Student Loans: We Paid Off $55,000 in 2019 (Plus 5 Tips For You)

If you're looking for the exact steps to pay off your student loans in 2020, you might be reading the wrong article!

HOWEVER… if you're looking for a complete mindset adjustment when it comes to paying down boatloads of school debt, then keep reading!

In 2018 we paid off over $70,000 in the student loan principal and I write the step by step process we did do that in this article.

The point of me writing this article on paying off student loans is simple – I want you to succeed financially.

For us, 2019 wasn't as good financially as 2018, but we learned more than ever. Like that…

  1. Missing goals is OK when you set them high
  2. You will need to make more money (but I will show you how in #2)
  3. Mindset and behavior are the determining factors for financial success.

Yet with all the bumps and bruises, and through all the learning we still managed to knock out $55,000 in student loans – even if our chocolate lab did go Tony Montana on some cocoa powder (see #1 below)!


$55,000 Student loans down & $74,000 to go!

2020 will be the year we become student loan debt free. Mark my words.

In March of 2018, I set a goal to pay $100,000 in 12 months – we came up about $20,000 short. I followed that up with a goal of paying off $80,000 in student loans in 2019 and we obviously came up short on that too!

While some things happened that were somewhat uncontrollable – like owing taxes in 2019, having a $4,300 vet bill in March and actually making slightly less blogging after expenses – 2019 was a really good year overall!

For starters, we no longer had a roommate in 2019 which was something we decided was necessary as a married couple on the brink of starting a family.

And while there was no tax refund, real estate cash windfall (like in 2018), no roommate income, and the doggy issue – we actually managed to pay more per month than ever before!

$55,000 in 11 months averaged out to be $5,500 towards student loans each month (March was $0 because of the dog issues). So I decided to write about the mindset we have adopted the last three-plus years.

Here are the things we do and will continue to do as we pay off our remaining student loan balance:

The 5 Habits We Adopted to Pay $55,000 in One Year!

My suggestion as you read these: Use the shopping cart approach.

Figure out what you like, use it, adjust it do whatever. If you don't like something then leave it – just like you would not buy mayonnaise at the store if you don't like it!

(But seriously, who doesn't like some mayo?)

1. Delayed gratification.

The following is a real-life scenario:

“Mr. H, what do we have to do to get an “A” in your class?”

Me: You need to put your cell phone down, take notes, review your notes, rewrite your notes, practice with a friend and study more.

Student: Ugh… but isn't there something else?

Me: No. You want that A right?

I would estimate that several times a quarter I have this same conversation with some student who wants to know the shortcut to getting an “A” in my class. They don't want to know the real answer.

I know this because they always fight what it really takes to get the high mark – mastering the material. The real question they are asking is “Mr. H, is there a shortcut to an A?” The answer is and will always be NO!

The same goes for paying off student loans, or any debt for that matter. I have been asked point-blank:

Besides lifestyle adjustments, what is the biggest tip you have for paying off all the debt you and your wife have paid off?

My response: Nothing – alls we did is adjust our lifestyle.

We adjusted just about everything….

  • Our spending habits,
  • Our making money habits,
  • Our saving habits,
  • Our eating habits,
  • Our gym habits, and
  • Our entertainment habits.

Just to name a few.

Really what we did is we started prioritizing everything based on a 5-year approach – where did we want to be in 2021!

It is how we put together back to back to back years of paying off $55,000+ in student loans. In other words, we got really really good at delaying or gratification!

But what does that mean?

What delaying gratification really is:

I am not going to sit here and say never drink Starbucks again, eat rice and beans and live in a rented garage until your debt free. No, you can still have your fancy coffee drink and eat at your favorite restaurant and even travel – but all within reason.

Sometimes people confuse delaying gratification – giving up now what you want most later – as living like a homeless person. That is not what delaying gratification is!

Instead, it is prioritizing your money! Here is what I mean:

  1. The first thing we do when we get paid is we make a student loan payment
  2. Next, we pay our bills that we have evenly balance throughout the month
  3. Lastly, we look at our leftover income and we ask this question: Is there something we need or want? Or should we pay more this month?

Some months we pay more towards our student loans, other months we might go out to dinner one extra time. However, after paying $70,000 in 2018, paying only $55, 000 in 2019 makes us want to get better!

Always strive to delay gratification better!

In 2019 we were able to eat out more (something we both enjoy), get back on our gym membership for $60 a month (insurance does help offset some costs) and take our first beach trip since 2015 for three days.

I think I bought new running shoes, new dress shoes, new basketball shoes and new boots – something I have delayed on for a long time now – all in the same year.

But we were able to do some of this because for close to three years… we didn't! However, this is also eye-opening in some regards. In addition to some additional spending, we had a $4,300 vet emergency.

So while we paid $55,000 in student loan principal – by my estimates, without the dog emergency and the mini-vacation, eating out and shoes, we could have paid another $6,000 or so towards student loans.

It does help that in 2020, we also focused more energy on earning money outside of our careers! Which leads me to point #2 –

Make more money and you will pay off your loans quicker.

2. Make extra income (often).

Bear with me for just a second… but I cannot emphasize making extra money enough!

There are three components (in my opinion) to finances:

  1. Save & invest your money, at least 15%
  2. Control your spending habits and where the money goes out.
  3. Make more money and focus on earning more.

On the ist above, #2 is the SIMPLEST (but involves behavior), #1 isn't too complicated… but #3 seems to trip some people up.

Sometimes when you talk about making extra money little voices will pop into your head and say things such as, “You can't get a new job,” or “You just got a raise, don't bother asking!”

If that is you – stop it!

While yes you will want to delay your gratification and get control of your spending, at the end of the day making money isn't that hard, and every dollar counts!

But making extra money isn't hard, just do the simple math…

The average adult salary in the United States is around $50,000. Varying factors from the type of college degree (or none), sex, location, age contribute to this rough ballpark number.

For example, purposes, let's say you make $60,000 per year, or $5,000 per month:

  • $5,000 per month is approximately $3,500 per month after taxes, etc.
  • $3,500 per month is $875 per week or $1,750 every two weeks.
  • You get a standard 3% raise annually, or $1,800
  • An $1,800 raise after taxes is approximately $1,200
  • $1,200 is an extra $100 per month, $50 per paycheck and $25 per week.

So here is my point when it comes to making extra money to pay off student loans (or other debt):

Making an extra $100 a week isn't that complicated, but you need to stop hoping for it to come from your job!

Even if you happen to make $100,000+ a year, a 3-6% raise in the grand scheme of things is still only going to net you $300-$600 extra per month after taxes.

Obviously every single dollar adds up, but in 2020, making money with the internet and endless side hustles, side gigs, whatever – is simple. But you will have to do something!

Here is a list of ways to make money in 2020 off the top of my head:

  1. Fill out surveys online (easy) when you have idol time.
  2. Once a week, ride share or deliver until you get $100
  3. Tutor kids online
  4. Walk dogs with Rover
  5. Sell stuff on Amazon, Offer Up, Craigslist
  6. Start a blog
  7. Start a multi-level marketing or direct sales business
  8. Use your job skills to consult on the side
  9. Tutor online
  10. Teach English online
  11. Edit/Proofread
  12. Do part-time sales work for a company you know
  13. Build a website

I have not done the final numbers just yet, but outside of my job this year I estimate I brought in $13,000:

  • Marketing Clients & Websites = $4,000
  • Blogging – Affiliates, Ads, Sponsors = $1,000
  • Part-time sales = $1,000
  • Marketing Consulting = $7,000
  • 2019 Total = $13,000

While some of this I reinvested back into my blog and online businesses, the important thing to consider is that most of my “Work” didn't require me to physically be somewhere.

AKA how I made extra money was flexible.

You can work a part-time job, work overtime, or rideshare, but I think flexibility is key.

So in 2020, make it a goal to figure out additional ways to make money. Here is a complete list of 50 Side Hustle & Ways to Make Money Ideas!

3. Hold yourself accountable.

I once wrote an article about being grateful for student loans. Sounds crazy, I know, but you got to find the silver lining in everything.

I remind myself that had my wife and I not had a combined $300,000 in student loans we would have never gotten serious about our finances, we would have never gotten out of our comfort zone creating income, and we would have never challenged ourselves.

This has led to us creating companies, working harder at work, going to church, getting healthier in all areas and so on. All because of student loans!

But I won't lie – a huge part of that has been holding each other ACCOUNTABLE every step of the way… which is not always easy. Here is what I mean:

We need an accountability system!

Try this – go to a room at work that always has junk food on the table. Just look at the food. Even when you're on a diet, fitness routine, or a no-sugar cleanse – something about a delicious chocolate donut does some weird stuff to our brain!

Perhaps it is just me, but I can convince myself that I am worthy of the donut – even though I shouldn't be touching it! The same goes for your finances.

It is pretty simple to convince ourselves to overindulge on things outside of our budget and spend more on the new iPhone than we should. Or maybe it's taking that trip we probably should budget better for that sets us back.

Either way, in 2020 set a goal to find some sort of accountability system. Ideas include:

  1. A trusted friend or family member to check your goals with
  2. Spouse or partner
  3. Financial mentor
  4. Church member you trust
  5. Financial planner

Holding yourself accountable is not only huge, but it is also 100% necessary. I attribute my amazing wife Lauren and a few trusted financial mentors for holding us accountable!

Delaying gratification is actually very easy when you have an accountability system in place!

4. Reward yourself for hitting milestones.

This will be short and sweet:

Make a game of your debt and reward yourself when you hit milestones.

Ever used the same workout for a few months and feel like you hit a plateau? The same thing can happen with your finances.

While I talk about holding yourself accountable and delaying gratification, you also need to be real and reward yourself, within reason!

While we paid $55,000 in student loans in 2019, we also took our first mini-vacation to the beach since 2015. This was a reward for delaying on travel for four years and not even taking a honeymoon!

Right now, write down a few goals, set a target date, and add a reward to each!

Here is an example of our list!

  • Six months until debt free: Start trying for kids!
  • Debt Free: New (but used) SUV & Sectional
  • Mortgage Free: Two Rental properties

5. Go back through your budget!

Last but not least, perhaps this might seem trivial, but make a habit of shoring up your budget at least once per month.

Adults work on average, 160 hours a month to make money, I would say it is worth spending one hour a month to track your money!

Spend some time in the next few weeks going through your budget and seeing where maybe you can “Tidy up” some spending areas. Consider reaching out to your WiFi company, insurance carrier, and cell phone carrier and seeing about discounts!

Here are a few tips:

  1. Check out Trim or Truebill – both will basically clean up your budget and subscriptions for you! I used Truebill in November and I am now saving $50 a month in auto insurance for the new year!
  2. Join the 5-Day Debt Free Boot Camp and on day 2 get my 2020 budget sheet… for free!
  3. Look at your budget monthly and compare previous months. Don't beat yourself up, but also remember – be accountable!

My final words on paying off student loans:

If you would have asked me in 2014 about student loans I would have acted like they were no big deal. In 2015, had you asked the same question I would have told you I was freaked out knowing my finance had $270,000 in student loans!

Fast forward today and I can tell you all the hard work and all the lifestyle adjustments to pay off $180,000 over the last three years has been worth it!

The light is finally at the end of the tunnel!

Walking into 2020 owing $74,000 in student loans means we need to pay an average of $6,165 per month. That number is up $665 from what we averaged in 2019.

Which means in 2020 we will make sure we:

  1. Check out budget monthly
  2. Stick to our monthly goals
  3. Delay gratification better
  4. Focus on earning more
  5. And delay travel for one more year!