Esther Lee works at her desk in the Bursar’s Office at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado July 30, 2012. BOULDER DAILY CAMERA/ Mark Leffingwell

Like many soon-to-be-graduates, University of Colorado senior Esther Lee is already contemplating how she’ll repay her student loan debt.

But unlike most other students, Lee plans to pay down her $8,250 debt to $2,000 by her December graduation and pay off the rest before her six-month grace period ends in June.

It’s been an exercise in discipline, but Lee says she doesn’t feel like she missed out on much, even though her budget calls for only spending $20 per week on entertainment and about $35 per week for food.

“I think the biggest thing anyone can take away from this is learning how to say no to yourself, especially us girls. If you go to the mall and you see something and you’re like I want it,” Lee said.

“Just be an adult about it.”

Since her freshman year, Lee has been putting 10 percent of her monthly income toward her principal balance, which was as much as $8,250 at its peak. Three years later, Lee said she is excited to say her diligence has paid off, literally.

“I feel like I should be dancing on mountain tops from my excitement,” she said. “It truly is such a blessing to be able to have the security in my own finances, you know?”

Scholarships paid for the majority of her tuition and fees at CU, but her living expenses, including rent, were paid out of her own pocket, she said.

Susie Jacobs, of CU’s Money Sense, said with an average interest rate of five percent, Lee would have graduated $10,500 in debt, including $2,250 of interest, if she had not been making payments. 

Jacobs said while Lee is an exception, her budgeting practices could be adapted by any student.

“It’s that simple,” Jacobs said. “Students need to know who exactly who their lender is, the Bursar’s Office or Office of Financial Aid can tell them, and then they can pre-pay any time, no penalty.”

Lee has been working about 26 hours per week at the Bursar’s Office in a work-study position since she started college. Thanks to her strict budgeting plan, she has been able to pay all of her living expenses and about $6,500 of her loan debt, which she took out in lump sums to pay off her tuition.

“It took me a couple weeks to get into the routine, to get my money into the state it should be,” Lee said.

“There’s a sacrifice involved in really sticking to the budget limit,” she said. “It’s a kind of trade-off system, like what you set your eyes upon for the future versus your momentary needs and wants.”

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