When I decided to pay off $28,000 in student loans by age 26, it wasn’t for any particular reason. I just hated being in debt and needed a specific goal to motivate myself. I was less focused on the big picture, and more focused on the little changes I needed to make every day.

But now that I’m in my 30s, I’m so glad I made the commitment to be debt-free at a young age. As life gets increasingly busy and my financial responsibilities pile up, I’m constantly reminded of how much harder it would all be with a student loan payment on top. The sacrifices I made in my 20s have allowed me the freedom to build a life I truly love.

It won’t be easy, but paying off your student loans by age 30 is entirely possible. Here’s how to make it happen.

How to Pay Off Your Student Loans by Age 30

Everyone has different circumstances, so it’s difficult to prescribe exact advice that applies generally. For the purposes of this article, we’ll describe how borrowers in several different situations can all pay off their student loans by age 30.

Student Loan Debt Equals Income

Let’s say you graduate from college at age 21 and land an entry-level job shortly after. Maybe you have some federal student loans to repay, but you take advantage of the six-month grace period and use that time to build up an emergency fund.

After the grace period is over, you finally start making payments on your student loans. You owe $29,800, the average student loan balance for the class of 2018, with an interest rate of 5.05%. Your monthly payment is $317.

You’re earning $30,000 a year, which equals about $2,100 a month after taxes. Here’s a sample budget:

  • Rent $650
  • Groceries $300
  • Utilities $100
  • Car insurance/gas $125
  • Health insurance $100
  • Student loan payments $317
  • Cell phone $40
  • Internet and streaming services $60
  • Entertainment $100
  • Total expenses: $1,792

After accounting for basic expenses and some discretionary income, you still have $308 left to put toward your student loans. Thankfully, you only need to pay $378 a month to eliminate your student loan balance within eight years.

Student Loan Debt Exceeds Income

Let’s say your salary and loan ratio is more disparate. You owe $45,000, but still make just $30,000 a year. You’re also living in an expensive city like New York or San Francisco.

Here’s your new budget:

  • Rent $950
  • Groceries $300
  • Utilities $100
  • Public transportation $125
  • Health insurance $100
  • Student loan payments $478
  • Cell phone $40
  • Internet and streaming services $60
  • Total expenses: $2,153

Unfortunately, you’d have to pay an extra $93 a month to pay off your loans by 30. This isn’t feasible on such a modest salary, unless you find a cheaper living situation, take on a side hustle or find a better paying job. To make matters worse, this simple budget doesn’t include any discretionary spending beyond a Netflix account.

You could also consider refinancing your student loans, but that would be difficult with your debt-to-income ratio. Refinancing federal loans also means giving up protections like deferment or forbearance, which are useful if you lose your job or suffer a temporary disability.

Some additional ideas include:

  • Finding an apartment with more roommates or moving back in with your parents
  • Negotiating your cell phone and internet bills
  • Cutting back on groceries by eating less meat or shopping for sale items

Living this way also means you can’t afford to travel, go out with friends or get lunch with your coworkers.

If you move to a lower cost of living city and keep similar expenses, the prospect of paying off your student loans in eight years improves dramatically. Here’s another sample budget with a more affordable living situation:

  • Rent $550
  • Groceries $300
  • Utilities $100
  • Car insurance/gas $125
  • Health insurance $100
  • Student loan payments $478
  • Cell phone $40
  • Internet and streaming services $60
  • Total expenses: $1,753

You now have about $347 left over each month, $93 of which can go to extra student loan payments. The rest can go towards entertainment and savings goals.

This is what makes early student loan repayment so tricky – unless you have a low balance or a high salary, you usually have to make some major concessions. Usually that means giving up most discretionary spending or finding a second job.

How to Pay Them Off in Less Time

Most people imagine students graduating in four years, but few actually finish school within that time frame. Many drop out or take longer to get their degree.

Let’s say you graduate at age 24 and want to pay off your loans by age 30. With a loan balance of $29,800 and a salary of $30,000, you’d have to pay an extra $164 a month to pay them off in six years. That’s doable if you have the following expenses.

  • Rent $650
  • Groceries $300
  • Utilities $100
  • Car insurance/gas $125
  • Health insurance $100
  • Student loan payments $481
  • Cell phone $40
  • Internet and streaming services $60
  • Total expenses: $1,856

The problem is, those who take longer to graduate usually have higher loan balances as well, sometimes including pricey private loans. If you have a loan balance of $60,000 and a $30,000 salary, you’d have to pay $968 a month to get rid of them by 30.

Here’s a sample budget:

  • Rent $650
  • Groceries $300
  • Utilities $100
  • Car insurance/gas $125
  • Health insurance $100
  • Student loan payments $968
  • Cell phone $40
  • Internet and streaming services $60
  • Total expenses: $2,343

With a take-home pay of $2,100 a month, this would be impossible to manage without a second job, moving back home or drastically cutting your expenses. But if you’re desperate to be debt-free, you can find a way to make it work.