Student Loans Were No Match For My Low Income

student loans

When I graduated college I had a little over $27,000 in student loan debt. I went to a relatively moderately-priced school in the state that I live in. I realize some people may see my loan amount as peanuts compared to what they might owe. That doesn’t matter. When I started to pay my debt off, my income was less than what I owed. It’s possible to pay off your student loans if you’re dedicated and smart with your money.

Attacking my loans

Deciding to take my debt seriously was part of my money management transformation that I wrote about here

I decided to take the debt snowball approach to paying off my student loans. This approach is where you pay off your loans from the smallest to largest amount (interest aside). This is more of a mental approach. By that I mean because you’re paying off the smallest amount first, it’s going to be the “easiest” to kill. You’ll notice these balances nearing closer to zero sooner than the larger amounts. You treat these realizations as rewards for yourself. You can see your efforts working which will motivate you to keep going. 


Budgeting my money was critical during my debt-payment journey (still is post-debt). Once I learned how to budget and implemented that into my financial plan, money management made so much more sense and everything started to click. 

I used the zero-based budget to budget my money. With zero-based budgeting, you allocate all of your income to spending categories before you actually spend the money. After you do this, on paper, you’ll be left with zero dollars (to allocate). Now you know how much you can spend on certain categories and will never spend more than you have.

I set myself up for a life of frugality, no doubt. But my student loans were on my budget sheet which meant I was going to start attacking them. I felt cheap but I felt good. 

Even with my relatively low income, I was paying about $371.00 a month towards my student loans. I only gave myself $50/month for groceries, $50/month for entertainment, and $50/month for going out to eat. I also had a “try not to spend” category that was kind of a last resort pool of left over money. Technically, I could spend this money but tried my hardest not to. Anything that was left over in this category (or any) went towards the debt.

Living conditions

Part of the reason I had such a low income was because I tried hard to set myself up to be flexible. I’m in a traveling band and I wanted to have the ability to leave whenever I wanted. So, while my job didn’t pay that much, I was still able to do the things I wanted to when I wanted to. 

This kind of ties into my living conditions which helped tremendously with my finances. I live in Akron, OH in a fairly cheap part part of town. At the time I was living with three roommates and we split utilities. My band was doing well enough to pay for my rent. So I was basically living “rent-free”. My would-be rent money went towards my debt. This was a tremendous help as far as keeping my expenses low goes. 

Side hustles

I love side hustles. If you’re interested in extra income, it’s possible to make it with side hustles. And it might even turn into your main gig. In any case, look for side hustles

Even with the band and my job, I was always on the prowl for side hustles. Some of the jobs I worked included: photography at a comedy club, commercial real estate photography, freelance web development, freelance graphic design, yard work, solo performances, and more. 

In 2020 I earned $15,309.40 just by doing side hustles. The majority of this went to paying off my debt. 

I paid more than the minimum payment

If you don’t get ahead of the interest on your student loans, you’re only going to be paying more money in the long run. If you can, I suggest paying more than the minimum on your student loans. The more you pay towards your principal amount, the less interest you’ll owe and the less money you’ll spend in the long run. 

I understand that’s easier said than done. But I think it’s worth it if you can afford it in the short term. Here’s a student loan calculator that can help you decide a payment amount that works for you.

I didn’t rely on student loan forgiveness/relief

Don’t get me wrong. If you get lucky and the government wipes your student loans out, then hell yeah. That’s awesome. But if they don’t wipe it out, your interest is piling up like garbage in a landfill (I thought that was an appropriate comparison).

For me, I wasn’t going to wait on a maybe. I was pedal to the metal about taking control of my finances. While student loan forgiveness/relief might happen it also might not happen. 

But since I hit my loans head-on by myself, I, without a doubt, do not have student load debt. 


Since paying off my loans, I’ve increased my income quite a bit and it feels good to do what I please with that extra money. I don’t owe it to anyone.

I get it. It’s hard. I’ve been there. But once your loans are paid off, you can do so much more with your money that’s going to benefit you in the long run. In most cases, you can cut more expenses out of your life than you think you can. It’s possible. 

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