Thanks for hangin’ in there. We’re in the final part of this series.
If you missed the earlier posts, you’ll want to read them to learn the first 6 things that enabled us to pay off over $51,000 of student loan debt:
Otherwise… let’s finish this!
Here are the last 2 things we did.
7. We Budgeted Each Month and Tracked Our Expenses
A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.”Dave Ramsey
One thing I’m constantly striving for is that my actions reflect my goals and priorities. This includes what we do with our money and budgeting plays a significant role in ensuring this.
If our goal is to pay off our student loans as quickly as possible, then we need to make sure we are living within our means, making our student loan payments a priority and not incurring additional debt. And to do this, we set a budget each month and do our best to hold ourselves accountable to it by tracking our expenses throughout the month.
While some months may have similar expenses, Our monthly expenses aren’t exactly the same every month. So, I like to set a budget for each month to account for what’s going on that month. It’s more accurate and applicable.
For example, in early spring and fall, we have clothing expenses for our kids to account for changing seasons and growth spurts. During the summer, we have higher childcare expenses with our daughter going to summer camps, rather than just afterschool care. Over November and December, we have holiday-related expenses for the festivities we take part in and the gifts we purchase. And in certain months, certain annual bills are due. You get the picture.
Then throughout the month, I’d track our expenses to see if we were sticking to our budget. This helped ensure we did our best to spend only what money we had available and be able to pivot early enough if we needed to. When we find that we’ve overspent in an expense category. We review our budget to see what other expense category had some wiggle room. And we’d move some of the allocated funds from that category to cover our overspending of the other category.
At times, we’d incur unplanned expenses, or something we budgeted for would end up costing more, or we’d totally forgot to budget for something that was due that month. Reviewing our budget and expenses regularly kept us on our toes and enabled us to quickly adjust, as needed, so we could stay within our budget.
Takeaway Action: Does your budget align to your goals and priorities? If your goal is to pay off debt, are you making debt payments a priority and making sure you don’t incur additional debt?
Create a monthly budget and customize it to your monthly needs. Your monthly expenses will vary to some degree, so your budget should vary as well.
But don’t stop with just setting a budget. You must also hold yourself accountable to it. Track your expenses throughout the month and if something happens that affects your budget, adjust and pivot. Do your best to only spend what you actually have.
After a few months of having a monthly budget, review it so you learn your spending behaviors/patterns and think of ways you can improve your system.
8. We Didn’t Take an “All of Nothing Approach” and Eliminate What We Value
The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations.”Jack Lew
Because we want to pay off our student loans as quickly as possible, we tried to keep our expenses as low as we possibly could. BUT, we also tried to do this without totally reducing our overall quality of life either.
What do I mean by this?
As you already know, becoming debt-free is important to us. But health and wellness is also important to us. And, we’re a family of food lovers. So, we don’t totally strip down our grocery budget and just have “rice and beans” (like Dave Ramsey recommends) or ramen everyday. At the same time, we’re not extravagant with our food budget either. While I try to buy organic produce as much as possible, we are also cost-conscious. We look for deals and buying what’s on sale where we can. And, we stretch our grocery budget by having leftover nights or repurposing leftovers as something else. But we also don’t just buy food that may not be the best quality or be the healthiest option just because it’s on sale either.
In addition, we didn’t just cut expenses for the sake of cutting expenses. Cutting everything, including ones that bring us value and joy, as well as the ones that align with our priorities, can be an easy way to fall off the debt pay-off journey quickly.
As I mentioned, health and wellness are important to us. So we actually decided to join the local YMCA in the last year. My husband works out at least 3 times a week… and I … well, I’m a work in progress 😉 But I do try to work out at least twice a week. And our kids love their Child Watch program. As a family, we go almost every weekend. It’s an affordable way for my husband and I to have an hour or two break in the weekend, working out while the kids play. And, it helps our family be more active.
Because we know our journey will take a few years, we made the conscious choice of not making it an “all or nothing” approach. We figured that we can make an effort to aggressively pay off our loans, while still “have a life.”
Going extreme and eliminating all spending, including certain things that we enjoy and value, will feel depriving in the long run that we’d be at risk of giving up sooner. It’s like going on a crash diet versus changing your lifestyle by eating more fruits and vegetables everyday and exercising regularly to get to a healthier weight. It’ll take longer to see results with the latter, but the results are more lasting and your chances for success are better than with a crash diet.
But, it didn’t mean we had a free for all with our spending either. We took the time to really think through what was important to us and made choices to figure out how we could balance out allocating funds toward our financial goals and still prioritize some of the other things that are important to us given the resources we had at our disposable.
Takeaway Action: In addition to knowing your financial goal and why you have that goal, think about what you and your family value. Make sure you are allocating time and money into that as well. Review all your expenses and think about what can be reduced or eliminated. But also, think about the things that might be missing from your budget and you should probably be spending on. It’s not all about total elimination.
The road to becoming and living debt-free (especially if you have a massive amount) is long and hard. Don’t put yourself on a “crash diet” for this process. Help yourself not easily give up by not totally depriving yourself of everything that brings you joy (within reason and within your budget).
Our journey to becoming debt–free is hard. It will take time and require a lot of patience, grit and effort. To succeed, we need to consistently make decisions that align with our overall goal and intentionally take the necessary steps to achieve it. And I think it’s the sustained and consistent little steps we take that will add up and yield us that large impact in the end.
Are you ready to start tackling your debt?
If you are, set yourself up for success and do the following:
- Set a goal – one that is inspiring enough to make you dig deep.
- Take some to reflect and think about your why – what’s the deeper reason behind your goal?
- Create an action plan and revisit regularly – your action plan will do you no good if you just let it sit there collecting dust, do what it’s intended for and take action – your plan is only as good as your actions.
- Change your mindset and start believing you can do this – if you’re not there yet, just keeping telling yourself that you can do it until you slowly start to believe it for real.
- Keep your goal and plans top of mind by talking about it regularly with your spouse, a family member or a friend, and track your progress as you go.
- Practice the art of delayed gratification – your choice to make sacrifices today will lead you to achieving your long-term goal.
- Set a budget each month and track your expenses – tell your money what to do and make sure you’re living within your means.
- Don’t take an all-or-nothing approach by cutting all expenses, including the ones that bring you joy or align with your values – allocate time and money into these within reason and within your budget.
And that is a wrap, my friend!
Thanks for hangin’ in there. I know this was a long one. But I hope you were able to learn from our experience and got some encouragement to start in your debt pay-off journey or keep goin’ at it if you’re already on your path.
I wish you good luck on your way to becoming debt-free!