Friday, October 10, 2014

How to pay off student loans faster

The spending challenge is still going strong and there are no signs of caving. It feels great to be making such progress! But I am a doer. My paychecks only come twice a month and my extra income does not result in daily payments to my debt. So the days in between can feel unproductive, even if not spending money is actually very beneficial to getting out of debt.

I was starting to get antsy that I won't be able to make another debt payment until payday next week. That feeling usually spirals into thinking if I can't make immediate progress, why not go spend money? I know it's not logical but impatience never is.

Thankfully, I came across a company called Gradible. They provide you with tasks that help local businesses in return for money that goes straight to your student loans! Tasks vary from writing content, like a blog post, to posting services to Craigslist. The tasks are worth LoanCreds, 100 LoanCreds = $10. Easy!

When I registered, 3 tasks in 30ish minutes and earned $16 off my student loans. It's not a ton of money but it can really add up and shrink your debt! It will especially help ward off those impatient feelings of not being able to immediately see numbers go down.

This is not a sponsored post by any means but I do believe in sharing how to pay off debt! If you want to do the same, sign up here and we'll both get $5 off our loans!

Have a great weekend!

But what if you get a hole in your yoga pants?

As I explained the spending challenge to my friends, I told them I wasn't allowed to buy clothes for a whole year. One friend asked, "But what if you get a hole in your yoga pants or something you can't easily repair??"

Normally, if I got a hole in my beloved yoga pants I would have gone out and bought another pair. I would have found a Buy 1, Get 1 50% off coupon and then I have 2 new pairs of yoga pants. Did you know I already have several pairs? Same with jeans, sweaters, tank tops, shoes, dresses, etc.

I have enough clothes to not do laundry for probably 2 months without repeating outfits. It's ridiculous. Not only do all these clothes take up so much space but it takes forever to make a decision on what to wear each day. If I think jeans and a sweater sound good, that could still mean several variations. If a dress sounds good, I freeze debating a sun dress or maxi. And then what shoes go with what outfit??

I know this is typical girl stuff but it takes up a decent chunk of time each day making this relatively minor decision. And then I become late for work and rush myself into a decision that I don't even love sometimes.

Part of this spending challenge is focusing on my priorities. Spending money on clothes I don't need is certainly something I want to quit. I also want to get precious time back into my day that is normally wasted on clothes. Time wasted picking out outfits, loads of laundry, picking up the clothes all over my floor or putting laundry away. It's getting old.

Coincidentally, last week I did get a hole in my yoga pants. As stretchy as they are, thankfully it was not due to an expanding waistband. The seam caught on a filing cabinet and it split right down my thigh. The paperclip I used to keep my pants together made for a really cute look.

I thew them out when I got home and have easily been surviving with the other pairs I have.

I'll admit that there are times when I get an email for a fall special on sweaters with a fairly good coupon attached. I'll admit that I've wanted to browse the racks of Target several times already for a few cute new additions. But when I look at my closet, I can't stand the idea of another hanger being used.

So now, if anything happens to my clothes, I can either sew them with my sewing machine or I can throw them out. After all, I have several backups of whatever item to last me through the year. There is nothing irreplaceable in my wardrobe that would absolutely require me to buy clothes during this challenge, with the exception of bridesmaid dresses, which are covered in my Bridesmaid fund. 

I even want to downsize and donate a big bin to Good Will but I've been nervous because what if I get bored with my clothes this year and want to try some lesser worn outfits? But the simplistic approach will win me some time back in my day, which is worth a lot.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Spending Challenge: September Totals

I know I started on September 6th but I get paid on the 1st of each month so to make matters less complicated, I'm going to do my updates on the last day of the month. I will still finish on September 5th, 2015. 

Starting Balances
Amex: $1,545.79
Mastercard: $5,714.27
Sallie Mae: $14,123.57
Chase: $19,907.33
Sallie Mae: $24,754.52

October 6th Balances
Amex: $1,545.79 $0
Mastercard: $5,714.27 
Sallie Mae: $14,123.57 $11,472
Chase: $19,907.33
Sallie Mae: $24,754.52

That's a total of $4,518.32 this month! Doesn't that $0 balance look pretty??

I dog sat, babysat, wrote resumes, received bonuses at work, sold my kayak, received an inheritance, found plenty of affordable activities and stuck to the spending challenge rules to make this happen. This is certainly an abnormal month because I won't always have large items to sell and an inheritance doesn't happen every day. The momentum from this month has been incredible though!

Side note: Normally I would follow Dave Ramsey's snowball strategy and I would have made a dent in my Mastercard. However, the money from the inheritance was given to me by my parents who wanted to support my school debt. Understandably, they didn't want the money to pay off my excessive Target trips ;) Any debt payment going forward will follow the snowball plan.  

The hardest part about the challenge this month was: Honestly, it was hard to find a challenge this month. It wasn't always my preference to prep my meals and plan ahead to avoid eating out. But with my food budget, I was able to get a meal or two out without consequence. I suppose you could say I easily would have bought clothes from Target over the past few weeks. Their fall lines looked adorable and definitely my style. Occasionally people were busy doing things that cost more money than I wanted to spend. It left me doing activities solo on occasion, which isn't always fun. The mindset that this challenge is going to make my life better made the challenges worth it. I have a feeling most months won't be this easy though!

What I learned from the challenge this month was: There are tons of free things to do and so many people are on board with doing more affordable activities! I was worried that people would count me out and drift away from our friendship if I wasn't able to spend money and that has certainly not been the case at all so far. I'm learning my insecurities were what was holding me back rather than reality. I learned that it feels great to set a goal and stick to it, rather than sway with any negative feedback of others.

For so long my goal has been to be out of debt and it has consumed me, unsuccessfully. I'm learning that it's not about the numbers. I know that when I'm 100% debt free, my life won't change all that much. I'll have less stress and more options financially, no doubt. But the people that love me will care for me either way. 

One more lesson I learned - it was actually fairly easy to keep my spending money. By Sunday I still had $30 left. I splurged on Thai food delivered to my house. Ugh, the fees and tip alone cost $10. Looking back I'm bummed that I did it. I know in other months that $30 would really help. Lesson learned to save any leftover fun money for rainy days!

The best part about the challenge this month was: seeing how supportive people are. 95% of people I have talked to have been so encouraging and it makes this so much easier. Yes, seeing the $0 balance on my credit card felt pretty great and knowing I have less than $3,000 left in credit card debt is exciting. I honestly would have assumed that would have been the best part of the month.

1 month down, 11 to go! There are already some big things on the October schedule so I'm excited to see those numbers next month!

Monday, September 29, 2014

I could really get used to this spending challenge!

Another weekend in the books and the challenge is still going strong!

I had $30 left for food until my next paycheck so I ran to the grocery store for a few things to compliment what I had in my kitchen. Less than $20 I was out of there and ready to make some baked fajitas thanks to Pinterest.

I paired it with a tortilla shell I had on hand and some plain Greek yogurt because I am blessed to have taste buds that are fooled into thinking it's sour cream. I may have also paired it with the rest of my boxed wine and a night on the porch with my favorite single lady.

Saturday kicked off a new season with the organization I volunteer for. We teach Downs syndrome kids how to read and I was lucky enough to tutor two kids Saturday morning. These kids are the best and I love reading with them!

After being a responsible adult with a walk, lunch, shower, etc. it was time for some bridesmaid duties. One of my best friends from high school is getting married to her high school sweetheart and we picked out our bridesmaid dresses on Saturday. As a way to get to know the bridesmaids better, we also did dinner and went to Bar Louie in Uptown.
I love being a bridesmaid because I get to become friends with the bride's friends and it's super fun! These girls are hilarious so I'm really looking forward to the bachelorette party and the wedding!

As rounds of drinks were bought, the bride was worried that I would talk about how I spent too much money on my blog. Haha! I seriously love how invested in this challenge and supportive people are! I spent more than I would have on a night out with this challenge but I have a "bridesmaid" fund and it covered my bill :)

Sunday was a little rough after the night before but when Erika called me to go hiking, I was on board. The weather was perfect and the views at Afton Alps were beautiful.
It was way cheaper and more active than our normal brunch outing! I really love that we made that switch even if those hills showed how out of shape I am!

I finished the weekend with a Vikings win, getting some work done, and reading for book club. My budget is still completely on track with this challenge and I can't wait to give you the first month's official totals tomorrow! Spoiler alert - the results are good!

Monday, September 22, 2014

A very free weekend

Spending challenge days 14 and 15 complete! People often equate not spending money with sitting at home, being boring and doing nothing. That may be the case occasionally but this weekend was packed full of fun, free things.

Simply turn your head sideways to view pictures in this post because my computer is being ridiculous today.  
Friday was relaxing. I cleaned, cooked and watched Season 1 of You're The Worst, a new hysterical show on FX. Part of my goal for this challenge is to spend more time keeping this organized and getting rid of crap. I took an old cork board that was sitting in my closet and turned it into a necklace rack. My jewelry has been sitting in a shoe box for a year now so it feels great to have it displayed better.

I still need to find a holder for my earings and bracelets but it's a good start!

Saturday I wrote some resumes, enjoyed a walk around Lake Calhoun, and explored my dream life at the Parade of Homes. One of the benefits of the spending challenge is to be in a better spot so I can buy a home so I used this as motivation. These houses were incredible and a cool $1.5 million.

By the 5th house I was starting to get depressed at how far out of reach these were so I headed home, just in time to beat a big storm. I headed to my friend's house to have a drink and watch Jim Gaffigan on Netflix to cheer us up.

Sunday was the best of all. I biked 5 miles to my friend's house, where we met to go hiking at Lebanon Hills. The weather was perfect and the 4-mile workout was fantastic.

Instead of doing our usual Sunday brunch at a cool Minneapolis restaurant, we made our own and it was freaking fantastic! Eggs Benedict, sweet potatoes, asparagus, salmon cakes, bloody mary's and champagne!

We didn't have to wait in line and we each spent less than $10 on the food and drinks. It was a big hit and I'm so glad the girls are on board to do it again! My friends are so supportive of this challenge and it's making a world of difference.

Afterward I had my bike adjusted before I rode back home because not only were the tires nearly flat but the seat was not adjusted to my height correctly. Thank God for friends who know a thing or two about bike riding!! All that exercise showed some great results for my Fitbit that I finally started using!

I ended the weekend with a Paint Nite event with my co-workers. I bought the Living Social deal a few weeks ago so my only expense was a glass of sangria, which I'm regretting since it was $9 that could have been spent in a better way.
Normally I would have picked a different night to go when we were painting a design I liked better but it was a team bonding event and I didn't get a say. Instead of making a painting of flowers that I would never actually hang in my house, I decided to go rogue and make a painting I actually might want. I'm certainly not a skilled painter and my idea became more ambitious that I was prepared for but I was able to cover it up with bold black lines. The instructor was a bit surprised I did something different but if I paid for the supplies, why not paint something I wanted?

It feels great to have another fun weekend without screwing up the challenge! Happy Monday!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Breathing is Expensive

Every fall I have to avoid bonfires, exercise, beer, and sometimes even just being outside. Although it's the most beautiful time of year, it's often the most stressful for me. As someone with chronic asthma, my lungs just can't take the season change and with very few exceptions, I end up in the ER in the middle of the night unable to breathe once or twice a September. It's been happening since 2nd grade and not only does it cramp my fall-loving style but it's expensive. Crazy expensive.

Depending on the year and how bad my asthma is, I end up paying $1,000-$4,000 in medical expenses every fall. That's not exactly budget friendly. And go figure, my asthma is also triggered by stress so worrying about that expense doesn't help anything.

This year, especially in line with the spending challenge, I knew I needed to be proactive. Not only did I not want my roommates to have to drive me to the ER in the middle of the night, I knew I wasn't wasting money on the ER. So I decided to be proactive. Every year, after the asthma attacks, my doctors would give me a preventative steroid inhaler. It finally clicked this year that I should use last year's after thought to be preventative this year!

As I picked up my meds yesterday, I learned that my preventative inhaler cost $191. I was appalled that it costs me $1.50 per puff but I would rather pay that than a medical bill and a ruined fall any day. And fortunately a fee like that can be covered with my HSA account, unlike a couple thousand in medical bills. 

So I puff my Flovent inhaler and take an allergy pill every night and it's amazing the difference I have felt! I have exercised, I drink beer, I go on walks and I even had a bonfire last night! I might actually be able to enjoy this season we call fall! And best of all, I sleep through the night, full able to breathe with no coughing fits. I'm knocking on all of the wood and crossing my fingers, eyes, and toes that this solution sticks.

I'm learning that fairly minor changes like this is exactly what I was hoping the spending challenge would accomplish. I have yet to feel restricted or deprived, yet I already feel smarter about how my actions affect my financial situation.

Cheers to starting week 3 tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Going to the movies for FREE!

I once paid $14 for a movie ticket. Just the ticket without popcorn. As I mapped out my spending challenge, I was bummed to realize that I would likely have to quit going to the movies. With $50/month for fun, an expensive ticket + popcorn just wasn't going to happen.

I'm happy to report that although I've found that many local theaters have actually lowered their prices to $5-$8 per ticket (yay!), I've found ways to see movies for FREE!

Of course you can rent a movie through Redbox. You can easily find promo codes to get a free rental or a BOGO. Now, don't forget to return these DVDs or you will be charged the full price of the movie. Not that I would know...

If you don't want to wait until a movie comes out on DVD, I've found ways to see new releases in the theaters! If you still have your student ID, you can see if you college shows free movies a few weeks after the movie has been released. The University of Minnesota does that!

Best of all, you can even see movies in theaters BEFORE they've been released! Several sites, including Gofobo, promote free movie screenings the week before the movie comes out. You can typically Google to find an RSVP code or several local media outlets will promote RSVP codes and promotions as well.
So far I've seen The 100 Foot Journey and This Is Where I Leave You and they were both fantastic films!

The spending challenge is alive and well, thanks to opportunities like these! Do you have any tricks to seeing free movies?