It’s one of those rare slow Saturday mornings. My feet are warming against the fire in the fireplace as I watch the sunrise. Christmas music is playing from the kitchen as Mrs. DebtAnatomy makes her traditional Christmas candy. The wood feeding the fire came from two trees that I chopped down in our yard. I promise I don’t have a vendetta against the trees around our house, although the same could not be said for the raccoons. No, these trees needed to come down because they were becoming problem trees. They were flush against the house, and their roots would have destroyed the driveway. So, I rolled up my sleeves, grabbed the ax, and went to work. Now I’m enjoying the results via my toasty warm feet.
So what does this have to do with your finances? Well, now that you’ve made a budget, it’s time to chop down any trouble trees. Since you’re in a boat load of student debt, you have more financial trouble trees threatening your house than most people. So without further ado, I present my list of 9 things a student in debt cannot afford.
1. Consumer Debt: Students can absolutely not afford to carry a balance on credit cards. The fact that credit card companies offer so many award programs shows how lucrative a business it is for them, and how dangerous it is for you. Now, the DebtAnatomy household does use plastic that offers travel points. In fact, we have gotten 3 “free” airplane tickets out of it so far, due to a sign up promotion, and accruing points. However, we never carry a balance. It is paid off every month in full, so it is just a glorified debit card that accrues travel points. But if you ever find yourself carrying a balance, pay it off then get rid of it!!!!
2. Car Payment: The first thing you should ask yourself is, “Do I really need a car?” If the answer is yes, then the next question you should ask is, “Do I really need a new luxurious moving couch padded with leather seats, with an engine powerful enough to blast myself from 0-60 in seconds, with the newest gadgets, touch screens, a sound system capable of blasting off uncle roy’s hair piece, and complete with monthly payments?” The answer is unequivocally no! You are in debt, remember?!?! If you absolutely need a car, buy a sensible used car that you can purchase without taking on car payments. The last thing you want to be doing is paying off unnecessary car debt plus interest with student loan debt that’s also accruing interest. Unfortunately, the auto industry has sold the idea that car payments are simply a fact of life, to the point where people rush to the dealership the minute they pay off their current car in order to go in debt for an even more luxurious moving couch equipped with an even more powerful engine. But it’s ok, because this one has a bigger touch screen, am I right? More to come on this topic in a future post.
3. Cable: If you currently have a cable bill, swing your ax and get rid of it. “But what will I do without constant entertainment piped into my living room?” The first thing you’ll do is save a stash of cash every month. The second thing you’ll do is find more productive entertainment. Remember how you used to enjoy reading? Or exercising? Or crafting? Or playing games with friends? Well congratulations, because now you have more time and money to do all of these things! Check out your local library and get a library card. Check out books and start reading again! You’ll be surprised how refreshing it is to gain your own perspectives, instead of swallowing those of the talking heads on the television screen. Still really need something to watch? Libraries these days carry a really good selection of movies that can be checked out for free. So cut up that cable bill and start living!
4. Daily Coffee/Lunch: Cost of coffee and lunch: $9 per day, $45 a week, $180 a month, and $2,160 a year! Holy cow! With a little foresight while grocery shopping, you pack a healthier lunch to school for less than $1/day. More to come on this in a future post.
5. Gym Memberships: Most schools have a free gym. Yes, you heard that right, a free gym. True, sometimes those free gyms don’t have the fancy pants exercise classes and saunas and tofu/yogurt/protein shake bars that you’re accustomed to. But you’re in debt! The free gym works just fine, and you’ll cut out yet another monthly expense. Swing that ax!
6. Exotic Vacations: Full disclosure: Mrs. DebtAnatomy and I live far from home, and on rare occasion we make the trip back home to visit our beloved families (hence the credit card with the air point system). But this does not mean we go home every chance we get, and it especially means that we don’t go on exotic vacations. But how do you still cure that travel itch without breaking the bank? Explore the area you are currently in! A large portion of students are going to school away from home, which means you have a whole new area of the country to explore. Go camping, or visit a neighboring state! There are so many experiences in your local area, that it’s madness to purchase expensive tickets on student loans to travel somewhere far away. Does this mean you can never travel? Of course not, but remember, you are currently in debt!
7. Fancy Pants Technology: This one hurts a little for me to write. I love technology, and it is easy to get excited about the newest phone or computer. But don’t do it!! Does your phone still work? Does your computer still function? Then no, you don’t need to rush to the nearest apple store and purchase a phone bigger than your face. Life will carry on even if you don’t sport the newest computer watch. In fact, it’s quite liberating to take a step back from the computer/phone arms race and enjoy what you already have. Plus, it saves you a grundle of money.
8. Weekly Wardrobe Updates: This is similar to number 7, but with fashion. Go ahead and put a clothes category in your budget, but keep it low, and only for when you need to replace clothing. Shop bargains, and look around at target, old navy, and H&M before you lose all self control and race towards the nearest Saks Fifth Ave. If you can overcome your need to participate in the society of consumerism then you are well on your way to gaining control of your money.
9. Expensive Gifts: Giving gifts is fun, and come Christmas or birthdays I find myself wanting to get my loved ones something amazing! There is a sense of pride involved when I purchase a fancy gift to give to someone else. But learning to say, “I can’t afford it” is a talent that would benefit the masses, but seemingly few possess. Does this mean that your gifts have to suck? Absolutely not! In fact, I have found that putting a limit on the amount I can spend on gifts forces me to be more thoughtful on the gifts I give. Have you ever made a touching movie for your mother, or a wedding photo collage for your spouse? Gifts that involve memories tend to be more meaningful for both the giver and the receiver, and they also tend to be easier on the wallet. This is also a category that I approve of in the rainy day expenses in your budget.
Look at your budget. Look at this list. Sharpen that ax, roll up your sleeves, and start swinging!
Share how you’ve trimmed down your budget in the comments below!