A post written by Mike:
I want to start off by saying that the tips I mention in this blog post worked for my lifestyle and my specific loans. I hope you find my tips helpful and that they offer motivation to get those student loans paid off, without giving up your lifestyle.
I am not a planner, I am a procrastinator. This makes my wife and I complete opposites. She plans and is the type of person that makes lists for her lists. She played a huge role in helping me get organized and motivated.
Making payments on your student loans:
- You know those six months after graduation where you don’t have to make student loan payments (grace period)? MAKE PAYMENTS, I did not and I REGRET it. Three of my six student loans were actually earning interest during that time, while the others were not. Had I been making payments on the three that were earning interest, I probably would have paid less in total interest. So, check the terms of you student loan(s) for the grace period to see how to get the best value for your buck.
- Pay more then the monthly minimum payment requirement. After the six-month grace period, I was paying the monthly minimum requirement. I would look at the grand total (including interest) and feel helpless, hopeless, and dirt poor. It wasn’t until my wife said, “If you feel broke because of your student loan payments then why are you only paying the minimum? You realize your minimum payments cover the interest you earned and barely scrape your actual debt? You’re basically giving away money.” That truly stuck with me. My loans were on a 20 year-payment plan, but I paid it off in two years. Can you imagine how much of that would have been interest alone if I took the full 20 years to pay it off? I understand it can be difficult (and nearly impossible) to make one large student loan payment a month so my tip for this is to make MULTIPLE payments a month. I typically made 2-3 payments a month. The amounts I paid would often vary, I just had to be committed to putting every extra penny to the loans.
- Focus on the loans that have higher interest. For me, my larger loans also had the highest interest (go figure), it doesn’t always work out that way, so definitely compare your loans to decide which ones you want to focus on the most. For example, I would make the monthly-required payment (which was a total of the minimum required payment of each loan). And if I had an extra $200, I would apply that extra money directly to the loan with the highest interest.
Staying motivated and organized:
- Make a budget. My wife and I made note of all of our reoccurring expenses/bills such as rent, car insurance, phone bill, vet bill, etc. We then calculated how much we would spend on groceries, date night, social events, and eating out.
- I use the app, MINT, to make sure we stuck to our budget. My wife and I can go to either extreme… we either are very disciplined and strict with our budget or we go through the “treat yo self” phase. With Mint, you can hook up your bank accounts, credit cards, student loans, and any other reoccurring fixed expense. You can also add in your financial goals, such as saving up for a vacation. With all of that information, Mint will assess where your money is going by putting it into categories! It really helped us see when we were spending too much on entertainment (movies, shows, etc) or at restaurants.
- We are huge on visuals! As a teacher, I always have chart paper lying around. So, we hung one up on a wall that we always pass. At the top of the chart we labeled it with columns for date, savings account, student loan lump sum, and made a column for each credit card we had. Every time we made any payment, we would update the total debt or savings we had for each category. Having this visual and having to walk by it multiple times a day served as a reminder of what we wanted our goals to be, which was to have “0” listed under our credit cards and student loan columns. We wrote our debt numbers in RED, our payments made and savings deposits were written in GREEN. Having your debt in your face every time you’re about to walk out of the house served as a great reminder to consider where I wanted my money to go and how badly I wanted to get rid of debt! I don’t think we anticipated the impact of having a large chart would have on the speed of paying of my loans. Even now that my loans are paid off, we have kept the chart paper and relabeled our columns. We have some big saving goals coming up!
- Our biggest motivation. We had a curve ball thrown our way this past January when our dog, Diggy, needed emergency surgery due to a ruptured disk in his neck. Our first priority was Diggy’s health. We put the entire bill on our credit card. For full disclosure, Diggy’s life-saving surgery cost a little over $10K. We were confident that this new debt would sideline us financially for many months. However, we decided to really buckle down and we were able to pay off Diggy’s expensive surgery within three months! We accomplished that by using the extra money we would have normally put towards student loans, towards Diggy’s bill. We put every possible penny towards the surgery bill. I realized that if I truly made paying off my student loan payments a top financial priority, I would be able to pay it off sooner then expected.
- We lived off of one paycheck. After Diggy’s surgery we decided to “live off of one paycheck.” With this new method, Raquel took over paying bills while dumping remainder money into our savings, vacations, or fun activities. Meanwhile I was able to dump my paycheck into my student loans.
- Accomplishment satisfaction. Another visual we created that helped was a goal chart completely dedicated to my student loan debt. My new goal was to have my student loan paid off by December 2018. On regular printer paper, Raquel drew X amount of boxes, each box belonging to a month until December. Inside each box was a total number of debt. Every time my debt went down and I hit a “new” goal, I shaded in the box with a highlighter. It might sounds crazy but I felt a lot of satisfaction knowing that I was hitting my goals and also seeing that I was slowly becoming ahead of schedule.
Hustle and Get Deals:
“Never depend on a single income. Make investments to create a second source.”
“Work hard, play hard”
- Raquel and I have a high work ethic. In addition to our “9 to 5” careers/salary jobs, we are ALWAYS on the search to make extra avenues of income. We dog sit, at one point we also delivered for Uber Eats, we sell items we no longer use, and use apps and websites that provide cash back on items we purchase, etc… If you are interested in knowing more about the apps we use to earn rewards, cash back, and some extra money let us know!
- We put everything on our credit cards (and pay it off right away) to rack up on reward points, which we redeem for restaurant/store gift cards, movie tickets, amusement park tickets, etc.
- A lot of the experiences we do are found from Groupon! Anything you find on there is already a good deal but you can also apply a discount code for additional savings.
- We grocery shop in bulk to save money. We have both a Sam’s Club and Costco membership. These memberships help save so much money not only on groceries but other items as well. We were able to get our Sam’s membership off of Groupon.
- There are so many different ways to save on vacation packages, flights, hotels, excursions and activities, etc. If you are interested in knowing how we travel at a low cost, let us know!
There are SO many ways we save and monitor our spending that I am sure we are missing a few tips!
This is not to say that we are perfect in our spending. HECK NO! We love to splurge every so often. You know, sometimes when you are at a certain store and their sales are SO good, that spending the extra few (many) dollars just feels so right. Maybe, you land five-dollar bus tickets to New York, or $50 flights, free hotel rooms, gift cards, or just simply need a few days away to stay sane. We absolutely love to travel, eat food, and try new things. As I grew up learning, “there is a time and place for everything”. One thing we have learned is that you need to quickly pay off debt, but stay sane while doing it!
As Raquel will put in another post, there are SO many free, complementary, or alternative ways to stay sane. One thing I love about Raquel is her ability to score amazing deals, discount codes, free items, or amazingly affordable vacations. Just from some of our recent trips and purchases, in 2018 alone, we have saved thousands of dollars.
Before buying something, ask yourself, “Do I need this? Can the money go to the loan/debt or savings instead? Can I find this cheaper on Amazon or get a code on Groupon?” So much more thought goes into our purchases, now.
We have been extremely blessed to have two continual incomes. But NO… we do not make bank. Paying off any debt takes diligence, a plan, motivation, a staying committed. We did not create a plan or goal in one night. At the beginning, it was pushed by laziness, fear of never buying a house, and the reality that I WAS STUCK in debt. There was a lot of trial and error creating a plan. We found a visual that worked for us and stuck with it. Both of us learn visually, and so having our charts were extremely beneficial.
None of this would have been possible if we were not committed. We believed we would succeed and took the necessary steps. Even though we had our “cheat days”, we still pushed through. Sometimes this meant getting back out of bed to chart our small $100 or $50 payments, it was the act of holding ourselves accountable that helped.
For those of you that are in our boat or maybe about to take on a debt, just know YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Our way might not work for everyone. However, our core values behind paying off the credit card and loans will hold fast in any situation.
- See the debt
- Make a realistic goal for when you want the debt free
- Create a plan
- Make a chart or visual aid
- Start your plan
- Stay committed to your plan
- Do your best to have fun along the way
These steps and tips truly helped us get out of debt and grow our savings at the same time. We hope they help you or inspire you as well!