In September of 2015, my wife and I officially tied the knot and, as perfect as it all was, when we returned to our home after our honeymoon we had to take a serious look at our finances. What we found shocked us.
We had known from the get-go that we both had student debt. We both attended a private, Christian college where we met and we both continued on to receive our master’s degrees. While we knew we had student debt, we had always assumed that we would simply pay the minimum until it was gone and that would be that.
What did we find when we did the math? It turns out that my wife and I owe a grand total of almost $200,000 in debt (OUCH!). Even worse? The minimum payments don’t even begin to cover the interest which means that no matter how many payments we make, we will never escape from this debt’s grasp.
One of my favorite Dr. Seuss quotes comes from the Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Now, I know that this quote is referring to saving the world, but I think it’s applicable to paying off debt too. Debt can be all-consuming and debilitating, but unless you care about fixing it, it’s not going to get any better.
The thing with debt is that unless you truly work toward eliminating the problem, the problem is not going to go away. It’s certainly not an easy-fix sort of thing. Unless you truly care about getting the weight of debt off your shoulders, you’ll be trapped.
My wife and I do care about paying off our debt because we realize how much it is holding us back – we are unable to afford a house, put money into retirement, or start a family.
That’s why we made the decision to begin aggressively paying off our debt. Do you know what happened when we made that decision? We began crushing the debt that had been, only recently, crushing us.
In our first ten weeks of debt repayment, we paid off a whopping total of almost $10,000! How did we do it? Well, it’s simple: create a budget and a plan, develop a side income, and learn how to live frugally.
Related tip: Check your credit score with Credit Sesame for free!
Creating a Budget & a Plan
Developing a budget was the first step. My wife and I spent an entire month simply monitoring our spending without changing our habits. Why did we do this? Well, we wanted to see where our money was going.
What we realized is that our money was going everywhere. We were spending outrageous amounts of money for things that we didn’t even realize we were getting! Sure, some of it was important (food, certain bills, etc.), but there was so much that was unnecessary. The couple of dollars here and there for snacks and beverages (when we have these at home), the fast food or restaurants in place of dinner at home, or the subscriptions that we had forgotten we had that were still charging us monthly.
Once we realized that our money was everywhere, we knew we needed to put it into place. We created an excel document to organize our income, budgets, and debts (I love organizing things). We determined what we needed to keep to survive, what the minimum payments for our debt were, and other costs we absolutely have to have.
We wrote it all down and made important decisions as to how much we would spend on food, how much we were willing to pay for gas, etc. This was our budget. If we followed our budget, we knew we could put a significant amount of extra cash toward our debt (which is exactly what we want to do).
The hardest part about developing a budget, though, is not actually the planning, but the sticking to it. The problem we have is that when we try to follow our budget with our debit cards, we somehow always end up off. This time, we knew that we had to do our budgeting right. We pulled out some business envelopes, withdrew some cash, and began using the cash envelope system for our budget.
Almost like magic we were able to stick to our budget – better than ever before. The reality is that plastic money is easy to overspend, but when you have cold, hard cash in your hands, it’s hard to not notice it leaving. When it’s gone, it’s gone.
Developing a Side Income
The second step we took toward aggressively paying off our student debt was to develop a source of income on the side. For me, that meant blogging. I worked as hard as I could to develop a blog that focused on my goals, that inspired people, and that helped people to reach their dreams of becoming financially free.
My wife and I both work with a caterer as we are able in order to earn a little extra money. Each event lasts around six-seven hours and pays us each $100, but we can only score around one to three events per month. Jobs such as dog walking, house / babysitting, and even renting out space are great ways to make a few extra bucks within your community.
We also have started freelancing and taking up positions in the virtual assistant world. My wife has started working longer hours and taking “on-call” shifts. We sell items from our home that we no longer need and we utilize companies that offer legitimate ways to make money online. I test them out and share them on my blog for my readers to see and utilize.
Basically, we are doing whatever it takes to earn an extra income and then ensuring that the entirety of that income goes straight toward our debt repayment goals.
Related tip: You can answer surveys and make extra money! The companies I recommend include: American Consumer Opinion, Swagbucks, Survey Junkie, Pinecone Research, Prize Rebel, and Harris Poll Online. They’re free to join and free to use! You get paid to answer surveys and to test products. It’s best to sign up for as many as you can as that way you can receive the most surveys and make the most money.
Learning How to Live Frugally
Earning an extra income can only get you so far if your spending is too high. Therefore, we also spent a lot of time learning how to live frugally and sharing it on the blog. We are learning new ways each and every day to reduce our spending and live our lives to the fullest on a frugal budget.
Some of our favorites in the kitchen include baking our own bread (which saves us over $250), making our own pasta (which saves us over $100), growing our own vegetables (which saves us hundreds), and learning how to can (which saves us tons)! While each of these individually may not seem like a lot, when added together the savings can be incredible.
The frugal living tips don’t have to end in the kitchen, though. My wife and I are learning great ways to save thousands per month by cutting the cord on cable and other subscriptions, reducing our cell phone bill, and even finding new ways to entertain ourselves that don’t cost money.
As Dave Ramsey so eloquently puts it: “Live like no one else, so later on you can live like no one else.”
Living a frugal lifestyle means making cleaning supplies and hygiene products instead of buying them, making food from scratch instead of eating out, and playing board games instead of going to the clubs. It’s a lot of cutting now, but by living like we are broke, we are putting money toward debt so that later we can live the way we want to live.
How We Paid Off Almost $10,000 in Debt in 10 Weeks
Ever since we started paying off our debt aggressively, we have been competing against ourselves. When we paid off $3,000 in one month, we knew that we could do better the next month and so we did.
It took ten weeks before we had paid off almost $10,000, but the next ten weeks will be even better, we can assure you of that. How? Because we are working as hard as we can to budget, to be frugal, and to earn extra money – no matter what it takes.
The ultimate goal here is to pay off our debt as quickly as possible and that’s exactly what we are doing. We are not putting a date on our debt repayment because we don’t want to limit ourselves to that date. We want to work to surpass any dates that could have been put down and by sticking to our budget, earning side incomes, and living frugally, we can do it.
Author bio: Cassie Jahn is the author of a DIY blog devoted to living life to the fullest on a frugal budget. DIY Jahn began to help Cassie to stick to her plan to aggressively pay off her student loans, in hopes to inspire others to do the same. Find tips on saving money, paying off debt, earning money online, yummy recipes, and DIY projects like this one at: www.diyjahn.com
How much debt do you have? Are you trying to eliminate it?
If you are new to Making Sense of Cents, I am all about finding ways to make and save more money. Here are some of my favorite sites and products that may help you out:
Find ways to make extra money – Here are over 75 different ways to make extra money.
Cut your TV bill. Cut your cable, satellite, etc. Even go as far to go without Netflix or Hulu as well. Buy a digital antenna (this is the one we have) and enjoy free TV for life.
Start a blog. Blogging is how I make a living and just a few years ago I never thought it would be possible. I earn over $100,000 a month online through my blog and you can read more about this in my monthly online income reports. You can create your own blog here with my easy-to-use tutorial. You can start your blog for as low as $2.75 per month plus you get a free domain if you sign-up through my tutorial. Also, I have a free How To Start A Blog email course that I recommend signing up for.
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Answer surveys. Survey companies I recommend include Swagbucks, Survey Junkie, American Consumer Opinion, Pinecone Research, Opinion Outpost, Prize Rebel, and Harris Poll Online. They’re free to join and free to use! You get paid to answer surveys and to test products. It’s best to sign up for as many as you can as that way you can receive the most surveys and make the most money.
You can save money and get cash back at the grocery store. Read my review and learn how to here.
Sign up for a website like Ebates where you can earn CASH BACK for just spending like how you normally would online. The service is free too! Plus, when you sign up through my link, you also receive a free $10 cash back too!
Save money on food. I recently joined $5 Meal Plan in order to help me eat at home more and cut my food spending. It’s only $5 a month and you get meal plans sent straight to you along with the exact shopping list you need in order to create the meals. Each meal costs around $2 per person or less. This allows you to save time because you won’t have to meal plan anymore, and it will save you money as well!
I highly recommend Credible for student loan refinancing. You can lower the interest rate on your student loans significantly by using Credible which may help you shave thousands off your student loan bill over time.
Invest. There are no guarantees when it comes to investing, but you should always start sooner rather than later. If you are looking for a good investing platform, I recommend Motif. Motif Investing allows individuals to invest affordably. This approachable investing platform makes it easy to buy a portfolio of up to 30 stocks, bonds or ETFs for just $9.95 total commission.
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