How I Paid Off $30K In Student Loans Without A High Income Or Rich Parents

    I know it sounds like clickbait, but I promise I ate enough catering leftovers to make it the truth.

    I'm Kara, and today I work as a financial educator, but I come from a very nontraditional financial background. I grew up in a fairly low-income, single-parent household — we were on food stamps for five years of my childhood. And like most of my fellow millennials, I needed student loans to help pay for college.

    With such low income, my student loans felt insurmountable. My $400 monthly student loan payment was my second highest bill each month.

    In July 2012, I drove to Austin after signing a six-month lease with a friend from college and continued to wait tables. I took home about $1,600 a month, paid $500 in rent, and split utilities and groceries with my roommate.

    My quarter life crisis hit like a Mack truck one day when I was driving down the highway. I was driving to the $12 an hour catering job I hated. My loan payments were starting again in a few weeks.

    I figured I had a simple equation in front of me: figure out how to pay off all my debt come hell or high water. Nothing else really mattered — the loans stressed me out and took up a huge chunk of my monthly income.

    Thus began what I like to call my debt payoff sprint. It started with education — from June–September 2014 I spent a lot of time on financial blogs and websites like Yahoo Finance and Marketwatch, reading about how people had done things like pay off their student loans, buy houses in cash, and even retire from work in their 30s.

    Next, I looked at my income. It wasn't much. I was making about $1,300 a month catering at the time. I had applied to probably a hundred jobs in the last few years, but I had never been hired for a full-time role.

    By October 2014, I had a plan: I was focusing on paying off my highest interest debt first, throwing literally all my extra money at it. I was spending on the bare essentials only and living off roughly $854 a month.

    You can see exactly how that worked right here. Have you ever sewed up a $2 pair of Forever 21 leggings so you don't have to buy new ones? I have.  

    By February 2015, I was working five part-time jobs seven days a week and beginning to see some progress on my debt payoff. I worked as a caterer, a freelance writer, a nonprofit fundraiser, a social media manager, and a lacrosse coach.

    But it all sucked. Now, let me be clear. Working five part-time jobs, seven days a week and forcing myself to live off catering leftovers and having date nights in my own living room kind of sucked. It was a very difficult way to live, and I wouldn't recommend that anyone pay off their debt the way I did.

    I also started blogging about my mission to pay off debt on a very low income, which eventually turned into the company I run today. Blogging helped in unexpected ways.

    My mental health DID get better though. Paying off my debt was working exactly the way I wanted it to as well. I was making anywhere between two and seven payments a month and watching the balance drop.

    My debt sprint came to a close on June 5, 2015. I made my last payment and then promptly went out with my friends and got drunk at my favorite bar. I had paid off my final $18,000 in student loans in just 10 months, and I had paid off $30,000 total in three and a half years — all while being very low income.

    If you're paying off debt now, learning about money changed my life, but it was really earning more that made the big difference.

    Are you working on paying off student loans? Share your tips, tricks, and stories in the comments.

    For more stories about life and money, like things people say helped them recover from burnout or how millennials are actually buying homes (spoiler — it's not by skipping avocado toast), check out the rest of our personal finance posts