Do you remember the first repayment notification you received from your student loan servicer? I’ll bet the student loan debt stress set in like Kim Kardashian losing a diamond earring in Bora Bora.

Unfortunately, student loan debt stress is all too common. According to a recent study from Freedom Debt Relief, 67% of respondents said the cost of their college education has caused them to feel overwhelmed.

When I received my first repayment letter from the Department of Education, I wasn’t in the best financial situation. In fact, the only job I was able to find was an internship at an advertising agency that paid $10 per hour. I even had to move back in with my parents because my student loan debt balance was a whopping $35,000.

How are college graduates supposed to find their ideal careers, travel, and start independent adult lives with the burden of student loan debt? As someone who has dealt firsthand with student loan debt stress, there are several ways to combat post-degree depression.

Live like you are still in college

I’m not sure this was entirely my choice at the time, but a college lifestyle served me well after I graduated. Many graduates want to upgrade their lifestyle immediately after graduation. This could include getting new furniture, upgrading to a newer car, or living in a nicer place.

Skip the added financial stress by keeping your bills at the same level as what you managed in college. Roommates can be a great source of stress relief from student loan debt. Your rent and bills are reduced by half so that you can concentrate on making a plan to pay off student loan debt.

Keep the same furniture as what you had in college, or buy secondhand. Make your current car last longer by maintaining regular oil changes and make repairs in a timely manner. The cheapest car you can buy is the one you already own. If you can delay the “nice to have” purchases, you can accelerate your debt free progress.

You remember all the happy hour spots from college, right? Use that same mentality now that you are out of school. Seek out deals to maintain a social life, if that’s important to you. It could help you not miss out on fun activities, and not go overboard on your spending.

Reduce student loan debt stress with a debt payoff plan

There is no point in reducing student loan debt stress if you don’t have a debt payoff plan in place. You should decide on how to tackle your student loan debt with a few payment options. You can DIY your debt with the debt snowball or debt avalanche method, consolidate your debt or refinance your student loans.

Personally, I’m a big fan of rolling up your sleeves and putting in the work yourself. There is no better satisfaction than a debt payoff plan that has you in the driver seat. Before you decide on a plan though, you’ll need to take financial inventory. All you need to do is put it to paper.

I’m a big fan of rolling up your sleeves and putting in the work yourself.

Take a sheet of paper and create four columns. Write out your income, debt, savings, and investments in each column. Then you can write how much income you bring in on a monthly basis, and how much you put towards debt, savings and investing each month. 

A lot of times, student loan debt stress feels out of control because you don’t know where your money goes each month. A simple sheet of paper can help you map out your finances and create a debt payoff plan.

Beat student loan debt anxiety with a budget

In the study by Freedom Debt Relief, 47% of respondents said their college education cost has contributed to mental or emotional health issues (e.g., anxiety, depression). As a culture that already battles a negative stigma around mental health, it can be tough to know how to deal with student loan debt anxiety in a healthy way. But there are tools in your home that you can use.

Did you ever have a piggy bank as a kid? Remember how much fun it was to watch it grow? Piggy banks were awesome because you could visually see and feel how much money you saved which encourages you to save more. Budgets can work in the same way.

There are many of us who panic with student loan debt stress because we haven’t written down our finances. It’s simple: write down your monthly income and monthly expenses. Then you can make choices each month on where to cut expenses or pick up extra income. Those without budgets will fail to improve their student loan debt situation.

Be proactive with your profession

I think a lot of us get stuck with how to apply our degrees to our careers. Especially when those degrees put us in a mountain of student loan debt. In fact, 42% of Freedom Debt Relief survey respondents said student loan debt impacted their choice of careers or jobs.

One way that I was able to reduce student loan debt stress was being proactive with my profession. I may have started as a $10 per hour intern, but I eventually worked my way up and improved my salary in the process. Remember that the job you currently have doesn’t have to be your job forever. Once I realized that I could change careers when the time was right, I had more control.

The job you currently have doesn’t have to be your job forever.”

Look for opportunities to invite people working in your ideal career field to coffee. Ask if you can pick their brain and how they got started. When you ask for a casual meeting, it takes the pressure off of the interview conversation. And who knows, they might just be hiring or know someone who is.

I ended up working with a recruiter who specialized in my area of interest (marketing) and she was able to source a full-time position for me that raised my salary from $33,000 to $40,000. Don’t be afraid to use professional resources to improve your salary and career.

Get creative with your location

Student loan debt doesn’t have to influence where you put down your roots, yet 49% of survey respondents said the cost of their college education has impacted their choice of where to live. If you want to have the urban living experience, go for it. It may not start in New York City, but you can live in a desirable location on a budget.

If you want to become an urbanite, why not look for an older apartment downtown? It may not have all of the amenities you want, but it could get you within walking distance to some great points of interest.

Reduce student loan debt stress by getting creative with your living situation.

Another way millennials are making their way to their chosen city is by finding friends and family who already live there. My sister really wanted to move out to California but didn’t because she had student loan debt. Then my husband and I moved from Kansas to San Diego and my sister saw her opportunity (isn’t she lucky?). 

She paid a discounted rent and lived with us for several months while she got on her feet and found the right apartment in San Diego. She was able to increase her income with a new job and continue to pay down her student loans.

    What happens if I have more than student loan debt?

    If debt is creeping in through credit cards, medical bills, and more, you might be ready to ditch planet Earth and head for stranger lands. Before you decide to build a rocket though, you might consider checking out other debt relief options.

    The folks over at Freedom Debt Relief specialize in helping people with debt outside of student loans. Everyone’s financial situation is different. And the only person who cares the most about your financial situation is you! So, do your research. If credit card debt or medical bills are piling up on top of your student loan debt, look into what Freedom Debt Relief could provide.

    Learn How to Pay Off Debt By Putting A Budget In Place

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