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Tracking my expenses and income

In order to expedite the painful process of paying my law school loans, I decided it’d be a smart idea to keep a watchful eye on my income and expenses. After all, once you get past the rah-rah YouCanDoIt self-help talk, personal finance guides seem to boil down to (a) reduce your expenses; and (b) increase your income. Obviously, option (b) is much harder and more elusive but (a) is within everyone’s grasp.

The first step to reducing expenses is figuring out where the hell all my money is going. So, I went through my bank and credit card statements for February and got to the bottom of it. Here’s what I found:

Public Transportation $185.00
Gym $63.00
Kindle Unlimited $9.99
Beer $31.26
Entertainment $12.99
Gas $22.09
Food $30.91
Work-related $16.12
Parking $4.00
Restaurant $45.00
Cell phone $32.00
Uber/Lyft $16.00
Life & Disability Insurance $54.00
Student Loans $3,202.30
Google Drive $1.99
TOTAL: $3,726.65

I take the train to work every day, so that’s the transportation cost. Regarding Kindle Unlimited, I’ve since canceled this subscription. I have more than enough to read. The restaurant expense is an eye-popping $45. I would never spend this much, but a good friend unexpectedly came through town last month and insisted we meet at a restaurant. In general, I try to avoid restaurants like the plague since they’re money traps.

The gym expense is high. I’m a member of two gyms – one near home and one near work. The huge hours required of me at work recently has translated to a very sporadic attendance at the gym near work. I’m considering dropping the gym near work, which would save $45/month.

The beer expense: what can I say? I’ve got in the bad habit of wanting a couple beers when I get home from work to ease the tension and stress. After work, I’m often miserable and don’t get home until 10:30 or 11pm and beer helps take the edge off. I’m fully cognizant this isn’t a good habit and could lead down a very negative path, but it is what is it. I’m trying to make this blog about unvarnished honesty. Looking at the numbers now, $31.26 just seems like too much to spend on beer every month. That’s more than $375 a year! Granted, I enjoy it, but I don’t have the money to spare.

Even the entertainment cost of $12.99 just seems frivolous and childish. I think I bought a Kindle book for $4.99 and I also bought a couple episodes of Louis CK’s new show Horace and Pete (which was great, but I can’t justify the needless expense).

The work-related expense was some copying I had to do at the court. The court charges the unbelievable fee of $0.50 a page for the difficult service of photocopying. It’s a total racket, but the court in question has a monopoly, and hence pricing power, on copying case documents.

Uber and Lyft are premium services, which I would normally avoid, but I had a couple emergencies where I needed to dash off to court and it was either use those services or hail a cab, which would have been more time consuming and expensive. I will still aim to plan my schedule in such a manner that I won’t have to use these expensive services.

Obviously, student loans are the big, honking expense – 85.9% of my income. Yikes. My after-tax income in February was $3,911, so I only was able to save $184.35 after expenses.

Now that my 20s are behind me, I find myself contemplating issues that I seldom thought about before: retirement, savings, middle age, old age, etc. I look around and I see middle-aged and older adults seriously struggling with finances, with living situations, and just having trouble handling life. Becoming a well-adjusted, comfortable adult is not inevitable or even likely for most. Maybe it was my misplaced entitlement or young adult delusion, but I never considered that I would possibly be a middle-aged adult who would worry about food, housing, and relationships. I thought my strong academic performance would somehow protect me from the essential roughness and brutality of survival. But here I stand, foot firmly planted in my 30s, not an intimate relationship in sight, broke as broke can be, middling career accomplishments, don’t own a car, and living at home. Reality is a stark contrast to my early-20s vision of my future.

Perhaps all of this is just part of the process of finding your place in life. I’m not quite the genius my deluded teenage self thought I was. I’m not Elon Musk, Aaron Sorkin, or Thomas Edison. I am meant for the work-a-day life, to struggle, scrimp, and save, and not to ruminate on and solve the large and complex and not to create the remarkable or the beautiful. It could be that my struggles are part of coming to terms with being the grunt worker, the working Joe who you never read about in the news. Someone needs to figure out how many days you have (including weekends and federal holidays!) to file a cross claim. Someone needs to read the manual for the new legal practice management software.

My 30s have been nothing if not a coming to terms and a waking up to cold reality. Coming to terms with my faults and shortcomings. Coming to terms with my tendency to daydream, to have utterly misguided delusions of grandeur. Coming to terms with my struggles with concentration, with discipline, with motivation, with direction, with organization and planning, and just plain laziness. My gut screams at me when I have to scrutinize dull and turgid legal documents. I want to jump out of my office window when I receive discovery responses. A good friend told me recently that “you are where you’re supposed to be.” There’s a nugget of truth there. I am where I am – living with my folks in my early 30s, living with a tremendous amount of financial strain and scant professional success – because I have failed to fully confront, address, and rectify my shortcomings.

This has all been a bit of a tangent, but what are blogs for if they’re not for meandering tangents. This isn’t an annual shareholder’s report. This is a record of my journey back from the brink and back to solvency. Sadly, my story isn’t unique or all that shocking. My finances and life situation are pretty emblematic of a whole generation. From my perspective, student loans  and poor career options are why Millennials aren’t getting married, buying homes or cars, or starting businesses at the same clip as previous generations. I also think debt and wage issues are the fundamental driving force behind the rise of populist political candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. People are barely scraping by and they see the head honchos at institutions that benefit from debt, taxes, and low wages – fat and happy federal government muckity mucks, Wall Street masters of the universe, sanctimonious and overpaid nonprofit and education professionals, C-level think tank and interest group pros, banking industry execs, and the like – just cleaning up and it makes them sick. The pitchforks are out and the populace wants someone to pay.

I don’t place the blame for my horrifying financial situation on anyone other than myself, but I can see how so many people are so enraged at current trends in our society. In any case, tangent over.

My law school loans are below $134,000

Work has kept me extremely busy lately, but I wanted to check in with a law school debt update:

Principal Accrued Interest Interest Rate Total
$19,481.96 $13.95 6.55% $19,495.91
$29,536.70 $24.70 7.65% $29,561.40
$20,969.12 $15.02 6.55% $20,984.14
$21,293.14 $14.66 6.30% $21,307.80
$42,298.29 $18.76 8.00% $42,317.05
TOTAL: $133,666.30

As you can see, I’ve managed to reduce the total since my last update. Of course, this has come at the expense of anything resembling a personal life. I take every paycheck I get and immediately submit it to the student loan debt gods.

But looking at things from a broader perspective, I’m glad that I’m making progress. It’s somewhat distressing and terrifying that I will have no savings and no financial security when I’m in my mid-30s, but it’s still better than having student loan debt. If only I could talk to my 22-year-old self about how student loan debt would destroy my life. This entire process has been an extremely difficult lesson.

Beyond the student debt, I’ve been confronted with another pressing issue: I find legal practice deeply unsatisfying. I seriously don’t understand how people can dedicate their lives to litigation. There must be a part of my brain missing, but I know that this is not the life for me. There’s just nothing satisfying or rewarding about it and it holds nothing for me. So, with all of my money going to student loan payments, I’ve decided to think carefully and deeply about my future.

I need to forge a new path – one that’s aligned with my interests, skills, and abilities rather than a path forged merely for the purpose of acquiring money. If I’m being honest with myself (something I’m getting better at), I went to law school because I was deeply insecure and wanted to prove myself to others. I thought law school was a solid bet that would ensure an upper middle class lifestyle, respectability, and intellectual challenge and stimulation. How wrong I was.

I’ve reached the point of professional and financial misery where I truly do not care what others think and I want to pursue a career that better suits my personality and skills. I think it’s almost impossible to excel at a pursuit unless you find some intrinsic motivation or meaning in it. And for me, I find the law and legal practice utterly devoid of meaning or motivation. You’re probably wondering why I went to law school. I wonder the same thing. I think it’s because I didn’t truly understand what I was getting into. I thought being a lawyer was more of an office job, where you dealt with important business filings, provided advice, etc. I thought it was more civilized and less tedious than I’ve found it. I was 22 when I seriously considered law school. I took the LSAT and did well and kind of got swept up from there. I had a “useless” B.A. and thought I needed more. I thought a law degree would impress my parents and other adults. I thought it would impress employers (even non-legal employers) and thought it would open all kinds of professional doors. I was also just naive, short-sighted, and more than a little bit foolish.

I didn’t really know what lawyers do for a living. I liked reading, writing, and research and thought a legal career offered me the best chance at using those skills productively and profitably. I felt like an alien after my first month of law school. I immediately felt like my classmates had different priorities and different personalities than me. I should have left then and there, but a mix of shame, pride, insecurity, and drifting kept me enrolled. And so here I am and I have a seriously mixed up life because of my lack of foresight and lack of appreciation for who I am. I’ve made a serious mess of my life, but if I can get on the right track by my late-30s, maybe things will turn out okay. Maybe.

Yes, I need to feed myself and put food on the table and that will most likely necessitate doing tasks that I find tedious and really don’t want to do. But I don’t believe my entire life should be consumed with tedium and misery, which is my gut reaction to legal practice. I don’t want to be miserable.

This is a rambling post and it’s evident from my recorded thoughts that I am only in the beginning stages of constructing a plan for the future. But I figured I would share them on this blog since this is supposed to act as a record for my escape from student loan hell.

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and you are all making tremendous progress on your student loans. Here’s to a happy, healthy, and productive 2016!

Fun While Paying Down Debt: the Harvard Classics

Here’s the situation: I have a lot of student loan debt, but I also have the same need for leisure and entertainment as debt-free humans. Accordingly, I want to spend my non-work time doing things that don’t cost money so I can put more of my paycheck toward student loans. Cue the Harvard Classics. The Harvard Classics is a 51-volume anthology of classic books from world literature first published in 1909.

The Harvard Classics are also known as Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf because Harvard President Charles Eliot believed a five-foot shelf of books could provide “a good substitute for a liberal education in youth to anyone who would read them with devotion, even if he could spare but fifteen minutes a day for reading.” I’m not much of a youth these days, but my education has plenty of gaps that the Classics could help fill.  The Five Foot Shelf was selected as a record of the “progress of man” from the earliest recorded periods to the close of the 19th century and was intended to serve as a time capsule from that era just about to end. He intended the books to serve as a portable university and not just a selection of the greatest books ever written (a role that the Great Books of the Western World later came to serve).

Dr. Eliot, who was T.S. Eliot’s cousin, served as president of Harvard for 40 years, but the Harvard Classics were not deeply affiliated with the institution. According to a 2001 article from the Harvard Magazine, the publisher P.F. Collier approached Dr. Eliot with a proposal to select the books that would constitute the “five foot shelf” he mentioned in his speech (which was given to a blue collar audience). Dr. Eliot was well-known at the time and a debate ensued over which works were selected for inclusion or excluded from the Classics. As unlikely as it sounds today, this debate generated letters to newspaper editors and articles in publications across the country.

All of this sounds pretty interesting, but best of all, I can read these works for FREE! No student loans. An extraordinary collection of literature and knowledge for no additional debt. So, in short, this blog (in addition to documenting my slow climb out of debt) will catalog my attempt at reading the Harvard Classics and document my thoughts on the contents.

Perhaps it was ignorance that lead me into student debt and I can cure my foolish naivety through a steady course of robust reading of the classics. Maybe nothing will come of it other than some enjoyable reading. In any case, stay tuned for future updates. If anyone has other suggestions for frugal, free, and enjoyable activities that spur personal growth, I’m all ears.

Hope everyone had a fun and frugal weekend. Onward and upward.

Tips for plowing more of your paycheck into your student loans

I have managed to reduce my spending pretty drastically and I thought I would share some of the frugality strategies that work for me.

Keep a personal spending ledger

Keep a personal spending journal. I write down every expense in a notebook that I carry around with me. I don’t use an app or punch it into a Google Sheet on my phone. I believe the act of physically taking out a pen and recording the expense on actual paper embeds the reality of expenses in my mind. Every time I’m thinking about spending money, an image flashes in my head of writing the expense down in my notebook. It creates personal accountability.

With personal finance, things have become so abstracted with credit cards, Paypal and Stripe, online bills, etc. that it’s easy to conceive of money as nothing more than data. If you’re spending money by swiping a piece of plastic or clicking a few buttons, it almost doesn’t seem real. This is the same psychological phenomenon that casinos take advantage of when you use chips rather than currency to gamble. Losing $100 in chips doesn’t seem real, but if you had 100 one-dollar bills stacked on the blackjack table, you’d be furious about losing it.

Keeping a personal spending ledger reconnects me with my spending. If I know I have to write down the expenditure, it makes me think longer about a purchase (“Do I really need to pay the inflated price for a pack of gum at the gas station when I can wait and get it for 30% of the price at Walmart?”). It’s these little things that have an enormous cumulative effect on your life.

I keep a reporter’s notebook Moleskin (which, by the way, I would never buy now due to being overpriced. Moleskins are not worth the price, but I happened to have one laying around from my earlier, more profligate days) in my bag and I record my commuting expenses, food costs, and any other daily outflows.

Keeping a personal spending journal has made me want to learn more about accounting. The exercise of keeping a spending journal made me understand the challenge of categorizing costs (e.g., how to record a car insurance payment when you know you’re getting a refund, how to record tax-deductible commuting expenses). One of my personal projects over the next several months is getting a handle on accounting and bookkeeping methods. This seems like an essential life skill that everyone should know and one that will serve me well for the rest of my life.

Don’t go out to restaurants or bars

I have a friend who always wants to meet at a restaurant or bars – usually overpriced, hipster places full of unfriendly people. I don’t want to spend $9 on an unsatisfying beer. I told him that I’m trying to save money and if he wants to hang out somewhere else, that’s fine but I’m not going out to a restaurant or bar. He didn’t text back and if that’s the end of the friendship, so be it. If a friendship depends on spending money, then there’s not much of a foundation for an association and frankly, I’ve had quite enough of people who don’t bring value to my life.

This is all to say that I’ve pretty much stopped going to restaurants and bars. This small (some might not call it small) behavior change has lead to a pretty dramatic decrease in spending habits. You really have to be utterly ruthless about spending. I’ve got into the habit of reviewing my checking account daily and making sure nothing is falling through cracks.

Don’t buy snacks and drinks at Walgreens/CVS/Rite Aid

I had a bad habit of buying gum, nuts, energy drinks, and other various items at these chain pharmacy stores. But they’re all really a rip-off at these places. The pharmacy stores have better prices than 7-Eleven, but they’re still very overpriced. You’re better off getting these items at Walmart, Costco, Target, or another discount big box store. The chain pharmacy stores – CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, etc. – usually have higher prices than the big box stores. Avoid.

Get a weekend job

In my case, I’ve signed up for two weekend jobs. I’m going to deliver vegetables for a local startup for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The pay isn’t great, but it will force me to get up early on the weekend and also every little bit helps in the battle against law school loans.

On Saturday and Sunday evenings, I have signed up to man the front desk for a condo building. The time commitment is significant (16 hours per weekend) and the pay is less than $14 an hour. You might think it’s crazy, but here’s the thing: I can study programming while I do this job. If all goes according to plan, I can get paid while learning skills that will improve my earnings. Yes, I won’t have a social life, but I didn’t have much of one in any case, so I’m not concerned about that. I’m 31 and my bar and party days are behind me. I’d rather build a foundation for a prosperous future than waste time in a bar or restaurant.

Even though these jobs don’t pay much, I think they’ll help me in more ways than merely generating income. It gets me in the “hustle” mindset to work like this on the weekends. Also, the front desk job will force me to stay in one place and study for hours every single weekend. It also gives me a good excuse for why I can’t “hang out” with people. For some reason, people have a hard time accepting that you’re studying and can’t hang out if you’re not in school, but won’t protest if you have a job to go to.

I’ve also generated a couple one-off technology gigs that will put a few hundred more toward the loans. These are things like making alterations to a WordPress site and providing some search optimization services for a local business. Unlike legal services, I’ve found that it’s pretty easy to get clients for technology services because there’s a real market demand. People don’t need lawyers very often, but plenty of people have technology challenges.

I’m in the earning mindset. If my job won’t pay me enough to make an impact on my loans, I have to take matters into my own hands. Since my law degree has had an awful return on investment (negative amortization!), I need to get creative and work my butt off. I’ve seen too many people who’re broke and desperate in their 40s (and, sadly, beyond) and I will do anything in my power to prevent that from happening.

Use the library and free learning resources

The government wastes vast sums of money and overpays its employees, but it does one thing right: libraries! Libraries don’t cost any more than the taxes you’re already forced to pay, so you might as well make use of this awesome resource.

I used to think libraries only had outdated books and other materials. Wrong. Most libraries have digital lending programs where you can find new releases in ebook and audiobook formats. You download the library app on your phone and you can instantly borrow books. It’s great. The app for my library is really easy to use and it’s not a hassle. I was using Audible and Downpour for audiobooks (I like to listen to audiobooks when running or working out), but the library has more than enough for me to listen to and it’s free. Needless to say, I canceled my Audible and Downpour subscriptions.

For free learning resources, I’ve found the Internet Archive and the Gutenberg Project to be full of fantastic books and educational materials. Want to learn about accounting, business, history, or pretty much anything else short of a new technology subject (there are PLENTY of free resources for those as well)? Definitely check out those websites. You could literally spend the rest of your life digesting the valuable information on those sites and it wouldn’t cost you a penny.

I was extremely despondent after finishing law school with huge debt and no job. For a while, I neglected the development of my intellect, which only worsened the decreased sense of agency that I had about my life. But I’ve begun using the Internet Archive and the Gutenberg Project and I’ve begun to enjoy learning once more. It’s satisfying, rewarding, engenders a sense of self-respect and self-reliance, and costs nothing. I can’t recommend self-education enough.

Loan status

I made a $1,500 payment toward my loans in the last couple weeks and hope to make a few more large payments in September. I’ll post numbers soon, but I wanted to check in and share some strategies and approaches that are working for me.

I’m still alive and, alas, so is my law school debt

Ohhhh IIIIII errrrr III’mmmm still al-i-i-i-i-i-ve. Ohhhh IIIII ohhhhhh I’m still alive. That’s my Eddie Vedder impression. The textual form does it no justice. For those unfamiliar with the (rather turgid in my opinion) Pearl Jam song that mysteriously continues to clog up the airwaves of America’s ad-supported terrestrial radio:

So yes, I’m still alive. I’m still throwing most of my paychecks at my law school debt. I’m still getting paid in the $50,000 range. But my debt to income ratio has creeped slightly below 3:1, which is a positive trend. Here’s my latest Debt Damage(tm) report:

Principal Accrued Interest Interest Rate Total
$21,520.64 $7.72 6.55% $21,528.36
$33,972.59 $14.24 7.65% $33,986.83
$22,801.66 $8.19 6.55% $22,809.85
$42,298.29 $18.76 8.00% $42,317.05
$15,665.01 $5.48 6.30% $15,670.49
$8,519.06 $2.98 6.30% $8,522.04
$144,777.25 $57.37 TOTAL: $144,834.62

So, things have improved a bit, albeit slowly but surely (emphasis on the former).

My car recently decided to up and die on me, so I’ll begin using purely public transportation to get to work, which should help reduce expenses. It cost me $5 per day (translation: $100 a month) to park my old beater at the train station. Unfortunately, it decided to kick the bucket immediately after I forked over $580 for a repair bill. Oh. Well. I think I’ll be better in the long run without having to pay for gas and the maintenance expenses that pile up for old cars.

I’ve been trying to keep a close eye on my expenses and do what I can to eliminate any needless costs. I’ve taken to carrying a notebook around with me and recording each and every expense. Eccentric? Yes. But effective? Unquestionably. Just this small little act of recording my expenses has made me aware and conscious of every dollar leaving my pocket. I no longer spend mindlessly (not that I was a profligate spender previously) and I’ve begun to exercise more self-discipline and restraint when pondering whether to make a purchase. I don’t think I’ve visited Starbucks once since keeping a track of my expenses.

I also sold on eBay all the old electronics and devices I had laying around that I never use. I really didn’t need the old laptop, old printer, etc. that were just taking up space. Of course, I took the proceeds (minus the outrageous eBay listing fees) and applied them toward my student loans.

I’ve been trying to learn some computer skills that I’m hoping will enable me to earn some side income. It can get exhausting to study databases after working at a law firm all day, but I console myself with the thought of being debt free in my late 30s. Having a vision and an end goal makes the present so much more tolerable. I sometimes have an internal debate that I could just earn money by doing manual labor or retail for $10-15/hour rather than spend time studying computer topics, but I justify the time investment of studying with the thought that the tech skills will be more useful in the long run and that the pay rate for technology gigs will be high enough to justify the forgone income of more menial tasks. There’s probably an economics concept like sunk cost fallacy that describes this thought process (and no, this isn’t pure opportunity cost – at least I don’t believe it is), but unfortunately, I’m much too ignorant in the ways of economics (but I’ve still come a long way from the 23-year-old me who thought paying full freight for a law degree was a smart plan!).

I’ve read a lot of financial planning and debt pay-off advice, books, blogs, etc. but I think it always comes down to the simple concept of spend less and earn more. It’s like exercise (calories in, calories out). Going forward, I’m going to try to eliminate the little indulgences that I engaged in from time time, such as picking up a 6-pack on the weekends, buying beef jerky, renting movies on Amazon Prime, needlessly going to restaurants, buying books that I could get from the library, paying full price for clothes without carefully planning purchases, and buying snacks from overpriced places like 7-Eleven or Walgreen’s. I’m already living a fairly spartan existence, but there is always excess financial fat that could sliced away.

I’ve got a copy of You Need a Budget (YNAB), which I’ve heard is excellent for budgeting and tracking expenses. I bought it a few years ago when it was on sale, but I think I’m going to finally learn how to use it to aid in my cost cutting mission.

Hope everyone out there in DebtLand is kicking butt and pissing off lenders by paying off their loans quickly. If you have huge student loans but a decidedly average salary, I feel your pain. Keep on trucking!

Whittled my law school debt down to $147k

Howdy, I will not receive the award for world’s most consistent blogger, but you already knew that if you’ve kept up with my sparse posting habits. In any case, I thought I’d check in and let you guys know how I’m doing.

Here’s the latest damage:

Principal Accrued Interest Interest Rate Total Interest Per Day
$21,672.54 $98.60 6.55% $21,771.14 $4.58
$34,412.11 $210.12 7.65% $34,622.23 $8.49
$22,976.11 $109.59 6.55% $23,085.70 $4.85
$0.00 $0.00 8.25% 0 0
$42,932.49 $274.07 8.00% $43,206.56 $11.08
$8,543.60 $29.04 6.30% $8,572.64 $1.74
$15,688.64 $78.96 6.30% $15,767.60 $3.19
$800.38 TOTAL: $147,025.87 $33.93

Thanks to my tax refund, I’ve scheduled a nice, fat $1,500 payment toward these loans next week. So, I’m making some progress, albeit not to the level I’d like but I’m moving in the right direction.

I dealt with a bit of drama regarding my Income-Based Repayment (IBR) application earlier this year. The re-certification process for IBR seems meaningless to me. If one’s circumstances haven’t changed, why should I have to waste my time to send in paperwork? I hate paperwork (yet another reason it was a bad idea for me to choose law school, but that’s another story).

kccd8 (1)In any case, my IBR certification got canceled even though I sent in my re-certification two weeks before it was scheduled to expire. It took my loan servicer more than three weeks to “process” my paperwork. I’m not sure what processing entails, but it certainly doesn’t take three weeks to glance at my pay stub and immediately realize my circumstances have not materially changed from the prior year. So moral of the story here: send in your IBR re-certification months before the deadline set by the models of efficiency at your loan servicer. Don’t say you never learn anything by reading my blog!

In terms of reducing avoidable expenses, I’ve become very good at packing my lunch. This is a huge money saver. In a large metro area, lunch can easily run you $12-15 each day, which adds up to $240-300 every month! I’ve shifted my perspective a bit on expenses though. My current attitude is that I will avoid any and all expenses that are pointless and don’t positively contribute to my life. However, I’ve become okay with spending on items that contribute to my physical and mental health. There’s a gym in my work building. I resisted joining it because it cost $45 per month. Instead, I joined a cheaper gym closer to home, but I found I was often missing the gym because I couldn’t make it there in the morning. With the new gym, it’s much easier to go every day and I’ve rarely missed a workout since going, which has contributed positively to my physical and mental health (seriously – it’s huge).

So, I think with things like lunch, where it doesn’t really contribute much to your life if you eat out or pack it at home, I will avoid these expenses at all costs and do all I can to minimize them. But with something like a gym in my work building, where there’s no adequate substitute good (to draw upon my mediocre economics knowledge), I will pay for this as long as the price is reasonable. I haven’t completely solidified my thinking on this and I will track my loan progress to see if this is the right long-term strategy, but that’s where I’m at right now.

So there you have it. I’m down to $147k. I’m spending lavishly on totally optional gym memberships. I’m still striving to improve my career and pay down my debt. I still worry that I’ll live the rest of my life single and never own a home due to my disastrous financial and career condition. But somehow, I’ve managed to stay calm about things (I’ve been experimenting with meditation over the last few months and it’s helped).

Forging ahead in 2015

Hello, my fellow debt slaves. Contrary to extensive and prominent media reports, I am still very much alive and still very much in debt. It was difficult to maintain my thrifty habits during the holidays and New Year and I’ve fallen into the ridiculously wasteful habit of buying my lunch. I have resolved to return to my monkish habits in February. The H.M.S. Mr. LawSchoolDebt has already sprung enough fiscal leaks over the year and I can’t tolerate further punctures to my checking account if I am to avoid a Titanic-esque situation.

Without further adieu, here is where the law school damage stands:

Principal Accrued Interest Interest Rate Total
$21,907.62 $78.63 6.55% $21,986.25
$35,442.37 $236.03 7.65% $35,678.40
$23,204.23 $83.28 6.55% $23,287.51
$43,843.44 $192.19 8.00% $44,035.63
$24,241.18 $83.68 6.30% $24,324.86
TOTAL: $149,312.65

killingmeIn other words, I’ve made almost no progress on my debt over the last couple months. Even though I’ve made several not-insignificant payments over the last 60 days, the interest rate is KILLING me! I’m in the beginning stages of examining some refinance options. The 8% and 7.65% interest rates on a couple of my loans are criminally usurious in my biased opinion.

I’m concerned that if I leave the government repayment programs, I won’t have the protection of IBR, which establishes a very low base monthly payment – a feature that would come in handy were I to get canned at work. I’m not concerned that would happen, but you never know and I’ve experienced extended periods of questionable employment after law school, so I feel that it’s prudent to prepare for worst case scenarios. Law school and my post-law school experience has absolutely bashed the naive optimism (some might say delusions of grandeur) I previously had as a late 20-something.

I got a little bump in pay at work, but I’m still making in the $50,000 range, which needless to say, is nowhere near enough to pay off my law school loans. People hear law grads complain about $40-60k salary ranges, which probably sounds ridiculous to the average person, but when you take into account huge law school loans, these salaries really aren’t enough to pay rent, food, car payments, and God forbid, live a life in most American cities.

I’m still exploring other employment options, but I don’t want to jump into something new without having a thorough understanding of a career and its opportunities. I did that once with law and I don’t plan on making the same mistake again.

In January, I addressed a couple small money issues that can add up by canceling my LinkedIn premium account and downgrading my gym membership. I’ve also stopped my bad habit of buying books on impulse.

So there you have it, folks. I promise to update more often going forward. I hope everyone else in Debt Land has been staying the course and doing their best to hack away at their personal debt monster. Here’s to a fiscally responsible 2015!

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