4 Strategies This Woman Used to Beat $30K in Student Loan Debt in 2 Years

woman sitting on couch with debt free balloons
Briana Browne, 24, paid off $30,000 in student loan debt by adhering to payoff strategies that worked for her. Photo courtesy of Briana Browne

If you’re a recent college graduate — or you’re quickly approaching your pomp and circumstance — plans for the future are surely top of mind.

Chances are good you’re also thinking about your student loans, considering more than half of Americans who attended college took on debt to pay for their education.

And unfortunately, that debt doesn’t appear to be going anywhere for many of us — outstanding student loan debt rose to $1.46 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2018, according to the Federal Reserve.

Figuring out the best way for how to pay off student loans isn’t a one-size fits all solution. There’s a lot to consider, including your career field, the job market, housing options and cost of living.

The good news: Others have gone before you and are willing to share their strategies on paying down debt. One of those people is Briana Browne; she shared her strategies for paying off $30,000 in two years.

Finding a Student Loan Payoff Strategy

Everyone has their own tips and tricks for paying off student loan debt. We’ve shared stories about the couple who cut expenses and went back to “dumb” phones to pay off $13,000 in student loan debt and the woman who shaved five years off her repayment schedule by refinancing $60,000 in student loans.

Browne, 24, has her own method for paying that worked for her, which she turned into a book, Payback: A Guide to Becoming Debt Free. She shared four of her student loan payoff strategies with us:

1. Find Your Motivation

If you love spreadsheets, budgeting may come naturally. But for the rest of us, finding the right budgeting method is key to maintaining our financial discipline.

Using the snowball method, Browne tracked the extra payments she made toward her loan balance by coloring in a picture of a thermometer that tracked the total amount of her loan. It allowed her to see her progress on a month-by-month basis, which Browne said was essential for motivating her.

Pro Tip

Not sure where to start when it comes to budgeting? Check out The Penny Hoarder Academy’s Budgeting 101 course, which includes helpful advice, guidelines and resources.

“I tried to figure out what was going to be the best way to see the most results in a short amount of time,” she said. “I like instant gratification. I like to see progress. So that kind of helps to keep me motivated to see how far I am toward reaching my goals.”

2. Work Extra Hours

At some point, you’ve made every realistic cut in expenses. If you’re still coming up short, you’ll need to find ways to make more money to pay off your student loan debt.

At her first job out of college, Browne didn’t receive many benefits as a temp, but she discovered one lucrative perk: overtime.

“We were working between 90 and 95 hours for two weeks,” she said. “I was making roughly around $3,000 a month so I was able to put at least $2,000 toward my loan and still have a little bit left over for myself throughout the month.”

For those who don’t have the overtime option, Browne suggests looking for additional money-making opportunities immediately after graduation, before other responsibilities and distractions claim your free time.

“Especially at this age, we’re super young — I think now’s the time to just be grinding, working toward making more money,” she said. “Whether it’s asking for a raise, working overtime, getting multiple side hustles, whatever it is, babysitting — just trying to find time to make that extra cash, it just makes that process easier.”

3. Ask for Help

No, this tip isn’t about going to your family or friends and hitting them up for cash (although if that’s a viable option …)

Instead, swallowing your pride and asking for non-financial help can be the difference between living a life in debt or getting yourself out.

Browne’s mom helped her in multiple ways, including letting her live at home and borrow the family car as needed — Browne uses public transportation to get from her New Jersey home to her job in New York City.

But just as helpful was mom becoming her accountability partner, offering experience and motivation to help Browne stay focused on her goals.

“An accountability partner is super crucial when trying to reach any goal in your life, especially a financial one,” she said. “[My mom] showed me the importance of having a budget and taking control of your finances.”

4. Avoid Debt From the Beginning

OK, so this isn’t so much one of Browne’s strategies as it is her biggest regret: Not listening to the wisdom of her mom (win for moms everywhere).

“She definitely recommended I apply for scholarships while I was in high school — and I completely ignored her,” Browne said. “I was like, ‘I just graduated, I want to enjoy my summer, I do not want to apply for scholarships.’”

Browne learned just how much of an opportunity she had wasted when she started a job with a fellow graduate who didn’t have any student loan debt because she had applied for scholarships throughout her college career.

Her advice to recent graduates and those in college: Avoid the debt now so you don’t have to follow her other strategies.

“I wasn’t really focused on student loans until after I graduated college,” said Browne, who also recommended finding work-study options available through financial aid packages. “One thing that I wish I would’ve known is that I could make payments toward my student loans while in school.”

Pro Tip

To qualify for work-study programs, you must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA. Here’s how to apply.

As of May 23, 2019, Browne was completely debt free. But rather than rush into a new debt, she’s adding a new element to her financial plan.

“Throughout my journey, I didn’t save as much — my goal was to just get the debt out of the way,” she said. “I’m focusing on saving $10K before the year is over — that’s my next financial goal.

“Then, hopefully, moving out of the parents’ home and getting my own place.”

Now that’s smart planning.

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.