In December 2011, Bobby Hoyt graduated from The University of Texas at San Antonio with a degree in music education — and a $40,000 tab.
"I had the six-month grace period like everyone else does on their loans, so I didn't make any payments right away," the Houston resident tells CNBC. "I didn't realize that interest was accruing on it. That's an unfortunate reality that a lot of people graduating college don't know."
Hoyt — who started his career as a high-school band director — didn't get serious about putting money toward his debt until he met his current mentor, a successful businessman and longtime friend of his wife's family.
"He basically told me, 'You need to pay off your loans as fast as you can,'" Hoyt recalls. "So I started making the biggest possible payments that I could."
Hoyt made his first payment in August 2012. A year and a half later, he was completely debt-free — and he did it all on a teacher's salary.
Today, the 28-year-old is a full-time financial blogger and shares his journey to building wealth on his website, Millennial Money Man.
Here's how the teacher-turned-entrepreneur paid off $40,000 of student loans in 18 months:
Hoyt's annual salary was $49,000, and with a stipend and pay for extra days, he ended up making about $53,000 a year. He decided to devote the majority of his after-tax earnings to paying down his loans.
"The second my paycheck hit my account, I would make a really big payment," he tells CNBC. "My paycheck was about $1,736 — I would make a $1,300 payment toward my loans and then figure out how to live on the rest."
He details his exact payment schedule, which spanned from August 2012 to March 2014, on his blog.
Hoyt and his wife, Coral, an elementary school teacher, rented a room from her parents for $500 a month. "It was super cramped, but cheaper than immediately buying a house or getting a nice apartment after college," he tells CNBC.
Sure, "it totally sucks renting a room from your in-laws," he admits, "but living costs are one of the biggest inhibitors of being able to pay off your loans quickly. A lot of people graduate and they feel like they have to go out and get the big house or the nice apartment — but you can't necessarily do that if you want to pay your loans off quickly."
If you decide to move back home, Hoyt emphasizes the importance of contributing: "Pay rent if needed, be helpful, and have a financial goal while living there. It's not a free ride, and young people shouldn't expect it to be."
If living with your parents is not an option, he suggests renting an apartment with multiple roommates to cut your living expenses, or if you already own a house, renting out any spare rooms.
"It's OK to be poor for a little bit," says Hoyt, who now rents an apartment with his wife. "A lot of people don't realize that. They want to start living the good life immediately, but when you're young it's OK to struggle a bit and not have personal space."
During the year and a half of loan repayment, Hoyt cut cable, didn't buy new clothes or shoes, and sacrificed vacations, among other things.
"Look at what can you cut out of your life that you can reasonably live without," he suggests. "And do things that are going to be uncomfortable. The reality is, if you have a lot of debt and you want to get rid of it quickly, there's no comfortable way to do that. Cutting back on eating out, or living at home, or not doing all the fun things that your friends are doing is uncomfortable — but you have to realize that it's all temporary."
It may be tempting to change your spending habits after paying off your debt, but Hoyt warns against it. By getting out of debt, you've developed new, positive money habits, which you can use to not only stay out of debt but to get ahead of the curve, he says. "It gives you the ability to have some options and fluidity with your career," as well as save more for the future.
By the time the high-school teacher made his final payment, he already had his sights set on a more entrepreneurial career.
"At that point, I knew I wanted to start a business of some kind and not teach anymore," Hoyt tells CNBC. "So I kept paying myself the exact amount I was paying on my student loans."
He built up savings that equaled a year's worth of his salary and quit his teaching job last year to run Millennial Money Man full time. He also does digital marketing on the side. Between the two streams of income, Hoyt is already doubling his teacher's salary each month.
"It's been nice working for myself," he says. "I make my own schedule and do the things that I'm really passionate about, so my quality of life is tremendously better — and it all kind of came from paying off student loans."