Making more than the minimum payment on your student loans is one of the most effective ways to pay them off faster. A larger payment reduces the total amount of interest you will pay. You will need to take a hard look at your budget to reach a balance of zero more quickly.
Everyday expenses in the 21st century are often set to auto-pay. This means money is being swept away without much thought or intention. Our budgets incorporate essential expenses and lifestyle choices, both of which can be reduced or eliminated to save money and increase your student loan payments.
These tips will help you identify expenses that can be cut in each budget area.
- Cancel all streaming services. This includes Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Cable TV and similar paid video services.
- Drop newspaper and magazine subscriptions. These expenses involve small amounts of money that add up over time. Often we are so inundated with information that removing one source may ameliorate our information overload.
- Cut travel costs. Discover travel hacking. This is a way to cut the cost of your family vacation in half. Use your credit card points or websites like Scott's Cheap Flights to find a deal.
- DIY your own grooming. Men’s hair is the easiest to learn how to cut and will save anywhere from $20-$50 per month. The difference between a good and a bad hair cut is just two weeks. From nails to waxing your eyebrows, learn how to do it from home.
- Purchase clothes second hand. While a total shopping ban may be impossible with growing children or your current career, buying new clothing can be cut out entirely. Second hand stores carry the same name brands at a fraction of the price.
- Buy generic products. When it comes to shampoo, mouthwash or other personal care items try to buy generic. Costco’s Kirkland mint toothpaste and AA batteries work just as well as the name brand.
Food and Groceries
- Reduce or eliminate eating out. Dining at your favorite neighborhood restaurant is tempting, but it can quickly eat a hole in our budgets. Such luxuries should be an occasional option, not an everyday occurrence. Limit eating out, take-out and delivery to at most once a month. Better yet, eliminate it entirely.
- Avoid specialty stores. Minute Marts and specialty grocery stores like Natural Grocers are convenient, but the prices are high.
- Buy in bulk. When possible buy in bulk at Costco, Sam’s Club or WinCo Foods on items you use frequently.
- Plan your meals. Planning out your meals can reduce your grocery spending by reducing waste. About a quarter of food purchases are thrown out. This also means bringing your own lunch to work, which can save even more. Try an app like Mealime to get started.
- Use alternative transportation. Ride your bike, take public transportation, or carpool to save money on gas and prolong the life of your vehicle.
- Downgrade your car. Sell your car and buy a used one with cash, to avoid auto loans and leases. All you really need is a vehicle that gets you from point A to point B without much fuss. A lower-cost car will save you a lot of money.
- Bundle policies to save. Bundle your auto and home insurance to get a better rate. Be sure to shop around and compare prices to get the best deal.
- Pay by mile. If you opt for alternative transportation most of the time, consider switching your car insurance to a ‘pay by the mile plan’ like Metro Mile.
- Reduce energy consumption and save with minor changes. Replace your light bulbs with LED. Lower the temperature on your hot water heater. Install low flow shower heads. Use a setback thermostat to cut heating and cooling costs. These are not only sustainable, but will also save you money.
- Unplug electronics when not in use. Known as vampire draw, items plugged in and not in use still draw power and money.
- Adjust your phone plan. Change your cell phone carrier or ask friends and family to join your plan to make the lines cheaper. Get your employer to pay for your cell phone service.
- Move to a less expensive area. Geoarbitrage may seem extreme, but has worked for many people to tackle their student loan debt in large chunks. Consider moving to an area lower in taxes with a low cost of living.
- Downsize your home. If you own a home that is too large or have a mortgage that is keeping you cash poor, consider selling. Renting an apartment or buying a smaller home may be a cheaper option.
- Split the rent with a roommate. Becoming a landlord presents new headaches, but getting a tenant to cover all or part of the mortgage can provide financial relief.
- Get rid of stuff you don’t really need. Sell old belongings on eBay and Craigslist. Anything you haven’t used in a year or more should be fair game.
- Get organized. Organizing your closets, bookshelves and desk may help you find lost treasures. This will help you avoid the need to buy a new stapler because you can’t find your old one.
Expenses Not Worth Cutting
Regardless of where you may be with your debt pay off plan, there are some things you should not cut from your budget. These include:
- Emergency Fund Savings
- Retirement (minimum contributions)
- Health and Healthcare
While paying off debt is important, making sure you are safe, supported and healthy is also essential to your security.
As you cut back on expenses, you may notice a shift in perspective. Looking at the ways you use money can present a new perspective on what brings value to your life and what does not. Eliminating debts will free up your money, your time and your worries.
Consider alternatives for what you may cut. Canceling Netflix does not have to be the end of the world. Head down to your local library instead and see what they have to offer. (Hint: it is much more than books.)
Just as your budget needs to move with your life, so your life needs balance. Cut what you can. Reduce your expenses in ways that make sense for you and your family as you work to pay off student loan debt.