How Natalie Paid Off $30K of Student Loans in 2 Years Using a Spending Fast

Natalie's Spending Fast Story | AndThenWeSaved.com

I stumbled upon Anna’s blog (andthenwesaved.com) three and a half years ago when I was in my final semester of college. As I was looking for my first post-grad job, I was so discouraged by my potential income versus my mountain of debt. Although $30,000 was a pretty average amount of student loans, after I paid the first few minimum payments I realized just how long it would take to chip away at the total. I would be 35.

When I turned 23, I set the far-fetched goal of being debt-free by my 25th birthday. A friend of mine had made and met the same goal, and she inspired me to shoot for the moon, too! Fast-forward two years — and with a lot of blood, sweat, tears and prayers — I was officially debt-free on my 25th birthday!!  

So… how did I do it?  

 

I embraced a mindset of competition.

I’m not naturally competitive. But a few months into my Spending Fast, I knew I needed to leave behind the pity party I had thrown for myself. I needed an attitude adjustment. So, I made it a game. Instead of bumming out about all the things I couldn’t spend money on during the month, I made it a competition with myself to see just how much I could scrape together and throw at my loan balance. Selling things, working odd jobs, and finding ways to whittle down my (already bare) expenses became FUN!  

 

I got creative.

I was making a very modest salary. Deciding to move back home with my parents and pay them a small rent payment helped my expenses, but I still wasn’t working with much. So, I got creative! I babysat, dog-sat, donated plasma, sold possessions, shopped for necessities at Goodwill… the list goes on. I forced myself to go through all of my “extra” makeup before I could buy anything new. I rented books and movies from the library. I love photography and graphic design. So, I honed those skills and turned them into a legit side hustle for me, which is now my legit business! Think about cultivating skills that you can use to make money on the side, too! 

 

I prioritized self-care.

A Spending Fast is NOT for the faint of heart. If you are thinking about embarking on this or currently are doing so, you are a BADASS. It’s hard. It’s more than worth the struggle, but it’s tough. Like our relationship with food, our relationship with money is very emotional. Restricting your spending brings up buried beliefs about money from your childhood (whether healthy or unhealthy), makes your social life a little more complicated, and frankly, not being able to spend money to make yourself feel better sucks. Take care of yourself. Choose to see it as a fun self-discovery experiment to discover how to enjoy life sans money.

I spent a lot of time at the library. Tried new recipes. Made thoughtful gifts instead of buying expensive ones. I found that buying my special coffee creamer and my favorite whole bean coffee was just as enjoyable as stopping at Starbucks. I gave myself grace when I had hard days (Days when I wanted to say “Screw it!” and storm the aisles of Target!).  

 

I learned what really brings me joy. 

Before my Spending Fast, I was the average 20-something girl, spending money on a social life, wardrobe, hobbies, food, and plenty of impulse buys at Target. Then 365 days of no impulse buys really refined my “palate”. What do I REALLY enjoy spending my hard-earned money on?! For me, an iced latte from Starbucks DOES give me a lot of joy. It’s a treat I savor. But that cute dress from Target? Nah. Another floral coffee mug? Tempting, but nah. Now if I don’t LOVE something, I leave it. I know I can make my money work even harder for me and bring me more joy. 

 

I surrounded myself with inspirational resources. 

I bookmarked the And Then We Saved blog on my computer and joined the Facebook group! I listened to podcasts, read books, and generally just surrounded myself with encouragement. You need it – because the process can get lonely if you’re the only one in your family/friend group doing it. My number one recommendation would be to dive into Dave Ramsey’s resources. Get a budgeting app such as EveryDollar or Mint, so you know exactly where your budget stands day-to-day. 

I also met with a CPA to look over my loans, income, and expenses. She made an amortization schedule for me that factored in the interest on my loans – giving me the magical number I’d need to hit each month to be debt-free in 24 months. Once I had that number, I swore a little under my breath and then worked my personal finances around it. If I had a month with some unexpected expenses (which happened often, don’t be dismayed), I made note of the new total I needed to reach each month, with that extra tacked on. Usually, after a few months of a little bit higher payments, I was back on track. The number ended up being 65 percent of my take-home pay each month. I still was able to pay my basics… and not much else!

 

Now when I DO spend money, I really appreciate it.

Now, going out for dinner is a treat. Coffee is a treat. Buying a new lipstick? Makes my day. I enjoy those indulgences WAY more than I ever did before my Spending Fast. It’s a level of appreciation you only can experience if you force yourself to go without for a while. 

 

 

Trust that the process itself, although often uncomfortable, is molding you into a more content, appreciative, creative version of yourself. Not to mention, your self-discipline is going to be off the charts. Now that I have all of this experience under my belt, I know exactly how to make my money work for me. When I decide I want to save for a house, or a trip, or a new car, I feel SO empowered to wield my income like a sword to get me what I want, pretty damn fast.  

 

Make a plan, stick to it, give yourself grace when you stumble, and enjoy the process! YOU CAN DO IT! 

 

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