“Thanks for submitting your payment. $350 went to interest, $0 went to principal.”
While many recent college graduates receive a similar statement after making a student loan payment, Austin Sauer isn’t your average college graduate.
When Sauer saw that message after submitting his first payment, the 27-year-old decided to tackle his $84,000 of student loan debt with gazelle-like intensity.
“So it took me 30 months to pay it completely off, and it came out to be about $3,000 per payment each month,” said Sauer, a Southeast Christian Church member. “It wasn’t that cut and dry. Sometimes it was $900 a month, sometimes it was $6,000 a month.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from the University of Kentucky in 2015 and landing a job in the healthcare industry, Sauer’s celebration was cut short.
“At that time, I had borrowed $75,000 in student loans,” Sauer said. “All the interest that had been accruing at 8% was getting added to the principal. By the time I started paying on it a year and a half later, it was at $84,000.”
About one-third of adults 30 and under, roughly 44.7 million people, have student loan debt.
If Sauer had made the minimum payment of $350 a month, it would have taken him about 20 years to pay off his debt
At that point, Sauer would be in his 40s, most likely with a wife and children.
“That was really the kicker,” Sauer added. “I wanted to be able to serve my wife and kids before I ever had them. I just knew whoever I was going to marry, the best way to serve them without knowing them was to try to get rid of this debt so I didn’t take it into the marriage. It wouldn’t have kept me from starting a family, but this would be a blessing in the future. That was the main driver.”
Sauer knew if he didn’t defeat this mountain of debt, his dreams, such as climbing a mountain, would die alongside it.
“I had all these dreams, ideas and goals and knew that none of them could happen because I owed so much money to somebody,” he said. “I wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail, go to Mount Kilimanjaro. I wanted to get more into photo and video work. I couldn’t risk not having that income until those loans were gone. I felt the person I wanted to be couldn’t happen unless I did something about it.”
A Christmas gift in 2015 from his brother-in-law got Sauer started on the path to becoming debt free.
“My brother-in-law gave me a Dave Ramsey book for Christmas,” Sauer said. “It was kind of like my brother-in-law and sister were saying, ‘You have this huge hole, and we’re more scared for you than you are.’ I was like, ‘Yea, I think you are.’ I was definitely scared, but I just thought I was going to have it for a long time and make minimum payments. They were like, ‘You need to get rid of this as soon as possible.’”
Sauer started diving into Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover” and listening to his podcast.
“I spent the next six months at work listening to the podcast every day and getting inspired,” Sauer added. “Literally just listening to people’s success stories as I’m sitting at a 9 to 5 job that I don’t like with a debt that I can’t touch because I’m not making enough. I was like, ‘Things have to change. I can’t sit in this job. It’s not even what I like doing.’”
Sauer then searched for a higher paying job and was in the right place at the right time.
In September 2016, he got a job in medical sales that paid well and included bonus incentives.
He drove around central Kentucky and listened to countless commercials to cut costs rather than pay monthly music subscription fees.
“I canceled all subscription-based monthly expenses like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music and cable,” he said. “I was in the car for six hours a day, and I was listening to a bunch of commercials on Pandora. That may have saved me only a little each month, which is nothing, but it was a constant reminder of the small things I could sacrifice for the bigger goal. It was just being willing to say ‘no’ to those things that I could afford.”
While he didn’t ignore his coffee cravings or change his food habits because he was on the go most days, Sauer ultimately saw his debt decrease little by little.
“I started paying aggressively in January 2017,” he added. “The balance was at $84,000. I paid $1,000 on it and it went to $83,000 and I was like, ‘That was pretty cool.’ It was the first time I had seen the balance change.”
The best part of Sauer’s story is in the process of paying off his debt he found Christ, who died on the cross to pay off our debt of sin.
“So I graduated college, had all that debt, had a job I didn’t like, wasn’t making any money, and I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but I was pretty low,” Sauer said. “So it was the combination of this burden that I felt like I had no control over that brought me to Jesus. The cool thing is this was my testimony to Jesus. Everything Dave Ramsey said, he somehow tied it to Christianity, and I was hearing all these debt-free stories that tied back to Jesus. I was like, ‘I need that. I’m so empty. I have no control. I want to give all that away.’ I didn’t even know what that meant.”
Sauer got connected to Southeast three years ago because he was interested in a girl who was involved with the College-Age Ministry.
He met a couple of people in CAM and ended up hanging around and giving his life to Christ.
After getting out of debt, Sauer quit his job in medical sales and now works as a professional photographer.