Tag Archives: frugal living

How I Saved $70 a Month on My Cell Phone Bill (And You Can Too)!

rwOne day this past Fall I woke and realized at age 26 I needed to get my life together financially if I wanted to pursue both my passion of travel and also return back to graduate school for my PhD studies. I’ve never been bad with budgeting and finance, but I’ve never been extremely good either. Back in October I sat down and created my Mint account to establish my first real budget that I was going to stick to while I worked to reduce my debt and increase my assets.

One of the first things I did was to scrutinize all my expenses and examine where I could cut costs. One stood out from the rest – my cell phone bill (okay, maybe Starbuck trips were up top there too). My plan with Verizon, which included about 500 minutes of talk, unlimited text, and 2GB of data on my iPhone 4 cost me a whopping $96.98 (including taxes). I was paying close to $1200 a year for something that wasn’t used much. That $1200 could easily go to paying off my student loans!

My Verizon contract expired in September of last year so I was free to change plans to whom ever I decided would meet my needs. I looked into AT&T, US Cellular, T-Mobile, and Sprint. The cheapest plan I could find at the time was Sprint at about $70-$80 a month. That would give me about $10 a month or $120 a year in savings, but I knew I could do better.

So I did what every normal person would do and “googled” cheap/budget phone plans. At first I was convinced that I would do a Straight Talk Wireless plan. Straight Talk offers no contract and unlimited talk, text, and data for $30 a month plus taxes. Not a bad deal I thought! And then I found out that you had to pay full-price for a new phone! My Verizon iPhone would not work on their system so I would definitely have to purchase a new phone. For a new (or used) iPhone I was looking at a price tag of $400-$650 for a new phone depending if I purchased a used iPhone 4s or a brand new iPhone 5.

I kept Straight Talk as a strong contender, but I really hated the idea of dropping over $500 for a new phone. At first during my new cell phone plan search, I was set on getting an iPhone. I wasn’t until I found Republic Wireless that I was open to switching to an Android phone. I found Republic Wireless through Mr. Money Mustache’s website. He is one of my favorite personal finance/frugal living bloggers. He spent a lot of time researching and trying new cell phones that fit his frugal lifestyle. Republic Wireless was his winner and continues to be so today. If it was good for him (and many other frugal bloggers) then it would be good for me.

Republic Wireless is a special wireless company. You can now choose from two phones: the Moto G ($149) or the Moto X ($299). When I made the switch in January I only had the option of the Moto X. You only have these two options because these phones are made especially for Republic Wireless. Republic Wireless had extremely low cell phone plan pricess because the company builds in a wireless transceiver into each phone. If you’re in an area with wifi your call will be made over the wifi connection. However, if you’re in an area with no wifi, the call will be made over the Sprint and/or Verizon cellular networks. The phone will automately switch from wifi to cellular if you walk outside the wifi zone (it’s worked great for me).

I’ve been using Republic Wireless since January and I love it! I purchased the Moto X for $299 plus taxes. I love the phone! It does everything I need it to do and the camera is about 1000 times better than the camera on my iPhone 4! You can google reviews of the Moto X for more details and comparison to other phones. I’m not a techie and I’m even going to pretend to be one either! 🙂

Republic Wireless has 4 plan options:

For the first four months I used Republic Wireless I used the $10 a month plan because about 90% of the time I was surrounded by wifi spots. It worked great for me and allowed me to recoup some of the costs I spent when I purchased the phone. In May I switched to the $25 a month plan because I would be riding my bicycle outside and wanted the ability to use Google Maps to find out where I am if I got lost. Thus far, my reception has been great. Of course, if you are considering changing to Republic Wireless, make sure you check their coverage maps HERE.

One of the best things about Republic Wireless is the ability to switch between the plans twice a month. When I travel out of the country (like my trip to Belize and Guatemala in May), I switched to the $5 a month plan for that week and as soon as I hit tarmac in Atlanta, I switched back to my normal monthly plan.

Another major benefit, which I haven’t used yet because I wasn’t aware of it until after my trip, is the ability to make calls out of the country back to the US if you’re on a wifi network. For example, when I was using the wifi on my phone at the hostel in Belize, I could have called my father in Maine. As noted above, I have not used this feature yet so I’m not 100% sure of the quality.

Let’s look at a comparison of the three cell phone plan options I narrowed down on:

Wireless Company

Monthly Payment

Cost of Phone

Yearly Cost of Plan (including cost of phone)

Verizon

$97 (w/ tax)

$200 (upgrade to iPhone 5)

$1364 (+ 2-yr contract)

Straight Talk Wireless

$33 (w/ estimated tax)

$550 (for iPhone 5)

$946 (no contract)

Republic Wireless $29 (w/ tax) $300 (for Moto X)

$648 (no contract)

It seemed like a no brainer when looking at the above table. Because I chose the $10 a month plan for 4 months, I should only pay about $605 for my total 2014 cell bill. If I had stayed on Verizon without upgrading my phone, I would have paid roughly $1164. I just found an extra $500 a year just by changing cell phone plans!

If you’re looking to change cell phones and save a boat load of money, I highly suggest checking out Republic Wireless! As a loyal Republic Wireless customer, if you use my referral link you can get a $20 credit (and I will also get a $20 credit). Win, win for everyone! Here is my referral link: Try Republic Wireless. Republic Wireless also offers a 30-day money back guarantee so if you don’t like it, you’ll get your money back! 🙂

** The above link is a referral link. As I mentioned above, I will earn a $20 credit if you decide to switch to Republic Wireless using my link. Republic Wireless did not pay me for this post and all my opinions are my own. Obviously, I really love this plan and phone or else I would not be using it and promoting it! 🙂

 

Frugal Fridays: I’m a Hustler Baby!

frugalfridays

I’m a hustler baby,

I just want you to know,

It ain’t where I been,

But where I’m bout to go, (top of the world!)

-Jay-Z, “I Just Wanna Love U (Give It to Me)

Okay, I’m not a hustler in the way you may be thinking. I’m definitely not a pimp or drug-dealer, so please don’t start those rumors!

The Dictionary defines a hustler as an aggressively enterprising person; a go getter. Or a prostitute. I’m definitely NOT a prostitute.

In the personal finance blogging world, we call ourselves side hustlers. I’m a proud side hustler. A side hustler is someone who makes money on the side by doing a variety of things, such as blogging, virtual assisting, mystery shopping, freelance writing, or anything else.

There are a slew of awesome personal finance bloggers out there in the interwebs that describe their side hustles. The beauty of side hustling is that you can do anything that you set your mind to, although I would hope that you would avoid illegal activities!

I first got serious about side hustling in January. This past fall I sat down and took a hard look at my financial landscape. I added up all my debt and all my assets and created my first real monthly budget. I spent some time figuring out a 5 and 10-year plan on where I wanted to be in life both personally, professionally, and financially. I just started a new job with a much higher salary than my previous job. But, my monthly student loan payments more than doubled since my graduate loans came out of there grace period.

Having a storm cloud of over $35,000 of student loan debt hanging over my head scared the crap out of me. I couldn’t find an umbrella big enough to keep me dry. I couldn’t ask for a raise. I already cut back on the extras in my budget to make extra loan payments. I had just started reading a lot of personal finance blogs and discovered side hustling. I was sold.

My Side Hustles

  1. Teach Spin Classes – Since January I have been teaching spin classes at both Zone 3 Fitness and The Bay Club. Since I’m both a personal trainer and certified triathlon and cycling coach, this was a perfect hustle for me. I love it because I get to kick people’s butt in class and also kick my own during class. The money I make teaching classes goes directly to making extra payments on my SallieMae student loans.
  2. Personal Training & Triathlon Coach – I wouldn’t necessarily call this a side hustle because in actuality it is my business. I train several clients in their homes and also coach several athletes in endurance sports. I’m putting this in here because side hustles can be created from things you are passionate about and are good at. I love fitness and triathlons and thus I became a coach and trainer to share my love of the sport and living a healthy life and hopefully changing lives while doing it. And, of course, if you’re looking for a trainer or coach checkout my website – Big Sky Multisport Coaching & Personal Training.
  3. Freelance Writing – I love writing. I’ve always loved writing from an early age and would write stories all day long if I could – especially if it was about horses. I have two blogs myself (I don’t currently make money on either of my blogs, but some people make money with their blogs) and I dabble in freelance writing. I am a staff writer at OneSmartDollar.com and hopefully will be publishing some travel posts on a couple of sites in the very near future. I don’t make a ton of money doing freelance writing at the moment, but I love it and will continue doing it to help develop my writing skills, share my story, and make a few extra bucks.
  4. Selling Stuff on Craigslist/eBay/Amazon/Etc. – This past fall I had to buy a new wardrobe for my new professional-attire job. When I buy new clothes I always try to make an enough to go through my closet and get rid of the clothing that I haven’t worn in a long time. I brought clothes to the consignment shop, sold some online, and then donated the rest. I went through my room and house and also sold things on Craigslist and eBay that I no longer used. I sold an old cycling trainer and old GPS running watch online. I am also planning on selling my triathlon bike at the end of the season in prep for returning to grad school in the near future. So heads up if anyone is looking for a sweet triathlon bike with a power-meter!
  5. Surveys – I fill out online surveys to earn airline miles. I’m not actually making real money doing these, but I count it as a side hustle because those miles count towards my mileage award balances that I can then use to earn free plane tickets. Thus, saving money!

Those are things I do to make an extra $200-$500 a month on top of my monthly salary from my full-time job. All the extra money I make I put towards paying off my student loan debt faster and also stuff into my travel savings account for upcoming trips I have planned.

My advice for people is to look for opportunities to make a few extra bucks doing something you love. You can always sell your junk too. Remember, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Making extra money has allowed me to reach my financial goals quicker than I would if I just stuck to my budget based on my monthly salary income. I’m working to reaching the top of the world, because I’m a hustler baby! 😉

April Challenge: Living on Food Stamps Week 3

AprilChallenge

I just finished week 3 of my April Challenge. It’s getting harder! I’m hungry… like all the freaking time! I can tell you now, this week (April 20th – April 26th) is my last week. It will mark 4 weeks. I was originally thinking of extending it to 5 weeks since April 30th ends on a Wednesday. However, with my first triathlon on May 3rd, I would like to be properly fueled.

Week 3 groceries from Trader Joe's
Week 3 groceries from Trader Joe’s

This week’s grocery haul from Trader Joe’s:

  • TJ Double Crème French Brie – $3.91
  • 2 cartons of Organic Plain Yogurt – $5.98
  • TJ Gluten-Free Granola – $3.49
  • Demi Baguette – $1.19
  • Frozen Berry Medley – $2.99
  • Canned Chicken – $2.99
  • TJ’s Spring Mixed Greens – $1.99
  • Baby Spinach – $1.99
  • Avocado – $1.39
  • 3 Organic Granny Smith Apples – $2.67
  • Brown Rice Tortillas – $3.49
The evidence (minus my missing Hannaford receipt)
The evidence (minus my missing Hannaford receipt)

The total rang up as $32.08. I also spent an additional $8.37 at Hannafords. I can’t find the receipt and honestly, I have no clue what I bought. Wednesday I had to buy lunch due to a work meeting in Augusta. I had an Asian chicken salad from the cafeteria and chips for a total of $5.18. Tuesday we had a work lunch meeting. My boss bought us Portland House of Pizza. I do not like PHOPs pizza, but I was so hungry that I ate several pieces! I’m surprised that I didn’t bite someone’s hand off either. I spent a grand total of $45.63 (including my work lunch) on food during week three of my living on SNAP challenge.

I’m quickly losing steam during this challenge. I’m hungry. Living on an extreme food budget and being a very active athlete does not mix well. You’re hungry all the time! Certainly I could eat pasta and bread none stop, but I’m not a huge fan of a lot of carbs (with the exception of vegetables, fruits, and legumes) in my diet. Adequate protein is tough to consume on a regular basis living on SNAP. For my active lifestyle and my current body weight, I should be consuming about 105g of protein a day (based on 0.8 grams per pound of body weight). I’m lucky if I’m currently eating half that! My main protein staples have been beans, yogurt, canned chicken, and peanut butter.

A sample of week 3 lunches
A sample of week 3 lunches

Fruits and vegetables have been limited as well. This week I did spend more on greens to get into my diet. I miss big salads at lunch, but fresh vegetables are expensive. When you can only spend $37.90 on a food a week, you have to be creative and pick the biggest bang for your buck, especially if you want to feel full after a meal.

Next week I’ll summarize my last week of my April Challenge and expand more on my findings and feelings about eating on the cheap.

 

In case you missed the previous weekly recaps:

April Challenge: Living on Food Stamps Week One

April Challenge: Living on Food Stamps Week Two

April Challenge: Living on Food Stamps Week 2

AprilChallenge

My second week living on $37.90 a week for food was a  bit harder due to the fact our refrigerator died mid-week. I keep a lot of my lunch food at work so I don’t have to pack a lunch each morning. It’s convenient for me, but I’m sure I annoy some of my coworkers by taking up prime real estate in the fridge at work. However, I have a lot of frozen food and then all my eggs, yogurt, greens, etc. in my fridge at home.

The broken fridge...
The broken fridge…

My father rushed all the frozen stuff and the eggs and dairy products to his girlfriend’s house for two days. The remaining fridge items spent two days in a cooler in ice outside on our deck. I was content with breakfast and lunch items at work, but dinner was a little harder to plan and cook due to the fact a lot of my food was not in the house. I tried to get creative though.

I spent a total of $41.32 for the week in food. I was $3.42 over budget. Womp, womp, womp…

I ate dinner Wednesday at my Junior League meeting. I had Italian sandwiches for the first time in years and I actually don’t really like them. I think I was just super hungry from my strength training workout prior to my meeting. On Friday we had a team meeting at work and I ate an entire small Mashed Potato pizza from Otto’s. #sorrynotsorry My excuse – I just ran 3+ miles before lunch….

The evidence
The evidence

Here’s the breakdown:

Trader Joe’s

  • 3 Kiwis – $1.47
  • Organic plain whole milk yogurt – $2.99
  • Green Kale – $2.29
  • 2 Green apples – $1.38
  • Frozen mixed berries – $2.99
  • 1 Red onion – $0.89
  • Coconut milk unsweetened – $1.99
  • Sweet relish – $1.99
  • 1 Avocado – $1.39
  • Bag of organic whole carrots – $0.89
  • 1 Dozen cage-free eggs – $2.99
  • Brown rice tortillas – $3.49

Hannaford

  • 2 Muffins – $1.78
  • Hot cocoa mix – $1.79
  • Sandwich baggies – $1.99** non-grocery item
  • Romaine hearts – $2.79
  • Frozen red raspberries – $2.99
  • Potato chowder soup – $3.49
  • marshmallow peeps – $1.39

Damn you marshmallow peeps! Peeps are my guilty pleasure and I only eat them around Easter. I tried to be strong, but their little chocolate eyes just stared me down and begged me to buy them (and then eat them)! If you remove the sandwich baggies, I spent a total of $39.33 on food for the week. I purchased the soup Thursday night for dinner since our fridge was dead and almost all my food was either at work or at my father’s girlfriend’s house.

A collection of lunches for the week
A collection of lunches for the week

My lunches and dinners consisted mostly of my poor man’s “Chipotle” bowl and soup. Breakfasts consisted of yogurt and fruit or eggs (when I had them in my fridge). Very similar meals as last week. I did find a recipe to make cauliflower soup, which is why I purchased coconut milk, but haven’t made it yet. That’s on this week’s agenda. One of my favorite lunches (not pictured) was chicken salad (made with canned white chicken, plain yogurt, and sweet relish) on salad greens on a brown rice wrap. Yum!

Let’s hope I can under-spend the next couple of weeks so I average only spending $37.90 a week. It’s getting tougher though. I so badly want to buy more fresh fruit and veggies, but I’m trying to work with what I have. I’m heading to Belize in less than 4 weeks for vacation, so I’m hoping to focus on using the food I have in my pantry and freezer instead of buying a ton of new foods. I definitely need to get creative and find some new recipes!

Do you have any healthy-ish recipes to share? preferably ones that work well for someone on a tight budget?

April Challenge: Living on Food Stamps Week 1

AprilChallenge

Week one of my April Challenge is in the books as of yesterday! It actually overlapped a little bit with week two because I decided to go back to my regular grocery shopping schedule of shopping on the weekend, thus I’m going to push this out to a 5 week challenge and go into the first few days of May.

Last Tuesday night after my spin class (I teach spinning at Zone 3 Fitness on Tuesday nights at 5:45pm. You should totally check it out!) I headed back into Portland to shop at Trader Joe’s. Let me tell you. The best times to shop at TJs is either late at night, during the work day, or early Sunday mornings! I armed myself with a cart, my calculator, and a notebook to make sure I stayed under my weekly allotment of $37.90.

Armed with my calculator, little notebook, and cart!
Armed with my calculator, little notebook, and cart!

I used to shop with a grocery list, but I haven’t in quite some time. It is something that I need to get back in the habit of doing and meal planning. I find that if I meal plan in advance I only buy what I need for the week and don’t waste as much food. Mentally I went in with an idea of what I wanted to buy and eat for the week.

My focus was getting healthy food that I could compliment with ideas that I had in my pantry. About a month ago I inventoried both my freezer stock and pantry. I highly recommend doing this every so often so you know what you have and can plan meals around items you already have.

pantryfood
Food from my freezer and pantry when I did an inventory a month ago

I made my way around the store checking prices and writing down every price of every item I placed in my cart. I periodically checked the total of my cart to make sure I stayed under the limit. And I did! I left TJs only spending $33.90 leaving me with an extra $4.

The food haul from TJs
The food haul from TJs

Here are the items I purchased:

  • Creamy Tomato Soup – $2.49
  • Organic Plain Whole Milk Yogurt – $2.99
  • Organic Black Beans – $0.89
  • Romaine Lettuce – $1.99
  • Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds Snack Size – $0.99 (I was hungry after spin)
  • Frozen Mixed Berries – $2.99
  • Pretzel Stick Bread – $0.99 (once again I was hungry)
  • TJs Bacon Ends & Pieces – $2.99 (side note: not really a fan, too much effort to take a part and cook)
  • Pico de Gallo Salsa – $2.99
  • Bag of Minneola Oranges – $2.99
  • Granola – $3.49
  • Broccoli – $1.99
  • Avocado –  $1.39
  • Cheddar Snack Sticks – $3.99
  • Cucumber – $0.69

As you can see, I was able to purchase semi-healthy items. Of course, fresh fruit and veggies are bit more expense and would have limited the number of items I could have purchased. Same with meat. Meat is definitely expensive, whether its frozen or fresh. Luckily I have a bunch of chicken and fish in my freezer at the moment. Although, I didn’t eat much meat at all this week.

So what did I eat all week? I lucked out Wednesday. I attended an all day conference in Augusta for work and ate breakfast and lunch there. Actually, I ate my first breakfast at home – yogurt, berries, and a handful of granola. It’s my normal breakfast if I don’t have a ton of time to cook eggs.

My "Chipotle" bowl
My “Chipotle” bowl

 

Most of the week I mixed a bunch of food together and ate it. My favorite is my own version of the Chipotle salad bowl with lettuce, rice, avocado, cheese, and salsa. I also ate some hardboiled eggs, apples with peanut butter, oranges, and nuts. On Thursday night I cooked up some coconut flour pancakes so I could use some of the fresh maple syrup my father got at the Merrifield Farm on Maple Sugar Sunday. Yum!

On Saturday I taught spin and then did a killer strength circuit workout that left me sore for days. I then ran some errands and didn’t plan well for food after my workout. Bad Katelyn! I ended up treating myself to a frozen yogurt at Red Mango in the mall. It cost $3.76 and definitely hit the spot! On Sunday I ate some eggs and bacon for breakfast and hit up the beach with my dog and a couple of friends and their dog. Afterwards we went to Red’s Ice Cream and my friend brought me an ice cream. Thanks! After the beach I did my grocery shopping for week two at Trader Joe’s. I will recap that next week. Week two will run from Sunday to Saturday.

The evidence!
The evidence! Week one total: $37.66

Overall, I do feel hungry. I’m an athlete training for triathlons right now and of course after workouts I get hungry! Hence the frozen yogurt on Saturday. That was bad planning on my behalf. I do think with better meal planning then I would be more satisfied throughout the day. I’m currently working on that in week two. But, the latest kicker is our refrigerator just died tonight. Awesome! Luckily I keep a lot of my food at work for the week. Sorry to my co-workers who deal with me taking up half the fridge. But that means the possibility of losing some food if we don’t either get it fixed or repaired ASAP! Stay tuned for week two recap next week!

 

Do you think you could survive on $37.90 a week? Do you think you could eat healthy with that budget? What are your go-to healthy budget-friendly meals? I would love to share some! 🙂

Frugal Fridays: My 3 Year Financial Goals

frugalfridays

I’m now officially in my late 20s. Oh the horror! I will turn the ripe old age of 30 on March 8, 2017. My goal is also to return to graduate school for my PhD by Fall 2017. For the next 3-4 years I have some big goals that I hope to achieve with a lot of hard work and hopefully a bit of luck.

A large majority of my goals are related to financial stability and freedom. Hence why I created this blog; I want to convey my journey in personal finance, as well as travel and life. Through this blog I am very candid about my personal finances. Personal finances have always been a taboo topic in modern American culture, and I believe that money needs to be discussed more openly.

According to the NerdWallet, as of March 2014, the average American household debt is:

  • Average credit card debt: $15,252
  • Average mortgage debt: $152,209
  • Average student loan debt: $32,986

Those statistics are scary figures and I personally believe that a part of it has to do with poor personal finance education and discipline. I believe that the more open people are about their money and personal finance, the more others are aware of it and the more educated they become about money.

I grew up with a pretty good understanding of money. My father really enjoys lecturing me about personal finance, investing, and really anything else. Personally, I think he just likes to hear himself talk half the time. I have a BA in biochemistry from a small state university and a MPH in public health from a private university. I graduated with a total of $44,103 of student loans (not including interest over time).

I’m pretty good with money and tend to save more than I spend. The past few years I have been competing in the sport of triathlon, which I absolutely adore and it is a major part of my lifestyle. The sport of triathlon is not cheap. The further I got into the sport, the more I wanted a better and more expensive bike and to compete in bigger and more expensive races. I ended up spending way more than I probably should have on equipment and expenses related to triathlon (I never went in debt because of these purchases). I don’t regret my purchases, but I had wished that I focused a bit more on paying off student loans etc.

Now that I achieved one of my main goals – to become an Ironman (you can read more about my triathlon life on www.bigskymultisportcoaching.com), I have decided to refocus more on my career and financial goals.

I keep my goals in my personal finance spreadsheet that I created to keep track of everything from my monthly budget, bills, student loans, vacation budgets, etc. I’ve decided to make my goals public to allow others to hold me accountable for my goals and also to show other 20-somethings that educating yourself and making personal finance a priority at a young age will only pay off in the future (I mean that both literally and figuratively).

2014:
  • Purchase new car
  • Save $1500 in my emergency fund
  • Pay off my private student loan (Balance ~ $1500) – PAID
  • Pay off one of my SallieMae loans (current balance ~ $745; target date: 9/14)
  • Rollover my 401k from my old job to a Roth IRA and save cash for the tax payment in 2015
  • Contribute the maximum percent of my salary to receive a company match in my 403b
  • Save my Belize vacation in May and also for my Africa volunteer vacation in November 2015
  • Continue to pay the minimum on all my student loans (estimated 2014 payments: $5100)
2015:
  • Save an additional $2000 in my emergency fund (Target end of 2015 total: $3500)
  • Pay off a second SallieMae loan (current balance ~$745; target date: 1/15)
  • Use the snowball method and pay extra on another SallieMae loan
  • Continue to pay the minimum on all my student loans (estimated 2015 payments: $5100)
  • Continue to save for my Africa volunteer vacation in November 2015 (estimated costs: $4000)
  • Pay off half of my car loan (4/1/14 loan amount: $13.104.20; End 2015 Goal: $6000)
  • Contribute the maximum percent of my salary to receive a company match in my 403b
  • Contribute monthly to my Roth IRA account
2016:
  • Save an additional $3100 in my emergency fund (Target end of 2016 total: $6600)
  • Pay off SallieMae loans using the snowball method (estimated remaining balance: $4300)
  • Continue to pay the minimum on all my student loans (estimated 2016 payments: $5100)
  • Contribute the maximum percent of my salary to receive a company match in my 403b
  • Contribute monthly to my Roth IRA account (ideally max out yearly contribution)
  • Pay for Lasik eye surgery
  • Start saving for future purchase needs (i.e. PhD studies, house, etc.)

My 2016 goals get a bit fuzzy because it’s hard to predict where I’ll be in 3 years. My primary career goal is to work abroad a year through a public health fellowship or possibly teach English abroad before heading back for my PhD in 2017. Ultimately I would like a position that pays a decent living wage while overseas so I can stock pile money and continue to pay off my student loans, but I’m not sure what might happen in the job front.

As you can see, my major themes involve paying off student loan debt (you can read more about my plan to payoff $20,000 of student loans in 3 years HERE) and to contribute to my retirement accounts.

Note: I have also created a unique page above in the menu for this post so I continuously check in and make sure I’m on my path to financial freedom! 🙂

April Challenge: Living on Food Stamps

AprilChallenge

No, I’m not actually living on food stamps or now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). I do not qualify for food stamps or assistance nor would I utilize them unless I was in a bad situation and I had no other options. I believe that food stamps and any welfare assistance should be available to those that truly need the help to survive.

When I first began budgeting, I wasn’t sure what my monthly food budget should be. It’s just me (and well, my dog, but she has her own separate budget category although she likes to think I share my food with her). I estimated $300 for grocery, $80 combined for restaurants, coffee shops and bars. That seems like a lot of money for a single person. Now that I have a monthly car payment (you can read about my new car purchase experience HERE), I’m looking to cut back on my food expenses.

I did some research to determine how much the average American spends on food monthly. A 2012 Gallup Poll survey determined that the average American family spends about $151 a week for food. The survey also revealed that the average young adult (cough, cough… Me) spends about $173 a week in food. That means the average young adult spends about $692 in food a month! Yikes! I definitely know people who probably spend this amount or more in food for just themselves in a month.

I rarely eat out for food. I generally spend less than $350 a month in food. I rarely go out to dinner so my restaurant budget is normally $0. However, March was a busy and expensive month this year. My birthday was in March so I went out with a few friends, which obviously killed both my restaurant and bar budget. I also bribed my father with pizza and beer to come to the dealership with me to buy my car. It was $44 well spent I think. I almost always bring my lunch and snacks to work, but usually once a week I get tired of what I bring and grab lunch somewhere. I also stop at Starbucks a few times a month.

All those small purchases add up over a period of time! During my food budget research I discovered the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Official Food Plans: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels reports. The USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion tracks each month what the average person spends on food and reports out the figures to the public. SNAP benefits for individuals and families are calculated using the “thrifty plan.” Although this site indicates how much you might qualify (for a single person you can get up to $189 a month). In January 2014, the average female aged 19-50 spent $37.90 a week on food using the “thrifty plan.”

For the month of April I am challenging myself to live on $37.90 a week on food. This would be the same allotted to me if I were to be on SNAP. I’m not allowed to go out to eat or stop at any coffee shops. The only exception is if I have to travel for work and cannot take food with me, which at this point I don’t think will be much of an issue. I am doing this challenge for two reasons: 1) I am trying to save money and to see if I can truly reduce my monthly food bill, and 2) I want to see what it is like to be on SNAP and if it’s possible to eat healthy. As a public health professional, I’m well aware of the major issue of having healthy food options at a low price. Most of the healthier options are too expensive for a family on SNAP and thus they buy cheap, processed food leading to obesity in the low-socioeconomic population.

I’m giving myself two rules:

  1. I can only spend $37.90 a week on food
  2. I’m allowed to use food that I have in my cupboards and freezer (this could be viewed as cheating but I’m going with it)

Each week I will check in with purchases, what I ate and how things went. I encourage you to try my April Challenge as well!

The True Costs of College: How I Plan to Pay Off $20,000 in 3 Years

thetruecostsofcollege

Last post I mentioned at the end that my plan is to pay off at least HALF of my student loan debt by 2017. Why 2017? Well, that is my target date for returning to graduate school to earn my PhD. Of course, opportunities may arise and my plans may change, but by end of 2017 I want half my student loan debt gone.

My student loan debt weighs on me heavily. Student loan debt isn’t bad debt to have. Creditors look at it as good debt and the investment in my education was well worth it. But, it makes me nervous. There are so many other things that I want to pursue in life and I feel like my student loan debt holds me back like a ball and chain.

If I continue to pay my loans monthly on the standard 10-year plan, I will pay all my loans off by the end of 2023. That’s about 9 years from today. I’ll be 36 by then. Yikes! My ultimate goal is to pay them off by 2020… three years earlier. Most people will probably debate me on this choice, but I do not want to have children until my student loans are paid off in full. Now, children are definitely not in my 5 year plan, and the outlook in the 10 year plan is so-so. Children are expensive and if I choose to have one then I want to make sure that I can afford the lifestyle that my future child deserves and I will be able to afford a portion of their future education.

Anyway, back to my plan of attack. Here is my student loan debt summary from my first post, The True Costs of College: My Student Loan Debt Story:

Undergrad Loans

Year Original Amount Current Amount – 3/3/14
Year 1 – 1st Semester  $          1,312.00  $                        745.88
Year 1 – 2nd Semester  $          1,312.00  $                        745.37
Year 2 – Full Year  $          3,500.00  $                     2,854.02
Year 3 – Full Year  $          5,500.00  $                     4,825.22
Year 4 – 1st Semester  $          2,750.00  $                     2,480.00
Year 1 – Gate Loan  $          1,300.00  $                               –  
Year 3 – Private Loan  $          5,000.00  $                               –  
Year 1 – Perkins  $          2,000.00  $                               –  
Total  $        22,674.00  $                    11,650.49

Grad Loans

Semester Original Amount Current Amount – 3/3/14
Summer 2010  $          1,714.00  $                     1,716.06
Fall 2010  $          3,351.00  $                     3,354.83
Spring 2011  $          3,435.00  $                     3,438.93
Summer 2011  $             368.00  $                               –  
Fall 2011  $          4,004.00  $                     4,008.63
Spring 2012  $          4,128.00  $                     4,132.98
Fall 2012  $          4,429.00  $                     4,669.01
Total  $        21,429.00  $                    21,320.44

Total Debt

$      44,103.00

Remaining Balance

$      32,970.93

As you can see, I am nearly half way to paying off my undergrad student loans. My main goal is pay off half my student loans by 2017. Let’s break them down into small goals:

  • I want to pay off my entire undergraduate student loans before my return to grad school (remaining balance is about $11,000).
  • I will continue to pay the minimum on my Nelnet (grad loans) each month resulting in over $3400 in payments each year. In 3 years that should reduce those loans by about $10,000.

In the next 3 years I am looking to pay off about $20,000 of my total current student loan debt. That’s a big number! Yikes! How am I going to do this? There are several ways I can go about paying off my loans.

  • Snowball Debt Reduction – This plan is recommended by Dave Ramsey. He suggests paying off the smallest debt first to gain momentum. You first start by paying the minimum on all your debts except for the lowest debt where you contribute extra to pay that debt off first. Once that debt is paid off, you use the money you used to pay off the first debt to pay off the second lowest debt. This method continues until you are debt free!
  • Avalanche Debt Reduction – This plan is the opposite of the snowball effect. You pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first because you’ll save money in the long run. Put your debts in line from highest to lowest interest rate and begin paying off the highest interest rate debt first while paying the minimums on the remaining debts. Once the first debt is paid off, use that money to pay off the next highest interest rate debt until you’re debt free!
  • Debt Tsunami – This method was proposed by Man vs. Debt. This plan recommends you to pay off your debt in order of emotional impact. Same idea as above, but you pay your debt off based on your own ranking system. You can read more about it here: http://manvsdebt.com/debt-tsunami-the-ultimate-method-for-paying-off-debt/.
My Plan of Attack

I’ve played around with multiple plans of attack to see what best fits my needs. With a Google search I found an awesome debt reduction spreadsheet that you can download from Vertex42.com. I HIGHLY recommend it. It’s simple to use and you can play around with different debt reduction methods. The only downfall I found was you can only enter up to 10 debts. I entered all my loan balances with interest rates and let the spreadsheet work its magic. I changed the options from snowball to avalanche to custom to see what the interest rates over time would be. They all came within about $200 of each other. Before this spreadsheet I was drawn more towards the Snowball method because I am not a patient person. I want to see a return on my investment now and not years down the road (although I’m learning that in personal finance you have to be patient sometimes, especially with retirement investments).

A Glimpse at my Debt Reduction Spreadsheet
A Glimpse at my Debt Reduction Spreadsheet

With the snowball method I would pay about $7151 in interest, with the avalanche method I would pay about $6961 and with a custom ranking I would pay about $7076. I have decided to go with a custom ranking similar to the debt tsunami method because my focus is on paying off my SallieMae (undergrad loans).

I identified at least $100 a month I can use to pay off my student loans in addition to my normal monthly payments. My goal is to attack my $745 SallieMae loans first, with a target payoff date of September 2014 and January 2015 respectively. Then I will hit up my other undergrad loans from lowest to highest. My father has offered to give me additional money to put towards my student loans when we sell our family camp. I have no idea when or how much that might be, but when it happens I plan on applying it to my highest SallieMae loan.

This is my plan for now. Things may change, but I’m happy with plan going forward. I’m motivated to get this weight off my shoulders!

How are you paying off your student loans? Are you paying any additional money each month to pay them off faster? What method do you utilize?

In case you missed it:

The True Costs of College: My Student Loan Debt Story

The True Costs of College: Repayment Plans and My Story

Frugal Fridays: The Savings Game

Originally posted on January 24, 2014 on Big Sky Multisport Coaching & Personal Training.

frugalfridays

Two weeks ago I wrote my first Frugal Friday post on my overall 2014 financial goals. In my 2014 goals post I outlined that I have some big financial goals for the year with the main one to become more financially stable.

The past couple of years have been a bit of a struggle at times. I mainly lived paycheck-to-paycheck. I’m not horrible with money, but I know that I could make improvements in my life so that I’m not totally stressed out over the issue. I’m lucky that I’m not like the average American.

The average American household debt is:

  • $15,270 in credit card debt
  • $149,925 in mortgage debt
  • $32, 258 in student loan debt

Source: (http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-card-data/average-credit-card-debt-household/)

I have no credit card debt. I only use my card if I can pay in full each month or for big purchases, like my computer for grad school a few years ago, where I used a 12-month no interest card to break the cost into monthly payments. I currently have about $35,000 in student loans (both undergrad and grad) and, of course, no mortgage at this point in my life. One of my long-term goals is to get out of debt as fast as possible!

Updates since the last post two weeks ago:

  • My car passed its inspection with only $400 of repairs and should (cross fingers and pray) last through December, which is my targeted new car purchase date
  • One of my goals was to pay off a $1500 student loan (originally $5000 loan) in 2014. I paid for about 95% of my own education (both undergrad and grad) through scholarships, grants, and loans. My parents couldn’t afford to pitch in much, but every once in a while my father will put some money towards my student loans. He decided to give me a late Christmas present and paid my $1500 loan! One goal accomplished and that now frees up an extra $50 a month! 🙂
  • For the most part I stayed on my budget for the month of January, except for the car repairs since I didn’t realize my inspection ran out in December. Opps!

This past week at my Junior League meeting we had a financial advisor come speak to us about financial wellness. The woman was hysterical and I think she missed her calling as a stand-up comedian. I’d been waiting all year for this meeting because of the topic, but honestly wasn’t expecting to learn anything new. My father enjoys drilling financial stuff into my head and I read a lot of the topic through books and personal finance blogs (my new favorite topic to read about! Let me know if you know any good blogs out there!).

Not only did I love this woman because she made such a dry and scary topic funny, but I also really liked her message. Money is a very sensitive topic for just about everyone. It makes me nervous and at first I was very reluctant to talk about it here on my blog. However, I think as humans, especially women, we need to be more open about the topic so we can educate ourselves and learn ways to take control of it and manage it in our daily lives. The advisor’s message was that money should be viewed as a tool. Money doesn’t define us, but we should use it as a tool and invest in what makes us happy. Obvious, we need to be smart with it. However, we shouldn’t judge people who spend more money on food vs. travel. We all have our own priorities in life.

Her biggest message to us is to pay yourself first. I absolutely agree with her. Investing in your future is important. When I first started my first “big girl” job in 2010, my company didn’t have any retirement plan options because it was so small. During my second year the company began a 401(k) plan. They offered no company match, but I put in 8% of my paycheck each pay period. With my new job I have a 403(b) with company match. With company match and my own contributions I put 12% of my income into my plan each month. I’m young and I have time, but I want to ensure that I have a good solid retirement plan for the future because I can’t predict what the future will unravel. What will my retirement age be? Will I get Social Security? And, if I do, when? Will I have expensive health problems? Financial planning experts suggest that one should put between 10-15% of their yearly gross pay into a retirement plan.

As I mentioned in my last post, I use Mint.com for my budgeting, which I absolutely love. It’s 100% free and you can even download the app on your smart phone to keep track on-the-go. I also recently discovered ReadyForZero, which focuses on keeping track of your debt. There is a free version and a paid version. I use the free version. You can link all your loans and banking accounts to the site and keep track of your debt. You can also use various calculators to figure out when you can pay off your debt if you paid x amount each month.

I currently have a checking account and two savings accounts at my local credit union. I have several big purchase goals this year: a new car, emergency fund, and travel. I use my checking account for bills and everyday expenses. One savings account is for travel and the second as my general savings account. Last week I began researching high interest rate savings accounts. Interest rates still suck in the United States, but I found a good one with Barclays. Yesterday I opened a “Dream Account” with them at an interest rate of 0.95% APY. There are other perks as well, such as additional bonus interest rate percentage if you don’t make any withdrawals in a specific time frame. Originally my plan was to use this as my E-fund, but then I decided to use it as my new car fund.

During the month of February I hope to come under budget so I can put more into my savings accounts. What ways do you saving? What tools do you use to manage your budgets and accounts?

~ Happy Training (and Saving)!

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the websites and/or banks mentioned above. I only discuss them because I personally use them and find them helpful. I was not compensated in any way. All my opinions are my own.