Having student loan debt makes starting a family, buying a home, or opening a business a huge burden. Not to mention, it can take over your life and make it feel like the walls are constantly caving in on you.
Data released by the Department of Education found that only half of the students who went to college in 1995-1996 paid off their loans within 20 years. While it takes a lot of willpower and hard work to do, there are ways of paying off your loans quicker than you ever thought possible. The woman in the following story shares how she did it.
Student Loan Debt
Michelle Schroeder-Gardner racked up $38,000 worth of student loan debt after earning two undergraduate degrees and a Master’s in finance. It an effort to pay her debt back quickly, Michelle started a blog as a hobby, simply to track her financial progress and join the personal finance community.
She told Oprah.com that she noticed how welcoming people in the online financial community were and how everyone else was paying off their debt and doing well financially. Her day job was working as a financial analyst earning $50,000 a year, plus bonuses of about $12,500 annually. Despite her huge amount of debt, Michelle set a goal for herself of paying it off within six months.
Increasing Her Income
“I earned as much money as I could outside of my day job,” Michelle wrote on her blog Making Sense of Cents. She managed to pay off all of her debt in seven months thanks to a key strategy of shifting her focus to earning. “I mystery shopped and got paid to take surveys, but the biggest thing I did was I made an income through my blog.”
Michelle started Making Sense of Cents in 2011 when she was a grad student. Initially, she treated it more like a journal and she didn’t intend on monetizing it. Then, six months after she started her blog, a friend of hers asked if she wanted to make a little bit of money off of advertising something on her blog.
She didn’t know that a blog could even make money and Michelle made $100 off of the advertising. While this didn’t seem like much at first, she realized that she could make money from blogging and that number increased pretty quickly. When she wasn’t at work, Michelle would spend her time blogging.
Working Long Hours
She told CNBC, “Any extra time I had would go towards growing my blog. I woke up early in the mornings, stayed up late at night, used lunch breaks at my day job, and I even used my vacation days to focus on my blog.” Eventually, her time and effort paid off and by 2013, she was bringing home $10,000 a month just from her blog.
That income enabled her to quit her job as a financial analyst and since October 2013, Michelle has been blogging full-time. By the end of 2013, excluding her salary from her job, Michelle earned $117,000. Then in 2014, that increased to $164,000. By 2015, her earnings were $321,000, and in 2016, she nearly made $1 million ($979,000 to be exact).
Today, she consistently earns money each month all thanks to her blog. On it, Michelle offers tips on saving and making money and also publishes income reports. In various interviews Michelle did, one being with Forbes, she explained how she paid off her debt and grew her income so quickly.
While the biggest reason for her success is her internal drive, Michelle explains that she is naturally frugal. “Even though I make $100,000 a month, I’ll still wear my favorite shirt even if it has a hole in it,” she told Forbes. Growing up she’s always been competitive and people often joked that she’s going to be the president of a company one day or a millionaire.
“Growing up, I was always super determined, so I don’t think anyone was surprised with how successful my blog was,” she said. “It was always expected of me – that I’d do something pretty out of the norm.” Michelle explained that after graduating, she didn’t want her debt hanging over her head for the rest of her life, so she decided to pay it off as quickly as possible.
During the time that she was paying off her debt, Michelle and her boyfriend at the time (now husband) had bought a house when they were 20 and their mortgage was less than $1,000. Her expenses included transportation and groceries and Michelle and her boyfriend combined their finances to help with their bills.
Once she realized she could make money from her blog, it boosted her motivation. She sought out deals and wanted to see if companies would sponsor her blog. Soon enough, companies were approaching her, and Michelle was charging $100 for a sponsored post on her blog and $150 for an advertisement on her sidebar.
She also made money on Google Adsense and affiliate income where she promoted other companies’ products. If one of her readers bought through her, the company would pay her. Michelle explained to Forbes that her advertisers were mainly financial companies like coupon websites, cell phone apps, and other companies that helped people save money.
To increase her revenue even more, Michelle started looking for opportunities writing for other bloggers and she immersed herself in the blogging community. If you’re wondering how Michelle’s blog brings her so much money, she explains that the majority of her income is generated through affiliate marketing. In fact, she makes $50,000 a month from it and that’s the bulk of her income.
Her other big revenue stream is an affiliate marketing course, where she teaches other bloggers how to create affiliate income. A third source of income for Michelle is advertising on her blog. In one instance, she’ll partner with a bank and they’ll ask her to advertise a certain service or product that they’re selling. Or, she’ll participate in a Twitter chat with the company.
When asked by Forbes what one of the biggest lifestyle changes Michelle has made since her income changed, she said that she lives in an RV. Michelle and her husband sold their house in Missouri in July 2015 and today they work wherever they want. Her husband had always dreamed of living in an RV – Michelle, not so much.
After years of convincing, Michelle agreed to give it a shot and she’s been loving RV life ever since. It began as a weekend thing to see family or take a trip but it slowly turned into the couple being gone for months at a time. They now live in 400 square feet and they had to get rid of a lot of their things to fit. The one surprising difference, however, is that their RV costs more than their house.
Basically, living in an RV can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be and it’s comparable to living in a home. “There are free places to stay, but we mainly choose private campgrounds or state parks that cost money,” Michelle said in her interview. They also like to follow the weather and they’re forever staying in a 70-degree weather area.
Since Michelle has increased her income drastically over the years, she’s now not as stressed about money. She does admit she is just as frugal as before and she finds no shame in using a coupon to save some money. “I just don’t like to be wasteful. If there’s a way to save money, I’m not going to waste time to find ways to save money, but if a money saver is there, I’ll go for it,” Michelle said.
Michelle and her husband invest a lot in Vanguard funds and they’re saving for retirement one day. She still loves blogging and doesn’t want to stop any time soon and will continue to blog for the next few years while sailing to other countries. Michelle’s recent Instagram bio reads: “We used to RV, now on a sailboat!” From the looks of her Instagram page, Michelle is doing just that – making the most of her life while working hard.