Let’s start this off by saying that the societal implications that living in debt is okay is *shockingly* 100% NOT OK. Let’s put this idea into perspective. Let’s say you are $10,000 in debt but you have $4,000 in savings, in reality, you don’t actually have $4,000 in savings. You are technically worth NEGATIVE SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS. THIS SHOULD FREAK YOU OUT. Your goal should be to hustle to get yourself out of debt and on the right track to financial freedom. Because here’s what most people don’t realize, once you pay off your debts (student loans, credit cards, car payments, etc.) the amount of freedom you have is infinite.
Once you have paid off your debts you can start to save for a down payment on a house or start saving for retirement (which is something you should be doing right now, if you haven’t started already, but we’ll save that topic for another article). This is the time when you can start planning that trip you’ve always wanted to take. This is when you can spend a little more money on “me” time without feeling guilty. This is when you can spontaneously buy a last minute weekend away with your girlfriends. Or book that trip to Vegas. Or plan the perfect stay-cation.
The. Options. Are. Endless.
But first, here are a couple common misconceptions that you may have about being frugal and focusing on paying off loans:
Misconception 1 – You will have no fun because you can no longer spend money on things you enjoy.
FALSE! My husband and I have always known that our main focus when we got married was getting out of debt first, so that is what we put our focus on. However, we still splurged on extra things for our wedding, we went on a honeymoon, we took a trip to London and Scotland, we still go out with friends, we’ve funded our own creative projects, AND we leave for Greece in a couple months. Just because you are trying to pay off loans doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your social life and give up the things that you really enjoy doing. Sometimes sacrifices are made, yes, but you don’t have to give up everything and live inside your tiny apartment eating soup straight out of the can.
Misconception 2 – There are more important things that you need to spend money on right now before you pay off your student loans.
FALSE! You’d be surprised, but there is VERY little that you need to spend money on at this age that is more important than getting yourself out of debt. Granted, I’m aware that there are exceptions to every rule, but don’t justify having a nicer car or living in a bigger apartment as necessities when you’re sitting $30,000 in debt.
Now, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. How the F**K did we dig ourselves out of that $42,000 hole in just two and a half years?!
1. WE BUDGETED LIKE CRAZY AND STUCK TO IT. Seriously, you guys, budget everything. Spend one month tracking everything you spend money on using a software such as You Need A Budget. After one month you will know what your monthly expenditures are and you can move forward from there.
2. Minimize ALL spending. Think of it like this, if I lost my job tomorrow, what would be the bare minimum I could spend to survive while getting back on my feet? We’re talking Def Con 5 emergency level shit. That’s rent, car insurance, water, electric, internet, groceries, gas, cell phone bill. That’s it. That is the bare minimum. What about Netflix? You don’t need it, you want it. What about my $150 per month gym membership? Here’s something to think about – hiking is free.
So now that you know your minimum amount, brainstorm ways you can minimize what you already spend. Three common areas of this are – car insurance, cell phone plan, and cable/internet service. Call each of your providers, ask about specials, tell them the prices of competitors and ask if they can match. Don’t get the new iPhone that just came out because it’s cool. Don’t spend money on cable TV when all you watch is Food Network. Don’t keep paying for the highest internet speeds when you’re not home for the majority of the time you are awake. Remember, you don’t need those things, you want them.
For almost everyone, frivolous spending can be reduced the most. My husband and I used to spend way too much money per week because we weren’t monitoring where our money was going. Now that we’ve put ourselves on a strict budget we allow ourselves to each spend $100 per week on whatever we want; eating out, getting drinks, going to concerts, getting Starbucks – anything that we WANT but definitely don’t NEED goes into this category. It’s $100 a week of guilt free spending.
2a. Let’s talk about the importance of setting up an Emergency Fund for yourself. Since you have taken the time to figure out what your monthly expenditures are, your first job (even BEFORE paying off student loans) is saving 4-6 months of income in an account that you do not touch unless your world falls apart. This is for unexpected and expensive medical bills that your insurance doesn’t cover. This is to purchase a new used car because you got rear ended and your car is totaled. This is because you unexpectedly lost your job and will have no income until you find another one. Without an emergency fund, you will very easily create more debt because you have to in order to survive. Put yourself in a situation so that this never happens to you.
3. Now that you know the amount you have to spend each month, create a plan to attach your loans onto this monthly budget. There are two different ways to look at paying off your student loans. There is the Snowball Method – which means you pay off the smallest loans first in order to gain momentum and the Avalanche Method – which means you pay off the loans with the highest interest rate first. We did the Avalanche Method, knowing that it was better for us to knock out the high interest rates first, overall saving us time and money. Here is a great article that sums up both methods and how to decide which method is best for you.
4. Allow yourself to celebrate small victories. You put $2,000 towards your loans this month? Great! Take yourself out to a nice lunch or buy yourself that new purse you’ve been eyeing for the past couple weeks. This may sound contradictory to what’s stated above, but every time we would pay off another loan I would take my weekly allowance and tell myself to splurge on something that was 100% for me; whether that was getting my nails done, or getting a massage, it was a great way of saying thank you to myself for working so hard. Because you are working hard and you do deserve to reap some of the benefits of that hard work right away.
To sum it all up – set goals, research the best ways for yourself to achieve those goals, and keep yourself in check.
No one is going to get you out of debt. No one is going to stand over your shoulder and remind you not to spend money on bottomless mimosas for the third week in a row. This is all on you. If you want to get out of debt, you have to buckle down and get yourself out of that debt. It feels impossible, but coming from someone who NEVER thought I’d get myself out, it’s not impossible. It’s completely attainable.
We live in a world where instant gratification is what most of us thrive on. We want the newest gadgets, NOW. We want the nicest apartment, NOW. We want to get brunch with our friends, RIGHT NOW. This is not necessarily the best mindset to be in. Be aware of the future you are creating for yourself. If you are neglecting your debt now it will only increase over time. (Not so) fun fact: the longer you wait to pay off your debt the more money you end up losing because of those interest rates. Get yourself out of debt now so you can set yourself up for financial freedom in the future.
Be patient. Work hard. And stay focused.
**Huge thank you to my husband, Garrett, for helping me put this article together. Without his guidance these past couple of years I would not have been able to write this piece because I would still be drowning in debt. He’s the brains behind this duo. He’s the master behind our budgeting. He’s the better half of my whole.**