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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!

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6 responses »

  1. Liz @ Friday Night Shenanigans

    Glad to see you are finally back! Congrats on your progress and YNAB is great at providing webinars to help you learn how to use it, I started with that and learned a lot. I don’t use YNAB anymore but it is great for getting started.

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    • Yes, glad to be back! I got caught up in work and ignored this blog for too long.

      I think I just want to use YNAB to get a good sense of where my money is going and if there’s anything I could do to improve my debt repayment. I’ll have to check out the webinars. Thanks for the tip!

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  2. I’m always glad to get an email that you’ve updated. You’re actually doing pretty great — more than 25% done, yes? I know it gets harder once you’ve used your savings/sold stuff, but on the other hand, you’re also paying less interest.

    At the end of the YNAB webinars, they give away a free copy. I took all five or six of them until I won. Consider it a hot tip 🙂

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  3. It’s good to hear from you. I was wondering what you were up to. Too bad about the car loss, but I can tell you that relying on public transit isn’t sooo bad…well, depending on where you live. Yes, the good news for you is that you can be out of your pit of quick sand before you get to be my age. Don’t underestimate the power and value of time. Oh, if we could turn back the hands of time, eh?

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    • I’m honestly not crestfallen about losing the car. It was a beater and came with all the expected repair bills. Not paying for gas, insurance, or repairs means more money to plow toward my student loans.

      There definitely costs for not having a car like being perceived as a loser (my thinking: if someone judges me for that, it shows more about them than me), inability or difficulty traveling to professional events and job interviews that aren’t easily accessible by public transportation, can’t easily meet with clients, hard to get to friends’ places, etc.

      I can only “hope” to be out of debt by your age (I don’t think you’re that much older than me, are you?). Believe me – if I could turn back the hands of time, for one, I’d be a stock market millionaire, but second, I’d have NEVER gone to law school. But c’est la vie. Just need to keep my chin up and keep carrying on with my remaining dignity lol Ah yes, the glamorous life of a lawyer.

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      • Ha! Yeah, being seen as a loser because I don’t have a car. I’m so over it now. One of the reasons I chose to live where I do is because of the decent public transit system. I can use Uber /Lyft to get places less accessible. Finally I can rent a car by the hour (Zipcar) or longer if absolutely necessary. Transit options are pretty good in the here. This is one perk of living in a city. You may more transit options where you live. I agree that I don’t miss the expense of owning a car.

        You’re a young’un. I just turned the dreaded 4-0 this year. I’m positively geriatric now! Oh, don’t even get me started on what I’d do differently and what my life would look like right now.. Sigh.

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