Finances have never really been my thing. Unless you count spending oodles of unnecessary money at Target. Then finances are TOTALLY my thing. But the kind of finances that involve things like budgets, checking accounts, 401k’s, self discipline, responsibility…..bleh. Not so much. I’m pretty sure I gave my mom a lot of grey hairs when she realized that, despite her hours of teaching me, I didn’t even know how to properly balance my checkbook 2 weeks before I left for college. Sorry mom. And also, who ACTUALLY realized that all of those forms you filled out and signed to pay for college were dealing with ACTUAL real life money that you would one day have to pay back…
Oh, everyone else knew that? That’s cool.
FORTUNATELY I married a very financially wise and responsible man who has somehow converted me into a somewhat financially wise and somewhat financially responsible woman. I will always be a work in progress in this matter, but when you’re 22 years old, newlyweds, and have a combined $65,000 in student loan debt (with an additional $50,000 of Physical Therapy school in the near future….), you’ve got to pony up and do something about it.
Before I share our story, you need to know that we are not anything special. I’m not telling you this to brag about how awesome we are, or to make you think that we are the most responsible 24 year olds to ever exist. I’m currently typing this with the keyboard of our desktop on my lap because a bomb in the form of my husband exploded earlier today while trying to find his social security card and there isn’t enough room on the desk for it. And no, he didn’t find it. See? Not responsible.
Mostly, I want you to know that if someone who can’t balance a checkbook can do this, there is so much hope for everyone else out there who may be in the same situation. Also you need to know that all of those social norms that say you’re not supposed to discuss your finances in public are 100% out the window and do not apply to this conversation. Transparency is SO much more beneficial, so I will sacrifice myself on your behalf. You’re welcome.
So here’s our reality:
Like I mentioned earlier, Taylor and I finished undergrad in May 2013 with a significant amount of student loan debt. He had been accepted into Physical Therapy school, so his undergrad loans were and still are being deferred until he graduates in May 2016. That left us with about $30,000 of my loans to deal with in the immediate future. Knowing full well how I function and my inability to turn down a challenge, Taylor casually mentioned that we should use his 3 years of PT school to be really aggressive with my loans. You know, maybe even get serious and set some goals or something.
What’s that? Did you say goals?! I can do goals! Suddenly this whole finance thing became really intriguing to me, and before I knew it, not only did I have goals, but I had goals written down on paper (in pretty colors) and hung up on our refrigerator for everyone to see! BOOM! Here’s what that piece of paper said:
“We’re going to pay off all $30,000 of my loans before Taylor graduates from PT school in May 2016.”
Yeah, you read that right. Nevermind the fact that we were going to be living on a single income for the next 3 years, and barely had enough money to put down a security deposit on our first apartment. My finance savvy husband read it, scratched his head, and was ready to bring me back down to earth with a more reasonable goal. But it was too late. My mind was made up and there was no turning back!
I did some quick figuring and added some numbers to my goal sheet. Three years is 36 months, $30,000 divided into 36 months is $833.33. I rounded up to $900 to account for interest (which wasn’t nearly enough, because interest is the devil). All we had to do was pay $900 a month for the next 3 years, and by graduation day in May 2016, I would be student loan debt free.
Simple as that.
As of right now, July 2015, my current student loan balance is $10,104.17. Ahem. Let me say that again. AS OF RIGHT NOW, JULY 2015, MY CURRENT STUDENT LOAN BALANCE IS TEN THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND FOUR DOLLARS AND SEVENTEEN CENTS. We are 2 years and $20,000 into that crazy stupid goal that is still hanging on our refrigerator, and are completely on track to finish this whole thing off by May 2016. You guys, I didn’t even know how to balance a checkbook and paid off $20,000 in 2 years on a single income!
Whenever I tell people this, their first response is a completely blank stare. But once they find their words, the first thing out of their mouth is “HOW DID YOU DO IT?!” And that’s why I wanted to write this and share it with you. Because it is absolutely, 100% possible for you to do it too.
Here’s what we do:
We have an account specifically for our ‘emergency fund’ with an adequate amount to keep us afloat should an emergency happen. We thankfully haven’t had to use it.
We initially used Dave Ramsey’s envelope system in which you have a separate envelope for each category of spending (gas, groceries, eating out, etc.). After each of my paychecks, we divied out cash to each of the envelopes. Once the money in that envelope was gone, we were done spending money in that category until my next paycheck. If we ever had leftover money in an envelope (ha!), we stashed it away for something fun later on. This only lasted for about 6 months because I wasn’t actually responsible enough to remember to bring the envelopes with us when we left the house, which entirely defeated the purpose. BUT it did teach us to monitor how much we’re spending in each category. Taylor still keeps track of this with an app called Mint.
We live in a questionable apartment with a questionable smell with some questionable graffiti on the dumpster. And we’re fine! There is nothing sweeter than cheap rent. And you can bet I’ve decorated the crap out of this place!
Sometimes we have to say no when we we’re asked to do things like go out to eat or go to a movie. Or we at least try to provide a cheaper alternative. I know that doesn’t sound like much fun, but I promise you this is only temporary.
We settle for a frozen pizza and a movie at home almost every Friday and Saturday night instead of going out. Which means I can’t contribute much when people ask me about which restaurants I’ve been to recently, but I CAN tell them about a lot of Redbox movie fails. And that’s probably more entertaining anyway.
We budget! I work on commission so my paychecks are a different amount each time which can make things tricky. I figured out the absolute minimum my paycheck could be each pay period, and divided our money out to all of its necessary categories based on that amount. Anytime my paycheck is over that amount, the extra money goes straight to loans. We also live (and could potentially die by….) the zero balance rule. Right before payday, we try to have as close to $0 in our checking account as possible, which means any extra money that’s just hanging out in that account goes to student loans. It can be a little nerve-wracking to have $0 in your checking account for a day or so, but that’s what we have our emergency fund for!
Lastly, we have the support of both of our families when it comes to health insurance, my cell phone bill, and the whole appendicitis stunt Taylor pulled back in February. We obviously wouldn’t be able to do this without our parents’ contributions, so kudos to them for loving us. And sorry Mom for not paying attention when you tried to teach me these things long ago…
There have been so many times throughout the last 2 years that I wanted to forget about this silly goal and just blow my paycheck at Hobby Lobby. Like seriously, the entire thing. And maybe someday I will. But for now I will do the things I need to do when I need to do them, in the hopes that someday I will be able to do the things I want to do when I want to do them (don’t credit me for that, I read it on a sign at Jimmy John’s). Keep your eyes open for an updated post in May 2016. And if in the meantime you want to buy me a glass (or bottle) of wine, I will gladly accept. And someday I will return the favor.