As a student, it’s easy to rack up debts as you matriculate through your college years. Books, tuition, living expenses, transportation, social time… they all add up pretty quickly. And, if you continue to graduate or doctorate school, your debts can triple in the blink of an eye.
When you’re ready to stop deferring those payments and actually start paying down your debts, it can seem like such a daunting task. Instead of feeling lost, I want you to feel secure in your decision to get a headstart on your future. Use these budgeting tools to craft a plan that works for you so you can start living the life you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
Evaluate Your Current Income vs. Your Debts
Knowing exactly what you’re bringing home with every paycheck is the first step. Subtract taxes, add any extra income and arrive at your total. That’s all you have to work with. No one is going to just hand you money so you have to learn to live within your means.
Now, add up your debts: car payments, student loans, credit cards, etc. Start by dividing those by 12 months, 24 months, 64 months until you come to an amount that you can handle with your current income and living expenses, plus is at least equal to your minimum required payment.
If you aren’t happy with that outcome, now’s the time to start reevaluating your free-time. Do you have time for a part-time job? Can you work as a freelance writer, editor, or assistant? This is the time to start using your time wisely. You might have to miss a social event or two, but your journey to debt-free isn’t always going to be easy.
Treat Your Debts As A “Must” Not A “Could”
Once you’ve made the decision to start paying off your debts, keep the momentum, unless circumstances happen out of your control. Your debt payments are a “must pay” part of your budget. Keep that separate from your “could pay” activities, like shopping, morning coffee, movie dates, and girls’ nights out. Yes, you could totally spend money on having a good time, but only if you’ve already paid off the essentials for the month.
If you need a little incentive, start a “fun fund”. Every time you get change back from a purchase, put a little, or all of it, to the side. Turn on the round up feature in your checking account. Many accounts now let you round up to the nearest dollar every time you have a debit or credit hit your account. Any time you want to add a little more wiggle room into your budget, you’ll be able to dig into that “fun fund” for a drink at happy hour or a matinee movie date.
Cut Out Unnecessary Spending
Now, this falls into the must/could category but I thought it needed to be said on its own. To pay off your debts, you’re most likely going to need to cut out some of your wants so you can focus on your needs. Going out might have to become staying in. Eating out might have to become cooking at home. Shopping for new clothes might have to be thrifting instead of designer.
You’re going to have to put this into perspective for yourself. Your friend who is also paying off her debts, might still be able to eat out or grab drinks whenever she wants, but that’s because you have separate budgets. You can’t compare your spending to hers or anyone else’s. She could be making more money than you or just have a smaller amount to pay off. Whatever the reason, falling back into irresponsible ways just to keep up with the Jones’ is only going to hurt yourself but the Jones’ will be just fine because they focused on themselves and not you.
Create A Budget You Can Stick With Long Term
Credit Card: $150.00
Student Loans: $275.00
Your budget has to be do-able. Don’t stretch yourself too thin. You can always reevaluate if you see there’s places that need more work, but don’t start too restrictive or you may end up burning out earlier than you’d like. Keeping a budget is nothing short of hard work but it’s worth every penny when you reach your goal.