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Healthy Lifestyle on a Budget
Money Management

Healthy Lifestyle on a Budget

I began my debt free journey in November of 2015. It truly became a reality that I was in over $200k of student loan debt while I was completing my graduate studies. During grad school I completely changed my life to save as much money as possible. I started meal planning and got my grocery budget down to under $150/month. I was proud to get my groceries this low, but I also was dealing with my chronic sinusitis and migraines at the time. Eventually those two things wore me out, especially the migraines. I had sinus surgery in 2012 and was taking so much preventative medicine, only to still feel congested, always have headaches and averaged 1 migraine every week, sometimes up to 5 per week. I was over it.

Healthy Lifestyle on a Budget

Around this time my coworker mentioned to me that her daughter’s doctor recommended they cut out dairy from their diet when they had chronic sinus problems. She also suggested I do some research to find out what else caused inflammation in the sinuses. So, I went home and did my research. The two major things I knew I could quickly change was dairy and switching to organic. But, I knew my budget was going to suffer drastically from the organic. Desperation to get rid of my migraines pushed me to ultimately try the new diet.

Yes, my budget jumped to being under $200/month once I switched to organic. I expected at least this, but a lot happened that I didn’t expect. After about a month, I no longer needed my migraine medicine or my allergy medicine (I wasn’t even allergic to anything, my doctor told me I was sensitive to everything), this saved me about $50/month. And look at that, I just made up my grocery budget going up 🙂 Eventually, I stopped seeing my ENT all together, I was no longer getting sinus infections, and it was very rare that I got sick. I went from seeing doctors more than once a month, to seeing them once a year for a physical.

I used to have a medical sinking fund, that’s how much money I used to spend consistently on my medical expenses. Between the co-pays and medicines I consistently took, it was a ton of money. I no longer save any money for medical expenses because I’m no longer needing to do any of the things I used to do daily just to still feel awful.

Some people might argue that it isn’t frugal of me to be spending so much money on my food, or spending money on my at home work outs. Everyone has a different definition of frugality and mine has definitely changed over the last few years. What I realized was that even though I was spending an incredibly small amount for preventative health (nutrition, exercise, etc.), I was spending a ton of money on my reactive health, medicines, doctors appointments, surgeries, etc. In the long run, I feel that this is going to save me the most money, so that’s why I made the change.

Healthy Lifestyle on a Budget

I shared my reasons why I switched to a healthy lifestyle and how it has changed my budget. If you’re interested in even more tips, follow this link and I’ll happily add you to my private Facebook group 🙂

Using Gift Cards to Get Through the Hard Months
Money Management

Using Gift Cards to Get Through the Hard Months

When I began this debt payoff journey I was $200k in student loan debt, just starting my first year teaching, moving back home with my parents, and had no idea how I was going to manage this whole thing. I had a plan, I had a job, and I was starting to create some great side income streams. Then, the summer started. This should be the best time for a teacher, right? Wrong. No paycheck for 2 months when you have a $1,400 minimum loan payment to make each month is stressful. Of course, I had saved money throughout the school year for those two months in order to make at least my minimum. And of course I had some side hustles going on to bring in some income, but it was no where near my salary. That’s when I discovered using gift cards to get through the hard months.

Using Gift Cards to Get Through the Hard Months

When you don’t have your income like you’re used to, but you know it’s going to happen, it’s great, solely because you can plan for it. I was able to save enough money each month to cover my bills in the summer and start thinking creatively about my money. That’s the crazy thing about being in crippling debt, you start to think super creatively in order to get more money in your pocket.

About the same time I started to panic about not having my paycheck, I was also doing a huge purge of my things. I was hoping to sell some things to make some extra money. In the process, I found a TON of unused gift cards. That’s embarrassing to admit HA! I literally stashed them probably years ago and totally forgot about them. But, that got me thinking, why don’t I use these to help me in the summer?

So I survived my first summer without my salary and knew what I needed to do for the following summer. I saved each month for the summer so I could pay my bills and I hoarded every single gift card I received. Now, to clarify, if it was a restaurant one, or clothing, I didn’t necessarily keep it. The ones I kept were the ones that could be used anywhere, like Visa or Mastercard gift cards. And I absolutely kept Target gift cards because this teacher loves that place for back to school! So, what are the creative ways you have come up with to make ends meet when your pay isn’t consistent?

How_To_Lower_Your_Grocery_Budget
Money Management

How to Lower Your Grocery Budget

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When I first started my journey for financial freedom, my spending was out of control. I remember looking at my spending and thinking, “There’s no way I can lower any of these budgets.” I especially thought of this when looking at my spending for my groceries. It’s really hard to think about cutting costs when you think you’re doing the best you can at the time. You need to get creative sometimes and think about how you can get the most food for your money by learning how to lower your grocery budget.

How_To_Lower_Your_Grocery_Budget

1. Look at your current spending vs. food

The first thing I did was look at my old receipts. I never used to even look at how much items cost when I would buy them, I wanted to eat it that week, so I bought it. What I realized when I looked at them was that I was spending SO much on frozen foods and prepared foods. Now, ironically at the same time I was switching to an organic diet for health reasons. I thought I was going to be spending so much more (honestly I didn’t spend much more because I was buying everything fresh.) Frozen foods and prepared foods are crazy expensive because you’re paying for convenience. This also goes for veggies and fruits cut up, SO expensive.

2. Pick your meals for the week

I’m not saying go crazy meal planning. Just plan out what you want for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Since it’s just me, I typically have the same dinners or lunches multiple days a week. It’s pretty difficult to cook for just one person and keep with correct portion sizes. So, I use my leftovers for the following days lunch or dinner, this allows me to plan, and buy, for less meals. Keep in mind what you found when you looked at your receipts, keep your meals simple and fresh to save cash. I also recommend making similar dishes throughout the week so you can use the same ingredients. For example, I buy a package of chicken breasts and ground turkey each week and make that work each week. I change up the marinade or the spice to add variety to my meals. When I was in grad school and living the serious broke student life, I regularly had rice, veggies, and half a chicken breast. It’s easy, healthy, nutritious, and relatively cheap.

3. Make a grocery list

Once you have your meals planned for the week, make a grocery list based on your meals. Once you have your grocery list made review it to see if it’s under your budget. If it’s not, revise your meal plan. Is there a cheap meal that you could make last more nights and get rid of a different meal? Do you have things in your pantry or fridge you could use to make a meal? Sometimes my meal planning and grocery list takes me quite a bit of time, but I’m always happy with my results once I pay for my bill. Take the time to plan well and it will pay off in the end.

4. Check deals at the grocery store

This is a tricky one. I don’t mean buy anything on sale. You should always stick to your list. However, if you notice that something is on sale this week that is a staple in your diet (chicken, rice, etc.) that you can freeze or has a long shelf life, buy more than you need. This will make your budget higher this week, but will save you in your monthly spending on groceries. I do a monthly budget, so if I need to take more one week to accommodate for this, I will. Also, I will make swaps in my grocery list if something similar is on sale. For example, if I wanted to buy grapes, but apples are on sale, I’ll buy the apples. These are snacks for me, so I can easily snack on a different fruit and try to find the cheapest one.

5. Use rebate apps

The three rebate apps I use are Checkout51, Ibotta, and Receipt Hog. Now, I never check my apps before I go to the grocery store, only afterwards. The reason I do this is because I don’t want to get sucked into buying things I don’t need simply for the rebate, that’s going to make me spend money unnecessarily. Ibotta is a rebate app that allows you to search the store, restaurant, service, etc (they even have Uber!!) that you’re using for cashback. You simply scan your receipt, click the rebates you’re claiming, and will get some money once it is cleared. Use my link to get a free $10 just for signing up! Checkout51 works exactly the same, but you don’t need to specify where you shopped. Receipt Hog is a little different, you just take a picture of your receipt and get points, once you have enough points you can claim it for cash back or gift cards.

These are the tricks I used to get my budget on track for my groceries. It might seem tedious and a lot of work, but once you get it going, it really is very simple. Plus, you’re going to save money in the end, so why not! How do you lower your grocery budget?

 

How I Make an Extra $1,200 Every Month
Money Management

How I Make an Extra $1,200 Every Month

I’m going to be hitting my 2 year mark of this crazy debt free journey in November. Over those 2 years, I have learned and improved my plan a lot. One of the biggest ways I have improved is the amount of money I bring in each month. If you had told me when I started this ride I’d be making $1,200 every month just in side income, I’d think you were nuts. But, it’s true. Find out how I make an extra $1,200 every month.

How I Make an Extra $1,200 Every Month

Private Tutoring

By far the best way I have added to my side income is private tutoring in my town. If you have a skill you can teach others, I definitely recommend this. People are willing to pay top dollar for someone who is highly skilled in something they want to improve in. Personally, I am a certified as an elementary teacher, special education teacher, and a reading specialist. I get the most interest in parents of younger kids who are struggling to develop their reading skills. Once you realize what you can tutor, there are plenty of sites that can connect you with families and handle payment.

School Tutoring

On top of private tutoring, I also tutor through the school I work for in two different after school programs. One focuses on homework help and requires no prep work for me (it’s actually wonderful to not have to prep anything) and the other focuses solely on reading and writing and students must meet certain criteria to attend. Both of these are great ways to earn a little extra at work. I would consider this to be similar to those of you that can earn overtime. I don’t get paid based on my salary, but it is still extra money.

Childcare

I have so many different families I provide different kinds of services to. Some I strictly babysit for, some I strictly drive their kids around to different activities. It all depends on what the families need, but I have found enough families that I no longer need to find more and I just work when I can. I found some through my family friends and others through Care.com. This is a great way to make extra money, especially when you find families that you get along well with.

It definitely took me a long time to see this really become a steady source of income and I definitely can’t rely on it. However, there have definitely been some months recently that I ended up living off less than my side income and my entire salary went straight to my debt pay off. How do you make extra money every month?




Being_Financially_Prepared_for_the_Unexpected
Money Management

Being Financially Prepared for the Unexpected

Being_Financially_Prepared_for_the_UnexpectedOne of the things I always read about on personal finance blogs was to financially prepared for the unexpected. You never know when something is going to happen that’s going to rock your budget and make you frantically scramble thinking how you’re going to afford this. This happened to me when I realized I broke even on my budget, before I even applied my extra student loan payment I make each month. Life throws curve balls at us everyday and it’s important to be financially prepared for them so they don’t hurt us as much.

June was an interesting month for me. I had two large unexpected expenses that basically was my entire extra student loan payment I plan for each month. The first one was my new teacher mentoring fee that goes to my mentor teacher, $550. The second was when I brought my car in for an oil change and they told me I needed all new brakes and two rotors replaced, see ya $955. The second was completely unexpected, and what really hurt my budget. I take my car in for it’s oil change and they always inspect the brakes for me. Everything was fine at my last oil change and suddenly 4,000 miles later, new brakes and rotors are needed.

This was hard for me and made me make a tough decision. I could either make my extra loan payment for June and pull the money from my savings, or not make my extra loan payment and not need my savings. My immediate reaction was to make the extra loan payment and pull from my savings because of my aggressive goal to payoff my loans by the time I’m 31. I looked at my savings and realized even if I did pull that $1,500, I would still have enough in my savings to last me a couple of months.

This made me decide to make my extra payment to my student loans in June. When hit with the unexpected, you need to closely look at your goals and decide what is most important now and for the future. For me, paying off my student loans as soon as possible is my most important financial goal. How have you planned for when unexpected expenses come up?

How_I_Got_a_Free_Gym_Membership
Money Management

How I Got a Free Gym Membership

How_I_Got_a_Free_Gym_Membership

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?

Saving-Money-In-College
Money Management

Saving Money in College

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-In-College

Saving Money Before College

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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 🙂
  3. 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?

How I Used My Tax Refund Check
Money Management, Student Loans

How I Used My Tax Refund Check

How I Used My Tax Refund Check

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?

3-Things-I-Spend-Money-On-Each-Month-Blog
Money Management

3 Things I Spend my Money On Each Month

3-Things-I-Spend-Money-On-Each-Month-BlogI 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?

My Top 5 Ways to Save Money
Money Management

My Top 5 Ways to Save Money

My Top 5 Ways to Save Money

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?