed value of my student loans but understanding the interest terms and how to manage the growth of the loans helped empower me to get a handle on them.
4. Find Alternative Income. Moonlighting, tutoring, real estate, blogging. All of the above are ways to get some extra money in your pocket, which can be applied to your student loans. It takes some extra time and often creativity but with social media and other forms of technology, the world really is your oyster. Think outside the box and you may just find yourself in a new and even more fascinating career.
5. Stay Focused. Your peers may appear to reach their financial goals before you but you'll be debt-free. Try not to feel defeated and stay focused on your own accomplishments. Remember, we'll all get to the finish line! Along the way, download one of the many fun apps like the one from mint.com or a loan repayment calculator to help you stay motivated. Similar to the pursuit of your degree, when it comes to paying off the student debt there will probably be times when you'll feel overwhelmed, angry, or frustrated. Just remember, you'll eventually get that balance down to zero and when you do it's gonna feel so good!