This is the story of life's financial struggles & victories through the eyes of a young woman up to her eyes in debt. Enjoy :)

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Happy Last Month of 2015!

Hello out there. I figured it was time to check-in and provide an update or two on where I am these days J
I have a new job. Still corporate America, still a cubical, and still 8-5. BUT I like it a lot better than the previous one that I was at for the past 4 years. Although it was a lateral move, salary wise, there are budget saving aspects about it that will make it feel as if I got a pay increase for jumping ship:
-         It is 4 minutes from my house. That shaves off approximately 40 minutes each way every day and saves a ton of gas. Also, no more interstates every single day; thank you, Jesus!
-          They have a parking lot. It is free. No more having to give $65 a month to a crappy downtown parking garage to be able to park while at work. (Side note here, their parking spots are just a few steps away from the door which means no more elevators, escalators, stairs, and having to walk 1/3 of a mile outside just to get to your office. HUGE quality of life improvement!)
-         They do not have any restaurants, grocery stores, and cafes in walking distance like the previous job. So no more breakfast, lunch and snack buying temptations; I eat what I bought to eat from the grocery store that week. Sadly, that means no more Starbucks either, so there’s $25 a month alone.
So, where am I at on my loans? I last updated y’all on my balance in mid-June; it was at $36k then. I am happy to report that now, approximately 5 and a half months later, my loan balance is at $26k. So 10 grand down from my last update J
I am still aiming to be debt-free by late next near. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Be a Unicorn

Being normal is easy. Too easy. It is a path that is very alluring in every way. Want this? Well, buy it, finance it, or put it on a credit card and it’s yours. It will never stop; you will always want more. You will want what he has or what she has or what they have. It is a nightmare that will be on replay your entire life. I don’t’ want to live like that. However, a lot of my peers do and they don’t even realize it. I am not in any way perfect with my budget, and believe me, I have expensive wants, but I do feel that I have a sense of control over it. What first made me realize this was reading Dave’s slogan, “Debt is normal. Be weird.” It is SO TRUE. Everywhere you look, people are in debt. And the problem with that? They don’t see a problem!! Because? It’s normal!! Face palm. If that’s the norm, normal sucks.

Sure, there are people who have been and always will be financially responsible. I have a large amount of student loan debt to pay off. Some don’t. But working through my pay-off plan, I have stumbled across many other things I would have never stopped to take the time to research: 401k, stock options, Roth IRA, etc. I hope to be debt free and in retirement saving mode by the time I am 29, almost 30. Talk about a goal I never thought I’d never thought I’d have at 29! Are there people out there my age who are debt-free and already have a significant amount in the bank and in their retirement? You bet. But I’m also willing to bet it is not a huge percentage of folks. I want to join that small percent. I want to pass up the beautiful Michael Kors purse and matching wallet so that I can put that money towards financial freedom. And knowing that my TJ Maxx purse is a symbol of that, makes me feel not so ashamed toting it around town.

Debt snowballing is not really normal. There are people who know nothing about it and there are people who wholeheartedly disagree with it. But that’s okay. I know I am going against the grain here, and when I stop to think about where my motivation comes from to keep this going, it is precisely that; I’m not normal. I am doing something very few people are doing and I think that is cool. I am standing out in a crowd. I am a unicorn. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Help Me I’m Poor (How I stay social in a world of Helens)

It is frowned down upon to take trips, go out on the town, and go out to eat while in debt; and for good reason. However, being a single female in my 20s, this area around being social is something I am not willing to completely put the brakes on. This is how I reasonably stay social with many different groups of friends while still paying off chunks of debt each month.

You all know how to save money and watch your spending; if you are anything like me, you’ve scrolled through news feed article after news feed article on how to save x dollars when doing x activity. The knowledge is there. But most of the time, the behavior is not. We all (or at least I) view the penny pinching method as a cheap play penny-pinchers use to save a dime; and for some reason, that theory has a negative connotation tied to it. BUT IT IS INDEED EFFECTIVE. Penny pinching doesn’t have to be viewed as sitting in a cardboard box, reading free magazines that you find next to newspaper stands because you don’t have cable and no longer own a cell phone. There is a happy medium that you should strive to find. To quote some Dave here, “Winning at money is 80% behavior and 20% head knowledge.”

Social Parties (Birthday, Wedding, Baby Shower, etc.):
-          Cards: Buy a pack of cute, blank cards at your local craft store. Most come in packs of 12 for $1. That is 12 different occasions you can have a cute card and write what you want in it for less than 10 cents a card versus spending $4 on a store bought one every single time. I have already plowed through 2 packs of these this year saving myself almost $100.
-          Packaging/Wrapping: Again, craft stores and/or the dollar tree. Buy ribbon/twine/wrapping/tissue paper by the bulk and save yourself money and time. There is no reason to spend $3 on a paper bag, $2 on tissue paper and another $3 on a ribbon to watch it be thrown away once opened – every. single. time. That adds $8 to the gift you already spent money on! You can find really cute things at Hobby Lobby or Michaels (and both have coupons online); if you aren’t crafty, just take a gander at Pinterest if you need some basic ideas.
-          Pot Lucks: You don’t need to bring your cream of the crop buffalo chicken dip that costs $20-$25 to make each time, or the chicken and dumplings that also cost $20 as well as 4 hours of your time. And you don’t need to be the one who brings the huge meat platter which costs more than I care to know (keep in mind here I am a single female, and the Helen’s of the world are all married J - two incomes versus my one). Look online or to Pinterest for cheap (but delicious) recipes. Don’t show up somewhere empty handed or with a pan of brownies sporting a huge, bright orange 2.99 sticker on top of it when your other friends/co-workers spent time and money on their contribution. You can make a dish that tastes great, and looks presentable without breaking the bank.     

Dining out:
-          Food: Order an appetizer as a meal. If you are purchasing a meal, do not also order an appetizer. Try and split with a friend if possible.
-          Drinks: Skip the soft drinks and opt for water. Do not buy the $12 cocktail. Do not buy the $11 cocktail. Ask for specials. No specials, but by God you want a drink? Order a cheap beer. Don’t like beer? Ask for a well liquor or wine. Again, do not buy the $12 cocktail.
-          The Check: Believe me on this one, I have been a part-time server for 8 years. When out with others, say yes to individually split checks. There will ALWAYS be that one person in your group every now and again who will say “put it all on one check and we can all split it”. NO. Is it easier on the server? Yep. Is it easier on your budget? Nope. What happens every time is, the person who ordered an appetizer and a water pays the same amount as the girl who ordered the entrée and $12 cocktail. You don’t want to make a scene and ask that you contribute $8 less than everyone else do you? Yeah, she didn’t think so.
*Always remember to tip your server at least 20%, there is no tip or trick to this one.

Grocery Shopping:
-          Coupons: you don’t need to look like you are auditioning for extreme couponing, but if there is a coupon that arrives with the junk mail in your mailbox for $1 off of the sunscreen you know you’ll need for your beach trip coming up, cut that puppy out and use it! No shame.
-          Location: Yes, Publix looks pretty and the people are oh so sweet, but 7 times out of 10, they are way more expensive than Wal-Mark or Kroger. Take a journey on down the street and save you some money, you won’t be plastered on PeopleofWalMart.com by just walking in the door, I promise.
-          Plan Ahead: If you have a road trip coming up, buy your snacks, drinks, and alcohol beforehand so that you do not pay the mark-up at gas stations or tourist traps.

-          Where: Obviously you will not be the only one who determines where your group goes, but you do have a say and can try to sway your group to agree with you. Just like in Bridesmaids, there will be the friend who suggests Vegas every time; try to not. If you want to gamble, suggest a closer gambling place – such as Tunica or Biloxi or wherever is close to you.
-          Who: As many people as you can fit. I am very fortunate to have friends who, for the most part, have the same mentality as myself when it comes to trips. We travel to places we can drive to and stay in places where one person may be on the couch and the single ladies roll 2 or 3 deep in one room (bed count/size depending) so that it can be cost-efficient.
-          What to do: Just about anything but shop. Hanging out at the beach is a free activity. Hiking in the mountains is a free activity. We spend a lot of our time in the beach house or mountain cabin that we paid for so when we do get out and about in the town it is usually for only a day.

Other Social Tips:
-          Feel like seeing a movie? Try and host a RedBox night instead.
-          All of your friends have manicures and pedicures? Paint your nails yourself.
-          Want a clean car? Wash it yourself, don’t take it to get detailed.
-          Want to read the same books everyone is reading? Get a free library card.
-          Want new clothes? You don’t have to shop at Nordstrom or Saks, check out a department store or TJ Maxx.

Once you get used to being aware of your spending, you will be less and less tempted to buy the $15 candle because it smells nice, the $45 shirt that you just have to have, the $30 hat because it is on sale, the $27 bracelet because you can’t have too many, the $150 purse because everyone else has it, and the $100 work out pants because you just can’t work-out in anything else. At first I felt a tad out of my comfort zone; I felt cheap and judged (mainly by my own self). But now that I have spent a lot of time in this spending behavior, it has very much so become the norm, and my old spending behavior feels out of my comfort zone. It is not something I am super focused on, it is not something I talk about all of the time, it does not hold me back, nor does it brand me; I am simply aware and in control. I promise you, it gets easier and easier to walk on by the things you do not need and did not plan to purchase.

The majority of these examples have to do with little things, but for me, the little things can really add up. Notice the title of this blog is not “How to stay social” it is “How I stay social.” Big difference. What I do may not work for you in the slightest, or maybe it does, but either way, it does indeed start and end with your behavior. There is a reason these “how-to” articles work for some and fail miserably for others; it all comes down to what you can realistically stick to. If you know without a doubt you absolutely positootly cannot live without Starbucks, no matter the price, then for heaven’s sake, don’t read an article about saving $800 a year by cutting out Starbucks. OF COURSE you are going to fail. Aim realistically. And by the way, please don’t be spending $800 a year at Starbucks – that really is a problem J

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Another Grand Bites the Dust

I put down $1,000 today towards my student loans and it got me thinking that I haven’t updated you fine folks on the numbers in a couple of months. Here is where I am at:
As I stated back in March, I was able to get a consolidation (praise!) and my new outstanding loan total that I financed was 43K. As of today, my total balance is around 36K. I have paid off approximately 7K since the beginning of April.
For those of you following me since my first “holy smokes I am in some deep water and am about to drown” realization back in 2010 (73k in the hole), then to my “okay, I am pissed about this debt and I am about to tackle it” phase in 2013 (79K in the hole):
(About 43K being principal, the other 11K being ridiculous interest)
I say this not to brag. I say this to motivate you. I say this to say that If I can, you can. Get mad. Get motivated. Get started!
You don’t have to have a consolidation to win with this. You can tackle this on your own without a consolidation; yes, it may cost you a bit more if your interest is high like mine was, but if that is the case, keep trying to consolidate in the background, but move! move! move! at all times on extra payments. Paying down that smallest debt first needs to be your priority.
All that motivation aside, allow me to get real with you for a moment. There is great joy found in paying down a debt you owe, but there are also the ever present Smith’s, and their besties, the Jones’ – aka, the modern day wants:
My current pain point: I want a new car like bad.
I still have a positive outlook overall on my debt management, especially in comparison to where I was a couple of years ago; however, here lately, it has been really hard to keep driving my Honda. And when I say 'I want a new car like bad', I do indeed mean somewhat used. I have had the same Honda since I was 16, so after driving it for 12 years, I am REAL ready for something different. It has relatively low miles (150K) so I know this thing will last me another year or two, but I just want to trade her in like pronto.
On the contrary, I read a chapter out of 'Total Money Makeover' the other night and there was a line in there that struck a chord. It said something to the effect of how Dave Ramsey passionately believes he and his wife were able to win with money due to their willingness to drive old beater cars in the beginning of their makeover. I know this is true because I am projecting to be completely debt free in about 18 or 19 months; again, completely debt free!! However, if I cave and get a new car now, I will most definitely be looking at 30+ months before I would be debt free. That’s 10 or more months of having to stay in the same job that I am not super fond of, that’s 10 more months of ‘edge living’ by delaying the start of a fully funded emergency fund, and the list goes on...
Help reassure this wordy birdy that I can indeed put on my mature pants and WAIT a while before I go purchasing something I know I cannot afford yet. I need not to finance another thing, even if the payments would be completely doable and relatively low. Amen? Amen! 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Adjusting the Sails (Living with Intention)

Moving forward, I am going to aim at an overall tone of positivity for this blog as well as its accompanying Twitter account. Instead of pointing my finger at ole’ Aunt Sallie, I will try and point my finger towards meaningful things that bring hope and have a chance at making an impact in the lives of those who read this blog.
Make no mistake, I am not agreeing that the repayment system is no longer unfair and stepping down from the fight; that is not the case. However, now that I myself am out of the deep waters and can begin to see land, I will lock in my line of sight straight towards home. Straight towards home INTENTIONALLY and with a POSITIVE attitude by my side. Looking back to where I was, I think I found great comfort in searching for and joining the online team of ‘Sallie Mae haters’; there was a common level of understanding within that community. I think what I really needed to know, aside from the fact that there were other people aboard, was that intentional living and positive motivation on a constant basis would be the extra power that would steer my boat safely towards shore.
It is easy to have hate in your heart. It is easy to point the blame. It is easy to get overwhelmed. You have to decide to make the switch into beast mode and challenge the peanut butter and ramen noodles out of yourself. And beast mode is indeed what it takes. Thankfully, I have found both Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey to be very relatable, and that is the reason I have stuck with it; you may not find any hope or inspiration in their words, and if that is the case, I encourage you to seek out other financial advisers/approaches until you find one that motivates you.
My hope is that this blog can now serve a community of people who have chosen to live an intentional life of positivity all for the purpose of getting their boat to shore. I for one know that I was completely fed up with sitting out in the middle of the ocean with a bunch of other motionless boats just waiting in anticipation for the next storm. Something clicked and I realized I had to be the captain of my own boat and do something DIFFERENT if I had any chance of getting to shore. My love for those still remaining motionless out in the ocean runs deep; to them I send out this blog as an SOS received in hopes that they too can implement the necessary steps to have their compasses point them home.
I don't plan to delete any of my previous postings as it helps for me to read about my darkest days so that I have a reminder of just how far I have come. I know this struggle has made me a stronger and much wiser person. Believe me when I say I am not to shore yet, (I still need about 40K more to get me there) but the fact that I can see land is something I will never take for granted. Since intentionally staying focused and trying my best to think in a positive manner has gotten me this far, I am going to stick with it. My hope is that you do as well; because when you do, that also helps me to do the same. Together we can get to shore; besides, what fun is it going to be if I get to shore and am the only survivor?
Stay positive. WE GOT THIS.

"It's not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause and reset, or a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities."
 Kristin Armstrong
“Impact is never about knowing all the steps ahead, but about taking one intentional step after the other.” 
― Bidemi Mark-Mordi

“Empowerment is the intentional absence of negativity.” 
― Stephanie Lennox 

Monday, March 30, 2015

I Chose A Road

I consolidated! Let me say that again: I CONSOLIDATED! I was actually approved for a private student loan consolidation :) I cannot explain to you the joy and relief the words, “you were approved” brought to my soul; I cried a happy tear or two at my desk then texted my mom and a few close friends about the news. It took 6 years to get this. Although I have a decent stretch of road to travel in front of me, I am hoping that the ride on the latter half of this journey is a bit smoother.
The facts: I decided to go with Charter One/Citizens Bank. The reason being: interest rates. The only other real option in my mind was Wells Fargo; however, Charter One’s interest rates were approximately one point lower on both the fixed and variable options. Also of note, I have been denied consolidation from Wells Fargo on more than one occasion, so I figured I would try Charter One first to take advantage of the lower rates and if denied, try my luck over at Wells Fargo again. Thankfully, Charter One gave me an approval.
The only way I would accept a refinance would be a). approval with no co-signer b). a low interest rate and c). no early re-payment penalty. Based on my debt-to-income ratio (which is finally no longer inverted) I was approved to refinance without a co-signer. Based on my credit score, which they reported was 809 (they source EQUIFAX), I was offered their lowest interest rate. The only thing left for me to decide was the term length as well as a fixed or variable interest rate. This was a tough decision because as I stated in the previous entry, I was torn as to whether or not to embark on this refinance journey if I was only going to be reducing my interest rate by a point or two. Before I tell you which option I picked, allow me to lay out the options I was given to choose from:
Term, Type of Interest Rate, Interest Rate, Monthly Payment, Total Amount to be Paid:
20 Years, Fixed, 5.44%, $299, $71,919.13
15 Years, Fixed, 5.19%, $349, $62,831.51
10 Years, Fixed, 5.04%, $460, $55,314.88
5 Years, Fixed, 4.99%, $813, $48,835.84
20 Years, Variable, 2.82%, $239, $57,438.50
15 Years, Variable, 2.67%, $294, $53,004.60
10 Years, Variable, 2.62%, $411, $49,375.23
5 Years, Variable, 2.57%, $766, $46,019.30
 I went with the 20 year/variable term for merely monthly payment/total amount to be paid reasons. Although the cap is astronomical, there is a cap on the variable interest, but it is so huge (like upwards of 25(ish)%) that should it ever get that high, I am in some deep water. All of my previous Sallie Mae/Navient loans have been variable interest rates, and they never changed. I know many financial experts state to not choose a variable interest rate when a fixed is offered to eliminate any and all risk. However, in my case, I am pretty confident I will stay crazy committed to paying this baby off. I may look back on this paragraph 2 years from now and hate myself for it, but for right now, in this moment, I feel okay about my decision.
What this means for me: To begin, I did indeed get the remaining 6K paid off from the original 14K I talked about in my last entry; this put me right where I imagined, financing approximately 43K through Charter One. This does significantly reduce the amount of interest I will be paying each month, but in no way is this a cop-out in regards to my repayment responsibility. I will still get this debt gone as fast as I possibly can. I have sacrificed my money, time and freedom for far too long and am more than fed up with this burden; I believe my annoyance and sacrifices in combination with the fear of a rising interest rate will continue to fuel my inner crazy to keep putting every extra penny I come across towards this loan.

Although I am out from under the shadows of the MONSTER that is Sallie Mae, I am not going to rest. I am going to look at this consolidation as a ‘job well done so far’ high-five and KEEP RUNNING. I hope you all will continue to follow me on this road to debt freedom and I pray that soon, we will all be able to hang up our running shoes, take a seat, and have a glass of sweet lemonade together. Happy spring, people!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

At A Crossroad

What should I do now? I'm really not sure. Let me catch you up with where I am since my last post in May...

In August of 2013 my total student loan debt was $78,950.18 and today (January of 2015), my total student loan debt is $47,828.42. In a mere 18 months, I have put $30,808.19 towards my student loan debt.

I am down from my original 6 loans to now 2 and a half (thank you, Jesus!) I have my 2 highest principal loans remaining (26K & 17K) as well as over half of my 14K paid down to 6K.

I plan to have the remaining 6K paid off in the next few months. That will leave me with 2 loans totaling about 43K. My interest rate is 8% for the 26K and 8.50% for the 17K, I have been reading reviews about the various companies out there who are currently offering private loan consolidation. It seems like, for the most part, unless I have an above average income, the interest rates offered are about the same as I am paying now.

I am not sure what to do here - do I go for it and try lowering my payments by a minimal amount (I am talking maybe a point or a point and a half of interest) or keep them where they are at Sallie Mae? Maybe the above is thinking pessimistically, but with my credit score (which is currently 761) and an average income, I am unsure the point difference in interest wouldn't be anything impressive. Is it worth the attempt of applying, having multiple pulls on my credit score, and the hassle that we all know dealing with these companies can be? Maybe, anything to save a buck, right? Not sure which road I will sashay down, but at least the latest and greatest update on my progress is documented. Happy New Year, folks! Hard to believe I started this blog in 2010, and I am where I am now, still writing to you in 2015; thanks for the emails and support thus far :)

As always, let me know your advice: comment below or email me at ohthesestudentloans@gmail.com

Oh yeah, and as for my opinion of the best resource to research consolidation places, click here, just in case you yourself would like to gander :)