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student loans

Using Gift Cards to Get Through the Hard Months
Money Management

Using Gift Cards to Get Through the Hard Months

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.

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?

July Debt Payoff
Student Loans

July Debt Payoff

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.

 July Debt Payoff

Income

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

Tutoring/Babysitting: $1,129.76

Summer School: $506.83

Ibotta: $30.50

School Year Savings: $1,500.00

Total: $3,267.09

Expenses

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.

A_Review_of_my_Favorite_Debt_Payoff_Tool
Student Loans

A Review of my Favorite Debt Payoff Tool

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

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!

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!

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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!

Motivation

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.

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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.

Payoff Plan

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.

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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?

How I Make an Extra $1,200 Every Month
Money Management

How I Make an Extra $1,200 Every Month

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.

How I Make an Extra $1,200 Every Month

Private Tutoring

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.

School Tutoring

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.

Childcare

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?




Ways_to_Keep_Motivated_During_Debt_Payoff
Student Loans

Ways to Keep Motivated during Debt Payoff

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.

 

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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_free_journey_update_36342_paid_off
Student Loans

Debt Free Journey Update: $36,342 Paid Off

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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?

Debt_Payoff_on_a_10_Month_Salary
Student Loans

Debt Payoff on a 10 Month Salary

Debt_Payoff_on_a_10_Month_Salary

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.

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Debt Payoff

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?

Saving-Money-In-College
Money Management

Saving Money in College

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-In-College

Saving Money Before College

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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 🙂
  3. 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?

How I Used My Tax Refund Check
Money Management, Student Loans

How I Used My Tax Refund Check

How I Used My Tax Refund Check

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?

Student_Loan_Binder_Download
Student Loans

Student Loan Binder Download!

Student_Loan_Binder_Download

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

Back in August 2015, before I even started paying off my loans, I posted about my student loan binder. This thing has turned into the best thing I ever made. It has allowed me to stay organized and motivated throughout my first 6 months of debt payoff. When you have almost $200k in student loans, you need something to motivate you. Fortunately for me, just seeing the numbers drop is motivation enough. I also use ReadyForZero, which is a huge motivator. It allows me to see my debt payoff day get closer and closer and my daily interest drop as I make each extra payment.

**July 2017 Update: ReadyForZero no longer offers their service anymore. Check out my blog post on the website I now use that I absolutely love!




I use this binder to keep all my different kinds of loans organized. I have set up my binder into 4 different sections: Debt, Private Loans, Federal Loans, and TEACH Grant. In the debt section is where I keep my planning sheet and my debt payoff tracking sheet. This allows me to see the big picture of my debt payoff, like which loan I’m focusing on first and how much I payoff each month. In both my private loans and federal loans sections I keep individual debt payoff sheets for each of my loans. This allows me to see how much I have paid off for each of my loans and how much I left to pay off. Its exciting to see where I started with each of these loans and how much I have paid off.

Since this binder has helped me so much in this crazy journey, I thought all you lovely people might find these sheets for my student loan binder useful. Click the download button to get my binder cover sheet, a planning sheet, a debt payoff tracking sheet, and an individual debt payoff tracking sheet to make your very own student loan binder!

Download-Button

 How do you organize your student loans?