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Have you ever felt like you were just a hamster, running on the same wheel every day but not really getting anywhere? You just wanna pay off everything or just run away?
That is kind of how I felt in 2016. I had been paying minimums on my student loans. At the beginning of the year, I didn’t have any credit cards or car loans, but that changed by the end of the year. I was working what felt like a billion hours every week waitressing, but every night after my shift I was going to the bars with my coworkers because we “had a rough shift.”
Even though I was working a ton, I had zero savings to show for it.
I had pictures from a few travel adventures (which I definitely don’t regret), but nothing really extravagant to show for all of the hours that I was working. By mid- November, I had no money for the new car that I “needed” and barely enough money to go on the trip that I had planned for my birthday.
On top of that, my other student loan account was due for $190 a month in January. Where was I supposed to get that money. Add in $3,000 of interest had accrued on my student loans since I had taken them out. $3,000!! What?
I was over it. 2017 was going to be different.
I picked up Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, which had sat on my bookshelf for quite sometime, and started taking notes.
In 2017, I paid off over $15,000 including the Jeep that I “needed,” that birthday trip to Texas on a brand new credit card ($700), and a ton of student loans (including that $3,000 in interest).
I want to be up front. This isn’t one of those “We sold our house and paid off all of our debt overnight” stories. I am happy for those people, but this is a “I worked my butt off and said no a lot” story. I spent a stupid amount of hours working during this year. There was ALWAYS a budget. I was diligent with every single penny that came into my hands and I found ways to make a ton of extra money throughout this year.
The other trick is, I don’t make a lot of money. I worked my butt off for just a little over $30,000 in after tax pay. My whole journey, I have been single. I don’t have any kids, but I also don’t have a spouse to bring in any extra income. I have me, my seven days a week, and 24 hours each day. This is the steps that I took and just a few of the things that I have learned in the last year of my debt free journey.
Here are my 15 Things I did to Pay Off $15,000 in One year:
1) Emergency Fund in the bank
Right away I put $1000 into a bank account and I knew that I had it set aside. Knowing that I have the savings has allowed me the freedom to put every single penny towards my student loans. There we many times where I had $2.45 in my checking until pay day. I never really worried about not having money in my checking account because I know money is coming in. I love my Capitol One Savings Account because it pays decent interest, but it is also extremely accessible if I need to use it in an emergency! If you need to start an emergency fund, check out my guide on emergency funds to get started.
During the month of October, my emergency fund was still completely untouched. I lowered the amount from $1000 to $500 instead. I have been really good at cash flowing expenses and my vehicle is the only thing that could be more expensive to fix than the $500. Because I don’t own a home, I was able to lower my emergency fund. My apartment company is in charge of maintenance and upkeep on pretty much everything. I had no emergencies before I lowered it, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t happen. For a single, no kid, non home-owner, $500 seems to work just fine for me.
2) 2-4 jobs pay off
I’ve read that millionaires have on average 7 streams on income. This year, I have worked at least 2 jobs (all the way up to 5 at some points). There have been countless 70 hour weeks, but those weeks also usually end up with $1000 payments towards my debt at the end of them. The huge debt payments make it worth 70 hour work weeks. When you are working a ton of hours a week, there is also a lot less time to spend money on stupid things!
Hard work really does pay off. I actually really love both of my jobs too, so it makes it even easier to work long days. I suggest waitressing/ bartending as an extra job because if you are good at it, it is so easy to walk out with $150 in 6-8 hours. They pay is immediate (in most places), so it helps with the instant gratification. Waitressing is great because the tips are based on how hard you are willing to work (for the most part).
During this time, I had a full time government job that pretty much went all to student loans because my waitressing on the side was enough to pay my bills. If you can get to the point where your side job is paying your bills, you will find a ton of extra money in your budget.
3) Meals planned and prepped ahead of time
But seriously, if you can get your grocery bill under control, you can get any category under control. I cook 2 meals, portion them out and then eat it the rest of the week. My formula for meals is almost always 1/4 meat + 1/2 veggies +1/4 carb. Then I just throw a sauce of some kind (marinara, soy sauce, a vinaigrette, or salsa).
I will go into more detail about my grocery planning and prepping in another blog post, but figuring out what works for you and your family is one of the biggest key factors to getting out of your debt or putting more money towards it. Not worrying about eating out helped me pay off a good chunk of my debt because it was simple grab and go meals instead of drive thru all of the time.
Here are a few other grocery saving tips:
- How this millennial spends less than $200 on food per month.
- 13 ways to avoid Fast Food
- 6 Foods to Keep at Home to prevent eating out
- My Number 1 Grocery Saving Secret!
4) NO Vacation or Travel
I have been putting money aside for my vacation in 2018, but I haven’t really gone anywhere this year. I look forward to traveling when I am debt free, but until then, home is right where I want to be on my days off. I’m planning a few mini vacations for 2018 and my debt free trip to Cancun.
Skipping the vacation can sometimes mean an extra $600-1000 towards your debt. Using vacation time to relax around the house or see new things in your city can be better than big vacations. I have done many “staycations” in town or the next big city over where I take a day or two off and enjoy the things that are around me. I have found that these are sometimes way better than traveling somewhere new. If you have decided to go on vacation, check out Ebates to get a little cash back on your booking!
Instead of going on vacations, I have made mini “weekend trips” every once in a while. I will go stay at my parent’s house. Or I have taken a trip to stay with my grandma a few hours a way. Maybe you have a friend that lives a few hours away that has an extra bedroom! Planning trips where you just need to pay for transportation and food can save you a ton of money! Find free or cheap lodging and the rest of the trip wont seem so bad!
5) Grocery savings with Ibotta
Ibotta is a grocery rebate application for your phone. It is so simple. When you go grocery shopping, check out the app to see what they are offering for your grocery store. After you get home, you just upload a picture of your receipt and scan the bar code of the items that qualified for a rebate! This adds money to your account! When you sign up through this link, you get a $10 welcome bonus after your first grocery rebate.
Here is where I get my free coffee giftcards from, I absolutely love using Ibotta because I get great cash back on groceries, but I also watch their other bonuses. At one point, they had a $20 gift card for Amazon when you got Amazon prime. I use a few of my Ibotta cash back to get great Starbucks or Wal-mart gift cards for things that I love.
I have also found a few more apps that I actually really love! Check out my list of 8 Phone Apps that you NEED for your Debt Free Journey!
6) Skipping the Starbucks
Not stopping for coffee helps me be on time (or a little early) and it saves me $5 bucks every day that I don’t get coffee. I have cut back incredibly on stopping for coffee. I can’t say that I have totally skipped Starbucks, but I do get gift cards for it or I don’t get it at all. When I don’t get coffee on my way to work, it forces me to drink coffee at work. There isn’t a coffee shop on my route to work, so that definitely helps.
I have a Keurig at home. (Thanks Mom and Dad!) If I am working at the restaurant, I will either drink the coffee there or bring my own. I do use my Ibotta to get splurge for Starbucks every once in a while though. The Starbucks Rewards app on my phone has saved me a decent amount of money because for every dollar you spend, you get points back towards a free drink!
7) Cut the beauty budget
Beauty is probably the hardest part of a girl’s budget. I love pampering myself and enjoying a little bit of girl time. This is probably one of the hardest for me. Since I started my debt free journey in January, I think I have gotten one or two pedicures, where I used to get them almost monthly. I haven’t spent money on getting my hair dyed. I have continued to get my eyebrows done, but less often.
Cutting the beauty budget and learning to do some of it on my own was the hardest place to cut the budget. I am not good at doing my own nails, but I try anyway. Beauty can add up extremely quickly and most of it needs to be redone regularly if you want to keep up the appearance. I don’t skip out on my make up for my beauty budget, but hair and nails can wait!
8) Girls night in
Instead of meeting up for dinner, invite friends over and cook for them. Taking turns cooking for each other can save a TON of money. Most of my friends are usually fine with just hanging out at one of our homes instead of going out. For New Year’s Eve, my roommate and I got drinks and food for the house. We stayed home and watched movies and drank at home. This saved us money at the bars, an Uber ride home, and finding a ride back to my car the next day!
Staying in and entertaining in your own home can be a quick way to cut the entertainment budget. I look forward to having a home of my own in the future where I can invite people over and entertain. Having friends over will pay off in your budget quickly because it can easily save you $50-60 per evening.
I used Ebates a TON for my Christmas shopping and any other gift shopping that I have to do throughout the year. I mentioned in in the vacation part, but it is worth mentioning again. Ebates is an online marketplace where you can find coupons and cash back on a TON of different online stores. When you download the browswer extension, Ebates will do most of the work for you.
It will tell you when you are on a site that offers cashback. It will offer you the coupon codes that are active. And then they will send you a check for the cash back that you were offered. I love Ebates for online shopping. Sign up today and get a $10 welcome bonus after you spend your first $25 online!
10) Accountability is important
Accountability has been one of the hardest parts for me because I am single. Having no one to share my budget with has been hard, but I have opened up to a small instagram community. The #debtfreecommunity on Instagram (and now Facebook) has been a huge money saver. There are so many other people on the journey with me. The community is welcoming and helps encourage everyone!
My parents also keep me accountable because I get so excited to tell them how much I have left to go! I know they aren’t as excited about money as I am, but I look forward to the future when all of these student loans are taken care of and GONE.
11) Cash Envelopes and Sinking funds
Cash Envelopes have saved my budget. I waitress and it makes it hard not to immediately spend the cash that I walk out of work with. When I had a second income, it made it even harder not to spend all of my cash. Separating my cash into categories immediately after earning it really helped with my budget planning. If you have a cash income, check out this guide to budgeting on an irregular income.
Sinking funds have been an absolute must. Sinking funds are basically setting aside a small amount of money each month towards a bigger planned expense. Things like car registration, a new car or car maintenance, contacts or new glasses, or pretty much any other expense. I have been saving for a future vacation. Knowing that I have a good chunk of money set aside for it really helps me stress less about the future trip.
12) Pay off debts on pay day
When I get paid, I figure out exactly how much I need to pay bills. Then I leave about $50-75 in my bank account and I put the rest towards my debt. Making those large payments immediately on pay day means that I don’t have the chance to spend any of it on stupid things. Instead of waiting to see what is left over before the next pay day, I put it all on the student loans up front because I have my emergency fund if something where to happen. Because I put as much as I could towards my debt up front, I was able to pay off 3 credit cards, 2 student loan accounts, my jeep, and put a huge dent in my other student loans.
13) Brought my lunch to work
More times than not, I could be found putting my food in the work fridge first thing in the morning. Bringing my lunch to work allowed me time to use my lunch to relax a little, eat what I brought and sometimes work on my blog post. I didn’t have to worry about going anywhere or figuring out what I wanted to eat for lunch. Occasionally my coworker and I would go out to lunch, but the days that I brought my lunch to worked allowed me to save a TON of money (Up to $10 a day) and weight.
14) No Spend Months
These are probably my favorite way to save money because they simplify life. No Spend Months are hard. I have done two no spend months and a few pantry challenges throughout the year to help save some money. It means that I don’t eat out, get coffee, or do anything that costs money. Instead, I find free ways to have fun and spend a little more time at home instead.
I host No Spend Months on my blog in January, April, July, and October. Doing them quarterly helps reset you budget and get you back on track for your spending goals! Sign up for my next No Spend Challenge.
Having my blog motivated me to keep going with this journey 100% more than I could’ve imagined. It forced me to get creative with money saving. It also encouraged me to stay on track for my readers. Because I started getting messages like “You have inspired me to keep going.” or “Your blog gave me the hope to get out of debt.” I have received a ton of messages from people on similar journeys. While I am inspiring them, they are helping inspire me.
I have blogging just for inspiration, but it has also brought me a little money to pay off some of my debts! If you interested in starting a blog, check out my tutorial for how to start a blog in 7 easy steps! The money from my blog has helped pay off my blog expenses. There has also been some extra money to help throw onto debts. I strongly encourage a blog as a side hustle while you are on your debt free journey!
I hope that these 15 tips have been helpful for you on your debt free journey!
These are just a few of the ways that I have been able to put over $15,000 of my $30,000 income towards my debt in 2017! Keep following my blog for a ton of other money saving tips and tricks!
It doesn’t matter how much you are able to put towards your debt. Just working on getting rid of debt is a huge step towards financial freedom. Being able to follow these steps have helped me pay off my debt, get off the hamster wheel, and stress less about the money. I have a little more than half of my debt paid off. Looking forward to being debt free in 2018!
What did you do to pay off your debts?
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