Student loan debt is a stressful financial reality for the millions of young adults who are graduating this year, and it keeps getting worse. In fact, this year’s college graduates will leave school with an average of $37,172 in debt — a new record high, according to a recent report.
The standard repayment plan for bachelor degree student loans is 10 years, but it takes the average person twice that due to the life events that typically occur over the course of a decade. While these stats are discouraging, it’s ultimately within each graduate’s control to pay off their student debt faster by adopting the following eight smart money moves after college.
1. Don’t ignore your debt.
Wishing you didn’t have debt is understandable, but ignoring it will only cause bigger problems. Late payments can devastate your credit score and make it very difficult to obtain loans. If you can’t afford payments, you may qualify for a financial hardship deferment (available only for federal loans). Call your loan provider to explain your situation so that he or she can help set up a repayment plan that works for you. You may even qualify for a student loan forgiveness program, so check out more details at The College Investor.
2. Limit lifestyle inflation.
Upon landing your first job out of school, you may feel tempted to “treat yo’self” and go on a spending binge. After all, you spent years eating ramen noodles and living in tight quarters, so you’ve earned the right to splurge, right? The trick to getting out of debt faster and paving a secure financial future is to keep costs low for now, however, so rein in the desire to upgrade everything you purchase.
3. Create an emergency fund.
An emergency fund will ensure you have liquid cash to pay for unexpected issues, like a car accident or dental procedure, which could otherwise increase your credit card debt and further reduce your ability to make additional payments toward student loans. Cash is a popular graduation gift with 2015 graduates estimated to receive a collective $4.77 billion in money, gift cards and other tokens of congratulations. Stash that cash into an emergency fund to create the cushion you need to focus your funds on other debts.
4. Work on the side.
Add to your income by taking on side hustles. If you’re skilled at writing, consider freelancing for websites or content creators, or starting your own blog with affiliate links. Sites like TaskRabbit.com offer a wide range of side gigs for extra cash, while Rover.com is perfect for dog lovers who have space for boarding. Making extra money long-term requires time and commitment, but your hard work will pay off when you save tens of thousands of dollars in student loan interest and pay off your debt in half the time.
5. Shop smarter.
Reducing your spending completely isn’t an option; after all, you still need to eat, pay bills and get to work. However, you can shop and spend smarter to avoid wasting money. Compare prices using tools like CamelCamelCamel.com or the ShopSavvy app to ensure you’re not overpaying for a purchase. Consider buying second-hand as often as possible for savings of up to 75 percent. And use mobile tools to make saving money easier, like the popular coupon app Coupon Sherpa which offers deals on everything from apparel to haircuts to auto repair services.
6. Trim your take out habit.
Eating out every meal will take a huge bite out of your monthly budget. While the occasional happy hour and restaurant outing with friends is okay, make sure you don’t fall into the trap of dining out several times per week. People who bring their lunch to work can save over $2,700 annually, according to a VISA survey conducted in 2015. Just think how much debt you can pay with that money!
7. Sign up for retirement savings.
Even though retirement feels like a lifetime away, it’s imperative to start saving now so you can take advantage of compound interest. If your employer offers to match your retirement savings up to a certain percentage (typically between 1 and 3 percent), plan to deduct at least that amount from your paycheck so you’re not leaving money on the table. Otherwise, open an IRA account that works best for your situation and include monthly contributions in your budget.
8. Stop letting FOMO rule your finances.
FOMO, or the “fear of missing out,” is often the scapegoat for overspending. From expensive vacations to dining out frequently to partying on the weekends, giving in to FOMO will hinder your ability to stay on budget and pay down debt. While it’s okay to take part in the occasional party or weekend getaway, just make sure it’s in your budget. Keep in mind, there will always be opportunities and the sooner you get your finances in order, the sooner you’ll be able to enjoy a lifestyle with less monetary restrictions.
Andrea Woroch is a money-saving expert who transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers by sharing smart spending tips and personal finance advice. As a sought-after media source, she has been featured among such top news outlets as Good Morning America, Today, CNN, Dr. OZ, New York Times, MONEY Magazine, Consumer Reports, Forbes and many more. In addition, Andrea’s stories have been published among leading publications and sites such as Yahoo!, AOL Daily Finance, CNN Money, Huffington Post, LearnVest and New York Daily News. Visit her website at AndreaWoroch.com. You can also follow her on Twitter or Facebook for daily money tips.