Despite landing scholarships and working full-time throughout school, Michelle Schroeder graduated in 2010 with nearly $40,000 in student loan debt for her two undergraduate degrees and a finance MBA.
Schroeder lost her father to brain and lung cancer at age 18, so she moved out on her own and learned to budget through trial and error. “I still took out loans because I spent way too much money on food and clothing,” Schroeder admitted.
When that first student loan bill arrived, Schroeder got serious about extinguishing her debt quickly. “Just seeing how much I would owe every month for years and years to come made me want to come up with a plan to pay them off quickly,” she said, adding that “I felt held back by my student loans and I just couldn’t imagine paying them for many, many years.” (She estimated her payments were eating up between $750 and $1,000 each month.)
Tackling her debt head-on
Schroeder chose not to investigate repayment programs like Income-Based Repayment or Pay As You Earn because she preferred to get her loans paid off more quickly. However, she does wish she’d looked into refinancing her student loans to get a lower interest rate.
At that time, Schroeder was working in the financial services industry as a financial analyst, but she picked up extra income through mystery shopping, as well as selling clothes, books, and other items around the house for money.
She also started freelance writing on the side for extra cash and created a blog called Making Sense of Cents, which she monetized. “I focused any extra time outside of my day job on making extra money,” she says. “This allowed me to put a huge chunk of money each month towards my loans.”
Schroeder attacked her highest-interest loan first to minimize the amount she paid in interest (an approach called the debt avalanche. She also cut back on dining out. Most other categories of her budget were already minimal, so there weren’t a lot of extra items to trim.
Just seven months later, in July 2013, Schroeder made her final student loan payment. “Since I was doing this in such a short amount of time, it was actually quite easy to stay motivated and see my student loan numbers drop so quickly,” she said. “It felt great to pay down my student loans and it was almost like a competition with myself!”
The upside to living with student loan debt
Paying off five figures of student debt wasn’t easy, but it also brought a surprising silver lining: blogging about her student loan journey inspired her to become her own boss.
In October 2013, Schroeder left her full-time job as a financial analyst to become self-employed. “Paying off my student loans allowed me to feel financially free, which gave me the power to leave my job,” she said. Since she left her job less than three years ago, she’s built her blog into a business generating well into the six figures.
“Currently, I’m focusing on increasing my affiliate income, which includes helping others start blogs of their own, make extra money online, and more,” she said. “I enjoy affiliate marketing because it allows me to continue writing just the way I normally do, while promoting products that I believe in. I also earn an income through sponsored partnerships, advertising, and more.”
Freelance writing for other sites was initially one of her side hustles, but she now prefers being her own boss rather than writing for others.
“I made this switch to focus on my blog more last year and now that I’m focusing more on my own business, I’ve noticed a huge increase in income and my business,” Schroeder says. “Plus, I’ve been happier than ever!”
Her advice to others who feel overwhelmed by student loans? Look for ways to make extra money, whether it’s selling old electronics, creating a blog, freelancing, pet-sitting, or any other revenue stream you dream up.
“Cutting your budget is great, but there is no limit to the amount of money you can make,” she said. “Everyone has extra time, and that time can be used towards making extra money, such as through a side job. This can then help you to pay off your student loans at a fast pace.”
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