I had no idea the decisions I made when it came to my finances would change my career. When I started on this journey, those decisions just seemed like a good thing to do at the time. Five years later, I’m now an author of a book where I describe what I did to pay off $30K in student loans in less than three years.
Your path may not look like mine, but the steps you take after college around your finances are just as important in your life - trust me. From the jobs you take to where you live, money will be a factor in every major decision in your life. If you make the hard choices with your finances early, you’ll have more control in getting what you want with no obligations.
Here are 3 steps I took after college with my money that you can too. Unlike some of the decisions you made in college, you won’t regret it.
Step 1: I Paid Off $30K in Student Loans in Three Years
How did I do it? I got to work and hustled to pay off my debt ASAP. My parent’s free furniture, tax returns, and paying above my minimum monthly payment, all helped me get there. I kept living costs low during my first year out of college by sticking in the Midwest and furnishing my (affordable) apartment with flea market finds. Any extra money I had I used toward payments on my loan; which included tax returns, bonuses, and money I found in the washer. Every month I decided to pay $200 over my monthly loan payment- I never let myself off the hook.
It sounds a lot harder than it actually was. I simply kept my college mindset of living inexpensively, even though I had a “real income”. I let that attitude guide my decisions. Because, hey I was already used to living on nothing anyway. What were a couple more years of living frugally in the grand scheme of things? I knew once I paid off my debt I could buy whatever I wished- minus the guilt!
Step 2: I Started Investing Right Away and to the Max
I was also investing while I was aggressively paying off my debt. If I can do it, you can too. There is no better time than your early twenties to create wealth! I took advantage of this time (and free money), by having a 401(k) and an IRA (Individual Retirement Account). I contributed the max in my 401(k) to get my employers matching funds and watched as my retirement savings grew. I contributed to my Roth IRA whenever I could.
If your income allows you to multi-task and pay off debt and invest at the same time - DO IT. You’ll be glad you did when you have the option to retire from your dream job (not that you’ll want to!). Still, it’s nice to have options.
Step 3: I Got Help and Created Healthy Habits
It’s important to note along my journey to financial liberty, I had help. Shortly after I paid off my debt, I saw a financial planner to help me with my short-term and long-term savings goals. I got more diligent about investing in my IRA on a monthly basis. I also starting saving/investing small funds of money for life milestones, and of course emergencies! Life is unpredictable, and I’m so thankful I had a safety net to catch me when I needed the extra funds.
My financial planner also showed me how to budget (which I follow in my own way). Upon reflection, my self-discipline, sense of urgency, and persistence have been more valuable than any budget. Those characteristics and factors were key to creating healthy spending habits in my life. Because of them I didn’t feel restricted to a budget. You can create healthy habits too, just start and keep at it. If you stumble along the way, it’s OK. Just try again!
These 3 financial decisions have come in handy in my life on more than one occasion. When I wanted to leave my corporate job to work at a non-profit, having my student loan debt paid off allowed me to take the jump. I was glad I had already invested a lot in my retirement accounts because my new job didn’t have benefits for retirement. And when I lost my job unexpectedly, my safety net of 3 months of living expenses was there.
Every wise financial choice helped me ultimately live the way I want and make my own choices - not ones dictated by money. You have that choice too.
A version of this post previously appeared on CleverGirlFinance.com, a financial education platform aimed at providing women with financial guidance that will inspire them to pursue and achieve their dreams of financial independence.