It’s easy to feel financially stuck in a cycle of debt when you have a huge outstanding student loan balance. From 2004 to 2014, student loan debt increased by 56% with the average American student now owing over $28,000. For some, that amount is even much larger. For example, attending a private undergraduate university or continuing onto graduate school can easily set you back almost six-figures in student loans.
When you make a big purchase or when you receive a large credit card bill, you might feel guilty or experience anxiety as you start to think about the thousands you already owe in student loans. Student loan debt can be a huge financial stressor that affects your everyday work performance and personal happiness.
It can be difficult to want to spend money during the holidays, enjoy vacation days, take risks at work, or even want to start a family when you know you still owe thousands of dollars. Even with a stable income, you might feel like buying a new car or buying your first home is out of reach. Don’t let student loan debt hold you back from professional and personal growth. Here are three tips to help you overcome the stress of student loan debt.
Stick to a Realistic Budget
Create a realistic budget that includes your monthly student loan payments as well as all living expenses, debts, and bills. Be honest about how much you spend on groceries, going out, household bills, gifts, shopping, etc…You probably won’t like compiling these numbers and seeing just how much you actually spend a month, but being honest about your budget is an important step in taking control of your debt. When you create and stick to a realistic budget, you don’t let debt get out of control, and you don’t feel deprived on an everyday basis.
Often times, your emotions get so tied up in money that you forget that budgeting is really just about making accurate math calculations. Simply put, your student loan debt is just a number and with every monthly payment, that number decreases. It can help to visualize your budget on a spreadsheet either online or on paper. You can download a free template online here, or try signing up for a ReadyforZero account to keep track of your debt, expenses, and credit card payments.
Review Your Loan Status Once A Year
Just like spring cleaning or tax season, you should set aside a time once a year to review your student loan debt and finances. By allocating a specific time of year to review your student loan finances, you help relieve the stress of debt in a variety of ways. For one, you are in control of your finances whenever you make the decision to sit down and face the numbers. Pick a time of year that makes sense for you. For example, I love Thanksgiving, so I schedule my yearly student loan check-in just before the holiday in mid-November. I know that I have to sit down one day in mid-November to review my student loan payments and my finances before Thanksgiving; Otherwise, I can’t enjoy my favorite holiday.
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By reviewing your student loan debt, you also reflect and celebrate the progress you have made. You spent a year of paying off a portion of your student loans, and it’s something to be proud of every year. Another benefit of reviewing your loan status is that you keep the door open for other options. If your financial situation has changed for better or worse, and you want to consider new options or repayment plans for paying off your student loans, this yearly check-in is the time to make your move. Don’t hesitate to call your lender to clarify your plan and options if your financial situation has changed. It’s easy to experience anxiety about student loans during the year, but when you do a yearly check-in, you can confidently tell yourself, “it’s all under control.”
Reach Out for Help
Sometimes, the emotional burden of student loan debt can take too much of a toll on your professional and personal life. Maybe you’ve missed some payments, or maybe you’re recently unemployed and don’t know what to do with stacks of bills quickly piling up. You might not see the light at the end of the tunnel or any viable path to dig yourself out of both student and other personal debt. If you feel that student loan debt affects your everyday happiness and ability to work, seek support from friends, family, or mental health professionals.
Though you might feel that your student loan debt is too personal or a very private problem, you have to remind yourself that millions of Americans deal with it everyday and they all empathize with your stress. Paying off student loan debt is a long term process, so the sooner you address its negative impact on your life, the better for you and your personal finances.
Once you’ve overcome the major emotional hurdles of student loan debt, you can ensure that you’ll stay on track by mining free online resources for advice and support. You can start with ReadyforZero’s Student Loan Debt Resource Center. From answering your most simple questions to offering possible options for more complicated situations, free online resources can be priceless in helping you navigate your student loan debt plan.