How I Could Have Paid My $28,000 of Student Loans Off Faster

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This is a guest post by Zina Kumok

ZinaRecently I finished paying off $28,000 worth of student loans (over the course of three years) while making about $30,000 a year. Paying of my loans so quickly required a lot of sacrifices, but not as many as you’d expect. I didn’t live with strangers, I didn’t get a second job, and for the most part, I saw my friends as often as I wanted.

Even though I accomplished my goal, there were ways I could have paid the debt off faster. Why does that matter? Because every month that I paid my loans, I also paid 6.55% interest (or sometimes higher). Here are some easy ways I’ve realized in retrospect could have helped me pay off my loans sooner:

1. Not turning down an offer for a roommate

When I first moved to Indianapolis, I had an offer to live with a friend’s cousin. She was also looking for an apartment downtown and we had similar budgets. I had already been living alone for a year and knew how much money I could save if I could split rent, utilities, internet and even some groceries. But in the end, I decided that rooming with a stranger wasn’t worth saving money. I still regret that decision – the apartment I chose was more than I wanted to spend and I had lots of maintenance issues. Savings lost: $4,000

2. Skipping travel until after I paid off my debt

I went to Israel in 2013 while I was still paying off my debt. I had saved the money for the trip from one of the “extra” paychecks that you get if you’re paid every two weeks. I justified spending the money on that trip because it was a Birthright trip, which meant that it was heavily subsized and much less expensive then a normal trip to Israel. Birthright allows Jewish young adults to travel to Israel and only pay for meals and a flight to New York City. The program is only offered to people under 26 years of age and I had already been waitlisted twice when I finally got accepted to go. The trip ended up costing $1,000 total since I decided to spend a few extra days in New York City. I also took a 10-day trip to Spain this past May, which cost another $2,000. Putting off travel would have shaved off three months off my debt-repayment. I should clarify that’s one decision I don’t regret, since traveling is worth doing while you’re young and able, but I do realize it postponed my debt repayment. Savings lost: $3,000

3. I started my first job after college with no savings

After graduation, I had an unpaid internship and worked part-time for a call center. I paid for my own rent that summer and since my part-time job kept cutting hours, I didn’t save as much as I planned. So when I got my first full-time job, I had to borrow money from my parents to pay for the security deposit on my apartment. I spent the next year building up my emergency fund. If I had been careful throughout college, I could’ve started that job with a cushion and could’ve put more money toward my loans. Savings lost: $1,000

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4. Not getting a dog

When my fiance and I talked about getting a dog, I initially told him I wanted to wait until I had paid off all my loans. But in the end I relented and we adopted a four year-old mutt named Lyra. I got her the same month I got my annual raise so I put that extra money toward her expenses. That way I was able to still continue putting the same amount of money toward my loans without absorbing the raise. I budgeted $50 a month for my dog and the initial start up costs were $250. But then she got sick a few times and I soon realized what people meant when they said pets are expensive. My dog cost me about $1200 over the course of a year – all money I could have put toward my loans. Savings lost: $1,200

As mentioned above, even though these are some things I could have done to pay off my loans faster, I don’t regret all these decisions. I enjoyed the travel and I do love my dog more than words. But with every choice, you make a sacrifice. Even though I love rubbing my dog’s belly and going to sleep with her curled up beside me, I know that she’s a financial drain (sorry, Lyra). I don’t know that I would have been happier sharing an apartment with a girl I barely knew, but I do know that decision cost me a substantial sum.

If you’re trying to pay off debt or start saving, it can be hard to know what financial sacrifices are worth it. I keep two rules: spend more on experiences versus stuff and try to balance what will make you happy with paying off your debt as quickly as possible.

Zina Kumok writes about paying off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years. She has been featured in Daily Worth and Time Magazine. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook to get more advice on budgeting, saving and paying off debt.

Image credit: Tambako The Jaguar

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  • Nice article – its important to look back at our “mistakes” and where we could have done things better to see how we can improve in similar areas in the future.

    If you paid the loans down over the 3 years on a constant basis, you would have also incurred over $3,000 in interest payments.

    If you could have found a 0% balance transfer credit card, and placed the old “interest payment” to the debt repayment, it would have been repayed in 29 months instead of 36.

  • Yeap many ways to save and pay off debt!

  • Great article! When I think about how much money I blow each month, I could have paid off the 10K I owe on my truck within a year and a half but I like to have fun! You’re only young once!

  • Hi Zina, I think you’ve done exactly the right thing here. Life is full of trade-offs and tough choices, and by identifying your priorities, you’ll be able to make informed choices. I really like your holistic approach. Good luck!!

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