monthly updates, purchases, student loans

A Mini-Goal Achieved

Hello, friends!

Long time no post, eh? June was a bit of a rough month for me: nothing terrible, but my job suddenly got more demanding/stressful than it had been previously, and I also managed to catch some sort of virus that hung around in my system for three weeks (or possibly two separate viruses back-to-back?), so I spent much of the month exhausted, coughing, and buried in work.

However, I did hit a goal.

Debt payoff numbers update: I wrote a couple of months ago that I wanted to get my student loan balance under $50,000 by the end of June. It was kind of a stretch goal, and I wasn’t sure if it was actually realistic or not. But…I did it! Well, okay, I did it six days late. But I’m still counting it!

A quick recap: my regular self-imposed monthly goal is to put a minimum of $1000 towards my loans. When I set this goal at the beginning of May, however, my loan balance was around $52,900 and I had two months before the deadline. This meant I needed to come up with $2900 in two months, plus all the interest that would accrue during that time. In May I put $1100 towards my loans. And in June I put…..$1954 towards my loans. A personal best, and quite a lot of money for me and my non-profit salary. (The main reason I was able to pay so much was that I sold a bunch of unused vacation days back to my employer at the end of our fiscal year. Freelance income also helped.)

Even with those payments made, I was still about $350 from my goal at the end of June. However, I got a direct deposit for some more freelance work this morning and immediately made a loan payment, which means that as of today, my total balance is….$49,996. Bam! That’s totally under $50,000!

Debt payoff emotions update: Getting under $50,000 is encouraging. However, I also finally got up the courage to calculate how much interest is accruing on my loans each day, and the answer is: around $9. Yikes. Luckily I’m cutting into the principal balance each month, so the daily interest accrual should decrease (slowly but) steadily. I decided I’m not going to refinance because there are too many risks involved; I’d rather keep my current interest rate of 6.8%.

Extra income update: In June I made $575 from freelancing and $13 from card-playing (ha!), for a total of $588. I’m actually taking July and August off from freelancing, mostly because I have a teaching job lined up for the Fall semester, and I need to spend my time prepping for that.

Emergency fund update: Still at $1000. I want to increase this though.

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

Travel fund update: This is a new update as of this month. My travel fund is not as big of a priority as debt payoff or my emergency or retirement funds, and I don’t have any big trips planned, but I still like the idea of having a little money set aside for travel. My travel fund consists of my Capital One Venture card rewards balance (currently at $269) and my Digit account (currently at $102), for a total of $371. Cool, good start.

By the way, I was scared of Digit for a while because I tend to keep my checking account balance very low, but I finally tried it and I’ve been really happy with it. Basically it’s a free service that connects to your checking account and sneakily transfers little amounts of money into a savings account on an ongoing basis. If you want to try Digit and want me to get $5 for referring you, use this link. (If you want to try Digit but don’t want me to get $5, just type into your browser.)

Extraneous purchase of the month: Okay, here’s what I really want to talk about today. I’ve had this category in my monthly update for a few months and until recently I didn’t think much of it. But it occurred to me a few days ago that “extraneous purchase of the month” implies that I only make one extraneous purchase per month, and this is this is definitely not true. A better name for this category would be “selected extraneous purchase of the month” or “extraneous purchase of the month that I feel like talking about right now”. In actual fact, I make quite a few extraneous, i.e. unnecessary, purchases each month.

Here are some typical examples:

  • I go out for meals/drinks with friends about 3-6 times per month (cost: approx. $35-$130 per month).
  • I go to yoga and barre classes 1-2 times per week (cost: approx. $50-$100 per month).
  • Occasionally I splurge on a laundry service to pick up my laundry, wash it, fold it, and bring it back to me (cost: $35-$45 each time).
  • I get an hour-long massage (cost: $110) once every couple of months.

Okay, let’s talk about this.

It is absolutely true, mathematically speaking, that if I stopped going out to eat with friends, stopped going to fitness classes, never outsourced my laundry, and never got massages, I could pay off my loans somewhat earlier.

However, I choose—happily, and with no regrets—to continue making all of the above purchases. At this point in my life, they are simply worth more to me than being debt-free two or three or six months earlier.

I think what I’m trying to clarify here is that this is not really a blog about me trying to be as frugal as possible so I can get rid of my debt as quickly as possible. I definitely track my purchases and try to only spend money on things that are important to me, but “important” does not equal “necessary”–not by a long shot. If being extremely frugal by choice is something you’re into, that’s awesome, but that’s not where I’m personally at right now.

My philosophy of spending and saving and paying off debt has definitely morphed since I started this blog. There was the month when I abstained from all restaurant food to save money, the time when I beat myself up for past purchases, and the time when I pondered the cost of apples. If I had to write a description of this blog right now though, I’d say it’s about trying to find the balance between living my life, being healthy, being happy, and paying off my debt. This is not an easy balance to find, and I definitely haven’t found it yet. Which is why the blog is still ongoing. 🙂

If I’ve learned anything so far, it’s that learning how to balance these things is an extremely personal endeavor. For example, I choose to live with housemates, and for me that feels like a reasonable sacrifice to make in order to save some money, whereas Person X (who lives in the same city as I do and makes the exact same salary and has the same amount of debt) might be willing to pay more for a private apartment. On the other hand, while I’m comfortable dropping $25 on dinner a few times a month and throwing money at my laundry problem once in a while, Person X might consider these expenses absolutely unthinkable. Person Y (also living in the same city with the same salary and same amount of debt) might be willing to pay for all of the above, and Person Z might be willing to pay for none of it. And in my book, these are all valid choices.

I loved what Our Next Life wrote earlier this week in their Independence Day post (and I strongly recommend reading the post in its entirety because it’s very wise):

If we had to boil our life philosophy down to one statement, it would be this. Society places a lot of weird expectations on all of to take certain paths in life, to achieve certain things, or to enjoy certain activities. Those expectations are different for all of us, but following along on exactly the path that others have planned out for us rarely leads to profound, lasting happiness. Instead, we all need to figure out what makes us truly, deeply happy. And that doesn’t have to be anything big or exciting. Your true happiness could be devoting as much of your time as possible to reading the great books in the solitude of your own home. It could be seeing the world. It could be getting married, having 2.5 kids and working until you’re 65. It could even be owning all the things. There’s no right or wrong answer here — there’s just your answer.

I’m still figuring this out, personally. I suspect that paying off my loans will bring me some amount of happiness, or at least some relief and security. But happiness, I think, is a tricky thing. It might be partly about eventually being free from debt, or about eventually having a bunch of money saved up, but for me, right now, it’s also about health and rest and friends and sanity and really delicious food and an occasional respite from weekly trips to the laundromat.

Any comments are welcome, as always.

49 Comments on “A Mini-Goal Achieved

  1. Congrats on hitting your goal, even if it was a few days late! I like your answer for what happiness is for you right now. ONL was right when she said that it is about finding what the answer is for you. It is just important to make sure that you make that decision, not someone else making it for you!

    1. Thanks, Thias! I definitely haven’t totally figured the happiness thing out yet, but I’m working on it. 🙂

  2. That’s fantastic that you hit your goal and have a teaching job lined up. You’re making terrific progress and maintaining some balance with spending and saving. I will never ever get rid of my cleaning service. That’s blasphemy to some, but it’s the best $45-$90 a month I spend on a splurge, I’d say!

  3. Congrats! I know that getting your debt down below what you actually borrowed for school must feel good.
    I think it’s smart to give yourself some slack in your budget for things you enjoy. You’ve got a long term project to complete, and it’s a lot more realistic to budget some funds for things you enjoy along the way than to feel rotten because you finally gave in to a little temptation to go out with friends, plan for a trip, etc.

    1. Thanks, Emily. 🙂 Yeah, it’s almost like the interest never even happened! And yeah, this is definitely a long-term project. I go up and down in terms of how much money I’m willing to spend on a monthly basis, but I know if I were to cut everything out of my life that costs money, I would get really demotivated really quickly (or feel rotten, as you say). Better to spend a little money and stay motivated!

  4. Congrats on hitting your milestone!! You bring up such a good point. What works for person A does not for person B. I’d rather live alone than go out to eat ever again. But I also get my hair cut often (and it’s not cheap) because it’s short while some people would be appalled by that. You can’t live life as a hermit. And personally I think your health endeavors are a great investment in yourself!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Tonya. 🙂 “You can’t live life as a hermit” — well put! We can have ideals and goals, but we still have to live in the world and interact with people, and that complicates things quite a bit.

  5. Thanks for the great post! I am still trying to find that balance too. I started taking trapeze classes recently and have been kind of beating myself up because they are really expensive ($20). However, after last night’s class, I was reminded that the classes make me genuinely happy and I enjoy them very much. Your post is timely, because I am realizing that I need to find what works for me personally rather than focusing on the fact that I could be more frugal or make more money on the side. Thanks again for the encouragement. Looks like trapeze class are here to stay for me 🙂 Best wishes as we continue to seek balance.

    1. Wow, Melissa, trapeze classes! Very cool! It’s so easy to beat ourselves up about purchasing classes, but sometimes they can make a huge difference in our quality of life and/or health — at least, that’s how I feel about my fitness classes. I’m glad you’re enjoying trapeze so much!

  6. Congrats, girl!! Way to go! Oh man, isn’t it awesome when you see those numbers go down and hit those mini-milestones? It makes such a difference. And I agree with you – you need to invest in yourself too. Not as an excuse to splurge on extravagant things, but things that will actually have a positive impact on your life. You keep on crushing that debt while still being able to live your life!

    1. Thanks, Kate! Yeah, mini-milestones are surprisingly motivating, aren’t they? There’s something about nice round numbers that makes a big difference. 🙂

  7. That’s a huge payment! I was definitely in the ‘as frugal as possible’ camp while paying off my debt. That worked for me because I like a challenge, and I started my journey at the lowest emotional point in my life. I really NEEDED to be serious about my debt to feel good.
    I think if those little treats make you feel good now, you’re doing it right. You’re making headway, you have a clear plan, and you’re enjoying your life. That’s pretty much the pinnacle in my opinion.

    1. Thanks, Kara! It totally makes sense to me that different people would have different approaches, strategies, etc. when it comes to paying off debt. Emotions can play such a huge role in how we think about those approaches and strategies too! Your strategy obviously worked super well for you though, since you’re debt-free now — wahoo!! 🙂

  8. Congrats on hitting one of your goals! I agree that balance is personal and somethings are more important to some than they are others. Keep up the good work and thank you for your transparency.

  9. I love everything about this post — and not just because you gave me the most awesome plug ever. 🙂 (Thanks!) I love that you hit a big milestone on your loans. (Yay!!) And I love even more that you’re stating the financial philosophy that works for you, not what you feel like you *should* be doing. Go you! I think all the stuff you’re spending money on is 1. totally reasonable, 2. well deserved for how hard you work and hustle, and 3. probably necessary to keep you on track with your debt payoff without getting burnt out. It matters what stage of life you’re in, and you’re not a 22-year-old fresh out of undergrad. That’s not to say you don’t still have tons of time to build up your finances, but just to say that it makes total sense that your financial situation and what you spend money on wouldn’t be the same as someone in their early 20s, or someone who genuinely enjoys extreme frugality. Keep doing what feels right to you, and I’m sure you’ll end up in a good place. 🙂

    1. Thanks. 🙂 I’m still figuring all this stuff out and certainly could change my mind again in the future. But for now I’d rather feel happy and healthy in the present than focus 100% of my money/energy on one long-term goal. And thanks again for the inspiration — your post really struck a chord for me.

  10. Wow, congratulations girl! Mini milestones are the way to go and helps keep the motivation going in my opinion. You’re making great progress. I’m weird about what I’m frugal with. I wont get cable or buy food that isn’t on my meal plan list for the week, but I have no problem spending the $45 it cost to get my hair cut. I also treated myself to a $70 massage a couple months ago that was totally worth every penny. It’s all about balance.

    1. Thanks, Jess! It’s interesting how we all have different “rules” for ourselves about what we will/won’t spend money on. I’m with you on the cable for sure, whereas other people might consider that a basic necessity. Balance is so personal.

  11. You made some significant progress on those loans in a short period of time! But you are taking care of yourself too and that is a healthy choice. I think it is easier to keep moving forward when you work to find YOUR happiness along the way. If you give up everything and are miserable for it, I think your chances of giving up would go up dramatically. Smile – you are on a great path!

    1. Thanks, Vicki! The importance of taking care of myself is definitely something I’ve been thinking about more and more over the past few years. When I was younger I used to take my health for granted more, but now I think health (physical, psychological, emotional, etc.) is worth putting both time and money into, at least for me. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  12. Amazing progress! $4 under your mark, great stuff. I cant believe how quickly you are taking down this debt. I just goes to show you the power of hard work and determination. Congrats on the min-goal. You are over halfway there, so now it is time to finish the job you started and bring this one home!

    Bert, One of the Dividend Diplomats

  13. Congratulations on your goal. Mine is to get it under $60,000 within the next three months (I have it at 62,443 now….you provide a good kick in the pants to do so).

    1. Thanks, Jason! And that sounds like a great goal! It’s fun to get under those nice round numbers for sure. 🙂

  14. Congrats, Sarah. You’re really on fire now!
    Glad you are taking a break from freelancing/side hustle if that’s what you feel you need. Like everything, it’s all about balance; balancing work, fun, personal development, financial goals.

    My rules of thumb;
    -maintain a high standard of excellence in my professional career.
    – reasonable amount of sleep per night. Healthy eating. Some form of regular movement/ exercise.
    – maintain personal relationships
    – maintain a decent quality of life with regards to general household cleanliness, food prep, laundry, bills, etc.

    If I’m getting too busy to maintain the above things, then I know something has got to give- let go of an extra money making venture, say no to a particular social event, etc.
    Money goals are very important, however they shouldn’t come at the expense of severe quality of life compromise.

    So enjoy meeting friends for dinner, or relaxing with a book if it keeps you grounded and centered. We’re not robots after all- we’re humans!

    1. I really like that you have specific rules of thumb that you are conscious of following. I think I have a vague sense of what my rules of thumb are, but I should probably try to write them down and be a little more proactive about them. Yours sound really healthy: maintaining personal relationships and getting a reasonable amount of sleep are both so important for health and quality of life. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  15. Hey, congrats on getting under $50K! That’s exciting. It’s cool you’ve been earning so much freelance income.

    I think ONL is very wise about happiness. I also think, though, that as a society we perhaps overrate happiness a bit. Or maybe it’s just kind of a Zen thing — the more I pursue happiness, the more elusive it seems; the more I focus on other goals, the more happiness arrives as a side effect.

    1. I think your point about happiness is very wise as well. 🙂 “Happiness” is so hard to define…I definitely agree that it’s something that can arise when we’re focused on other things. What I really love about ONL’s post though is the emphasis on how goals and priorities should be personal. I feel like I see a lot of articles these days in the pf world that are kind of preachy about extreme frugality and extreme savings, and I love that ONL took basically the opposite view, saying, hey, there’s no ultimate right or wrong here, so just do what’s right for you.

  16. Congrats on hitting your goal! Better late than never. I can’t wait until Mr. LLB hits that milestone. He has just started looking into refinancing, particularly his private loan. I’m curious about the risks you mentioned and what resources you have considered using and what led to your decision not to refinance.

    And if you live so frugally that you are miserable, you are setting yourself up for a big splurge later. I have recently felt guilty about refusing to cancel cable and give up my coffee on the way to work a couple times a week. Glad to know I’m not the only one treating myself while working hard elsewhere to get out of debt.

    1. Thanks, Paige! Yeah, it’s funny how the psychology of savings works: if we are too extreme, it can backfire. I think cable and coffee sound like relatively small expenses in the grand scheme of things, so if they are keeping you happy and motivated, that’s great. 🙂

    2. Oh, and sorry, I meant to address the refinancing issue. I’m not refinancing because 100% of my loans are federal loans, which means I have a lot of outs if something really bad happens. For example, if I were to become disabled and couldn’t work as a result, the federal government would forgive my loans; however, a private lender most likely would not. Same thing if I lost my job and couldn’t get another one: the government would work with me to figure out an income-based arrangement, while a private lender probably would not. So for those reasons alone, I’d rather stick with my current situation. As a side note, I’ve looked into a bunch of refinancing options, and at least in my case the interest rates would only be *slightly* lower than 6.8%, so I’m not sure it would make that big of a difference anyway. But if your husband has private loans already and can get a better rate without much of anything else changing, maybe it could be worth it? I am definitely not an expert, though!

    1. Thanks, Claudia! The teaching job is in addition to my regular job. It’ll be in the evenings two nights per week, plus preparation…it’s going to be pretty intense handling everything this fall, and I’m a little nervous to be honest…but I can’t back out now, so I might as well get prepared! 🙂

  17. Congratulations on hitting your goal, Sarah! That’s awesome! I’m with you with everything you wrote here. Personal finance really is personal, isn’t it? We all have a common goal of bettering out finances but how we go about achieving it is unique for each one. And balance, ah balance. It’s always easier said than done but once we find it, it feels like we stepped into a new, happier, less burdensome world.

    It’s always nice to read a new post from you. Good luck with your new teaching job!

    1. Thanks, J — yeah, as you say, personal finance is *personal*. As is balance. 🙂 I’m trying to figure out both, and it’s definitely easier said than done. Thanks for your comment!

  18. I think it is important that your discretionary spending is deliberate, well-spent and affordable. The spending is not exorbitant if you are still progressing towards your goals at a rate acceptable to you. You are obviously progressing if you are meeting your goals (congrats, btw). Calling that category of spending “extraneous” might be unfair – those items sound more essential or integral to the spirit of your budget than your more basic items.

    Heck, if you wanted to go wild and spend every penny, even incur a few hundred dollars of extra debt every month for 9 months out of the year and then work 80 hours a week and think of nothing else but paying off debt for the other 3 months…well, even that could be a good decision, depending.

    The point is that it is your choice. Your post shows that you have thought about what works for you financially and emotionally and otherwise, made a series of decisions based on that information and then re-evaluated your decisions to make sure you are still on the right track. Sounds ideal – sign me up!

    1. Yeah, you’re right, the word “extraneous” is kind of an odd choice for this category. Maybe I should call it the physical/social/emotional health enhancement category? 🙂 (Or, as you put it, the discretionary income category.) I agree with you that the most important element in all of this is probably being thoughtful in evaluating your options and consciously making a choice that works for you.

  19. Great job hitting your goal, and of course it counts even a few days after you planned – you weren’t late, the day just came too early! I love your message about choosing your own priorities in life, there truly is no right answer as long as your moves are intentional. Everyone has the right to their opinion, but I personally don’t like it when people put down choices based on them not making the most mathematical sense. The fact that you’ve chosen to make progress on paying down your debt puts you in a better position than many people out there so I think you should be commended for your strength to make these choices – balancing out being rich in life instead of strictly focusing on being rich in assets.

    1. Haha, yeah, the day just came too early — love it! Yeah, I think for a while I was in the mathematical sense camp, but now I’m feeling like there has to be a balance, at least for me. Luckily my preferred activities are not exorbitantly expensive! Thanks for your encouragement. 🙂

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