Welcome to another installment of iontuition’s Q&A series with personal finance bloggers. Today, we have Erin, personal finance freelance writer and virtual assistant. Erin graduated from college in January of 2012 with $18,000 in student loan debt and started blogging on Journey to Saving to document her journey of paying off her student loans, while still living a fulfilling life. That life includes family, friends, her cat and traveling! We’re excited to hear more from Erin.

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

It wasn’t exactly direct advice, but watching my parents struggle with credit card debt as I grew up made me extremely adverse to consumer debt. I’m so thankful to have learned that lesson early on, as student loan debt is often enough for millennials to deal with!

The other piece of advice that changed how I looked at money comes from a popular finance blogger, Paula Pant, who says, “You can’t afford everything, but you can afford anything.” I had a lightbulb moment there, and started prioritizing my spending according to my values. I often get stuck on saving, saving, saving, but you have to enjoy your money (mindfully!) once in a while.

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

Don’t give up. For many of us, paying off our student loans is a long and difficult journey, but it’s a worthwhile one. If you’re struggling and have federal loans, then look into different repayment options. You might be eligible for forbearance or deferment. In certain circumstances, refinancing or consolidating can help. Reach out to your student loan servicer with questions or do your own research.

If you’re super motivated to pay your loans off, then earning more is the fastest way to get there. I would not be making the same progress paying off my loans as I am now had I stayed in my first job that paid $12 an hour. Find a way to hustle, whether that’s babysitting, freelance writing or using another unique skill you have to earn money.

Lastly, I would say to be wise about the strategy you’re using. You can pay off your debt according to the balance or the highest interest rate (debt snowball and debt avalanche method). You can also choose to take the full 10 years to pay off your loans if your interest rates are on the lower side, and focus on retirement savings instead. The point is, you need to make a plan!

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

I had been paying my loans back for a couple of months before I realized just how much interest I was paying on them. From there on out, I paid extra every month. I completely ignored the “minimum due,” figured out how much extra I could pay toward them, and did that. Even if it was $10 every week – any amount moves you forward. Whenever I get a windfall, like a tax return, I put a percentage of it towards my loans as well.

As for HOW I do that, I make sure I’m spending less than I earn – always. You need to have money left at the end of the month. If you don’t already, track your spending with a tool like Mint.com, and craft some sort of budget. It doesn’t need to be super strict, but you can’t make changes to your cash flow if you don’t know where your money is going.

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

Keep working. I stopped to focus on schoolwork because I was taking 18 credits a semester, but I wish I had known about freelancing earlier. There are so many legitimate ways to earn money online around your own schedule that it’s worth looking at. If you can’t find employment, work toward developing new skills. Build something you can show an employer. Basically, work on creating and proving your value so that when you graduate, you have something to show.

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

No. I analyzed my options (honestly, agonized over them!), asked for advice, and in the end, I settled on the path I took. I tried to make as smart of a decision as I could. $18,000 is still a decent amount (to me), but much less than the average amount people are graduating with these days, which I am grateful for.

Note from iontuition: You can use ionMatch so you don’t have to agonize over finding a school with the best ROI!

Any other financial tips for our readers?

Financial education is your best tool. I learned most of what I know about personal finance from reading about other people’s experiences. It’s not as boring as it might seem. If you want to live a life without financial worries, then taking control of your situation is the best way to do it. Learn the basics, experiment, and don’t “check out” by ignoring your accounts. Burying your head in the sand doesn’t get you anywhere, but taking action does.

Read more from Erin on her website, follow her on Facebook and Twitter.