Across the United States, more than 43 million people owe student debts that total up to a staggering $1.3 trillion. As of 2016, new graduates will finish their schooling with an average of more than $35,000 dollars in debt. This total is an increase of six percent over 2015, following a trend that has seen student debts skyrocket in recent decades. Further complicating matters, many students also graduate with other debts such as credit cards, vehicle leases and personal loans. If you’ve recently graduated from college, this probably isn’t news to you. You know how overwhelming it can be to find yourself saddled with seemingly insurmountable debts before you’ve even entered the workforce full-time. In fact, studies have shown a clear link between excessive debt and an assortment of difficulties, ranging from depression and anxiety to substance abuse and relationship issues. However, with a positive attitude, a solid game plan and no small degree of discipline, you can re-take control of your finances and chart a path toward becoming independent and debt-free. What Is True “Financial Freedom”? What is it that you hope to achieve, financially, within the next year? Within the next decade? While a desire to simply get out of debt is understandable, what most of us are really seeking is financial freedom. It’s the ability to not only pay off old debts, but to make decisions without fear of the financial consequences. It’s the ability to save for retirement without sacrificing short-term goals and experiences. In other words, it’s the ability to live the life that you envision for yourself. And even though that may seem a long way off if you’re graduating with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, it’s a goal that you can put within reach by following the tips below. Manage Those Loans! First and foremost, you need to rid yourself of the debts you’ve accrued. There are several options available to assist in this goal, including loan forgiveness, deferment or forbearance and debt consolidation. Though uncommon, certain circumstances may allow part or all of your student loans to be forgiven altogether. This is particularly true if you become disabled or if you participate in certain public service jobs, which may include military or Peace Corps service, law enforcement, social service programs and nursing or medical occupations. Depending on your particular circumstances, you may also qualify for deferment – a period of time in which you need not make payments and no interest is assessed – or forbearance, in which payments are not required but interest is still applied. Finally, debt consolidation may be a viable solution if you owe multiple debts. Automate Your Savings In addition to paying down debts, it’s important to begin saving for the future as early as possible. With the rising cost of retirement and the tenuous future of Social Security and other safety nets, every year of missed savings creates a steeper hill to climb. To get a head start on the process, consider automating your savings as soon as you’re financially able. By automatically deducting a portion of your income, you can ensure that your savings will have consistent contributions with virtually no input needed. Automation also helps remove the temptation to spend extra money rather than saving it. Maintain Financial Discipline Even if you’re finally making good money, that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods just yet. Your income doesn’t mean much if you aren’t spending it wisely, so now is the time to maintain your discipline and continue working toward a future of real financial freedom. It may be tempting to spring for that big purchase you’ve been delaying, but you’ll benefit far more by investing that money in your savings or using it to pay down any debt you have left. It’s also worth considering the possibility of delaying major life events such as marriage and buying a home, which can easily throw a wrench in even the best-laid financial plans. Increase Your Earnings While it’s natural to focus on ways to eliminate debt and reduce expenses, it’s also helpful to consider ways to increase your income. Maximizing your earning power can be done in any number of ways, whether it’s picking up a second part-time job, starting a side business in your spare time or negotiating a raise or promotion at your current place of business. Every extra dollar you’re able to earn can be put to good use to build a stronger financial future. Financial freedom should be more than just a distant dream. The ability to live comfortably in the future, insulated from the hardships of job loss, unexpected expenses and other pitfalls, is something worth striving for even if it requires some sacrifice in the short term. By avoiding common mistakes, developing a sensible plan and having the patience and discipline to see it through, you can overcome the burden of debt and secure a better future for yourself. About the Author Beth K. works with the content team for Credit.com. She writes on a wide assortment of financial topics, but specializes primarily in student loans and other issues pertaining to Millennials and young adults. A graduate of DePaul University in Chicago, she plans on participating in a graduate program this fall studying Human Computer Interaction. She lives with two roommates and a rabbit named Noam Chompsky.