Welcome to the first installment of iontuition’s Q&A series with personal finance bloggers. Freelance writer, event planner and blogger behind Dear Debt, Melanie Lockert, is going to share some great tips on saving and paying back student loans. She started her award-winning debt blog to keep herself accountable to paying off debt and also find a community of others working to get out of debt. Melanie loves coffee, music, The Wizard of Oz and borrowed a total of $81,000 in student loans and just finished paying them back ahead of schedule – we’re excited to hear what she has to say!

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

The best piece of advice I’ve received is to automate your savings. I honestly think I’ve been able to accomplish a lot of my savings goals through automation.

Do you have any tips for individuals looking into taking out student loans for school?

If you’re thinking about taking out student loans, I suggest realistically looking at what salary you may have after graduation. Also, look at your interest rates. Your future career as well as the interest rates on your loans can have a serious impact on your ability to repay your loans.

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

My advice is to do whatever it takes to get them gone ASAP. It may not be fun or glamorous, but once you are debt free, your money will be 100% yours. Who wants to be paying for an education they received years ago? Look at ways you can cut back, but more importantly ways you can earn more.

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

I stay ahead by paying far more than the minimum — for the past few months, I’ve put $3k per month. A crazy amount I know, but it’s only been possible because I’ve focused on earning more. In addition, I’ve focused on paying off the high interest debt first.

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

No, really! Start saving for retirement now! Time really does go by quicker than you think.

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

That’s a tough question. I feel like I’ve risked a lot and got into a lot of debt going to my dream school, NYU. However, it gave me the experience of living in NYC, which was on my bucket list. Also, in a weird way, it’s led to my blog, and now career. So I can’t say I totally regret it, but I would think twice about going to an expensive private school.

Any other financial tips for our readers?

Live like a college student and sacrifice things now to pay off debt. Track your spending and start thinking of yourself as Chief Financial Officer of your own life.

For more from Melanie, follow her on Twitter and see her most recent posts on Dear Debt.