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?
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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?
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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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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?
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 was pretty carefree with my money my freshman year of college. I didn’t think about my student loans, didn’t get a job, and just kept pulling money from my savings account. Not the smartest moves on my part, but you live and you learn, right? 6 years later, 2 degrees, and about $200k in student loans, I definitely wish I did a few things differently back then. Don’t make the same mistakes I did, think about your financial future before you even step on campus.
Saving Money Before College
Carefully fill out the FAFSA form. Make sure you correctly fill out the FAFSA form, if you have any questions, I strongly recommend getting advice through your high school or college. Filling out this form wrong can result in you getting much less financial aid.
Apply to scholarships. Apply to every scholarship you can find, and then apply to more. There is SO much unused scholarship money out there, it’s crazy! Look for local scholarships where the pool of people will be much smaller, but also apply to the larger national ones as well.
Check in with the scholarship committees. This is one I never thought to do until I was in graduate school and it paid off incredibly. I went into the scholarship office every two weeks to check in until I finally got an answer. That poor woman knew me by first and last name, but it paid off because she had a face to a name and knew I really needed the scholarship.
Ask for more financial aid. As soon as you get your financial aid package, call the financial aid office. Typically your financial aid package will arrive sometime in the summer before you head to school, call them immediately when it arrives. I learned this trick after my freshman year and was able to get more financial aid for my sophomore year. The schools send out financial aid packages and then a lot of students don’t come to the school. This makes more money available and they give it out on the first come basis.
Saving Money in College
Price compare for textbooks. Look everywhere for your textbooks before immediately buying them at the bookstore. Yes, the bookstore is convenient and you will know that it’s the correct book, but it’s also usually a lot more money! I usually found the best deals on Amazon for buying and selling my textbooks all throughout undergrad and grad school.
Sign up for student deals and discounts. There are so many deals and discounts out there only for college students, sign up for them! My all time favorite one was definitely Amazon Prime Student, which also made buying and selling my textbooks so much easier. I could easily procrastinate buying my textbooks and still get them in two days, FREE 🙂
Work, Work, Work, Work, Work, Work. I just had to reference the Rhianna lyrics here, get out there and WORK! There were so many job opportunities presented to me, especially if you have work study as part of your financial aid package. Most universities will even pay you to be a note taker for the classes you are already taking notes for. You’re basically being paid to be a good student! It really is a win win for you.
These were some of the things I learned throughout my college experience and learning how to manage my money. It’s hard managing your money in college and trying to plan for your financial future with potentially so much debt. I wish I had known these things when I was a senior in high school so I could plan better for my future after college and have saved a lot more. Like I said, you live and you learn, right? What tips and tricks did you learn about saving money throughout your college journey?
Filing your taxes can be such a pain, but hopefully a nice tax refund check is waiting for you at the end of it all. For me, it definitely was. I knew exactly how I was going to use my refund check because I know what my goals are. I want to pay my almost $200k in student loans by the time I turn 31, hopefully 30! This made it pretty easy to decide where my checks were going.
Refund Check: Savings
The first thing I did was restock my savings account. I treated myself in March to an AMAZING trip to Punta Cana with my boyfriend, it was definitely needed and totally worth it. We shopped around and spent a lot of time searching for the best trip for our budget and it really paid off. Of course it did still cost money, so I put that money back into my savings. Since I’m lucky enough to still live with my parents, I’m building my savings as much as I can while still sticking to my intense payoff plan.
Refund Check: Student Loans
Obviously, a large majority of my refund check went to my student loans. I am incredibly excited to share that I paid off my first student loan!! After lots of hard work paying my loans down during grad school, and moving back home to pay off more, I paid off $42k in about a year and a half. It definitely has been hard, but I wouldn’t trade my education for anything. It felt absolutely amazing to send in that payoff payment and say goodbye to my first student loan, you wont be missed!
Based on my goals right now, the best thing for me to do was really focus on my student loans with my refund checks. This definitely isn’t for everyone, but you need to know your financial goals in order to figure out what is best for you. How did you use your refund check this year?
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?