Over the past four years, I have met with countless college students, young couples and young adults who are drowning in debt and struggling financially due to student loans. The Debtless team surveyed 850 current college students from over 200 different colleges & universities in over 40 states. SCHOLASTIC DEBT IS A HUGE PROBLEM!

39% of current college students have no idea how much they have taken out in student loans. Based on our research, current students have taken on an average of $26,659 and haven’t graduated yet! The range of responses was anywhere from $0 to as much as $280,000 for an individual. Nearly 40% of students surveyed said that they were not informed about any alternatives to student loans.

Here are 3 tips that can help you minimize student loans:

1. It’s never too early to start thinking about college.

“Do something today that your future self will thank you for.” —Sean Patrick Flanery

START THINKING ABOUT COLLEGE NOW

A doctor friend has a saying that I’ve honorably adopted: “An ounce of preventative measure is worth a gallon of cure.” This is obviously true in the medical field. If people drink water, eat healthy, and exercise regularly, they’re a lot less likely to have medical emergencies later on in life. Being disciplined on the front end is a lot more effective than surgery, radiation, or other medical interventions after you’ve already developed a medical condition.

This lesson translates to finances as well: start working now, start saving now, do what you can ahead of time to gain a head start.

I had a few head starts. The best one was taking college classes while I was still in school through Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO). Basically I got to take college classes for free while I was still in high school. I had to twist my parent’s arms to convince them, but we talked to my guidance counselor. During my junior and senior years of high school, I started my days out with classes at a local community college and ended my days with classes at my high school. When I graduated high school, I had an associate’s degree under my belt. And I didn’t pay anything for it! Those credits transferred to the university I attended and I ended up with a bachelor’s degree for about half the cost.

More and more students are getting some type of early start on college that helps them complete a four-year bachelor’s degree in three years or less. I can see this becoming more common—who wouldn’t want to take advantage of an opportunity that can save you so much money?

Most high schools offer some version of this program. If you were able to take one class worth three college credits while you’re in high school, you would save about $1,500. I know several students—myself included—who had 60 credits toward college by the time they graduated high school! This was dollar-for-dollar the biggest reason I was able to graduate college Debtless.

Think about when you were a kid playing hide and seek with your friends on the playground. You would give people a head start hiding. The longer the head start, the better potential hiding places. College is like that. The government and universities are allowing students like you to get a head start earning college credits, so take advantage of it! The longer the head start, the better the end result, and the less debt you’ll have. So what are you waiting for?

Are you considering college? Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you begin your journey:

  • Do you want to go to college? Why or why not?
  • What do you want to study?
  • Do you/does your family have a plan to pay for college?
  • What can you do now to help you graduate with less debt later?

RELATED: Congratulations Graduate! 11 Reasons Why I Will Never Hire You

2. Buy your books online.

Did you know buying your textbooks online rather than at the school bookstore can save you hundreds of dollars each semester?

When I first went to college, I was so excited to go to the bookstore. They made it so convenient to sign a paper and get my books right there—for several hundred dollars. But, it’s the cost of college, right? After I spent the money, I learned I could have gotten the same books used from Amazon for a lot cheaper.

After that, on average, I saved around $300 per semester by ordering used books online instead of getting new ones at the bookstore. If you can save $300 each semester, that’s at least $2,400 you’re saving over the course of four years!

At the end of each semester, you can sell your books and recoup some of your expenses. It’s up to you if you want to keep them, but you’ll probably have some you won’t need anymore. You might even get lucky and sell a few of them for more than you paid! Amazon has a program that gives you a gift card if you sell them your books at the end of the semester. Many bookstores do book buybacks, too, though you can usually get more for your books online. Don’t expect to make a lot of money selling books, but it can help cover the cost of books for the next semester!

  • How much do textbooks cost for your major?
  • Do you know anyone who might be willing to loan or sell you his or her books?
  • What other creative ways have you heard about or thought of that could save you money?

3. Take out as few loans as possible.

“Less debt is better than more debt.” –Josiah Kennealy

No false advertisements here! There are ten tips to help students minimize debt in our book, Debtless. The one that made the biggest difference in my life was working part-time while I was in college. This afforded me the money to pay my tuition.

I’ve heard it said like this. The dream is free. The hustle is sold separately. In order to reach your dreams: financial, spiritual or ministry related- you have to work hard!

It’s in your best interest not to pay interest. You will either pay less now or more later. This requires discipline, intentionality and sacrifice. A few popular alternatives to student loans are:

  • Apply for scholarships.
  • Work during school and on breaks.
  • Live off of a budget.

It’s unpopular. Dave Ramsey, who is a personal financial expert says: “Live like no one else now so later you can live and give like no one else.” I have not met anyone who wishes they hadn’t paid off their car, their credit cards, their student loans or their house. Wow, I sure have met a lot of fine folks who wish they had those items paid off!

When you’re debt LESS, you can afford to be dream FILLED!

You might feel like you are in over your head drowning in debt. You are not alone and you can do this. Stop the bleeding & listen to Dave Ramsey’s 7 baby steps to pay off your debts FAST! You may not have student loans or any type of debt yet. Continue on this path of debt free living!

Josiah Kennealy is the author of Debtless: helping students take on less debt and he is the young adults pastor at Cedar Valley Church in Bloomington, Minnesota. He and his fiancé, Micah are getting married on June 30 th , 2017! They are both passionate about helping young people find Jesus, grow in their faith, become Debtless, and pursue their God-given dreams. When Josiah’s not at church, you can find him watching the Twins, studying leadership, or working out. Josiah has appeared on The Dave Ramsey Show and frequently speaks to students and young adults about finances and the importance of staying out of debt.