Author Topic: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)  (Read 2898 times)

Wayward

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Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« on: January 10, 2018, 05:30:23 PM »
Happy New Year All,
 
I started tracking my spending in January 2017, after reading Your Money or Your Life, and boy was it a wakeup call.  After finding MMM, ERE, JLCollins, and other blogs I made some serious changes, but still feel stuck so Iím hoping for some advice and motivation from the Forum.
 
About me: 33-year-old single female, childfree, no pets living in a HCOL area in the Northeast, USA with a roommate.  I have a BS in Environmental Science and am currently employed full-time in public service (read: low pay) as an Environmental Scientist since May 2015 and have been increasingly miserable at my job.  There is great healthcare and a pension (vested after 10 years), but there is no matching to the 457, no increases in pay (no, not even COL thanks to last Governor), and promotions are non-existent.  At first my plan was to use the PSLF program to have my loans forgiven after 10 years (120 monthly payments), however I really want to relocate to a LCOL area with lower taxes, better quality of life and (hopefully) a better paying job.
 
Gross Annual Salary: $47,107.06         
Gross per check: $1,811.81                 Pay is bi-weekly, 26 pay periods per year
Federal income tax: $188.00
FICA: $32.40
Medicare: $25.37
Pension *: $132.99
Unemployment Ins*: $7.70                     < I think this has a cap as I only paid $142.38 in 2017
Temp Disability Ins*: $3.44                     < I think this has a cap as I only paid $80.40 in 2017
Pre-Tax Dental: $4.94
Pre-Tax Health: $57.10
Family Leave Ins*: $1.63
ROTH 457 (1%)*: $16.78                   < This is the lowest contribution I can make, since I already opened it
Union dues*: $20.90
Total Deductions: $599.74
Net Per Paycheck: $1,212.07
Net Annual (x26): $31,513.82

                       
*I cannot get rid of any of these deductions BUT I will be able to rollover the ROTH 457 and all that Iíve put into the pension (about $8,500 currently, since Iím not vested) upon termination of employment!  This is the only hope holding me together right now, as Iím literally in tears every time I see my paycheck.
 
Side jobs: About $3,000 net in 2017 from working as a horseback riding instructor/trainer. This job is over for winter 2018, but I will be looking for more paid opportunities as this is mainly how I get to pursue my passion for riding and horses.  I work at another barn in exchange for lessons/riding time.  I tried driving for Uber/Lyft (it wasnít worth it)   
 
As of January 2017:
Debts (rounded)
Student loan (5%): $47,000                 < Min $182.06 (income based repayment). Consolidated for PSLF : (
Auto loan (1.9%): $22,000                   < Yes, facepunch (sold in July 2017, balance paid off by dealer, valuable lesson learned)
Credit cards (17-21%): $6,000             < Balance transfer 0% in January 2017, the balance is now paid off as of December 2017!)
Total debts: $75,000                         < The wakeup call
 
As of January 2018:
Debts
Student loan (5%): $37,511                 < Min now $503 (without IBR). Denied refi by SoFi and Earnest due to high debt, low income
Balance transfer (0%): $4,500              < 0% until November 2018. This is from buying a used 2007 Pontiac Vibe when I sold the financed car as I did not have enough savings
Costco Citi (0%): $1,200                      < 0% until March 2018, all credit cards will be paid in full forevermore
Total debts: $43,211                         < Still an emergency
 
Assets
ROTH 457: $4,790                              < About 85% stocks, 15% bonds or other
Ally Savings (1.25%): $1,156              < Emergency fund
NetSpend (5%): $1,000                      < Experiment
Pension payout: $8,500                       < Not sure if I should count this
Total assets: $15,446
 
Net Worth: -$27,765
 
2017 Expenses totaled $22,664. Please keep in mind my expenses were high the first half of 2017 Ė my ex was very spendy and I stupidly experienced lifestyle inflation.  For the last several months I cut my expenses to the bone (Sept-Dec averaged $1,400 per month, not including debt) and have been aggressively paying off debt, therefore saving very little.  Reading other case studies here there was a poster who said something along the lines of ďdo you want to be a debt free worker bee or financially free living off a fat stack of investments?Ē to the OP.  Since I certainly desire the latter, it made me think Iíve made a mistake, hence this post for help!
 
*Sept-Dec Average Expenses  (Down from $2,000-$2,300 per month from Jan-Aug)
Rent: $600                                  < Includes internet, Netflix, and all utilities) with awesome roommate
Phone: $48                                  < Stuck with T-mobile, got phone for free from ex but itís locked and I canít unlock it
Household products: $20               < Paper towels, toilet paper, dish soap, etc.
Gas: $80                                      < The barn is 1 hr each way
Car insurance: $65                       < Progressive, paid in full every 6 months
Car maintenance: $300                   < Used car was having starting issues, this should be lower in 2018      
Food, incl restaurants: $250            < Working on lowering this further
Doctor: $15                                < Chiropractor, as needed
Personal care: $10                      < Toothpaste, skincare
Clothing: $10
Total per month: $1,398
 
2018 Budget (maximum $15,000 planned, will require more cutting)
Costco: $120                 < Renew in July
Laptop: $700                 < Laptop is 6 years old, hoping it will last the rest of this year at least
Phone: $350-600?          < I would like to switch to Project Fi, but would need a new phone. Suggestions?

 
$31,513.82 (2018 net pay) - $15,000 (2018 expected expenses, not including debt) = $16,513.82 (left for debt/savings) + any additional income from side hustles
 
My ultimate goal is to reach FIRE, live and work/volunteer (Workaway, WWOOF, horse riding holidays, etc.) in different countries.  Iím very interested in geoarbitrage and have considered switching careers, perhaps to teaching abroad (would need TEFL or teacher certification).  I feel stuck in analysis paralysis with making a solid attack plan for paying off debt and saving for FIRE.
 
*Iím not sure of an exact FIRE amount yet, much of what I want to do abroad will likely have room and board included or cheap (perhaps a $150-250k stash?)
*When the student loans get down to about $30,000-$32,000 or my income increases I will try to refi again. 
*Iím most interested in relocating to Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, or basically anywhere in the western USA, but I'm searching everywhere.  Any suggestions for LCOL areas would be appreciated!

Specific Questions:
*Would it be optimal to take the balance transfer payment ($409 minimum needed to pay in full by Nov 2018) and pay the allowed min ($69) while putting the remainder ($340) into a Netspend/Insight saving account (5% interest) to collect interest until payoff date?
*Should I re-certify my income to get a lower monthly payment for the student loans, even though I have been paying more than $503 per month?
*Should I throw as much extra money as possible at the student loans OR should I add to investments (such as a Vanguard ROTH IRA or NetSpend/Insight account)?
*When I find new employment would it be optimal to max out a Traditional 401k, instead of just to matching (if any) as my rate is 5% on the student loan per the investment order post?
 
Sorry for the length of this post, thank you for reading!  Donít be afraid to be tough, I wonít get offended or defensive by any suggestions.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2018, 07:12:51 AM by Wayward »
Play a game to pay of student debt with Givling, sign up with code RW411953!

Sign up for a 5% interest savings account with NetSpend here: http://www.mynetspendcard.com code 3230468760
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former player

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #1 on: January 10, 2018, 06:29:52 PM »
Congratulations on paying down so much of that hair on fire debt in the last year - it is very impressive progress.  Your expenses budget looks pretty badass too.

I don't have the knowledge to answer your specific questions, sorry.  I just couldn't resist sending a little encouragement your way for what you have achieved already.
Be frugal and industrious, and you will be free (Ben Franklin)

Peony

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2018, 07:33:32 PM »
It looks to me like you're doing an excellent job getting things in order.

I've bought a couple of used unlocked smartphones and a tablet on a website called Swappa. It's like eBay for electronics. My experience was good.

Hirondelle

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2018, 04:17:36 AM »
You've been doing a great job for the past few months. Congratulations on paying off that much dept in such a short time. It looks like you can be dept free in just a few years.

I can't really help you with the pension specific questions as I'm not US-based, but I do like your FIRE plans of volunteering your way around the world with just a small stash (similar to my own dreams!). As you mentioned TEFL/ESL teaching; did you consider getting a certification and trying out online teaching? There's some cheap/affordable certifications you can get online and I've seen VIPkids recommended for online teaching on here several time. Could also serve you as a side hustle income to pay down your dept even faster.

happy

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2018, 04:43:32 AM »
The principle is to always pay the highest paying debt off first, and don't invest unless you can get a higher interest rate. Paying off the debt is a guaranteed reduction in interest without risk, but investing always carries a risk.

I'm not from US so I can't advise you of any local loopholes but in general terms:

Pay the minimum off the 0% loans, but make sure you have the money at hand to pay them off at their due date.  If you can get 5% ( like wow!, are you sure?) in a savings account in the meantime that you can access at the right time, then go for it.

Then, make sure your emergency fund is adequate.

On the face of it,  @5% on loan ,vs 5% in Savings, it doesn't matter whether you pay off or save: my personal preference would be to get rid of the debt. BUT you should look into which option works best in your local circumstances e.g. are there tax breaks for doing one or the other, or will you be eligible for a refi at certain points etc etc. Hopefully someone with local knowledge can help with these details

Congrats on your progress. It might seem a bit overwhelming right now, but stick to your plan, and things usually come right ahead of schedule
Journalling at Happy Aussie Downshifter

ShoulderThingThatGoesUp

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2018, 06:36:12 AM »
You can definitely make more money in the private sector, and your loans are small enough that I don't think holding on to OSLF is worthwhile. I work in the environmental industry; feel free to PM me your resume if you want me to look it over.

Wayward

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2018, 07:14:38 AM »
Congratulations on paying down so much of that hair on fire debt in the last year - it is very impressive progress.  Your expenses budget looks pretty badass too.

I don't have the knowledge to answer your specific questions, sorry.  I just couldn't resist sending a little encouragement your way for what you have achieved already.
Thank you so much, I appreciate the encouragement!
Play a game to pay of student debt with Givling, sign up with code RW411953!

Sign up for a 5% interest savings account with NetSpend here: http://www.mynetspendcard.com code 3230468760
(info at https://www.financialpanther.co/netspend-account/)

Wayward

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2018, 07:16:31 AM »
It looks to me like you're doing an excellent job getting things in order.

I've bought a couple of used unlocked smartphones and a tablet on a website called Swappa. It's like eBay for electronics. My experience was good.
I never heard of Swappa, but it looks awesome and the phones I'm interested in are there pretty cheap!  Thank you for the suggestion :)
Play a game to pay of student debt with Givling, sign up with code RW411953!

Sign up for a 5% interest savings account with NetSpend here: http://www.mynetspendcard.com code 3230468760
(info at https://www.financialpanther.co/netspend-account/)

Wayward

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #8 on: January 11, 2018, 07:25:07 AM »
You've been doing a great job for the past few months. Congratulations on paying off that much dept in such a short time. It looks like you can be dept free in just a few years.

I can't really help you with the pension specific questions as I'm not US-based, but I do like your FIRE plans of volunteering your way around the world with just a small stash (similar to my own dreams!). As you mentioned TEFL/ESL teaching; did you consider getting a certification and trying out online teaching? There's some cheap/affordable certifications you can get online and I've seen VIPkids recommended for online teaching on here several time. Could also serve you as a side hustle income to pay down your dept even faster.
Thank you for your reply, I will research online teaching more!  I'm currently looking into a Workaway in Washington State, perhaps I could kill two birds with one stone and job search while I'm out that way.  Seems like a very Mustachian way to see the world and give back :)  Good luck on your dreams!
Play a game to pay of student debt with Givling, sign up with code RW411953!

Sign up for a 5% interest savings account with NetSpend here: http://www.mynetspendcard.com code 3230468760
(info at https://www.financialpanther.co/netspend-account/)

Wayward

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #9 on: January 11, 2018, 07:37:41 AM »
The principle is to always pay the highest paying debt off first, and don't invest unless you can get a higher interest rate. Paying off the debt is a guaranteed reduction in interest without risk, but investing always carries a risk.

I'm not from US so I can't advise you of any local loopholes but in general terms:

Pay the minimum off the 0% loans, but make sure you have the money at hand to pay them off at their due date.  If you can get 5% ( like wow!, are you sure?) in a savings account in the meantime that you can access at the right time, then go for it.

Then, make sure your emergency fund is adequate.

On the face of it,  @5% on loan ,vs 5% in Savings, it doesn't matter whether you pay off or save: my personal preference would be to get rid of the debt. BUT you should look into which option works best in your local circumstances e.g. are there tax breaks for doing one or the other, or will you be eligible for a refi at certain points etc etc. Hopefully someone with local knowledge can help with these details

Congrats on your progress. It might seem a bit overwhelming right now, but stick to your plan, and things usually come right ahead of schedule
I was cautious about the 5% savings too, but it's true and it's FDIC insured so no risk like stocks!  There are limits to how much you can save and it requires some leg work to set up though (link in my signature) 

You are correct, the debt certainly feels overwhelming - I just want it gone!  But my fear is finally getting there, only to realize I'm back to almost nothing
Play a game to pay of student debt with Givling, sign up with code RW411953!

Sign up for a 5% interest savings account with NetSpend here: http://www.mynetspendcard.com code 3230468760
(info at https://www.financialpanther.co/netspend-account/)

economista

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #10 on: January 12, 2018, 09:25:58 AM »
If I were you I would definitely switch to Project Fi.  My husband and I pay around $45 per month for both of us.  Let me know if you want our referral code - you will get $20 off your first bill (and we will get $20 off ours too). 
Follow along on my journey toward becoming (semi) mustacian :) http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/journals/economista's-journal/

ginjaninja

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #11 on: January 12, 2018, 10:04:49 AM »
Avoiding lifestyle inflation will help you alot going forward!  Awesome job on the quick repayment so far!  Is there any other way you could increase your income?  I worked catering for a while on the weekends because it did not interfere with work.  Plus I got to take home alot of the extra food which was a double win because it saved me money on groceries too!
"Love people. Use things.  The opposite never works" ~The Minimalists

Wayward

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #12 on: January 12, 2018, 10:33:51 AM »
If I were you I would definitely switch to Project Fi.  My husband and I pay around $45 per month for both of us.  Let me know if you want our referral code - you will get $20 off your first bill (and we will get $20 off ours too).
I'm thinking I will set aside some money each money to buy an unlocked phone outright to switch to Project Fi.  I would love to use your referral code, please let me know and I will use it as soon as I can switch!
Play a game to pay of student debt with Givling, sign up with code RW411953!

Sign up for a 5% interest savings account with NetSpend here: http://www.mynetspendcard.com code 3230468760
(info at https://www.financialpanther.co/netspend-account/)

Wayward

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #13 on: January 12, 2018, 10:36:39 AM »
Avoiding lifestyle inflation will help you alot going forward!  Awesome job on the quick repayment so far!  Is there any other way you could increase your income?  I worked catering for a while on the weekends because it did not interfere with work.  Plus I got to take home alot of the extra food which was a double win because it saved me money on groceries too!
Thank you, catering sounds like it would be really beneficial! I will look into some local options
Play a game to pay of student debt with Givling, sign up with code RW411953!

Sign up for a 5% interest savings account with NetSpend here: http://www.mynetspendcard.com code 3230468760
(info at https://www.financialpanther.co/netspend-account/)

Freedomin5

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #14 on: January 20, 2018, 04:23:54 AM »
I thought all phones were unlockable. You probably canít get it done at T Mobile or any of the phone stores. Google ďhow to unlock _____Ē along with your phone model. There should be sites that teach you step by step how to unlock your phone though you may have to pay $20-$25 for the unlock code. Still cheaper than buying a used phone if it works.

Finances_With_Purpose

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #15 on: January 20, 2018, 06:54:35 AM »
The principle is to always pay the highest paying debt off first, and don't invest unless you can get a higher interest rate. Paying off the debt is a guaranteed reduction in interest without risk, but investing always carries a risk.

I'm not from US so I can't advise you of any local loopholes but in general terms:

Pay the minimum off the 0% loans, but make sure you have the money at hand to pay them off at their due date.  If you can get 5% ( like wow!, are you sure?) in a savings account in the meantime that you can access at the right time, then go for it.

Then, make sure your emergency fund is adequate.

On the face of it,  @5% on loan ,vs 5% in Savings, it doesn't matter whether you pay off or save: my personal preference would be to get rid of the debt. BUT you should look into which option works best in your local circumstances e.g. are there tax breaks for doing one or the other, or will you be eligible for a refi at certain points etc etc. Hopefully someone with local knowledge can help with these details

Congrats on your progress. It might seem a bit overwhelming right now, but stick to your plan, and things usually come right ahead of schedule

First, congrats on what you have done already - very impressive.

Second, posting here to note that you pay 20% interest on your interest in savings, so you'd actually only be making 4%.  You would get a tax write-off, at least up until this year (unsure if that changed) for paying down the student loan interest. 

Personally, I would pay down the loans assuming you have enough emergency funds in the bank.  Put your emergency funds in that savings account if it makes 5% - then you can use their earnings to pay your debts too.  I might increase my emergency funds if I were you before doing other things, especially if you can stash it at (effectively) 4% anyway.  With margins as tight as yours, I might want more savings for when a car breaks down or something crazy happens - so that I am not tempted to go into more (high-interest) debt. 

Don't neglect to budget for your next car.  You want to be forever free of car loans.  You want to be free no matter how much debt you have already paid down.  You aren't yet up to enough emergency funds to buy a car and I can only imagine you would get horrendous rates on a car if you tried buying one now with the income v. debt ratio.  So plan ahead. 

As for laptops, you can get budget laptops for $300 and under that are worlds better than anything you bought five years ago.  Tech is nice that way.  See the superstores for savings (and don't buy all the warranties), e.g., Fry's or the like.  Or buy online.  That's one cost that should be shrinking each time you buy.  I spent around $700 on my new one, but I'm not in any debt and had the budget for it, but I also opted to do so as a luxury item - and one that I do work on daily - and it was a top-of-the-line machine.  For most purposes, you don't need anything that nice.  I didn't either, and don't normally spend that much on laptops; it's entirely avoidable, especially now.  (See here for examples of budget machines.)

At your loan rates and debt level, you can throw every spare dollar on the student loans. 

Personally, I would kill the loans first and foremost, then worry about investing, except for any tax-advantaged matching you might get. 

Love what you're doing by way of side gigs and the like - keep exploring that.  Hard work pays off.  You'll find some good opportunities. 

Finances_With_Purpose

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #16 on: January 20, 2018, 07:01:16 AM »
If I were you I would definitely switch to Project Fi.  My husband and I pay around $45 per month for both of us.  Let me know if you want our referral code - you will get $20 off your first bill (and we will get $20 off ours too).
I'm thinking I will set aside some money each money to buy an unlocked phone outright to switch to Project Fi.  I would love to use your referral code, please let me know and I will use it as soon as I can switch!

Fi only supports a few specific phones, last I checked.  Also recommend it.  You get service that's probably 90% as good as regular phone service, but at 50% or less of the cost.  A good trade to me. 

They will also basically finance your phone cost at 0% interest if you buy one from them (I assume they run credit but I don't recall).  The prices aren't bad either.  In the spirit of not taking on debt, be sure you have enough cash on hand to pay for it yourself if you ever need to, or to buy another, etc.  For our purposes, the phone cost was negligible and it was a way to spread cost at 0%, so we did it.  But only do it if you have that cash already on hand.

And finally - I hit post on my last post before I meant to - kudos to you on your achievements. 

For side gigs, see the various side gig threads here for ideas.  Some people have awesome side gig ideas that pay well.  Personally, I mowed lawns for years when I was younger and that paid extremely well.  It was seasonal, but well worth the time + effort, and the highest pay per hour I could find at the time, with very low investment (one used push mower got me started, and eventually I had a few old push mowers + weed whackers).  I ran into someone recently who pays for golf balls that people wander through streams and etc. around golf courses collecting, and makes a good bit from doing that (and pays a good bit to the people who find them).  There are lots of things you can do if you work hard and get creative. 

Meesh

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #17 on: January 20, 2018, 01:14:56 PM »
Happy New Year All,
 
I started tracking my spending in January 2017, after reading Your Money or Your Life, and boy was it a wakeup call.  After finding MMM, ERE, JLCollins, and other blogs I made some serious changes, but still feel stuck so Iím hoping for some advice and motivation from the Forum.
 
About me: 33-year-old single female, childfree, no pets living in a HCOL area in the Northeast, USA with a roommate.  I have a BS in Environmental Science and am currently employed full-time in public service (read: low pay) as an Environmental Scientist since May 2015 and have been increasingly miserable at my job.  There is great healthcare and a pension (vested after 10 years), but there is no matching to the 457, no increases in pay (no, not even COL thanks to last Governor), and promotions are non-existent.  At first my plan was to use the PSLF program to have my loans forgiven after 10 years (120 monthly payments), however I really want to relocate to a LCOL area with lower taxes, better quality of life and (hopefully) a better paying job.
 
Gross Annual Salary: $47,107.06         
Gross per check: $1,811.81                 Pay is bi-weekly, 26 pay periods per year
Federal income tax: $188.00
FICA: $32.40
Medicare: $25.37
Pension *: $132.99
Unemployment Ins*: $7.70                     < I think this has a cap as I only paid $142.38 in 2017
Temp Disability Ins*: $3.44                     < I think this has a cap as I only paid $80.40 in 2017
Pre-Tax Dental: $4.94
Pre-Tax Health: $57.10
Family Leave Ins*: $1.63
ROTH 457 (1%)*: $16.78                   < This is the lowest contribution I can make, since I already opened it
Union dues*: $20.90
Total Deductions: $599.74
Net Per Paycheck: $1,212.07
Net Annual (x26): $31,513.82

                       
*I cannot get rid of any of these deductions BUT I will be able to rollover the ROTH 457 and all that Iíve put into the pension (about $8,500 currently, since Iím not vested) upon termination of employment!  This is the only hope holding me together right now, as Iím literally in tears every time I see my paycheck.
 
Side jobs: About $3,000 net in 2017 from working as a horseback riding instructor/trainer. This job is over for winter 2018, but I will be looking for more paid opportunities as this is mainly how I get to pursue my passion for riding and horses.  I work at another barn in exchange for lessons/riding time.  I tried driving for Uber/Lyft (it wasnít worth it)   
 
As of January 2017:
Debts (rounded)
Student loan (5%): $47,000                 < Min $182.06 (income based repayment). Consolidated for PSLF : (
Auto loan (1.9%): $22,000                   < Yes, facepunch (sold in July 2017, balance paid off by dealer, valuable lesson learned)
Credit cards (17-21%): $6,000             < Balance transfer 0% in January 2017, the balance is now paid off as of December 2017!)
Total debts: $75,000                         < The wakeup call
 
As of January 2018:
Debts
Student loan (5%): $37,511                 < Min now $503 (without IBR). Denied refi by SoFi and Earnest due to high debt, low income
Balance transfer (0%): $4,500              < 0% until November 2018. This is from buying a used 2007 Pontiac Vibe when I sold the financed car as I did not have enough savings
Costco Citi (0%): $1,200                      < 0% until March 2018, all credit cards will be paid in full forevermore
Total debts: $43,211                         < Still an emergency
 
Assets
ROTH 457: $4,790                              < About 85% stocks, 15% bonds or other
Ally Savings (1.25%): $1,156              < Emergency fund
NetSpend (5%): $1,000                      < Experiment
Pension payout: $8,500                       < Not sure if I should count this
Total assets: $15,446
 
Net Worth: -$27,765
 
2017 Expenses totaled $22,664. Please keep in mind my expenses were high the first half of 2017 Ė my ex was very spendy and I stupidly experienced lifestyle inflation.  For the last several months I cut my expenses to the bone (Sept-Dec averaged $1,400 per month, not including debt) and have been aggressively paying off debt, therefore saving very little.  Reading other case studies here there was a poster who said something along the lines of ďdo you want to be a debt free worker bee or financially free living off a fat stack of investments?Ē to the OP.  Since I certainly desire the latter, it made me think Iíve made a mistake, hence this post for help!
 
*Sept-Dec Average Expenses  (Down from $2,000-$2,300 per month from Jan-Aug)
Rent: $600                                  < Includes internet, Netflix, and all utilities) with awesome roommate
Phone: $48                                  < Stuck with T-mobile, got phone for free from ex but itís locked and I canít unlock it
Household products: $20               < Paper towels, toilet paper, dish soap, etc.
Gas: $80                                      < The barn is 1 hr each way
Car insurance: $65                       < Progressive, paid in full every 6 months
Car maintenance: $300                   < Used car was having starting issues, this should be lower in 2018      
Food, incl restaurants: $250            < Working on lowering this further
Doctor: $15                                < Chiropractor, as needed
Personal care: $10                      < Toothpaste, skincare
Clothing: $10
Total per month: $1,398
 
2018 Budget (maximum $15,000 planned, will require more cutting)
Costco: $120                 < Renew in July
Laptop: $700                 < Laptop is 6 years old, hoping it will last the rest of this year at least
Phone: $350-600?          < I would like to switch to Project Fi, but would need a new phone. Suggestions?

 
$31,513.82 (2018 net pay) - $15,000 (2018 expected expenses, not including debt) = $16,513.82 (left for debt/savings) + any additional income from side hustles
 
My ultimate goal is to reach FIRE, live and work/volunteer (Workaway, WWOOF, horse riding holidays, etc.) in different countries.  Iím very interested in geoarbitrage and have considered switching careers, perhaps to teaching abroad (would need TEFL or teacher certification).  I feel stuck in analysis paralysis with making a solid attack plan for paying off debt and saving for FIRE.
 
*Iím not sure of an exact FIRE amount yet, much of what I want to do abroad will likely have room and board included or cheap (perhaps a $150-250k stash?)
*When the student loans get down to about $30,000-$32,000 or my income increases I will try to refi again. 
*Iím most interested in relocating to Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, or basically anywhere in the western USA, but I'm searching everywhere.  Any suggestions for LCOL areas would be appreciated!

Specific Questions:
*Would it be optimal to take the balance transfer payment ($409 minimum needed to pay in full by Nov 2018) and pay the allowed min ($69) while putting the remainder ($340) into a Netspend/Insight saving account (5% interest) to collect interest until payoff date?
*Should I re-certify my income to get a lower monthly payment for the student loans, even though I have been paying more than $503 per month?
*Should I throw as much extra money as possible at the student loans OR should I add to investments (such as a Vanguard ROTH IRA or NetSpend/Insight account)?
*When I find new employment would it be optimal to max out a Traditional 401k, instead of just to matching (if any) as my rate is 5% on the student loan per the investment order post?
 
Sorry for the length of this post, thank you for reading!  Donít be afraid to be tough, I wonít get offended or defensive by any suggestions.

So congratulations on paying down so much!

As for your questions...

On my 5 min google search NetSpend is 5% up to $1000, after which is 0.5% so you will only make $50/year. Then the fees are $10/month so you make -$70/year. Get out now, experiment fail. Just pay it off every month, it will also be better for your credit score. (Also do you research! If something is too good to be true dig a little. This took me 5 minutes googling "netspend reviews!" and then going to their website and clicking on the tiny number next to the 5% apy.)

At 5% you could pay down you student loans first but investment order is actually 5% over 10 year treasury note (now at 2.6%) so really it's a 7 on the investment order, not a 2. That mean yes go for the IRA instead. I'd say if you have any kind of federal taxes, look into a traditional IRA, but you have only 2k in savings so its a toss up. And yes if your cc debt is gone by the time you get a new job, max out your 401k.

Honestly I'd work on an emergency fund after the cc debt is gone. But that is up to your comfort levels...


Wayward

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #18 on: January 20, 2018, 04:31:54 PM »
I thought all phones were unlockable. You probably canít get it done at T Mobile or any of the phone stores. Google ďhow to unlock _____Ē along with your phone model. There should be sites that teach you step by step how to unlock your phone though you may have to pay $20-$25 for the unlock code. Still cheaper than buying a used phone if it works.
All phones are technically unlockable I believe, the problem is that the companies don't really want to do that and make it difficult lol I contacted T-mobile several times, customer service said I meet the requirements to have it unlocked.  Then she said to download an app, which didn't exist so I called tech support and they said no it's not an app and I should receive an unlock code by email within 3 business days, but no luck yet.  The third-party app I looked at wanted more like $175 for the unlock code.  Will keep trying! 
Play a game to pay of student debt with Givling, sign up with code RW411953!

Sign up for a 5% interest savings account with NetSpend here: http://www.mynetspendcard.com code 3230468760
(info at https://www.financialpanther.co/netspend-account/)

Wayward

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #19 on: January 20, 2018, 05:31:44 PM »
@Finances_With_Purpose
Thank you, I definitely agree my emergency fund is not as high as I would like and I will be adding to it - each month I will be transferring funds for phone, laptop, and car replacement too!  I did have a scare with my car randomly not starting, which progressively got worse over a few month period, but that as been resolved and I'm hopeful the car will cost me less this year (and run another 100k miles).  Unfortunately, my current job does not offer matching, but I am job searching!

@Meesh
I tend to over-research everything and did a ton before opening the Netspend/Insight accounts to make sure I avoid any fees.  The Pay-As-You-Go plan does not have a monthly fee and do not use the card, ever (because there are transaction fees).  The card is only a "gateway" to get to the savings account and all transfers are done via my Ally account for free.  Also, I set up an automatic $1 deposit every 2 months to avoid inactivity fees.  These companies seem to target people who don't have traditional checking accounts - I think a lot of the negative reviews are because people haven't read the fine print and use the card for purchases; it is very easy to avoid fees if all you want is the savings.  Netspend does have a $1,000 limit and Insight is $5,000, but I believe you can open multiple cards for both.  Since this money is for an emergency fund, I'm just happy it's collecting something!   
Play a game to pay of student debt with Givling, sign up with code RW411953!

Sign up for a 5% interest savings account with NetSpend here: http://www.mynetspendcard.com code 3230468760
(info at https://www.financialpanther.co/netspend-account/)

blinx7

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #20 on: January 20, 2018, 06:03:25 PM »

I am seeing used Nexus 5x phones selling on ebay for $100 used or $130 refurbished.  That is a a good phone.  I would get that and use it for Project Fi. 

CalBal

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #21 on: January 20, 2018, 08:45:18 PM »
In terms of your emergency fund, I will tell you a story. :) (It's kind of long winded, but I think your situation matches what mine did through time.)

I set up an account with ING approximately 12 or 13 years ago, back when interest on savings was a phenomenal 4-5% (that's what I am remembering anyway). I set it up so that I had a direct deposit transfer from my checking account (which was where my paycheck got deposited), 2x per month. I don't recall exactly what I set it up to transfer, but it might have been $100/month total. (It has been $200/month now though for a long time.) At the time, I still had some student loans, but I had just started working my first relatively-well-paid job since graduating from college and I had no real emergency savings, so this was important to me. I lived in a HCOL area (New York City) but still was able to save this amount per month easily.

Originally it was my Emergency Fund. I occasionally accessed it to pay off some bigger bills, like when my loans totals got relatively low I paid them off in one whack, and when my car loan (I know) got within a few thousand of being paid off, again, done with one whack. (Oh - I threw extra money at my student loans every month too... in retrospect I probably shouldn't have been so eager to pay them off and invested more (interest rates were way lower back then on student loans), but I often get the itch to pay debts first, regardless of rates. Not optimal I realize.) I never pulled out more than half the total though. In the meantime, the interest rates went way down (but still > 0%) and it became Capital One 360 when that portion of ING was sold off. I still contributed to it, every month, by direct deposit. Once my loans and car were paid off, and the balance got sufficiently large, it became my House Fund (as downpayment for a house). When I finally was ready to buy a house, it, plus funds I subsequently started putting into a taxable investment account, became the 20% downpayment! Even after that I still contributed to it $200/mo, although I have since moved the direct deposit to just once a month at the start of the month. Since buying my house, it has become my Home Maintenance fund for expenses that I knew I would need to address based on the inspection report - last year it was plumbing, this year it is electrical. Still the balance does not drop below 50% each time I withdraw, and there are always at least a few thousand dollars to take care of something extreme that pops up.

At this point in my life I don't really need a savings account with that much money making 1% interest. BUT, I've kept it, even now, even though it isn't the most efficient use of my money. A psychological boost, I suppose.

MY POINT IS, I feel I was successful at meeting these goals because I made the saving AUTOMATIC by using direct deposit. The money was transferred and I had to physically go in and stop the payment if I didn't want it to go through. I never did that. When you set it up as a direct deposit, you don't have to think about it, it just happens, you have to plan around it, and you are automatically setting yourself up for success. :) You have an Ally account - you could use that the same way! Build it up, via direct deposit, until you are comfortable with the amount as an emergency fund, and then attack the cc and then student loan debt with a machete. :) It worked for me! Just one option to consider.

ALSO, I am also in the field of environmental science, at one of the big global consulting firms. I worked for a short time for NYC gov't making not-really-enough-to-live-on in the city, and was only able to do it because of a great roommate and a rent controlled apartment (lucky, I know!) I then got an offer in the private consulting industry, where I have been for the past 10 years. You can make a lot more in private industry - I make a lot more than you do, and I think even 10 years ago my starting salary was greater than 47k. HOWEVER, it is (or can be, depending on your temperament), a highly stressful environment. It doesn't bother some people. It bothers me a lot, and after 10 years I am considering jumping ship for a lower-paying, potentially less stressful job (see my case study!). Not to discourage you at all! Just some food for thought. I didn't feel that way when I first started. (And 10 years at a higher salary definitely does a lot for your net worth, even if you jump ship later...) :)

Anyway, my 2 cents of hopefully helpful "advice"? :)
« Last Edit: January 20, 2018, 09:23:19 PM by CalBal »

Gone_Hiking

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #22 on: January 21, 2018, 02:10:27 PM »
Wow, badass progress in a year!  I bow to you.

Like other posters indicate, you are doing a damn good job on keeping expenses in check.

As for your specific questions, two things come to mind.  First, you are driving an older car.  Second, you are thinking of relocating across country.   Cars break, and my own experience* indicates that older cars break either during or shortly after cross-country moves.  Thus, while capturing interest from NetSpend (taxable) vs paying interest on credit (no tax deduction) is a worthy analysis, it seems to me that you are somewhat under-resourced for the planned move.  Ally's savings interest is not the best I've seen, but the NetSpend fine print uncovered by Meesh suggests Ally or another online bank might be a better place to build savings. 

With all this, my specific suggestions:

*Would it be optimal to take the balance transfer payment ($409 minimum needed to pay in full by Nov 2018) and pay the allowed min ($69) while putting the remainder ($340) into a Netspend/Insight saving account (5% interest) to collect interest until payoff date?
Keep the $409 payment to the balance transfer card; with minimum payment you would still have close to $4000 balance that would  start charging double-digit interest rate in November.

*Should I throw as much extra money as possible at the student loans OR should I add to investments (such as a Vanguard ROTH IRA or NetSpend/Insight account)?
I would suggest throwing extra money into savings for the next few months, to build a suitable savings cushion that should cover costs of a move and car replacement.  After that, attacking student loan will be your last step to being debt-free

*When I find new employment would it be optimal to max out a Traditional 401k, instead of just to matching (if any) as my rate is 5% on the student loan per the investment order post?
Maxing out a 401(k) will bring immediate tax benefit, but you will not have access to the funds until a certain age if you are not planning to do a Roth conversion.  Ideally, you will be looking at a combination of a 401(K) and a Roth IRA (funded with post-tax money), which would give you some tax benefits and access to tax-free distribution of funds without age limit.

*Back in 1990s, I have moved from Idaho to North Carolina in a $500 car that I purchased for the move.  The car lasted through the move and blew a head gasket two weeks after relocation. 

freya

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #23 on: January 21, 2018, 03:11:54 PM »
OP, hats off to you!!!!!  You are an inspiration!

After I finished school my financial profile was not too different from yours:  my student loan debt was 130% of my income.  Two years later I had a positive net worth, and that was way before I learned about the Mustache Way.  You can and will knock this off in a similar amount of time.

First, agree with the poster who recommends that you first save up enough to cover moving expenses, so you can be ready if the right opportunity comes along.  Don't forget to save up enough to cover living expenses and loan payments while you're in transition.  I wouldn't be too worried about the car.  Before you leave, take it to a trusted mechanic for a good once-over.  If you continue to have problems with its reliability, I would just sell it, fly yourself to the new job, and buy another car once you're out there.

I wouldn't diddle around trying get a bit of extra interest on savings.  Even 5% interest is still less than you can get by paying down the student loans, because you are taxed on interest earnings but the student loan is essentially a tax-free 5% return.  Delay saving up for the each of credit card's payoff as long as you can, and throw everything else at the student loan - if you're sure you aren't interested in loan forgiveness.

Two other tips:  First, as a signatory of the CTIA code, Tmobile will unlock your phone after your contract with them ends.  No need to buy another phone or pay for unlocking service.  Second, are you sure the $120 Costco membership is worth it?  For a single person it may not be, unless you do most of your grocery shopping at Costco and you make full use of the perishable items you buy.  I find that ordering nonperishables from Costco through Google Express and paying the 10% non-member surcharge works better for me.




Wayward

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #24 on: January 22, 2018, 09:30:14 AM »
Thank you all for the encouragement and great advice - I will be putting it to good use this year.  Any other advice or thoughts are appreciated, especially if anyone knows of an open Environmental position ;)

@blinx7
Definitely something to consider if the unlocking doesn't work out, thank you!

@CalBal
Thank you for sharing your story, I checked out your case study too - you have done an incredible job saving and I would love to learn more about your career path in the Environmental field!  I will be setting up a direct transfer every paycheck to my Ally account :)

@Gone_Hiking
- I'm very sorry to hear about your car, increasing the emergency fund is certainly a priority to make sure I can cover any expenses from the move and/or car! 
- As for the balance transfer I meant let the money sit collecting interest until Nov 2018 and then use that money to pay the balance before it starts collecting interest - I did not consider interest is taxed, now I'm not sure if that will be worth it
- I'm looking to do the Roth Conversion in the future, so the tax benefits would be useful, but that's a future concern after the EF is bigger and debt is lower
- How do you like it in North Carolina?  I've applied to several positions there

@freya
- Thank you, love your name btw!  It makes me so glad to hear you had a positive net worth so quickly and that I can as well with hard work. 
- That is a great idea about selling the car and flying out, the upcoming months will determine the reliability of the car
- The Costco membership has helped to lower my grocery spending as I buy mainly non-perishable goods in bulk there (rice, oats, frozen fruits and veggies, frozen chicken breasts, almond milk, paper towels, etc).  With the $120 membership I get 2% back on all Costco purchases, plus I got the credit card for an extra 2% on all items from Costco, 4% on gas anywhere, and 1% on everything else.  So far the cash back was almost $60 just from July-December, plus the lower prices shopping at Costco (they even have tires and laptops)!  I do need to pick up certain things at Shoprite/Walmart/Trader Joe's still.  They also have a full refund policy, so we shall see how the first half of this year goes.  I've been making a spreadsheet of prices, so far I do feel it has been worth it :)
Play a game to pay of student debt with Givling, sign up with code RW411953!

Sign up for a 5% interest savings account with NetSpend here: http://www.mynetspendcard.com code 3230468760
(info at https://www.financialpanther.co/netspend-account/)

freya

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #25 on: January 22, 2018, 12:38:38 PM »
- The Costco membership has helped to lower my grocery spending as I buy mainly non-perishable goods in bulk there (rice, oats, frozen fruits and veggies, frozen chicken breasts, almond milk, paper towels, etc).  With the $120 membership I get 2% back on all Costco purchases, plus I got the credit card for an extra 2% on all items from Costco, 4% on gas anywhere, and 1% on everything else.  So far the cash back was almost $60 just from July-December, plus the lower prices shopping at Costco (they even have tires and laptops)!  I do need to pick up certain things at Shoprite/Walmart/Trader Joe's still.  They also have a full refund policy, so we shall see how the first half of this year goes.  I've been making a spreadsheet of prices, so far I do feel it has been worth it :)

Interesting about the Costco membership, I wasn't aware of that.  It still might be worth whiling away a rainy afternoon with a spreadsheet - Google Express was a real game changer for me.  I get access to Walmart as well as Costco, and I'd noticed that Walmart actually has better prices on some things and no 10% surcharge or membership, so I might go with that for my next bulk order.

As far as rewards credit cards go, the Costco card sounds great for gas, just OK for everything else.  If you want to play the credit card rewards game, try AmEx Blue Cash Preferred for groceries (6%), dept stores (3%), and gas (3%), Citi Double Cash (2% on everything), and Capital One Signature (1.5% and no foreign transaction fees - for use overseas).  And a friend of mine just told me about Amazon's 5% cash-back card, but I haven't checked that one out yet.

Meesh

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #26 on: January 23, 2018, 01:39:23 PM »
@Wayward

I stand corrected! Good work on finding a great way to make 5% interested. Now off to look into these more closely. lol

Slow&Steady

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #27 on: January 23, 2018, 02:52:11 PM »
You can definitely make more money in the private sector, and your loans are small enough that I don't think holding on to OSLF is worthwhile. I work in the environmental industry; feel free to PM me your resume if you want me to look it over.

I am also in the environmental field.  It sounds like you only have about 3 years experience but your salary is probably where mine was with when I had around 3 years exp, the difference is that I have always lived in a LCOL area.  You need to get into the private sector!  Start networking, talk to the consultants that are in the area or even to the industries that are probably submitting reports/permit applications to you.

Wayward

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #28 on: January 24, 2018, 07:01:28 AM »
- The Costco membership has helped to lower my grocery spending as I buy mainly non-perishable goods in bulk there (rice, oats, frozen fruits and veggies, frozen chicken breasts, almond milk, paper towels, etc).  With the $120 membership I get 2% back on all Costco purchases, plus I got the credit card for an extra 2% on all items from Costco, 4% on gas anywhere, and 1% on everything else.  So far the cash back was almost $60 just from July-December, plus the lower prices shopping at Costco (they even have tires and laptops)!  I do need to pick up certain things at Shoprite/Walmart/Trader Joe's still.  They also have a full refund policy, so we shall see how the first half of this year goes.  I've been making a spreadsheet of prices, so far I do feel it has been worth it :)

Interesting about the Costco membership, I wasn't aware of that.  It still might be worth whiling away a rainy afternoon with a spreadsheet - Google Express was a real game changer for me.  I get access to Walmart as well as Costco, and I'd noticed that Walmart actually has better prices on some things and no 10% surcharge or membership, so I might go with that for my next bulk order.

As far as rewards credit cards go, the Costco card sounds great for gas, just OK for everything else.  If you want to play the credit card rewards game, try AmEx Blue Cash Preferred for groceries (6%), dept stores (3%), and gas (3%), Citi Double Cash (2% on everything), and Capital One Signature (1.5% and no foreign transaction fees - for use overseas).  And a friend of mine just told me about Amazon's 5% cash-back card, but I haven't checked that one out yet.

I never heard of Google Express, but that's pretty awesome!  I will also check out those rewards cards
Play a game to pay of student debt with Givling, sign up with code RW411953!

Sign up for a 5% interest savings account with NetSpend here: http://www.mynetspendcard.com code 3230468760
(info at https://www.financialpanther.co/netspend-account/)

Wayward

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #29 on: January 24, 2018, 07:07:56 AM »
@Wayward

I stand corrected! Good work on finding a great way to make 5% interested. Now off to look into these more closely. lol

It's definitely an underrated hack to get 5% FDIC insured interest imo!  If you have any questions, feel free to PM me :) Also, if you are married/partnered they can open accounts too!
Play a game to pay of student debt with Givling, sign up with code RW411953!

Sign up for a 5% interest savings account with NetSpend here: http://www.mynetspendcard.com code 3230468760
(info at https://www.financialpanther.co/netspend-account/)

chaskavitch

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #30 on: January 24, 2018, 07:34:53 AM »
- The Costco membership has helped to lower my grocery spending as I buy mainly non-perishable goods in bulk there (rice, oats, frozen fruits and veggies, frozen chicken breasts, almond milk, paper towels, etc).  With the $120 membership I get 2% back on all Costco purchases, plus I got the credit card for an extra 2% on all items from Costco, 4% on gas anywhere, and 1% on everything else.  So far the cash back was almost $60 just from July-December, plus the lower prices shopping at Costco (they even have tires and laptops)!  I do need to pick up certain things at Shoprite/Walmart/Trader Joe's still.  They also have a full refund policy, so we shall see how the first half of this year goes.  I've been making a spreadsheet of prices, so far I do feel it has been worth it :)

Interesting about the Costco membership, I wasn't aware of that.  It still might be worth whiling away a rainy afternoon with a spreadsheet - Google Express was a real game changer for me.  I get access to Walmart as well as Costco, and I'd noticed that Walmart actually has better prices on some things and no 10% surcharge or membership, so I might go with that for my next bulk order.

As far as rewards credit cards go, the Costco card sounds great for gas, just OK for everything else.  If you want to play the credit card rewards game, try AmEx Blue Cash Preferred for groceries (6%), dept stores (3%), and gas (3%), Citi Double Cash (2% on everything), and Capital One Signature (1.5% and no foreign transaction fees - for use overseas).  And a friend of mine just told me about Amazon's 5% cash-back card, but I haven't checked that one out yet.

I never heard of Google Express, but that's pretty awesome!  I will also check out those rewards cards

The AmEx Blue Cash Preferred only gives you 6% back at actual grocery stores, so not Costco/Sams/Walmart/Target, just so you know.  It also has a yearly fee.  I have it and LOVE it, but I shop mostly at King Soopers and Sprouts.  If you sign up with a referral and spend $1000 in the first 3 months, though, you get a $250 credit - you could probably cancel after 5 or 6 months and avoid the yearly fee altogether, if you wanted.

The Discover It card has a $50 signup bonus, 5% back on rotating categories, 1% on everything else, and they match your cash back after the first year (again, if you sign up from a referral).  So it's really a $100 signup bonus and a good return for the first year, and there is no annual fee.

That might be more complicated than you want right now, but if you ARE interested in either of them, PM me for a referral for the bonus cash :)

Wayward

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Re: Reader Case Study - High Debt, Low Income (Pay Down vs Save)
« Reply #31 on: January 24, 2018, 07:38:10 AM »
You can definitely make more money in the private sector, and your loans are small enough that I don't think holding on to OSLF is worthwhile. I work in the environmental industry; feel free to PM me your resume if you want me to look it over.

I am also in the environmental field.  It sounds like you only have about 3 years experience but your salary is probably where mine was with when I had around 3 years exp, the difference is that I have always lived in a LCOL area.  You need to get into the private sector!  Start networking, talk to the consultants that are in the area or even to the industries that are probably submitting reports/permit applications to you.

It's true, if I was in a LCOL area with employer matching, tuition reimbursement, bonuses or other nice perks that seem more common in the private sector (even if my salary was the same) wouldn't be as bad!  I'm doing my best searching and trying to connect, hoping to make a switch by Spring. 
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