After earning her Bachelor’s and a Finance MBA, Michelle Schroeder-Gardner found herself buried in student debt—without any plan to pay it down.
Determined to get serious about a repayment plan, she took the difficult — but necessary — first step: adding up exactly how much she owed.
By gaining an understanding of her loans, creating (and sticking to) a budget, and boosting her income with side hustles, Michelle was able to pay back $38,000 in student loans in only seven months.
It wasn’t easy.
Between her primary and side jobs, Michelle says she was working 100+ hour weeks and struggled to find a healthy work-life balance. But the seven months of heads-down budgeting was well worth the financial flexibility that has allowed her to put money towards her retirement and save up to travel the world.
Empowered by her success in becoming debt-free by age 24, Michelle grew passionate about helping others free themselves of debt.
Her (ultra-successful) personal finance and lifestyle blog, Making Sense of Cents, helps educate others looking to take control of their finances.
Here are Michelle’s top tips for those looking to begin their journeys towards a debt-free life:
Get familiar with your debt
“The very first step I always tell people when they are paying off their debt is to add up their total debt—down to the exact penny. Many people don’t know how much debt they actually have, and their estimate is usually way off. By adding your total amount of debt, the average person will usually be shocked and this can help a person realize that their debt is much more real.”
Speed up repayment by pursuing new income sources
Michelle credits her side hustles for allowing her to pay off her loans in such a short timeframe. She recommends starting a blog or other business, selling old belongings, answering surveys, driving for Lyft or Uber, babysitting or dog-sitting as potential income-boosters.
“Surprisingly, I didn’t know that people side hustled too much before I started my own side hustle. I mean, I knew that people made cash occasionally on the side, but I never really thought about starting my own side business. Starting my own side business helped me to pay off my debt a lot faster.”
Don’t shy away from talking about money
“There’s a stigma about pretty much anything money related. People hate talking about money, and it’s for so many different reasons. Some people think it’s rude, but honestly, I think it’s because many people aren’t uncomfortable with their own finances, so they don’t like talking about them. I think openly talking about money helps—having regularly budget meetings, and so on—it all helps.”
You can get out of debt
“So many people normalize debt, and this can cause people to get into more debt. I want everyone to realize that you can get out of debt, and you can stay out of it. Yes, it’ll take hard work, and it won’t always be easy—but it will be well worth it.”
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This article was written by Cortnay Cymrot, a contributing writer for Varo.
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