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Graduating Debt-Free!

Guest post by Anne Jisca

My husband and I met in college and got married after our 2nd year. He went on with his studies, pursuing a Master’s degree part-time while working.

Now, after six years of marriage, he will be completing his degree this spring. Throughout those years, we have learned to make do with little, and to keep our student loans to a minimum.

This past summer, we set ourselves a high goal of doing whatever it takes to pay off our student loans this year, so that he can graduate debt-free. It seemed unrealistic on my husband’s salary (I’m a stay-at-home-mom), but we sat down and determined how much we would need to pay into the loan every month to have it paid off, and found ways to make that happen:

  • We contacted the loan agency and applied for interest relief, for a period of six months. That means six months of saving the interest to apply to the principle!
  • We’ve lowered our grocery budget. We were already eating inexpensively, but we lowered it even more. What that means is mostly eating less meat and replacing it with beans and legumes that I soak and cook myself.
  • We’re purging our house of unused items and selling them through a yard sale and on the internet.
  • We had bake sales, and I continue to sell baked goods from home.
  • We minimized our spending money, and find cheap or free ways to make memories as a family.
  • Any extra money we get, however small the amount, goes towards our student loan.

While not every way of making and saving money has panned out, we are still making progress that we would not have made otherwise. It’s not always easy or fun to limit ourselves in this way, but the anticipation to be debt-free (aside from mortgage) by graduation is worth every effort!

Anne Jisca is a wife, and a Mom to two little boys. She loves to cook and bake, seeking to feed her family healthy (but yummy!) foods. She shares her recipes at Anne Jisca’s Healthy Pursuits.

photo credit

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  • jessica says:


    I will finish my masters in May and have paid cash for the entire degree.

    I wish I could say I am completely student loan free but when an unexpected situation rose my junior year that left living by myself in an apartment with no job I used my school savings to pay rent. However, I have two bachelors degrees and a masters degree with less then $4,500 worth of student load debt. I hope to have this small chunk paid off by May of 2013. Wish me luck.

  • Good for you! I graduated debt-free, and it was a wonderful blessing. I learned to make some great frugal meals during that time, too!

  • Marie says:

    That is wonderful!! I think it says alot about disciple and finances. We sacrifice in the short run to live like no one else in the long span of things!! Way to go! Thanks for sharing your story. I know it will be an encouragement to many!

  • Emily says:

    Awesome! My husband was able to get his Master’s degree for free via the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program. It’s a great feeling to have the extra education but not the extra debt!

  • Jessica says:

    Be careful about selling baked goods from your home. Many locales require that your kitchen be inspected by the local health department, which comes with a whole host of related issues (pets, pests, vermin, storage, food handling procedures, etc).

  • august says:

    I am hoping that I can do this. I’m finishing up my bachelors now, and have done everything I can to stay out of debt. Unfortunately, my last year and a half is going to have to be done with the assistance of student loans. About 14k, to be exact. My plan is to start saving now, so I can be good to go then, but it just seems like a lot when we have a 2 1/2 year old, and my husband makes a little over minimum wage.

    On the plus side, we have no debt, other than our house, and are getting ready to pay cash for our first new-to-us car. We are hoping that the car will save in gas, which is a huge factor when I’ll be driving 3 hours everyday. This gives me hope!

  • Ashley says:

    Thanks for sharing. These kinds of stories are always so inspiring and a huge part of why I continue to come to Money Saving Mom several times a day. 🙂

  • Leighann says:

    Congrats! Graduating debt-free is a great feeling, especially when you’re out of school and can’t find a job that would pay back the loans :-\ (sucks to be me!).

    • So sorry! What a blessing you don’t have loans though! My husband just graduated law school in May. While he was blessed to find work right away, many of his fellow students are without jobs (or just now finding them)… but have the added burden of large student loans!

      • Your story is good to hear – my husband is in his first year of law school right now, and while we’ve talked with recent grads who found jobs, we’ve also heard of those who have not. In fact, I was in Best Buy to look at replacing a computer, and after talking with the salesperson I learned that he had graduated from my husband’s law school the previous year and couldn’t find a job. Then I was like, “Well . . . guess we won’t be buying a computer right now.” 🙂 At any rate, it reminded us of how important it is to cover as much of our expenses as we can and to generate side streams of income, so that even if we are in that place a few years from now, we’ll have other income sources to lean on.

        • Way to go Jenni!

          Making it through with as small a burden of debt as possible will make life so much easier. And hey, if your husband does land a big firm job, I’m sure you still wouldn’t mind not having to pay back huge loans. 🙂

  • Jenn porter says:

    What is interest relief???

    • AnneJisca says:

      I should clarify that I’m from Canada and interest relief is available to us if we make below a certain amount yearly.

      You can inquire and see what is available to you!

  • Congrats! I am currently working to pay down my student loan- just over $3,000 to go! I knew NOTHING about finances and took out a loan during my first semester :/

  • MsKatrina says:

    One of the reasons that I started couponing is to apply the savings to my student loans so that I can return to school. It is good to see that sacrifice makes it possible.

  • Sarah says:

    Awesome story! I wish I had, had this much insight when I was going to college! I’ve never heard of interest relief on student loans… could anyone explain further? Will they usually grant you this?

    • AnneJisca says:

      I should clarify that I’m from Canada and interest relief is available to us if we make below a certain amount yearly.

      You could inquire and see if there is anything like this available to you!

      We all learn along the way, don’t we? 🙂 If we knew now what we knew back then on finances, we probably wouldn’t have had to take out a student loan at all. Live and learn!

  • What an encouraging story!

    My husband graduated from law school last May. We weren’t quite able to avoid all student loans, but lived frugally and kept them to a bare minimum. As soon as he started work, we started paying the student loans off with a vengeance. Even though my husband’s job isn’t a high-paying firm job, we’ve been living on as little as possible and are *so* close to paying them off! We can’t wait! 🙂

    We don’t know what the future holds, but being free from debt will make it so much easier to follow… wherever God leads!

    • AnneJisca says:

      Yes, makes it much easier!

      We are now preparing to go to Africa as missionaries, something that we could not have done if we still had debt.

      Way to go for keeping your loans to a minimum, that’s great! 🙂

      • How exciting! Thank for the encouragement. Sometimes, it’s hard to keep on going in the frugal life, but it’s so encouraging to hear other’s stories and see how God is using their financial stewardship to enable them to bless others.

  • Jill says:

    I still wonder if it is better to pay off the student loan debt (which has such a low interest rate), or to put the extra money toward your mortgage. Everytime I read about someone who lives “debt free,” that doesn’t include their mortgage, which is a huge debt! We have chosen to throw extra money into our mortgage, and just pay the minimum payment on our student loans (those are the only two debts we have). Paying $10k on a mortgage saves something like $50k over the course of the loan (that’s for a 5% interest, of course depends on the amount of the loan). But it’s a lot more than the student loan! Just wondered if anyone had any thoughts on this.

    • Meagan says:

      I’d say it depends on your mindset. If you crunch the numbers, paying extra on the debt with the higher interest rate will save $ over the long term, but paying off smaller debts has a huge psychological payoff that helps keep you energized to keep attacking debt. I remember making my final payment on my student loan (which had an interest rate of 1.875!) and feeling like a burden had been lifted. It was like I finally got rid of an unwanted houseguest 🙂

    • beth b says:

      This is my husband’s point. I have one student loan left and it makes me crazy but on the other hand we’re paying 50% extra on our mortgage every month which saves us a lot more in the long run. We were going to get it paid off this August but now it looks like we’ll be postponing that six months and putting new windows on our house. It bugs me a bit but I’m sure we’ll save more in heating / cooling costs than the ~$80 we’ll pay in interest.

    • megan says:

      my mortgage rate was lower than my student loan rate by 2%

  • Shannon says:

    Congratulations on your success and having the discipline that it took to reach your goal!

  • Michelle says:

    Good for you! As a taxpayer and someone who paid back all of her student loans (my husband too), I appreciate your diligence. The new program that began this year forgiving debts after ten years and reducing payments concerns me. Of course, there should be help for people with needs but a college education is a choice not a need. Will the banks be covering all the loans forgiven and not paid in full? You guessed it, the government will. That means us, the taxpayers. It is sort of like the free cell phones that were free to some but the cost was tacked on to everyone else’s cell phone plans/bills. Maddening.

    • Andrea says:

      From what I’ve read, if you qualify for those programs, borrowers still have to make payments for at least 10 years, but not more than 25 years. Have you seen any hard numbers on what this will cost taxpayers?

  • vicki says:

    Great accomplishment! I am in my second year of school, Im studying pharmacy so I have four more years left to go. I currently have about $18k in loans. I expect to graduate with about 90k in 2016. I am trying to reduce costs by commuting and living at home with my parents, bringing my own lunch, buying used books or renting them. I know ill be graduating with a HUGE amount of debt but I’m confident I will find a job when I graduate. I have already been offered an internship that’ll start in the fall. I could have gone to a state school for less money, but the closest state school is out-of-state and about 2hrs away. So I figured the money id save in tuition id be paying in rent, car costs, moving expenses, etc. It also makes me feel a little better when I think about all the scholarships I’ve received and they’ve helped a lot. My university costs about 30k per year in tuition alone.. I paid 10k last year and 8k this semester. Again, great job!!! To me no cost is to much for an education!

    • Andrea says:

      I hope you feel the same way about the cost when you graduate and start paying back the loans. If you take out $90,000 in loans at 6.8 percent interest (the current default Stafford Loan rate), you’ll pay over $1,000 per month for 10 years. That’s a huge burden!

    • August says:

      I have to agree, I think that going to a state school would have been better almost. I don’t know all the details, but i was faced with this decision last semester.

      There’s a private school down the road I was going to go to, but it was 35k a year, then the state school, an hour away, was 14k a year with room and board. I got lucky, because the state school offers classes at the community college. I still graduate with the state school, I’m just driving to a different location. Because I’m not literally attending the state school tuition is only 7k a year.

      However, if I had gone to the state school, there is no way that gas, room and board, and food would have made up that extra 35k. I would definitely double check all your numbers, check out how much rent would be, and make sure that you wont be charged extra becuase you would still be “out of state” at a state school. It couldn’t hurt. The worst that could happen is you stay where you are.

  • How cool! My husband and I are finishing up our bachelor’s degrees. (We married July 2011, just before we entered our senior year.) I have NO debt, thanks to the LORD’s provision through the wisdom of my mother, a scholarship, and 3 1/2 years of working a minimum wage workstudy job. My husband is an aviation major, which comes with a huge price tag. The first college he attended (in-state for him at the time) landed him with $16,000 in debt after his freshman year. He transferred to the college we attend (out of state for both of us) as took only $5,000 his sophomore year and nothing since! We are determined he will graduate with no more debt, and for that to happen, he has to delay graduation to May 2013… But we’re on track to do just that! I am so encouraged to hear others’ stories of cutting back to “win big.” 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing!

    • AnneJisca says:

      Yes, part of the way we were able to keep our student loan lower was by taking a smaller course load so he could work while studying. It delays graduation, yet is well worth it when it keeps student loan so much lower!

      Good job, you guys! You’re setting yourself up for a good future. 🙂

  • Liz M says:

    What I love most about how you approached this is that instead of waiting to tackle your student loan debt, you found a way to do it now. I think so many people are waiting “until I make more money” or “once I graduate” or “as soon as my kids are in school.” While it’s true those situations would make it easier, it is so much better to start now – today – doing whatever you can to chip away at debt. Thanks for such an encouraging post!

  • teresa says:

    it’s wonderful to get student loans paid off. congratulations on meeting your goal head-on. what a blessing for your family to go forward now with that load off of your shoulders. God bless.

  • Gloria Brown says:

    I know I’ll get slammed for this comment. But why do women insist on going to college, racking up the bills, and then sit at home with a degree on the wall? I don’t have a problem with women getting a degree I am a female professional engineer. I just don’t understand the logic of getting a degree and paying lots for it to stay at home with the kids.

    • Sherri says:

      Sometimes I wonder about my own degrees hanging on the wall, although I did not rack up huge debt to get them. But I also recognize that life happens in ways you don’t expect- a friend of mine finds herself working because her husband has health issues; my own father died at age 49, so my mother was her own source of income for years before she retired; and another friend is unmarried at age 43, which is not what she had imagined for herself. While you may plan to stay home with your kids, that doesn’t mean you can always follow that plan. Or perhaps someone doesn’t plan to stay home, but then takes one look at that sweet baby face and can’t bear to go back to work. You never know what course your life may take, so it’s not a bad idea to be prepared.

    • Kristine says:

      I don’t agree with racking up bills but I think getting a degree is a smart move no mater what you choose to do. I told my daughter that some day she will either work or stay home with her children but she has to either get a college degree or some kind of training. You never know what the future holds and a woman should not be dependent on her husband providing for her.

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