What is harder, paying off debt or saving money?

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If you spend any time reading personal finance blogs, you will eventually stubble across the age old question (and possibly a debate or two), what is harder, paying off debt or saving money?  I, myself, have pondered this question on more than one occasion.

Having recently spent 20 months paying off $40,103.60 worth of debt I would absolutely say that paying off debt is harder.  I hated, more like loathed, the feeling of owing someone money.  I wanted to free myself from that clutches of debt as soon as I possibly could so that I could start pursing financial independence.  I dreamed of a day that I wouldn’t have to owe anyone, or rely on anyone else for money.  So, the question is answered, paying off debt is harder than saving money.

But … (there is always a but)

Having also recently spent the last 5 months strictly saving, I am not so sure paying off debt is harder than saving money.  Lately, I have been trying to live by the mind frame of “the biggest payment you should make every month should be into savings.” And it has been!  But the more savings goals I have the harder I find it is to stay focused.  You see, the feeling of owing someone money, the thing that I desisted about being in debt, was also the thing that held me accountable every month in paying it off.  Even if I decided not to accelerate payments on my debt, I was still responsible every single month to make the minimum payment.  However, when it comes to saving money, the only person holding me responsible is… you guessed it … me.

I also have a bad habit (I should say had an old habit) of knowing I have money in my savings account and justifying spending it.  Example:  “These shoes are $100, but I have $10,000 in my savings. I can afford it. I’ll just take it out and replace the money later.”  It’s this type of mind frame that can get me in trouble (and has many times in the past). Even after all the things I have learned through bad money mistakes and paying off debt, I will always have challenges to my frugality. I just love shtuff! I love pretty home décor items. I love old houses that I can put life into again and make my own. I love the idea of a cabin in the woods. I love interesting new recipes, restaurants and traveling. And even though I have learned from my past mistakes and don’t mindless spend anymore, the struggle not to is eternal.  Debt was temporary.

Another difference between the saving and paying off debt is time.  I worked myself to the bone for almost 2 years to pay off my debt, which was a long period of time, but now I’m in savings mode, ad infinitum. One was time limited and the other is forever. And after doing both, the limited one seems easier.

Right now I have so many savings goals pulling me in different directions.  I’m saving for a wedding, building up my “Money to protect your other money. Oh, and also potential reckless behavior” aka emergency fund, saving for a house and retirement.  I also go back and forth on if I should make accelerated payments on a car that I have a 0% interest rate on. (Yes, paying off the car is paying off debt, which I’d like to do, but not accelerating the monthly payments allows me to save more money, see the problem here… so many decisions.) I’m not sure which one gets priority and I tend to flip between them. And although I had multiple forms of debt to pay off in the past (13 student loans and a car) and should be used to balancing multiple money goals, using the snowball method, I focused solely on paying off the debt with the highest balance off first.  It didn’t matter if I had 13 student loans, my goal was fixated on which loan had the biggest number attached to it which made it easier to hold my attention – I only worried about one loan at a time. That was much easier than having multiple savings goals that I deem equally important.

So what is a girl (or boy) to do?  Well, here are a few tips for anyone who has decided saving is harder than paying off debt like I do.

1.Break down your “saving goals” into mini goals.  I have found it is much easier to stay focused when you have one particular goal you are working toward at a time (but if working on multiple goals at a time works for you, that’s fine too).  I need strict order in my life much like when I was paying off debt. Instead of bouncing around from goal to goal, I have now calculated out how long it will take me to save for each one.  I focus all my attention on that particular savings goal in that timeline until it is reached and then I move on to the next one*.

2. Have a solid number you want to hit.  With each mini goal, set a particular number you want to reach.  For example, after calculating what everything will cost for our wedding, jmr and I have a set number we want to save for.  Once we hit that number (should be there next month. Woot woot!), we will move on to our next mini goal.  Keep in mind, like paying off debt major saving milestones can’t be done within a day or week. Remind yourself it takes time.

3. Document your progress.  I am an extremely visual person.  I need to see my “wins” to feel confident in the progress I am making and ease the stress of the process.  I love looking back at my spreadsheets to see how far I have come. This is also the best way to keep me accountable for my spending.

4. Revisit your goals.  It is totally okay to change the direction of your savings goals. I have done it multiple times already.  Just the other day I was looking at my spreadsheets and decided I would sleep better at night if I upped my emergency fund from 3 months of savings to 6. I would suggest periodically reevaluating your goals to make sure they are still working for you.

Whether you are in the saving mindset, paying off debt mindset, or both, how you go about it is a deeply personal decision.  I don’t think there is a right way or wrong way, just ways that you can make it easier on yourself.   And if you’re trying, I think that’s really all that matters.

What do you find harder, saving or paying off debt?

*retirement probably doesn’t work for this tip, and should be saved for monthly on top of your other savings goals.

Back in Debt, and Why I’m not Worried About it

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Since day one I met jmr he has been 100% debt free – no student loans, no car loan, no credit card or medical debt, nothing. He was like a rare Pokémon card*, you know they’re out there, but you’ve never seen one with your own two eyes.  Dating someone who is 100% debt free is abnormal these days, especially for millennials.  I feel extremely lucky to have found him (for more than one reason besides being debt free).

And for that reason I wanted to obtain that goal myself.  I knew one day we would get married, and I didn’t want to be the one burdening us with a large amount of debt.  I wanted to start our future with a blank slate.

February 15, 2017 I scheduled my final payment on my student loans and with that one last payment, I ended my 20 month journey and broke up with all my debt for good, at least until I bought a house…so I thought.

It’s been a nice 4 months being 100% debt free, but after many long talks jmr and I decided it was time to buy him a new car – and we decided to do it jointly.

Why jointly?  We recently got engaged last fall and are planning a wedding for next April.  And because we are completely committed to being together for the rest of our lives, we are going into this marriage with the idea that we are now one.  We make decisions together.  And since paying off my debt, we have combined all our finances.  There is not a “yours and mine.”  It’s our money, so we will pay this debt off together.  I am of the opinion if you start your marriage with the idea of keeping everything separate (i.e. bank accounts), it seems like you already have one foot out the door.  Like, you are already planning for it not to work out.  And while I am not trying to tell anyone else how to live their lives, this is just how jmr and I decided to live ours.

We knew that one day jmr’s car was going to need to be replaced.  I was hoping it would have been years from now, but things started to deteriorate with it quickly – the last straw being the air conditioning going out just in time for the good ol muggy St. Louis summer.  We didn’t want to spend the money to fix, especially knowing we eventually wanted to get rid of it.  So we decided it was time to get him a new one.  After many talks about what we wanted, how much we were willing to spend, plans to pay it off quick, many nights of research, 4 long trips to the dealership we finally put pen to paper and made it official and bought a 2017 Subaru Forester.  Jmr has wanted a Subaru for as long as I can remember so he is over the moon.

When we first started looking for a new car we wanted a used one, but we had strict requirements:  it had to be no less than five years old, only have one owner, low miles, no accidents, and preferably a certified preowned model.  (My car is a certified preowned Ford Escape that I have had for 5 years and still runs beautifully.)  We want this car to last a very long time and we were going to keep it until the wheels fell off, so we wanted to make sure we bought the very best used car we could find.  Unfortunately we couldn’t find one that met our requirements.  That’s when we started looking new cars.  While I am sure Dave Ramsey would have something to say about buying a new car, we were pleasantly surprised to find one that was within our comfort level and the best part about it was we were able to get 0% financing.  After putting down a little more than 20% we were super confident in our decision and immediately put a plan in place to have it paid off in the next two years (or sooner) and hopefully before we buy a house.

So while I am kind of bummed that I now have debt again, it ultimately was for the best of our future family.  And with 0% financing, the extreme thought put into buying it and the accelerated payments we are going to make, I’m not really worried about it. I’m super comfortable with the decision we made.

Jmr also keeps joking that now I have something to blog about again.

*90s kids will remember this well. Only analogy I could think of. Ha.

Crossroads

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It’s better a little over a month since I paid off my student loans.  Every day since February 15 feels like a breath of fresh air.  I took a short hiatus from blogging to take everything in and decompress for a while, but I’m back now!  And although, I am feeling slightly directionless at the moment about where I want to take this blog next, my fingers have been itching to start typing again.  I’ve said from the beginning of this blog that I want it to transition with me through my life events.  I named it “Wildest Dreams” for that sole reason.  I want this blog to be almost like a diary of some sort, where I can look back at my past and see how far I have come.

At some point through my debt journey I felt like that last payment day was never going to come, I knew focusing on my future goals would ultimately be what I needed to push myself forward to make it to the end of my debt journey.  Paying off debt was a huge goal for a long time, but it does not define me as a person.   While I still plan to talk about money here and there it probably won’t be my primary focus anymore.  That beginning said, I feel like I am currently at crossroads.  There are so many things on my mind right now that I want to start accomplishing; dreams that I have pushed aside while I paid off my debt.  The possibilities seem endless now that I am 100% debt free, and I feel like I can finally start focusing my attention on working on that dreams list I wrote at the beginning of last year.

So where has been attention been focused on this last month?  Besides continuing to work at my side hustle and working on my savings goals, most of my attention has been focused on wedding planning!  Last November jmr proposed to me, and I have been in wedding planning mode ever since.  There is nothing I love more than planning and organizing (I’m super type-A) so even though I was still finishing off paying my student loans when he proposed, wedding planning gave me an outlet. It was so nice to have something to focus on other than debt for once.  Marrying jmr was my number one dream I wrote down after becoming debt free.  I wanted to start our life together both beginning debt free.  (He was already debt free.)  I know there will always been big expenses we will have to pay for like a mortgage and costs related to kids, but I wanted to make things slightly easier on us by limiting all my debt prior to getting married.  Since paying off my debt we have been able to put down deposits on big planning items and so far have booked our church, venue, DJ and photographer.  This past weekend I also bought my wedding dress…

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I feel like it is also bringing us closer as a couple since it is a project we are working on together.  We are having so much fun with it and can’t wait to see the finished product next year, and to finally be married of course.

Besides wedding planning I also started working out – Pilates at home mostly.  (Trying to work on that #weddingdiet. Ha!) The wedding may have a little to do with it, but honestly it has been making me SO good. Not just physically, but mentally too.  We’ve also been eating super healthy as well, not that we didn’t eat healthy before.  We’ve always had a pretty good diet.  We avoid processed foods, I cook most nights at home and I try to make everything we eat from scratch, but I really felt like we could be a little better when it came to dinner choices (example: cutting out pasta dishes even though the sauce was from scratch).  We now try to stick to a completely whole-food plant based diet.  I’ve also been drinking a green juice every morning with jmr (he’s been juicing every morning since July 2015) and I have been trying to drink 2 litters of water a day.  I bought a 48 oz. water bottle from REI and I take it everywhere. It’s huge. (I drink 1 ½ of that bottle a day).

Lastly, I have been spending a lot of time focusing on something I’ve always had a passion for but had to limit somewhat when I was paying off my debt – travel.  Jmr and I have a goal to visit all 50 states.  So far I’ve been to 18, with the plan to add at least 4 more this year to my list (see map below).  Last fall we wanted to take a long weekend trip to Minnesota, but ended up pushing it off because I didn’t want to sacrifice making my normal accelerated SL payment.  Now that I don’t have any debt, all the money I was putting towards it a month goes straight into a savings account which allows me to book a random weekend trip whenever I please.  We decided on Memorial Day weekend and have already booked our hotels and bought tickets to see a Twins game (this is my first time seeing a baseball game not at Busch Stadium).  We also are going to spend a night in Iowa and visit Wisconsin during that trip as well.

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In July jmr and I are taking a week trip to Tybee Island, Georgia with his family and in October I’m going on a five day trip to Lockport, New York with my Aunt (we are going for a murder mystery dinner on a train, but also are going to see Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls and spend a day in Canada).

And if I am REALLY lucky I’ll be able to talk jmr into taking (separate) weekend trips to Oklahoma and Nebraska this year.  We both need to mark them off our list and they are drivable from St. Louis.  He’s not as thrilled as I am about these trips. I woke up this morning and told him I had a dream about Nebraska, to which he replied “You are probably the only person in the world to say those words.” HA!

Next year we have planned (separate) bachelor/bachelorette parties to New Orleans and, if we can get the time off work, cross your fingers and toes, we want to take a two week honeymoon, flying into LA and then driving all the way to Canada using the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping in multiple cities in California, Oregon and Washington.

Becoming debt free was an amazing feeling in itself, but it’s even more amazing to start seeing all your dreams come true – because of that ONE goal you accomplished.  I may be at crossroads at the moment, not really focusing on one particular goal, but I also like the freedom of circling around multiple things the interest me.

Payment Day – 0

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Isn’t crazy to think about all that happens in a year?  This time last year I was getting ready to move into my new apartment, I had just started working at my side hustle, I had 3 student loans paid off and had been driving a paid off car for over a month.  But, I still had $28,673.32 in debt.

I have thought about this day so, so, so many times, and it’s finally here!  This morning at 7:10 a.m. I scheduled my FINAL student loan payment.  In my past couple payment day posts I talked about how I would still have a small balance after I made my payment today, but I was able to make it happen.  I paid off all my student loans.  I am now 100% debt free! (And I was able to accomplish my goal 5 months and 16 days before the original end date I set for myself.)

Right before jmr left for work this morning I logged into Navient and just sat there staring at the computer screen.  He asked if I was going to schedule the payment, and I told him I needed a few moments to gather my thoughts and process everything.  It took me another 10 minutes to schedule the payment.  With one click and a payment of $1,501.41 I became 100% debt free!!  I’ve been pinching myself all morning.

After I scheduled my payment, I called jmr to let him know and to share my excitement with him.  I then got off the phone with him, and my morning really proceeded as normal. I spent way too long lying in bed taking Snapchats of my cat, Chip, who was having a real attitude problem this morning, got ready for work, made my lunch and coffee and ran out the door late, as per usual.  I don’t know why, but when I pictured this day I thought it would look a little different, like I would feel different.  But really I am just the same person as yesterday – just a little bit happier and now debt free.

There was no parade, or confetti, or flower peddles laid at my feet as I walked to my car.  Dave Ramsey didn’t pop out to have me do a “debt free scream.”  It was just me, smiling like a fool all the way to the office.  When I got to work my boss asked I got some sun.  I said “no, why, do I look red?”  He said “no, you look, I don’t know, like glowing.”  Maybe I am.  I am so beyond proud of myself.

In 14 months I paid off $31,803.85 (interest paid included) in student loans, which is an amazing accomplishment, but my journey really started in July 2015 when I set out to pay off my SUV (pre-blog).  I accomplished that goal in 6 months and then started on my student loans in January 2016.  I can proudly say I have paid off $40,103.60 in 20 months.

So what’s next?  I guess from here on out my focus will be on saving – saving for our wedding, for an emergency fund, for retirement, for a house and all the other things in life that cost money.

While I’m sure unforeseen expenses will come up in the future, I want to be as prepared as possible.  That is one HUGE reason I wanted to become debt free.  I want to make things easier for my future self. For example, I’m 26 years old. It will be literally decades before retirement for me. And that’s exactly why it matters. Sixty-five-year-old Jessica is still Jessica. What I do today affects me in 40 years. I want to be comfortable in my golden years, and saving today helps to ensure that.  And since I am now debt free (and so is jmr), we have the ability to take our time and plan out our next big purchase or savings goal, because none of our money is going towards debt.

If I can teach you anything or you have gotten any value from reading this blog, it’s that paying off your debt now is the stepping stone to have the life you want.  I read a quote a while ago that said, “the best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago, the second best time is today.”  I’ve applied that quote to multiple aspects in my life over the past year.  I could have started paying off my debt when I graduated college, or even when I was in college, or when I got $10,000 from an automobile accident I was in, but I didn’t and that’s okay because I made the decision to start one sunny summer day and I never looked back.

A year ago looked very different, and a year from now can look different for you too.  A year ago I owed $28,673.32 in student loans, a year before that I had $39,263.95 in debt and didn’t think about it once.  The best time to start is today.  Every drop contributes to a puddle whether it’s raining hard or not.  Never give up.

Now is now.

Until next time…

Current Progress:  13 loans paid off, debt balance $0

Payment Day – 1

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We are officially in the final month of my debt repayment!  What does it feel like when you’re 26 days from reaching a goal you have working on for the last 20 months?  Well, I guess I’ll let you know when I figure it out, because right now I think I am in denial.

I have been working on becoming debt free since July 2015 (when I started paying off my car) and for over a year and half all I have thought about was budgeting, scheduling payments and planning my “next move.”  Of course I have thought about the anticipated end date, but it always seemed so far away that I have never really thought what it will actually feel like to get there or what it would be like afterward.  It was nothing more than a target end date.  I never thought of it more than “I should be done in ______, 2017.”   After all, I have changed my end date so many times in this process, first it was July 2017, then April, then March now it’s in 26 days.

Lately, I’ve had people asking me what I am going to do to celebrate being debt free.  The first couple times I was asked that, I just kind of stared at them.  The question totally caught me by surprise.  It still does.  It is the weirdest feeling to actually start thinking how I should celebrate.  I almost don’t want. I don’t jinx it.  I’m leaning towards going to dinner, but I don’t want to do anything too fancy.  Through this journey whenever a special occasion would come up, like jmr and I’s anniversary or a birthday, we’d say “let’s go to dinner where you have to tip” which really meant let’s go to a place like Stake n’ Shake or a similar place.   Dinner would cost like $20 and we’d have coupons.   And if we didn’t want to go to a “tipping” restaurant, we’d usually go to the food court at the mall where we could each get something different and then we could walk the mall, window shop and just spend time together.  Or the occasional, swing by Burger King for the 2 Whooper meals for $10, and we’d take it to Art Hill in Forest Park and watch the sunset.

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View from the top of Art Hill in Forest Park while enjoying our Burger King picnic.

When you spend all this time changing your mind frame about spending money, debt, saving etc. it becomes a way of life.  I’m not going to go back to my old ways of spending money just because I will be debt free.  Even thinking about going to eat at a nice restaurant to celebrate seems odd.  Not, that there is anything wrong with going to a nice restaurant or buying something expense that you really want, I just learned experiences are better than things, gratification purchases are a thing of my past, and I decided I always want to have the fewer, better things, mind frame.

(But, in case you’re wondering I did pick a place to eat as of last night to celebrate.  You do have to tip and it is better than Stake n’ Shake.)

Before I get to that celebration dinner though I have two more payments to make.  I have officially paid off $30,302.44 (includes all the interest too) in student loans, and I now have $1,499.60 left.  My next payment should cover around $1,200, meaning I’ll have a balance of $200ish left.  That will make my last payment on February 28.  I previously talked about trying to find ways to come up with the extra $200 so I can make my final payment on February 15, but besides selling something I don’t have any more ideas.  It is, what it is.  $200 is way better than the 30,964.24 I started with on January 1, 2016 and way better than $39,263.95  I started with in July 2015.

 Until next time…

Current Progress:  12 loans paid off, debt balance $1,499.60

 Count Down Until Debt Freedom: 26 Days

Payment Day – 2

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We’re only 19 days into 2017 and in these first few weeks of the year, I have officially started wedding planning (jmr and I had our first meeting with our priest and was able to book the church, book our wedding venue and booked a DJ), we celebrated our 3 year anniversary and also welcomed our new baby nephew into the world.  If this is any indication of how the rest of the year will be, well, I am just ecstatic to see it unfold.

I am also excited because I am SO close to being 100% debt free.  This last payment marked the one year anniversary of my first accelerated student loan payment.  I can vividly remember that first large payment I made.  It was on a Saturday.  I sat in my living room by myself and scheduled the $886.67 payment.  My heart was racing – it was such a large amount of money.  I hit the submit button and stared at the screen thinking “that’s it?”  I guess I thought confetti would explode out my laptop.  I had a balance of $30,964.24 at the time and the payment I made paid off my first two loans.  That Saturday was the weekend before MLK Day and the banks were closed that Monday.  The rest of the week I was so anxious because it took 6 days for my payment to post due to the holiday and in general long payments take to process.  Little did I know then what a journey this would be, and how I would have to fight that “anxious” feeling off many, many times.  In one year since that day I have paid off $29,426.44.  My new balance is $2,372.67.

I have come to terms with my final payment being on February 28.  I wanted to try to make it happen on February 15, but after applying all my side hustle money and paycheck, I would still be $200 away from that $0 balance.  I thought about finding things around my house to sell, but that is a job all in itself.  I also don’t have any large items that would make that much money in a sale.  (I did a lot of selling and purging of things last year.)  It would have to consist of little items, and I honestly don’t have the energy right now to obsess over it.  So I will wait the 2 weeks to the end of February, pay off my meager $200 balance, pay off my credit card for the month (Yes, I have a credit card.  I love it and I’ve had it for years.  I have paid off my balance every single month since I’ve had it), close all my bank accounts and hop on over to share one with jmr.  I am truly looking forward to that.  It will make things SOOO much easier since we live together.  No more splitting all the bills and groceries 50/50.  It will all come out of one account.* It will also be beneficial when we start writing checks for our wedding.

I have a little more than a month and three more paychecks to go until I make that final payment.  It feels so surreal and real all at the same time.  I can’t quite explain it.

Until next time…

Current Progress:  12 loans paid off, debt balance $2,372.67

Count Down Until Debt Freedom: 1 Months, 9 Days

*Since we are going to share accounts, I am not entirely sure the direction this blog will go.  I’m still trying to figure it out. Everything on this blog has been about my finances and my money.  It becomes touchy when another person is involved.  While I have no problem spilling all my money secrets on the internet – jmr is very private.  We will have joint finances and those will be his numbers too, not just mine, and I don’t feel comfortable sharing them.

Mental Toughness

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Confession time:  I have always been a nervous person – ever since I was a little kid I can remember the overwhelming feeling of worrying about anything and everything.  So much anxiety. I don’t know what caused it. I mean, I’m an anxious person naturally and there have definitely been events in my life that have exasperated the feeling, but I don’t know the root of where it originated.  And if you knew me in real life you’d know I’m also a total introvert.  Anything outside of my comfort bubble gives me “mass anxiety.”  I think I should trademark that phrase because I use it so often.  I am a nervous, anxiety ridden introvert.

Really though, if I am dragged to a party, I need the rest of the day to recuperate.  I love quiet conversations about feelings and ideas, but have a hard time with pleasantries.  If I don’t know you and have to engage in small talk – anxiety; jmr walks away and leaves me standing alone with said person I don’t know to continue awful small talk – mass anxiety!  I find myself needing a time limit on any outing I go to.  Even if I am out with friends and family, if my introvert time clock strikes twelve, I will run out the door faster than Cinderella leaving the ball.  I have accepted this is how I am and honestly it doesn’t bother me.  I know my boundaries and I know what I need to feel better.

Hi. My name is Jess and I’m an introvert.  Maybe that’s how I should lead every conversation I have.

So you may be wondering what all this has to do with personal finance or paying off debt. Well, being an introvert and learning how to channel anxiety or things that make me nervous has helped me gain mental toughness.  Mental toughness is a skill that I found to be really helpful through my debt freedom journey, or really, any event life that requires a lot of focus and work.

Life is hard.  Paying off debt is hard.  There are forces out of your control.  There are things we cannot predict and sometimes things don’t work out as planned – that’s when mental toughness comes into play.

Mental toughness has helped me see the world through more clear eyes.  Whether it’s a party I don’t know anyone at, paying off almost $40K worth of debt or even starting this blog where I share all my deep dark money secrets.  Mental toughness has helped me learn that with every action, there is a logical reaction; with every problem, there is a reasonable solution; and with every failure, there is something to be learned.  All these things will help you when you have a huge goal ahead of you.

I made a decision to pay off all my debt.  This was not an instant gratification goal and it required me to learn to have a sound mind.  More than money, paying off debt has to do with your mind frame. This goal of mine was a firm and permanent decision and I decided no matter what happens, however long that it takes, I will reach that goal.  Learning from past experiences, through things that made me uncomfortable or nervous, I learned to build my walls so I can overcome difficult hurdles in my life.  I learned not to let things drag me down.  I learned to bend and adjust when things came up that were not in my control.  I learned to be mentally tough through my introversion, which helped me to be mentally tough when I decide to spend 14 months paying off debt.  I choose every day to be mentally tough.  I do it for myself, I do it for jmr and I will do it for our future family.

Now, I know it is not easy to have this kind of thought process every day.  I find that there are little things I can do every single day that helps help stay mentally tough.

Things like:

Focus on what you’re doing right now.  People (myself included) get consumed on focusing on A to Z.  You need to channel your energy on what you can do today.  Focus on A to B.  Eventually you will get to Z.  Every little step counts.  I found that having small goals to work on helps me have a clear mind frame instead of obsessing on the end point.  When I’m at A ($40K in debt) and think about Z ($0 in debt) I get mass anxiety.  When I am at A ($40K in debt) and think about B (paying off one particular loan at a time) I feel strong and confident and it helps me have contentment in the process.

Do something every day that comforts you.  I love drinking peppermint tea in the afternoons at work or in the evening before bed.  It’s great for anxiety.  The menthol that is naturally present in the herb is a known muscle relaxant; this physical manifestation of relaxation can translate to stress and anxiety relief.  I find drinking tea or even just breathing in the steam while you’re waiting for it to cool down is super comforting.  Try drinking it while listening to your favorite song or if you’re like me your favorite playlist.  I have a playlist that’s called “Anxious AF” and includes some comforting tunes such as this one, this one, this one and this one. (I like calmer music when I need to unwind).  I drink my tea, light a candle if I’m home, listen to my music and breathe in deep.

Sleep.  This may seem like lame advice, but sleep is one of your best allies if you want a strong, clear mind.  I love going to bed early and nap often.  I’ve heard the phrase “sleep is for the weak,” no sleep is for those who want to have the energy and be productive. Mentally tough people know that their self-control, focus, and memory are all reduced when they don’t get enough, and make quality sleep a top priority.  Listen to your body.

Don’t dwell on mistakes.  I talked about the shoulda, woulda, coulda mind set in a prior blog.

Be relentlessly positive.  I truly believe everything works out in the end.  So far in 26 years this has been true. There are horrible things that can happen throughout life. We can’t just sink down and let the darkness overtake us though. That doesn’t help ourselves, or anyone around us. When you are mentally tough, you are a pillar of strength and inspiration to those around you.  Even if you can’t see it right now, everything will work out.

Exercise/stretch. Okay, so I’m the worst at exercising.  I honestly haven’t worked out since last April when I did a 30-minute Pilates video at home for a month (unless you count all the running I do because I’m always late).  BUT, I do love a good stretch, especially after a long day. (Add stretching in when you’re drinking your tea and listening to your Enya type music.)

Say no.   Mentally tough people know that saying no is healthy, and they have the self-esteem and foresight to make their “nos” clear.  (I am still working on this one.) The mentally tough also know how to exert self-control by saying no to themselves. They delay gratification and avoid impulsive action that causes harm.  I have gotten really good at saying “no” through my debt freedom journey.  No to spending money and no to doing things when they don’t feel right.

In the midst of things like wedding planning (which I am learning all too well right now), paying off debt, busy schedules, and just in 2017, one can tend to let life overwhelm you. Having a positive and tough mind frame can and will be beneficial for all parts of your life, even if you are a nervous introvert like me.

I Paid Off $28K of Debt in 2016

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When 2016 started I had two goals in mind I wanted to work on for the year:  pay off as much debt as possible and focus on contentment, and if I’m going to base 2016 on the progress of those two things, I have to say I accomplished what I set out to do.  However, my journey is not over and will continue into 2017.

Debt recap

When January 2016 started I had just completed paying off the remaining $8,299.75 balance of my SUV.  It took me six months.  January 1, 2016 I started my new journey of paying off my student loans. I wanted to pay a minimum of $1,600 a month on my student loans making my end date July 2017 – January I hit that goal.  February came and I picked up a side hustle, I started working 6 days a week and I pushed myself harder than I ever thought was possible – that month I paid a little over $2,200.  March came with more determination and focus than ever.  I was able to pay $2,500 towards my student loans that month…

…Every month last year I was able to pay at least the minimum goal I set for myself of $1,600 and, with the exception of last January, I have constantly paid $2,000+ towards my student loans every single month.  I was able to push my final payoff date from July 2017 to April 2017 to March 2017 to February 2017.

I made a student loan payment with every paycheck check I received last year, sometimes I even made extra payments in the month.  I kept track of every payment I made, which you can see below.  (And if you love numbers like I do, you can also look at my monthly progress and loans in my “the debt” tab.)

Date Paid

Amount Paid

1/16/2016 $886.67
1/30/2016 $794.24
2/16/2016 $757.37
2/29/2016 $1,476.00
3/8/2016 $650.00
3/15/2016 $812.25
3/31/2016 $1,124.58
4/2/2016 $117.11
4/15/2016 $1,060.28
4/30/2016 $922.00
5/13/2016 $1,131.00
5/31/2016 $881.94
6/6/2016 $130.00
6/15/2016 $1,108.87
6/26/2016 $368.00
6/30/2016 $746.50
7/9/2016 $482.00
7/15/2016 $1,137.62
7/29/2016 $914.43
8/2/2016 $150.00
8/15/2016 $1,259.58
8/31/2016 $824.20
9/15/2016 $1,224.90
9/30/2016 $859.00
10/14/2016 $1,096.00
10/31/2016 $1,012.51
11/15/2016 $1,038.31
11/30/2016 $1,050.07
12/15/2016 $1,500.00
12/30/2016 $2,778.00

This past December I made my largest single payment/overall monthly payments to date, paying $4,278.00 in student loans!  I wanted to finish 2016 out strong.

I also paid off my 12th student loan and now have only ONE more to go! My new SL balance is $3,501.00.

Contentment

I was recently talking to jmr about what I wanted my new word for 2017 to be.  I want it to be powerful and driving, like I felt contentment was for 2016, but I also wanted it to be a focus word for my goals in 2017. I still haven’t figured out what I want my word to be. However, while contemplating my word for 2017, I was thinking about contentment and told jmr “I don’t think I did that well with finding contentment last year.”

He asked me what my definition of contentment was.  I simply wanted to take time to live in the moment and to appreciate the small, nameless moments in my day that otherwise would have gone unnoticed, and above all I wanted to focus on my SL goal without letting it be all consuming and an obsession in my daily life.

He said “well, if that was your definition, than you absolutely accomplished contentment.”  He went on to explain how each month he watched me slowly become more at peace and confident with this process.  How I could easily turn off my “on-the-go hustle mind frame” and be 100% in the moment when it was important, like when I went to Chicago with my Papa or to Michigan in July, and more than ever I slowed down and was fully present when it came it the holidays.

When he explained it like that, I guess I really have learned how to be content.  I know that contentment is a fleeting moment and it will always be a work in progress, but this last year more than ever I thought it was SO important to focus on.

2016 highlights

  1. Getting engaged! (2016 will be a year a will never forget for many reasons, but this was my #1 highlight);
  2. Long weekend in Chicago with my Papa;
  3. Week vacation in Michigan with jmr’s family;
  4. Weekend trip to Nashville to visit my best friend;
  5. My Dad getting married;
  6. Starting this blog and finally…
  7. All the progress I have made with my debt.

2017 dreams

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions and I read somewhere that 80% of Americans fail to make it happen after they make said resolutions, but I do like planning out my dreams for the year.  I also think it’s really important to dream with your spouse or significant other on what you want your year to look like.  Look ahead!  Whether it’s taking more vacations, planning more date nights or buckling down on your finances, I think it’s important to have some type of driving force for your year that both of you can work on and be purposeful together, not only with your time, but with your money.

My dreams for 2017 look a little like this:

First, I think it goes without saying my number one dream in 2017 to make my final student loan payment.  I hoping to make my final payment on February 15th, BUT in order to make it happen I’m going to have to find an extra $200 in my budget (my normally scheduled payment will leave me $200 short of that 0 balance).  Otherwise, I will carry that $200 balance for 2 weeks and make my final payment on February 28th.  I’m hoping I can find something to sell in my home. I feel a purge coming on.

Second, I want to build an emergency fund consisting of at least $5,000 and also I need to figure out what I want to do for my retirement savings.  I currently have an IRA with a small amount of money in it and I was recently added to my firm’s profit sharing program last year.  I’m going to start contributing to my retirement, I’m just not sure how much money and which account I will focus on yet.

Third, save for all the money we need to pay for our wedding which will be April 21, 2018. I am confident this will be extremely doable. We are already planning way head of the date and figuring out what things cost so we can save appropriately to pay for everything in cash and finally…

…jmr decided he wants to go back to school starting in this summer or fall for a Masters in Accounting to become a CPA!  (He has a major in Finance and minor in accounting and currently works as an Accountant.  We’re a number loving couple. How cute!) He is already debt free and we want to pay for all his classes this year in fullNo loans! I am also not concerned with paying for this because classes will be spread out in 2017 and 2018. We don’t have to have all the money for the program paid at once.  We’re going to pay per class.

Woah!

Those are some big money dreams, BUT I know I can do it.  I just spent one whole year paying off $28,293.43 in student loans and I have learned so much in the last couple of years*, especially this year.  Paying off debt has really become a way of life. And honestly right now I’m on autopilot and have been for quite some time.  After I pay off all my debt, the money I would normally put towards my SL payments will go solely into a savings or retirement fund.  I have completely changed my lifestyle and mind frame regarding money and it will not only benefit me in my future, but it will hopefully be something that I will teach my future children.

I’ve said more than once paying off debt is more than money, it’s about your mind frame and attitude.  I want to try to inspire, encourage and help those find the answers they need to live and love a more financially sound lifestyle.  It’s about enjoying the quality of life with a more focused mind and the people you love helping you along the way to achieve your dreams.

There’s no better time to start than today, so for 2017 I made you guys an excel spreadsheet that will help you track your spending for the year (see below). Hopefully you find this spreadsheet helpful.  It not only tracks each category per month, but it will also give you a yearly total for that category.  You can play around with it and add or subtract things that apply to your life.  Let me know what you think!

Now is now friends.

expense-tracker-2017

Until next time…

Current Progress:  12 loans paid off, debt balance $3,501.00

*I started my debt freedom journey in July 2015, since then I have paid off $36,593.18 in debt (my SLs plus the car I paid off in 2015.)

Fewer, Better Things

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I have always had more of a type A personality and for as long as I can remember I have LOVED cleaning and organizing.  Every six months I find myself going through my home looking for things that no longer provided me any value and I donate the items, or as of late, sell them on buy, sell, trade groups (after letting my sister take first dibs, who is all too eager to rifle through the boxes).

When I first started doing these types of purges of unused items, my younger self (high school through early 20s) always ended up replacing what I donated with newer unnecessarily needed versions of the things I had just gotten rid of, mainly clothes, shoes and accessories.  I used to live for gratification purchases.

Although I had a bad habit of buying things afterward I didn’t need, I always felt a sense a relief in getting rid of things I no longer used, like a weight was lifted off of me.  I looked forward to my purges as a form of destressing and decluttering my life.  Now, and especially in the last couple years, with every purge, the gratification in getting rid of things grows and I no longer find myself buying things afterward for no reason. I’ve replaced those gratification purchases with the satisfaction of wanting to live a simpler, less chaotic life style.  I’ve found the older I get and especially through paying off debt, I want to focus on being intentional in every aspect of my life and to surround myself with what I love.   This last year I’ve been focusing on fewer, better things and it has helped me not just pay off large amounts of debt, but to also live with a more focused and clear mind frame.

I want to invest in the friendships and goals that matter to me. To do things and see places that inspire me.  To surround myself, with things I love and can be used more than once.  In the last year, I’ve learned a few things about focusing on fewer, better things:

Paying off debt

When you only spend your money on quality items and things that you really love and/or need, it frees up extra cash, and time, to pay off debt.  Also focusing on fewer goals to accomplish at one time i.e. become debt free, allows me to have the energy and will power to accomplish that goal instead of trying to spread myself too thin and put time into multiple goals that will only be half way completed or goals that my heart isn’t 100% focused on.  Spending my money and time on fewer items and goals now will allow me to have better options in the future.

At home

At the beginning of the year, jmr and I moved into a new apartment.  Although square footage wise, our old and new apartment are about the same size, our new apartment a has a much smaller living room and no dining room in order to have a bigger kitchen.  While we love our new place, a lot of the furniture we had felt crammed in the new place.  I decided that instead of trying to store the items we weren’t currently using, I would sell them all, making some extra money to put towards my student loans (I made a couple thousand dollars doing this).  Selling the items not only helped me financially, but I found comfort in the fact the items I sold weren’t being stored in our wet dirty poor excuse of a basement.  Again, I have a type A personality – that basement is where things go to get ruined.  The things that are left in our apartment are used every single and/or things that I truly love.

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Our old apartment
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Keep things that really matter to you. This sign was one thing I really value and it definitely made it in the “keep” pile.

Also when it comes to my home, I used to be a “collector” of beauty products – like lotions, perfumes, nail polish, makeup, etc.  I would buy these things with the intention of using them, only to do so once or twice, but then have major guilt about the money I spent on them when I thought about getting rid of them.  Within the last couple of years I have gotten rid of or made myself actually use up products, and have switched over to green, non-toxic, chemical free types of cleaning and beauty products*.  These green products are so much better for you and the environment, and although they tend to cost a little more than a product purchased at Target, I have found investing in fewer, better products around my house makes me want to use them.  I value my one bottle of chemical free lotion way more than the 10 “buy two, get three bottles” of Bath & Body Works lotions that collected dust in the bathroom.

In your closet

If only I had pictures of the amount of clothes and shoes I have gotten rid of over the last five or so years. I had drawers that wouldn’t close and a walk-in-closet that you couldn’t put another item in.  I’ve gotten rid of everything I don’t wear regularly by donating them, giving them to my sister (we joke almost every item of clothing she wears was once mine) or by selling them on Buy, Sell, Trade on Facebook.  I used to hold on to clothes because I swore I would wear them someday, many things never worn still in bags or with tags on them, or hadn’t been worn in years. The thought of getting rid of them gave me mass anxiety, but once I made the decision to let those items go, I honestly never thought about them again.

Friends and family

I have learned, especially this year, that you should put time and effort into relationships that really matter to you.  Paying off debt is hard, and I have said “no” on multiple occasions to going out and spending money to do something with friends.  But, those are the friends that understand completely when I pass on going out, don’t get their feelings hurt or even suggest doing something that does not require spending any money.  I’m not suggesting dropping any of your friends, but I do advise not saying “yes” to everyone and anyone.  Make time for people you love, put in time and energy into being with your close friends or even family.  Invest in people you care about.

When I made my goal in 2015 to pay off my debt, I never imagined that this process would change my life in so many ways different ways – ways that don’t even have to do with money.  I wouldn’t call myself a minimalist, but with each passing year I fall more in love with only keeping things that truly spark joy in my life, and the more I appreciate the concept of owning fewer, better things.

What are your thoughts on fewer, better things? 

*I don’t talk on this blog about my love for green beauty products, but if you are interested and need some suggestions of products, send me a message!

Payment Day – 6

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Guys! Can you believe Christmas is this week?!? I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around 2016 coming to an end.  This year has been one of the stressful and best years of my life.  I’ve pushed myself in ways I never knew was possible, and now I can’t stop wanting to push myself.  I have been spending a lot of time reflect about 2016 and I have realized that there have been two mottos or “life lessons” that I keep going back to:

  1. If you want something bad enough you will find a way to make it happen; and
  2. Everything always works out in the end, no matter what you going through. Although I have found this applies to almost all my life events and not just regarding paying off debt or money, through this whole process I have learned that paying off debt is more about your mindset, then about money itself. “Those who move forward with a happy spirit will find that things always work out.”

So far in 26 years, both of these things, have without a doubt been true.

I’m trying my hardest to finish the year off strong with my debt payments and so far so good.  This last payment day was my highest student loan payment I’ve ever made totaling $1,500.00!* I always get a little nervous before I hit the “submit payment” because my payment amounts are always a large amount of money.  Sometimes it is hard to watch it disappear into the black hole known as Navient.  But, this last payment though I had no apprehension.  I just clicked the button and went on with my day – I am so ready to end this “chapter” of life.

My new student loan balance is $6,269.24.  In a little less than 2 weeks I will make my final payment for 2016 and, cross your fingers, and toes, and knock on some wood, or whatever you do to bring yourself luck, my new balance amount should be anywhere between the $4K and $3K range. I have a feeling it will be around the $4K range.  I ALSO will pay off my 12th student loan and have one left to go!

Loans Left Amount Owed January 2016

Current Amount Owed

12th Loan

$4,340.54

$1,398.64

13th Loan $5,040.04

$4,870.60

Besides my normal paycheck on the last day of the month, I also will get a bonus check that same day.  The bonus checks are only given on the last day of the year and the amount is never the same or set in stone.  Last year that same bonus allowed me to pay off my car one month earlier than the goal I set for myself.  I don’t think my bonus will be anywhere near that amount this year, because I recently had my three year review and my firm finally added me into their profit sharing program (I also got a slight raise and sweet talked my way into one more week of vacation, and by “sweet” talked I mean I said to my boss “so right now I have one week of vacation…” and before I could finish he said “two weeks it is”).  I am pretty sure my bonus check amount will be less because they allocate some of that money into the profit sharing program.

Whether my new balance is $5K range (if I only get a paycheck and no bonus check), $4K range or $3K range, I will be happy with any of those amounts.  All of them are substantially better than the $30,964.24 I started with in January of this year.

My payoff date still is going to be March 15 (unless those bonus gods bless me and I can move it to February. Who knows, I was shocked at the amount last year.)

Well, that’s all for now.  I hope everyone has an wonderful Christmas!!

Until next time…

Current Progress:  11 loans paid off, debt balance $6,269.24

Count Down Until Debt Freedom: 2 Months, 24 Days

*Yes, that is a LOT of money.  $500.00 more than I normally pay on my SLs.  I worked a few extra days at my side job, got a slight raise at work, back pay for that raise because my review should have been in October, instead of December, and got a little Christmas money.  I’m still kind of amazed that payment amount was so high, because in this time period I also did some Christmas shopping and paid around $250 for my personal property taxes on my car.