Top Tips From Couples Who Have Paid Off Their Student Loans
When Anjie and RJ Muhammad envisioned the future after marrying in 2017, it didn’t include student loan debt.
With approximately $120,000 in loans between them, they vowed to work together to eliminate that debt as soon as possible. An impossible dream? An insurmountable obstacle? Not for this couple.
“We refused to let our debt become an anchor in our journey as husband and wife,” Anjie said. “When we started our debt-free journey we initially thought it would take us over three years to pay off. We never imagined it would take us a year to pay off our student loans. It proved that when you are aligned and working toward the same goal you can achieve anything with discipline, communication and intention.”
The average federal student loan debt balance is $37,113, according to the research-based Education Data Initiative. Multiply that by two, and it’s $75,000 per couple. It’s easy to get discouraged when looking at a number like that, but those who have done it say you and your partner can achieve freedom from student loans. But it takes work.
Making a Commitment
After seven years of paying student loans, Garrett and Olivia Douglass decided they were done with making minimum payments toward their combined debt of $95,000.
“When we both graduated college and began our careers, we were on an income-based repayment plan and sometimes even in deferment,” said Olivia, the chief blogger at This N That with Olivia, who lives with her husband and two children in Southern Maryland. In 2018, they vowed to work to pay off the loans in two years, and they set up a strategy.
“The first thing we did was sit down and write a budget, a detailed one. We went over where our money was coming from, and where it was going,” she said.
In scouring their finances, they found nonessential expenses to cut, such as eating out, entertainment and streaming services. Then, they refinanced the student loans that had variable rates into those with static interest rates, Olivia said.
“From there, we were both on the same page as far as our finances and goals. We’ve been just two years without student loan debt and love the freeing feeling that we both have in not only our finances but in our marriage, too,” she said.
The Muhammads were in sync, step by step, when it came to setting financial goals and working together to create their game plan.
“RJ and I got educated about personal finance together by reading books and listening to podcasts,” Anjie said. “We shared all the knowledge we learned with one another.”
“We budgeted. Each week, RJ and I would discuss our expenses, our total amount of debt, and how much money we could throw at our debt for the month. Having frequent discussions about our finances kept us on the same page and on track to reach our goal.”
They, too, lowered their expenses, from renegotiating their rent amount when signing a new lease to contacting utility companies to arrange for lower monthly payments.
“We lived frugally,” Anjie said. “We didn’t make unnecessary purchases that didn’t align with our goals; we cooked almost every meal we ate, we rarely made purchases for non-essential items and we even sold and repurposed our old furniture.”
Once their expenses were cut to the bone, they sought promotions and new jobs with higher salaries. Anjie also took a side job. A year later, their mission was complete.
Today, the Muhammads share their story and work to inspire others to be “rich in your marriage, rich in relationships rich in purpose, rich in life, and ultimately, rich by intention” through their website and podcast of the same name, Rich By Intention.
Moving Forward Together
Ashley Johnson, the founder of Frugalish Family Finance, said she and her husband paid off $227,000 of debt, including her student loans toward her nursing degree.
“The student loan and our other debt were overwhelming and caused many arguments and financial stress,” she said. “We knew we needed to make a change because we couldn’t continue with how things were.”
They signed up for a financial course together.
“In the first class we took, things just clicked. We knew we needed to take control of our money. Both of us were 100% on board. We had nothing to lose because we were already stressed and broke,” she said.
Like the other couples, they cut every penny they could and lived a minimalist lifestyle. They sold things they didn’t need to create a $1,000 emergency fund so that they would have some money set aside. Then, they put all of their money toward their debts.
Their strategy? Put all the money they had left in their budget toward their smallest debt. When that was paid off, they tackled the next-smallest debt in the same fashion. And so on. One by one, the debts were paid off — including the student loans she’d paid on for 12 years.
“We used to argue about money and spending, and now we discuss our goals and dreams and the plans we will take to reach them,” she said. “Working as a team to tackle the debt we had strengthened our marriage.”
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