When I graduated from college, I saw had $19,000 in student debt and I burst into tears. I was like, “How am I ever going to pay this off?” I started regretting my college experience.

But that feeling lit a fire in me.

I always knew paying off my loans was the first thing I wanted to get out of the way. So that’s exactly what I did.

I had four rules: budget out of your salary to pay off interest, think long term, forget immediate pleasures and check Reddit’s /r/finance to stay motivated.

The first thing I did was move back in with my parents. Of course I was jealous of my friends for being independent and having their own places, but it was huge not to have stressors like buying groceries, paying for health insurance or rent. Plus, it reminded me not to waste my parents’ time, money or generosity.

I also wasn’t getting myself into credit card debt. During moments of weakness, like when I’d splurge $300 at an All Saints’ sale, I’d make sure to spend out of my savings instead of money I didn’t have.

What also helped was increasing payment into my 401(k) when I realized my employer matches. Anyway, the less money that goes into my checking account, the better – out of sight, out of mind.

I increased payments into my student loans, which was easier which I started depositing straight into that account.

Two years after graduation, I’m finally at no debt – I’m at zero. I felt equal parts drained and elated. Like, wow, celebration!

A key theme of being in your 20s is comparing yourself to others. While I was obsessed with paying off my debt, everyone was enjoying their freedom or hitting new milestones in their romantic relationships. It seemed strange to me that financial health wasn’t something my friends ever talked about it.

But I realized we’re all in totally different places in our lives, with totally different goals and priorities, and none of it is a race. Move at your own pace, and keep your own long term goals in mind.

*Name changed to protect her privacy.

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