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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Back in November of 2016 my debt payoff world came crashing down around me. My favorite debt payoff tool, ReadyForZero, was no longer going to be offering their tool. This tool had the works, everything I could have asked for, and it was free! I’ve spent months trying out new tools and just couldn’t find one quite like ReadyForZero and felt as though I was settling with the one I was using. Then, I stumbled upon undebt.it and my debt payoff once again feels organized and is motivating me once again. Here’s a review of my favorite debt payoff tool!
Many Different Options
One thing I really like about undebt.it is that there are different options of plans based on what you want from the tool. There is a free version that allows you to input all of your debt information, a customized payoff plan based on what strategy you want to use, and keep track of your payments on your accounts. The tool updates your totals for you once you add payments and allows you to see how much debt you have paid off and when you will be debt free, my favorite part!
They also offer undebt.it+, which costs $12/year and gives you access to everything that the free account gave you, and then so much more. With the plus account you are able to manage bills, get payment reminders via text message or email, an account summary emailed to you monthly, projections and stats to represent your debt payoff, and so much more!
This tool is incredibly motivating and makes it so easy for someone new to debt payoff. Once you input all of your accounts they create different plans for you and you get to pick which one is best for you and your situation. I personally use debt avalanche because I have such high interest rates and large loans.
They keep on every page you go to in the top right corner your current progress on your debt payoff. I LOVE this feature. I find it so motivating to see if the debt payoff day changes when I make extra payments and see the percentage paid off get larger.
Once you have picked your plan, they create a debt snowball table specific to your plan. I love this feature because it tells you exactly what to pay on each of your loans to stick to your plan. For someone who is new to debt payoff and not totally sure how to navigate it, this would be so helpful! I also love that your payments that you already made for the current month are in blue so you know exactly where you stand in the plan.
I really love this tool and I am so happy I found it finally. What I really love about it is that the creator of this tool was just paying off his own debt and needed a tool to use and he wasn’t happy with any of them out there. I love that he took initiative to help himself and so many others pay off their debt. I personally really like this tool and found it very helpful immediately after I set up my account. I highly recommend this tool, especially for people who are just starting their debt payoff journey and could use a tool to help them get started. One downside of the tool is that they don’t have an app for your cell phone. The website does load nicely on my iPhone, but no app is currently available. What tool(s) do you use to manage your debt payoff plan?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
When I was in grad school and finally came to terms with the fact that I was going to be roughly $200k in debt when I graduated, I began researching. I spent hours finding tips and tricks to get out of debt and to do it fast. One of the biggest things I took from my research was that I shouldn’t be embarrassed by my debt. So many people hide from their debt, ignoring it exists. I didn’t want to do that. I began telling my friends and family about my debt, when it came up in conversation. They couldn’t believe it. They didn’t understand how I could have possibly racked up that much student loan debt. But, it’s possible. For some reason our society thinks we shouldn’t talk about debts because it’s normal to have debt. So often I hear people brush of debt like everyone has it and it’s the only way to live. Oh, but student loans are “good debt”, no debt is good debt! I don’t want that life, forever needing to give my hard earned money over to the company I borrowed it from years earlier. I want to keep my money!! Which is why I decided not to hide from my student loans.
I know many people who are simply ignoring that their student loans exist. I’m serious, they are letting their credit score absolutely tank and not worrying about it. They figure in seven years it will be wiped away and then I can start over. But, then you need to rebuild your credit and doing that after destroying your credit is incredibly difficult. It will take years and extreme diligence to bring it back up. Not to mention that having a bad credit score makes it incredibly difficult or impossible to rent an apartment, get a car, so many things that a 20 something would typically be doing. For right now, I live at home, but eventually I plan to move out. When that happens, I want to have the freedom of renting a place, if that’s what I choose to do. I don’t want my student loan debt to hold me back, even more than they already are.
I understand when you graduate from college you’re most likely in your 20s and think that it is an absurd amount of money. I get it. I was there, sitting in my college apartment staring at my computer screen in complete shock at the massive amount of debt I owed. How did I possibly rack up such a high number?! But you need to accept your debt, and make a plan to tackle it as soon as possible. Get angry, and get motivated and be sure to make a realistic plan for yourself. So, what’s your student loan plan, are you going to pay them off or ignore their existence?
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?
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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. I also use another tool online to help keep myself accountable and that my binder is up to date. How do you organize and keep track of your student loans and other debts?
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Now that I’m finished with my grad degree, my loan payments are about to begin. This might sound crazy, but I’m actually really excited to start this journey. As I shared in my student loan story I have about $200k in student loan debt, mostly from my undergraduate studies. When it all really hit me how much I owed, I quickly began searching the internet and Pintrest to find out as much information as possible about debt payoff. This was almost a year ago now (Fall 2014) and I can’t wait to put my plan into action. Through the process I found these helpful tips that I have been using throughout grad school, and will really start using next month when my first bill comes in the mail!
Find a budgeting system that works for you, and stick with it! I was shocked to find how much I was carelessly spending each month, mostly on going out to eat. The easiest way I have found to budget is to use Mint to track all my spending. I have all my banking accounts linked up to my Mint account and created a budget for the things I spend money on each month, like gas and groceries. Also, it reminds you of the bills you have to pay and you can get a free credit check with advice on ways to improve your score! They even have an app to make it super easy to check and edit your budgets whenever you want.
2. Manage your Loans
For me, this meant using ReadyForZero to manage my loans. This tool allows you to enter in all of your loans and create a plan to pay off your debt. It even has this nifty tool that lets you see how much faster you would pay off your debt and how much your would save by making larger payments. Also, it shows you how much your daily interest is, talk about motivation!!! I have to say I am not planning to follow my plan completely that they mapped out for me because I don’t love the order that they pay loans off in. They go by the smallest loan with the highest interest rate, and that just isn’t something I want to do. However, this tool is wonderful to see your progress and easily calculate daily interest rate, how much is left, etc.
Update July 2017: ReadyForZero no longer offers their service. I have spent the last couple of months trying to find a tool that works like it, I couldn’t find anything and almost started making my own tool. Then I found this tool and I couldn’t be happier with it! Check out my review.
3. The Snowball or Avalanche Method
Look into Dave Ramsey, the man is a financial genius. He has some great tips about managing your finances in general, but has a debt repayment plan called, the snowball method. This method has you focus paying down one specific loan by putting all of your extra money towards this loan. All your other loans you should make a minimum payment on. When your focus loan is paid off, you apply that payment to your next focus loan. How you pick your focus loan should have some reasoning, either you are focusing on loan amount, interest rate or a combination of both. If you’re focusing on the smaller loans first, this would be the snowball method. This method plays more to emotions because you get small victories in the beginning to motivate you through the end. If you focus on your highest interest loans, this is the avalanche method. This method is purely mathematics and allows you to pay less in interest. Personally, I am focusing on my highest interest rate loans first, if I have more than one loan at a certain interest rate, I focus on the larger one.
4. Get Organized
This is going to look different for everyone, but it is important to find an organization method that works for you. Personally, I use a combination of ReadyForZero and a binder. ReadyForZero allows me to keep track of the bigger picture of my plan, how much I’ve paid off, my daily interest amount, etc. While a binder keeps all those pesky bills organized because they tend to go missing if they don’t have a home, and it helps me keep track of each individual loan I have.
5. Have Fun
During grad school I said no to doing a lot of fun things because it would cost me money. At the beginning, I was in hardcore debt payoff mode, and wanted to put as much money as possible to my loans. But I sacrificed having fun with my friends, and eventually the stresses of going to grad school full time and working full time weighed down on me. I realized I needed to enjoy myself and quickly found ways to do that without spending a lot or any money. My personal favorite is having a potluck with friends. What’s better than great food, great friends, and wine. It’s a lot of fun, and pretty cheap, too.
The goal of paying off student loans is pretty hefty, with a plan it makes it much more manageable. I hope these 5 tips help you as much as they have helped me to plan my debt payoff. What are some tips you have for making a debt payoff plan?