- After a job loss and financial emergency, Ashley Patrick was determined to get out of debt.
- She had $25,000 of student loans left to pay, so she and her husband took aggressive action.
- They paused their 401(k) savings, cut their spending way down, and carefully tracked their payoff.
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For many of us, student loan debt may feel like a ball and chain that we drag around for years on end.
That’s how Ashley Patrick felt about her $25,000 in student loans. When her husband lost his job and the couple was unable to quickly pay back a loan they’d borrowed against their 401(k) to remodel their house, they ended up owing the IRS thousands — and they never wanted to be in that position again.
“The fear of another job loss and never wanting to be in that position again was our motivator,” says Patrick, 36, who is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is the founder of Budgets Made Easy. “The student loans were our last loan, and had the largest amount.”
To clear the debt quickly, Patrick and her husband made four changes to their budget — and they worked: they knocked out the debt in 10 months.
1. They hit pause on their retirement contributions
At the time, Patrick and her husband were contributing a total of 11% to their 401(k) retirement plans — Patrick was tucking away 5% of her income, and her husband was contributing 6% of his pay.
To pay off their student debt as fast as possible, both temporarily paused their 401(k) contributions.
2. They sold unwanted belongings online
To gin up extra funds to put toward debt, Patrick and her husband sold everything they didn’t need, including some of their kids’ stuff, their wall decor, lamps, and a few larger furniture pieces. They also gave up a trailer and a four-wheeler to help crush their debt faster.
While they sold the big-ticket items to extended family members, they sold smaller items lying around their house on Craigslist. Overall, they raked in about $300 to $500 through online sales.
3. They cut back on extras
While Patrick and her husband were earning $125,000 a year collectively, they kept their living expenses as low as possible to put extra money towards their student debt.
To save on monthly living expenses, the couple didn’t buy anything they didn’t need right away, including name-brand products. “When we got down to the last two months, my husband said, ‘When we’re debt-free can we buy shaving cream again?’ That’s how intense we were,” Patrick said.
The couple also cut back on traveling, and didn’t travel to Kansas to see family, which saved them at least $1,000. The Patricks meal-planned and rarely ate out, which helped them cut their food budget in half, spending just $600 from over $1,200.
To help her stick to her budget, Patrick also used the cash envelope system, where you put all the cash you’ll need to spend on X category for the month into an envelope.
4. She kept track of their debt payoff journey
To keep herself motivated to aggressively pay off her student debt, Patrick calculated the daily rate of interest on their debt to see that they were making progress. At the beginning of their debt-payoff journey, her student loans were accruing about $5 in interest a day, or roughly $90 a month. That provided the impetus to send extra payments as often as she could, typically every one to two weeks.
Patrick also kept a visual of her progress taped to her closet door, and looked at it every day to stay pumped. “To stay focused, I would read debt-payoff stories every night before bed,” says Patrick. “I also joined like-minded Facebook groups and listened to podcasts.”
Being completely debt-free enabled Patrick to leave her stressful job as a police detective and stay at home with her three small kids. It also allowed her to grow her then-side business into a full-time income while giving her the flexibility to be with her children. “When things come up, I don’t stress about it,” says Patrick. “We just pay it and move on. Before, when an unexpected expense came up, I would’ve cried and been stressed for days.”
For those who would like to crush their student debt sooner than later, Patrick suggests finding ways to cut back and increase your income while staying motivated over time. “Just keep going even if you have a bad day, week, or month. It’s progress over time that matters.”