It might sound crazy that a girl trying to save money and pay down a ton of student loan debt pays for a gym membership. I promise you, that wasn’t part of the original plan I had. When I was planning for my debt payoff while still in graduate school, I planned a strict budget. One that definitely didn’t have a gym membership on it and didn’t have me buying all organic food, but that’s for another time. I told myself I’d work out at home and run outside when I didn’t have the luxury of a free university gym membership anymore. But then reality hit.
No Gym Membership at Home
I moved home and started to stick to my strict budget that I had made that worked well when I was in grad school. The major difference was that I no longer had a gym membership and I was no longer paying electric, rent, and utility bills each month. This was a huge savings for me. However, the no gym membership really hit me. I strive to be as healthy as possible, not only for my health, but also for my wallet. I have found that by paying a little more for preventive care (well visits, working out, organic food, etc.) I have saved a ton of money in the long run. Since changing my lifestyle to a healthier one, I very rarely get sick and very rarely need to take medicines. This all saves me a ton of money overall. I found myself not being able to motivate myself to work out at home, which is when I started researching.
Finding the Right Gym Membership
All the gyms by me cost about $50/month plus all of those lovely fees they add on, no thank you! I couldn’t justify spending that kind of money to work out. I didn’t want to go too far away because I knew I would never use it if it was. So I began looking by where I work, and I actually found a reasonably priced gym for $20/month. Before I signed up I asked some friends and read some reviews and found that they run promotions all the time for discounts when signing up. So, I waited. And waited. Finally, they had a promotion for $0 starting fee, I was sold. I went in and joined that day.
Unexpected Free Gym Membership Perks
Shortly after I joined the gym I began working. I was very overwhelmed by the beginning of my first year of teaching, but determined to get to the gym every day I could. I’m proud to say in those first few months I did go to the gym most afternoons. Then one day a teacher at school told me about our insurance giving reimbursements of $20 for gym memberships, if we went 12 times a month. It’s part of their preventive care. I signed up that night and my workouts started being tracked. This pretty much makes my gym membership free now, except for the annual fee the gym charges me.
If you’re someone that wants to join a gym, but can’t justify paying for it, do some research and see what you can find out there. It seems that a lot of insurance companies that I have looked into offer this in their plan, there are usually rules, like my 12 visits, but they’re giving you money to work out! It makes me excited just typing it! I need the gym to keep me motivated and healthy, it provides me with a great stress relief too. How do you make sure you keep active?
I was pretty carefree with my money my freshman year of college. I didn’t think about my student loans, didn’t get a job, and just kept pulling money from my savings account. Not the smartest moves on my part, but you live and you learn, right? 6 years later, 2 degrees, and about $200k in student loans, I definitely wish I did a few things differently back then. Don’t make the same mistakes I did, think about your financial future before you even step on campus.
Saving Money Before College
Carefully fill out the FAFSA form. Make sure you correctly fill out the FAFSA form, if you have any questions, I strongly recommend getting advice through your high school or college. Filling out this form wrong can result in you getting much less financial aid.
Apply to scholarships. Apply to every scholarship you can find, and then apply to more. There is SO much unused scholarship money out there, it’s crazy! Look for local scholarships where the pool of people will be much smaller, but also apply to the larger national ones as well.
Check in with the scholarship committees. This is one I never thought to do until I was in graduate school and it paid off incredibly. I went into the scholarship office every two weeks to check in until I finally got an answer. That poor woman knew me by first and last name, but it paid off because she had a face to a name and knew I really needed the scholarship.
Ask for more financial aid. As soon as you get your financial aid package, call the financial aid office. Typically your financial aid package will arrive sometime in the summer before you head to school, call them immediately when it arrives. I learned this trick after my freshman year and was able to get more financial aid for my sophomore year. The schools send out financial aid packages and then a lot of students don’t come to the school. This makes more money available and they give it out on the first come basis.
Saving Money in College
Price compare for textbooks. Look everywhere for your textbooks before immediately buying them at the bookstore. Yes, the bookstore is convenient and you will know that it’s the correct book, but it’s also usually a lot more money! I usually found the best deals on Amazon for buying and selling my textbooks all throughout undergrad and grad school.
Sign up for student deals and discounts. There are so many deals and discounts out there only for college students, sign up for them! My all time favorite one was definitely Amazon Prime Student, which also made buying and selling my textbooks so much easier. I could easily procrastinate buying my textbooks and still get them in two days, FREE 🙂
Work, Work, Work, Work, Work, Work. I just had to reference the Rhianna lyrics here, get out there and WORK! There were so many job opportunities presented to me, especially if you have work study as part of your financial aid package. Most universities will even pay you to be a note taker for the classes you are already taking notes for. You’re basically being paid to be a good student! It really is a win win for you.
These were some of the things I learned throughout my college experience and learning how to manage my money. It’s hard managing your money in college and trying to plan for your financial future with potentially so much debt. I wish I had known these things when I was a senior in high school so I could plan better for my future after college and have saved a lot more. Like I said, you live and you learn, right? What tips and tricks did you learn about saving money throughout your college journey?
Filing your taxes can be such a pain, but hopefully a nice tax refund check is waiting for you at the end of it all. For me, it definitely was. I knew exactly how I was going to use my refund check because I know what my goals are. I want to pay my almost $200k in student loans by the time I turn 31, hopefully 30! This made it pretty easy to decide where my checks were going.
Refund Check: Savings
The first thing I did was restock my savings account. I treated myself in March to an AMAZING trip to Punta Cana with my boyfriend, it was definitely needed and totally worth it. We shopped around and spent a lot of time searching for the best trip for our budget and it really paid off. Of course it did still cost money, so I put that money back into my savings. Since I’m lucky enough to still live with my parents, I’m building my savings as much as I can while still sticking to my intense payoff plan.
Refund Check: Student Loans
Obviously, a large majority of my refund check went to my student loans. I am incredibly excited to share that I paid off my first student loan!! After lots of hard work paying my loans down during grad school, and moving back home to pay off more, I paid off $42k in about a year and a half. It definitely has been hard, but I wouldn’t trade my education for anything. It felt absolutely amazing to send in that payoff payment and say goodbye to my first student loan, you wont be missed!
Based on my goals right now, the best thing for me to do was really focus on my student loans with my refund checks. This definitely isn’t for everyone, but you need to know your financial goals in order to figure out what is best for you. How did you use your refund check this year?
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Back in August 2015, before I even started paying off my loans, I posted about my student loan binder. This thing has turned into the best thing I ever made. It has allowed me to stay organized and motivated throughout my first 6 months of debt payoff. When you have almost $200k in student loans, you need something to motivate you. Fortunately for me, just seeing the numbers drop is motivation enough. I also use ReadyForZero, which is a huge motivator. It allows me to see my debt payoff day get closer and closer and my daily interest drop as I make each extra payment.
**July 2017 Update: ReadyForZero no longer offers their service anymore. Check out my blog post on the website I now use that I absolutely love!
I use this binder to keep all my different kinds of loans organized. I have set up my binder into 4 different sections: Debt, Private Loans, Federal Loans, and TEACH Grant. In the debt section is where I keep my planning sheet and my debt payoff tracking sheet. This allows me to see the big picture of my debt payoff, like which loan I’m focusing on first and how much I payoff each month. In both my private loans and federal loans sections I keep individual debt payoff sheets for each of my loans. This allows me to see how much I have paid off for each of my loans and how much I left to pay off. Its exciting to see where I started with each of these loans and how much I have paid off.
Since this binder has helped me so much in this crazy journey, I thought all you lovely people might find these sheets for my student loan binder useful. Click the download button to get my binder cover sheet, a planning sheet, a debt payoff tracking sheet, and an individual debt payoff tracking sheet to make your very own student loan binder!
When I was in grad school and finally came to terms with the fact that I was going to be roughly $200k in debt when I graduated, I began researching. I spent hours finding tips and tricks to get out of debt and to do it fast. One of the biggest things I took from my research was that I shouldn’t be embarrassed by my debt. So many people hide from their debt, ignoring it exists. I didn’t want to do that. I began telling my friends and family about my debt, when it came up in conversation. They couldn’t believe it. They didn’t understand how I could have possibly racked up that much student loan debt. But, it’s possible. For some reason our society thinks we shouldn’t talk about debts because it’s normal to have debt. So often I hear people brush of debt like everyone has it and it’s the only way to live. Oh, but student loans are “good debt”, no debt is good debt! I don’t want that life, forever needing to give my hard earned money over to the company I borrowed it from years earlier. I want to keep my money!! Which is why I decided not to hide from my student loans.
I know many people who are simply ignoring that their student loans exist. I’m serious, they are letting their credit score absolutely tank and not worrying about it. They figure in seven years it will be wiped away and then I can start over. But, then you need to rebuild your credit and doing that after destroying your credit is incredibly difficult. It will take years and extreme diligence to bring it back up. Not to mention that having a bad credit score makes it incredibly difficult or impossible to rent an apartment, get a car, so many things that a 20 something would typically be doing. For right now, I live at home, but eventually I plan to move out. When that happens, I want to have the freedom of renting a place, if that’s what I choose to do. I don’t want my student loan debt to hold me back, even more than they already are.
I understand when you graduate from college you’re most likely in your 20s and think that it is an absurd amount of money. I get it. I was there, sitting in my college apartment staring at my computer screen in complete shock at the massive amount of debt I owed. How did I possibly rack up such a high number?! But you need to accept your debt, and make a plan to tackle it as soon as possible. Get angry, and get motivated and be sure to make a realistic plan for yourself. So, what’s your student loan plan, are you going to pay them off or ignore their existence?
Wow, 2015 was an incredible year for me. I landed my first “big girl” job as a 5th grader teacher in May, graduated with my masters in August, and started my first year of teaching in September. Of course, I also started this blog. When I started this blog back in July I was truly planning to mostly post about my first year of teaching. I figured it would be a nice outlet for the stress I knew I would be dealing with. However, in the last year, I have found a passion for personal finance and have found myself blogging much more about that. Especially when I have this massive amount of debt weighing me down each day.
I did create a solid plan to pay down my debt this year once I started working, which has helped me almost double my monthly loan payments so far. In 2015, I was able to get my largest loan with the highest interest rate down to 78% paid off. I have been working towards paying off that loan since I was in grad school, so seeing that high paid off percentage is very motivating!
I have a lot planned for 2016, and it might be a little too much to be honest. My plan is to make 2016 a productive year for me. I want to find myself always actively doing something, whether it be school work, blog work, being with friends, whatever it is, I don’t want to be complacent. I want to push myself harder and do more than I ever have before. My goal is to make $2,700 loan payments each month, which is a bit of a stretch for me. This requires me to figure out ways to save and make more money. Which is another goal I have for this year.
I strongly believe in goal setting and I feel that it keeps you motivated knowing you are working towards something. Whatever it might be, I suggest making mini goals to reach your big goal, this makes it more likely that you will succeed and make the task less daunting. For example, I picked $2,700 a month for my loan payments because I want to have my loans completely paid off by the time I turn 31. This might sound crazy since I still have about $185k in student loans, but it’s possible if I work hard and keep my goal in mind. So, what are your goals for 2016 and how do you plan on accomplishing them?
I know, you’re probably thinking, this girl is trying to pay down a MOUNTAIN of student loan debt, why is she spending money on things?! Until about a year ago, this was exactly how I thought. When I finally realized just how crazy my student loan debt was in September 2014, I made my budget completely bare bones. I cut out everything, I mean everything. I was living off of eggs and ramen, never doing anything that involved spending money, and wasn’t really thinking about my health. Until I realized I needed to make a lifestyle change in order to save money in the areas I thought I couldn’t save in, like doctor’s office visits, medication, etc. I have some pretty horrible sinuses that have caused me a lot of problems throughout my life, one of the biggest being how much money it costs to help me live day to day. These are the things that I splurge on each month, and in return I am living a much happier, healthier life:
#1 Organic Food
This was a huge decision for me. Organic food is expensive and at first I couldn’t justify spending that much money on food. But, I started searching the Internet for ways to deal with horrible sinus problems, and most of them repeated the same things. A diet that consists of organic, healthy foods and minimal dairy. I made the switch to see if there was any difference, and I haven’t gone back since.
#2 Gym Membership
Working out and being more active was part of my new lifestyle I was trying. When I was still in grad school in September 2014, this wasn’t an issue for me. As a full time student, I was able to get into all of the university gyms. However, when I finished my degree and moved back home to pay down my loans in July 2015, this became I huge issue. I told myself that I would work out at home and run outside, but that never happened. I decided to try out a gym because I thought paying for it would motivate me. It definitely has. If I’m paying for it, you can guarantee I get my butt to the gym whenever possible.
#3 Being Social
Now, I’m not saying I go crazy and spend a ton of money each month doing things. However, when I was in grad school, I didn’t do anything because I wanted to push as much money as possible to my debt. I was miserable and missed out on a lot of fun times with my friends because of it. I realize now that it’s more important to spend a little more money doing things with the people you care about, than to be alone.
These are three of the things that I have chosen to splurge on while paying down my debt because it allows me to be happier and healthier. Since switching my diet and being more active, I rarely get sick and have been able to stop taking almost all of my daily sinus medications. Even though I needed to spend a little more money, I’m saving money in other ways because of it. What are some things that you splurge on?
Finding out my monthly student loan payment was eye opening. I was completely shocked. $1,400/month for JUST my private loans, not even my federal loans. How was I going to afford this?! Especially when my federal loans were out of the grace period, which hasn’t even happened yet. The first step was to create a plan to tackle this absurd amount of student loans. Once I knew I could afford my required payment, I had to find ways to make my additional payment as large as possible. My teaching job just wasn’t going to cut it for me and my goals for paying off this student loan debt.
Multiple Streams of Income
One of my biggest strategies for paying off my student loan debt is to make more money through multiple streams of income. This will then allow me to make a larger student loan payment each month. My goal is to create as much passive income streams as possible, I’m not there yet, but I hope to be soon. For now, my income streams are my teaching job, after school tutoring at school, private tutoring, babysitting, and (hopefully) this blog. I strongly recommend you find ways to make more money if you are buried in student loan debt, like me.
There are so many ways to make extra money, but it needs to be worth your time, especially if you are working a full time job. For me, I wasn’t sure I had the time to do all these side hustles, but the amount of extra money I make really motivates me. I find the time to do these extra jobs because the money is worth it. I wouldn’t do just any job after my normal work day, the money needs to be worth the time I’m putting in.
One of the worst parts about side hustles is that the money usually isn’t consistent or guaranteed, which is also one of the best parts about it. This income changes month to month, meaning it can less or more each month. This makes it hard to budget for it. Personally, I don’t include this income in my budget, I pretend I don’t even make this money until the end of the month when I figure out my additional loan payment. All of my side hustle money goes straight to my student loans at the end of the month.
Here’s the breakdown of my side hustles currently:
-After School Tutoring: This is done through my school. I stay after 2 days a week for 45 minutes and work with a small group of students who are reading below grade level. Even though this is through my job, this is additional to my salary, so I count it as a different stream of income. This is roughly $200/month extra.
-Private Tutoring: I hope to get a few more students to tutor privately to really boost this source of income. Currently, this is about $400/month extra.
This is how I currently use side hustles to increase my monthly student loan payment. I hope to continue growing the amount of money I earn in side hustles and diversify how I earn the money. My goal is to find more ways to earn money doing things I love to do. What are your side hustles and how did you begin them?
I know when I first realized how much student loan debt I actually had, I got angry. Afterwards, I viewed it as a challenge and just wanted to tackle it head on, paying it down as fast as possible. I spent every spare moment I had in grad school searching ways to pay down debt quickly, save more, make more money, anything to get this debt paid off faster. I made quick easy changes that didn’t change my lifestyle, but made me save a lot more money. By making these changes I was able to pay down a lot more debt while I was in grad school making about $1,200 a month.
1. Plan your meals each week before you go to the store
Meal planning overwhelms me, I just don’t have the patient or the time right now to learn a good system for it. So, I don’t do it as well as I’d like to. But, I do have a plan for the week generally before I go to the grocery store and always have a list. This way I know exactly what I need to buy for the week and I throw away less food.
2. Pay attention to portion sizes
I buy mostly organic foods, which can be expensive. Especially when it comes to meat. I used to always eat an entire chicken breast for my dinner with a veggie. Not anymore. I eat about half of a chicken breast, depending on the size, with brown rice and a veggie. Rice is SO much cheaper than chicken, so this allows me to get two dinners, sometimes three if it’s bigger, using one chicken breast.
3. Baby wipes
I can’t even put into words how wonderful these little wipes are. I used to spend a ridiculous amount of money on make up removing wipes. Out of pure convenience, I just couldn’t give them up when I started trying to save more money. When I found out that baby wipes work in the same way, I had to try it. I have very sensitive skin and using the sensitive skin fragrance free baby wipes I had no problems.
4. Sign up for store rewards cards
The best one I have is Rite Aid, I currently get 20% off everything in store because my family shops there so much. On top of that, I switched to using all store brand products and those usually have an additional discount. For me, this works for my budget because it is so convenient. I wish I had the time to make my own products to use because it would be even cheaper, but being a first year teacher makes my time limited!
5. Waiting to buy
This one was very hard for me at first. I can be stubborn and want to get an item right away. I quickly realized that I was missing out sometimes on great sales or realizing that I didn’t actually want what I was buying afterwards. Once I started waiting to buy, I saved so much money because I was no longer impulse buying. If I still wanted the item after doing all my research and finding the best deal, I went ahead and got it. If I realized it wasn’t what I wanted, then I saved myself the wasted money on something I didn’t actually want.
These are just a few tips that I have been using to save money that I find to be very simple changes that made a difference in my budget each month. The easiest thing to do is look at your spending habits and find ways to make slight adjustments or ways to make what you’re currently doing cheaper. What are some ways that you save money?
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So, the day finally arrived that I had been anxiously waiting for, my first student loan bill arrived in the mail. I just finished my graduate studies in August and knew it was coming. My private loans did not have a grace period, so I assumed my first bill would most likely be due by November. Sure enough, my first payment is due November 2nd. Before I got the bill, I wasn’t sure how much my payments were going to be each month. I guessed that they would be around $1,500 a month because that’s what my sister pays with a similar amount of debt. Of course, I budgeted for the worst and went for $2,000, since I went to grad school. It turns out all the debt I paid off during grad school was worth it, my private student loan payment is $1,400, much less than I thought it would be. My federal student loan payment was originally $600 each month, but I switched to an income based repayment plan and got it lowered to $250. It was a tough decision to switch to a different payment plan, but I wanted to be able to put as much money to my private loans, since they have much larger interest rates.
Where to Begin: Get Angry
Like I have mentioned in previous posts about my amount of debt, when I first really acknowledged the amount of debt I had, I felt like I would never be able to pay that off. I mean, $200K is a massive amount of debt. I don’t want to be paying this off still when my children are starting college, which is what will happen if I stick to the 30 year repayment plan. Honestly, that’s what really lit the fire under my butt, knowing I wanted to buy a house, have kids, send them to college, things that will be much more difficult if I have this massive amount of debt looming over my head. Plus, who wants to be paying off their student loans at age 50, definitely not this girl. Get angry at your student loans, put things into perspective and get crazy mad at that large sum of money that is preventing you from doing more things and saving more money. And just think about how nice it will be once it is all paid off 🙂
Create a Plan to Payoff the Debt
Once you have reasons to motivate yourself to payoff your debt, create a plan. Some people need to use the snowball method because they need motivation in the beginning to get going. Others think more long term and prefer a method that allows them to save the most amount of money, or the avalanche method. Personally, since I have such a large amount of debt, I’m thinking long term and how I can save the most amount of money. So, I’m sticking with the avalanche method. This means that right now I am focusing on one of my debts that has a 8.05% interest rate and started at just above $40,000 (I’m proud to say that this debt is now at $12,000 after chipping away at it for the last year during grad school, WOOHOO!!!). After this debt is paid off I will move onto my next largest interest rate and so on. If two loans have the same interest rate, then I pick the loan that is largest amount. I strongly recommend using ReadyForZero, I basically swear by this website in my debt payoff. It does take some time to type in all the information each month, but it provides me with a graph of my progress and when I’ll be debt free. Also, it’s completely free and has an app that allows me to check my progress wherever. I find it extremely motivating to see my daily interest go down after I make all my payments each month and to see how much sooner my debt payoff date is.
Update June 2016: I officially paid off that first loan!!! This means that I have now moved onto my next focus loan, which also has a 8.05% interest rate, but it is much smaller, only $16,000. I plan to pay this one off in one year, June 2017.
Update March 2017: I paid off my second loan 3 months early! I now have no loans with an 8% interest rate, finally! Now onto the next one.Also, ReadyForZero no longer offers their service. I have finally found a tool that works well and I find it very motivating and helpful in my debt payoff. Check out my review of the website!
How Much to Pay Each Month
It can be difficult to decide how much you can afford to pay towards your debt each month. I strongly recommend paying extra each month, any extra money you have, even if its $20, can make a difference in your debt payoff date. For me, I can afford my required payment in one paycheck, so I pay my bill on the 15th, when I’m paid. I never budget for my additional payment. This may sound odd to some people, and for a lot of people this might not work. However, I am currently in a very different situation than most. After I finished grad school, I moved back in with my parents in order to really tackle this debt, and they live 20 minutes from my job. This means that I don’t have many bills each month. Also, I work other jobs each month, like tutoring and babysitting, that make my income vary month to month. I do budget for gas each month, my bills, my 2 savings account, and my 403b account. You’ll notice that I do save each month, it’s not much, about $250 across the 3 accounts, but while I’m living with my parents I want to make sure I’m saving some money while I can. Since I pay my bill on the 15th each month, this allows me to make my additional payment at the end of the month when I am paid again. This is when I go through my budget for the month and see how much money I have left over that can go towards my debt. I hope to be able to pay an additional $1,000 each month.
Update June 2016: Since writing this post my monthly payment plan has completely changed, I found ways to make it much more aggressive. I made it a goal for myself to pay off all my student loans before I turn 31, that’s in 7 years. So, I went to my ReadyForZero account and changed my debt payoff date to determine what I would need to pay each month to pay it off by then. Turns out an extra $1,000 allows me to be debt free by my 31st birthday. I’m currently paying at least $2,600 each month with my teacher salary, living at my parent’s house (thanks Mom and Dad!), working extra jobs, and lowering my savings withdrawn each month. Instead of $250 I only put $125 into savings each month so that I can focus on my student loans.
This system might not work for you, but it’s what is working for me and my current situation. If I wasn’t living at my parent’s house, I don’t think this system would work for me since I probably would not be able to afford paying my entire bill in my one paycheck. What’s your debt payoff plan? What strategies have worked for you?