Friday, December 19, 2014

Mid-month Mint

I use Mint to track my expenses. Here's what my pie (yum) for December looks like so far:

As you can see, home and education are the biggest pieces, with food and dining coming in third.This is probably a pretty typical pie for me, although some months entertainment is bigger, and in the summer, travel is a piece of that as well.

One of the things I love about Mint is being able to look at my spending for the week, the month, the year, etc. My pie for 2014 so far looks more like this:

In the last few months I've gotten more serious about cutting back my spending in all areas, but especially food and dining and entertainment. I'm excited to see how my pie will differ in 2015!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Frugal Hobby Highlight

I'm something of a homebody. When people asked me about my weekend, even before I picked up a weekend job, I would struggle to come up with more than one thing I did with other humans. I just like spending time alone, at my home. That said, even I like doing things. And I like it even more when they don't cost money.

One of my favorite hobbies is almost entirely free - running. There are some associated start-up costs (shoes, attire), and it's possible to make it a very expensive sport (watches and heart rate monitors, coaching, races, etc.), but generally speaking it's pretty affordable. This year, I trained for and completed my first half marathon, and the expenses were as follows:
  • new shoes: $65
  • race entry fee: $100
  • travel to race: $100
That's it. This was over the course of four months, and I found room for these expenses in my entertainment budget.

Plus, I got a metal and a shiny cape.
I could have done it cheaper - I could have found a less expensive race, one that didn't require me to travel anywhere. I chose to run the Runners World Half Marathon because it's in my hometown, and because from everything I'd read, it sounded like they put on a great race. And they did! I had the most incredible weekend, and I got to spend it with my family. Absolutely worth the added costs, especially since I didn't travel home for Thanksgiving.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A spending update

Man, blogging is hard. I should probably try to post more than once a week, huh? I'll just have to come up with some interesting things to post about.

This week, I get again failed at some of my goals, but yet again, that's okay. I did a little better than last week, but let's take a look at where exactly I left things:

  • Well, I didn't drink two liters of water daily, but it did come closer than last week. Not exactly a win, but I'll take it.
  • I also didn't finish all my shopping (I know, that's bad) but I'm closer. I'm baking with my brother, so for him I'm buying groceries and I'll do that when I get to PA so I don't have to schlep everything with me. I haven't started my Dad's hat, but I at least found a pattern that won't take too long to make. I need to pay for Ruben's passport, but that can't really happen until he fills out the application. I guess what I'm saying is, I bought one present this week, for my sister, and made mediocre progress on everything else.
  • Eating out actually was pretty successful this week. I went out for drinks twice instead of once, but the total amount I spent was under $30 for both, which was what I had planned to spend at once. Not technically a success, but not bad.
  • Finally, I succeeded in keeping my grocery budget down by working with things I have on hand, and really only buying things that were on sale for future use - pasta, oatmeal, flour.

So, a better job than last week to be sure. This week is going to be a challenge, though. I have plans to go out almost every night, and I'm traveling this weekend to visit friends, so there will be a bit of spending there too. Because of that, I'm going to try to be a bit more flexible with my goals. So:

  • Spend less than $80 in CT, including gas money for the friend driving me, and whatever my share of groceries, wine, and entertainment for the weekend comes to. I'll probably take this out in cash to be sure I stick to it.
  • Less than $30 on food and drinks out during the week. I don't know yet (and have no control over) where we're going for any of my plans this week, so hopefully that will work...
  • Drink two liters of water daily. I think this is the first of many weeks that I really make that happen.
  • Make my dad's hat
  • Post 3 times on the blog

Monday, December 8, 2014

How I did this week

My goals this week were to not spend money on eating out or drinking, and to drink 2 liters of water every day. I did... Okay. Well, if you consider failing all three to be okay. To be fair, drinking water is my goal every single week, and I have yet to achieve it for a full week straight. Maybe this week will be the one...

I came very close to not spending any money on food out this week, but yesterday I needed second breakfast after my run, and the yogurt I had at my office was long expired so I ended up buying a bagel. So, I spent $2.77 (wow, that's a lot for a bagel with cream cheese) and didn't spend the morning feeling miserable and cranky. This weekend, I'll pick up more yogurts so I can avoid that outcome in the next couple of weeks.

I also ended up going out for drinks on Thursday night with a friend I dint see very often. I spent more than I should have, putting down $25 for two cocktails, but I at least had the foresight to eat dinner at the office. We went to a pretty pricey spot, so dinner easily would have doubled what I paid. That said, I could have been just fine with water, or drinking beer instead of cocktails, and really cut down my costs.

Other unexpected expenditures this week: I signed up for a race in February, running me about $35, and I bought a few impulse kitchen items on Amazon. I am making a lot of cookies as gifts, and decided that I should have more sheets and cooling racks so I can be a bit more efficient. Necessary? Absolutely not. Foolish? Probably. Will I enjoy and use them? Definitely.

In all, not a bad week.

Goals for the coming week are:

  • Finish Christmas shopping - still need to get gifts for my sister, brother, and boyfriend. And make my dad's gift.
  • Drink 2 liters of water daily
  • Only one day with money spent on food/drinks out (planned for Friday)
  • Keep grocery costs under $50 - last week was a bit pricey, picking up a lot of ingredients for a lot of cookies. Let's rein it back in.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Things I (believe I) will always spend on

Living frugally is one of the major keys in making my debt repayment plan happen. I've been pretty frugal all throughout my life, and especially in college and since graduating. I've never amassed any credit card debt and I work hard to consider whether things I'm purchasing are "worth" my money - I even wrote my honors thesis in college about the difference between value and price!

That said, there are some things that are important to me, and that I'm willing to spend money on even though they might be beyond what most would consider necessities. In the interest of full disclosure, here are some of those things:

  • Groceries - I do what I can to keep our grocery cost low, shopping seasonally and planning meals around sales when possible. That said, I also enjoy cooking and eating well, and I value my nutrition. Most of my grocery spending happens in the produce department and the baking aisle, where I find many of the supplies to make healthy meals from scratch for my boyfriend and I. In addition to "normal" cooking, I make all of our bread and almond butter, I keep a freezer stocked with soup and other frozen meals, and I am constantly looking into other ways to introduce fewer processed foods into our diets, even if it means spending a bit more.
  • Netflix and HuluPlus - we don't have cable, but we have both of these relatively inexpensive subscription services. And frankly, I think that's okay. I rarely spend money on entertainment, but having a huge variety of shows and movies available on demand makes a major difference in my quality of life. Worth the >$20/month in my opinion.
  • Shoes and clothes - not in the sense that I have a lot or enjoy shopping, actually quite the opposite. I maintain a relatively small wardrobe and I don't shop often, but when I do, I try to focus on quality. I buy items that I think will last and that I will enjoy for years to come, even if they are more expensive than some alternatives that would keep me just as clothed.
  • Occasional travel - my family is spread out all over the country, and my boyfriend's family lives in California. This means that seeing either of our families almost always involves a plane, train or bus. Neither of us would be willing to give up the expenses associated with seeing them at least twice a year, although we try to do it cheaply. We're also planning a real vacation for next summer to Montreal. We'll do it on a budget, but it's certainly not a necessity.
I know that none of these are necessary expenses, or at least not to the degree that I spend my money on them. Right now, I'm comfortable with what I spend in each of these areas, and that's good because I'd really rather not adjust in any of these areas. That said, knowing that these are areas where I could cut back also means that in leaner times, I know the first places to look for extra money in my budget.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

What I'm doing

My plan to pay my loans is pretty aggressive. I really hate being saddled with debt, so although some internet sources would suggest that investing is better (I might earn more investing than I'll lose in interest), I am fully committing to paying my loans as quickly as possible before I focus on anything else. The only exception to that is contributing to my employer's 403(b) plan at 3% of my pre-tax salary. I'm not eligible for a match yet, but I like that I've started a very very modest retirement account, and in July when I become eligible for a match I won't have to increase my contribution at all.

In order to be so aggressive with my payments, I've done a few key things over the last few months, and I'll do a few more to both cut expenses and earn additional income:

  • I picked up a second job. On the weekends, I work between 5 and 13 hours at the same part time job I had in college. This means I'm earning a bit, and it also keeps me from spending much on the weekends; a win-win. The job is low stress, at an organization I'm happy to give my time to, and comes with a pretty great perk - free theatre tickets at various points throughout the year!
  • I maximize cash back deals as much as possible, without spending money I wouldn't otherwise. This means that groceries always go on the card that gets me 6%, and when I can get 10% rewards at Starbucks, I reload my card to last me several months. I also pay in full every month, so this is basically free money.
  • I pack my lunch every day. I also pack snacks, and for the days when I know I'll need it (workout days, or when I'm going out after work) I'll pack a second breakfast and/or dinner. It means a lot of Tupperware to clean, but it's also hundreds of dollars a month I'm saving, not to mention the health benefits.
  • Almost every bit of extra money goes to loans. I try to save $50-100 per month for upcoming travel expenses, as I have several small trips planned for the summer and I want to be able to pay for airfare without cutting back on my loan payments. Other than that, any extra money leftover or any gifts, rewards, or unexpected cash goes to loans.

Right now, my boyfriend (and roommate) isn't earning much, so I'm covering the bulk of our living expenses. Next year (academic year), that will hopefully change, and he will take on most of our financial obligations for a year. We haven't figured out exactly what that split will look like, but I anticipate that he'll at least be covering half the rent. That alone will make a huge difference in what I'm paying toward loans, but for now I can't count on anything more than that. My goal of paying my loans before I'm 27 is with that in mind, but I'm stubborn enough that, should something in our relationship or individual job statuses change, I will do everything in my power to stick to my goal.

I'll write more about my budget at a later date, but, spoiler alert, I try to keep my expenses as low as possible.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

An introduction

Hi, I'm Becca, and I have about $30k in student loans.

I graduated from a private liberal arts college about two and a half years ago, and since then, I have been slowly tackling my loans. I'm lucky in that I have been employed since graduation, and for the past year and a half, have been able to pay more than the minimum on my federal loans. Still, I want to do more.

My goal is to pay off all of my remaining debt in the next 2.5 years - before I turn 27.

I was fortunate in my college career to receive help from my parents, along with some major scholarships, so I graduated far less in debt than I might have otherwise. I was also very aware of what I was taking on with each of my loans - I knew that I would have to pay them back, and I believed that my education would be worth it. I still believe that! Regardless, when I graduated, my loan situation looked something like this:

  • Subsidized Stafford loans (consolidated): $13,505.31 at 5.625% interest accrued daily
  • Unsubsidized Stafford loans (consolidated): $13,060.36 at 5.625% interest accrued daily
  • Loan from family: $12,193.02 at 4% interest accrued monthly
  • TOTAL DEBT: $38,758.69

Now, my loans look more like this:
  • Subsidized Stafford loans (consolidated): $10,729.36
  • Unsubsidized Stafford loans (consolidated): $10,375.67
  • Loan from family: $9830.56
  • TOTAL DEBT: $30,935.59
I have paid a total of $9431.53 toward my loans, and the total owed has decreased by $7832.10.

In the past few months, I have gotten much more serious about paying as much and as quickly as possible. I've gone from making an extra payment of $100 per month to making an extra payment of $530 per month on my federal loans. In total, I pay close to $870 per month toward my loans, and I would like to increase that number.

In the next few days, I'll write more about my plan, what I've done so far, and what's been working, but for now, it feels good to put this out there: by May of 2017, I hope to be debt-free.