November 2017 Debt Report

I’ve decided to switch some things up and change my “Savings Reports” to “Debt Reports.” I want to track the progress I make on my journey to debt freedom, so until my debt is fully paid off, I plan to report each month on how much it is decreasing. It’s been quite a while since I mentioned my current outstanding debt (a while = July… oops), so here we go!

Student Loan Debt as of November 2017

I’m officially under the $45,000 mark! It feels really great to continue to see the overall number go down. For little milestones like these, I try to congratulate myself on how disciplined I’ve been in getting to this point. However, I know I still have a long way to go. I mentioned to Tom that I’ll really feel a difference once I get below $30,000, but until then, I’ll carry on with my current payments.

It’s worth pointing out that my average interest rate is a little higher than the last time I reported. This is due to having a variable interest rate on my largest loan ($28,000 of the $44,576). I know that increasing interest rates mean I’m paying more than I should, so this gives me more motivation to pay off this debt as quickly as possible!

Budget Updates

November was a great month for me in terms of my budget. I was able to stay within my allotment in almost every one of my categories, which has been quite difficult for me – you know this if you’ve seen in my past Savings Reports. I only went over budget in my Splurge category, due to buying a few Christmas gifts that were bargains on Black Friday.

Even though I have more Christmas gifts to purchase, I plan on staying within budget and carrying the savings momentum into 2018. As much as I hate Minnesota winters, it’s honestly a great time to save money. I’m much more likely to stay in when it’s cold, which is ALL the time from December – April (#minnesotalife). I hope to utilize this “free” time indoors to ramp up my blogging and lay out my personal finance goals for the upcoming year.

Life Updates

It’s been one year since I started my current job and with one year comes more responsibility! I was recently promoted within my group and am extremely proud of this. I absolutely love the company I work for, my team, and the projects I’m working on. I feel incredibly lucky to finally be in a position that I want to stay in long-term (that’s saying a lot as a millennial) and feel fortunate that my work in the past year is being recognized. I’m already assigned to some pretty large projects in 2018 so I look forward to where my position will take me from here.

In the PF world, I’m happy to say that this spring will mark my one year anniversary at All She Saves. Throughout the past few months I’ve tried to immerse myself in the personal finance community and have loved every minute of it. Every person and blogger in this community is full of love and understanding, and I feel very blessed to have found a group of individuals that support me each day (even without even meeting me in person – weird, right!? ;)) I was recently featured in an Acorns article by Taylor Milam (wahoo, Lola Retreat connections!) for saving 50% of my income. Check out the article here.

I was able to put some faces to anonymous blogs by attending my first Meet Up this week! Special thanks to Bill of Wealth Well Done (and Amanda!) for inviting me to a North Stars happy hour. I was able to meet and chat with Miss Mazuma (and John!), Apathy Ends, Financial Panther and Mastermind Within – who knew there were so many of us in Minnesota? Definitely not me! Thanks to all of you for welcoming a new blogger (and Tom!) with open arms. I left the Meet Up feeling energized and fortunate to have a group close to home that shares the same goals as me.

That’s all for November. Overall, it was a great month and I look forward to continuing the aggressive debt payoff into December and the new year. How are you doing on your debt payoff? Have you been able to keep within your goals? Have you encountered any struggles within the last month?

How To Resist Spending Money (even if you really, really like spending it)

If you’re like most people, you like spending money. I 100% fall into the category of people who get a thrill doing it – I’m a natural spender. I like the feeling of knowing I earned my money, and I equally love the feeling of spending it. Long story short, spending money makes me very, very happy. But when you start a blog about paying off $50,000 of debt in a short amount of time, you need to get creative to fight the urge to spend your hard-earned cash.

Pay Yourself First

I have a confession: I didn’t know what “paying yourself first” meant for the longest time. Were others giving themselves a pass to spend money on themselves? Why in the world would they do that? It took listening to multiple personal finance podcasts to realize that paying yourself first means automatically putting back money into your savings/investment accounts before you even have the choice to spend it. GENIUS. This method works perfectly for people like me because if there’s money in my account, I WILL SPEND IT. But if you take it away from me even before it hits my account, it’s like it was never there.

For student loans specifically, I use an app called ChangEd for automating student loan payments. ChangEd rounds up every dollar you spend, takes the change and holds it until you reach $100. Once $100 is met, it sends a check directly to your student loan servicer. I literally do not have to do any work. CHA-CHING.

Don’t Tempt Yourself

If you’re like me/a shopaholic in any form, you may enjoy walking around stores just because. That may sound bizarre, but if I’m bored, I’ll opt to walk around Target for an hour to kill time. It seriously brings me great joy to walk every aisle, browse, stand in an aisle for a half hour comparing products, find each clearance section, etc. I could do this all afternoon. But guess what happens when I do this? I inevitably buy something. It’s the dreaded Target curse: I walk in to buy q-tips and BAM! I walk out with a new shirt, a bowl that was on clearance, a bottle of wine AND those super cute salt shakers shaped like dogs (everyone needs a pair, right?!)

So how do I stop spending money? Simply eliminate the root cause – I stop going to Target unless I absolutely need to. If I were trying to lose weight for example, would I go to my nearest donut shop or buffet in my spare time? No. It works the same way for spending – do not tempt yourself by stepping into a store unless you need to. And if you have to, go directly to the item you need to purchase and walk to the cash register ASAP (#selfcontrol). It will be the fastest 10 minutes in Target of your life, but will save you SO MUCH MONEY, I promise.

Find Alternatives to Eating Out + Entertainment

One of my biggest budget line items is eating out and entertainment. When I didn’t limit my spending on food, I could easily spend $500 a month at restaurants. That’s why when I cut my restaurants budget down, I needed to find alternative solutions without sparing my social life, as much of the time spent in restaurants was with friends.

Instead of meeting at a restaurant with friends, why not host everyone at your house? Last night, for instance, one of my best friends had my girlfriends and I over to her home for her birthday. Instead of spending a ridiculous amount going out, we opted to stay in, watch a movie on TV (also a money saver!), paint our nails and enjoy each others’ company. We are able to do this as long as we want (since we don’t feel like we need to leave a restaurant ASAP) and as cheaply as possible (splitting take out and bringing our own wine, which is $5-10/bottle versus $6-12/glass). Let’s bring back welcoming others into our home and girls/guys nights in (GNIs, my favorite!)

If You Need To Spend, Do Your Research

Tis’ the season for Holiday shopping, which means there’s no denying that I’m going to have to spend money. If you need to spend money on gifts, I recommend doing your research before automatically purchasing something. There are so many great apps out there that help you save money with very little work such as Ebates, Shopkick, and Ibotta. By spending less than three minutes on Ebates today (while standing in line at the cash register, mind you) I was able to get 8% cash back on a purchase at Express for much-needed work clothes. Also, utilize Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals as much as possible – I was just able to score a gift at 20% off AND free shipping, whereas I’d normally be paying extra money for shipping alone (the worst).

In the end, resist the urge, friends. I know it’s hard when there are sales on EVERYTHING this time of year, but thinking about your decision first and shopping around can save you so much money if you simply put the time into it. Do you have any extra tips on resisting the urge to spend money? What are your best resources for saving money if you need to spend it?

The Emotional Rollercoaster of Student Loan Debt

Sad. Worried. Jealous. Overwhelmed. Hopeful. I have felt all of these emotions at some time during my debt payoff journey, sometimes more than one feeling at once. What is it about paying off student loans that makes you feel emotionally drained?

When I started this aggressive debt payoff at the beginning of the year, I felt like I was on top of the world. After YEARS, I finally had a solid plan in place to pay off my student loans. The best part was knowing – and seeing –  there was an end in sight. Four years will fly by, I told myself.

Six months in, I no longer feel on top of the world, but rather at the bottom of a never ending mountain that I continue to climb. I have really good days, when I look at my overall balance and see it slowly but surely dwindling. There are days in which I post about my struggle on Twitter and immediately get comments from others in the PF community that tell me to keep pushing and that life is truly better on that other side (which I honestly believe!) Then there are bad days – days when I struggle to even keep my monthly budget in check, which ultimately push my goal a tiny bit farther. There are days when I think about the extremely lucky people who never even had student loans, found a strategy to pay off their loans right away, make more money than me, or acquired a large sum of money to be able to pay off their loan balance.

Anyone that I encounter that is closer to their payoff date then me makes me incredibly jealous. Why do you get to be so close? Oh yeah, because you made better financial decisions than me. Why am I working SO hard when it comes so easy to you? Why did you get to start the game of life with so many more privileges than I did? Why can’t we all start at the same place?

I know that in time, this low will pass. I will be on my way to climbing the mountain again, feeling confident and refreshed. If this is really a roller coaster, a high always comes after a low, and eventually the ride comes to an end all together. Then you get off the ride, look at the photo the hidden camera took of you in which you look ridiculously terrified, laugh, and continue on with your life.

Traveling On A Budget: Colombia

If you know me, you know that I love to travel. I believe that traveling feeds the soul, and though I’m on a journey to become debt free, I can’t stop my wanderlust. I like to travel as much as my budget allows, and Tom and I have a goal to travel internationally at least once a year. After each trip, I’ll document my best money savings tips and share them with all of you. Today I’ll be highlighting one of my favorite trips we’ve taken to date – Colombia!

This was our first ever international trip together so it will always have a special place in my heart. But how in the world did we choose Colombia of all places, you ask? A couple of reasons:

  • We wanted to travel somewhere nontraditional. I had never been to South America before, so it automatically rose to the top of my travel list. Tom lived in South America for a year after college and also studied abroad in Peru, and he’s fluent in Spanish. He only had fantastic memories of South America and the fact that he would be able to translate for the both of us was a plus (Yo no hablo español!)
  • We wanted to travel somewhere warm. Our trip fell in February, which if you don’t know, is DEAD WINTER in Minnesota aka the worst time of the year. With below zero temperatures and minimal daylight hours, we knew we wanted to travel anywhere over 60 degrees with sun, ASAP.
  • It was cheap. Honestly, this was the ultimate deciding factor. We are able to snag tickets under $300 round trip (!!) On top of that, we knew the exchange rate was going to work very well in our favor traveling in South America (hello, lobster dinners with mojitos every night!)

So we packed our bags, made sure our passports were up to date, and were off to Colombia! We flew into Cartegena first (think: beautiful coastal city with private islands) then took a $50 plane ride over to Bogota for the last few days of our trip. Here are my suggestions for traveling on a budget to Colombia:

At Mount Monserrate in Bogota, Colombia – looking over the entire city!

Track airline prices to get the best deals

Since we’re usually open on where we want to travel, I use Kayak Explore when I’m first searching for flight prices. We typically know what month we want to travel in, so 6 months to a year prior I start searching for the countries that are cheap to fly to in the month we are traveling. Once I’ve narrowed the country down, about 3-5 months out I put a fare notification on that city through Google Flights. This allows me to track the fares and watch the pricing over a long period of time. As soon as I see a fare that is too good to pass up, I book it! Another budget friendly tip for fare searching: I’ve recently subscribed to Scott’s Cheap Flights to find amazing flight deals. Scott’s Cheap Flights send out about one email a day with ridiculously good flight finds for international travel. Today’s email featured flights to Colombia for $200-300 round trip. If only I knew about Scott’s Cheap Flights before I did all that flight tracking myself! 🙂

Stay at hostels or Airbnb

During our week and a half in Colombia we stayed exclusively at hostels, knowing that we’d likely get the cheapest stay that way and enjoy having a reliable source to get information on what to do in the area. I’d heard stories about how wonderful the hostels were in South America for less than $20/day, and wow were they right! We were able to stay in the best areas of Cartegena and Bogota, get free breakfast in the morning and also stay in a private room (no worries about locking up all of stuff all the time, thank goodness). Our hostel in Bogota was ridiculously nice – it even had a TV in it (insane, right?) If hostels aren’t your thing, I’d recommend looking into an Airbnb, which I’ve had much success with in the US and Europe. I mean, look at this beautiful oceanfront apartment for $40 night!

Take advantage of the exchange rate

With the amazing exchange rate from the dollar on Colombia, we were able to do, eat and drink pretty much anything we’d like. I’m talking about lobster dinners with cocktails for under $40 total for the both of us. That’s one of the many reasons I advocate for traveling in South America versus popular destinations like Europe where you’ll pay $5 for a water bottle alone. One of my favorite things we did with amazing exchange rate in Colombia was stay on a private island for a night. We stayed in the cutest hut literally ON the ocean for under $100/night. And I’m not kidding when I say it was private – there was only about 10 of us total on this island! We spent our days laying out on the beach drinking mojitos. Now that’s my idea of a perfect vacation 🙂

That’s our adorable hut in the background (equipped with a hammock, of course). And look at those crystal clear blue waters. Can I go back now?!

So I have you convinced you yet? I would go back to Colombia in a heartbeat and hope this post has inspired you to travel somewhere out of the traditional locations. Trust me, there’s so much beauty in the world – especially in the places you wouldn’t think of. Happy wanderlust-ing!

August 2017 Savings Report

Summer is officially coming to an end, and though it makes me SO sad, that means I can STOP SPENDING SO MUCH EXTRA MONEY! As I mentioned in my July Savings Report, there have been a lot of life activities this summer (i.e. weddings, travel, etc.) that made my spending significantly increase. Here’s how I did in August with my goal of paying off $50,000 of student loan debt in the next four years (now 3.5 years!):

Budget areas on goal in August 2017:

  • Bills & Utilities
  • Groceries
  • Charity
  • Mortgage & Rent

I was able to stay on goal with the categories that I are pretty much automated into my spending. Otherwise, it was a pretty big struggle to stay on track with my other spending areas this month 🙁

Budget areas not on goal in August 2017:

  • Gas & Fuel
  • Student Loan Payment
  • Restaurants
  • Splurge

I’ve been consistently going over on Gas & Fuel by about $20 each month now, so I either need to adjust my budget or reduce the extra driving I’ve been doing. My worst categories for the month were Restaurants and Splurge because of the extra life activities that I mentioned. They were 100% worth it, but I’m going to have to reduce my spending significantly in those categories to get back on track. No more buying lunches at work for me – here I come, leftovers!

This month I was yet again about $100 short on my Student Loan Payment goal (dang it, Restaurants and Splurge categories). Here’s my progress to date on paying off my total Student Loan balance:

Courtesy of Student Loan Hero

It’s a slow process, but it still feels so satisfying to watch my total balance go down. Also note that my Average Interest Rate has increased by about .20% due to having a variable interest rate on my largest loan amount.

I hope to have a better report for you all next month. Until then, enjoy the rest of your summer! Time for a drink on my patio!