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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!