Patience Grasshopper.

I’m pretty impatient, this was especially true when it came time for me to work my way out from a $28,000 student loan bill. The only thing I wanted more than being debt free, was to be debt free NOW! My intense desire to get out of debt was the best and worst thing that ever happened to me.

Marathon not a sprint:

My minimum payment to Sallie Mae was $178/month. Do you know how frustrating it is to pay over double that, but barely see the principle drop? SUPER FRUSTRATING! The first $170 of my payment went straight to interest, I felt like I was barely making a dent. I felt defeated. I was giving Sallie Mae virtually all of my discretionary income and getting what appeared to be nothing in return.

As my intensity was decreasing and my frustration was increasing, I had an epiphany. I DIDN’T GET IN DEBT OVER NIGHT! No, it took four looooooong years to rack up that $28,000, so why was I expecting to get out of debt in a few months?

Renewed focus:

Right as I was about to crash and burn, this little epiphany completely reignited the fire in my heart. I was ready to kick Sallie Mae in the ovaries, repeatedly. I had a goal and it was simple, “Get out of debt faster than I got in debt.” This took the pressure off each individual payment, and gave me a long-term perspective. My frustration turned to focus.

Focus that I desperately needed.

You know the rest of the story. As my income grew, my $500/month payments turned to $1,000, $2,000, and at one point $10,000 payments. Watching my balance go from $28,000 to $27,000 was disheartening, but watching it go from $10,000 to $9,000 was FREAKIN’ AWESOME! Three years after graduating college, I reached my goal. I was debt free.

I hope this story encourages, but more importantly reminds you that the journey out of debt is a marathon and not a sprint. If you racked up $10,000 on credit cards over ten years, it’s probably going to take you a few years to pay them off. If you financed your undergrad and graduate education (7+ years of loans), you probably wont be getting out of debt in one or two years. Think macro not micro.

I think it would be really cool if YOU shared a little bit about your situation. How long did it take you to get in debt? How long did it take (or do you expect it to take) you to get out? When you feel defeated by your debt, how do you stay focused? Respond in the comments below and let’s encourage one another!!!!!

32 thoughts on “Patience Grasshopper.

  1. I don’t think we’ll ever be out of debt. As soon as we think we’re getting close to having CC’s paid off, some other bomb drops. I’ve never even thought about having student loans paid off. I’ve been out of school for 15 years and it’s still chugging along. And now we have all my husband’s student loans and he’s not even done yet. We still don’t a house either because we have no down payment. We make a fair amount of a money too, but it’s never enough. I wish I had been able to do things differently in my late teens and early 20’s because now we’re just stuck in a cycle. You should appreciate your perfect life.

    • He does, he has many humble pie posts. I used to be so jealous of his life but after realizing life is a combination of luck and hard work I have come to peace with much these days.

      • I’ll have to disagree with you on that one. His story had nothing to do with luck. That really minimizes the hard work he put in to make that debt go away.

    • This is a defeatist post. You just need to reevaluate what you are doing and make a plan. If a “bomb” drops, you aren’t planning very well. That is a what an emergency fund is for. I have no patience for someone who sits waiting for something to happen. My husband and I each took 2 extra jobs and paid of 55k in one year, making only 90k. It is all about paring down and getting to work. You can do it if you really want it!

  2. Income is everything. Many people think its not how much you make but how you manage your money. That is a load of bull crap to placate those who do not make much money. A high income will conquer most everything. A low income will forever hold you down because you can only cut a budget so much. So make that money any which way and then some! I know a little off tangent but so important to know.

    • Income is very important indeed but determination is key. Income increases are subject to lifestyle inflation and if you don’t have the right mind set (to avoid debt an create savings/investments) all the money in the world won’t be enough to keep you debt free.

      Even as hard as it is making cuts when you have a low income (and thus no disposable income) there are decisions you can make to change your circumstances (move somewhere cheaper, change jobs, take plublic transport, brown bag your lunches, etc.). If you join these actions with making more money you will be able to be debt free sooner (and probably stay that way!).

      Never underestimate the power of determination. πŸ˜‰

  3. It never took me more than three years to pay any debt. I purchased my current apartment in 2004 with about 25% down payment, 50 % – five year loan from a bank and 25% loan from mom and a close friend. At the time mortgages were not available in my country and the “home credits” could only be for 10 years. I had another property which appreciated in value surprisingly well and I sold it for a good profit and paid my debts down. It took me only 13 months to get rid of all the loans. I remember walking into my apartment telling myself “So I own this place free and clear now? Wow!”

    Then I bought my rental property in 2011 for almost 65% down and 35% loan from a bank. It was not a mortgage but a 36 month loan in three pieces with slightly higher interest rates than a mortgage. The reason why I did not take a mortgage which became available at the time in this country was simply because early payments are penalized. Strange huh? So, I got rid of the highest interest rate portion of the bank loan in 18 months or so and the rest was paid down according to the original schedule. I am debt free as of last month. I never racked up credit card debt in my life. I never had student loans either. I am a debt hater and I hope I will never have to get a loan again. I am diligently saving money for retirement, for a new car and kitchen re-modeling. Oh and a nice long vacation in the US.

  4. Being a federal employee, did you have the opportunity to take advantage of the Student Loan Repayment Program? From what I understand, it’s a pretty sweet deal!

    Oh yah, and debt is pretty terrible as long as it’s a liability such as CC debt or overpriced car loans. However, I consider student loans an investment in your future. Without my degrees, I’d have a difficult time securing full-time work that not only pays well, but makes me happy at the same time!

    Focus and patience are key attributes that ensure long-term success and financial wellness. Congrats!

  5. It took me 5 years to get into $26k of debt ($15k of which was from one single year of university, the rest gradual credit card usage). It will take me 3 years to get out of debt, 2 if I wasn’t planning a wedding for next year.

    I agree that it’s marathon and not a sprint, those days waiting between paydays can be painful but when you look back over a number of months you can really appreciate your progress.

  6. I have $160,000 in student loans and I graduated 2 years ago. $40k from undergrad and $120K from law school. If I could go back I would not have gone the law school route- a really bad “investment” for the price. I’m currently at a university so I qualify for public interest loan forgiveness, so the loans may be forgiven in 10 years. If the program is cancelled before then, I am putting a large amount in an investment account every month so I have something to fall back on. Pretty new to this personal finance stuff- and not sure if I’m approaching this in the right way. Any advice is appreciated!

  7. Took about 6 years to get out of bed with Sallie Mae and now I feel like she has my head pushed in the toilet and giving me a permanent swirly. I’m in the same boat / feeling like I want to be debt free now but barely able to make the payments that keep the interest happy. Hard to find the motivation to keep going in the fight. Too embarrassed to say how much…

    • I completely feel you there. Any discretionary income I have is going to Sallie Mae. I used to find myself pulling all nighters every three months or so when the panic would hit a.k.a. when I brought myself to look at the total balance remaining (EEK!). I would stay up all night to review my budget, create different financial scenarios of how quickly I could pay the debt off, what additional sacrifices could I make, etc.

      I am now down to every 6-9 months between my ‘financial’ panic attacks. It does, at times, feel hopeless. I do understand the feeling of not wanting to continue the fight. Overall, I began with student loan debt of about $105K. I’ve paid down $35K in two years. I have to remind myself that I am making fantastic progress even if all I can see is how much longer I still have to go.

  8. Thankfully I did not graduate with any loans from Sallie Mae. My mom did give me a small stipend in undergrad. Due to some family talks, my husband and I have decided to pay it back. So, technically I am paying off a loan. Loans suck. I understand why you waned to get rid of it. I hate owing people money. I look at my mortgage and think, well in 15 years our house will be ours, but even 15 years is a long time.

  9. I had a lot of small miscellaneous debt that took about 15 years to creep up on me and my then husband. When we divorced, I got most of it because it was in the form of student loans that were only in my name. I probably had close to 100K at one time, but have brought it down to around half that in just the last four years. I’m thinking about three more years and it will be all paid off.

  10. It took me three years to rack up about $50k in student loans. (Paid the first year of out-of-state tuition in cash, then ran out of money, despite working two jobs in high school/college.) The first thing I did after taking out those loans was starting to pay them back little by little even while I was still in school β€” Sallie Mae’s were the first ones I paid off, because of the ridiculous interest rate. I’ve still got one private loan at Wells Fargo at ~3% interest, and I should have that paid off, worst case scenario, by January 2016. Fingers crossed for sooner, because like you, I’ve wanted them paid off NOW for YEARS!

  11. I graduated with my BA in three years with only $8,100 in debt. Grad school was essentially free (FAFSA: your best friend!). It took me 14 months to pay off my loans, and now I’m debt free at 24! To top it all off, I went from $60k to over six figures in the two years that I’ve been working full-time. I’m so excited to build wealth and invest in my future!

    Love the blog! Such great motivation to win with money!

  12. $33k (my undergrad, 4 years) + $0 (my grad, starting my 6th and final year) +$0 (husband’s undergrad, 4 years) – $9k (paid off the interest bearing loans in first 1.5 years of grad school) = $24k balance (interest is deferred while still in grad school).

    Currently have $15k earmarked for the remaining balance when it starts bearing interest 6 months after my graduation and plan to save up the remaining $9k in the next 18 months.

    So it will take me 6.5 years to pay off my undergrad loans, but I will only pay $736 in interest.

  13. Had to suddenly buy 8 airline tickets. So it took me about a half hour to rack up some CC debt that will prob take me the next 4 months to pay off!

    But… it might happen again, so now I’ll plan to have an airline ticket line in my budget so I won’t have to charge it next time.

  14. This is such a great way to put things in perspective! I too want my student loan paid off YESTERDAY, but looking back, it took me 7 years to rack up that debt (which totaled $189k in early February 2014). I’m working on paying it off aggressively now, but each payment, no matter how large, feels like a drop in the ocean. I know this is how it feels in the beginning, and that these payments will make a big impact in the long run. Thanks for the reminder!

  15. I’ve been feeling the push lately – wanting my student loans paid off now! My goal is to have everything paid off by 2020. That feels SO far away. But when I think about it, it’s a lot sooner than if I only make the minimum payments.

  16. Sadly, my experiences are all “instant debt” and then “take years to pay it off” so I can’t use this rationale.

    1) 28k in student loans – a single loan, acquired and spent in one day to pay tuition, took 3 years to pay off
    2) car loan – signed the paper and drove off, took 3 years to pay off (well, I sold the car before I owned it, but it paid off the loan)
    3) mortgage – signed the papers, and now I owe, I owe and am still paying πŸ™‚

  17. Counting my four years in college, plus three years after that accumulating more debt (new car, house, etc.) I gathered up debt for 7 years. The last 6 years have been spent trying to get of it. We’ve only got the house left – should be paid off by the end of this year.

    So… digging down for 7 years, digging out for 7 years. BUT we will have tons of equity in the house when we’re done, so it’s not all a wash.

  18. College was the easy debt. 4 year to acquire 53k in debt and then I spent 4 years to paying it off (technically 4 and a half).

    My car was run over shortly after I bought it and the check they gave me only covered half of the next car so that one (7k) was on in seconds and we just finished paying that off after 2 years to pay off.

    The medical debts are/were the worst, two 4 days stints in the hospital (58k overall) and paying that off for the next 2 years without knowing if there’s going to be another stay in the future and we have insurance :/

  19. Thankfully, my parents full paid my college tuition fees. But when my father passed away, we are definitely lots of debts especially when he was diagnosed that he has a colon cancer. We slowly paid our debts, sometimes I think that it’s so hard to be debt free, but thankfully we passed those financial trials.

  20. I started paying on my 26,600 of student loans just under two years ago. Now, I’m down to 16,200 and each payment really is starting to feel like it’s making a big dent whereas it certainly didn’t feel like much when I was over the $20,000 mark.! My goal is to be rid of Sallie Mae by my 26th birthday (14 months from now). With also helping my partner with school expenses, this is a lofty goal. BUT, I know I can do it as long as I keep my goal in constant sight.

    Thanks, Ninja for all of the great posts. I have recently discovered your blog and really appreciate your insights.

  21. My parents have diligently saved for my college education and I thank them for that and intend to pay them back, hopefully retire them.

    There is a about 120k in a 529 for me right now and depending on whether or not I transfer form my college this year I’ll have anywhere from 20k left over or be up to 50k in debt.

    Debt stinks but I wouldn’t mind punching sallie mae in the face. Just more motivation to put my education to use!

  22. 30 seconds to swipe the credit card and pay for $9500.00 in damages to a friend’s car. Well, a minute total when you consider the 30 seconds it took to get hit by another car while I borrowed said friend’s car. At the time I did not own a car/insurance and did not want my friend to have to deal with car damages while I sorted everything out with the other driver. It was one of the worst moments of my life. Took two years to pay off that debt (fresh out of school, minimally employed).

  23. totally different story than everyone else here. after paying down student loans aggressively I am paying the minimum as long as i can.

    graduated dental school with ~185k in loans. my loans were bought and sold a few times until they landed at 1 company that offered 1% decrease for 24 ontime payments and a second 1% for another 24 ontime payments and another .25% for signing up for automatic withdrawal.
    got a job that qualified me for a state loan repayment program and was able to make multiple years worth of payments at once. i am now down to 99k with a .1% variable interest rate. and i pay this back as slowly as possible

  24. I would apply the same principle when trying to lose weight. I lost 55lb in the last 2 years (I never felt so good) And my friends always ask me for tips or “magic recipes” to lose weight, they think they can make it in 1 month or 1 week and get depressed and frustated when they been doing exercise or eating on a strict diet and it just doesn’t seem to work. Well, the key word here is CONSTANCY. You can’t expect to get rid of debt or weight in one week if you’ve been living with overweight or borrowing money for months or even years.

    By the way, I graduated school back in 2008 with $19k in debt and it took me four years to paid it off.

  25. You are speaking my vibe. Literally wrote the same thing before I read this. LOL. And I ran a marathon not fully trained. Ya… that didn’t work out to well. But it was a beautiful trail.

    Um, ya… as for debt… I’ve been in debt since I was about 18. Never stopped racking up debt. Now I am a couple decades older. And my goal is to have it Paid off in 3-4 years. Haven’t figured out how, but I figure if I keep moving forward, stay w/in budget, and minimize expenses. I may just have a chance to figure it out along the way.

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