A former waitress paid off $6,000 of student loan debt in 8 weeks by following 4 simple money rules

  • After college, Chelsea Clarke had student loans worth $6,000. Though she was making just $11 an hour as a waitress at the time, she paid off her loan in two months using four strategies. 
  • She focused on increasing what she earned with extra waitressing shifts and side gigs. 
  • By keeping her money in cash and using a spreadsheet to track her income and expenses, she was able to see every dollar she made and where it went.
  • And, by setting weekly goals and celebrating her accomplishments, she was able to stay motivated even when it felt tough.
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Chelsea Clarke didn't step into a career in marketing and media after graduating from college. Instead, she started out as a waitress. 

"My final year of university, I'd taken out a loan. I had a part-time job, but I was really struggling," she said. She borrowed $6,000 to cover costs and cut back on working. "My debt was only $6,000, but at the time, that felt like it may as well have been $6 million." 

She made an ambitious goal — to repay her student loan in full before the grace period on the loan was over (about two months). While working a waitressing job that paid $11 an hour, she made a plan to get it done.

She says that four strategies helped her make it possible.  She later used these strategies to build up an emergency fund of $50,000 over several years. Here's how she did it.

1. She focused on earning more

At first, increasing her hours at work waitressing was how Clarke added to her income. "I couldn't just count on my regular shifts that I was getting. I had to earn some other money," she said. "As soon as I got out of school, I picked up any shift I could. Anytime someone was sick or wanted a day off, I was the first one to take their shifts."

Later, she turned to finding side gigs. And she used her job as a waitress to her advantage. "When I was serving customers, they would always ask, 'What do you do? What are you studying?' And I'd say, 'Oh, I build websites.' I picked up a lot of clients that way," she told Insider. She also started learning about other popular side hustles, like drop shipping and reselling clothing items, to bring in extra cash. 

The extra cash allowed her to put more money towards her goals quicker. 

2. She kept her money in cash to make it easier to track

Clarke often kept her wages and tips from her job in cash, which she says made it harder to part with.  

"Any sort of cash or tips, anything that was coming in, I'd put into an envelope in my room so that I could see it," she said. "When I had to buy something, I had to take it out of the envelope, so I had to see myself take the money and give it to someone else."

She said this method made money more tangible and her savings more real, "as opposed to just using a credit card where you don't really think about it."

3. She used a spreadsheet to stay on top of income, expenses, and savings

Using a spreadsheet to keep track of everything she'd earned and spent was a good way to understand her income, especially since it fluctuated. 

Clarke told Insider, "If I was selling something online, I had everything tracked by the month so that I could stay on top of everything that I was spending and earning."

Then, she knew exactly where every penny would go and when. "Having that visual was really, really helpful."

4. She set weekly goals, and celebrated reaching them

Clarke made it a point to set small, weekly goals to make her debt pay-off goal feel smaller. 

"I didn't look at the big picture of $6,000, because that seemed too big," she said. "So I focused on how much I was going to pay off each week. I wrote it on that spreadsheet that I had, and that just seemed way more attainable."

She kept herself motivated by rewarding herself for reaching those weekly goals. "I celebrated in some way. I didn't do anything extravagant. I didn't go buy anything fancy. But I just made sure that I stopped and I thought about it, and I really just appreciated that it happened."

It made a big difference in motivating her to keep chiseling away at her debt. "You just kind of feel that good feeling that you're actually getting through your debt," she said. "That good feeling carries you through to take on the next week."

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