GET PAID FOR CHRISTMAS SHOPPING

Hooray its Cyberweek! There are so many good deals going on it is hard to know where to start.

This year, we have limited our Christmas budget to $100 for the three of us. In other words, $33.33 person. $33 sure doesn’t go far these days so one thing we have been doing throughout the year is earning rewards with companies that offer cash back for all of our regular purchases. Three of the easiest companies to use: IBOTTA, SWAGBUCKS, AND EBATES.

get-paid-for-your-christmas-shopping

IBOTTA 

IBOTTA is definitely one of our favorite apps. It offers cash back on tons of the things we were already purchasing. Basically, you “unlock” rewards by clicking on items that you are planning to purchase at the store, then you verify your purchases by scanning the product and your receipt and then… you get free cash back! So easy. We are planning to use our cash back on Christmas this year. You can also sub cash for a million different options for gift cards (think Amazon, iTunes, etc).

Plus, if you have never used IBOTTA you can sign up using our referral link here to get $10! That is like getting $10 for free, for no reason at all. $10 can go a long ways with things like stocking stuffers.

IBOTTA has a ton of rewards it is offering this Cyberweek, so why not earn a little cash back while you are already shopping for the holidays? P.S. one of my favorite deals they are offering is 7% back for shopping at Groupon because Groupon is also offering some amazing deals so its like getting a double deal).

SWAGBUCKS

Swagbucks is a little different than Ibotta. What you do, is perform small tasks (that you are already probably doing online) and you earn points for doing so. For example, while writing this post, I earned 20 points because I searched for a sale from Kohl’s using Swagbucks’s website.  I needed to search for that sale anyway, so why not get some cash back for doing so? EASIEST THING EVER. Earn the easiest $3 of your life by signing up with this link. We know you won’t regret it. Earning money back for all your Christmas spending is like a dream come true.

Swagbucks offers several different kinds of tasks you can do to earn points. You can watch videos online, do the shopping you are already doing, and take daily polls. I LOVE IT.

EBATES

Ebates is another great way to put cash back in your wallet this season. Ebates is only about getting cash back for the shopping you are already doing. (It is not a rewards program for doing other tasks online like Swagbucks). But, as we have discussed, there is a good chance you are already shopping online this week since its Cyberweek. Do that shopping through Ebates so that you can get cash back on it. If you sign up for Ebates here, you will earn $10 to either Ebates or Walmart. It takes approximately one minute to sign up (I just tried it) and you can get your gift card to Ebates or Walmart after spending $25 on your holiday shopping. Seriously, Go get it! 

Happy Shopping! (But stick to your budget!:)

 

 

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25 CHEAP OR FREE CHRISTMAS ACTIVITIES

The Christmas season can be expensive. And I mean like, really expensive. There are so many gatherings and parties and people to shop for, places to go, and things to see. But do we really have to overspend to have a merry Christmas? This year, I am saying NO. No to the overspending, no to the over gifting, no to the expensive holiday activities, just no no no.

Before you start thinking I am a total Scrooge, please know that I LOVE CHRISTMAS. But I just think we can do without all the excess and still have the merriest of all the Christmases. We are committing to not overspending this Christmas season. One way we are doing so is by limiting our holiday activities to the kind that are cheap or free, as follows.

Cheap Christmas activities

1. Go Snow shoeing

or hiking, depending on where you live.
Cost: Free (or cheap if renting snow shoes, usually less than $10). We like to take hot cocoa and snacks and make a day out of it. There is no better way to feel the Christmas cheer than spending time in nature with the ones you love.

Snow shoeing near Sundance ski resort

2. Go Indoor Swimming

Maybe you are like me and not a huge fan of being freezing. Stick it to winter by enjoying an indoor pool with your family this Christmas season. We love our local rec center that has an indoor pool and slides. The YMCA offers a similar set up and you can even find indoor resorts if you want a more full-out water park experience (although, obviously, the price goes up the fancier you get).

Cost: at our local center, $5 entry/day or $15 a month. We tossed out our big gym passes and swapped for passes at our local recreation center (about $15 a month for our family with my work discount). This has been a game changer ck climbing, racquetball, ping pong, and pool tables. This has been the biggest winter win of the season!

3. Make a ginger bread house:

This can be as simple or extravagant as you are willing to take on. Seeing as how we are trying to limit spending, we’d rather keep it simple. This year we are planning on making our “gingerbread” houses out of graham crackers, instead of buying the expensive pre-made ginger bread kits we normally get.

All you have to do is buy graham crackers, candy, and frosting, and build your little home. It is simple, you don’t have to spend forever baking ginger bread, and its cheap. Win win win. Although, mad props if you are willing to make the ginger bread house from scratch.

4. Christmas caroling

Cost: Free. The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear! Hit up your neighbors, or better yet, a local nursing home or assisted living unit. It doesn’t even matter if you are no singer. Everyone loves a good Christmas carol.

Buddy the Elf meme

5. Checking out local Christmas lights.

Cost: Free. Most cities offer some sort of Christmas light display. Find yours and get our with your family.

6. Ugly Christmas light hunt

Cost: Free. We like to drive around neighborhoods in search of the gaudiest lights we can find. Turn up the Christmas music on the radio and giggle. I’d post photos of our favorite ugliest ones but it just felt too mean to not have their consent. Though, I feel fairly confident that most people who go all out on their yard displays likely know that its gaudy, which is the point.

7. Have a Christmas movie night.

Popcorn optional.

Our top five favorite Christmas movies:

  1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,
  2. Elf
  3. It’s A Wonderful Life 
  4. The Muppet Christmas Carol
  5. A Christmas Story

8. Bake Christmas cookies.

Combine with #7 for a Christmas-y good time!

9. Ice skating

Cost: Typically between $5 – $10 which should include shoes. I am TERRIBLE at ice skating which increases its entertainment value ten fold.

10. Ice running.

Cost: FREE except for possibly your life.

Not for the faint of heart. We go on a run across a lake near our house when the temperatures haven’t risen above freezing for several days. Scary, free, and thrilling. Baby M has not been invited on this activity yet. Last time we went we heard from serious ice cracking while we were running, so do be careful.

Utah lake frozen over

11. Host a no-spend white elephant gift exchange.

The best gifts are generally the more creative ones. And lets be honest, we all have stuff sitting around our house that we don’t know what to do with. Dig around your house and find some real treasures that you are ok parting with.

12. Host a pot-luck style Christmas party.

Instead of taking on all the work of hosting a holiday party, consider hosting a pot luck style party. That way, instead of being responsible for feeding everyone, you are only responsible for one dish that you can easily make for under $5.

13. Have a family or friend Christmas themed photo shoot.

Get as cheesy as you can stand. Throw on that old Christmas sweater, get by the fireplace, and take photos until you drop. You can get crazy and combine this with #17.

14. Make homemade ornaments

Limit yourself to only using things you already have at home to make homemade ornaments. This will inspire creativity and keep your spending in check.

15. Attend a holiday parade.

Free candy and free holiday cheer. Just make sure you bundle up so that you can actually enjoy the parade!

16. Serve others.

It seems like every year I try to think of some elaborate gift giving or twelve days of Christmas-ing or some over the top thing I can do for a friend to serve them. These kinds of things are fun, but the focus seems to be on the gifts or the activities themselves, instead of the service, when service was the point to begin with. Why not keep it simple and volunteer at the food bank, or pass out food at a soup kitchen. It is free for you, and it will no doubt bring you bounteous holiday cheer.

17. Make your own Christmas cards.

You could write out individual, personalized cards to friends and family members who mean the most to you. You could limit yourself to only using things you have on hand, or you could buy some inexpensive decorations. (Follow my DIY Christmas pinterest board for ideas)

18. Decorate someone else’s home or office for Christmas.

I wish we had photos, but last year we snuck into Danny’s mom’s office and decked the halls. It was fun for us to feel like little Christmas elves and fun for her to come into her office the next morning.

19. Go on a hot chocolate walk.

Find a place that has fun holiday lights or decorations (can be as simple as walking around the mall), grab a friend or a significant other and a hot cocoa and enjoy the ambiance.

20. Bake a Christmas treat for a neighbor.

Do you actually know your neighbors? We’ve met some of ours a couple of times. One easy way to get to know them a little better is to take a Christmas treat over and go say hi!

21. Play dress up (Christmas themed, obviously)

Lately, M has been loving to go to the skate park. He likes to watch the “guys” and also likes to ride on his belly down approximately half of the half pipe. I have a plan to dress him up like a little elf and watch him cruise at the skate park. But more ideas, you could force your family or friends to dress up in a Christmas theme (ugly Christmas sweaters) and go on a walk or do any of activities 1-20 on this list. Everything is better when you are dressed up.

22. Make your own ugly Christmas sweater.

The fact of the matter is this: ugly Christmas sweater parties aren’t going anywhere. You are simply going to need an ugly Christmas sweater from now until you die. So you might as well make a good one.

You can find most of the materials you will need at a thrift store. If thrifting is not for you, however, search the clearance racks for the sweater and the supplies.

23. Make a Christmas craft.

24. Play Christmas carol (or movie) Pictionary

You play exactly like you do Pictionary, but you are trying to guess the name of the Christmas carol/movie they are trying to illustrate.

25. Attend a Christmas sing-a-long

I guess my point is this: you don’t have to spend money that you don’t have to enjoy Christmas. Christmas should be about spending time with the ones you love, and looking for ways to be kind to others.

What inexpensive winter activities have you discovered? I’d love some new ideas!

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HOW TO CREATE A BUDGET THAT ACTUALLY WORKS

Most of my life, my philosophy on creating my budget has been, “don’t spend money, ever.” Or, to put it more accurately, “always try to spend the least amount of money possible on anything.”

Think this Saturday Night Live Skit with Steve Martin and Amy Poehler:

There are problems with my former theory. We simply have to spend money on some things. And without a set budget, it is hard to know how much to spend on the things we need. Without knowing how much money we should realistically be spending, it is difficult to ascertain how much “extra” money we have.

In addition, it is not always the best idea to spend as little as possible on things. For example, if you buy the cheapest toilet paper, you end up using twice as much (or more), and in the end, spend more than you would have, had you purchased higher quality toilet paper. We are currently experiencing this cautionary tale.

As we set the goal of paying off six figures of student loan debt, it became prudent to set a budget. Every dollar in our budget has to count so that we can make the biggest payments possible, in order to achieve our goal of paying off our $600,000 of debt within five years.

We have researched several different methods on how to create the best budget. We have experimented and tinkered with strategies that help us actually stick to our budget.What we have found, at least for us, is that most budgets are needlessly complicated. So, we have simplified the process that we use into 6 easy things that you can do to get going on your budget.

How to create and stick to a budget

 

STEP 1: START TRACKING ALL EXPENSES

It is difficult to set a budget if you have no idea what is practical for you. For example, do you know how much you are spending monthly on electricity? Do you know how much you are spending on food? If you don’t, when you create your budget, you will have to guess a number that you think will work. And the chances are, you are going to guess wrong. And then you are probably going to fail at your first attempt to budget because you probably will budget way too much or way too little. And then you will probably abandon the notion of a budget. At least that is how it has seemed to go for us over the years.

Ideally you want to be able to set a budget that causes you to exercise some restraint but that is not completely crippling. Having an understanding of where you are at currently helps this.

In addition, tracking expenses actually helps you spend less money. Have you ever tracked your calories before? Studies have shown that even if you are not trying to lose weight, tracking your calories helps you consume less. The same principle applies to tracking your expenses. If you are constantly aware of your money and what you are spending, you will spend less.

STEP 2: START TRACKING INCOME

This could be very basic if you are a one income house hold who is given a salary. It gets more complicated with dual incomes, hourly wages, and multiple side hustles.

For us, we were really surprised how much we were actually earning each month when we added up even our smallest of side hustles. For example, we get cash back with companies like Ibotta. We also take online surveys and get reward points with Swag Bucks, to name a few of our little side hustles.

As we started calculating all of our income, it became apparent that we were earning money, we just didn’t know where it was going.

STEP 3: SET GOALS

We have talked in detail about goal setting in our newsletter, that you can subscribe to by clicking here. But basically, if you don’t have a goal for your finances, you are much less likely to actually stick to your budget. Why? Because your budget is your plan for how you will achieve your goal. Goals do not come into fruition by happenstance, most of the time.

So, take some time and consider what your financial goals are. Do you want to pay off student loan debt? Do you want to get out of credit card debt? Do you want to invest? Do you want to achieve financial independence? Would you like to retire early? Do you want to have more money? Less? (if so, please send some to me). Would you like to travel more?

Goals are awesome. And it is practically a known fact that they work better if you write them down. If you share money with anyone (spouse or a significant other) sit down and write out your goals together. If you are sharing money, you must get on the same page.

You may have more than one goal. As an example, some of our goals are:

  1. Pay off our student loan debt
  2. Buy a house with more than one bathroom (or build one on to this house).
  3. Have enough money to give a lot of it away. We’d like to create scholarships, among other ways of giving.
  4. Invest in real estate and other small business ventures
  5. Buy a beach house
  6. Save enough for a comfortable retirement, should we choose to retire.
  7. Have enough discretionary income to take planned and spontaneous vacations, many times per year.

Remember, “a goal without a plan is just a wish.” Your budget is your plan to reach your goal. You have to create it and then you have to live by it in order to reach your goals.

STEP 4: SET YOUR BUDGET

So, now that you have some goals, where do you start? How do you create a budget? There are several theories and ideas about how you should set your budget, each more complicated than the last. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need anything else to complicate my life. I need a budget that is easy to create and easy to follow. That is why we have come up with what I will call the “goal setting method.”

The goal setting method is simply a trial and error method. Based on prior spending, you set a goal for how much money you would ideally spend in each of your categories of spending. For example, after tracking our spending for a few months, we noticed that we were spending about $600 a month on food for the three of us. That seemed like a lot, so we set a goal to spend $400 a month on food.

We went through every category of spending that we have and did the same thing. We were spending about $175 on utilities and we thought we could easily move that down to $150, so we set our utilities budget to $150.

THAT IS IT. No fuss, no muss. Just tracking your spending and setting small goals to spend less.

There are several apps and online tools you can use to help you set your budget. We personally have used Mint and Personal Capital and think both are great options. The only downer with Mint is that you have to frequently recategorize some of your spending. Not a huge deal since you will be reviewing your budget and spending once a week (more on that later) but it can be a little inconvenient.

But, if you are less of an app person and more of a excel spread sheet kind of person, Bank of America has a budget planner that you can download here: Household Budget Worksheet.

The point is that you just need somewhere to record your budget and track your spending to see how well you are doing in each category. Apps are preferable to us because it does a lot of the work for us.

We set an overall goal for our budget each month of $3000 on all spending per month. That number is fleshed out into every category of spending (i.e. $400 of that goes towards food). We personally do not include our debt in our budget because anything above $3000 that we earn goes to student loans first, but we are in a somewhat unique situation paying off $600k of debt in 5 years.

STEP 5: DISTINGUISH BETWEEN GOOD AND BAD AUTOMATIC PAYMENTS

(AND SET THEM UP ACCORDINGLY.)

Once you have created your budget, you should distinguish between fixed payments (payments that stay the same every month, like your mortgage or rent) and payments that change every month (like gas and electricity).

If the option is available, all of your fixed payments should ideally be set up on auto-payment. Many companies offer some financial incentive for doing so. You should be taking advantage of that. On the other hand, you should not enroll in automatic payments for your bills that vary each month.

And here is why: having to see your bill each month and make the payment yourself helps keep you reminded that you have a goal of spending less and helps you stay on track. On the other hand, payments that are fixed, as in, you do not have the ability to control how much you pay each month, might as well be set on auto payment. So set up the “good” (fixed) automatic payments and get rid of the “bad” payments (variable).

STEP 6: HAVE WEEKLY MEETINGS

If you are married or have a significant other to which you are financially accountable, you should sit down each week with that person. If you have no one to which you are financially accountable, you will sit down with yourself. Bring some snacks. You will review all of the money that you spent that week. Did you meet your goals? Did you overspend? Is there any where that you can cut costs? You will review all of this. This helps keep you accountable to yourself and or to your significant other.

For us, we sit down every Sunday night after we put M down to bed. Sometimes, this meeting is the last thing on earth that I want to do, but every week we do it and we are always glad we did. It is incredibly motivating to keep us both on track. It is an important time to figure out what is working and what is not.

But is doing this every week really necessary?

I know some people do this once a month or a few times a year. While that is better than never, it is not going to help your monthly budget if you are realizing spending problems that could easily be addressed to save your monthly budget that month. Moreover, this meeting serves as a good reminder to pay off credit cards, bills, and or other financial obligations. Cause late fees are the WORST. All of things usually need to be addressed on a weekly basis anyway, so might as well do it together.

STEP 7: TWEAK YOUR BUDGET AS NEEDED

Finally, a budget is really a work in progress. It is going to require some tweaking and changing to get it where you need it to be. Don’t be afraid to change up your budget if something is not working. This is another benefit of your weekly meeting– you can use that time to change your budget as needed.

 

In the end, sticking to your budget ALL DEPENDS ON YOU. You are the only person who can control your spending. I think you will find that learning to do so can be incredibly empowering and allows you to meet your financial goals.

Three cheers for creating and sticking to your best budget yet!

 

 

Want to see what our monthly budget looks like? SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER HERE. We are sharing all of the details of our own personal budget, along with all of the money hacks we are using to pay off our student loan debt FAST.

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President Trump’s Impact on Our Student Loans

The video version for my audio/visual friends:

The wordy version for my friends reading this at work, trying not to get caught: 

This election seemed to really divide people into two groups: 1) people who hate Donald Trump and 2) people who hate Hillary Clinton more than the people who hate Donald Trump. There is a lot of uncertainty across the board, but the thing that concerns us the most is the state of our student loans. Frankly, we would have been concerned no matter who won.

With regard to student loans only, a Donald Trump presidency might actually be good for people like us who are high debt high income earners, because of Trump’s plans for income based repayment. This is of course, assuming that he actually brings his income based repayment plan into effect. It will probably be bad for most everyone else, especially low income folks trying to get student loans and anyone who needs student loans but wants to major in the liberal arts (like I did), as set forth below.

This change in the White House has left us with questions, like: what will happen to income based repayment? What will happen to people who have already signed up for student loan forgiveness plans? What will happen to student loans generally? I don’t know about you, but I was not able to extract a lot of concrete plans for student loans from Mr. Trump during this campaign seasons. I have heard a lot of general ideas, and am very curious to see how they pan out over the next few years. Of course, it could be like Obamacare where he will change his mind once he realizes how big of a mess all of this is.

Here is what we have heard from Trump over the past few months coupled with our two cents:

  1. HE WANTS TO HOLD COLLEGES ACCOUNTABLE.

He wants to make colleges share the risk.

Trump wants to hold colleges financially accountable when students graduate without jobs. Again, I have no idea what this actually looks like. If a student graduates without a job lined up, how will the college be accountable? Will they be paying a fine? Who are they accountable to? The student? The government? What about students who don’t want to get jobs after they graduate? What about the fact that there just aren’t enough jobs for everyone? There are one million unanswered questions on how he will achieve this. Except for that last question. He has promised that he will simply create more jobs. I wonder why no other President has thought of that.

Trump also plans to hold colleges accountable when students fail to make payments on their student loans. He has threatened to withhold tax exemptions from universities and has stated that holding colleges accountable for their students’ loan payments forces them to have “skin in the game.”

  1. HE WANTS TO TAKE THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OUT OF THE COLLEGE EQUATION

He has threatened to completely shut down the United States Department of Education, or at least to “largely eliminate it,” which he stated in his book, Great Again. Obviously this raises a lot of questions. I will address two:

      1. First, does he have the authority to eliminate the Department of Education?
        1. The short answer is yes, but not without the support of Congress.
      2. What happens if there is no Department of Education?
        1. It means that there will be no federal student loans, period. Depending on who you are, this could be a good or bad thing. If we make private lenders compete, it could drive down interest rates for student loans. But we lose some of the protections that we have with the federal government. We will likely see more discrimination on who qualifies for student loans in the private sector. Basically, forget about equal access to education. People with low earning potential, bad credit, and or low income will probably have a hard time qualifying for student loans. Trump has also discussed linking student loan eligibility to a borrower’s earning potential. So, farewell liberal arts.
        2. It means that there will be no federal pell grants. Obviously these grants help a lot of folks go to school who could not otherwise afford it. Certainly, not having them will cut costs for the federal government, but there will be a chunk of people who are going to have to figure out how to fund school some other way.
        3. We’ll likely have inconsistent education data. The Department of Education gathers data and reports trends to Congress, educators, and the general public. So we will know less. Ironic since we’re talking about education here.
        4. Colleges may lose their funding. Many colleges rely on federal dollars simply to keep their doors open. This would likely effect private universities the most, but also realize that states will likely be spending more on higher education than they are now just to keep their own universities afloat.
        5. It is really, really unclear.

He wants to remove the federal government from profiting from student loan debt.

In an interview with The Hill, he said, referring to student loans, “That’s probably one of the only things the government shouldn’t make money off. I think its terrible that one of the only profit centers we have is student loans.”

I agree, it is terrible that the only people we are making money off of are students, who are arguably some of the poorest people in the nation. I’m not sure that completely shutting down the system is the way to go, but I am definitely intrigued at where this is all headed. It is also fairly unclear whether the federal government actually earns money off of student loans because there is so much money going in and out of the system.

So, what happens if there are no federal student loans? Everything becomes privatized. We would all get our student loans from private lenders. As stated above, this creates a significant equal access to education issue.

He wants to push colleges to cut tuition.

That is nice in theory. And college tuition is a HUGE problem. As it stands right now, there is all the incentive in the world for colleges to increase tuition. There is really no regulation on this. All an accredited school really has to do is charge high tuition and the federal government will back it up by providing students with that amount in federal student loans. Trump has not set forth how exactly he will push colleges to cut tuition, other than withholding tax exemptions, but if there are no federal loans (because there will be no Department of Education) then that may solve the problem itself—colleges that charge outrageous tuition may end up putting themselves out of business.

  1. HE WANTS TO CHANGE INCOME BASED REPAYMENT

He wants to consolidate all of the student loan repayment plans into one big income based repayment plan.

      1. Does he have the authority to do this?
        1. Yes. And unlike eliminating the Department of Education, this would not require Congress to act.

Trump takes a fairly liberal stance on income based repayment. He views current student loan repayment options as a “confusing maze” and plans to simplify the process. In fact, he has said, “you graduate from college and you’re starting out with like an anchor around your neck… no good, its no good.” (Read about it at TIME.) In his view, consolidating all student loans into repayment such as this would make student loan repayment much easier to navigate. He wants all graduates with federal student loans to pay 12.5% of their income to student loans, regardless of income, for 15 years, with the remaining balance forgiven.

And you know, I agree. Having an anchor around my neck is no good. And student loan repayment options are indeed needlessly complicated. However, Trump really hasn’t provided details of how to pay for this nice program and, according to Travis from the Student Loan Planner, that is a major flaw and makes Trump’s plan unlikely to succeed.

Another big implication if we consolidate ALL of the student loan repayment plans, it likely means that Public Service Loan Forgiveness (where people can get their student loans forgiven after making payments for 10 years and working full time in public service) will be abolished.

That is a big deal. Let’s use lawyers as an example. A lot of students go to law school and pay six figures for their education. They have student loan payments each month that cost more than a mortgage on a nice house. They simply cannot afford to work in public service jobs (think public defender, district attorney type of jobs). Without this HUGE federal incentive, they really won’t even have the option to take a public service job.

However, on the upside, it could increase private or state level efforts to offer programs to public service employees. Maybe that is where those incentives should be coming from anyway. Maybe states will be encouraged to actually pay their employees fairly? Haha. I know, super funny. Please don’t fire me Oklahoma.

Finally, income driven repayment has been criticized heavily in the past because of the poor incentives it offers to students and colleges. It provides the incentive for students to borrow more– students with higher balances end up having more of their loans forgiven at the end of the repayment period. There is no reason to borrow less if the balance will be forgiven. Another problem with income based repayment is that it gives colleges incentive to raise tuition. There are obvious negative consequences to both of these incentives. The federal government is needlessly shelling out our tax dollars. While income based repayment certainly needs reforming, Trump has not addressed how his proposal of switching all student loan repayment to income based repayment will solve either of these problems.

As you can see, it is pretty unclear where student loans are headed. If Trump actually does what he has proposed, there are certainly some big time implications for just about all of us.

So what does that mean for us specifically? Not much. We will keep aggressively paying off our loans for now, until Trump tells us we can’t anymore. Here is to hoping that doesn’t happen!

What do you think about Trump’s plans for student loans? How do you feel about income based repayment? Can we survive without the Department of Education?

 

P.S. Gain access to our budget and money saving hacks (aka exactly how we are paying off $600k of debt) by SUBSCRIBING TO OUR NEWSLETTER HERE

 

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OUR STUDENT LOAN REPAYMENT PLAN

We are literally saving hundreds of thousands of dollars on our student loans.

How we are saving thousands of dollars on our student loans

And it is actually easier than you might think.

OUR STUDENT LOAN REPAYMENT PLAN:

The video version: 

The quick version:

STEP ONE: Forego our grace period and sign up for REPAYE.

STEP TWO: Start making student loan payments immediately.

STEP THREE: Refinance with a private lender 

STEP FOUR: Live frugally so we can make aggressive payments until our student loans are history.

STEP FIVE: Keep living frugally and invest extra income.

The long version:

Not long ago we were contacted by Travis at Millennial Moola. He offered to crunch our numbers so that we could make sure that we were choosing the right student loan repayment plan for us. We agreed because we had talked to just about everyone and researched just about everything regarding our student loan situation. This included but was not limited to: talking to school counselors and financial advisers, many discussions with similarly situated peers, seeking out our loan servicers, and spending HOURS reading books, searching forums, and googling the subject. We left no stone unturned.

While the school counselors and the folks at the lending company were all likely well meaning, none of them seemed to know as much as we knew. And we didn’t really know that much. That was concerning. Some of their advice was frankly inconsistent with what we learned on our own. That did not make us feel confident since they should be the “experts.”

In fact, we received a lot of inconsistent advice. Several people advised us to fully take advantage of income based repayment and to invest extra income since the market could possibly offer interest higher than what is accruing on our loans. That discussion deserves its own post. Did you know that you are taxed on the amount of the loan that is forgiven the year that it is forgiven? For us, that means the year that our loans would be forgiven we would be paying somewhere between $100,000-$325,000 in actual taxes, in addition to the taxes on whatever we earned that year. (see chart below). Since I’m not Donald Trump, I’m not smart enough to figure out how to get out of paying taxes. That reason alone was enough for us to pass up income based repayment.

Anyway, enter Travis: he asked us some personal questions and ran our numbers and found the exact same thing we found. If we hustle and pay this thing off on our own, as quickly as we can, it will save us the most money, by far. You can view the details of his analysis HERE, but for the quick version, here is a chart of his findings: (and yes, these are our actual numbers)

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As you can see, paying off our loans on our own, especially if we refinance with a private lender to lower our interest rate, will literally save us hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is clearly the best financial choice for us. We were stoked that his analysis was fairly consistent with what we had come up with on our own (spending a million hours googling it and chatting with similarly situated friends). (P.S. if you want Travis to crunch your numbers, he totally will.)

So, with that framework, these are the steps we are taking to pay off our loans and the reasons why.

STEP ONE: Forego our grace period and sign up for REPAYE.

Why sign up for REPAYE? First, all of our loans are graduate loans so we do not qualify for the interest subsidy offered under PAYE. Under REPAYE, however, we get a 50% interest subsidy for any period of time that our REPAYE monthly payment due is not sufficient to pay the monthly interest. This is appealing as we are just starting our careers and may need a couple of years to build up our clientele (aka, start earning significant money). If we are not immediately able to start making big payments on our loans, this gives us a little bit of a safety net and effectively cut sour interest rate in half until we can refinance and get things going with our payoff plan.

To be clear, we have no intention of staying on the REPAYE plan. As you can see from the chart, that would be our most expensive option. This is only a good idea for us during this start up period where we aren’t able to make hefty payments on our loans. 

STEP TWO: Start making student loan payments immediately.

Even if we can only make small payments right now while we are still in our grace period, we are going to make them. Interest is accruing on the daily and anything we can do to minimize its effects will be of consequence to our overall repayment schedule.

To earn money, we are currently working as a dentist (Danny) and lawyer (Amber).

We also have a plethora of side hustles. We save money on groceries by using apps like IBOTTA. We also meal plan and freeze our meals ahead of time

We mystery shop. We run a small photography business. We sell stuff around the house. These side hustles allow us to make extra payments on our loans and still be able to eat and pay our bills.

STEP THREE: Refinance with a private lender.

As soon as we have a good feel for how much income we will be earning and after we have made some payments under REPAYE, we will refinance our loans with a private lender.

There are some cons to refinancing student loans. The most obvious is that we will be giving up some of the protections that we have under federal programs. Once you refinance, you can never go back so you have to make sure it is something that makes sense (cents) for you.

The good news is that many private lenders do offer some protections, for example, SoFi offers unemployment protection which will allow you to defer payments for up to a year. You just won’t ever be able to switch over to an income based repayment plan. 

This doesn’t bother us at all. If we had to switch back over to income based repayment, it would practically be financial suicide, we would be losing so much money. Once we have refinanced our student loans, there is no going back. 

STEP FOUR: Live frugally and make aggressive student loan payments until our loans are history.

We are doing tons of things to live frugally as discussed above. The most important thing we are doing, is living on a budget. It is currently set at $3000 per month. This includes everything except our student loan payments and tithing to our church. If you want to learn more about our monthly budget you can subscribe to our newsletter where we share all of our budget details.

STEP FIVE: Live frugally and make smart investments to catch up for the decade that we missed making investments.

A lot of people forget to plan what they will do with their money after their debts have been repaid. We plan to invest in real estate, among other things, after our student loans are paid off. We have a goal of purchasing 10 rental income properties.We will of course fully fund a 401(k) if it is an option, and whatever IRA options are available to us. We will make some safe investments (like mutual funds) and some risky ones (like investing directly in start ups), if our financial situation allows. 

What about YOU? Do you have a student loan debt repayment plan? What are you doing and why? We’d love to know!

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Cheap and Easy Last Minute Halloween Costumes

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We love Halloween, and we love dressing up, but for some reason, we do not plan well for this holiday. It ALWAYS sneaks up on us, and we always need a last minute costume idea. Seeing as how we have a goal of paying off $600,000 of debt, we obviously don’t have a ton of cash to go buy new Halloween swag.

Here is our breakdown:

Smee, Hook, and Peter Pan: pirate hook: $2.99 (Party City), pirate sword: $1.99 (Party City), green shirt: $1.97 (on clearance rack at Walmart), green felt (hat, belt for Peter Pan): $0.99

Things we had on hand: Smee shirt, red beanie, Birkenstock’s, red feather, moccasins, pirate shirt pirate hat

Total cost of our costumes this year: $7.94 (plus tax)

As you can see, we didn’t go ALL out on our costumes this year. But we did stay festive, and we didn’t overspend, which was the goal.

HOW TO PUT TOGETHER A LAST MINUTE HALLOWEEN COSTUME ON A BUDGET:

  1. Do you have a dress up box? Check that for ideas first.
  2. Check your closet for inspiration! Our whole theme for our family costumes stemmed from the fact that I had that blue and white striped shirt pictured above.
  3. Check your house for useful items such as: cardboard, tape, construction paper, yarn, etc. These kind of items come in handy for just about any costume
  4. Still stuck? Buzz Feed has a list of 51 Cheap and Easy Costume Ideas that you can use for inspiration.

Happy Halloween! Are you dressing up this year?

 

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P.S. Gain access to our budget and all our money saving hacks by SUBSCRIBING TO OUR NEWSLETTER HERE.

 

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OUR STUDENT LOAN DEBT STORY

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When we started dating in 2007, we were both exactly $0 in debt. Over the last decade, that beautiful $0 ballooned into a colossal $600,000. The question that we get asked all too often– how did this happen?

How we ended up with $600,000 in debt

After getting married, we graduated with our bachelor’s degrees in 2010 fairly unscathed. Danny had NO student loan debt, and I graduated with a measly $3500 that I had to borrow my last semester. While measly, it was still a negative number. I had never had debt before. It made me uncomfortable.

Our plan was always to go to law school (me) and dental school (Danny) and we knew that student loan debt would assuredly accompany our higher education. What we didn’t know was just how much debt we would walk away with!

What we did

Danny went to graduate school to amp up his application for dental school. In total, that Master’s of Biomedical Science degree cost us about $60,000. We justified that if that degree could get him into dental school, it would be worth the cost.

I was lucky to attend a very affordable law school, where the cost of tuition was low. I earned my J.D. in 2015 with about $44,000 in student loan debt. I ended up applying to law school one year earlier than we anticipated. Our original plan was for me to start one year after Danny started, so that we could graduate together. This would allow me to work full time for a year to save up a little for school. At the last minute, we decided it would be better if I started school as soon as I could. I would become a lawyer one year faster, meaning I would be earning a lawyer’s salary one year earlier. It seemed like I would earn more money as a lawyer than as a “sociologist.” (Also, hey p.s. there just aren’t that many sociology related jobs for undergrads.) But making this last minute decision meant that I had already missed deadlines for scholarships. That did not come without a cost and should have been factored into my decision of whether to wait one year or apply immediately to law school.

And then there was dental school. Oh my lucky stars there was dental school. I think we were just so grateful that Danny got into dental school that we didn’t take the time that we should have to choose the right school for us. Danny’s school cost about $84,000 a year. At 6-7.9% interest, that added up FAST and left us with more than $600,000 in combined student loan debt by the time Danny graduated in June 2016.

During school

We lived frugally. We used coupons. We didn’t buy fancy things. I was able to work during some of my summers and part time as a research assistant which helped us to have something to live off of besides our loans.

We did not think too much about our student loans. It never occurred to us that we could (and should) start making payments while we were still in school. We had heard of income based repayment plans and were familiar with a few different strategies to paying off the debt, but we never stopped to consider what we were going to do. I think we assumed that things would magically work out for us.

We did not use a budget while we were in school. We rationalized that it was too difficult to calculate what our budget should be when we weren’t even earning significant income. Our thought process was to spend as little as we could. But student life is a trap for eating out too often and drinking too much soda. We fell into those traps.

Our beautiful son was born my third year of law school. Having a child is not the cheapest thing I have ever done. But it is the most incredible thing I’ve ever done.

Then I graduated law school, and everything changed.

I took a job as a judicial law clerk when I graduated. It was an AMAZING experience, but lets just say it was not a huge money maker. I had student loan payments that were then coming out of their “grace period.” We had a new son to worry about. No one that I talked to (faculty/professional development/financial people at my law school, other law students, other dental students) seemed to have solid advice for managing student loans. Most people I talked to were convinced that finding the way to lower your monthly payments as much as possible was the way to go.

I didn’t know much about money, but I knew that lower payments meant it would take longer to pay off, which meant more interest was accruing, which meant school was costing more in the long run. (p.s. this is true even if your loans are going to be forgiven using any of the IBR plans).

I got stressed out. Me being stressed out lead to a furious journey, seeking the best solution for how we were going to handle our loans.

I wanted know every single thing there was to know about money and student loans and how to get out of debt as quickly as possible.

I read every personal finance book I could get my hands on. (P.S. some of my favorites for starting out: Total Money Makeover, 7 Years to 7 Figures, The Millionaire Next Door, Rich Dad Poor Dad). If there is a book, blog or a forum dealing with finances, student loan debt, investing, and or becoming a millionaire, I have likely read it. I just could not read enough. I have spent probably hundreds of hours pouring over how student loans work, how interest works, and how we can earn enough money to pay off our loans.

But we aren’t sharing our journey just to talk about ourselves.

This website is really about YOU. 

We created our blog because we wanted to raise awareness about the student loan debt crisis. If we can, we want to help you with your own student loan debt. Certainly, our own personal experience with our student loans and finances is intertwined throughout the blog, but we hope that you will actually gain insights on how to manage your own debt and finances. We will offer:

We hope that you will feel comfortable sharing your insights, thoughts, and questions by commenting on posts that interest you. We have a rich community (see-what-I-did-there?) of readers who will keep you uplifted, motivated, and offer their insights on how we can all get out of debt and go from being in the “red” to “green.”

Learn with us! 

Learn with us as we navigate through this crazy journey. 70% of Americans are graduating with student loan debt. Do you have student loan debt? Do you know someone who does? Please share our website with them!

You can also

Subscribe to our newsletter (it’s free) to get all of the inside scoop on how to pay off student loan debt, plus all the details of our own budget and income. We will try to offer advice and keep you entertained along the way.

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Reward Yourself

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We use all kinds of apps and reward programs to earn a little extra cash (or gift cards). If you are not using programs like this, you are missing out on the EASIEST way to score some extra savings. Here is a roundup of some of our favorite ways we save money:

We like SavingStar, Checkout51, and SurveyMini, but our two very favorite programs are Ibotta and Swagbucks.

SavingStar:

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Before you shop, you select the offers that you want. After your shopping trip, you upload your receipt for processing OR simply link your local grocery store’s loyalty card with the app. You can choose for your cash to be deposited in your bank account, Paypal, or donated to a charity of your choice. What I like about SavingStar is that they usually have a “healthy offer of the week” where they list savings on produce. Coupons on produce are hard to come by, so its a great weekly score.

Checkout51:

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Is similar to Savingstar.You select products that you plan to purchase and upload your receipt after you purchase them. You usually get paid out in the form of a check after you have earned $20.

SurveyMini:

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SurveyMini uses your location to find surveys from stores that you have frequented. It asks you some basic questions about your shopping trip and rewards you with points. Once you have earned enough points, you can cash out for giftcards. Some stores also offer you free drinks or entrees for completing the survey. Thats a win in my book!

IBOTTA

Have you started using IBOTTA yet? IBOTTA is the bomb when it comes to offering cash back on your grocery store purchases. Basically, it works in three ways:

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  1. You submit a receipt using their app after you purchase a qualifying product
  2. You link a grocery store loyalty account
  3. In App purchases

Submit a receipt:

  1. Download the ibotta app.
  2. Unlock rebates: before you go shopping, unlock cash rewards by completing simple tasks (like watching short video clips, etc).
  3. Go shopping. Buy the products you’ve unlocked.
  4. Verify your purchases. Scan your product bar codes, and then submit a photo of your receipt
  5. Get cash. You will have your cash deposited into your Ibotta account within 48 hours. You can put your cash in your PayPal account, Venmo, or gift cards.

Link a grocery store loyalty account:

  1. Sign up for IBOTTA (it’s free)
  2. Link your store loyalty account. Add your loyalty card number or associated phone number.
  3. Unlock rebates. Before you shop, unlock cashback rewards by completing simple tasks.
  4. Go shopping using your loyalty card or phone number at check out.
  5. Get cash. You’ll have the cash deposited in your IBOTTA account within 24 hours.

In App Purchases:

  1. Find & unlock mobileapps rebates. Before you shop, unlock cashback rewards.
  2. Launch app. Tap on the launch app button from the Ibotta app.
  3. Go shopping. Make a purchase within app. That’s it! You’ll receive a confirmation that the rebate is pending.

Right now you’ll get $10 for using my referral link PLUS $10 for downloading the free app!

 

Swagbucks

Join Swagbucks!
You Can Get Free Gift Cards For Shopping, Searching and Discovering What’s Online at Swagbucks.com

Are you using Swagbucks? Swagbucks is heaven. You get rewarded for doing things online, that you are likely already doing. When I choose reward programs to work with, I try to focus on ones that don’t cramp my style. In other words, ones that reward me for things I’m already doing. AKA I don’t have to do anything different in my life to get them. This includes: shopping online, watching videos, and finding deals online. You earn points by doing these tasks and then you turn those points into rewards– gift cards to tons of different places or cash back using PayPal.

You can REGISTER for Swagbucks here.

 

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HOW TO COPE WITH STUDENT LOAN DEBT STRESS

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Our student loan debt is literally keeping me up at night. 

Ever since Danny graduated, we have been feeling the crippling weight of our student loans. I feel the greatest effects late at night, usually around 2:00 or 3:00 am. I guess that is technically the morning. I toss and I turn and then I toss and turn some more. I cannot stop seeing the number $599,464. I cannot hide from it, not even behind the safety of closed eye lids and my fluffy down comforter.

It bleeds over into our family relationship. Stress encourages us to be more curt with each other and with little M. We zone out into our TV shows or phones, or whatever, to not have to deal with it or talk about it.

And I don’t think these feelings of stress are limited to us. According to Forbes, there is plenty of research that backs up the link between stress and depression with student loan debt. Student loan debt stress is robbing many young adults from enjoying their prime of life.

This is not healthy.

As such, it has gotten me thinking. We need coping mechanisms to deal with the crushing weight of our debt. 

Stress from student loan debt just feels different than other stress we have felt. Maybe it is because we know that the only escape from it is based on our own efforts. It is up to us to earn enough to pay it off. There is no discharging student loan debt. There is no filing bankruptcy. Even if we  had chosen “loan forgiveness” we would still be paying the amount we took out over time, plus we would be taxed on the forgiven portion.

But all is not lost. Eventually we will pay this off, hopefully sooner than later.

In the mean time, I have compiled a list of strategies that I have used when dealing with all different kinds of stress and have found that they are working just as well for managing our student loan debt stress.

6 WAYS TO COPE WITH STUDENT LOAN DEBT STRESS (or any other kind of stress for that matter). 

  1. Create a plan

The first step to managing stress from student loan debt is to create a plan to get rid of your debt. This will help you gain control over your situation. Feeling in control helps us feel less stressed. If you need ideas for how you will take control of your debt, check out our master plan HERE, or feel free to click through our student loan help menu.

Your plan might be to pay off the debt as quickly as possible. Honestly, if the stress of your student loans is keeping you up at night, that is probably the best choice for you for your own mental health. This will likely include refinancing your student loans at a lower interest rate.

You might choose an income based repayment plan. You will need to come up with a strategy to be able to pay the hefty amount you will be taxed the year it will be forgiven.

If your interest rates and debt load are not too high, it might make more sense to choose a standard repayment plan and make the minimum payments on it for ten years, while investing in your own retirement.

Sit down and choose a plan that seems right for you. You will be surprised how much stress this will relieve!

  1. Review and follow your plan.

There will be people who will question your pay off strategy. There will be temptations to spend money or do things that do not fit within your goals. This will inevitably add stress into your life. So frequently review your plan, and stick to it. Be honest with and good to yourself, and don’t worry too much about what other people are doing. You chose your plan for a reason. Remind yourself of that reason and stick to it.

  1. Exercise, eat right, and sleep.

There is a reason we have heard this advice 500 million times in various contexts throughout all of time. That reason is because these principles work.

According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), physical activity is well known to reduce stress. Do some yoga, go on a run, pump some iron at the gym. You will feel  better.

There is plenty of research that also backs up eating healthy to reduce stress. This one feels counter intuitive for me. I always think that stuffing my face with the whole pan of brownies will help me feel less stressed. It never works. In fact, it makes my body feel more stressed. So do yourself a favor, and grab an apple next time.

Finally, just go to sleep. I can attest, this is easier said than done. Huffington Post has an excellent list of 15 things you can do to help yourself fall asleep and stay asleep.

  1. Do not add more debt.

Now is not the time to buy a fancy new car. It is not likely the time to go on an extravagant vacation or buy a whole new wardrobe. Save those things for when you are out of debt. That day is coming. Spending more money is not going to make you feel better. But it is going to make you feel worse, so don’t do it.

  1. Practice breathing techniques

I first started practicing breathing techniques when I was preparing for M’s birth using Hypnobabies. I was feeling a lot of stress at the time being pregnant and in my third year of law school, applying for jobs and trying to keep my grade point average up. This technique alleviated so much stress in my pregnancy. In fact, people often commented about how calm I was about everything. Feelings of peace and calm permeated my life because of this technique.

Then, when I was at the police academy almost a year later, I was reminded of these breathing techniques to manage stress in high pressure situations. That’s right. You learn how to breathe at the police academy. This is not baloney. It really works. Plus its free ok? So just try it. (But seriously, it decreases your heart rate and blood pressure, and helps your muscles relax).

Start by:

  • Sitting or lying down if you can. Standing works too. Allow yourself to feel like you are sinking into the floor.
  • Inhale. Allow your breath to go as deep into your stomach as possible. Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth.
  • Count steadily from one to five as you inhale. You may not be able to reach five at first.
  • Then, without pausing or holding your breath, let it flow out gently, counting from one to five again.
  • Repeat for 3-5 minutes.
  1. Confide in someone else.

Talking to someone about the stress you are feeling is one of the most efficient ways to manage stress. “Expressing what you’re going through can be very cathartic, even if there’s nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation.” In fact, it is the feeling of safety when we express ourselves that  helps alleviate our stress. Your nervous system perceives that safety, and as a result, your feelings of stress decrease. Build relationships with the people around you, so that you can confide in each other.

Want our full stress management list? Subscribe to our FREE newsletter to gain access to six more techniques we are using. Plus you will get all the juicy details of our budget, and money saving hacks.

Do you feel stress over your student loan debt? How do you cope with it?

 

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WHAT YOU SHOULD UNDERSTAND ABOUT STUDENT LOANS

 

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Thirteen years ago, times were much more simple. Donald Trump had just landed his first reality tv gig with The Apprentice (his second being his presidential campaign, ’cause did you see the most recent Presidential debate?) America was still united in the aftermath of 9/11. I had just started the eleventh grade. I lived with my parents who paid for my food and the roof over my head. Why didn’t I understand how sweet life was at this age? Meanwhile Danny was just getting settled into his college dorm as a freshmen, the remnants of the blonde tips in his hair and a puka shell necklace tucked safely away in his desk drawer.

Like I said, times were simple. We had no idea where we would be just a quick decade later, happily married, but drowning in nearly $600k in student loan debt.

When it comes to student loans, there are many things we wish we understood as we started down our paths that led us not only to each other (we met in college) but to becoming a dentist (Danny) and a lawyer (Amber). As such, it has behooved us to compile a list of things we wish we had known about student loans, so that it might benefit you, dear reader.

Here are some things we just flat out did not understand before our journey commenced.

1) How will I pay for school? 

Ideally this is a question that should be answered long before one embarks on the trip that is higher education. But it can  be reviewed and you can carefully reconstruct your situation for the better while you are still in school, and even afterwards, if you took out student loans.

  • Get lucky and have someone else pay for it.

Obviously, this will be entirely out of your control unless you’ve got the gumption to ask for it and a relationship with someone who has the means. There are a fortunate set of people whose parents or relatives  were able to save enough so that their kids could go to college. Danny was one of these lucky ones during his undergraduate years. It really is a huge help if you have someone financing your education. Be grateful and be gracious. If you are a lucky soul who has parents or a person close to you that has offered to pay for school, take them up on it! Do, however, understand that nothing in life is free. What I mean is, they might feel entitled to inquire about your classes, major, grades and anything else tangentially related to school. They are likely right in doing so, after all, you are their investment and they want to make sure they are getting their money’s worth.

  • Get a job AND create a plan so that you can pay for it.

Work before you start college, during college, and during summers in between semesters. We both started working in high school, after school and in the summers. While working is good, we both went wrong by not setting a budget or otherwise creating a plan to save for school. I think we both vaguely thought we were working so that we could save for higher education. Neither of us had a real plan about how much money we should be saving per month so that we could actually accomplish that goal. I have always loved saving money, and I did a pretty good job given that I had no plan or budget. But I also exercised almost no restraint in using my hard earned dollars, mostly on entertainment and new clothes. I was proud of myself for being so young (14) and being able to pay for things myself. I should have created a plan to target how I was going to pay for school. I probably could have budgeted enough to use for both entertainment and college savings, because I had time on my side then.

If you have already gone through school, all is not lost. Sit down and set some goals. Do you want to pay your loans off quickly? Do you want to save for retirement? Do you want to invest in real estate? Create a plan so that your money is targeted. Our good ole’ boy Dave Ramsey said it best in The Total Money Makeover, control your money or it will control you!

  • Earn a scholarship.

The best thing you can do with your time in school is focus on your academics and/or a sport or talent that will earn you a scholarship. If I had chosen to apply myself harder at school instead of focusing on my job, there is a  good chance I could have qualified for a scholarship. I could have worked in the summers for extra money, but while I was in school, I should have focused on school. I wish I’d had someone explain that to me at the time because I flat out just did not think of it that way then.

  • Search for grants.

This is another very underutilized mechanism to pay for school. Find out if you qualify for a grant, like a  a pell grant. USA Today reported that a whopping $2.9 billion of federal grant money was unclaimed last year. Insane. Grant money is money that you don’t ever have to pay back. It is free money. Free money is good. The U.S. federal government offers:

There are also hundreds of other grants you can find online, starting with websites like www.collegescholarships.com which lists more than 100 kinds of grants. Look into it, its well worth your time.

  • Take out student loans. 

If all else fails, you can always take out student loans. The best way to do it is to take out all the federal loans that you can first, and then if you still need more, take out private loans. Federal loans provide more options and protections than private loans. For example, you may qualify for subsidized federal loans, meaning the federal government will not start charging interest on your loans until six months after you graduate (aka your “grace period”). Private loans generally start charging interest as soon as you receive the loan. You may notice that some private loan companies will actually charge less interest than a federal loan. That is understandably appealing. The best approach would be to take out federal student loans, and then after you have secured a job and understand where your finances are when you are done with school, you can refinance your student loans with a private company (like SoFi or CommonBond— p.s. earn $100-$200 towards your loans using either link).

This begs the next question,

2) There are a million different kinds of student loans. How do I know which ones are best for me? 

There really aren’t a million different kinds of loans, even though it feels that way. People call the same loans a million different things and that makes it confusing. There are two kinds– federal student loans and private student loans. Federal loans are divided into direct subsidized loans, direct unsubsidized loans, plus loans, and Perkins loans. Private loans are simply private loans.

Direct subsidized loans: are available for undergraduate students who have demonstrated financial need. They usually have a low interest rate (less than 5%) and you are usually not charged interest until the end of your “grace period” (6 months after you end school). The United States Department of Education is your lender, and they usually contract out your loan to a private company, who will service the loan for you (but all of the terms of your loan remain the same, and its still considered a federal loan after this happens).

Direct unsubsidized loans: are available for BOTH undergraduate and graduate students. The two biggest differences between subsidized and unsubsidized loans is that 1) interest begins accruing as soon as the loan is dispersed to you, and 2) graduate students are typically charged a higher interest rate. You do not have to demonstrate a financial need to qualify for this kind of loan. (That makes sense because you are not receiving an interest subsidy– the loans are unsubsidized). The best thing you can do for yourself is try to pay this interest while you are still in school. I did not understand compound interest while we were in school. You can read all about compound interest here. Basically, the idea is that as your interest accrues, and you do not pay it, that sum is added to the principal amount of the loan you took out. Rinse and repeat a million times until all of the sudden your loans have ballooned into a colossal amount that you never thought possible. More on this later.

Direct Plus loans: these can be called “grad plus” or “parent” loans. If you are a graduate student, you do not need a parent, and your loan is considered a grad plus loan. If you are an undergraduate student seeking a parent loan, your parent will have to cosign in order for you to qualify and he or she must not have an adverse credit history. If you are seeking a grad plus loan, you must not have an adverse credit history.

Interest on a plus loan will be the highest you can pay among the federal student loan options, so it is definitely a loan to take out only if you are maxed out and do not have any more direct federal loan options.

Federal Perkins loans: a Perkins loan is a federal loan that has a 5% fixed interest rate. It is offered to students who demonstrate exceptional financial need. The school you attend is the lender of this loan, instead of the U.S. Department of Education. Only about 1800 schools participate in this kind of loan.

Private loan: a private loan will be issued by a private lender, such as Wellsfargo, SoFi, CommonBond, etc etc. Generally, interest on these loans begins accruing as soon as the loan is dispersed. Some companies will allow you a deferment period (though interest is usually still accruing) if you fall on hard times. Obviously, you lose a lot of the protections and options that you have under the federal loans (like income based repayment, for example). Most often, these loans offer competitive interest rates.

But what about…

Sallie Mae: the simple version is this– a Sallie Mae loan is just a kind of private loan. That is really all you need to know, even if you end up taking one out.

Is Sallie Mae different than  Fannie Mae? Are they friends? Actually.. they kind of are friends! We won’t get into it. Fannie Mae has to do with mortgages so don’t worry about that for now.

3) But what loans should I take out first? 

If you are an undergraduate student, take out everything you can using direct subsidized loans. (P.S. Did you know federal loan interest rates are currently at historic lows? According to time.com anyway. So take advantage of that!)

Then if you still need more money, take out direct unsubsidized loans. If you still need more, take out direct PLUS loans. If you are still in a jam, you can take out private loans in addition to those. Do your best not to take out more than you need, interest is awful (and beautiful. Awful if she is working against you and beautiful if she is working for you.)

4) So…how do student loans work, generally? 

First, to apply for federal student loans you must fill out a FAFSA. After you fill out a FAFSA, your school will notify you of the loans you qualify for, and will offer you a breakdown of those loans. You will choose which loans you want to accept. You will also specify how much of each loan you want to accept. You do NOT have to accept the full amounts of the loans offered to you. You should only accept whatever amount you need. (Create and stick to a budget– that is how you will know what you need!) You will be required to participate in entrance and exit interviews when you accept student loans. Overall, its frighteningly easy to get student loans.

5) How does student loan interest work? 

Interest is the price you pay in order to borrow money. Interest is a beautiful thing, if you are on the right side of it. Obviously, if you are taking out student loans, you are not on the right side of it. But, aspire to be on the other side of the interest equation some day.

For federal student loans Congress sets an arbitrary (in my opinion) number that becomes your interest rate on student loans each year. (Ok, they look at the financial market and set the interest rate according to that. I am trying to be less snarky, and am withholding a snarky remark here, since our interest rate is 7.9% on some of our loans and I am bitter). This is compound interest, meaning, the interest is compounded onto the principal of your loan. Interest accrues daily.

So, lets break that down for my fellow non-mathematics majors. Say you take out a $30,000 unsubsidized federal loan with an interest rate of 5%. That 5% interest will be divided by the days of the year (365). Then multiplied by the amount of the loan ($30,000) to come up with your daily interest rate.

So, 5%/365 = 0.0001369 x $30,000 = $4.10(ish) in interest per day. (and seriously, please, if you are good at math, double check me and make sure I did it right)

Like I said, interest is an awfully beautiful thing, depending on which side of it you are on. Here it is just awful.

Studentloanhero.com also has a pretty good breakdown of this HERE.

6) When does interest begin to accrue?

If you have federal loans that are direct subsidized loans, interest does not begin accruing until six months after you graduate. If you have unsubsidized federal loans, or student loans with a private lender, interest begins accruing as soon as your loan is dispersed.

Be aware of capitalization. Interest accruing now means that in the end you are going to be paying more than what you took out over the life of your loan. This is one reason some people like to pay off their loans as quickly as possible, and also the reason that people often recommend making payments on your loans while you are still in school. It makes the interest gods happy, and your life after graduation happier.

7) What is the best approach to start making payments on my student loans? 

There are a million different strategies you could use to manage your student loans. It depends on a lot of factors, such as, how big your loans are (are they 6+ figures?), what your income is, what your projected income is, whether you have a job now, whether you are working in public service, the list goes on. We will dedicate a post of its own to several different strategies you might consider. If you are looking for help for your specific situation, we recommend Travis at Student Loan Planner. He created an AMAZING custom plan for us and ran a ton of different figures and outcomes for our unique situation.

 

What things do you wish you had known about student loans before you started school?

 

P.S. Know someone starting college or graduate school? Share www.redtwogreen.com with them!

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