I began teaching six years ago, with a nice chunk of student loan debt at a high interest rate. I kept my loans deferred for as long as I could, not really understanding how student loan interest works (it accrues while in deferment and then the interest capitalizes, leaving you to eventually pay interest on the interest). I met my husband, also a new teacher with loans on deferment, my first year teaching. When we got married two years later, we had enough student loan debt together to pay for a small house.
In the past 6 years, we’ve paid off half of our student loan debt and we are proud, proud, proud of it! I’ve had many teachers ask me how we did it, and this blog post has been a long time coming!
We tracked our spending, then made a practical plan.
It’s not like we didn’t have a budget before we started on this journey; making a budget is fairly simple. The problem was that our budget didn’t work for us. We had an idea of how much we wanted to spend, but no idea what we were actually spending.
Shortly before we got married, Intuit began offering a service called Mint. It was absolutely free, and used an algorithm to track your purchases and place them into the correct category automatically. We signed up for Mint.com and did what we usually do for a month. At the end of the month, we loaded up the website to see how we had done. We had spent over $1,000 on food, for a family of two.
Once we had identified our problem areas, we were able to not only create a budget that worked for us, but come up with ways to change our spending habits.
Mint also has a tracking app now, so that you can keep track of it from anywhere! And it’s still completely safe and secure. 🙂
Ways we cut down on food spending:
- No more eating out. We used Recipes.com to get free recipes, and made a weekly menu plan and grocery list. – $300/month savings
- Visit the grocery store once a week, and only buy what’s on the list. We used to go several times a week for small trips, but we always grabbed extra snacks on each trip. – $100/month savings
- Eat leftovers. Most recipes are 4-6 servings, so we began using leftovers from dinner as our lunches for the next day. We also felt a lot better about not being wasteful and throwing leftover dinner out. $100/month savings
We didn’t give up our daily luxuries, we just substituted them.
Sure, you can setup a budget where you don’t spend anything or have any fun, but will you actually follow it? We knew that if we still were able to enjoy life, we could finally stick to a budget.
Here’s how we did it:
- Copycat recipes: Type your favorite drink or food recipe into Google with the words “copycat”. You can make all of these at home! Check out these great Starbucks Copycat recipes. I now have my daily Starbucks pastry and passion tea for about $8/week, compared to $8/day.
- Rent movies at Redbox for $1.25, and return them on time!
- Ditch your cable for Netflix & Hulu and save over $50/month!
We ditched the bank fees and got a high-interest savings account.
Traditional banks suck, and they were always taking our money.
When we finally got money into savings, the bank was only giving us 0.05% interest annually. That means the bank pays you $10 in interest every year if you have $20,000 in your savings account… not worth it for the few bucks we were able to throw in when we first started. After being charged $5 every time we made too many transfers in a month, or any other number of things, we realized that we were paying the bank instead of helping ourselves. We switched to an online bank that has no fees. Savings: $10-20/month[The next couple of links are referral links. If you sign up, we both get cash! Win win!] Online banks like Capital One have no fee checking accounts, 0.75% interest on savings accounts (that’s very close to a money market account, but your money is save), a $75 bonus for opening a checking & savings. Savings: $75 goes straight to the new savings account just for signing up, plus the higher interest rate on your savings! ** This promo changes all the time, so it may be anywhere from $25-$100
My favorite part of banking online is that I don’t have to drive to an ATM to deposit checks. I just take a photo of the check and it deposits straight to my account! If I do ever need cash, which is rare, they have no fee ATMs in convenient locations like Target and CVS stores.
We took on extra responsibilities.
We’re now the masters of signing up for stipends and extra duties. Don’t overextend yourself, but if you’re efficient and use your time wisely, you can make extra cash at school. Every extra penny we get from these responsibilities goes to student loan debt. Since it isn’t consistent income, we don’t factor this extra money into our budget at all.
We signed up for after school programs, curriculum projects, and more! I started selling my resources on Teachers Pay Teachers. Doing extra duties helped us the most!
We began using a credit card to pay for daily expenses… gasp!
If you’re using Mint.com to track your spending (and holding yourself responsible for it), a points or cash back credit card is the way to go! Not only will it prevent you from having your debit card number stolen online or at the store, but there are way more protections if your credit card number is stolen. Many credit cards even offer insurance on items you buy in store.
Obviously, make sure you pay off the credit card when you get your paycheck each month.
Did you know that there are credit cards that give you up to 6% cash back? The Blue Cash Preferred Amex pays you 6% cash back at the grocery store, 3% cash back on gas and department stores, and 1% on everything else. Last year we used points and cash back to pay for all of our Christmas gifts!
As long as you only use a small percentage of your credit limit, having multiple credit cards will actually improve your credit. The reason for this is that the credit agency sees you have a lot of credit available, but that you have enough self control to only use 5% or less of it, plus you pay your credit cards off every month. Do some research and get some professional financial advice to help your money and credit work for you!
We setup autopay on our student loans and began paying more than the minimum payment.
With most student loan companies, if you setup auto pay, they will reduce your interest rate. Another benefit of autopay is that you will be consistently paying at the same time of the money, saving you in interest (interest accrues daily).
We diverted the money we were saving every month directly to our student loan payments, in addition to our minimum payment that was taken out using autopay. If you pay the same day as the autopay, the entire additional payment you’re making will go to paying off principal.
This is what allowed us to pay off 1/2 of our student loan debt. All that saving and creative spending goes straight to this part!
We are so thankful for the opportunities we’ve had to build a life together and pay down our student loans. Hopefully this post will give you some ideas, or simply just inspire you to make your teaching salaries work harder for you and your family!
Disclaimer: There are referral links in this post, so if you sign up for something, it benefits both of us! These are the things we personally did, but for financial advice please see a professional!