In approximately 60 days I have to start making payments toward my $24,733.65 student loan balance and I’d be lying if I said that debt burden wasn’t already weighing on my mind.
It’s not the addition of another monthly bill that worries me, it’s the fear of not being able to pay them off effectively and end up still dealing with the debt in my middle aged-years.
The national average for student loan debt is approximately $29,400, according to the Institute for College Access and Success, so in that sense I am already a bit ahead of the curve, but that doesn’t make my balance seem any smaller right now.
But, instead of fretting about how quickly the six-month no-payment grace period flew by, I’ve come up with a plan.
The only way to pay off debt faster is to make larger payments, so I’m going to approach it just like I would a credit card balance: Pay more than the required minimum payment as often as I can.
However, I really don’t want to go back to a stretched-thin college budget and ramen noodle diet. I’m willing to make financial cuts and compromises, but don’t want student loans controlling every aspect of my life, if possible.
To find a balance, I’m implementing my own personal three-part money strategy to help get my finances on track for larger loan payments in the coming months. I call it my “Financially Fit While Still Feasting on Fresh Food” plan.
1. Follow a monthly spending plan
To avoid a complicated and hard-to-stick-with budget, I’m keeping it simple. I’m working on what I hope will be an easy way to tell how much money I have, or don’t have, to spend on both bills and the occasional overpriced coffee drink or Friday night out.
Right now I have a monthly calendar on my fridge that has notes of when each bill is due and how much it will be. This has been a really good visual reminder of what I need to prepare for ahead of time. For this student loan plan, I’m going to take this method a step further to make it more comprehensive.
After balancing my income with my expenses, I’m going to note on the calendar at the end of each week how much spending money I will have left after all that week’s necessary expenses are covered, including an estimated student loan payment when that kicks in.
Then, because I’m an avid user of my phone as a reminder tool, I’ll take a picture of the completed calendar and keep it easily accessible on my home screen, so I always have an idea of what my spending limitations (or freedoms) are.
2. More cash, less plastic
I’m not running around swiping my debit and credit cards left and right, but it sure is easy to pay for another $5 coffee with a card. Your plastic is always there in your wallet. It doesn’t instantly show you just how much those here-and-there purchases add up the way an empty pocket does.
Cash is tangible. Although it’s starting to seem like a foreign payment method, cash will let me keep an eye on smaller day-to-day expenses, so it’s something I plan on using more of.
I’ve read stories about people switching over to cash entirely to prevent overspending, but credit and debit cards are useful tools and for me, cutting them out is impractical. I will still pay for larger, planned expenses, such as my cellphone bill and weekly groceries, with my cards, but I am going to take whatever my budget’s weekly spending money is out in cash.
This way, if it’s not a planned expense and I don’t have the cash for it, I can’t follow through with it, but I can still indulge every once in a while.
The goal is that this will help me save $5 and $10 here and there over the course of a month that can then be added on to that month’s student loan payment.
3. Shed excess amenities
This last strategy is pretty straightforward: If I don’t need it, I’m not going to pay for it.
I recently visited my cellphone provider to see if I could reduce my data plan, since I wasn’t even close to using everything I was paying for. By asking a few questions and being willing to more carefully monitor my cellphone use, I was able to reduce my monthly bill by almost $40. I think I lucked out in this situation but it really made me think about what else I am paying for that I probably don’t need to be.
I’ve since decided to not purchase a cable TV plan and just stick to Internet TV and movie services for now. In June, when I have to renew my car insurance, I plan on shopping around to see if I can get a better deal for the basic liability coverage I need. And lastly, I’ve turned down my water heater. There is no sense in paying for unnecessarily hot water during a Texas summer.
Re-evaluating my spending will also help me prepare for my next student loan repayment step: officially choosing a payment plan.
If you are or were in a similar student loan situation, what has worked for you? I welcome any money-saving tips you may have, even if it just knocks off that 65 cents trailing on the end of my balance. Every little bit will make a difference.