Back when I was deciding where to go to college, I was torn between a private university that had been my top choice all along and an in-state college that was more of a backup. In the end, I went to the state school, and the reason boiled down to cost. The state school cost roughly $25,000 less on an annual basis than the private one, and my plan all along had been to work during my studies. As such, I was convinced that by choosing the state school, I'd be able to graduate college with minimal debt.
Fast-forward four years later, and I had managed to graduate with just $12,000 in student loans. To me, that was a small victory, but I still wanted that debt done with before my six-month grace period ended and interest began accruing on that balance. I decided to make some pretty serious sacrifices to achieve that goal. Here's how I did it.
1. I moved back home
Moving back home after four years of living on my own wasn't exactly ideal -- but it was possibly the smartest thing I could have done post-college. It allowed me to save the bulk of my earnings, as I didn't have to pay for rent, utilities, or even cable. And because my parents lived near public transportation, I didn't have a particular need for a car, so that was a huge savings, too.
2. I only spent money on absolute essentials
Though my parents were kind enough to let me live rent-free in their home after college, there was still a number of expenses I had to cover on my own. For example, I had my train pass, my cellphone, food, personal care items, healthcare, clothing (I needed some new outfits to start a real job), and obligations (think birthday gifts and the like). But while I did spend money on all of those things as needed, I mostly avoided spending money on luxuries.
Rather than buy lunch, I grocery shopped and brown-bagged it. I'd guess that in doing so, I saved $7 or more on a daily basis. I only allowed myself to go out once a week, provided it cost $25 or less, and I didn't even think about taking a vacation until my loans were a thing of the past. As such, I was able to bank the bulk of my earnings.
3. I did extra work on top of my main job
Before side hustles really became a thing, I had one. My day job was working as a trading assistant at a hedge fund, but on the side, I wrote articles for a few low-key publications. The pay was minimal, but the $20 here or $40 there really helped, especially since I didn't need to use that money for bills and could therefore stash it all in savings.
Meeting my goal
The sacrifices I made during that six-month post-college period were not sustainable over the long run, but they did help me achieve my goal of saving $2,000 a month on an entry-level salary so that in half a year's time, I was in a position to write a $12,000 check. Paying off that loan took a major weight off of my shoulders. Fortunately, I had no other debt at the time, so once I sent out that check, my money was suddenly mine to keep, and it felt great walking around knowing I didn't owe anyone anything.
Incidentally, I decided to overstay my welcome just a bit and live at home for another six months after my loan was paid off. This enabled me to build up my savings account and approach adulthood from a more solid place financially.
While I certainly hustled to pay off my student debt in six months, taking on a relatively small amount of it in the first place is what made that possible. By contrast, my friends who attended private universities (and refused to get jobs during their studies) racked up six times that amount and wound up carrying that debt well into their 30s. Though I did end up having to "settle" on the college front, I'm glad I did. Otherwise, who knows how much debt I would have wound up with and how long it would've taken to break free from it.