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How these recent college grads paid off $6,000 in student loan debt in less than a year

Therin and Destiny Alrik agreed to pay off their student loans by their early 30s. Here's how they're using the ‘avalanche method’ to chip away at it.
Image: Therin and Destiny Alrik
Therin and Destiny Alrik have a combined total of $142,000 in student debt that they want to pay off by the time they're in their early 30s. Katie Jean Photography

Recent college grads Therin and Destiny Alrik have paid off $6,000 worth of student loans in under a year. The Las Vegas couple have a combined total of $142,000 in student debt, which they are determined to pay off by their early 30s.

Therin Alrik, 22, a graduate student at the University of Nevada, says he and his wife paid off $6,000 by tracking their spending, cutting back on unnecessary expenses, and paying off more money than they owed.

Here’s how they did it.

They follow the “debt avalanche” method

To pay back their loans, the couple decided to follow the “debt avalanche method.”

The method requires them to focus on paying off their highest interest rate loan first — contributing more than what they owe to that loan while paying the minimum on any other loans. Once they have paid off the loan with the highest interest, they move on to the next, repeating the process until every loan is paid off.

Alternatively, the “debt snowball” method, coined by author and businessman Dave Ramsey, would have required them to focus on paying off the loan with the highest balance first.

Alrik says the avalanche method will take them longer to pay off loans, but will save them money in the long term.

“This method saves you the most money overall because — by attacking the highest interest rates first and working your way down — you are being charged less interest,” says Alrik.

Alrik, a creative writing graduate student and personal finance blogger, and Destiny, a photographer and wedding planner, have a combined income of about $50,000. The couple make extra money through freelance gigs.

The Alriks graduated from college over a year ago with 24 loans between them. They’ve deferred 16 of their smaller interest government loans until next year, says Alrik, and are currently paying off six of their higher interest loans. So far, he says, they’ve already paid off their two highest interest loans.

The couple try their best to contribute at least $800 a month to their loans, which currently carry a minimum $500 monthly payment, according to Alrik. Following the avalanche method, they plan to continue to contribute at least $800 a month until all their loans are completely paid.

Alrik says the “debt spiral method” is another option

There is a third, lesser known method for paying off debt called “the spiral method,” according to Alrik, which combines the benefits of both the snowball and avalanche methods. The method requires you to do some math:

  • Divide each loan’s interest rate by its outstanding balance. Then, pay off each loan in order of its smallest to largest result.

Alrik says the spiral method will cost you more on interest than the avalanche method, but less than the snowball, and is ideal if you want the combined benefits of each.

“You’re saving money on interest,” he says, “while also trying to get that gratification of feeling like you’re making progress by paying off balances faster.”

They closely track their spending

In order to pay more than what they owed on their high-interest loans, the Alriks, who pay about $1,000 a month on rent, needed to drastically cut back on their expenses.

They created a detailed spreadsheet that broke down their spending into 17 categories. Alrik programmed the spreadsheet to populate a pie chart and graph, which he says helped them visualize their spending.

Here’s a sample of the template, which does not reflect the couple’s actual finances.

They cut back on dining out and groceries

Alrik says that tracking their spending in the spreadsheet helped the couple see how much they were overspending on groceries and eating out.

“Even if you only go out to eat once a month, or once a week, you do that 4-5 times a month, and suddenly, especially if there are two of you, you’re up into the hundreds,” he says.

The couple reduced the number of times they dine out to about twice a month, Alrik says. They also go out to lunch more often than dinner, which he says saves them a lot of money. In all, he says, they reduced the amount they spend on eating out to about $100 a month.

They don’t stick to a strict budget, and occasionally allow themselves to dine out an extra time if they are still within their spending range by the end of the month, Alrik says.

The Alriks also saved big on groceries by cutting back on animal products and switching to mostly vegetarian meals.

“That ended up bringing our average grocery bill down from $400 a month to $300 a month,” he says.

They keep a big-picture goal in mind

The couple agreed on a goal to pay off all of their student loans by their early 30s, which helps them stay on track. Alrik anticipates making a larger salary after he gets his master’s degree in two years, which he hopes will allow him to contribute more money to their loan repayments.

“I can definitely say that with the strategies that we have, and the determined people we are, that we will have it paid off in 10 years,” he says.

He says it’s important to understand that paying off debt takes time, and to not get discouraged.

“After a month, you’re not going to suddenly feel any more wealthy probably than you’ve already been,” says Alrik. “So just knowing that going in, and trying not to get discouraged after three or four months if you feel like nothing has changed, that’s totally normal. It’s a long-term idea. It’s a long term-adventure.”

CORRECTION (Oct. 17, 2019, 6:20 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated that Dave Ramsey coined the term "debt avalanche method." He coined the term "debt snowball," not the debt avalanche method.

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