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.

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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.

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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.

Payment Day – 7

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I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving and long weekend!  I certainly did.  I worked 10 days in a row prior to Thanksgiving so I welcomed the 4 day weekend (even though I worked at my side hustle that Saturday) with open arms.

With only a little over three months left, I am nearing the end on my student loan journey.  I recently made another payment of $1,050.07 and my new SL balance is $7,757.49.  Lucky number 7. In less than one month I should be in the $4K range and will hopefully pay off my 12th SL in that time.  More than ever I am committed and anxious (in a good way this time) to pay off my SLs because … jmr proposed to me the day after Thanksgiving and the day we put up our first Christmas tree! (This is our third Christmas together, second living together, but it is our first tree.)

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My engagement ring (the band is rose gold)

I am SO so happy and still in shock.  His proposal was so perfect and it was a complete surprise.  I still can’t believe anyone would want to voluntarily and legally be bound to me. And now I REALLY cannot wait to make my final SL payment so we can start planning our wedding.  (We will be paying for it ourselves so it is so important to me to become debt free before we get married. I want to start our marriage debt free on my part, because jmr has no debt*. I don’t want him to have to worry about my debt baggage.)  In my future dreams I previously talked about how jmr and I wanted to get married one day and it is a surreal moment that my dreams are starting to become a reality.

I have been feeling incredibly thankful and even a little lucky** these last few weeks and I can’t thank everyone enough for all your continued support and for taking an interest in my story.  This space as truly been an outlet for me and I hope it has helped you find some motivation or support in your own journey.  My heart is full of gratitude.

*He also paid for my ring in full.  Maybe he should do a guest blog post on how to get engaged and not go into debt?

**I hope my luck continues because this afternoon is my 3 year review at the law firm.  Wish me luck.

Until next time…

Current Progress:  11 loans paid off, debt balance $7,757.49

Count Down Until Debt Freedom: 3 Months, 13 Days

Payment Day – 8

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St. Louis has some pretty extreme weather.  For instance, today the temp is going to be almost 80 degrees, but it’s supposed to snow the weekend.  Yes, you read that correctly. As random as the weather can be, we are lucky, to have 4 seasons very distinct seasons. Fall is finally here and I’m soaking it up.  Something about the crisp air, bright colors and upcoming Holidays puts me in an instant good mood.

Speaking of good moods, there are so many cool things to talk about this payment day post.

First, I now have a balance of $8,793.78 on my SLs, after making a payment of $1,038.31.  Let’s just take a moment of silence to remember the $30,226.80 I started with in January.  May that number RIP.

Okay so back to what I wanted to tell you – in July 2015 I started this journey with $39,263.95 in debt with a goal to pay my car off first. (This all happened pre-blog.) I owed $8,299.75 left on my Certified Pre-owned Ford Escape and paid it off in 6 months.  The amount left on my student loans, is roughly the amount I had on my car when I started this. I remember all that MA (mass anxiety) I had trying to pay my car off at that time and to know that same amount is all I have left is an incredible feeling. Oh, and it will be paid off in less than 4 months.

Second, I finally paid off my 11th student loan.  Hell to the ya! It was my biggest loan payoff to-date with a balance of $4,078.25 (amount it was at in January when I started).  I now have 2 loans to go:

Amount Owed in January 2016

Current Amount Owed

$4,340.54

$3,909.69

$5,057.72

$4,884.09

I still make the minimum payments on all my loans, while making large payments on one particular loan at a time.  That is why there is a difference in the amounts since the beginning of the year.

Third, according to Mint (which I use to help me budget), I now have a positive net worth. I never track my net worth, since it has been in the negative for most of my adult life, but it just so happens to be something Mint tells me when I am reviewing my account.  It just stares back at me on the overview page. Although I still have $8,793.78 in debt, Mint counts my paid off car as an asset.  (I also have a small investment account.) Some PF bloggers don’t include their car(s) in their net worth because it is a depreciating asset, but since I could sell it at any given time and get cold hard cash in my hand, I have to agree with Mint that it is an asset.  When the time comes to track my net worth on my own, if i decide to even do that, I will definitely include my car in those numbers.

Until next time…

Current Progress:  11 loans paid off, debt balance $8,793.78

Count Down Until Debt Freedom: 3 Months, 26 Days (I’m going to start adding this because I am THAT excited.)

Payment Day – 9

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S-I-N-G-L-E digits.  I am so happy I am finally able to write this.  Let’s look at those numbers:

Starting Balance (July 2015): $39,263.95

2015 Payoff Amount: $8,299.75

2016 Payoff Amount: $21,927.05

Total Payoff Amount:  $30,226.80

New Balance: $9,816.19

I was able to put $2,108.51 towards my debt in October which pushed me into single digit territory.  I still have 3 loans left, but the loan I am currently working has a balance of $645.54 – which means it will be paid off in 2 weeks with my next paycheck.  I will then only have 2 loans left with balances of $4,266.27 and $4,904.38. Ugh.

My hope is to have one of those paid off by the last day of the year.  We will see.  That might be pushing it, but I want to try to finish the year off strong. I do get some type of bonus on December 31 (that same bonus last year allowed me to pay off my car one month earlier than I planned).  I also am due for a review at my job since I hit my 3 years at the law firm last month. So far every review I’ve had to-date has ended in a raise, but like the bonus, it is never guaranteed – say a prayer, hail Mary or do a raise dance for me.

As of this date, my last payment is still going to be in March – March 15th to be exact. (I get paid on the 15th and the last day of every month which is why I know the exact date.)  4 ½ months will fly by especially with the holidays coming up.

Speaking of holidays, I am still trying to figure out what I want to do to keep my expenses low, while still being able to give people gifts.  It’s so hard to find balance when you have a huge goal, low budget but also LOVE Christmas and giving people presents.  Last year while I was in the process of paying off my car I decided since I was on an even smaller budget I was going to make everyone a variety of Christmas cookies as their Christmas present.  And since I felt like I was being a cheapskate for not giving actual gifts, I over compensated by making like 10+ different types of cookies for each person.  I was baking for a week straight from the moment I got home after work to midnight.  Even though I was able to give 15 people cookies and only spend about $40 for ingredients, baking that intensively was exhausting.  I don’t think I am going to go down that route again this year.

Oh, I also should mention in Missouri we have to pay personal property taxes that are due December 31. Last year my personal property tax on my car was a little less than $300. I guess it could be worse and luckily I don’t own a house or any other items that are taxable, but it still stings.

I know I have time to figure it all out considering it’s only the first week of November, but I’m a planner by nature and not having any idea how to pay for everything, stay in budget and on my self-imposed payment schedule kinda gives me MA (aka mass anxiety).

So the question of the day is, does anyone have any ideas for staying in budget during the holidays?

Until next time…

Current Progress:  10 loans paid off, debt balance $9,816.19

The Silent Killer: The Problem with Waiting to Pay Your Student Loans

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There is one big problem with only making the minimum payment on your debt and that problem can be summed up in one word:  interest.  Interest is a killer – let me explain.

My student loan story started in September 2009 when I enrolled in a specialized associates program.  The program was fast-paced and I graduated in October 2010 – the entire time not paying a penny on my student loans because they were in deferment.  Once I graduated, I had a 6 month grace period before I was required to start repayment.  At the same time, I decided to take 6 months off of school before starting a bachelors program in May 2011.  (The timing between the grace period ending and the start of my bachelor program was a coincidence.  I did not plan it that way and honestly I probably didn’t think of my student loans once when making that decision.)  Once I was back in school, my student loans went – you guessed it – right back into deferment. My bachelors program lasted from May 2011 to April 2013.  I graduated the following month in May 2013. That month was the first SL payment I ever made 3 years and 8 months after starting school.

My minimum payments started out small.  At first, I was only required to make a payment of $147.66.  I thought, “eh that’s not too bad, I can make that payment for 10 years” – and I did for 6 whole months until my payments increased to $350.32.  What, why the increase you ask?  Because the loans from my bachelor degree also got a 6 month grace period before I was required to pay on them.  I did not realize the $147.66 was the payment only for my associates degree.  I paid the $350.32 for roughly 5 months, until I decided to move into an apartment by myself.  I couldn’t afford to live by myself AND make that high payment every month, so I did what I thought was the best decision at the time and signed up for an income based repayment plan through Navient.

Confession: I did absolutely no research into this program.  That was mistake number one.  I heard about the program from a coworker, called up Navient, sent them a copy of my tax returns and waited for the new payment amount to come in the mail.  My payments were then lowered to $112.04.  I happily made those payments for 10 months without a care in the world until the following year (early spring 2015) when I was required to again submit my tax returns and my payment went up to $189.24.  I was so confused.

I started doing some research into the program and learned what an income based program really entailed.  My payments went up because I was actually enrolled in a “pay as you earn repayment plan” where your payments were determined based off how much money you make each year. Every year you are required to submit your tax returns and the payment amount is adjusted accordingly. (I should have read all that fine print.  You would think I would know better working at a law firm.)

I begrudgingly paid the increased amount for a few more months until one day in July 2015 I started to feel icky about how much money I was paying towards debt each month.  I started to think about all the things I wanted to do in my future and had no idea how I would accomplish those goals with almost $40,000K in debt.  So I decided to make a change and try something new. I started my debt journey by paying off my car, but I wanted to get a clear idea what I owed on my SLs and where all those payments were going.

I logged into my account and was horrified at what I saw.  Not only was my balance not decrease all this time I was paying on my SL, but my “total current balance” actually was increasing.  I quickly clicked the account history tab and realized all those payments I made for 2 years almost solely went towards interest. (See a snapshot of the horror in Exhibit A)

 Exhibit A

Date Description Principal Interest Total
7/16/2015 Payment $40.72 $148.52 $189.24
6/16/2015 Payment $20.32 $168.92 $189.24
5/18/2015 Payment $6.57 $182.67 $189.24
4/16/2015 Payment $0.00 $189.24 $189.24
3/16/2015 Payment $0.00 $112.04 $112.04
2/17/2015 Payment $0.00 $112.04 $112.04
1/16/2015 Payment $0.00 $112.04 $112.04
12/16/2014 Payment $0.00 $112.04 $112.04
11/17/2014 Payment $0.00 $112.04 $112.04
10/16/2014 Payment $0.00 $112.04 $112.04
9/17/2014 Payment $0.00 $112.04 $112.04
8/18/2014 Payment $0.00 $112.04 $112.04
7/16/2014 Payment $0.00 $112.04 $112.04
6/16/2014 Payment $0.00 $112.04 $112.04

My goal really became clear after I saw this.  It was hard to make excuses now that I was looking at the numbers.  Paying only the minimum balance wasn’t going to get me out of debt, I had to start accelerating my payments.

(I paid off my car first in 2015, and then started accelerating my SL payments in January, 2016.)

Truth about Interest

To date, I have paid $6,351.40 in interest since I started paying my SLs in 2013 and it is still accruing daily.  I make a loan payment every two weeks and just last payment $34.27 went solely to interest.

I have only paid $21,718.45 in principal payments since I graduated in 2013, with $20,914.54 being paid off THIS year.  That means from 2013 to 2016 before I started to accelerate my student loan payments, I only paid off around $800 in principal.

I learned if you want to make more of a dent on your principal balance, you will need to make more than the minimum payments.  My advice to everyone is start paying your loans back early.  Do not wait just because you can.  Pay what you can while you are in your grace period or even when you are still in school.  I could have afforded to start paying back my SL while I was in school, but I choose to buy shoes instead.  So, so many shoes.  Start early or make more than the minimum payment today and your future self will thank you.

I recently read a quote that said “the best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago, the second best time is today.”  Don’t spend time thinking about the shoulda, coulda, woulda.  By starting TODAY, you will save yourself thousands of dollars in the future.  There is no better time than the present.  Interest really is a killer.

Now is now friends.

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

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All the Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas
Layin’ in the sun,
Talkin’ bout the things
They woulda-coulda-shoulda done…
But those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas
All ran away and hid
From one little did.

–  Shel Silverstein

The year was 2009, I had spent a lovely day bumming around with my Aunt going to lunch, shopping at a bookstore and visiting my Papa.  Our time together unfortunately was coming to a swift end and I needed to head home soon to get ready for my job working evenings at a tanning salon.  We said our goodbyes to my Papa and hopped in the car so she could take me home.  My Aunt was driving and I was sitting in the passenger seat.  We made it to the first stop light of the neighborhood where we sat eagerly waiting for the light to turn green when BAM, we were rear-ended by the sweetest old lady who thought her brakes were the gas pedal while going down the hill.  She slowly got out of the car and said “oh no, do you have groceries in your car too?” Bless her heart.  At the time of impact my head hit the window and instead of heading to work I had the pleasure of spending the night in the hospital with a concussion.  Besides a bad headache, some memory loss and a few days off work, I really was fine – which was why I was surprised to find a $10,000 check in the mail from the insurance company of the driver that hit us.  (Still to this day I am not sure why I received that money.  All of my hospitals bills were covered by my insurance and I didn’t file any claims.) That was the largest amount of money I had, and still to this day, ever received at one time.

Like the very smart and responsible 19 year old that I was, I immediately took that check and opened a second bank account with it so that I could pay off most of the $12,000 in student loans I had taken out for my associates degree.  Once the check cleared my bank account, I quickly paid off $10,000 of my student loan balance.  That left me with a balance of $2,000, which ended up totaling $20,000 once I took out $18,000 more in student loans for my bachelor degree.  Since I just paid off $20,914.54 in student loans, I am now debt free.

Ha!! I have jokes. If you read my story, you know that’s not really how it went down.

With the very best of intentions, I did open that second bank account with the idea I would use that money to pay off $10,000 worth of my student loans.  That part of the story is true.  But, instead, I squandered it all away on “loans” to a family member and an ex-boyfriend, a week vacation to Destin with my best girlfriends, shopping, food and countless other extremely useless things that I have sense long forgotten about.

It has been many years since I made that huge mistake and spent the last penny of that money. I have learned so much in that time. Just recently, I did indeed pay off $20,914.54 in student loans – which leaves me with a balance of $10,810.50.  Seeing that new balance is a milestone I have been looking forward to for months, but it also comes with a lot of “shoulda, woulda, coulda” thoughts.  If, and if is the key word here, I used that $10,000 to pay off my student loans, I would be debt free right now.  But, that is not the story I am able to write today.

I think we all have “shoulda, woulda, coulda” or “might-have-been” moments in our life we regret and sometimes wish we could do-over an event in our past.  These moments seem to add up with every year we get older – in reading this I am sure at least one thing you wish you could change about your past comes to your mind. Those regrets can rob you of your sleep and cloud the really good moments of your present life. We can agonize over the past and fill ourselves with anxiety, stress, sadness and regret, but no matter where those thoughts take you, it is always pointed back to a time you can’t go back to.  You can’t live there.

That is the problem with living in the past. No matter how much time we spend on wishing the past can be changed, you are helpless to alter it – but you can always alter the present and your future.

One of the things I do to get myself out of the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” mind frame is to embrace what I am doing now. I not only embrace it, but I take time to focus on things I am accomplishing or have accomplished.  Instead of spending my time wishing I used that $10,000 for school, wishing I hadn’t bought all those clothes I never wore and wishing I had started saving earlier, I am mindful of my accomplishments today and how far I have come from I was my 19 year old self.  If you spend time reflecting on your past, only use it to reflect the good, or take the bad moment and use it as a motivator to do better today.

I look at 26 year old Jessica and think about how freaking cool it is that I paid off my car in 6 months or that I paid off 10 loans and $20,914.54 in student loans in 10 months.  When I find my mind going down a spiral of what ifs, this is the type of thoughts I try to focus on.

I am going to make a promise to myself to abandon the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” mind frame. I encourage you to as well. I want to spend my time focusing in the here and right now so I can pay attention things that really matter today, my goals in the future, not my mistakes in the past.  Because in all honesty, we are always going to make mistakes now and then – be like my girl Taylor Swift and #shakeitoff.

You have the ability to shape and reshape your life as you choose to, but only in the now, in the present.  “From one little did,” of starting to aggressively pay off my debt, I have changed today and my future, and that is worth more than any mistake I made in my past.

Has anyone else found themselves in the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” mind frame?  Any helpful tips on getting out of that thinking?

Payment Day – 10

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There once was a girl with a large amount of debt.  She budgeted and dreamed with spreadsheets galore that one day she’d be free and in debt no more.  With less than six months to go she can see the end, especially when her new payment begins in a ten.

You read that right, my new student loan balance is $10,810.50.  In ten months I have paid off $20,914.54.  That is an insane number and I am having a hard time wrapping my head around it.  It almost doesn’t feel real.  I keep trying to think back to January when I had $30,964.24 in student loan debt, or even back to July 2015 when I had $39,263.95 worth of debt, and it just doesn’t feel like that was ever my life.  Has anyone else every experienced a feeling like that – when you know you accomplished something but have a hard time remembering what it’s like to be in that particular moment or stage in your life?  What you were thinking, feeling, doing at that time? One reason I love having a blog is I can go back and re-read my posts and imagine what it was like typing out those words during that time period.

Lately I have been really trying to savor each and every moment and accomplishment along this journey. When I hit paying off $10K I told jmr that it was a big milestone for me.  He laughed and said “every payment day is a milestone.”  But, you know what, it is!  Reaching $10K is a big deal.  Next payday day I’ll be in single digits and that is a big deal – and so on.  I think that looking at each payment day as a milestone and by taking the time to celebrate (and by celebrate, I don’t mean going out and spending any money), it will help me to remember what it was like going through this whole process.  I don’t want to forget where I started.

Until next time…

Current Progress:  10 loans paid off, debt balance $10,810.50