By Melanie Lockert
After graduating from college with a Political Science degree in 2011, Julie accumulated $25,000 in student loan debt. But her debt didn’t stop there.
After receiving a big promotion, she went on a spending binge. She bought a new car and took advantage of those alluring zero percent interest credit cards. Suddenly her $25,000 debt load more than doubled to $53,000.
As her debt was increasing, things were getting serious with her then-boyfriend. He popped the question. Though Julie was happy about starting her new life together as husband and wife, she also took on $36,000 of his student loans.
In total, they owed $89,000.
Saying no to "til debt do us part"
Julie realized she didn’t want to enter married life weighed down by the burden of debt. She found inspiration in the blogs No More Harvard Debt and the blog post News Flash: Your Debt is an Emergency. She decided to start her own blog, Millennial Boss.
Full of inspiration and ready to make some drastic changes, Julie started to create a plan towards debt freedom.
She started by using the snowball method to conquer her debt. “I paid down the 0% interest credit cards first since it was motivating for me to eliminate entire accounts early on. I left the student loans with the greatest interest rate for last since they were the greatest amount,” she says.
On top of that, she made some major changes in her lifestyle. She ended up taking a higher-paying job in another city and downsized by living in a small apartment. Because she chose an affordable apartment near her work, she sold her SUV. Downsizing and selling her things helped make an impact on her debt. But there was one thing that helped her eliminate her massive debt so quickly: earning more money.
Making more money
As a Political Science graduate with a nonprofit background, Julie wasn’t exactly poised to command a high salary or score a great job.
But in a matter of years, she was able to go from making $9 per hour in 2012 to making $200,000 per year. Reducing her expenses and downsizing her lifestyle helped, but earning a good income helped her pay off debt quickly.
How, exactly, did she go from making near minimum wage to commanding a six-figure salary? For Julie, it was all about being strategic with her career and the moves she made.
“I had no background in technology but knew it was a growing, well-paying field,” she says. “My previous work experiences had been at non-profits so I was a bit intimidated and wasn’t sure how to enter the field. I leveraged the skills I learned creating my own travel website to land that first internship opportunity and then parlayed that experience into my first tech job.”
Though she didn’t have a degree in the field, she strategically pursued a higher-paying job that aligned with her skills and interests. By landing a well-paying tech job, she was able to pay off debt quickly and also get her master’s degree — this time on her employer’s dime.
Struggles along the way
Though Julie successfully increased her income and downsized her lifestyle, she still had to make sacrifices. After all, paying off a huge amount of debt is no easy feat.
In fact, Julie had to make some difficult decisions while in debt repayment mode. “I didn’t go home for Christmas one year and also skipped out on a friend’s bachelorette party to save money. It was hard to miss time with family and friends and some people called me out on my decision to skip the events. That was hard,” she says.
Not only that, but paying off debt required tough and brutally honest conversations between Julie and her husband. Though they’re on the same page now, they had to work on financial planning together.
From these conversations, Julie decided to pay off her husband’s $36,000 of student loan debt after she paid off her $53,000 in debt. In total, she paid off $89,000 in debt in only 18 months.
How you can get out of debt
Paying off any amount of debt is tough. Paying off a balance inching toward six figures in a short period of time is a monumental feat. In order to get out of debt, Julie says you have to be willing to make the moves required to get you there.
“You have to make big moves to get big results. It wasn’t easy to move, sell most of our belongings and my car, or skip events with family and friends,” she says. “Ultimately, these drastic moves allowed us to pay off our debt in 18 months.”
If you want to pay off debt fast, take a note from Julie’s debt payoff playbook — change jobs and increase your income, move to a location where you can command a higher salary, and always learn new things. Downsize what you can and make sacrifices while looking at the big picture.
What she’s doing next
After paying off her debt, Julie is focusing on her next big goal: saving a million dollars and retiring in her early thirties. Currently, she’s already at 20 percent of her goal using the same strategies and principles she used to get out of debt.
Imagine — what crazy, audacious goal will you strive for once your debt is gone?
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This article originally appeared on Student Loan Hero.