Thanks for joining us for another installment of IonTuition’s Q&A series with personal finance bloggers. Today we have Jackie Beck of The Debt Myth sharing her financial story. She and her husband paid off over $147,000 in debt (including their house and her student loan). Jackie’s “Pay Off Debt” app has helped over 46,000 people use the debt snowball method.

What’s the best piece of financial advice you ever received?

I don’t remember receiving a whole lot of specific financial advice growing up. In fact, I can really only remember 2 things: “carry $20 with you in case you need it for an emergency” and “keep your receipts.” Both of those are good tips, but for me the best advice came more from observation. I learned to pay attention to money from my mom, that bargaining can be fun from my dad, and to invest, start businesses, and be frugal from my grandparents. All of that indirect advice stuck to varying extents.

If you could go back in time and give your 18-year-old self a piece of financial advice, what would it be?

If it were advice that I’d actually follow, I’d tell myself two things: #1 to only spend money you already have, because you CAN pay cash for even big ticket items, and #2 to save first, always, and with purpose. Whatever amount it takes to build an emergency fund, at least 10% for retirement, plus 10% for general savings including fun stuff. Saving with purpose, plus only spending money you already have, will give you a huge advantage.

Would you go to a different school if you knew what you know now about student debt?

No, but that’s because I chose an inexpensive (at the time) state school vs. a private out-of-state school for reasons that had nothing to do with the schools themselves. Typical 18-year-old social reasons if you ask me, but they turned out to accidentally save me a TON of money. So that was one piece of poor decision-making that turned out for the best. Who knows what life (and my debt load) might have been like if I’d chosen the other school instead.

Because I had a scholarship and worked full time while going to school, I didn’t take out a student loan until my second year of graduate school. I wanted to see what it was like to just attend school for a change. I guess I accomplished that goal. It was a pricey decision though.

I would definitely encourage people to actively figure out how much the college they’re considering will cost them, and to realize that “financial aid” is rarely the same thing as “money you don’t have to pay back.” It can be way too easy to get a check or be awarded a financial aid package and think of it as free money, when it’s exactly the opposite: expensive money that can weigh you down for decades.

If you choose to take on a loan, make sure you really picture what your life might be like with you owing that money, both IF you graduate and if you don’t. So many people think they’re going to go to college, graduate, and get a great job in a field they love without ever considering that they might not do any of those things. Or maybe they do graduate, but can’t find a job in their field (or at all). Or later they want to stay at home with the kids or switch fields.

Try to think about what could go wrong and how you’d feel with that loan in place, not just about what could go right. Would you be happy you borrowed with the worst-case scenario?

How do you stay ahead on paying your student loans back?

I paid off my student loan several years ago (after letting it hang around for 9 long years) so I have a mixed answer to that.

For me paying on my student loan ran the gamut from just paying my agreed-upon payment, to having the loan deferred and in forbearance, to finally making crazy progress on it in a ridiculously short amount of time.  The go-crazy method is what worked. You can read the whole story here if you want to know more.

What’s your advice for those who already have student loans?

The thing to remember is that (in most cases) student loans aren’t going to go away unless you MAKE them go away by paying them off.

In order to do that, you’ve got to figure out what you owe and whether or not the payments you’re making are actually knocking out any of the principal. That means knowing who you owe, when payments are due, what the interest rate is, the amount you’re paying, and how much of each payment is going to interest vs. the balance.

Take the time to find out and verify that you’re on track. To keep motivated while you’re paying them off, focus on the things you’ll be able to do with that money once they’re gone.

Read more from Jackie on her site or follow her on Twitter.