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Debt Free Journey

Why You Need to Meal Prep
Money Management

Why You Need to Meal Prep

Why You Need to Meal Prep

Trying to tackle buying food can be quite the task. I’m just buying for my self and I find it challenging at times, so I can’t imagine what it is like for a family. When I started my debt free journey, my grocery spending was out of control, price wise and being just total junk. It was bad and I definitely needed to make over my entire grocery budget and what I bought. I decided to switch to organic and knew that it would increase my budget (but lower other budget categories, find out more here), so I had to find ways to save money in other ways. That’s when I found the wonderful world of meal prep and here’s why you need to also meal prep.

#1 Healthier

There is no doubt that when you meal prep you will eat healthier. Whenever I get home from a long day of work and side hustles, the absolute last thing I want to do is cook a meal. Before meal prepping, I’d end up eating whatever took the least amount of work to make, which usually meant junk. Once I had meals prepped, I’d just have to pop it in the microwave or oven and I was eating a well balanced, healthy meal with minimal work.

#2 Lower Grocery Budget

Of course, you’re going to save money if you meal prep in your grocery budget. I wrote a whole post just on lowering your grocery budget, but it is obvious that you would with meal prepping. When you meal prep, you no longer wander aimlessly around the store, but shop with a list of items you need for the meals you are going to prep. I personally go to Wegmans and through their app I can make my list, which also tells me where to find the item and organizes it in the order it is found in the store. This has seriously saved my budget because I go directly to those sections and don’t wander the store looking for what aisle everything is found in.

#3 Eat Out Less

This was huge for me because if I wasn’t throwing together some junk food for dinner, I was definitely stopping on my way home, or getting delivery. When you have all of your meals prepped at home, you’re going to eat them because you don’t want them to go bad. Once again, you’re going to save money by not eating out or ordering food by meal prepping.

#4 Save Time

Not only will you save money by meal prepping, but you will save so much time throughout the week. Of course, you’re going to need to spend some time making your meals, my day is Sunday. But when you’re making large amounts of meals it saves time then cooking each night. For example, I will cook a bunch of tofu that will last me a few nights on Sunday instead of cooking a small amount each night. I save time throughout the week by spending time cooking on Sundays.

When I learned about meal prepping and how to meal prep, it completely changed my life. I know this sounds a bit dramatic, but I was able to get a handle on my health, my money, and my time. It really is a wonderful way to help with a crazy schedule, get healthy, and save some serious cash. Do you meal prep? What is your opinion of meal prepping?

Homemade Cold Brew Coffee
DIY, Money Management

Homemade Cold Brew Coffee

Homemade Cold Brew Coffee

I strongly believe in focusing on one part of your budget at a time when you’re trying to cut expenses. When I first started this debt free journey, I tried to cut from my entire budget. Boy was this a total fail. I got too overwhelmed and felt deprived, so I would splurge on items not in my budget. It was terrible. Then, I started trimming smaller sections of my budget and was so much more successful. One area I needed to drastically cut was my spending on coffee. I was definitely that person that would stop at Starbucks or Dunkin’ on my way to work before I started paying off my debt. My first way to save money was to simply use the Keurig my parents had, which saved money, but I knew there were ways to do this even cheaper. That’s when I stumbled upon cold brew coffee and let me tell you, this has been life changing for me.

The first thing you will need to do is get a quality coffee blend, I recommend getting a flavored one, I find it tastes a lot better in the cold brew. I get an $8.00 organic one from Wegmans, I know I can save even more if I went for a cheaper one, but I buy organic due to food sensitivities. I’m able to get about 30 cups of coffee from this one bag, which is about 6 weeks for me. This amounts to about $0.26 per cup, which is huge savings compared to my old habits.

Once you have the coffee ground, combine 1 cup of coffee grounds with about 3 cups of water. I tend to just fill the rest of my mason jar with water and call it a day. Once it is combined, stir it with a wooden spoon until it is mixed and put the lid on. Let the jar sit on the counter for 12 hours.

After 12 hours you need to separate the coffee grounds from the coffee. I do this by placing a coffee filter in a funnel and then place that over a glass. There are many ways to do this, this is just how I do it. Once the coffee is strained, I put the coffee in a clean mason jar, this is your coffee concentrate. I keep this in the fridge during the work week taking from the concentrate each morning.

To make my cold brew coffee each morning, I take half a cup of the concentrate and half a cup of water and combine it with ice, almond milk and a bit of no sugar caramel sweetener. I stir it all together and enjoy! I have found this to be a great way to save money in my budget and a huge time saver for this teacher as I’m flying out the door! How do you save money on coffee?

6 Tips for 20-Somethings on a Debt Free Journey
Money Management

6 Tips for 20-Somethings on a Debt Free Journey

6 Tips for 20-Somethings on a Debt Free Journey

This post may contain affiliate links. Check out my Disclosure Policy for more information.

It can be hard being in your 20-somethings and on a debt free journey. Basically every time you get on social media someone is jet setting somewhere new, everyone is trying Orangetheory and SoulCycle, and you’ll find everyone at brunch on Sunday. It’s tough, especially when you’re trying to dig yourself out of debt. But, don’t give up, you can enjoy your 20s and still be on a debt free journey. Here are some frugal tips to follow for all 20-somethings.

Tip #1: Acknowledge your Sacrifices

Always, always, always acknowledge the sacrifices you are making for your debt free journey, especially if you’re a 20-something. You’re doing a lot to get yourself out of debt, so acknowledge that! You’re getting your financial life together very early on, and that’s something to celebrate. Being on a debt free journey is all about sacrifices now for a better future, but that doesn’t mean you need to live under a rock and do nothing. Remind yourself of the things you are giving up to help yourself out of debt. For me, that’s reminding myself that I’m living with my parents instead of in an apartment in a fun city.

Tip #2: Budget for Fun

It’s important to budget for the fun things you enjoy in your life. You might think if you’re on a debt free journey then you can’t budget for any fun, absolutely not!! You’re going to drive yourself crazy and probably end up spending money you don’t have, if you don’t budget for fun things. The important thing about getting out of debt is not adding any new debt. If you don’t plan for fun, then you’re more likely to put it on a card and spend money you don’t have. If it’s in the budget, then it’s okay! Plan for fun money so you don’t drive yourself crazy on this journey.

Tip #3 Sinking Funds

If you haven’t heard of sinking funds, you need to get on the band wagon ASAP. Sinking funds have been a total game changer for me and have allowed me to still enjoy my twenties while paying off my massive debt. Sinking funds are when you have a set amount you are saving for something in the future so you have the cash when you need it. This is how I was able to go to Punta Cana, San Francisco, and Florida during my debt free journey. I knew I wanted to go on these trips, so I started saving for them months in advance. When it came time for the trip, I had the cash ready and it didn’t take away from my snowball.

Tip #4 Happy Hour

Happy hour has become my best friend on this journey. Happy hour allows you to still go out and enjoy time with friends, but at a much lower price. This goes back to tip number two, make sure you budget for these types of things, if they bring you joy. For me, I enjoy attending happy hour on Fridays with my coworkers. It’s a great time to unwind and have fun outside of work and I probably wouldn’t be as sane without all the laughs.

Tip #5 Cut Spending for Necessities

Unfortunately things like toilet paper, shampoo, soap, and groceries have to be bought and there really is no way to get rid of these expenses. But there are ways to get creative and cut spending in this area. For me, I have moved to a more vegetarian lifestyle to lower my grocery budget, used coupons, used loyalty cards, and switched to generic brands. These switches aren’t going to make me rich, but they have all lowered my spending each month, which means I have more money at the end of the month to go to debt. Look at what you buy each month and see if there are ways to make switches to save money. One of the biggest ones for me was switching to baby wipes from make up removing wipes.

Tip # 6 Plan your Debt Free Journey

Make sure to plan for your journey and have a set date you want to be debt free. This can be tricky, but once you sit down and create a plan for yourself, it will be easier to stay on track throughout the process. My recommendation is to use undebt.it to create a plan for yourself. They make it super easy to put in all of your debts and choose the plan that works best for you. This way you will be able to see when you’re going to be debt free and this will keep you motivated when you’re tempted to go off budget.

The important part of being on a debt free journey is to not go into new debt and focusing on creating a better financial future for yourself. This doesn’t mean that you have to completely miss out on your twenties while you get yourself together. Make sure to plan, budget and keep enjoying your twenties, and then you can really enjoy your thirties! 🙂 What tips do you have for 20-somethings on a debt free journey?

How I Save Money on Contacts
Money Management

How I Save Money on Contacts

How I Save Money on Contacts

When I was in grad school I started doing a lot of research on personal finance, budgeting, debt payoff, and all the other fun stuff that comes with personal finance. I wanted to create better spending habits, not just a quick fix to my situation. So, I decided to focus on different areas of my life one at a time. This way I hoped to make these habits last. I started with my grocery budget and how I was going to keep eating organic while cutting my spending. It was tough, but it was doable once I got creative. Then, I went on to my toiletries, and once again I found some creative solutions to save money in this area. The one area that I figured was easy was to save money on contacts, boy was I wrong. This took some research and definitely some poor choices in regards to my eye health.

My Original Plan to Save Money on Contacts

When I first started focusing on my budget and trying to trim it I was using monthly contact lenses because they were the cheapest when I originally started using contacts when I was in 8th grade. Yes, I kept doing the same thing for 12 years simply because that was what I was used to. My senior year on high school I ended up being allergic to the proteins in my eye, so I needed to start using hydrogen peroxide solution. This was obviously more expensive then basic lens cleaner. When I started on my debt free journey, one way I saved money was switching to the generic brand of the solution, it helped, but not enough.

I started getting frustrated by how much my contacts were for the monthly lenses plus my little science experiment I needed to complete each night to properly clean them. So, I made an extremely poor choice and started wearing my lenses for as long as possible. I’m talking like months wearing the same lenses, just cleaning them with the hydrogen peroxide each night. I figured I could still see with them, they weren’t ripped, so why throw them out? I did this for about 3 years and made a year supply of contacts last me those 3 years, talk about savings right!? It is true, I did save money, but what I didn’t know is that I was practically suffocating my eyes because the contacts break down at that monthly mark and no longer allow your eye to breath. I also was setting myself up for a greater risk for eye infections.

My New Plan to Save Money on Contacts

After 3 years of doing this I realized I needed to take better care of my eyes. I started researching and found a much better solution for myself. One of the most frustrating things about wearing monthlies is that no matter what, at that month mark, I had to throw them out. Even if I only wore them 15 days that month. I felt like I was throwing away money some months if I didn’t wear my contacts much. I finally realized that my best bet would be to switch to dailies and wear my glasses more. Even though the yearly cost is more than monthlies, I can stretch out my year supply and its still healthy for my eyes. For example, no matter what my monthly contacts are the same price for a year supply because I have to throw them out. Now that I have dailies, I can stretch my yearly supply by wearing my glasses. It’s also a great idea to check for rebates on contacts, you can basically find a rebate for any of them by doing a quick search. How do you save money on contacts?

Why I Switched to Income Based Repayment
Student Loans

Why I Switched to Income Based Repayment

Why I Switched to Income Based Repayment

This post may contain affiliate links. Check out my Disclosure Policy for more information.

When I created my debt free plan in 2015 when I had just started my journey, it took me awhile to figure out just what I was going to do with all of my different loans. Even though I was generally following Dave Ramsey’s principles, I was definitely going about it in my own way that made the most sense for my situation. It’s important to remember that your specific situation may not allow for following a specific way of doing things. The important thing to do is focusing on creating the plan that works best for you and sticking to that plan. For me, I knew I needed to switch to income based repayment for my federal loans and it might be a good strategy for you to use as well.

Switching to Income Based Repayment: Choosing a Strategy

It’s important to pick a strategy that works best for you when you are first beginning your journey. If you need help with this, check out my post of how to go about choosing a strategy. The reason why this is so critical is because switching to an income based repayment plan might not make a difference in your payoff. I chose to go with the avalanche method because my private loans were mostly very large with large interest rates. If you need help figuring that out, this tool is wonderful to see the different ways you could pay off your loans.

Switching to Income Based Repayment: Prioritizing Private Loans

For me, I knew I wanted to prioritize my private student loans over my federal loans. This is a personal choice I made based on many different reasons. For one, my federal loans came with some protections in the event I couldn’t pay them, something my private loans did not come with. Also, my parents cosigned my private loans and I didn’t want them to be hit with the burden of my student loans if I couldn’t pay them, which includes my death (YES, my private loans would still need to be repaid if I died, how terrible is that! Luckily, they have changed this policy in the last year or so). This meant that I wanted to put as much of my money to my private loans as possible, making a lower payment on my federal loans ideal.

For these reasons, I knew switching to an income based repayment plan was the better choice for me. This has allowed me to put more money towards my private, higher interest loans each month. It is important to know that no matter what my payment is technically (one year it was $30.85!) I always make sure to pay off my interest every month. It’s important to do this because the loan company will capitalize your interest at the end of the year and add it to your principal. Have you switched to income based repayment?

 

Student Loans Impacted my Credit
Student Loans

How Student Loans Impacted my Credit

Student Loans Impacted my Credit

When I graduated grad school in 2015 I had a plan in place to pay off my $200k in student loans. I had a teaching job lined up and planned to find some extra tutoring jobs to increase my income. I had just started really looking at my personal finance in the months leading up to graduation, started budgeting, created my plan, and started looking at my credit score. I always thought my credit score was my lifeline to doing anything in my future and I only assumed that with my crippling debt that my score would be horrendous. Boy was I wrong, my student loans impacted my credit, but in a way I never imagined.

Of course, my student loans did impact my score, they obviously come up, but they didn’t impact it the way I had thought they would. My assumption was that my credit score showed how much debt I had, so my score would be terrible. How could it not be terrible when I was 22 years old and had accumulated $200k in student loans? What I didn’t realize was that your credit score simply shows how good you are at managing all the debt you have accumulated, the amount you have doesn’t necessarily matter. For example, if you keep your credit usage under a certain percentage, you have a good score because it shows you are good at managing your debt. If you always make your payments on time, you have a good score because you are good at managing your debt. My score at 22 years old fell in the “good” range, which excited me because I assumed I could get it to excellent quickly and refinance my student loans.

Again, I was very wrong about my credit score and how it is used. Within one year my score fell within the excellent range, I was so excited to refinance my student loans with a lower interest rate. The time didn’t matter to me, I wanted the lower interest rate to apply more money to the principal each month. With my excellent score set I did the paperwork to apply to refinance my student loans. Originally I was “pre-qualified” for a wonderful interest rate of 5%, a HUGE improvement from my 8% loans I was dealing with. This was simply based on a soft credit pull, meaning it doesn’t impact my credit score, but they get my credit score number. So, based on my lovely “excellent” score, I was viewed as a “safe” borrower and was rewarded by a great interest rate. That is until they did the final hard credit pull to determine my definitive refinanced loan. I was quickly denied because my debt to income was too high. So even though I had an excellent credit score, partially due to making 100% on time payments, I was denied because I had too much debt.

This was a part of my debt free journey that I didn’t expect. I was making huge payments every month, well over the minimum and had my nice “excellent” credit score, but still couldn’t help myself pay off my debt quicker because I had too much of it. This is where the credit score doesn’t make sense. I stuck to my plan and have now paid off 4 of those private student loans and every time an account closes, my score drops briefly. So, as I’m lowering my debt, lowering my debt to income ratio, my score drops initially, followed by an increase. Do you check your credit score regularly? How has it impacted your debt free journey?

 

Why I Use Credit Cards During my Debt Free Journey
Money Management

Why I Use Credit Cards During my Debt Free Journey

Why I Use Credit Cards During my Debt Free Journey

Now, I know this probably sounds totally crazy. This girl is in massive student loan debt, $127k right now to be exact, and she’s going into more debt?! And I know, I am a Dave Ramsey follower, and I do follow the baby steps that he outlines, I’m currently on baby step 2. But even those, I don’t follow exactly because I can’t give up the compounding interest I’ll benefit from by starting my investments now, even if they are small. So no, I don’t use the envelope system he preaches, and maybe that doesn’t make me a true DR follower, but when I tell you my reasons, I think it is more than justified.

Why I Use Credit Cards During my Debt Free Journey

Of course, I follow a very strict budget each month, one of which includes paying my credit cards in full each month. This is the only time using a credit card is beneficial. If you ever pay any interest on your cards, you’re losing money. No matter how great your rewards are, if you pay interest, it’s not worth it. The habit you are developing of not paying your card in full is much worse in the long run. Set it to auto pay in full and never turn back. When you don’t pay interest on your cards and only reap the benefits of a rewards credit card, it is totally worth it to use them instead of an envelope system. Currently I use my rewards strictly as cash back that goes directly to my student loans. I earn FREE money just for using the card because I am paying my card in full each month. Just using this strategy alone, I’ve applied $400 in cash back to my student loans in the last two years. I’d say that’s worth it, but I also never even think about carrying a balance.

Why I Don’t Recommend This to Everyone

This strategy will absolutely not work for everyone and I don’t recommend this if you are working to pay off credit card debt. My only debt I have is student loans and I’ve never had credit card debt, except the amount I pay each month. If you are someone that is working your way out of or have had credit card debt in the past, then I absolutely don’t agree with you using any type of credit. If you know you have had issues with credit cards in the past, it is a horrible rabbit hole to fall down again. You definitely don’t want to open yourself up to potentially getting back into debt or increase your current debt.

This won’t work for everyone, and of course it is not recommended for people that strictly follow the Dave Ramsey model. But, this works for me and has been a great tool to pay off a chunk of my debt. So, where do you stand on using credit cards?

debt_free_journey_update_36342_paid_off
Student Loans

Debt Free Journey Update: $36,342 Paid Off

debt_free_journey_update_36342_paid_off

I graduated from graduate school in August 2015 with about $200k in student loans from undergrad and grad school.  My private loans went into repayment on November 2nd, 2015 and my private loans in March 2016. My debt free journey has been going on for exactly one year. I truly can’t believe it’s already been a year and I think it’s super important to reflect on my first year of repayment to see ways I can improve my current plan.

Amount Paid Off Including Interest This Year: $36,342.51

Total Principal Paid Off to Date: $37,264.73

Current Payoff Date: December 31, 2022

Debt Free Journey: How I Paid $36,342 towards my Student Loans in One Year

  1. Sacrifices. As a twenty something who recently graduated from grad school, the first thing I always wanted to do was rent my first apartment and start my teaching career. However, I knew that wasn’t the best choice for my current financial situation. Instead I found a teaching job 20 minutes from my parents house and moved back in with them. This was the biggest way I have been able to pay off so much in one year.
  2. Budgeting. This year I have really cracked down on my budget and tried to be very strict with it. This has helped me immensely to pay down my debt this past year.
  3. Side Income. This was huge for me this year. Throughout the year I managed to add 4 different streams of side income through 2 different after school programs, private tutoring, and babysitting. At this point, I am able to almost afford all of my monthly expenses, except my student loans, with my side income. This has been amazing for my student loans because my salary can almost all go to my loans each month.
  4. Debt Avalanche. Since I have such high interest rates, I have chosen the avalanche method. This allows me to focus on my highest interest, largest accounts first and then apply that payment to my next account. This continues until all accounts are paid off. This has been working out wonderfully for me. I paid off one account this year and was able to apply that payment to my next account making that payment even larger. This has helped my loans get paid off even faster.

Debt Free Journey: My Plan to Make Even Larger Payments

  1. Budgeting. I plan to look at my budget even more and find more ways I can save even more each month. I’m trying really hard to search through my house and use what I didn’t know I had before going out and buying it. For example, whenever I run out of my favorite shampoo or conditioner, my first thought is I need to buy that kind again. Now, I’m looking through my house and bathroom closets to see if we have any kind of shampoo or conditioner that I can use instead of buying new.
  2. Side Income. I don’t think I’m going to add any new streams of income, but I plan to do more within the streams I have. Right now, I only work 2 days at the after school program, but I’m planning to pick up any extra shifts I can and find more students to tutor and kids to babysit.

I’m very proud of myself for being able to make my money work for me and pay off so much of my student loans in my first year of repayment. My current goal is to finish paying off these loans by my 31st birthday, which would be April 29th, 2023, which means my current progress gets me paid off early! I’m so excited to improve my strategy and plan to pay off even more in the next year to pay off my debt even earlier! How much were you able to pay off in one year of repayment? What was your strategy?