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.



Top 10 Thrifty Wins: August

We’re wrapping up summer with some fit and frugal fun! August was full of hikes, heat, sister time, sunshine, fitness challenges and some really good cheese. We came in under budget in quite a few areas, and we’re stoked about our savings.

Check out our Top 10 Thrifty Wins:IMG_20180902_095125664

1. Free clothes and booze. My sister went through some old boxes she left behind after moving to Seattle last year. She gave me some workout tops and a bottle of wine. She also brought us some tasty coffee!

2. Unanticipated extra income.
I gave my usual four plasma donations, and I got a coupon for an extra $10 per donation. Rick’s raise also went into effect this month!

3. Free weekend fun. Some of the free (or almost free) things we did over our summer weekends included visiting family, tubing, hiking, biking and going for walks. Instead of meeting up with out of town friends for a meal, we went hiking with them and were able to spend time enjoying the gorgeous weather and each other’s company.

4. We scored 30 free meals this month. Most of these meals were provided by Rick’s job for when he traveled. But we also have some generous friends and family members who treated us to both homemade meals and meals out. It really helps to have such supportive people in our life!

5. Earned first $5 from Receipt Hog. I earned my first $5 cash back from one of the apps I use. See my favorite cash back apps here.

6. Got cash back from buying gifts online using Ebates. We have a lot of August/September birthdays to celebrate, and we got up to 3% cash back on our online purchases for these gifts. Ebates is really easy to use—use my referral link, and when you join you’ll get $10 when you spend at least $25!
stretch for run kennedy park.jpg
7. Free exercise: We gave up our gym memberships in the spring, and I’ve been taking advantage of the beautiful weather to do a variety of types of exercise: hiking, biking, running, walking, and a pilates challenge.

8. Overcame budget planning challenges. I did not calculate a fifth grocery shopping day into our grocery budget this month. Oops! I thought I would go over by a week’s worth of groceries. We made some simple and frugal meals toward the end of the month, and we were able to stay within the amount we budgeted for groceries.

9. Came in under budget in areas with biggest variations. Usually, the toughest budget categories for us to plan and stick to include: gas, eating out/entertainment, and groceries. These can vary quite a bit from month to month, so they’re a little tricky to plan for. We came in slightly under budget in all of these areas this month!

10. Rick had a particularly thrifty guys weekend. He took a snack to share, and everyone pitched in for most meals. They played games, which didn’t cost anything. The total amount he spent for that weekend was about $14. This is kind of a big deal because past guys weekends could easily cost $30-$50.
Again- I cannot express how much appreciation I have for friends and family members who are supportive of our debt repayment journey.

**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.

Big List of Frugal Summer Fun

Summer is my favorite season. It’s a beautiful time of year full of fun events, vacation and travel. As I had mentioned in Top 10 Thrifty Wins: June, June was a tough month. We stayed within the budget for the most part, but we still spent more than usual.

What I’m learning about this journey to debt-free living is that it is indeed a journey. It will take us about two more years to pay off our student loans, and it’s important to find some balance in our spending so we don’t go crazy with feelings of deprivation.

So now that we had a blast and spent more money than usual in June, I’d like to balance that out with a leaner July. There’s still plenty of summer left, and I plan to enjoy it! There are tons of ways to have fun in the summer that are inexpensive or free.

I’ve put together some great activities in this Big List of Frugal Summer Fun:

-Plant a garden
-Read at the beach
-Have a rummage sale
-Go swimming
-Build a sand castle
-Watch fireworks
-Have a picnic
-Go hiking
-Find free live music
-Go fishing
-Attend a movie in the park
-Make a fun, cool treat
-Ride bikes
-Go berry picking
-Go stargazing (Find these constellations or make up your own.)
-Check your local community calendar for free events
-Skip rocks at the lake
-Try geocaching
-Make a meal from Farmer’s Market finds
-Photograph nature in summer
-Find a free festival
-Get a fun job: dog walking, coach a soccer team, mow lawn, work at the parks department, sell ice cream
-Go canoeing or kayaking
-Get friends together to play a game at the park: tennis, football, disc golf, soccer, frisbee
-Draw with sidewalk chalk