When Zina Kumok, 28, blogger and founder of Debt Free After Three, made her first student loan payment in 2011, she immediately felt defeated. With a $28,000 salary and a coincidental $28,000 in student loans, it would take the next 10 years (or more) to repay her debt. “I asked myself, how could I pay this off quicker?”
Instead of wallowing in dismay, she took action. Cutting out online subscriptions, cooking inexpensive meals and buying clothes at thrift stores was the first step. And gone were the days of shopping just to pass the time. Zina wanted every spare dollar to go to her student loans. “Once, I stood in front of a [DVD rental machine] for 10 minutes deciding if it was worth it to spend $1 on a movie,” she says.
After a year of working toward her payment plan, she got a better-paying job. And instead of celebrating with a nice treat to herself, she put the difference toward her student loans. “Suddenly, I was seeing my principal decrease quickly,” she says. When her lease ended, Zina moved in with some friends, and again put the savings from living with roommates toward her loans. “I was paying $950 a month toward my loans, and I was really starting to see momentum,” she says.
With each payment, her balance decreased and fewer of her payments were going toward interest. “In November 2014, I made my last student loan payment!” she says. “Paying off my loans was about more than becoming debt free, it was about debt freedom,” she says. Zina now has the confidence to follow her passions.
Living debt-free is its own reward
And less than a year after paying off her student loans, Zina quit her job, relocated and started working as a freelance writer. With her loans paid off, she had enough money to save for the cross-country move and start an emergency fund.
After three lean, disciplined years, Zina is in a place of financial confidence. Even better? She can apply the lessons and skills she learned during her debt-repayment years toward her savings and spending today.
"I feel so much more in control of my money and where my life is going," she says. "Being debt free is definitely the catalyst for everything I’m able to do.”
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