Turning thirty is a big milestone. Some people feel pressure to get married, have a child, and make huge strides in their career by their 30th birthday. Me? I just want to pay off my student loans.
I graduated with 80k in student loan debt in 2013. Ever since, I’ve allocated $1000 a month toward my debt—and I’ve paid off half of it. But earlier this year, as an almost-27-year-old, I made an executive decision: As long as I had job stability, I was going to pay off the rest of my 40k in loans (at 6 percent interest) within three years.
A loan calculator showed me I’d need $1300 a month to reach my goal, which meant I needed a way to add $300 more to my monthly payment. After evaluating my expenses, I picked the areas where I could reallocate funds and got to work.
I use every last drop of makeupMoney saved: $30/month
One key to saving money on makeup is to make it last as long as possible.
I only buy the products I need, no matter how amazing that Sephora VIB sale is. When I’m at the end of my product, I open the lid and use a cool tool like this one to scrape the rest out.
I also shop online. Sephora offers more sample products and rewards products online, so when I run out of my main bottle, I use one of the free samples.
I watch what I drinkMoney saved: $40/month
In NYC, a glass of wine can cost $10, meaning one glass a week adds up to $40 a month! This meant saying no to drinks at happy hour or going to BYOB restaurants. Water bottles are also a no-no. A courtesy cup of tap water is fine, thanks.
I only buy the absolutely most necessary groceriesMoney saved: $50/month
Turns out, buying $10-$15 lunches at work multiple times a month adds up, not including the $120 I paid for regular groceries. I slashed that by budgeting just $80-$100 for food each month—period. There are two secrets to this:
For one, I only buy exactly what I will eat that week and buying lunch at work is off-limits. This means buying pre-chopped romaine, carrots, cucumber, and an avocado I’ll keep at work for salads. Or I’ll have a packet of soup. For dinner, I eat chicken breasts with sweet potatoes or a veggie. My total comes to about $15 a week; I always look for sales.
I also really take advantage of free food. I’m lucky that I have a lot of free snacks at work, plus oatmeal or yogurt there that I eat as my breakfast. And I never say no to free pizza, which sometimes serves as dinner. My budget also includes foods in my pantry I haven’t eaten. I don’t allow myself to buy new ingredients for dinner until I use up the ones I have.
I was nervous about this at first (food is lyfe), but challenging myself to shop on a smaller budget showed me how much I spent on unhealthy snacks and items I don’t ever finish. I learned that less is more, and it’s better to buy too little and run to the store later than buy too much and let money and food go to waste.
I downsize where I canMoney saved: $40/month
Living in NYC, keeping rent costs down is nearly impossible, but I knew something had to give. I currently pay $1350, but when my lease is up in October, I’m planning to move somewhere where I can pay around $1000. In order to do so, I’ll have to live a little further out, sacrificing my 20 minute commute for a 30-40 minute one. And I’ll still live with roommates. But it will be worth it when I have a few hundred dollars to put toward my loans.
This isn’t an option for everyone, so you can also evaluate and “downsize” other expenses. I managed to negotiate my gym membership from $80 to $40 per month by keeping it real with the gym manager. This is a thing! I told him I compared prices at other gyms and since I wouldn’t take most of the classes, I thought this was a fair price. And he agreed!
I also gave up cable, as Netflix does the trick.
I side-hustleMoney made: ~$100/month
Side hustles are all the rage. Since I enjoy writing, I freelance as much as I can. Other side hustles explored: animal sitting, doing friends’ makeup, selling clothes, tutoring, babysitting, and stunt doubling (jk).
I say “no” to thingsMoney saved: $74/month
This is probably the hardest one to do, but often the most necessary. I’m from the Philadelphia area and like to go home fairly often. It’s luckily only a quick train trip, but multiple $34 round trip rides can add up. The same goes for events like concerts, which could cost me $40 each time. If I go home once a month instead of twice and attend one less concert, I save $74 a month.
Bonus: I use a credit card
The card I have gives me about $40 cash back per month for my spending. The trick is to use it responsibly and pay the balance right away. And using it consistently gives me enough points to cover extras like a flight to a family event in Nashville, something I’d have needed to dip into my loan money for otherwise.
Total money saved or earned each month: $349.
So far, it’s working. I’m on track to pay off my loans by 2021, but of course, I’m human. If I need to treat myself to new lipstick or a getaway occasionally for #sanity, then I cut back somewhere else. It can be hard, but I know it’ll be worth it when in three years, I too will be thirty, flirty, thriving—and debt-free.