How I Paid Off Nearly $11,000 in Student Loans in 6 Months
By Alyssa Ficcaglia
Student debt cripples our society. According to the Office of Federal Student Aid, 43 million Americans have student loan debt, collectively owing $1.5 trillion.
With the exception of the extremely rich, extremely studious, or extremely athletic, the average college student will walk away with some amount of debt. The amount of money you end up owing will depend on the choices you make in high school, which quite frankly no one is properly informed or prepared to make.
The minute we start high school at the very impressionable age of 14 or 15 years old, the adults in our lives begin telling us to start thinking about college. Where do we want to study? What do we want to study? The age old question "what do you want to do for the rest of your life?" One question that was rarely asked or given much attention or thought to was "how are you going to pay for college?"
As a teenager, I knew college was something I was going to have to pay for myself. I wasn't one of the lucky ones who had parents that could cover the costs for me to go to some big fancy out-of-state school. But, as a teenager I thought and cared more about getting out of the house, being independent, having experiences, and partying it up with the "cool" kids. Everything college is made out to be at that age.
When I started working I truly started to understand the value of a dollar. I quickly came to the realization that "I need to work this many hours to buy this one thing". I also started to realize that I HATED spending my own money and I never quite had enough it. During this time in my life I was also thinking about college and how I was going to afford it.
My fellow classmates were making all these grand plans to go to these larger than life four-year universities in far away places. The idea of going to a community college was laughed at. The 13th and 14th grade my peers called it. And while it was never directly said this way, it was implied that if you went to community college you were a "loser". I did not want to be a "loser".
Senior year, I started looking into schools and the costs associated with those schools, I researched scholarships, and looked into Student Aid/Grants. But if we are being honest, I did not put much time or effort into studying for that darn SAT test. I was an honor student with a 3.8 GPA, but my SAT scores were not scholarship worthy. With time to apply to universities running out, and overwhelming stress beginning to pile on, I reluctantly came to terms with having to go to community college for two years. While it didn't feel like a win at the time, it was the greatest thing that could have ever happened.
Due to my parents financial status, I was lucky enough to qualify for Financial Aid and thanks to my good grades and attendance record during my four years of High School, I also qualified for the School Counts Program. School Counts basically covered the cost for me to go to community college almost completely free. My Financial Aid covered the extra expenses like fees and books. At this stage of the game I was working non-stop. I worked for a custard stand and was a nanny in the summer after High School before landing a job at Target.
Saving money started to become a game to me. Growing my savings account was more important to me than having spending money. I got into the habit of putting at least $100 a week into my savings each pay period. I made sure each semester that I bought the cheapest textbooks possible in hopes of getting a decent stipend check at the end of the semester. The larger stipend check wasn't so that I could go blow it all on clothes or shoes. Instead, it was put straight into my savings so it could be used to either pay for extra expenses the following semester, or to help me pay for schooling once I went on to a four-year university. Which at the time I was still dreaming of going to a school away from home.
Between the stipends and working full-time, I was able to grow my savings account quickly during my freshman and sophomore year of college. I had even begun paying my own share of bills like my phone bill, gas, and part of my car insurance. But let's fast forward a bit.
After two years of community college, I was in a good place. I met the love of my life, I had worked my way up to a supervisor at a local gym, and had grown my savings by a couple thousand dollars. I toured a few out-of-state universities, but realized staying in-state at a school I can commute to everyday was a better money move. So that's what I did. I got accepted into Rowan University and instantly knew I was going to need to come up with more money fast.
Financial Aid only covered so much to attend Rowan. What it didn't cover, I needed to come up with myself. I didn't have enough money saved to be able to cover all the costs for the next two years so I took out a federal loan totaling $10,660. I didn't need to start making payments on that loan until 6 months after my graduation. So I hustled.
I juggled a full-time job (35-40 hours a week) and going to school as a full time student. When I wasn't at school, I was working. During this time, Anthony and I decided to move into our first place together, I purchased a reliable used car, and we adopted our first fur child.
I had REAL bills and a very real fear that I was not going to find a job in my industry after college. But I kept working and kept saving. By the time I graduated, I had managed to save a little over $12,000. "You could pay off your student debt right now", Anthony would say. But I didn't. For 6 months, I prolonged the inevitable because I knew once I paid that balance, all the money I worked so hard to save up would all go away. 5 years of savings spent with just one click of the mouse. The thought of it made me sick. I knew I would of course pay it off, but I fought the idea hard. I even tried to justify to Anthony why I should just pay it month to month. Anything to avoid seeing my account be wiped out. That was 5 years of turning down going out with friends so I could work. 5 years of picking up extra shifts on holidays. 5 years for working long hours, crazy shifts, and still going to school almost everyday. FIVE YEARS.
I eventually did it and I am so glad I did. While it didn't feel like it at the time, those 5 years were worth every minute. I was able to start off a new debt free life with my new husband. I can't even imagine where we would be had I not paid it off and got laid off from my job, not even two years after graduating. How would I have paid for it then?
To reiterate, I am well aware my student loan debt was no where near the amount of money many people graduate owing. But I think the choices I made following high school helped keep my debt to a minimum.
I didn't see it at the time, but looking back I was always where I was supposed to be. The decision to go to community college may have been dreaded and I may have despised every minute of it, but had I gone to some far away school I would have never met Anthony, I would have never found Chance, I would have never started this business, and I would probably still be paying off student debt for a degree in a career I wasn't happy in.
Everyone's path is different and everyone’s journey is their own, but life is so much better when you don't have to walk through it owing someone money.