How We’ve Paid Off 21K in Student Loan Debt in 4 Months

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” // Hebrews 12:11

My last post addressed our “why” — why we made the decision to stop dancing with debt and be done with debt for good. It may have left some of you wondering just HOW we’re taking our student loans to task.

But first, a little caveat: Everyone’s situation is different — different obligations, finances, family size, incomes, etc. So your road to being debt-free might not look like ours. I think there are principles and ways of living, though, that ANYONE can put into practice and see results. And those results have been, in my experience, pretty darn exciting and that’s why I’m talking about it here.

21K in 4 Months: Our Inspiration 

If you listen to Dave Ramsey’s YouTube channel (and I highly suggest you do!) you’ll hear a lot of what I talk about here — because that’s where we got most of these ideas. We listened to people struggling with loads of debt and how DR counseled them to transform their thinking and their spending, and we decided to emulate those suggestions in our own lives. We also listened to people making their “debt-free screams” and heard how living this way = success. It works, as we’ve seen first hand over the past 4 months.

Over the past 4 months, we’ve paid off 21K in debt, all student loans. We’re on schedule to have the rest of it gone within 3-4 months. In the meantime, we’ve stopped using our credit cards. We have a written plan of how we want to save cash to buy my car when the lease is up (meaning, ultimately, we’ll have no car payments at all), then save up a 3-6 months worth of expenses in an emergency fund, and our more long-term financial goals beyond that.

It feels so good to finally have concrete goals, to be physically enacting a plan to make it happen, and to see results.

Read my previous post to hear more on what really lit the fire underneath us to get this done. Read on to see how we’ve made such massive progress so quickly, and how you can, too.


There is no one singular thing that’s gotten us this far, but rather a combination of things that all point to self-discipline, prudence, self-denial, and keeping our eyes on the end goal.

Learning How to Say No

A big part of us paying off so much debt so fast has been learning how to say “no” to ourselves in a multitude of things — and realizing that when we do say no to the little things, we’re really saying “yes” to something bigger and better.

  • We now look at every purchase and every decision and consider how this will help or hurt our ultimate goal of being debt free and having financial freedom.
  • This means saying “no” frequently to eating out, impulsive spending, buying things we didn’t plan or budget for but really want, to a fancier apartment, to buying a house, etc.

This part really hasn’t been all that hard for us — a little painful here and there, but not impossible. We have moments of weakness but we generally have a strong sense of self-discipline, perhaps thanks to us being avid athletes. As an athlete you frequently tell yourself “no” — whether it’s when you want to quit a workout early, skip a workout, run when you know you should rest, etc. Self-denial is a muscle that gets stronger the more you exercise it, and that ability can be applied to more than just fitness.

A Productive Side Hustle 

Dave Ramsey often suggests that people find a second job or start a side hustle to generate more income. I started my copywriting and editing business, Coffey Copy + Content, LLC, back in 2018, long before this debt-free project was on our radar. But it’s had the same benefit of dramatically increasing our income, giving us more resources to throw at debt.

This is not something I’ll quit once we’re debt-free; in fact, my goal is to scale it and continue growing! But because we live on less than we make and have a surplus of income thanks to my business, we can do WAY more damage to debt.

This is probably one of the easiest things people can do in order to have more freedom to tackle debt. Employ some of the skills you already have, like musical talents, tutoring experience, artistic ability, etc. to start a small business with low barriers to entry (i.e. preferably *not* an MLM that requires you to spend money before you make money). It’s financially fruitful, and personally fulfilling as well.

Living on Less than We Make 

This is such a novel concept but it’s harder than you’d think. I totally understand and have experienced the temptation to start growing our lifestyle as our incomes go up. It’s fun to see bigger numbers in our checking account.

But resisting the temptation and telling ourselves “no” when we want to use our growing incomes to buy a house, rent a nicer apartment, eat out more, travel more , etc. has given us the edge when it comes to paying off debt.

Parting with Some of Our Savings… for Now 

This is part of Dave Ramsey’s plan that a lot of people don’t like — using savings to pay off debt. I’ll admit, this was probably the most uncomfortable part for me. We didn’t totally drain our savings though, by any means. We have enough in reserve to feel comfortable and to cover any emergencies that may arise.

Lots of people call in to DR’s show concerned about this, and he typically explains it better than I can. But the point is that it’s hard to multitask when it comes to finances — to both save AND pay off debt. Real wealth-building can begin once we have zero debt, zero payments, and we can throw all of what we’ve been throwing at debt at our savings accounts and investments.


Writing out our monthly budget, or as Dave Ramsey says, “giving every dollar a job” at the beginning of the month has been another game-changer. It really does help you to see where you money is going with complete clarity. The EveryDollar app is free and is a great tool to use, or you can write it out the old-fashioned way. This also has helped us to be more intentional about our spending — when we want to buy something, we prioritize what is most important given the extra money we have to spend that month.

No Discipline Seems Pleasant at the Time 

Hebrews 12:11 says it all — that no discipline seems pleasant at the time but ultimately it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Yes, there are times we’d love to go out to dinner, or move to a nicer apartment, or finally buy a house, or go on another vacation.

But this season of extreme frugality and austerity is temporary. It’s just that — a season. We know that our discipline, though difficult, unpleasant, and painful at times, will pay off. And it’s doing good work on our souls in the meantime.



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