Hi there! Thanks for stopping by another installment of iontuition’s Q&A series with personal finance bloggers. A warm welcome to Sarah of The Yachtless blog, navigating the financial waters, one wave at a time. As a recent grad school graduate working on paying off about $57,000 in federal student loan debt, Sarah has dedicated herself to become more financially conscious and blog about her student loan repayment journey, as well as other topics related to personal finance. Let’s see what advice Sarah has for our readers!
What’s the best piece of financial advice you ever received?
Cait Flanders of Blonde on a Budget writes that your salary is not your budget. I think this advice is potentially life-changing. We tend to assume that the more money we make, the more money we should spend—but this is faulty logic. If you take home $60,000 a year but only really need to spend $30,000 a year to feel secure and happy, there’s no reason to spend the other $30,000 mindlessly. Instead, you can make conscious decisions about what you want to do with it. You could invest it, you could put it in a retirement fund, you could use it to start a savings fund for a down payment on a house, you could give some of it (or all of it!) away to a worthy cause, or some combination of the above. There’s no reason to spend it right away just because you have it.
What’s your advice for those who already have student loans?
Try not to let your student debt control your emotions. I know all too well that being in debt can cause a great deal of anxiety and regret, but that is no way to live. I used to feel really anxious and trapped when thinking about my debt, to the point that I couldn’t even face checking my student loan balance. However, I found that when I finally decided to assess my situation, take stock of exactly how much I owed and begin to construct a repayment plan, I suddenly felt much more at peace and much more empowered. I actually have a whole post on my blog about this topic, which you can check out here.
How do you stay ahead on your student loan repayment?
Since I just recently started paying my loans back, this is something I’m still figuring out. But so far it helps me to think of loan repayment almost like a sort of game. I’m competitive by nature, so I focus on being competitive with myself, trying to find ways to throw as much money as much as I possibly can at the loans each month. Blogging about my student loan repayment also helps keep me accountable, and reading other blogs about personal finance helps me feel motivated and inspired.
If you could go back in time and give your 18-year-old self a piece of financial advice, what would it be?
Put $20/month in your Roth IRA. Just $20 a month. And when you finish college and get a job, increase that amount to $50 or $100 a month. This may seem like a small thing—or an annoying thing!—when you’re young, but you have no idea how much of a difference it will make in your financial situation someday.
Would you go to a different school if you knew what you know now about student debt?
Probably not. My debt isn’t a direct result of having chosen a particular school. I went to two different grad schools, and both of them actually waived (most of) my tuition and paid me a small stipend for doing research or teaching. The majority of my student loans were taken out to supplement my stipend, or to support me during periods when my stipend fluctuated or temporarily disappeared.
By far the most important financial step I’ve ever taken was to start tracking my spending carefully, down to the exact penny. I think a lot of us figure we probably know about how much we spend each month by glancing at our credit card bill, but most people (including me) who start tracking their spending manually are really surprised to find out where their money is actually going.
I strongly recommend creating an Excel spreadsheet, keeping all your receipts, and carefully entering them into the spreadsheet at the end of each day, along with which category each purchase belongs in (rent, gas, groceries, eating out, entertainment, etc.). Then, at the end of the month, take a look at how much you spent in each category. You might be surprised at what you find out, and perhaps even motivated to make some changes. I started doing this on January 1st, 2015 and have been doing it ever since.