Debt on a Low Salary PinWhen I was 17, I signed papers that solidified my relationship with student loans. I was young and uninformed, and I didn’t really know what kind of relationship it would be. Over the next several years, I also went to graduate school and accumulated more debt at an even higher interest rate. Since then (7 years, in fact) I’ve been diligently paying back my student loans.

When all is said and done, I will have paid $81k toward student loans, plus interest. That’s a hard number to swallow, but I’ve learned not to get overwhelmed by it. I believe in my education and I made certain choices, and now I am working my way out. Here’s how.

I Gave Myself a Debt Reality Check

After undergrad, I started working and paying the minimum on my student loans.

I thought that paying the minimum was all that was necessary; I hadn’t yet felt the gravity of the situation.

It wasn’t until I was considering graduate school — and saw how expensive my program would be — that I finally started to have an understanding of what I was getting into.

My reality check came when I was in graduate school. I had a Mint.com account tracking my student income as well as my debt.

Seeing the numbers in print made me physically ill and overwhelmed. I started questioning everything, including my decision to go back to school.

How was I going to pay this back?! My graduate loans were at $58k, and had a mixed interest rate of 6.8% and 7.9%, and I saw paying interest as flushing money down the drain. At that point, my daily interest was $11 per day.

After being honest about my situation and feeling the weight of my loans, I started to think of tactics to pay off debt.

I Took Control of My Finances

After I graduated, I realized that no one was going to get me out of debt but me.  Regardless of my political stance towards student loan debt and education, I knew that I couldn’t wait for the government to “save me.”  When you are in debt, it’s easy to get angry and want to blame someone — the media, schools, the government, the credit card companies, etc.  But at the end of the day, you have to take charge of your own financial life.

When I got serious about money, I started putting all extra cash toward debt.

I’ve always worked at nonprofits and never had a large income. Currently, I make in the ballpark of $30k before taxes.

I use to make excuses for myself and think I could never get out of debt or excel my repayment because I didn’t make enough money.

After a little wallowing, I decided to change my way of thinking. I started to think of my circumstances and how I could stretch my dollars. You know what? I was able to find a little more every month. I moved to a low-cost area, where I split a studio apartment with my boyfriend. I don’t have a car, pets, kids, or a gym membership. I bike almost everywhere. I live a pretty frugal, minimalist life so I can prioritize my debt and future travel plans.

I Worked More, and Paid Off More Debt

By late 2013, I had paid off $16k in debt. With such a low income, I couldn’t have done it without a side hustle. I love side hustling because you can learn new skills, try out a different career, have exciting experiences, meet new people, and make extra money to fund your goals and dreams! I have worked as a brand ambassador, event helper, babysitter, writer, Taskrabbit, and more.

All my extra income goes toward my debt.

In the past 6 years, I’ve paid off $37k, with $24k of that being in the last 2+ years.  It’s nice to see progress.

With $43k to go, I’m almost at the halfway point out of my $81k total. I’ve realized that it’s important to just keep going, stop judging yourself, and trust the process.

There will be highs and lows, moments that you plateau, and times where you want to throw in the towel. Above everything, it’s important to just keep going.