Debt can affect anyone at any age. Whether you are fresh out of college or close to retirement, you may have debt in some shape or form.
"Good Morning America" is highlighting inspiring individuals who became debt free at various stages of their lives with "GMA’s Ultimate Debt Diet: Debt Free At Any Age.”
First up is Sarah McGowan, a 26-year-old speech pathologist and Minnesota resident, who paid off $36,000 of student debt in just 20 months.
McGowan comes from a "blue-collar family" and was "the first one to go to college out of all of my cousins on both sides."
"You sit down for exit counseling and I remember them telling me if I paid off my debt in 10 years, it would be $54,000. I only took out $36,000."
And though she graduated a year early, she enrolled in two years of graduate school, leaving her a pile of student loans to pay off.
"My parents were able to help with about $5,000 a year for school, but school is $30,000 a year," she said. "I worked several jobs through school but when I graduated, you sit down for exit counseling and I remember them telling me if I paid off my debt in 10 years, it would be $54,000. I only took out $36,000 and did not want to pay that amount, so I decided I was going to do something about it."
First, she used the six-month grace period to pay down her loans before they started earning interest.
"I figured, I’m young and don’t have kinds, I should use the energy I have now to get extra shifts and work and pay this off," she added. "I picked up extra days at work and rather than quit my babysitting job, I kept it. I got roommates to keep my rent down, three of them! Going out wastes a lot of money, so I ate in a lot. I didn’t buy clothes."
For weddings or formal affairs, she would borrow a dress and shoes.
"I got roommates to keep my rent down, three of them! Going out wastes a lot of money, so I ate in a lot. I didn’t buy clothes."
"The resources are all in front of you," she explained. "As far as having fun, rather than going out to the city, I’d take a canoe and go out to a lake for free and bring my own beer. If there was a movie, I’d go on Tuesday or Thursday where it’s $5. Or go to drinks at 8 when it’s $3 or less. I love running, but races are $50 unless you volunteer at another race and then get exempt from the fee at your own. You save a lot by doing small things that add up."
The ironic thing is that after she had paid off her loans, friends and family were shocked because they never saw her as frugal or not enjoying her life to the fullest.
"We all have those friends that are penny-pinchers, but I did not want to be like that," she said. "I want to be known as a generous and supportive person."
McGowan said the key to paying down your debt and being happy is "not playing the comparison game."
"Knowing when you have enough of everything and being grateful," she said. "It’s your mindset. Knowing what your goals are and then working towards getting to them. You have to make peace with it."
Best of all, she's continued this economical lifestyle even after her loans were paid off and she's saved $40,000!