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Cutting expenses, redirecting those dollars

June 11th, 2015 at 01:05 am

With a little bit of internet research, I was able to call my cell phone carrier and get them to drop my bill from $113 to $65/month plus tax. $40+/month savings for 20 minutes of my time. May end up dropping to an even lower plan when I have more time to do research, but it's a good start. After that, I googled advertised Comcast internet rates and called to ask why I was being charged so much more. They reduced my monthly bill from $80 to $50 and also credited back a $10 charge for a "home installation kit" I never received when I moved- I just used the old stuff from my last apartment and it worked fine. As part of moving I had to "pay ahead" several weeks, so the balance total for this month's billing cycle is $27.38. The new rate will show up next month.

June internet: 80 budgeted- 27.38 actual = 52.62 extra for student loans. Woo!

I'll leave the budgeted amounts for these services the same and just send the difference to debt repayment.

Otherwise the transfer from my old checking account and the leftover utility bill money for the month both hit the student loan account, plus the usual autopay:

Payments:
1484.02- old checking account
42.77- leftover utility budget
17.14- autopay
Interest: 16.17
Principal: 1527.76
Current principal balance: 10,563.31

After much internal debate, I did go ahead and transfer 100.00 to my Roth IRA for the month. This is a new line item in the budget. As much as I enjoy the immediate gratification of paying off debt, it will take years to pay off everything, and it doesn't make sense to miss out on after-tax retirement contributions at this age. (If you didn't read my earlier posts, that $10,500 account is just the tip of the student loan iceberg. Professional school ain't cheap.)

Currently on a decluttering kick - nothing like moving to make you look around and think, "Why do I have all this stuff?" Read an article a while ago about a popular organizer from Japan who tells people to look at every item in their home and ask, "Does this bring me joy?" If not, get rid of it. That seemed like good advice. I'm also selling some furniture I don't need anymore online. Nothing expensive, but I'll throw that at the loan if I find a buyer.

Other frugal minutia: Started using a drying rack for my laundry when possible, especially for towels. Really liking it so far. Found the birthday gift for a family member on Amazon, so I was able to use a gift card balance to cover it instead of cash. I would have gotten them the same thing either way, but this was a nice cashflow bonus. Just when my current work shoes became so worn they started rubbing my heels raw and had to be thrown out, I found an old pair in the back of the closet that have a few more months of use left in them. The theme for the last couple of weeks has been, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."

Cutting Expenses

June 5th, 2015 at 01:41 am

Looking at my budget makes it pretty clear that high fixed expenses are limiting my debt payoff, so I've been looking at ways to cut some of those bills. I get paid every two weeks, and ideally I'd like to pay all fixed bills except the student loan from one paycheck.

Housing
The biggest expense by far is rent, due to living in a costly urban area. I recently moved, reducing my monthly rent from $1450 (slated to go up to $1500/month if I signed a new lease!) to $1175. Still a lot ,but better. Without adding a long commute and living far from work and friends (or living in an excessively murdery neighborhood), it would be hard to get this significantly lower. As a bonus, I'm also much happier here!

Utilities
Since my electricity billing cycle falls early in the month, I count this at the time it's due every budget period. The total for this month: $57.23. This is way over previous utility bills at my old apartment, but I'm pretty sure I know why. One reason is that the new place is a much older, draftier building, while my last apartment had fewer windows and was mostly on the interior of a big complex, insulating it from temperature fluctuations. More importantly, it was in the high 80s on several days, and I turned the AC on twice when I had company visiting. Not a regular indulgence, but don't want guests sweating. Will work on ways to get this back down to my goal of under $40 next month.

Still, $100 budgeted- 57.23 actual = 42.77 extra for GP loan

Water is billed quarterly, so won't have those numbers for a while. Should see less variability there though, since my use hasn't changed since moving. Will either cashflow this as general spending or take it from the recurring expenses category.


Car Insurance
When I notified the insurance company of my move, the premium dropped $80 every 6 months, for a $13. 33 monthly savings.


Phone

You're next, phone bill! Currently paying AT&T the princely sum of $113.17/month for my smartphone plan. (Apparently this somehow crept up about a dollar since I made my budget, which is making my numbers look a little fuzzy.) My last contract should be ending now, so it's time to shop around. Don't need much data since I can connect to the wifi at home and there's guest wifi in most areas at work. Believe it or not, I actually don't have many "extra" features for that price- just unlimited texting, which I use all the time, and a middle of the road data plan.


Internet
Freakin' Comcast monopoly. Have tried. Will focus on other bills, maybe harass Comcast customer service again later. Mostly annoying because my introductory rate was half as much, and they obviously weren't losing money on that.

Parking

Long story, working on it. Leaving the budgeted amount as-is for now until this gets nailed down


To summarize, definitely some work to be done on the budget

New balance, finding money

June 3rd, 2015 at 08:19 pm

My last loan payment took the full three business days to process, but did show up today:

Payment: 505.00
Interest: 13.19
Principal: 491.81
New balance: 12,091.07

At the current interest rate of 7.65%, I'll save 37.83 per year in interest on the amount of principal paid off so far.

While thinking of ways to speed up the repayment process (I'm not eligible to do more extra shifts for cash for a couple of months), I remembered an old, neglected bank account with some money in it from college. When I went away to school they didn't have any branches of my bank in the area, so I opened an account with a local bank for day to day spending and depositing paychecks from my part time job. When I moved again for grad school I went back to using my original bank and left the college account alone as an emergency backup fund. (For a person with an insane amount of debt, I'm actually something of a money hoarder- have always felt better knowing there were funds to tap in an unexpected emergency. This is unfortunately totally irrational, and I obviously should have forked over that money for grad school tuition and borrowed less.) I set up online access to the old college account today and will transfer $1484.02 to the GP loan.

I've been enjoying reading the updates from everyone doing Mrs. Frugalista's Pantry challenge- seeing what other people are cooking motivates me to change dinners up a little here!

In other minor money happenings, coffee at work is definitely one of my most consistent spending areas. I can bring coffee from home in the morning, but during long days I generally get coffee at least once to stay alert and ward off crankiness in the evening. Trying to cut down on this, but sometimes you just need to wake up to concentrate on what you are doing. Since my last travel mug broke, I bought a new one yesterday for $3.99. Not only is this better for the environment, but you get a discount if you use your own mug: $1.29 for a refill vs $1.99 for a regular coffee. Out of curiosity, I'm going to track those savings for a while to see if it adds up to anything significant (or at least how long it takes to pay for the mug!)


So far I've gotten refills yesterday and today, so $1.40 in coffee savings.

Extra payment, groceries

May 30th, 2015 at 04:42 pm

The security deposit refund from my last place came yesterday, and it was a pleasant surprise. It's been a few years, so I couldn't remember exactly how much it was, but expected around $250. It was 504.67! ($500, plus a small amount of interest, which is nice, less the last few days of water and electricity there before the move).

I think you know where that went… Already made the payment online, but the website said it won't be processed until Monday, so I will update the balances when that comes through officially. And maybe spell "principal" correctly this time around : )

Otherwise I spent $29 at a small local ethnic grocery store. This covered 5 multi-meal bags of rice noodles, four large 2-serving cans of bamboo shoots, 2 sleeves of garlic bulbs, a 2 lb bag of carrots, a 3lb bag of apples, 1 bunch cilantro, a 5-pack of authentic Asian ramen-style soups for lazy days, 18 eggs, and probably a couple of other things I'm forgetting. I already stocked up on frozen vegetables during a sale last week when I found myself driving to a less expensive town to visit some friends, and I have a box of waffle/pancake mix I've been craving lately. Hoping to keep additional grocery spending to a minimum for a while, apart from probably needing to pick up some coffee in a few days. I made a large batch of stir-fry for lunch yesterday and froze two Tupperware containers of it to take to work later this week.

Progress

May 29th, 2015 at 01:42 pm

The numbers updated after my last payment to get the interest down on the GP loan- 1,110 paid, of which $2.70 went to principle. Wooo! Go ahead and laugh, but this is the first payment that decreased the principle owed- actual progress! I'll take it. Of course interest will keep accruing, but from here out it should be a lot easier to get that the principle when making payments.

New numbers:

Total: 12588.15
Pri nciple: 12582.88
Interest: 5.27 (yes, this keeps adding up!)

This loan is now considered significantly "paid ahead," so even though the automatic payments will continue monthly, my next payment is "due" in 2021. That's pretty horrifying if you stop to think about it- the government clearly predicts I will be in debt to them forever, mindlessly paying the minimum to cover interest for decades.

In other news, I'm off today (work random shifts instead of a traditional weekend/workweek schedule). Shouldn't be too spendy- I plan to spend most of the day at home cleaning and organizing, which will have the double benefit of making me less nuts when I can't find things that are still boxed up somewhere, and saving some money in the long run by not replacing things I just can't find.

I've been reading more of the archives from that Mr. Money Moustache blog I mentioned last time, and I really enjoy his point of view. Representative quote:

"It is ALL ridiculous. Your life and my life, and the lives of all of the normal people around us.
If you've ever bought a garment, vehicle or dwelling with "style" as even a remote consideration, or prepared a multi-course meal with "taste" as one of the factors, then congratulations - you live a big, wonderful, ridiculous life. If you have any means of transportation besides walking, congratulations again, because you've hit the big time. You have so many options open to you - so much flexibility to change your lifestyle, empower yourself, spend less, earn more, and move to new places as you see fit."

(link http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2015/03/12/when-ridiculousness-is-ubiquitious/ )

This is so true! I can never get over how easy, safe, clean, and comfortable American life generally is compared to all of human history, even on low incomes. We have magical shots that you can get one time as a baby to prevent you from getting illnesses that routinely killed half of everybody's children for most of history...and we're so accustomed to this magical quality of modern life that we have people who TURN THIS DOWN. There is so much extra money flying around our society that people will give routinely give unemployed 18 year olds (or in my case, 22 year olds) HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS of loans with no collateral. Most of the time they don't even ask what specifically you plan on studying with this cash! That may not always work out, but what an incredible amount of working capital this country must have! And don't even get me started on all the insane things you can buy at the grocery store- wars have been fought over the trading routes to reach spices that somebody in small-town Nebraska can pick up for $2 without a thought.

What a wonderful and interesting time to be alive!

$374.24

May 27th, 2015 at 10:07 pm

I had another entry written, but then I stumbled across a very interesting article and decided to go with embarrassing but necessary honesty instead: I have been irrationally complacent, and I can’t even tell you why. I owe $13,669.14 at 7.6% interest, and do you know how much has been paid toward this debt on through the IBR repayment plan in the last two years? The online statement has it right here in black and white: $374.24. In that two years, how many unnecessary things have I thoughtlessly wasted money on? How many times have I bought breakfast or a snack at work through sheer laziness even though there was food at home? I've never thought of myself as the type of person who buries their head in the sand before- this article was really a wake-up call.


The link is here, with the caveat that tough love works for me, but it's hard to read: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/04/18/news-flash-your-debt-is-an-emergency/#comments


So now what?

I'll eventually be paid $670 for a recent side job- they can be slow mailing the checks out, so I'll pay this toward my GradPlus loan now and refund it back into the account when that eventually shows up. I tend to keep a certain amount of cash on hand in case it's needed when the bank is closed, etc, but if I'm being honest, it's probably an unnecessary amount. Since that money isn't earning 7.6% interest, I'll deposit and apply some of that as well. Last week I was paid back for picking some things up for a friend while running errands, $80 cash, which can be another snowflake.



That brings me to
670 side job
80 payback amount
200 cash funds
---------------------
$950 for debt payoff

Right now the interest in that account comes to 1107.30, so in the spirit of recognizing the urgency, I'm adding another $160 from savings to make a total payment of $1110. From here on out, I should start seeing some payments actually applied to principle!

I'll update the official numbers when the payment finishes processing and shows up on the website, since I'm not sure which day they add in the new interest.

Girl vs. Math

May 25th, 2015 at 07:41 pm

Girl vs Math

This month was unusual financially, with a lot of one-time expenses, so my new monthly budget will really start in June. It's still a work in process, but here is a rough outline of what I am picturing:

Income 2874
Rent 1175
Parking 150
Ultilities 100
insurance (car) 64
Phone 112.88
recurring expenses (contacts, renters insurance, car tags/inspection) 150
Retirement 100
student loan (IBR) 386
Internet 70
food and misc 350
Cushion 216



That utility number looks high, but I don't know what it will be in the new place yet. When I called to switch the account to my name, they told me the recent monthly average for this unit has been $130/month; utilities prior to moving ran me 30-40- dollars monthly. Until I see some actual numbers I will keep this at $100 and pay any leftover money here toward my loans.

Internet in this area is a frustrating monopoly. That $70/month is AFTER I called and got them to knock off $10/month. Oh well. Don't have cable or a landline. When it is time to renew my phone contract I am going to see if that can come down a little- what is reasonable to pay for a smartphone plan?

I tend to use my debit card for everything and keep an eye on my spending online, but I have never budgeted strictly in divided categories (Christmas, eating out vs groceries, etc). I saved my emergency fund by just doing all my banking from one account, trying to behave frugally, and letting the unspent extra build up (hence the unbudgeted "cushion" category and brand new “recurring expenses” amount, which is really just a guess).

At least for the first month as I test out the new budget, my debt repayment plan is to use the unspent funds left over in each category at the end of the month as well as any extra windfalls/snowflakes. I was able to do some extra side work recently and should be getting $600 from that, although it's hard to predict when the check will actually be mailed. That will take a big chunk out of my first mini-goal: paying off the roughly $1000 in interest due on the Gradplus loan before payments start being applied to principle. This makes me really impatient to come up with another $400 to get going! Should definitely be doable.


On a different note, thanks to all of the brave men and women who give up their time and personal safety to protect the US! Happy Memorial Day!

The Starting Line

May 23rd, 2015 at 08:28 pm

Longtime reader, first time blogger. I love reading these blogs for inspiration, and I am hoping that starting one will be a way to hold myself accountable as I get serious about my debt repayment goals.

The situation: Graduated debt-free from undergrad thanks to generous help from my parents. Took out loans for professional school totaling about $240,000 (with the in-state discount!) and graduated a couple years ago. After graduation I started a training job that will last for several years at relatively modest pay, followed by a significant jump after all training is complete. I was hired at a good salary (a little under $50K/yr), but had to move for my job to an expensive city with high cost of living, where rent ate up a huge portion of my income. I totally deferred one small loan from a private group with a very low interest rate (this is allowed for up to 5 years) and put my federal loans into income-based repayment, which has kept them in good standing but isn’t touching the principle. I recently found a much cheaper (for the area) apartment and moved to free up some extra money each month.

This is the only debt I’ve ever had and it needs to go! I feel like it limits my retirement savings and my general sense of freedom. With no dependents to take care of right now, I have a great opportunity to buckle down and set myself up for a more secure future.

I currently have a paid-for car with over 100,000 miles on it that is thankfully still running well and a good emergency fund (can cover 6 months of expenses plus a small extra cushion to reflect the fact that my car is well over 10 years old with a ton of miles and you never know). I have a Roth IRA that I started with my very first summer job at age 15 but have not been funding it consistently since college, which also has to change! My employer does not offer any type of match for retirement savings and the investment vehicles they do offer for automatic withholdings for are significantly less attractive than a Roth IRA due to the management fees. They do offer health, dental, and vision benefits for a reasonable rate.

The ugly numbers:
Stafford federal:
Total 218,436.79
Principle: 205,170.
Accrued interest: 13,266.37
Interest rate: 6.55%
Current monthly payments on IBR: 368.32

GradPlus: Total 13,671.78
Principle: 12,585.58
Accrued interest: 1,086.20
Interest rate 7.65%
Current monthly payments on IBR: 17.14/month


Other private loan: 17,000 principle, deferred, lower interest rate (don’t recall offhand)

Roth IRA: 14,322


All payments are applied first to interest, then to principle, so my IBR payments are not making any headway on actually getting out of the hole. I also think the interest rates are a little shocking- this much educational debt is essentially a mortgage, and 7.5% seems a little harsh, Uncle Sam! Talking to older colleagues, many of them mentioned that their loan rates a couple decades ago were more like 2-3%. Feeling like you are being gouged is certainly more motivation to pay if off quickly, I guess.

My first goal is to make extra payments to the GradPlus loan, both because the rate is higher and because it is small enough I could realistically start seeing some progress in paying off the principle to keep me motivated. I also plan to start contributing to my Roth IRA again- it’s ridiculous not to when you consider the time value of money at my age (under 30).

I'm still tweaking my new budget and will probably post that at a later date.


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