One of the things I always read about on personal finance blogs was to financially prepared for the unexpected. You never know when something is going to happen that’s going to rock your budget and make you frantically scramble thinking how you’re going to afford this. This happened to me when I realized I broke even on my budget, before I even applied my extra student loan payment I make each month. Life throws curve balls at us everyday and it’s important to be financially prepared for them so they don’t hurt us as much.
June was an interesting month for me. I had two large unexpected expenses that basically was my entire extra student loan payment I plan for each month. The first one was my new teacher mentoring fee that goes to my mentor teacher, $550. The second was when I brought my car in for an oil change and they told me I needed all new brakes and two rotors replaced, see ya $955. The second was completely unexpected, and what really hurt my budget. I take my car in for it’s oil change and they always inspect the brakes for me. Everything was fine at my last oil change and suddenly 4,000 miles later, new brakes and rotors are needed.
This was hard for me and made me make a tough decision. I could either make my extra loan payment for June and pull the money from my savings, or not make my extra loan payment and not need my savings. My immediate reaction was to make the extra loan payment and pull from my savings because of my aggressive goal to payoff my loans by the time I’m 31. I looked at my savings and realized even if I did pull that $1,500, I would still have enough in my savings to last me a couple of months.
This made me decide to make my extra payment to my student loans in June. When hit with the unexpected, you need to closely look at your goals and decide what is most important now and for the future. For me, paying off my student loans as soon as possible is my most important financial goal. How have you planned for when unexpected expenses come up?
It might sound crazy that a girl trying to save money and pay down a ton of student loan debt pays for a gym membership. I promise you, that wasn’t part of the original plan I had. When I was planning for my debt payoff while still in graduate school, I planned a strict budget. One that definitely didn’t have a gym membership on it and didn’t have me buying all organic food, but that’s for another time. I told myself I’d work out at home and run outside when I didn’t have the luxury of a free university gym membership anymore. But then reality hit.
No Gym Membership at Home
I moved home and started to stick to my strict budget that I had made that worked well when I was in grad school. The major difference was that I no longer had a gym membership and I was no longer paying electric, rent, and utility bills each month. This was a huge savings for me. However, the no gym membership really hit me. I strive to be as healthy as possible, not only for my health, but also for my wallet. I have found that by paying a little more for preventive care (well visits, working out, organic food, etc.) I have saved a ton of money in the long run. Since changing my lifestyle to a healthier one, I very rarely get sick and very rarely need to take medicines. This all saves me a ton of money overall. I found myself not being able to motivate myself to work out at home, which is when I started researching.
Finding the Right Gym Membership
All the gyms by me cost about $50/month plus all of those lovely fees they add on, no thank you! I couldn’t justify spending that kind of money to work out. I didn’t want to go too far away because I knew I would never use it if it was. So I began looking by where I work, and I actually found a reasonably priced gym for $20/month. Before I signed up I asked some friends and read some reviews and found that they run promotions all the time for discounts when signing up. So, I waited. And waited. Finally, they had a promotion for $0 starting fee, I was sold. I went in and joined that day.
Unexpected Free Gym Membership Perks
Shortly after I joined the gym I began working. I was very overwhelmed by the beginning of my first year of teaching, but determined to get to the gym every day I could. I’m proud to say in those first few months I did go to the gym most afternoons. Then one day a teacher at school told me about our insurance giving reimbursements of $20 for gym memberships, if we went 12 times a month. It’s part of their preventive care. I signed up that night and my workouts started being tracked. This pretty much makes my gym membership free now, except for the annual fee the gym charges me.
If you’re someone that wants to join a gym, but can’t justify paying for it, do some research and see what you can find out there. It seems that a lot of insurance companies that I have looked into offer this in their plan, there are usually rules, like my 12 visits, but they’re giving you money to work out! It makes me excited just typing it! I need the gym to keep me motivated and healthy, it provides me with a great stress relief too. How do you make sure you keep active?
I 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?
I know, you’re probably thinking, this girl is trying to pay down a MOUNTAIN of student loan debt, why is she spending money on things?! Until about a year ago, this was exactly how I thought. When I finally realized just how crazy my student loan debt was in September 2014, I made my budget completely bare bones. I cut out everything, I mean everything. I was living off of eggs and ramen, never doing anything that involved spending money, and wasn’t really thinking about my health. Until I realized I needed to make a lifestyle change in order to save money in the areas I thought I couldn’t save in, like doctor’s office visits, medication, etc. I have some pretty horrible sinuses that have caused me a lot of problems throughout my life, one of the biggest being how much money it costs to help me live day to day. These are the things that I splurge on each month, and in return I am living a much happier, healthier life:
#1 Organic Food
This was a huge decision for me. Organic food is expensive and at first I couldn’t justify spending that much money on food. But, I started searching the Internet for ways to deal with horrible sinus problems, and most of them repeated the same things. A diet that consists of organic, healthy foods and minimal dairy. I made the switch to see if there was any difference, and I haven’t gone back since.
#2 Gym Membership
Working out and being more active was part of my new lifestyle I was trying. When I was still in grad school in September 2014, this wasn’t an issue for me. As a full time student, I was able to get into all of the university gyms. However, when I finished my degree and moved back home to pay down my loans in July 2015, this became I huge issue. I told myself that I would work out at home and run outside, but that never happened. I decided to try out a gym because I thought paying for it would motivate me. It definitely has. If I’m paying for it, you can guarantee I get my butt to the gym whenever possible.
#3 Being Social
Now, I’m not saying I go crazy and spend a ton of money each month doing things. However, when I was in grad school, I didn’t do anything because I wanted to push as much money as possible to my debt. I was miserable and missed out on a lot of fun times with my friends because of it. I realize now that it’s more important to spend a little more money doing things with the people you care about, than to be alone.
These are three of the things that I have chosen to splurge on while paying down my debt because it allows me to be happier and healthier. Since switching my diet and being more active, I rarely get sick and have been able to stop taking almost all of my daily sinus medications. Even though I needed to spend a little more money, I’m saving money in other ways because of it. What are some things that you splurge on?
Finding out my monthly student loan payment was eye opening. I was completely shocked. $1,400/month for JUST my private loans, not even my federal loans. How was I going to afford this?! Especially when my federal loans were out of the grace period, which hasn’t even happened yet. The first step was to create a plan to tackle this absurd amount of student loans. Once I knew I could afford my required payment, I had to find ways to make my additional payment as large as possible. My teaching job just wasn’t going to cut it for me and my goals for paying off this student loan debt.
Multiple Streams of Income
One of my biggest strategies for paying off my student loan debt is to make more money through multiple streams of income. This will then allow me to make a larger student loan payment each month. My goal is to create as much passive income streams as possible, I’m not there yet, but I hope to be soon. For now, my income streams are my teaching job, after school tutoring at school, private tutoring, babysitting, and (hopefully) this blog. I strongly recommend you find ways to make more money if you are buried in student loan debt, like me.
There are so many ways to make extra money, but it needs to be worth your time, especially if you are working a full time job. For me, I wasn’t sure I had the time to do all these side hustles, but the amount of extra money I make really motivates me. I find the time to do these extra jobs because the money is worth it. I wouldn’t do just any job after my normal work day, the money needs to be worth the time I’m putting in.
One of the worst parts about side hustles is that the money usually isn’t consistent or guaranteed, which is also one of the best parts about it. This income changes month to month, meaning it can less or more each month. This makes it hard to budget for it. Personally, I don’t include this income in my budget, I pretend I don’t even make this money until the end of the month when I figure out my additional loan payment. All of my side hustle money goes straight to my student loans at the end of the month.
Here’s the breakdown of my side hustles currently:
-After School Tutoring: This is done through my school. I stay after 2 days a week for 45 minutes and work with a small group of students who are reading below grade level. Even though this is through my job, this is additional to my salary, so I count it as a different stream of income. This is roughly $200/month extra.
-Private Tutoring: I hope to get a few more students to tutor privately to really boost this source of income. Currently, this is about $400/month extra.
This is how I currently use side hustles to increase my monthly student loan payment. I hope to continue growing the amount of money I earn in side hustles and diversify how I earn the money. My goal is to find more ways to earn money doing things I love to do. What are your side hustles and how did you begin them?
I know when I first realized how much student loan debt I actually had, I got angry. Afterwards, I viewed it as a challenge and just wanted to tackle it head on, paying it down as fast as possible. I spent every spare moment I had in grad school searching ways to pay down debt quickly, save more, make more money, anything to get this debt paid off faster. I made quick easy changes that didn’t change my lifestyle, but made me save a lot more money. By making these changes I was able to pay down a lot more debt while I was in grad school making about $1,200 a month.
1. Plan your meals each week before you go to the store
Meal planning overwhelms me, I just don’t have the patient or the time right now to learn a good system for it. So, I don’t do it as well as I’d like to. But, I do have a plan for the week generally before I go to the grocery store and always have a list. This way I know exactly what I need to buy for the week and I throw away less food.
2. Pay attention to portion sizes
I buy mostly organic foods, which can be expensive. Especially when it comes to meat. I used to always eat an entire chicken breast for my dinner with a veggie. Not anymore. I eat about half of a chicken breast, depending on the size, with brown rice and a veggie. Rice is SO much cheaper than chicken, so this allows me to get two dinners, sometimes three if it’s bigger, using one chicken breast.
3. Baby wipes
I can’t even put into words how wonderful these little wipes are. I used to spend a ridiculous amount of money on make up removing wipes. Out of pure convenience, I just couldn’t give them up when I started trying to save more money. When I found out that baby wipes work in the same way, I had to try it. I have very sensitive skin and using the sensitive skin fragrance free baby wipes I had no problems.
4. Sign up for store rewards cards
The best one I have is Rite Aid, I currently get 20% off everything in store because my family shops there so much. On top of that, I switched to using all store brand products and those usually have an additional discount. For me, this works for my budget because it is so convenient. I wish I had the time to make my own products to use because it would be even cheaper, but being a first year teacher makes my time limited!
5. Waiting to buy
This one was very hard for me at first. I can be stubborn and want to get an item right away. I quickly realized that I was missing out sometimes on great sales or realizing that I didn’t actually want what I was buying afterwards. Once I started waiting to buy, I saved so much money because I was no longer impulse buying. If I still wanted the item after doing all my research and finding the best deal, I went ahead and got it. If I realized it wasn’t what I wanted, then I saved myself the wasted money on something I didn’t actually want.
These are just a few tips that I have been using to save money that I find to be very simple changes that made a difference in my budget each month. The easiest thing to do is look at your spending habits and find ways to make slight adjustments or ways to make what you’re currently doing cheaper. What are some ways that you save money?
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I know this sounds crazy. Why would I ever close out my savings account at my bank, that’s just crazy talk. Even the nice man who helped me close my account looked at me like I had 8 heads. This was a long decision in the making for sure, I’m all about saving my money. Even during grad school, when I was making about $1,000 a month give or take, I managed to put away 10% of my income each month. I consider placing my money into savings a monthly bill that needs to be paid. That’s why saving is always a line item in my budget, you can get my spreadsheet that helps you budget, here! Saving is key to future success, so even though I have a ton of student loan debt, I still put away money for savings each month. However, I realized that my bank’s saving account was earning me nada in interest, seriously 0.01% is getting me nowhere. Yes, my money was safe and it was earning something, but why not earn a whole lot more.
This is when I started looking into other options. My savings account grew quite a bit while I was in grad school. I was shocked how much it really adds up when you start adding to it every month, definitely something I wish I did sooner. Anyway, I started doing some research and found online banks and investing. Investing scared me, I had heard so many stories about people losing all of their money this way, but I saw the interest rates and was intrigued by it. Online banks I was interested in, but concerned about the security. These seemed to be the two best options in order to earn the most interest on my money.
As I did more and more research, I found that online banks are great for savings accounts. They provide much higher interest rates, like 0.99%, and they make it a little more difficult to access your money. At first, I thought this was a negative, and it definitely can be if an emergency comes up and you need those funds. Personally, I don’t want easy access to this savings account. I don’t want to be able to quickly withdraw funds. Out of sight, out of mind type thing. The purpose of this account is to save, save, save and I can’t do that if I have easy access to that money. Another concern I had was fees associated with depositing money into the account. Most of the online banks I researched have free options that are really easy to use. After completing my research, I have decided to use ally for my online banking. They have an easy to use website, FDIC insured, provide 0.99% interest rate, have a mobile app. I really could go on and on, I’m very happy that I decided to make this switch and excited to see my money grow! Update July 2019: Ally now offers 2.1% on their savings accounts!
Now, the scary part. Investing. I began researching about investing, reading blog posts, asking people I knew about it. I was so hesitant to invest. Even after researching, I still didn’t truly understand it. I knew there was no way I’d be able to handle investing because I didn’t understand it well enough. There’s just so much involved with investing money. At the time, I didn’t want to pay a fee to have someone create a portfolio for me. That seemed like a waste of money and I wasn’t sure if I could trust someone else with my money. That’s when my friend recommended I look into Betterment which is a “robo-advisor” – a program that manages investments just like a human, but at a much lower cost. This I wasn’t sure about. There is a fee that you pay each month, which I wasn’t really pleased with. I mean, I’m supposed to be making money, not spending it. What I quickly realized is that the return I will be making on the money is far more than the fee that is charged. Betterment uses two tricks to help maximize profits: “rebalancing”, and “tax-loss harvesting”. Simply put, since investments change over time, rebalancing is when you rearrange your investments after a time period so that your holdings are still going to make the most for you. Tax-loss harvesting is much more complex and is essentially selling one of your badly performing stocks so that you can claim tax breaks with that money, offsetting the loss of that stock. You then use the money from the sale to buy better performing stocks. Since Betterment does these automatically for me, I don’t have to even think about any of that and I’m still getting the benefits.
Next, I wanted to check if Betterment theoretically will make me a positive return on my investment. Their average return since 2010 is around +9.9% yearly (90/10 stock bond mix), and the highest annual fee amount is 0.35% for investments under $10,000. The fee depends on how much you are investing, the more you invest, the lower the percentage. The fee really does pay for itself in how easy it makes investing; they create a portfolio of stocks (more risky) and bonds (safer) for you that you can tweak as much or as little as you want. Everything is completely automated for you, so you get to sit back and watch your money grow while they do all the work. For me, this was worth it. I couldn’t get a good enough handle on everything there is to know about investing to feel comfortable doing it on my own.
Obviously, it is important to remember that with any investment comes risk, and that I am investing my money with a long term goal in mind. I’m not planning on taking this money out in a few years, it will sit in this account getting returns for a long time to come. If you are investing, just remember that it’s possible to lose some years, like during the recession when most investments did badly. Fast forward 5 years, and the market is higher than ever!
Here’s a chart that I created to illustrate the estimated 5 year return on an initial $5,000 deposit based on rates for Betterment, Ally, and Chase:
The information above is an estimate. Betterment is based on the 5 year historical return data of a 90% stock, 10% bond mixed portfolio. The Chase and Ally figures are the guaranteed interest rates at the time of posting (interest rates are subject to change). Please note that all of the numbers are theoretical, and are not risk adjusted.
I’m excited to see how much my money grows now that I took it out of my bank’s savings account. The key is thinking about long term, this compounding interest will make me much more money than my bank’s account ever would. How have you managed your money to make more interest?