goals, monthly updates, numbers, student loans

Starting Small

Starting Small

Happy May, everyone! Here’s my monthly update for April, followed by a new mini-goal for debt payoff:

Debt payoff numbers update: As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my goal is to put at least $1000 per month towards my loans, and more whenever possible. (This is a self-imposed goal; my loan servicers aren’t asking for nearly this much.) Here are the amounts I’ve put towards my student loans each month since I graduated in January:

  • January: $157. Hahaha! Fail. But I’m giving myself a pass because I was unemployed, oh, and because I hadn’t actually created the $1000 goal yet.
  • February: $1,406. I got a job in the middle of February and immediately threw most of my remaining savings at the loans. Good idea/bad idea? Doesn’t matter, cause I can’t take it back now!
  • March: $1,000. I had a lot of expenses that month so just hit my minimum goal.
  • April: $1,800. Wahoo! It’s a record! Though I should say that this had a lot to do with the fact that I liquidated my Betterment account and put most of that money towards the loans.

Also, guess what: The amount I owe is officially under $53,000!! (See progress bar in right sidebar.)

Debt payoff emotions update: If you read my post about the longest two weeks in the world, you know that I’m working on being grateful for each day I have, rather than impatiently wishing away the time between now and the next paycheck. I’m trying to notice particular moments/hours/days when payday is far from my mind so that I can create even more moments like those. From what I’ve observed so far, it seems that spending time outdoors is an extremely effective way to keep my mind focused on the present moment and away from my paycheck and loans and budgeting spreadsheets.

Debt payoff magical thinking update: Everyone who has student loans should seriously be entering this sweepstakes (go to Menu –> Sweepstakes). You can enter once per day from now until May 8th. If you win, you get $25,000 to put towards your student loan balance. I literally have a calendar reminder to enter this sweepstakes every morning.

Extra income update: This month I made extra income from a few sources…

  • Freelance writing: $250
  • Research studies: $80 (Want to learn how to do this? Read my guest post on my friend Kara’s blog.)
  • Texas Hold ‘Em: $37 (Don’t judge! This is a fun social activity for me. And just FYI, if I’d lost my original $10 buy-in, I would have just entered it as an “entertainment” expense in my spreadsheet and been happy that a fun evening with friends only cost me $10.)
  • Total extra income in April: $367 — not too shabby!

Free work update: I don’t think I’ve talked about this on the blog before, but I actually do a fair amount of research-related work for free, outside my regular full-time job (which is not a research job). This may sound odd, because why would I do work for free when I could do work for money? However, if I do decide to pursue a research career in the future, it will be imperative for me to prove that I’ve been engaged in research activities on an ongoing basis. So, the free work I’m currently doing consists of:

  • Finishing/revising/submitting scientific articles that I wrote and/or submitted for publication during my PhD program.
  • Reviewing other people’s scientific articles that they have submitted to journals for publication. Basically this means that I read the manuscript super carefully and give extensive critiques and suggestions. Neither I nor anyone else *has* to do this, but it is considered a sort of service to the scientific community.

Emergency fund update: Ok, this is still at $516. However, I will be increasing it to $1000 this month. I’m still contemplating what my target amount is for this fund. I think it would be smart to get it up to at least $2000, but it also feels weird to put money in savings when I have debt sitting around accruing interest at a rapid pace.

Retirement update: I hit my retirement goal for the month: $500, split between my Roth IRA and my 403(b).

Car-free job update: Still no car! For those of you new to the blog, the fact that I have no car is notable because my job requires me to travel around the city all day.

Extraneous purchase of the month: I temporarily joined Netflix so I could watch Season 2 of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and it was SO WORTH IT.

*                *                  *

Ok, so as for my new mini-goal:

I don’t know when I’m going to have all my loans paid off, and I am still not interested in setting a goal date right now because it is simply Too Far Away For Me To Handle. However, I decided that I do like the idea of setting a mini-goal, one that is a bit of a stretch, but that miiiiight be possible. In other words, I’m starting small. And my mini-goal is…dum da dum dum:

I want to get my loan balance below $50,000 by the end of June.

This goal is meaningful to me for two reasons:

  1. $50,000 is a nice round number, and I like nice round numbers. (Fun/weird fact about me: I strongly prefer to eat small foods in multiples of 2. You will never catch me eating 3 pretzels, 5 M&Ms, or 11 grapes.)
  2. Although the total amount of my debt in January was just under $57,000, the amount I had borrowed was slightly under $50,000. The rest was interest that had accrued due to years of loan deferment and income-based repayment. So once I’m under $50,000, it’ll be like I just have my original loan back and the interest never happened.

Right now I’m just under $53,000, which means that in order to reach this goal, I need to find more than $3,000 in the next two months (“more than” because the loans are accruing interest daily). I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to do this, and honestly I don’t know if I can do it or not, but I thought I’d put it out into the universe anyway.

So stay tuned for updates on that.

And wish me luck!

What about you: have you had more success with mini-goals or great big goals?

58 Comments on “Starting Small

  1. I love the idea of mini goals. I have a big goal for 2016, but that has taken a back seat due to some things out of my control. It’s frustrating, but it’s been the mini goals that have pulled me through. Every win, no matter how big or small, makes a difference. And sometimes that win is as small as paying an extra $5 on my debt!

    1. Yes! An extra $5 definitely makes a difference! 🙂 I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had slower-than-expected progress for your big 2016 goal, but that’s great that the mini-goals have still helped you find success this year.

  2. Awesome job crushing those student loans! We have our lofty goals, which are mostly great, but I set mini-goals daily to achieve a small piece of the larger goal. I’ve been doing this since January and it helps a lot. 😀

    1. Thanks, Claudia! Wow, daily mini-goals — that’s very impressive. I have a daily to-do list, but it’s super scattered and the items on it probably don’t count as mini-goals because they’re more like “buy shampoo on the way home tonight”, haha. I’m definitely interested to hear more about your system!

      1. Cool! One of my lofty goals is to run a half marathon, so I have daily goals to break it down. I set a fitness goal for the day that I think will help propel me to the half. “Running a couple of miles” is how I’d write it up in my daily journal. I get to look back and see where I focused too much on to-do list items (I have those shampoo moments, too!) or where I haven’t been challenging myself enough. I hope this makes sense!

        1. Whoa, a half marathon — that’s awesome! I can definitely see how daily goals would help in training for a big race like that. I hope the training is going well so far!!

  3. Yay mini goals – and finding $3000 is a pretty impressive mini goal, I’m so impressed! And obviously have my cheering pom poms out over here (total lie I am not and never have been coordinated enough to be a cheerleader and just really want to immediately correct the impression that I might have been, haha.)

    Also, 10 almonds or bust. Not 9, not 11. I feel you on the even numbers thing. The only snack I might have an odd number of is jelly beans, just because there isn’t a number in the world that could get me to eat the banana or cinnamon flavours.

    1. Wait, are you serious that you also have the even-numbered food thing? I’ve been told it’s an OCD symptom but haven’t really met anyone else who does it. I don’t even remember how I originally came up with it. Also, are we talking jelly bellys (bellies?) here? I can’t remember the banana or cinnamon ones specifically, but I do remember that I used to pick out all the buttered popcorn ones when I was a kid.

      And yeah, totally with you on the never-would-have-made-the-cheer-squad thing. 🙂

  4. It took me a while to get used to setting stretch goals, mainly because I couldn’t overcome the feeling that NOT making it was a huge failure. I finally realized that, even if I didn’t make it, I’d still be a lot further along than when I started, so it was still a win. Once I started embracing stretch goals, I was amazed at how far I could push myself.

    1. That’s so interesting, Cindy. And it makes me excited that maybe I’ll actually be able to make this one. It is *definitely* a stretch goal, but I figured, hey, why not? And that’s such a good point that if you make progress, it’s a win no matter what.

  5. I think that’s a great mini goal. We have approached our debt payoff on a monthly basis like you have, either doubling the payments or contributing an extra round amount like $1000, and lately, $1500 (because we’re in the home stretch). We’ve also wrestled with the balance of the emergency fund vs. debt. We’re tempted to significantly reduce the emergency fund–we could pay off all the debt that way. But we also have a house, 2 kids, 1 income, and there’s no reason to put ourselves at risk when the interest is nominal at this point. But I feel for your internal conflict over this!

    1. Good for you for not giving in to the urge to clean out the e-fund in the name of debt repayment! Especially since you have kids to take care of (which I do not). That seems very wise to just take your time and make sure you have that safety net in place. I know it can feel very odd to have both cash and debt sitting around, but sometimes that’s just the best choice.

  6. Congrats on the huge last debt repayment. I do still think an emergency fund is REALLY important because you want some kind of cash around just in case, even though I know it pains you not to put everything you have towards your loan. 🙂

    1. Yes, you’re right! And actually, the day after I posted this I got another freelance check and I put almost the entire thing into my savings account. So now it’s up to $1000, which I feel good about!

  7. Good luck! I think mini goals will help keep you focused and motivated, and I’m a big believer in setting and pursuing them. And getting rid of the accrued interest so that you’re reset to zero seems like a good idea.

    1. Thanks, Emily! Yes, I definitely feel more motivated to hit this mini-goal than I do to pay off my loans at some nebulous time far in the future. 🙂

  8. Woohoo! I totally get that it must feel overwhelming having $50k in debt, but from an outsider looking in you’re doing so well! You must be so proud of yourself 🙂

    I love the idea of a mini goal that pushes yourself a little bit. I do believe that sometimes just putting yourself out there leads to things happening. Good luck x

    1. Thanks, Jennifer, that’s really nice of you to say. 🙂 I do feel good about the progress I’ve made so far — there’s still a long way to go, but I’m trying not to get too caught up in that fact. 🙂

  9. 1) Haven’t watched season 2 of Kimmy Schmidt yet. Glad to hear it’s worth it. 2) You got this. Under $50,000 is a fabulous goal. And I really think you’ll be able to do it. Many, many small goals lead to big results!

    1. I heart Kimmy Schmidt. And Tina Fey. Definitely watch it when you have a chance — it was totally worth $7.99 or whatever I paid for a month of Netflix. 🙂

      1. every month is worth the $7.99 netflix for the sake of my children (since we don’t have cable, etc). And Tina Fey is my absolute favorite. I loved season 1.

  10. I need to implement some more mini-goals! One I recently decided on was to try and max out my 401k by the end of July. I should be able to get there! I’ll be rooting for your mini-goal as well!

  11. I love mini goals. That’s how I do it every month too. It is the best feeling when you exceed the mini goal you set for yourself. It’s so much easier to focus on a small monthly goals in the span of 30 days instead of “I owe way too much money this is going to take me _____ [way too long] to pay off.” Anxiety inducing. Also, I agree about round numbers. I get so excited every time I make it a new “level” as I call it, usually in increments of 5 ($25,000, $20,000 etc.) You’re doing so well though, $50,000 will be here in no time!!

    1. Thanks, Jessica! It is definitely easier to focus on smaller goals — much less overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. This one is a bit of a stretch for me, but we’ll see how it goes! 🙂

  12. I think you are doing just great, considering you recently finished grad school.
    Keep up the fabulous job!!

  13. I think it’s amazing how much you’re putting against your debt! I was thinking back to my student loans, and how proud I felt to pay the minimum ($105) for *several* years. Granted, I made peanuts, but still — I definitely could have paid them off faster with some focus. I’m not comparing PhD you to just-out-of-undergrad me, but just thinking that actual adulthood is realizing that real effort requires actual sacrificed. It seems to come so easily to you!

    1. Haha, easily, hahahaha. It’s definitely been a long journey (and continues to be!). I can’t believe how long I sat around using IBR and deferring my loans…and taking out even more… In retrospect it was not super logical, but I guess I just needed to learn those lessons in my own time. I definitely think blogging and reading other blogs is making a big difference too: I don’t think I’d be this motivated if I were just powered by my own steam! But thank you for the compliment. I do think that, relative to my income, I’m making pretty speedy progress. 🙂

  14. What?! There’s a new season of Kimmy Shmidt? Why didn’t anyone tell me these things?

    You’re doing awesome Sarah! If I could make one suggestion, I’d beef up that emergency fund a little bit. While it does seem weird to have money sitting there when you have debt to pay, you don’t wanna be in a pinch if a true emergency comes up 🙂

    My big crazy goal for this year is to max out our 401ks. We already maxed out our Roth IRAs and am now putting as much as we can stomach into our work plans. The bright side of being laid off is realizing that my wife and I can live off just her income so we’ve been saving most of my paychecks.

    1. Lol, yes, you should start watching Season 2 immediately! 🙂 And yes, I agree about the emergency fund — as a matter of fact, this morning I got another freelance check and transferred almost all of it to savings, so now I’m up to $1000. My next goal is to make it to $2000, and then I’ll reevaluate.

      Maxing out your 401(k)s sounds like a great (and very ambitious!) goal — I’ll be excited to hear how it goes.

  15. You’re doing amazingly well,especially right out of the repayment gate! At the rate you are paying you will crush those loans in no time at all! Small steps snowball and give you momentum. (And if you want to see exactly how much, try my Debt Freedom Calculator.) Also if you have a higher interest federal loan, you might consider refinancing. Doing so helped me a ton–my ratre is now 40-50% lower than the federal loans. With aggressive payoff plans, it almost feels like cheating!

    1. Thanks, Mortimer! I’ve looked into refinancing my loans, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to find much of a better rate. I think it’s because you have to input your salary and my salary is not that high, i.e. they don’t believe that I would really be able to make very large payments. I may try it again in the future though, especially if my salary is higher next year (which it should hopefully be).

  16. Awesome effort there Sarah! 🙂 I’m quite confident you’ll smash your 50K by end of June goal..
    As for my goal, it’s now to be financially independent (replacing my income) by 30.. Massive goal although I’d rather go for a big one and slightly miss than go for a small one and smash it..

    Will depend on a few life decisions I have coming up although it’s mostly about the journey rather than the destination eh?

    Have an awesome week & go for the goals! 🙂

    1. It’s mostly about the journey not the destination — I couldn’t agree more! 🙂 And I agree that it’s probably better to go for a goal that is a bit of a stretch, just to see if you can do it. And, as another commenter said, even if you don’t quite hit it, you still win because you’re much farther ahead than you would have been otherwise!

  17. I think your goal is great. I feel you on the savings vs debt; it just doesn’t make sense to build up an EF to me when there’s so much to pay off (with interest!) but I like the idea of having at least a month and a half of pay saved – I figure that if anything were to happen, that gives you a month to find a new job, and a two week buffer for the first paycheck of the new job.
    On the even numbered habit – I’m like that about the volume on my tv: except it has to be an odd number. I also amused/irritated my college groups by always making sure our chairs and table lined up with the lines on the carpet in our study area, so I don’t think you’re too odd 😛

    1. A month and a half — I like your reasoning on that; it makes a lot of sense. Since I don’t have a car or a child or a pet, the only emergency I am really worried about is losing my job (not that I think I’m about to lose my job, but it’s always a tiny possibility). So the month and a half of expenses makes sense to me.

      That’s so interesting about your TV volume habit! And I too like things to be lined up neatly. 🙂

  18. Good luck on this. I am shooting to have my student loans under 60k by the end of the year….but I have been paying on them over a decade (97k to start)

  19. Congrats on what you’ve accomplished so far! I just finished paying off my student loans and it’s the best feeling in the world when they are done. I’m obsessed with the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I just discovered it on Netflix three weeks ago and have been binging on the weekends. My kind of humor 🙂

    1. That’s so exciting — congratulations!! I can’t wait until I get to that point.

      Isn’t Kimmy Schmidt amazing? What an incredible cast!

    1. Yes, Kimmy Schmidt is great! It’s produced by Tina Fey, stars Ellie Kemper from the American version of The Office, and has a couple of actors from 30 Rock, so if you like that type of humor you’ll probably enjoy it. 🙂

  20. Awesome. I like the mini-goal idea too! What about trying punctuated equilibrium (yes, I use scientific terms I don’t really undrstand) on the e-fund? What I have in mind is, stop at $1000 for now. Then when you hit $45K in loans, or $40K, take a moment and up it another $500. That way you’re not waiting til you’re done with the loans to up it, but you’re also giving yourself some time just to work on the loans. And if celebrating milestones is done with savings, then hey, so much the better 🙂

    1. I was actually leaning towards something like this, though I didn’t realize there was a fancy scientific term for it. 🙂 I’m now at $1000, and I think I’ll just add a little more whenever I can, until the point where I feel comfortable.

  21. I kept my e-fund at 2K for all of my debt payoff and I found it was totally fine. I actually didn’t have to dip into it until 2 months after I paid off my debt! I love reading your story. You are killing it right and left, and I’m so impressed. I can definitely see you sliding into 50K by June!

    1. Ah ok, it’s good to know what has worked for other people! I think $2K would be a good target for now, since that’s around 1.5 months’ worth of basic expenses for me. I think I’ll make that a goal by the end of the summer at least, if not sooner.

  22. You can do it! The mini-goal is a wonderful idea. When debt it is the tens of thousands, it can be hard to stay motivated. So, breaking it down into smaller amounts is brilliant. Maybe set mini-goals in other areas of life too (fitness, healthy eating, a hobby, reading etc.,) so that you don’t feel consumed by debt all the time?

    1. Thanks, Cynthia! I definitely am liking the mini-goal approach so far. I’m thinking about setting a goal for running too…if I can get motivated. It’s not my favorite activity, but I always feel better after I’ve done it!

  23. I love this and I have faith you can get this done. It’s these sort of mini goals, when compounded that will get your loans paid off right quick. Even if you don’t get there, you’ll get further than if you didn’t have the goal.
    Hustle a little harder, spend a little less. You got this!

  24. Congratulations on a great month and for killing that debt! I used to be all for big goals but I realised they make me worry and stress a lot. Small goals on the other allow me to take smaller steps but still celebrate wins. Like you, breaking big goals into small ones allow me to live my life better and be in the moment as opposed to directing all my energy to a single goal. Good luck with your new mini-goal, you can do it!

    1. Thanks, J! I am definitely liking the small goal approach thus far. And spending more time in the moment is definitely on my list of priorities right now. I’m glad that mini-goals have helped you to be less stressed! 🙂

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