This article appeared in a slightly different version as a guest post on frugaling.org, another great website for financial info.
I’m an optometrist and I love my job. Like many professional jobs in the medical field it has a good starting income and great potential, especially if you become a successful business owner. As much as I love my job, there is one thing I hate about the process of becoming an eye doctor: student loan debt. And we graduated with a lot of it. I graduated with around $150,000 in debt myself. I have colleagues who are in well over $200,000 in debt. The story is similar for graduates of medical, dental, pharmacy and law schools. According to a report by the American Association of Medical Colleges, the median level of debt for graduates in 2013 was $175,000!
The main problem is of course continuously rising tuition prices which probably won’t be going down any time soon because there is too much money to be made for the banks. Just to get a glimpse on the current status of medical school tuition, here is a US News report on the 10 most expensive medical schools. Looking at these numbers makes it easy to see how students can routinely graduate with well over $200,000 in debt! Rising tuition rates are a highly charged political issue which probably won’t be resolved anytime soon. But there is something we can control, and that is how fast and how strong we decide to attack our debt. Most lenders put you in a 25 year payoff plan. This is a ludicrously long time and will lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest that can certainly be avoided. Here are five quick and relatively painless ways to cut your expenses. These methods have personally helped me to attack my student loan debt and greatly reduce my lifetime interest:
1. Ditch the gym membership: Like most people, I thought getting a gym membership was the responsible and healthy thing to do. With the rows and rows of treadmills and dumbbells, getting in shape was an inevitability. But after a while I found myself not enjoying the workouts and then making up any and all excuses not to go to the gym. There was the whole process of getting ready, driving to the gym, finding a parking spot and finding the least sweaty machine to use. This was going on for a few months until I decided to sit down and evaluate my gym usage. I realized the workout I enjoyed doing at the gym the most was playing basketball. I cancelled the membership and focused on playing outdoor basketball and running outside, two almost free activities that I actually have fun doing. Savings: $80/month
2. Look at your wireless plan: I’ve been with Verizon Wireless for a while now and have been happy with their service. Calls are rarely dropped and their customer service is pretty good (as good as you’re going to get with a cell phone company anyway). When they changed to their limited data program, I was defaulted into the 4 GB data tier, mainly because it didn’t really change my wireless bill. After a few months I decided to check how much data we were using, and it was well under half a GB! I get a WiFi connection both at home and work, so I’m not really using cellular data all too much. I switched us into the lowest 1GB tier plan and haven’t felt a data pinch even once. Easy savings. It can pay to check the current status of your wireless plan. Savings: $30/month
3. Run that car into the ground: For most Americans getting a new car every 3-5 years is normal. It is almost a rite of passage. It is also one of the worst financial decisions you can make. A car is NOT an investment, yet people are content with paying tens of thousands of dollars or getting a high interest loan on a product that will give you a guaranteed negative return. Yes, cars are definitely needed to get you to and from work. But there are other alternatives such as public transportation or not buying an expensive new car.
I currently drive a Chevy Cobalt, which is a relatively fuel efficient car. It is paid for and has not given me any major problems. I get regular maintenance in it according to the recommendations in the manual. Luckily, my commute to work is less than 10 minutes each way so I don’t forsee anything MAJOR happening to the car as long as I get regular maintenance. And I plan on using it until I can’t drive it anymore. This is because I don’t want another car that can do the same thing my car does but has a monthly payment. I don’t want higher insurance premiums. And I don’t want to go through the hassle of getting a new car. These are reasons enough for me to keep my current vehicle and avoid future monthly payments for as long as I can. Savings: At least $200/month
4. Shop around for auto insurance: The only thing good about auto insurance companies is their commercials. Most of the auto insurance companies are pretty much the same when it comes to customer service. If you look at reviews online, pretty much all the companies have as many decent reviews as bad ones. Sure some people have had terrible experiences with one company or another, but as a whole customer service is pretty much the same across he board. This means that price is the overriding factor in choosing auto insurance, and in my experience it really is worth it to shop around.
I was with Nationwide for around 4 years. I originally signed up with them because a family friend worked for them (probably my first mistake). I pretty much accepted their rate (a little over $200/month) and was relatively happy with their service (except for the fact they charged a fee to pay by credit card). In any case, I didn’t think much about switching until a few months ago, when I decided to get a quote from GEICO. It was $120 less per month than my current rate. That’s over 50%! It seemed too good to be true so I got quotes with other companies and was consistently getting much lower rates than my current one. And most of the quotes were for even more coverage than I was getting at the time. I knew I needed to switch and after all the numbers were crunched, I ended up saving a little over $100/month. Plus it’s cool to have that little gecko on my side now. Savings: $100/month
5. Get a credit card that pays: Optimizing credit card use is a mini-obsession of mine. I enjoy finding ways of getting credit card rewards on stuff I already spend my money on. Which is why I get flabbergasted when I see people paying for stuff with cash when a perfectly good rewards card would give them some money back. The most rudimentary rewards cards give 1% cash back, which is $10 back on $1000 worth of purchases. Not amazing but better than nothing. The key is finding cards with higher rates for certain categories like groceries or gas stations and cards with sign up bonuses for certain levels of spending. This can easily get you a few $100 a month here and there. Plus it’s nice to get something from the big banks. You do need to be careful not to increase your spending just to get some rewards, as this would wipe out any benefit from the card. Savings: $10-$100/month
These 5 easy savings tips produced over $400 in monthly savings. Applying that directly to your highest interest rate student loan payment can make a world of difference. For example, a student loan balance of $30,000 with a 6% interest rate and $200 monthly payment would take 23 years to pay off with just the minimum payment. Applying that $400 on top of the minimum payment, the loan would now take just 5 years to pay off! (Calculations done on unbury.me) Truly astounding numbers and proof that making extra payments can drastically reduce the length of the loan and interest paid.
The other, and potentially more lucrative, side of debt repayment is making more money. You can only save a finite amount of money but earning potential can be endless. Making money can be more difficult and usually requires more work upfront, but the rewards can be well worth it. To go along with the theme of this post, however, here are a few painless ways to make more money that have worked for me and helped me pay down my debt faster:
-Work more: This is kind of a no-brainer but it is an option that is overlooked a lot of times. It really depends on the type of work you do and how much you get paid, but working just a few more hours a week can really help boost your monthly income. Some people recommend getting a second job to make more money, but that can have more costs associated with it such as a new commute, wardrobe etc. This should only be a temporary solution though as maintaining a good work-life balance is essential.
-Sell stuff: This can be a great way to make some extra money as most people have a bunch of things lying around the house that can fetch some money. Old cell phones, video games, TV’s and furniture can make some decent money when sold on eBay or Craigslist. It takes some time to find what sells and what doesn’t, but it can be some nice bonus income once done right. De-cluttering your living space is a nice side effect to this option.
-Use your current skills: Making more money usually involves gaining new skills. But there is money to be had using the skills you already have. Have you always been really good at math or any other school subject? Find out if you can join a tutoring service or advertise on your own. Do you enjoy writing about sports or any other particular subject? Scour Craigslist for opportunities to write articles or reviews. All you have to do is think about what you’re really good at and find a way to make some money off of it. This can take some creativity but opportunities can range from consulting to tutoring a friends son.
Combining pain free ways to save and make money and applying that extra money to student loans can make all the difference in the world. It’s also important to know that getting rid of loans frees up even more money to attack more loans (my preferred choice) or for anything else you want to do.
Please leave a comment and share your saving and money making tips that can help pay off debt!