How We Started Our Journey to Financial Freedom

For the past 9 months Rick and I have been working hard at paying off our student loan debt and learning to live within our means. We’ve come a long way, and I want to share a little more about how we got started.

2 copy.jpgOur adventure began with Rick graduating from law school in December 2014. He had a fancy new juris doctor degree and about $140,000 in student loan debt.

Rick wasn’t in a big hurry to pay off this debt because he had planned to go the  –  work for the state, pay the monthly minimum and the rest will be forgiven in 10 years –  route. Starting out, his payments didn’t even cover the interest.

Side note: Not all lawyers make a lot of money starting out. But, oh, that would have been nice.

A little over a year ago, Rick started thinking about leaving the public sector, so the 10-year loan forgiveness deal would no longer stand. We started thinking about different approaches to pay off the student loans.

Soon after we got married in 2017, we decided to pay off a private loan with a high interest rate. That seemed like a logical starting point. Unsure of what to do next, we kept throwing some of our money at the loans and saving some money as well. We brought our debt down to about $100,000 toward the beginning of 2018, but we still didn’t really have a clear strategy.

Enter Dave Ramsey. I had listened to Dave’s talks as part of a wellness incentive program a few years ago, and I decided to check out his book, The Total Money Makeover, from the library.

rawpixel-602154-unsplash.jpgThis book gave us direction regarding budgeting and cutting expenses. We tracked our expenses for a bit, and in April 2018 we started our very first budget! We learned how to spend less, set aside an emergency fund (quite a bit more than the $1000 Dave recommends), and we decided on a set amount for a monthly loan payment.

Our student loan debt total was just under $100,000 that April. Our current total is $51,642.60. That’s about $48,000 paid in 9 months. Not too shabby!

We’ve had some recent changes in our life (new city, new jobs, new salaries, new expenses), and we have adjusted our budget accordingly. If we stay on pace with our projected average monthly loan payment, we’ll be debt-free by April 2020.

These are some things that have helped us so far:

Cutting Expenses:
We thought a lot about our wants vs. our needs and made some lifestyle modifications. Some of the expenses we cut included: Netflix, a gym membership, eating out, vacations, grocery bill, clothes, and other extra purchases.

Ways we made extra money:

1. We decluttered and sold some things we no longer use such as clothes, décor, books, CDs and DVDs.

2. I give plasma at least four times each month.

3. I use cashback apps and ebates.

Ways we stay motivated:img_20190109_102931995

1. Debt thermometer. I drew a thermometer and labeled the bottom of it with our total amount of debt. I put a big “0” at the top of the thermometer and dashes with amounts every $10-15,000 or so. We keep track of our progress by coloring in the thermometer a little bit when we make a loan payment. It’s super easy to make your own- clearly, you don’t have to be an artist. Or you can find plenty of free printables online.

2. This blog. I’m held accountable by my blog posts, especially the Top 10 Thrifty Wins each month. It’s a good review of our progress, and I think of how the next month can be even better.

3. Reading helpful books and blogs—The Total Money Makeover, Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half, The Power of Positive Thinking, And Then We Saved.

If you’re looking to pay off debt, save up for a house or a fun vacation, or if you just want to get a better grasp on your finances, I suggest beginning by tracking your expenses and creating a budget. See how we created our first budget to help you get started.

**This post contains affiliate links. You won’t pay any extra for making a purchase through these links, and I may earn some money to keep this blog going. I only link to products I support or use personally.

 

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Top 10 Thrifty Wins: June

June was our most challenging month of budgeting so far. I had two big social events that lasted for multiple days. I had a difficult time trying to guess how much I would need to spend on these events. We also traveled a lot and went a little over in gas money, but we stayed within budget for everything else.

The month turned out better than anticipated, and here are a few of our Thrifty Wins:

1. Cashed in on credit card points, and we got a $50 Visa gift card and $50 cash in our bank account. I love these little bonuses. They were helpful in keeping us (mostly) within budget.

background-book-stack-books-11483992. Read 7 books from the library. The idea of the library is a beautiful thing. I’ve been using the library since I was a kid, but I’m still amazed at how awesome it is that I get to check out books and movies for FREE. I don’t feel the need to own books I’m only going to read once, and if I check out a book that’s a dud, no money was wasted.

3. Used $15 rebate gift card on oil change. This rebate was from my last oil change at the auto place, and then I got another discount for signing up for the store’s credit card. Credit cards make me a little nervous, so I will probably cancel it soon.

 4. Hung out around home two out of five weekends. That might not sound like a great win, but in past summers I felt like I was gone every weekend. Sticking close to home saved us money on gas, eating out and entertainment expenses. We still went places these weekends but kept our drive within 15 minutes of home and spent very little when out.

5. Used gift cards to help with gifts/bachelorette party. I found some fun gift cards in our gift card drawer! They worked really well to help pay for parts of gifts and for items needed for my friend’s bachelorette party this month.

blackberry-blur-cake-10708506. Helped a friend find a good deal on a wedding cake. This wasn’t specifically a win for my finances, but it felt good to be part of helping someone else make a smart buy.

7. Earned $160 giving plasma this month. Good ol’ plasma. I’ve been donating at a rate of four times per month because it does take a slight toll on my body. I wish I could go more often, but four times per month seems to be a good balance.

8. Cut down our household expenses budget (i.e. cleaning supplies, shampoo, etc.) by half this month to compensate for spending in other areas. I really wasn’t sure about this one, but we were able to stick to it!

9. Were given free food! Rick’s boss gave us some steaks and other meats as an end of fiscal year/happy summer gift. That will cover quite a few meals for us.

antipasti-delicious-dinner-587610. Planning meals ahead of time, rather than eating out, on guys/girls weekends. Many of our friends are scattered around the state, so when I get together with my female friends and Rick gets together with his guy friends, they are often out of town overnight visits. This requires extra gas money and eating out/entertainment costs. Rick and I discussed with our friend groups how we are budgeting, and they have been very supportive. We often plan meals/activities ahead of time so we know how much we’ll anticipate spending. We’ve also been having more potluck-style meals at gatherings, instead of eating out, and finding free things to do to cut back on costs.

Overcoming Beginner Budgeting Challenges

Rick and I started our first budget together in April. (Read how we started it here.) We were stoked to begin managing our money more effectively and saving more intensely. We put a lot of time and energy into creating our budget, and we thought we had planned well. But you know what they say about best-laid plans…

Here are a few obstacles we encountered during our first month of budgeting and how we dealt with them.

Spending a lot at the beginning of the month. We spent most of our eating out/entertainment budget within the first week of the month. Oops! We realized this pretty quickly and made a few modifications to plans for the rest of the month so we were still able to remain within budget. We now try to space out our spending and think ahead.

Learning to say “no”. We turned down a few social events that would cost us extra money, mainly for food, travel and alcohol. We didn’t like it, but we knew we could easily live without these things. And we wanted to stay within budget.

Finding free things to do for entertainment. We started taking walks, reading more books, borrowing movies from the library, playing A LOT of Bananagrams, and blogging.book-business-coffee-324129.jpg

Dealing with unanticipated expenses. We did not plan on making any car repairs the first month, but we realized with the amount of driving Rick and I both do, we would need to make “car repairs/maintenance” a line item.

Cutting grocery expenses. I did not realize how difficult it would be to cut back on grocery expenses. I started following Whole30 during our first month of budgeting, and toward the end of the month I was always hungry. I filled up with more meat and veggies, which meant more $$$.

Since I enjoy trying new recipes and am used to using a variety of ingredients, cutting back on the grocery bill continues to be a struggle. I’m still working on simplifying this part and finding some recipes that are tasty, healthy and inexpensive.

Finding the balance. If we allow ourselves too much freedom, it will take longer to pay off our student loans. On the other hand, if our budget is too tight, we might get stressed out over unrealistic expectations.

I think Rick and I work well together to find the right balance. When one of us gets a little tense about the budget, the other jumps in with an encouraging word. We discuss if any extra expenses are worth it or if we could live well without it. We brainstorm different money saving strategies and hold each other accountable.

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We continue to learn how to better save and budget our money each month. By overcoming our beginning budgeting challenges, we have significantly progressed in our efforts to pay off our student loans. Guys, we’re almost halfway through!

What kinds of obstacles have you run into when you started budgeting? How’d you overcome them?

 

Affordable Anniversary

My husband I celebrated one full year of wedded bliss this past weekend! It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year.

When deciding what to do to celebrate, we wanted to make sure we spent quality time together doing something fun and out of the ordinary to make it special. We also wanted to keep the weekend low-cost in order to continue our mission to live within our means.

20180505_173450DINNER
We decided to splurge on a nice steak and shrimp dinner with roasted asparagus for Saturday night. BUT, we made the meal at home together. We enjoyed making it, and it was delicious! The whole meal cost us less than $20, a small fraction of the price we’d pay had we dined out.

WINE TASTING
We kept a bottle of wine from our mini-moon last year to open on our anniversary. We received some fun tasting glasses as a wedding gift and decided to have our own wine tasting. It’s amazing how the same wine can taste different depending on the type of glass it’s in. It was a delicious bottle, and we felt so fancy describing what we tasted in each of the glasses.

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OTHER ACTIVITIES

As we sipped our wine on Saturday night, we watched a movie we borrowed from Rick’s mom. If you haven’t seen The Greatest Showman, I highly recommend it!

Sunday was our actual anniversary, and we went to mass at the church where we were married. We later went for a beautiful nearby nature hike. We enjoyed the weather, the scenery, and each other’s company.

Living within our means sometimes requires a bit of creativity and resourcefulness, but it also makes us appreciate what we have and the special people in our lives.

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Happy Anniversary, Rick!

Top Ten Thrifty Wins: April

When taking on a lengthy challenge, it’s always nice to take a moment to reflect on success. It keeps me motivated when I take a look at how far I’ve come and instills confidence that I can continue toward my goal. Cutting back on expenses to live within my means and pay off debt will be a lengthy process, so I’m going to start sharing the thrifty wins I have each month. Here’s what my husband and I did in April:

  1. Created a budget for the month. It helped us to look at our current expenses and figure out ways to cut back. We planned for the month ahead and actually came out under budget in a few areas. We’ll have to tweak a few things for next month so we’re a little closer to what we actually spend.
  2. Saved money on a bridesmaid dress. My generous and thoughtful bestie is getting married in July, and she let all the bridesmaids pick our own dresses. My generous and thoughtful sister is letting me borrow one of her dresses fo’ FREE!
  3. Signed up for cash back apps. I signed up for three cash back apps, and so far I’ve earned about $6 back. Not much yet, but I’m just getting started. They apps are super easy to use, and I’ll be sure to review them later.
  4. Cancelled our gym membership. I actually did this in March, but I had to give 30 days notice, so our last payment was in April. One less item for our May budget!
  5. Earned $400 donating plasma. Biolife’s rates went up from $50 to $60 on the second donation of the week. And they had a special to earn an extra $80 on the 8th donation of the month. Cha-ching!
  6. Froze stuff. If I noticed we had a surplus of food, I froze it to use later.

    new coat
    Just like new!
  7. Stitched up a coat to make it last. I have a coat that is getting old, and it ripped near the armpits. Although I really wanted to buy a new one, I stitched it up, and I’ll make it last another year.
  8. Spent less on car insurance. Not sure why this happened, but my car insurance bill was less than last time.
  9. Didn’t buy any clothes or shoes. I have a wish list for certain clothes items, and I could always use a new pair of shoes. I’m making what I have work for me right now, and I plan to keep this clothes shopping fast going for as long as possible!
  10. Made a large loan payment. Due to cutting costs, we were able to make a big loan payment and get closer to our financial freedom!

 

What were some of your thrifty wins last month?

 

Starting Our Money Makeover

These days, student loans seem to be the norm for almost anyone who went to college, and my husband and I are no exception. We’re about 1/3 of the way through paying off our hefty sum, and we would really like to move things along more quickly.

With that said, we needed to figure out some ways to save more money. Some of the things we already do to save money include shopping at Aldi and Goodwill, limiting eat-outs, cutting back on Christmas gifts, and shopping the sales. I thought we were doing a pretty good job, and we must have been doing something right in order to have gotten through 1/3 of the loans, right?

Right. But we can do better.

I checked out Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover from the library, and since reading through his 7 Baby Steps, Rick and I have come up with a plan to pay off the rest of these pesky loans.

So far, we’ve:
-Sold stocks (Rick LOVES stocks).
-Changed the amount we set aside for retirement.
-Gotten rid of our gym membership.
-Cut out Netflix.
-Created a detailed budget.

I think the budget is going to be the most helpful. We’ve taken a look at how we’ve spent our money over the past month and saw where improvements could be made. We’ve created what we think is a realistic budget for next month, and we are determined to stick to it.

Dave talks about staying focused and getting rid of debt with gazelle-like intensity. When a cheetah is chasing a gazelle, the gazelle needs to out-smart the super fast cheetah and run for its life. (Dave explains it better in the book.) Rick and I are going to aim to be gazelle-intense for awhile and stick to our budget until these loans are gone.

A few other things we’re going to look into to help us tackle these loans:
-Better car insurance deals
-Ways to cut back on grocery expenses
-Paying with cash
-Donating plasma

I would highly recommend reading The Total Money Makeover or any one of Dave Ramsey’s books if you are stressed about your finances. He makes excellent financial points and his program has helped millions. Click here to find more information on his website.

**This post contains affiliate links. You won’t pay any extra for making a purchase through these links and I may earn some money to keep this blog going. I only link to products I support or use personally.