I just graduated from college with a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting (9/15/16). It took me exactly 1,837 days (5 years,10 days) to earn that degree. I spent $24,708.00 on tuition alone, excluding books, fees, and living expenses. No, I didn’t live with parents and no they didn’t provide money towards my education, or living expenses for that matter.
Yet, I am walking away from school with $0.00 in student loan debt. I provided for myself, got married, and had a baby (money well spent I might add) during those five years too.
How did I do it? Here are my 5 tips to earn your degree debt-free; the ultimate guide to pay your way through college.
Tip #1 – Save Before You Start
There are three specific ways to save money before you start college: Wait one year before you start, work through high school, and take college classes in high school.
First, wait one year before you start. There is no shame in not rushing straight towards the front doors of your local college right after you graduate high school. Instead, go get a $10 or $20 an hour job and work 40 hours per week for 1 year. You will earn somewhere between $20,800 – $24,960 (less taxes). If you can keep your expenses low by living at home or getting some roommates, you will put some serious money away for college.
Second, work through high school. When I was in high school, I went to school, played sports, did all of my homework, and still found time to have a part-time job. By the time I graduated high school, I had close to $10,000 in my savings account. That helped me start off my post-high school life tremendously. Think about how much you could save by working 10-20 hours each week with a part-time job. I bet you would save more than you think!
Third, many high schools and colleges in the country offer a dual enrollment program with a local college. You can do your regular high school classes, then add in a little extra studying time and a few extra tests, and just like that you have both college and high school credit! The icing on the cake is that most of the programs are free (or cheap).
If you have to get a loan, shop for the loan in a comparison site, like StudentLoanHero.
Tips #2 – Get a Job & Keep It
I recognize that this next statement might sound weird, but… I really enjoyed working my way through college. I worked at least 40 hours every week (sometimes more than 40 hours) for all five years I was in school. It was definitely hard… and I gave up a lot of things for it, namely my social life, but in the end, I learned valuable skills and a host of life lessons along the way.
Employers like good employees who work hard. Get a job, keep it, and become a great employee and you will get paid well. In addition, your pay will continue to rise. Working as much as I did play a huge part in me being debt-free coming out of college.
The pay isn’t the only benefit you can get from working during school. My first job had nothing to do with my accounting degree. However, after moving around a few times I finally ended up working for a company in an entry-level of accounting position. Working and studying accounting at the same time was a great combo for me, as it allowed me to apply the knowledge I learned at school to my job. Subsequently, I learned things at my job that then made school a whole lot easier and it allowed more topics to finally click in my brain.
Tip #3 – Start at a Junior College
I still don’t know why anyone actually goes straight to a 4-year college right out of high school. You pay more, you have bigger class sizes (so less help from teachers), and it is often a really big jump for a lot of students mentally and emotionally.
If you want to increase your chance of getting through school debt-free, stay in state and go to your local community college first. You will save money and have a better transition.
Tip #4 – Maximize Scholarships & Grant Money
It is wise to apply for and seek out grants and scholarship money. If you can work hard and apply correctly, you can really get some financial help with scholarships. If you are able to save even a few thousand dollars from scholarships, grants, or even an employer reimbursement program, think about how much better you would be off towards your debt-free goal.
Tip #5 – Learn How to Budget & Live True to It
Budgeting is a big deal, especially for college students who have a desire to work hard and come away with as little debt as possible. You not only need to create a budget but then you need to do the harder part and actually live true to it.
It may be hard at first to give up some of the items that you really love, but I promise that you will be able to enjoy those things again later on. For now, you are temporarily giving up those items for the greater good. Sacrifice will not hurt you in the long run, I promise.
If you want to learn more about budgeting, need help creating your first budget, want to use an online calculator, or download free templates and spreadsheets, then head over to my blog to learn more.
I was able to get through school debt-free and so can you! It took me eight months longer than the average student, but I was able to earn a higher wage than most students during those five years that I worked. In addition, I learned some incredible life skills along the way.
If you follow all five of my tips, then you too can walk away from school debt-free (or at least pretty darn close to it!)
Jacob Merkley says
Thanks for letting me guest post on oncecentatatime! Love the website! Keep up the great work!
These tips will save you lots of money through college. I would add two more – choose a college close to your parents’ home so you can minimize your boarding and lodging expenses. Also, some people choose to complete half their degrees through community college, which is a lot cheaper, and then move to bigger, more well-known universities to get the final degree.
Jacob Merkley says
Agreed on both tips. Thanks for reading!
Brad, Financial Coach says
This is great – and great timing because we just had a 20-something ask us for tips on how it is possible to get through college debt-free. Will share this with him for additional information beyond what we already told him.
Jacob Merkley says
Thanks Brad. Its hard for kids to get through school debt free these days…especially with the rise of education costs. But anyone can do it if they set their mind to it!