My name is Katie. I’m 25 years old and I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Currently I work in the vocational field, helping people with disabilities find integrated employment in their communities! I make about $35,000 a year, which is less than my graduate degree actually cost to earn. (Big sigh.) Right now I have about $83,000 of debt — about $73,000 of that is federal school loans, and the other $10,000 is a loan that I took out to purchase a vehicle this past January when my old car was on its last leg. I have no children and live on my own, but I have a long-distance boyfriend. I rent my one-bedroom apartment, which is about $725 a month. My upcoming plans are to move in with my boyfriend, get a job that allows me to advance my professional career, and start the next grown-up chapter in my life!
I started my Spending Fast last summer (August 2014), so I’ve been in it for about a year. After attending graduate school to become a professional counselor, my goal was to find a job that would allow me to work toward my licensure (you have to have so many hours of work in before you can get the state license to practice). I’ve taken a job in the related field of vocational counseling, but without my license, I have been making less money than I will in the future.
With my smaller salary, my own apartment to pay for, and student loans coming due, I was already feeling strapped. I had been reading And Then We Saved here and there for inspiration, and I decided to start the Spending Fast when I was feeling completely overwhelmed, thinking about how I would pay for everything I was responsible for on my big-girl salary. It sounds kind of dumb, but up until that point, I hadn’t really spent any time thinking about just how much I was going to be paying monthly on my loans. My minimum loan payments per month right now are $500, and that’s not taking into account any interest that’s accrued! If I do take that into account, I’m paying more like $800 per month (for my student loans alone).
I started my fast by making a “wants” versus “needs” list — something I saw on the blog (see Anna’s original list half-way through this post). I still have the original tucked in my planner. My “wants” included things like new work clothes, better work shoes, getting my eyebrows waxed and tinted, etc. My “needs” were things like utilities, rent, gas, groceries, car maintenance, etc.
I stopped picking up little things here and there like bottles of wine at the grocery store, a new top for work…and I stopped going to Target just to browse. (Oh Target, you evil genius!) I started actively putting more money toward my loans, and I would track everything, so at the end of the month I could look at how much I had put away and know that I was making a dent. Having my planner, transaction register, and checking my loans and bank account daily helped to keep me focused.
Several times last year my car was acting up, and finally, in December, the outlook wasn’t good. I decided that I really needed to do more to support myself financially, so I got a part-time job. If other people (like my 50-year old-mother) could do it, I definitely could! I began working 10-25 hours a week in the evenings and on weekends at my second job. In January, I purchased a 2012 certified, pre-owned vehicle. My long list of debt grew.
Once I was working more at my part-time job, I was able to get into a regular rhythm of paying toward my debt. I paid a set amount every month toward each of my four student loans and my car loan. I would pay close attention to how my spending fluctuated over the month (gas prices, grocery costs, etc.) and paid extra based on how much I had left. One thing I knew I wouldn’t do during my Spending Fast was sacrifice good, healthy food for processed stuff at the grocery store. I am gluten and dairy free, so letting my nutrition go by the wayside is not an option for me. I still buy more expensive coconut milk yogurts, gluten-free wraps, healthy granola bars, and lots of fresh produce. That’s what I just won’t compromise on to save money.
One thing I have found to be a little tough is going out with friends. Many of my friends are couples who live together so their expenses are shared. To them, dinner out doesn’t seem like a lot, but for me, that’s $30-$50 I could have put toward my debt. Situations like those can be really frustrating, especially in summer when everyone wants to go out and enjoy all of the festivals here in Milwaukee. My boyfriend is totally on board with eliminating our debt. He has school loans as well and a big loan he took out to buy a bass boat this past winter. (He’s a big fisherman.) Together, we try to do more fun, free things for entertainment. I think it’ll be easier on both of us once we live together and share expenses. I can see putting away a lot more money when that happens. Finding balance between wanting to spend a little because we feel like we’ve earned it (say, by going to a Brewers game) and knowing that that money is really better saved has been the toughest during this Spending Fast.
I see the road ahead being really long and probably a bit discouraging (I mean, hey, I’m trying to pay off $83,000 worth of debt here. Over $100k by the time it’s actually all paid off. So sad). It’s hard to envision what life will look like when I’m finally out of it. Will I be out of this debt by the time I’m ready to purchase a home? Will I be out of this debt if and when I decide to start a family?? I don’t know. The end is hard to imagine.
Something I would advise others as they’re thinking of starting a Spending Fast is to not let a slow start stop them. So far, I have paid about $4,000 toward my giant pile of debt — a far cry from the $24k Anna threw at her debt in nearly the same amount of time! ;) My first year has been about experimenting with what it takes to support myself financially; I’ve bought a new car, got my own place, started a new job, and began planning a move to another city all in the past year. I think I’m doing ok! I would just encourage others to look at it that way, too. A slow start can help you manage your finances, take stock of your total debt, evaluate what else you could be doing, and really give everything you can toward eliminating that bigger number. Every effort is a positive one in the end. Just because your start may be slower (like mine!), that doesn’t mean you aren’t well on your way!
*Photo credit: Photograph 001 by Lauren Mancke found on minimography.com
P.S. Ready to get out of debt ASAP? Check out the Spending Fast Bootcamp!