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.
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?
I started my debt payoff journey in November 2015 officially. That’s when my student loans officially went into repayment and I started throwing all of my money at my debt in order to pay it off as soon as possible. Since then, I’ve made many changes in order to increase my payments every month. When I first made my plan, my debt payoff date was just before my 31st birthday. My goal is to get that date closer and closer every month by improving my budget and increasing my income. I’m going to share with you all a breakdown of my loan payments and how I increase my monthly payment. I’m also hoping that by sharing with you all my goals, it will hold me more accountable to work towards them.
The summer is tough for teachers, I don’t receive my normal paycheck in the summer, I’m on a 10 month salary. That means my income is strictly from my side hustles. However, I do save $300 every month during the school year, so I can afford my debt payoff on a 10 month salary. Here’s a breakdown of where my money came from this month.
Fitness Coaching: $100.00
Summer School: $506.83
School Year Savings: $1,500.00
I save a lot in my expenses by living at home. I don’t have rent or utilities to pay each month, which saves me a ton of money and allows me to put a lot more towards my debt. My expenses here do not include my loan payments or my investment accounts. In July my expenses were $693, which includes my groceries and gas.
Loan Payments, Savings, & Investment Accounts
It might come as a surprise, but I actually contribute money every month to my savings and investment accounts. I know this is not typical for most people on their debt free journeys, but for me, while I am living at home, I am contributing $100 each month to my high yield savings account and investment accounts.
My current debt payoff date is September 2021, I’ll be 29 years old. I have been able to make significantly greater payments then I originally thought I could thanks to my side hustles. In order for this date to stay the same, I need to at least pay $3,166.71. My loan payment for the month of July was $2,473.92. This means I came in short this month, but considering I was working strictly from side hustles, I’m pretty proud of this number. This just encourages me to work even harder come September when I’ll have my salary back.
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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.
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?
Recently I have had some serious low blows in terms of keeping motivated during debt payoff. Things just don’t seem to be going my way and it’s making it hard to stay motivated. I’m extremely stressed at work this year, which is making me extremely tired. This then makes it hard to get myself to all of my side jobs in the evenings. I recently tried refinancing my student loans only to be told I have too much debt. Why thank you sir, I’m aware I’m drowning in $156,000 in student loan debt, but do you see that I’ve paid off $44,000 in 14 months?! I feel like my life revolves around my student loans and it’s been incredibly hard for me to keep pushing myself recently, especially after being told I can’t refinance because I have too much debt. However, there are some ways I do motivate myself when I feel like giving up.
Focus on your accomplishments.
The first thing I always do when I feel unmotivated is look at how far I’ve come in my debt payoff and remind myself I’m doing everything I can. I look at my monthly payments that I’ve made and see how much they have increased over the last 14 months. It’s important to acknowledge and celebrate the big and little victories in this long journey. I celebrated paying off my first loan this past year and celebrated breaking into 5 figures for my private loans. It’s important to do that to make this journey a little less overwhelming.
Recognize the sacrifices you’re making.
When I’m feeling unmotivated I remind myself about all the sacrifices I’m already making for my debt payoff. I remind myself that I’m already doing so much, I don’t need to do more than I’m doing right now. I work 4 jobs currently, live with my parents, and budget my spending each month. For my sanity, I need to remind myself that it’s enough, I can’t do more than that.
Find others who are going through debt payoff.
By far the most motivating thing for me to do is to head over to Instagram and Pinterest and find others who are working on their debt free journey. I find it so motivating to hear other people’s debt free stories and how they got to debt freedom. It can be hard to find people around me that can relate to my situation and want to pay off their debt, which is why the Internet can be a wonderful thing.
I hope these few things can help you when you’re feeling down on yourself about your debt payoff. I know it has helped me when I feel like I’m never going to finish paying this debt off. What are some ways you keep motivated when you feel like giving up?
Debt payoff can be tricky, especially when you’re on a pay schedule that doesn’t provide you with a paycheck every month. However, with some planning and budgeting, it can be easy to get around this problem. I’m a teacher and am on a 10 month salary, meaning I don’t get a paycheck during the summer months. But I was still able to make extra payments on my student loans in the month of July, with no paycheck from school. Continue reading to find out what I did to lower my debt by over $4k in the month of July.
Plan for the Months Ahead
It’s so important to plan and budget in order to make your debt payoff plan work for you. My monthly minimum payment is roughly $1,500 for my student loans, so I knew I needed to set aside $3,000 for my loan payments in July and August. This way I knew I had enough budgeted for at least my student loan payments in case I wasn’t able to find a job over the summer. So, $3,000 spread across 10 months is $300/month, it really wasn’t bad at all.
Find Side Hustles
Side hustles are the best thing ever. It’s always exciting to make extra money to put towards your debt. I know, that sounds crazy, but I seriously get a rush of excitement every time I make an extra payment and lower my daily interest I’m paying. I’m pretty sure these loans have made me a little crazy ha! But, I do after school tutoring at school during the school year and tutor local kids over the summer. I have also found a wonderful family to babysit for this summer.
I ended up not even needing that extra money I saved throughout the school year, as you can see from my July loan payment. I easily made my minimum payment of $1,500 and was able to payoff much more than that. It’s amazing what you can do with a little planning ahead 🙂 What have you done for your debt payoff on an unpredictable pay schedule?
One 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?
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 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?