Reflecting on 2015 and Looking Forward to 2016


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?

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 Techniques to Increase my Monthly Student Loan Payment
Student Loans

My Techniques to Increase my Monthly Student Loan Payment

My Techniques to Increase my Monthly Student Loan Payment

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.

Monthly Breakdown

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?


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?



Plan to Pay Off Student Loans
Student Loans

My Plan to Pay Off Almost $200K in Student Loans

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.

Plan to Pay Off Student Loans

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.

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?

My Quick and Easy Way to Budget
Money Management

My Quick and Easy Way to Budget

My Quick and Easy Way to Budget

When I first decided to start budgeting about a year ago, I felt very overwhelmed. I searched through Pinterest and the Internet, and it seemed like such a daunting task. I knew I needed to start budgeting in order to take control of my student loan debt. What I quickly realized was that budgeting needs to be personal. One way might work for one person, and it might completely fail for someone else. You need to find the method that works for you, and stick to it. This is the method that I have found to work for me. It’s important to note that I have my salary that I can count on every two weeks to be the same, but I also have other sources of income that are not consistent (babysitting, tutoring, etc).

The Tools I use to Budget

Mint– I love this app. It makes my life so much easier when it comes to budgeting. When I first started budgeting, I took a month of expenses and figured out where my money was going. This was eye opening for me. I was spending so much money going out to eat it was absurd. It’s so hard to realize those little purchases out to eat here and there really add up. Once I started using Mint, I could very easily see where my money was going, and how much my purchases were adding up. I made my budget in Mint, and I can easily see how much I have spent in each category and how much I have left in a specific category.

Debit/Credit Card– I’m not a cash person, especially once I started using Mint. This definitely won’t work for everyone. With my looming student loans, I am very disciplined in paying off my credit card bill each month in full. This allows me to get the cash back from my purchases, and not pay the interest. If you’re someone that can’t pay off your credit card bill or will spend carelessly on it, don’t open one. It’s not worth it.

Income Spreadsheet– I found a wonderful Excel spreadsheet on Pinterest to track my income each month. This is handy for my extra income I make through my side jobs. The spreadsheet allows me to track each stream of income separately and then automatically adds up the different sources together for each month.

Student Loan Binder– I use my student loan binder to track how much money I am putting towards my student loans each month. Each month my extra payment is different, so it is important to keep track of how much went to my loans every month.

How I Budget Each Month

Since I am living at home rent free, I don’t have very many bills each month. I basically just have my student loans, and credit card bill. The first thing I do is budget for my required student loan payment, my credit card payment, and $100 to my savings and investment accounts. The amount you put aside for savings is really up to you. Ultimately I would love to put more than just $100 into each of my accounts, but right now I need to focus on my student loans. You should know that during grad school I made a huge effort to build up my savings before dropping to just that small amount. Then, I have all my expenses each month, groceries, gas, etc.

Once I have all my bills paid and it’s the end of the month, I figure out what my additional loan payment will be. Since I have extra streams of income, I don’t exactly budget for my additional loan payment. I put whatever extra income is leftover at the end of the month towards my student loan principle. Since I budget every other part of my income, I always have extra money at the end of the month to put towards my loans.

The biggest thing I learned when I began budgeting was that you need to put your money to work. Your money shouldn’t just sit in your checking account it needs a job. If you budget every penny of your income, you’ll be surprised how much money you truly have and how you can change your spending habits. How do you budget each month?

How to Make Labels for your Classroom
DIY, Teaching Resources

DIY: Quick and Easy Labels For Your Classroom!

Last week I was able to go into my classroom for the first time! It was so exciting, but so so so much work. I spent 3 whole days there last week, and it looks like I did nothing. This week I began new teacher orientation that lasts the rest of the week and is all day long. There isn’t much time to spend in my classroom this week because of it. So, I have been trying to make use of my time in the evenings by making things for my classroom. It’s so much work, but I know it will all get done eventually. The kids start September 3rd, so I still have some time.

How to Make Labels for your Classroom

What are my label options?

One of the things I knew I needed for my room is labels for things, lot and lots of labels. I searched online and in stores for some cheap labels, but everything was pretty pricey, so I decided to do some experimenting on my own in Microsoft Word. There are tons of programs out there to make labels, I’m sure PowerPoint would have worked well too. I just picked Word because I am the most comfortable with it right now, and I was trying to be the most efficient with my time. Whatever you decide to use, make sure you can insert an image into a shape.

How to make labels for your classroom

The first thing you need to do is decide if you want to insert an image or simply use colors. If you want to use an image, you need to first find the image you want to use. I searched though Pintrest for some free chevron patterns and downloaded those. Next, open a blank word document, then insert a shape. I chose to use ovals for these particular labels. Once the shape is the size you want, click on the “fill” drop down arrow and click “fill effects”. This should open a new window with lots of options. On the left side of the screen, the first option should be “fill”, click that and then click the top option of “Picture or Texture”. From there you will need to upload the picture you want to use. This will fill the shape with the pattern. Finally, insert another shape that’s smaller on top of the first shape and leave it white, this will be a space for the label name. From there you can either insert text, or print it out and hand write the label.

I haven’t decided yet if I am going to insert text onto my labels or hand write them. I plan to wait until I am closer to finishing my classroom to decide this. I am considering printing the labels, laminating them, and then writing the labels with Expo marker so I can change them year after year. I’ll be sure to update when I finish my classroom 🙂 Have you ever made labels before, how did you make them?

Money Management, Personal

I Switched to an Organic Diet and Saved Money!


I never thought I would switch to a mostly organic diet, I never thought I could afford it. I mean, organic food is so expensive, right? Its difficult to swing that on a tight budget, and I can just eat the other, cheaper options. I used to always say this, food is food, so who cares if it’s organic or not? While I was in grad school, I knew I couldn’t afford it. I was making roughly $1,000 a month and trying to put as much of it towards my loans. Right around this time, a few of my friends started changing their diets to be organic and take out certain food groups, and their health issues went away. This intrigued me.

Some Background Info

You should probably know before I really dive into this post that I have awful sinuses. I’ve had issues since I was in middle school with sinus infections and migraines. I have gone weeks where every day was ended with a migraine. It’s not fun, and would require me to take a lot of medication. I had sinus surgery when I was in college, this helped a lot, but my migraines would still randomly come and I still got the occasional sinus infection with a cold. At my absolute worst, I was taking a strong decongestant and nasal spray every single day, and would still get the headaches now and then. I was spending at least $30 a month just on my allergy medicine and nasal spray. This doesn’t include the additional decongestants I would take when I got a headache. I didn’t want to live like that anymore, taking medicine everyday, only to still feel awful. I was curious to see if I just started eating healthier, more veggies and fruits, and organic, if my sinus problems would get better.

Was an Organic Diet Worth It?

Lemme tell ya, I felt so much better after making the switch. I still got the very random headache, but I was able to stop using the nasal spray and take a much more mild allergy medicine. This allowed me to save a lot of money on medicine. Once I calculated it all out, the additional cost of groceries was about even to what I saved from stopping my old medicines and lowering my allergy medicine. Personally, I would much rather pay more for groceries, and take less medication that costs me a lot of money each month. I now spend at most $18 a month on my allergy medicine, usually I can find the Rite Aid brand to be even cheaper and I get 20% off everything with my Plenti card. This allowed me to put additional money towards my grocery budget in order to afford organic choices.

Stepping It Up

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of research on how our diet effects our health. Some people in the past have mentioned how cutting out dairy completely got rid of all of their sinus problems. This seemed completely impossible for me, I love dairy. But, what I have found online supports what people have told me. So, I’m slowly cutting dairy out of my diet to see how I feel. It’s definitely hard, but I think cutting things out slowly will make it more manageable for me. I’ve only made switches so far, like almond milk instead of milk, almond milk yogurt instead of Greek yogurt, but I have already noticed differences. For one, I unexpectedly lost the 10 pounds I gained in college after eating organic now for about 4 months and making those minor switches for about 2 months, I was shocked. But, my sinus problems have also greatly improved. The only times I feel congested and get headaches now is the day after I eat a lot of dairy. I still take my allergy medicine, but I’m hoping if I completely cut out dairy, I’ll be able to stop taking that altogether.

This little diet experiment blew my mind, I’m so happy I made the changes I did and continue to do so. I feel so much better and now understand why it is so important to fuel our bodies with the best foods for it. We shouldn’t have to take a ton of medicine each day just to get through it. By making healthier choices and creating a diet that was specific to my health problems, I am now able to live a much happier life, almost medication free! Did you change your diet for health reasons? What was your experience?


My Student Loan Binder
Student Loans

My Student Loan Binder

My Student Loan Binder

UPDATE: I have made all my student loan binder sheets available for you to download to make your very own student loan binder!

Recently I posted about some tips for making a debt payoff plan, one of my tips was to get organized. I organize all of my loan information in my student loan binder. I’m a binder girl, I just really like how easy it is to find everything I need in a binder. And it keeps things nicely organized. By having a binder just for student loans, it reminds me just how big a part of my life they are currently. I’m excited for the day when I wont have to have a student loan binder, but for the time being, it helps me stay organized and tackle this massive amount of debt.

When I first decided that I needed a student loan binder, I wanted to make sure it was pretty. That sounds kind of ridiculous as I type it, but student loans can be pretty depressing, why not make it a little more exciting! That made me pick lime green for my binder, it’s just such a nice pop of color to brighten my mood when I sit down to track my debt. And, I happened to find it while I was in the process of moving home (hah! Free baby 🙂 ). And of course I had to make a nice cover sheet for my binder, another way to brighten my mood.

Now, onto the inside of this bad boy. I broke my student loan binder into 4 sections: Debt, Private Loans, Federal Loans, and TEACH Grant. Debt is where I keep my payoff plan and a student loan payoff page that allows me to see the “big picture” of my student loan debt. This has all my loans on the page with how much I paid that particular month, the balance remaining at the end of the 6 months, and total payment for each month. This section is where I can see how I’m doing in my payoff plan, and how much more I have to go. The following 3 sections are places to keep things organized for my specific private and federal loans, and my TEACH grant that I have. I keep a log for each individual loan that helps me see how much I paid each month on that particular loan. For my TEACH grant, I don’t keep a log for each individual grant because I don’t need to pay these back, assuming I meet all the requirements in the next 8 years.

A binder system for organization is what works for me, the most important thing is to make sure your system works for you. Find a system that works and stick with it! I find it so motivating to input all the numbers and see how much I have paid off. I try really hard not to look at what I have left because it makes this payoff seem impossible, by focusing on how much I have already done, it motivates me so much more. How do you organize and keep track of your student loans and other debts?