budgeting, goals, monthly updates, numbers, student loans

Updates Galore!

Updates Galore

So many updates! Where to begin?

Well, let’s start with the debt, since that’s the reason I started this blog in the first place:

Debt payoff numbers update: Money put towards loans in March: $1000. This amount is my self-imposed minimum monthly payment (my official minimum monthly payment is more like $350 since some of my loans are in the grace period). Let me stress that the $1000 per month is just my current self-imposed minimum and may increase in the next few months after I’ve built my emergency fund back up.

A few people have asked me what my goal date is for paying my loans off, and the answer is that I don’t currently have one. If I continue to pay $1000 per month, it is going to take me about six years, and I sure as heck am not going to let this go on for six years. However, it feels meaningless to just pick a random closer date that has no mathematical basis (end of 2017? End of 2018? End of 2019?). I’m expecting/hoping that I can increase my income substantially within the next year or two, which will enable a faster payoff, at which point I’ll recalculate and set a goal date. But for the time being, the goal date is: A.S.A.P.

Debt payoff emotions update: I’m finding that watching the interest accrue on my loans is more disheartening than I had anticipated. Sending in loan payments feels like trying to bail water out of a boat as quickly as I can, while knowing that the boat has a leak in the bottom and more water is rushing in all the time. I guess all I can really do is pay off as much as possible, especially now when the balance is the highest. I’m also looking into refinancing options, but I want to build up my emergency fund a little before I commit to higher payments each month. If you have any refinancing experience or specific recommendations, please let me know in the comments.

Extra income update: I didn’t make a ton of extra income this month because I’ve been exhausted from my new job. I did participate in one research study, however, which paid me $40, and did one online website review for $3, for a total of $43 in extra income. This means that thus far in 2016 my extra income has been:

January: $455.88—multiple research studies; sold several books/articles of clothing
February: $36.00—one research study; two website review
March: $43.00—one research study; one website review

Stay tuned for my extra income total in April, which will definitely be higher because I’ll be receiving paychecks for freelance work. Oh, and the website reviews are through UserTesting, which I (sort of?) recommend with (many) reservations. I have made a small amount of money through UserTesting, but I also find that I spend a lot of time filling out screening questionnaires for surveys that I ultimately do not qualify for.

Emergency fund update: If you read my post from last week, you know that this was technically a slightly negative number for a few days (oops, my bad!). Since then, however, I’ve gotten paid, paid my rent, paid my credit card, and now have $516.24 in my emergency fund. I would like to get this up to $4000, so that will be an ongoing goal.

Retirement update: In addition to my student loan payments, I’ve decided that I’m committed to putting a minimum of $500 each month towards retirement (split between my 403(b) and Roth IRA). Obviously this slows down my debt payoff. However, I have a lot of anxiety around my retirement accounts, which are extremely tiny because I didn’t really save for retirement in my 20s, and I know I will hugely regret it if I ignore them while paying off debt.

Betterment update: Guess what, I changed my mind about using Betterment, based on multiple reader comments from last week! I do really, really like Betterment—it has a lovely user interface and helped get me interested in the stock market/investing for the first time ever—but it’s probably true that in the long run I will come out slightly ahead by putting that money somewhere else, like towards my student debt or into my Roth IRA. So last week I decided to withdraw the full balance. For the record, I had put a total of $800 into the account and withdrew $823, so I’m going to just go ahead and consider that a win. 🙂

Acorns update: I may have gotten rid of Betterment, but I am still using Acorns. For me personally, Acorns functions less as an investment account and more as a sneaky extra savings account. I plan to use it as a stash for paying random annoying fees that don’t otherwise fit well into my budget. For example, I know I am going to owe $288 in professional membership dues this summer, and my Acorns account, which is currently at $152 and counting, should easily be able to cover that amount.

[I’ve considered using Digit for this purpose instead of Acorns, because it’s not tied to the stock market, but I’m a little nervous about Digit because my checking account balance can fluctuate wildly. If you have experience with Digit and recommend it, feel free to weigh in with a comment below!]

Shoe update: I was able to return my ugly shoes!! I can’t believe it! This update was also motivated largely by reader comments—several people suggested that I might as well try returning them even though I’d worn them outside. So last Thursday I wiped off the soles with a wet paper towel and took them to DSW after work, even though I had no receipt and very little hope…and the cashier was super nice, looked up the purchase in her database using my credit card info, and gave me a refund! Lessons learned here include “Be more thoughtful when making purchases” and “Even if their return policy says they won’t take it back, they might still take it back.”

Car-free job update: I’m doing pretty well navigating my work appointments with no car. And good thing, because I definitely cannot afford to buy a car, lol. In case you’re interested, here are the numbers of steps I’ve taken during recent weekdays (not counting steps taken inside my apartment or office when I wasn’t carrying my phone with the step-counting app):

Monday 3/28: 17,388
Tuesday 3/29: 8,964
Wednesday 3/30: 11,165
Thursday 3/31: 11,863
Friday 4/1: 12,847
Monday 4/4: 17,236 (Most of this day’s steps were taken in an icy, messy snowstorm. Do I get extra points?)

On a related note, I’m no longer considering joining a gym.

I forgot to mention last time that while it’s highly unusual to do this type of traveling work without a car, I do know one person who has successfully done it in the past and one other person who’s doing it currently. So it’s definitely possible—it just takes some planning and organization and willingness to walk through snowstorms and carry stuff around on your back all day. I also rely HEAVILY on the Maps app and MBTA Bus app, especially when I’m in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

Extraneous purchase of the month: I almost didn’t include this part, but I decided that it’s worth noting for the sake of transparency that in March I paid $160 for two months’ worth of in-person Spanish classes and $25 for the corresponding textbook. I realize you may be asking, why not skip the classes, go to a free Spanish Meetup group, and put that $185 towards your loans? It’s a fair question.

The answer is twofold. First, I know myself well enough to know that I’m too busy/tired these days to consistently attend a Meetup, whereas I for sure am going to consistently attend classes that I’ve paid for. I think I’ll get more out of structured classes anyway. Second, while paying off debt is a huge priority for me, I don’t want to allow myself to become exclusively focused on this goal, to the point that I’m barring myself from pursuing other goals, like learning Spanish. I highly recommend Our Next Life’s awesome post What’s Our Money Really For? // There’s More to Life than Future Goals, for more thoughts on balancing financial goals with other priorities and values.

In addition to the classes, I’m also plugging away at Duolingo, my favorite free language learning app. Duolingo’s exercises, by the way, crack me up on a daily basis. Here are screenshots of two of my favorites so far. I’m so glad I now know how to politely ask how someone’s marriage is going. (And FYI, that guy’s cousin is WRONG.)

IMG_0008 (1)

IMG_0028

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s your philosophy on making extraneous purchases while paying off debt? Can anyone else relate to the feeling of bailing water out of a leaky boat?

Many thanks to all who have commented with thoughts about the shoes or the Betterment issue (and all other topics!). It turns out that being able to crowdsource suggestions is yet another benefit of blogging! 🙂

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67 Comments

  • Reply The Personal Economist April 5, 2016 at 6:38 AM

    Nice one. I love your answer to the goal date: ASAP.
    I felt the same way about my mortgage at the beginning – like bailing water out. It does get better, I now look at the $ amount of interest each month and see that go down, and makes it worthwhile ….

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 8:28 PM

      I’m glad you feel more encouraged now that you’ve paid down some of your mortgage! I’m sure the beginning is probably always the hardest. I guess there’s nothing I can do but just forge ahead! 🙂

      • Reply The Personal Economist April 5, 2016 at 9:18 PM

        My kids learned this song at preschool – Going on a bear Hunt – which says ‘you can’t go under it, you can’t go around it, you gotta go through it’. Seems applicable for paying off debt!

        • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 9:26 PM

          Hahaha, that’s the perfect song! I actually remember singing it in elementary school myself. Turns out it’s applicable to non-bear-hunting situations as well! 🙂

  • Reply Claudia @ Two Cup House April 5, 2016 at 7:35 AM

    I felt the same way about paying off our debt. I looked into refinancing my student loan debt, but I was going to end up with a higher interest rate. I try to celebrate the fact that I am making payments as I find it can be easy to feel down about the interest. :/

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 8:30 PM

      Yes, I think celebrating payments is the way to go. 🙂 If I hadn’t started making payments a couple of months ago, I’d still be at $57K, but hey, I’m nearing $54K, and that’s definitely a win. I’ve been looking into refinancing options, but I haven’t yet found one that would really improve my situation.

  • Reply Zed April 5, 2016 at 8:00 AM

    Great job with the student loan payment minimum! I will finish paying mine of this year (soon!) after nearly eight years (and over a 100k in payments). I know how you feel about a drop in the bucket but damn does it feel good when the portion to principal grows!

    The UserTesting looked interesting, but I don’t think I can manage a 20-minute video on any website! Also doesn’t work on Linux.

    Also, Duolingo is amazing! Sadly Italian doesn’t have those funny cartoons yet. Even so, some of the requested translations are goofy/funny!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 8:35 PM

      Hi Zed, thanks for the comment. That’s so exciting that you’ll finish making your student loan payments this year! That’s an amazing accomplishment. Man, do I wish I’d started eight years ago (but instead, I went back to school and took out more loans!). I’ll take your word for it that it starts to feel better over time as the principal starts to go down.

      Ah, I assumed Duolingo used the same cartoons for every language. I hope they insert them into the Italian curriculum soon! 🙂

  • Reply Des April 5, 2016 at 8:00 AM

    So really, you “side hustled” your way into $23 by “timing the market.” Sarah, you’re basically an investment banker is I think the lesson here re: Betterment 😉

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 8:37 PM

      Lol, why thank you very much; I was waiting for someone to point that out. It was a pretty brilliant plan, if I do say so myself. Man, what am I going to do with my $23????

      Oh right, I’m going to put it towards my student loans. :/

  • Reply Kate@GoodnightDebt April 5, 2016 at 8:45 AM

    I totally felt the same way about bailing water out of the boat. This was also why I made a ton of extra payments on my loans. Anytime I had more than an extra $50 sitting around, I made a payment. I made a TON of payments to get that interest outta here! (counterpoint: Amanda at DreamBeyondDebt gathered all her money for the month and made one MONSTER payment). Different strokes for different folks.

    One thing that really helped me deal with the bailing out feeling was to track how much interest I was paying per day (total interest paid with that payment/ days since last payment). Then even if I still felt like it was accumulating like crazy, I could see that it was less that last month!

    Be patient with yourself the next few months. Getting into a groove with your debt repayment is going to take a bit. Unfortunately for you, you have two things going against you. 1) You’ve already been apart of this PF world and you want these things gone yesterday. Most people, including me start their awareness when they start paying, which aligns the the early debt awkwardness with navigating the ins and out of PF. Nothing you can do about this except be patient. 2) You are saving a pretty hefty emergency fund out of the gate. I’m not hating on $4k, but that will take 4x as long to save as the Dave Ramsey recommended 1k baby step. I’m a big fan of peace of mind while taking this wild journey, but is $4k too much? Something to think about- You don’t have car expenses and if something bad happens, you could always only pay your minimum payment while you clean up the emergency. Maybe you could do a hybrid approach: Save with all you’ve got until you get to 1-2k (enough to cover most emergencies, but not major ones) and then switch to adding $100-200/month to keep it growing to whatever you are more comfortable with, but making the loans priority one.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 8:47 PM

      The e-fund thing is such a tough question. I don’t want to take any chances, but I also don’t want to have money sitting in an account doing nothing. It really is a conundrum. As I mentioned on Twitter, the only potential emergency that’s really in my mind is if I were to lose my job. I don’t expect that to happen, but it could, and then I’d be really sorry to only have an extra $1000 on hand. I’m going to build it back up slowly and see how I feel when it hits $1000 and $2000. Maybe $2000 is enough for me to have some peace of mind. It just feels low because I had a $5000 e-fund for most of grad school, so that’s what I’m used to (granted, that money was from loans, not actual savings, which is a whole separate issue).

      And yes, it’s definitely a debt awkwardness phase for me right now. 🙂 I think I assumed I could set up a perfect system ahead of time and just let it unfold, but I guess it takes some trial and error and readjusting. Hopefully I’ll have it mostly sorted out within the next couple of months. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Reply Fervent Finance April 5, 2016 at 8:50 AM

    Great month! I think you’ll also feel much betting funneling the Betterment money to student loans. Sometimes the mental part trumps the numbers part which is perfectly fine 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 8:49 PM

      Thanks! And I think you’re right about the mental part: it’s more important than we sometimes realize!

  • Reply Tonya@Budget and the Beach April 5, 2016 at 9:29 AM

    first I think it’s smart you are not ignoring your emergency fund to make larger payments on your loan. You do not want to leave yourself cash poor. I might even consider holding off on retirement payments JUST until you have enough cash in your emergency fund. But my two cents. 🙂 Yay on the shoes!!!! I love digit, but only because I feel comfortable enough with my cash flow. I never did it as a freelancer because I was always worried, but having used them now, it’s not like you can’t just stop it at any time, which you can. But in your case I’d try not to be focused on too many savings buckets. Have one or two focuses (like your e-fund and debt payment) and once you tackle one, move on to another one. Again, just my two cents. 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 8:53 PM

      That’s good to know that you’ve had a good experience with digit. I looked at their FAQ and apparently they are willing to pay overdraft fees if they cause them. I guess they probably aren’t taking out hundreds of dollars at a time or anything crazy like that.

      Yes, I’ve got to build that e-fund back up. The question is, to what amount? I’d feel more comfortable having at least $4,000, but other commenters are suggesting less than that…it’s definitely something I’m thinking about on an ongoing basis.

  • Reply our next life April 5, 2016 at 10:43 AM

    Thanks for the nice shout out! I love all these updates, especially the fact that you could return the shoes. And the dress is definitely white and gold! 🙂 I agree with others about streamlining your goals a bit. I do think $1000 or $2000 would go along way toward peace of mind in your e-fund, but more than that would just slow down your debt repayment. And you can access your Roth cash without penalty, so it’s sort of like a back up emergency fund if you really really need it. But I also think the plan you mapped out is great, and if you change nothing, I think you’ll make good fast progress. Can’t wait to see the big numbers get small and the small numbers get big. 🙂

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 9:05 PM

      I’m thinking maybe I’ll increase the e-fund incrementally until I find that I feel secure enough to just let it be. The only potential “emergency” that really unsettles me is job loss — not because I think I’m going to lose my job, but because if I did, I’d want to have a few thousand dollars on hand for sure. Other emergencies I’m less worried about, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s because I’ve been unemployed so recently and know how quickly the money can disappear, even if I’m being careful. In any case, it’s a work in progress. And yeah, white and gold all the way. 🙂

      • Reply our next life April 5, 2016 at 10:20 PM

        If you were unemployed, you could get unemployment now, right? So you’d have some help. Not to downplay the need for your e-fund (you know I think that’s super important!), but just that I think Kate is right that you don’t have a ton of potential emergencies as a non-car owning renter, and in looking at all your goals, it feels like debt should get most of the oxygen. But again — support you all the way no matter how you decide to divvy it all up. 🙂 There are NO bad choices here.

        • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 10:33 PM

          Unemployment, yeah, that’s a good point. I think I would be hesitant to apply for unemployment, for reasons that I can’t fully explain (because they are probably illogical), but it’s true that that would probably be an option. In any case, thanks for the support — it means a lot! 🙂

  • Reply Christine @ The Wallet Diet April 5, 2016 at 10:59 AM

    Tonya beat me to it! But I was also going to suggest decreasing your retirement savings amount and putting more of that towards your e-fund. Obviously it’s important to think about the long-term but should anything happen tomorrow, you definitely want to be prepared too 🙂

    I LOVE Duolingo! I took Italian for two years in university and used the app to keep myself fresh haha. I’m trying to brush up on my Vietnamese before I head to Vietnam this November (which is kinda embarrassing since I am Vietnamese). Unfortunately the language isn’t available on Duolingo so I’ve been using loecsen.com. The stick figures don’t quite compare though haha.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 8:55 PM

      Yay Duolingo! They need to get with the program and get more languages. I’m glad you found another solution. 🙂 And yes, I need to get some money into my savings account in order to feel comfortable. Hopefully this will look a little better in a few paychecks.

  • Reply Harmony Smith (@CMK_Harmony) April 5, 2016 at 11:19 AM

    I can definitely understand your analogy about bailing out a boat leaking water. I will say that all of a sudden, it will feel like you’re making progress. We just paid off another one of our credit cards and felt an immediate wave of pride in the accomplishment, and reinvigorated motivation. Keep up the had work!

    PS – There is a Cat Spanish app that is pretty fun too.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 9:06 PM

      Hooray! That’s awesome that you just paid off another credit card!
      I will have to check out this Cat Spanish app. 🙂

  • Reply Jover April 5, 2016 at 12:21 PM

    Duolingo is great! So is Betterment… Why not move the Roth IRA there (which is what I have done)?
    I’d also recommend Digit over Acorns, since you’re using it more as extra savings versus an investment account. I’ve never used it, but read that you can set limits (say $500) as a cushion and it knows not to pull any monies beyond that!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 9:09 PM

      Ah, good question. The answer is that I currently have too good of a situation with my Roth IRA (it’s being managed for free), so I don’t want to mess with it. But I am thinking about Digit. I believe that in addition to the limits you mention, they also will pay overdraft fees. I need to check into it more though. And yes, Duolingo is awesome! 🙂

  • Reply Whitney April 5, 2016 at 12:28 PM

    Great update. I recently started reading and I’m enjoying it so far! I too have a VERY large loan balance, but I was also a non traditional student, so on top of my loans I’ve got a 9 year old to raise and care for. I’m 30 and looking at my retirement accounts is terrifying because I’ve only just starting saving last year. With all that I can absolutely relate to your feelings of being in a boat with a leak. On top of that…I also want to have a life (travel, take classes etc.) I’ll be interested to keep reading and see how you tackle all these things!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 9:11 PM

      Thanks, Whitney! It sounds like our situations are similar in some ways, though I don’t have kids. I’ll definitely have to check out your site!

  • Reply Tawcan April 5, 2016 at 12:39 PM

    Boy I’m a little ashamed, this is the first time I’ve heard about Duolingo. Will have to take a look to see if I can learn Danish somehow. Totally understand your analog about bailing out a boat leaking water. Agree with others to put more money in your e-fund and decrease contribution to your retirement funds.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 9:12 PM

      Duolingo is awesome, though I don’t know if they have Danish. They seem to add new languages pretty frequently though. It’s really very funny, and fun to use — I definitely recommend it!

  • Reply Kalie @ Pretend to Be Poor April 5, 2016 at 2:22 PM

    I absolutely agree that you still have to live in the present and do things you value while paying off debt. I’m with others who suggest a slightly larger emergency fund–at least $1,000 ASAP. Sounds like you could meet that quickly with freelance income or even by delaying retirement savings by one month. Just my 2 cents, though.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 9:15 PM

      Yes, I think I can easily get it up to $1000. I’m trying to decide what the ideal number is, and I keep going back and forth. But yes, part of my paychecks this month are definitely going into that bucket!

  • Reply seattlegirluw April 5, 2016 at 4:51 PM

    I felt that way many times while we were paying off Tim’s student loans and the medical debt on our credit card. I made weekly payments (he was getting unemployment at the time) so that helped me feel a bit better. Maybe making a smaller payment each paycheck would help? Interest is usually compounded monthly, so you won’t have to see it go up every payment. Just… every other one.

    For two of the last three years we were paying off debt, I was on disability and he was on unemployment. Since we knew his unemployment might not be extended (at least he was unemployed during the crisis in ’08, so benefits were extended multiple times), we had to put our noses to the grindstone for the most part. Since that’s not your situation, I say a language class is good. And definitely put down more against your retirement. We’re getting a very late start after years of putting only $100, then later $300 away. I keep thinking of all those times we paid a bunch down on our mortgage rather than retirement. Grrrr…

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 9:24 PM

      The interest on my loans accrues daily and compounds (I think) quarterly (?). So every time I log on, there’s more interest, but at least it is only periodically added to the principal. I really should check on how often this is. I’ve actually only gotten down to the principal on two of my four loans and am still chipping away at interest on the other two.

      Yes, it’s a bummer to start late on retirement accounts. I wish I had even contributed $100 or $300 in the past as you did, but instead I contributed literally nothing when I was in my 20s, except for two years when I worked in public schools and they contributed for me without my fully realizing it. So there’s a lot of catching up to do. :/

  • Reply Maggie April 5, 2016 at 5:55 PM

    Excellent update! And good for you paying for the language course! I totally plan to pay for private lessons in Cambodian after school starts next fall. I’m tempted to return my horrible costco socks, but may be too embarrassed by the amount of stuff stuck to the bottoms (which is why I want to return them in the first place!)

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 5, 2016 at 9:17 PM

      Hahahaha, the Costco socks are still under consideration. Hey, if there’s anything I learned from my experience, it’s that you can always try!
      Private lessons in Cambodian sound awesome! Do you know of a good tutor/teacher in your area?

      • Reply Maggie April 6, 2016 at 3:19 AM

        No, but I actually found a lady in Cambodia that will do them via Skype – any resources in Cambodian are tough to come by!

        • Reply Sarah Noelle April 6, 2016 at 5:59 AM

          Very cool! Now you just have to find a time of day that works for both of you. 🙂

  • Reply Vic @ Dad is Cheap April 6, 2016 at 3:01 AM

    You’re doing awesome Sarah!

    I love me some Roth IRAs! I know it might be a stretch for you at this time, but I’d highly recommend trying to max that baby out every year. What’s great is that you can use it as a hidden savings account as you can pull out the contributions if needed (which I wouldn’t advise but is an option).

    I don’t use Digit because I count every penny with YNAB, but everyone I know that uses it raves about it! If I’m not mistaken I think they cover any accidental overdrafts if they take out too much.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 6, 2016 at 6:01 AM

      Ah, I’d love to max out the Roth, but with the loan payback hanging over my head, I don’t think it’s an option this year. Maybe in a couple years when the loans are gone though!

      I actually wish I didn’t know that you can withdraw Roth IRA money; I’ve been trying to forget that fact for a while now. 🙂

  • Reply Mary April 6, 2016 at 11:21 AM

    Could you write a post about how to talk with others about their student loans? My sister has MEGA student loans (from law school) and she seems to be in denial about interest accruing, financial planning, and the idea that she might wake up at thirty-five having working 80 hours a week for ten years and actually have zero dollars in her bank account (still).

    She is deeply concerned about her loans and pays off the most she can each month, but somehow she is still exceptionally out of touch and feels like she is still going to buy a house, go to dinners, have a family, etc.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 6, 2016 at 9:06 PM

      Oh gosh, such a huge issue. I’ve never tried talking to anyone else about their student loans…I’m trying to think about how I might have reacted if someone had confronted me four or five years ago. In truth I was never a particularly huge spender; it was more like I just wasn’t thinking proactively about how to pay off my loans or make more money. Like your sister, though, I was deeply concerned about having loans. I wish I knew the answer! It must be tough to stand by and watch your sister go through this while not knowing how to help her take more control. I know that for me, discovering/reading blogs (especially Blonde on a Budget) was extremely inspiring and a huge catalyst in my decision to take more control of my finances. Maybe you could send your sister a link to a blog of someone who has paid off a lot of debt, like Blonde on a Budget, or Dream Beyond Debt, or Dear Debt? It could be inspiring. Just a thought.

  • Reply kara19 April 6, 2016 at 12:04 PM

    You’re finding out what kind of money management style works for you, and I love it! It’s kind of a constant recalibration in my experience.
    On the note of interest- it is a bummer. I also used to find it disheartening. Can you break up your $1000 into multiple payments throughout the month, so interest has less time to accrue? It’s also important to keep in mind that paying anything over the minimum is chopping time off how long they’ll be there. Slow progress is still progress!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 6, 2016 at 9:01 PM

      Thanks, Kara! Yes, progress is progress, no matter how small. 🙂 And yes, starting this month I’m making smaller payments over the course of the month, whenever I have extra money. I think that will definitely help, at least psychologically (and also a bit with the interest). Hopefully I’ll have my money management style straightened out soon!

  • Reply Amanda April 6, 2016 at 8:09 PM

    Digit is the best. My checking account fluctuated too (and still does, really) but they never took out more than I could handle, and you can always transfer it back if you need it. I believe they have a guaranteer of some sort, too, that they’ll never overdraw your account. They are magical. I love Digit so much.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 6, 2016 at 8:59 PM

      That’s helpful to know! I’m thinking about opening an account after I’ve gotten things slightly more under control.

  • Reply Cindy @ GrowingHerWorth April 7, 2016 at 2:27 PM

    I refinanced some of my student loans way back in the early ’00s, but I think they’ve changed the rules since then. My understanding now is that it’s more of an average of the interest rates, which can lead to higher interest payments if your larger loans had the lower rates. I think it’s better for people who are looking to extend the life of the loan (up to twenty years) to get a lower monthly payment. But I’m not really sure.

    I assume that you have multiple student loans: Are you concentrating your extra payments on just one loan, or spreading it out across all of them? It might help you feel like you’re making more progress if you put all of your extra payments towards either the one with the lowest balance, or the one with the highest interest, and then pay the minimum on all the others. It’s completely psychological, but it will take less time to completely pay off one of the loans, giving you a sense of accomplishment, and then you can roll the payments you were making on that one into the next one. I found the closer a loan was to being paid off, the more motivated I was to throw everything at it and get it gone!

    I agree with you on the emergency fund: I always was most comfortable having $5,000 in the emergency fund. That number varied depending on what was going on in my life at the time. When I had a lot of cash saved for remodeling/selling my home, I was okay with lowering my emergency fund, since I could redirect cash if I needed to. Also, when a loan got down to where I could pay it off with that money while still having $1,000 in the emergency fund, I’d use it, with the knowledge that having one less payment made it easier to build it back up. I guess the $5,000 just gave me more flexibility.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 7, 2016 at 11:16 PM

      Hi Cindy! 🙂 Yup, I’m focusing on the loan with the lowest balance (all my loans have the exact same fixed interest rate). I think it really does help, at least psychologically. As for the refinancing, it seems that there are variable rate options where the rate is low in the beginning and then slowly gets higher over time, so if you take the full amount of time, it averages out to a medium-sized rate, but if you pay off the loans more quickly, you get a nice low rate. Something like that. I don’t know if they take your current interest rate(s) into account; I should definitely check on that.

      As for the emergency fund, a lot of people have been telling me that I don’t need $4,000 or $5,000 because I rent my apartment and don’t own a car. Which is logical, but I still would feel better with $4-5K. It makes sense to vary the e-fund based on what’s going on in your life, as you describe. Perhaps that’s my answer: I can always choose to make lower loan payments if I really really need the money for something else, so maybe I need a lower amount sitting in the bank? I’m not sure. It’s definitely a work in progress! 🙂

  • Reply Jef April 8, 2016 at 1:40 AM

    Wow that’s a heck of a lot of update there 😉 haha.
    I’ve now officially caught up and will here on be reading your new articles!

    Congrats on the exercise that’s great work & would love to hear about the user testing / website reviewing if there’s enough demand to hear a post about this

    It really depends on what the extraneous purchase in debt is however while I wouldn’t encourage it if you can’t enjoy even a cheeky purchase or say a $20 book or pair of shoes that you may not really need maybe once a month, what’s the point right? 🙂

    Anyway loving the blog & congrats on the amount of commentors!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 9, 2016 at 7:37 AM

      Ah, the user testing site I have mixed feelings about. I think I have only done about 4 tests for them, and each one was a 3-minute test that paid $3. They have longer tests that pay more, and I’ve and have answered screening questions for lots of them, but am repeatedly told I’m not eligible. I’m not even sure what criteria they’re looking for, but apparently I don’t fit it. I think I may give up on it soon since I spend more time answering screening questions than actually earning money! But there may be people who fit their criteria better and who are able to do more tests.

      • Reply jefmiles April 10, 2016 at 9:24 AM

        Okay cool, thanks for the honesty here Sarah.. There likely is better ways of earning extra cash online :)!

        All the best for a great week for you

  • Reply DA April 10, 2016 at 3:38 PM

    I am coming here for the first time. Love your style of writing. Never heard of user testing site paying cash.
    Bookmarking your site to come back and read more.
    Glad that you are able to pay $1000 on towards debt

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 10, 2016 at 8:10 PM

      Thanks so much for visiting! I definitely have reservations about the user testing site, as I seem to be ineligible for most of their assignments. But maybe other people would fit their criteria more closely.
      Hoping to raise the $1000/month amount soon! 🙂

  • Reply Daisy April 11, 2016 at 9:20 PM

    I’m paying off a debt & it was definitely rough before I got my emergency fund up what with the money I was saving being split into two. But now I’m comfortable with my fund, I’ve been throwing all my extra money at the debt & it doesn’t feel like plugging a boat so much anymore.

    And the walking works! I walk to work myself & don’t go to the gym (tried but it wasn’t my thing), & I definitely recommend it for your health & your wallet. 😊

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply Daisy April 11, 2016 at 9:22 PM

      Oh, & your shoes are encouraging me regarding something I’ve wanted to return lately. I guess we don’t know if it would work if we don’t try.

      • Reply Sarah Noelle April 12, 2016 at 10:05 PM

        You should definitely try it! I was shocked that they took the shoes back; it was definitely against their stated return policy.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 12, 2016 at 10:04 PM

      That’s great that you’ve got an emergency fund established and are able to put more money towards your debt! I’m hoping I can get to that point in the next few months. And yes, walking is definitely my favorite way to get around, and definitely a good way to stay healthy too. I should say that I also go to yoga classes, which are not cheap, but I find yoga to be a a nice complement to walking, at least for me.

      • Reply Daisy April 12, 2016 at 11:57 PM

        I’m terrible at yoga lol, but I know people who enjoy it as a complement to their regular fitness routine. I guess that’s what being debt-free is all about: spending money on what’s important to you & what that is will be different depending on who you are.

        • Reply Sarah Noelle April 13, 2016 at 9:27 PM

          Agreed! It’s definitely all about choices. 🙂

  • Reply C@thesingledollar April 12, 2016 at 4:33 PM

    I was the opposite of you — I didn’t bother with an emergency fund when I was paying off debt. (I had never even heard of one before starting my blog.) I was pretty comfortable with the idea of using credit cards for emergencies. And honestly, I think I still have trouble with the whole concept. I love the idea of a giant pile of cash, but amorphous “emergencies” are hard for me to get excited about. It’s been more productive/motivating for me to save up a down payment fund even though of course that money is available in an emergency. I did save $5000 in a cash emergency fund and then promptly stuck $4000 of it in my Roth IRA when the market tanked last year. Shrug.

    Anyway, I’m not sure I have a point. Just that I feel like e-funds are one of those personal choices. You can always decide to take some of it out and put it on debt if you feel like it later. Or, if it helps you sleep, then ok, leave it alone.

    Interest is terrible. I hated paying it so much that I really pushed through debt repayment. It was much more motivating than anything else, really! I think it does help to see that as you pay down more debt, the amount of interest-per-month gets lower. Even if it feels slow at first, you are already making progress, and you’ll pick up steam as you go.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 13, 2016 at 6:07 AM

      Yeah, I agree that the interest can be motivating. I’ve gotten down to the principal on my two smallest loans — the ones I’m mostly focusing on — and only have to pay the interest that has accrued since my last payment. So that’s not too bad, and I’m excited to make a payment that eliminates the tiny bit of interest and cuts into the principal. My other two larger loans, though…that’s a different story. They have tons of interest on them that accrued while I was in school, and for now I’m just making minimum payments on those ones and trying not to get upset about the large amount interest that is still accruing. Ugh.

      I had a $5000 emergency fund throughout grad school, though, like you, I had never heard the term “emergency fund” until I started blogging. I just called it “money in my savings account”, haha. But it did give me a lot of peace of mind. We’ll see. Maybe $2000 would do the trick.

  • Reply Millennial Boss April 27, 2016 at 1:34 AM

    I value spending money on personal development while paying off debt. I’ll go to conferences to learn about things (I’ve been to travel blogging conferences, travel hacking conferences, financial independence conferences, and next up-FINCON!) I think all of those experiences have been valuable long term and I do not regret that the money didn’t go towards my debt. I’m also down to about 1k debt from over 55k two years ago which feels amazing.

    • Reply Sarah Noelle April 27, 2016 at 10:20 PM

      Wow, down from 55K to 1K — that’s awesome! Congratulations! You must have been working really hard and staying really focused for two years to make that happen. I hope to be in that place a few years from now. It’s good to know that it’s possible. 🙂

  • Reply Jaymee May 5, 2016 at 7:14 PM

    Sarah your updates are so entertaining and funny! I love your attitude about everything 😀

    With regards to student loan payment + other money goals, I definitely have felt that “sinking boat” feeling. I knew my mountain of student loan debt needs to be taken care of and the amount of interest it grows on a daily basis scares me. I also know that retirement saving is important and saving for my other goals as well (buying a house, travel, etc.). It seems like there’s too many goals and not enough money sometimes 😖

    I’ve come to the conclusion to be patient and do my best on a daily basis (whether that means doing my best NOT to spend money that day or be okay with forking over a large portion of my paycheque towards student loans and other goals). I find this has helped me deal and over months of doing this, can see the compounding effect of it! 🙂 I’ll just keep chugging along..

    • Reply Sarah Noelle May 6, 2016 at 6:48 AM

      Too many goals and not enough money…well put! I’m committed to saving for retirement while I pay off debt, and while I know that’s the best decision for me, it still sometimes feels like I’m not putting enough money towards any one goal. But I’m just going to keep chugging along, as you put it! That’s all we really can do, I guess. And as you say, it all adds up, and when you look back at your progress you can see how far you’ve come. 🙂

  • Reply Jamie July 13, 2016 at 11:32 PM

    I really like the idea of Acorn.. but the fee structure really gets to me. $1/ a month doesn’t SOUND like much, but considering how little money is actually put in every month, it just kills me…

    Anyway, just discovered your blog and love it. As someone also dealing with a lot of student loan debt, I find your story very inspiring!

    • Reply Sarah Noelle July 14, 2016 at 6:17 PM

      Actually a few weeks after I wrote this post, I got rid of my Acorns account and am now using Digit instead! 🙂

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