When you receive your first student loan bill, it’s a serious wake-up call to adulthood. You’ll likely need to rein in spending and adopt more frugal habits in order to pay off your student loan debt. Here’s how:
Try the 50/30/20 budget
Start your budget off with the 50/30/20 rule for your after-tax income — 50% for necessities, 30% on wants, and 20% on savings and debt repayment. Necessities are things like groceries, housing, basic utilities, transportation, insurance and minimum loan payments. If you want to pay extra toward your debts, including your student loans, use money from the 20% portion of your budget.
Find a budgeting app that works for you
Before you can live frugally, you’ll need to understand your spending. In order to see what you can afford, you can track your purchases, bill payments and other expenditures using free budgeting apps such as Mint or Level Money. Both are available for free on iOS and Android.
Consolidate or refinance your student loans
Living frugally can be incredibly helpful while paying off student loans, but you might be able to alter the terms of the loans themselves. Refinancing and consolidation are two ways to make your debt more manageable.
When you refinance, your multiple loans are paid off by a lender and you are issued a new loan with a different term length and a lower interest rate. If you refinance your federal student loans, you won’t be afforded federal protections such as income-based repayment, deferment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (which is offered to those employed in qualifying fields who make regular loan payments for at least 10 years). You can apply for refinancing with a private lender. Make sure you compare multiple offers before choosing a lender to work with.
Consolidating federal loans won’t lower your interest rate, but you’ll have just one direct consolidation loan with a new repayment term ranging from 10 to 30 years, depending on the total amount you owe. With this option, you’ll get to keep your federal protections. You can apply for consolidation at studentloans.gov.
Switch home utility providers
If you’re trying to lower your bills at home, compare your internet, TV, home phone, electricity and natural gas services to other providers in the area using allconnect.com. Other possibilities include dropping your home phone or downgrading your cable package to save additional money.
Employ the 72-hour rule to resist temptation
Ever regret an impulse purchase in store or online? Try using the 72-hour rule, popularized by personal finance author Carl Richards. If you find something you want to buy, wait 72 hours to see whether you still want it. If you do, it’s as easy as returning to the store or adding it to your online shopping cart.
Find a side hustle
Even if you have a full-time job, you still may want to pull in a little extra money on the side. If you live in a city, consider driving for a rideshare service, doing odd jobs through TaskRabbit, tutoring, joining a focus group or freelancing. You can also rent out your apartment, spare bedroom, unused parking spot or even your car.
Downsize your lifestyle
Think about ways you can scale back your lifestyle expectations while you’re paying off your student loans. Whether it’s finding a cheaper neighborhood, getting a smaller apartment or bringing on a roommate, there are ways to save on your living situation. Try to eat out less, cook more meals at home and limit your coffee shop or happy hour outings.
Making a few short-term changes now can bring you long-term payoffs in the future. So while you’re scrimping and scaling back your lifestyle, just think of how elated you’ll feel when you see your student loan balance hit zero.
Anna Helhoski is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @AnnaHelhoski.