How My Wife and I Paid Off $20k of Student Loans in Less Than Two Years

5 Principles that Got Us Debt-Free

This is a guest post by Phil Bartuska. Phil is a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina and is in the process of obtaining a M.Div in International Church Planting. He and his wife, Becca, have been married for three years and have their first child on the way. You can follow him on Twitter at @phil_bartuska.

When my wife and I graduated from college, we had over $20,000 in student loans. More than seven out of ten college seniors graduate with student loans. Finishing college with large amounts of debt is becoming almost as certain as death and taxes.

Within two years, my wife and I were able to pay off our student loans. It was not an easy journey, but we were able to do it with a few guiding principles. What were they?

Let’s take a look at the five principles that got us debt-free:

  1. Set SMART goals. We all would love to pay off our student loans quickly, but how are you going to accomplish that? And what amount of time is actually reasonable to pay off those loans? The shorter amount of time you decide, the more sacrifices you will need to make. If you are married, it is important to set goals with your spouse to make sure you are on the same page. And a great place to start is by setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound).
  1. Create a budget. Budgets are a debtor’s best friend. Or anyone who wants to make wise decisions with their money. Whether you are someone who is in debt up to their eyeballs, or someone who just wants to create a healthy financial habit, budgeting is for you. First, find out your average income per month, and then list out every expense you have. Make sure once you have laid everything out that your final number is zero or greater. Then figure out what the absolute smallest amounts are for each line item, and put the excess towards loans. My wife and I paid 25% of our income towards loans.
  1. Prioritize your spending. What is on your budget that is the highest priority? For us, tithe and giving was the first thing that we had down, even before taxes. Then came costs like rent, groceries, utilities, gas, savings and loan payments. These items were our necessary expenses until we paid off our student loans.
  1. Know what you are willing to sacrifice. If you have debt of any kind, you are going to end up making sacrifices. Whether you decide to face your debt or you leave the burden with your children, someone is ultimately going to sacrifice. The more debt you have (especially unsecured debt), the more sacrifices you will have to make. Maybe you should wait on purchasing that new car. Or maybe you can limit the amount of times you go out to eat each week. Whatever you decide to give up will be worth the cost when you can say you are debt-free.
  1. Buy second-hand. This was probably the biggest area where my wife and I saved money. We did not buy anything new (clothes, household items, furniture, books, etc.). Many times we found items for free that our friends and neighbors did not need or want anymore. It’s nice to remember this in the future so that you can help others in need or in debt.

Student loans are no joke. And paying them off requires setting goals, creating a budget, prioritizing your spending and sacrifice. Make the decision today to get serious about paying off your student loans. You can do this.

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