My plan for implementing my new philosophy? Work hard and sacrifice. Sacrifice as much as possible and send the dividends
straight to my friends at the direct loan center (even though they don't even send me a Christmas card). Adopting this new
attitude has been tough, to say the least. This year, more often than not, when it comes to making a purchase of any kind,
the decision is "no." I purchased a car with cash. She was only $3,000 and my most recent potential passenger elected to take
the bus instead. But she's all mine, and I get to work on time! My current monthly budget works like this: First off, I keep
enough liquid savings to realistically cover five to six months of living expenses in case of an emergency. From there, I
use monthly income to take care of the rent and necessities at home first (unfortunately that still includes cable TV and
Internet—some battles just can't be won). Save a few hundred bucks. Send the rest to the government. That's roughly 50 percent
to 65 percent of my monthly income going toward my student loans.
Does it suck? Absolutely. Part of the challenge has been to still have some fun on a budget. One thing I've done is find cheaper
hobbies. I'm currently restoring an antique cedar trunk that someone was throwing away. That's about a $100 investment in
sandpaper, lacquer and hardware. What it amounts to is endless hours of enjoyment and a pretty decent cardiovascular workout.
We may even end up with a decent piece of furniture in the end. Try getting all of that out of a trip to your local furniture
The rewards: Since I started adhering to my new plan, I've seen some actual progress in deflating the debt. For the first
three years after graduation, watching my best efforts at repayment barely cover compound interest was disheartening. Now
I get to watch the actual balance decrease with every payment. A $2,000-3,000 payment, while painful, really makes a difference,
although not as appreciable as I would always like. To make things a bit less daunting, I'm breaking down the debt into realistically
attainable increments of $10,000 apiece. The day I saw the balance drop below the $90,000 mark was a good day indeed, and
several beers were consumed. Now I just need to repeat that nine more times.
One great thing about making big payments is that I never worry about when I have to make the next one; the direct loan center
advances the next payment due date when you overpay. This gives me the freedom, if I choose, to save a little more so that
I can make a bigger payment every two months. This may sound silly, but it works for me psychologically. For example: if I
pay $3,000 one month, well, that's good progress.
However, if I wait another month to make the payment, I can send $5,000. To me, clicking the "make payment" button at $3,000
and $5,000 are equally as distressing, but watching the balance drop by $5,000 is infinitely more rewarding than a $3,000
drop. I often shout things such as "Take that!" while clicking the payment button, just to make things a little more fun.
Perhaps next month I'll don a warrior costume and plastic sword when it's time to make the next big blow.
It's going to be a long and difficult road to stay on, but I'm keeping my eye on the prize—that day, hopefully not too far
off, when my student-debt Goliath will fall. When I leave that mess of student debt behind me, I'll look ahead to a brighter
Dr. Jeremy Campfield works in emergency and critical care private practice in Southern California. He is also an avid kiteboarder.