Money Savers Part 4: Student Debt

 

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When we first began crunching the numbers, we were certain that student loans were just going to be part of our lives. We didn’t see any way around them without throwing tons of money at them. While we were right about the loans sticking around, we were pleasantly surprised to find solutions that are making pay-off less stressful.

 

Income-Based Repayment

If your monthly payments are taking up a huge chunk of your paycheck, chances are your debt-to-income ratio could be looked at. When I left the classroom, our monthly income was cut in half but our loan payments stayed the same. Fortunately, we were told about income-based repayment. In this form of repayment, your lender looks at your monthly income and decides what a more affordable payment would be. While my private lender was unwilling to work this out with us, my federal lender was great. After a pretty simple process of filling out paperwork, our monthly payment was cut by more than half! In addition, they put my repayment on hold while they were filing paperwork so that we had a month or two of saving our payment.

 

Loan Consolidation

As I said previously, my private lender did not offer any other form of repayment. So, our next step will be consolidating this loan with a different company at a rate we can afford monthly. I was disappointed at first, but this will actually help us out even more because my private loan interest rates are much higher than my federal loan rates. Consolidating will help us out in two ways!

 

I wish I could tell you that we found a magical way to get rid of student debt. But the truth is, I knew that if I wanted to go to college I would have to take out these loans. I went to school knowing I’d be paying them back later, and am now dealing with the consequences of that decision. Such is life, right? Although we’ll be seeing these loans for a while, these strategies have helped ease the financial burden of my student debt. I hope that they can do the same for you!

 

Money Savers Part 3: Healthcare Alternatives

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When I went into the teaching world, I never imagined I’d be worried about paying for health insurance. In my mind, of course it would be affordable for someone who chose to spend 8+ hours a day educating other peoples’ {germie} kiddos. Clearly I was mistaken. Fortunately, it wasn’t insanely expensive if my husband and I each took out our own policies. However, that changed drastically when we decided I’d stay home with Baby Girl.

Writing about this right now makes me angry, y’all. I’m just going to be honest. If we used my husband’s ISD insurance and chose the MIDDLE coverage plan for our family, my husband would pay $1,036 per month. That is a third of his paycheck. How is that okay?! Considering we’d like to have more kiddos in the future, we would have probably needed to choose the higher coverage plan which would cost him almost $1,300 per month! I don’t understand how teachers can be expected to take care of their family’s health with that kind of price-to-salary ratio. It’s just not right.

Our First Try

When my insurance coverage through my ISD ended, we found that it was much cheaper for me and Baby Girl to take out our own policy directly through an insurance company. Who woulda thunk it?! This saved us from spending double with my husband’s ISD insurance. But, of course, the coverage plan we were on was discontinued in 2016. Once again, we needed to figure something out.

Our Solution

For a while we heard about several different healthcare options while listening to Christian radio. At the time, we weren’t in a place where we needed to cut that cost and didn’t know of anyone who had tried these options to see how they worked. By the time my coverage ended, though, we were on a serious hunt for and decided to check some of them out. Thankfully a friend of mine talked to me about Christian Healthcare Ministries.

I don’t want to give too much information about CHM for fear that I might describe something incorrectly and make things too confusing! However, if you are in an insurance “pickle” or just want to find a health care option that is in line with your values and what you can afford, I would strongly encourage you to check them out (click the link I added). CHM doesn’t work like traditional health “insurance”. You pay more out of pocket when you need to get health care, but you save SO much monthly that it is much easier to save up the amount you’ll need to pay when the time comes. In addition, CHM is an opportunity to connect with other believers in their time of need. You can choose to offer extra financial help and pray for families who are struggling. It truly is set up like a ministry.

For now, Baby Girl and I are trying out the middle healthcare plan and pay an amazing $170/month. This is allowing us to save so much each month that we will be able to afford doctor visits out of pocket and STILL save on our monthly insurance costs. We will continue to see how things go from here, and I will gladly update on how our experience is going! In the meantime, what does your family do for healthcare coverage? Have you struggled like we have? Have you found a solution that works for you? I’d love to hear your story!

Money Savers Part 2: Cable Alternatives

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If you’ve been thinking about ditching cable, now is one of the best times to give it a shot! There are so many options for devices, streaming providers, exclusive shows, etc. that we haven’t missed having a cable a bit. And we certainly haven’t missed the extra $60+ a month we were paying for it, either!

Devices

The first thing we did before getting rid of cable was pick out a streaming device and make sure we had a solid internet speed. We knew we might do it in the near future, so several Christmases ago we requested a Roku stick as our gift. We wanted to test it out before actually cancelling our cable, and ended up loving it right away!

The best part about streaming devices is that they only require a one-time purchase, and there are many different “levels” of devices for you to choose from. (The Roku we originally tried is around $50 and can be purchased just about anywhere!) If you aren’t able to afford extra apps and streaming services, there are lots of free apps included. My favorite free app right now is YouTube because it makes finding preschool/baby songs and videos so easy! I also love that it’s portable so we can move it from room to room, or even take it with us when we go on vacation.

In addition to the Roku stick, we purchased a digital antenna. This isn’t required, but after experiencing a very scary weather situation a year ago we wanted to make sure we had the local news whenever we need it. And I won’t act like I don’t love still getting to watch my morning news and Live! With Kelly every morning. Ha!

Apps/Services

Adding streaming services for these devices can help you save a ton of money, or can add up quickly. If you aren’t careful, you might end up spending as much as you did for your cable service! There are soooo many apps to choose from, ranging from TV show apps to movie apps. The ones that we’ve stuck with are Netflix and Hulu. Hulu is great to have if you enjoy watching popular shows on basic cable channels. If you can avoid spoilers from friends and family, you can see most new shows the day after they air. Netflix is awesome for watching a season or series at a time, and even some new Netflix exclusive shows. One of my favorite things about Netflix is the “Kids” setting. I know that as Baby Girl gets older, I can stress less while she’s watching her shows because no inappropriate or scary commercials/shows will come on. This momma greatly appreciates that feature!

If you stick with just these two streaming services, you still save a lot by getting rid of cable. If you want to save even more, upgrade to an account that allows more TVs to stream and split the cost with a friend or family member. Currently we only pay for Netflix every other month because we share an account with my brother. Talk about a major money saver!

I hope that you find this information helpful for you and your family! If you have any questions or want to share your favorite apps/shows, I’d love to hear from you!

Money Savers Part 1: Groceries & Meal Planning

Thank you so much for choosing to follow this series of posts! After sharing that I would start the series, I had so many people show interest in the topic and I’m so excited to share our tips! When this all began, we had a pile of student loan debt, as well as credit card/medical debt. I pray that these tips will help you just like they helped us! But I don’t want to promise they will eliminate all your financial concerns.

After thinking about how I wanted organize these posts for y’all, I decided to start with the quickest/easiest cuts to implement. Hopefully you can get started saving right away!

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The first money saver I want to talk about is how we grocery shop and meal plan. These can be a super easy for saving, or just cause more stress than its worth. For me, I’m all about finding an efficient strategy I can use every time I plan. We love shopping at Kroger so all of my planning is based on their sales and ads. If you don’t shop there, you can definitely apply these strategies to your favorite store!

Meal Planning

Every Wednesday a new sale cycle begins at Kroger. This is the day I try to do all of my planning. While Baby Girl is napping or occupied, I pull up their weekly ad online and write down all of the things I would like to consider for the next week (Thursday – Wednesday). In addition, I LOVE to check out what extra sales Kroger Krazy has gotten ahold of and include those items on my list. (If you Kroger shoppers don’t follow Kroger Krazy on Facebook, you’re missing out! She is amazing and has helped us save soooo much money on groceries!)

After I have my list of sale items, I go through the digital coupons on my Kroger app and paper coupons I might have. I try to choose items from my list that are on sale AND have coupons, but that doesn’t always work out. From there I plan out our meals for the next week. I plan as many meals as I can using only sale/coupon items before I start adding things that aren’t on sale. I also include whatever we may still have in the freezer/pantry to fill in gaps. This alone has saved us so much money, y’all!

Weekly Shopping Trips

For a while, I swore by grocery shopping every two weeks. It felt so good to get all of my planning done and make one trip! After a while I noticed a bad habit of ours, though. In the weeks between trips, we would run out of something that was still full when I made my list. So, we’d make a “quick trip” to grab that one thing and leave $20+ later. If this happened 2-3 times in those two weeks, we added so much to our monthly grocery budget! That’s when I switched to weekly shopping. My goal is to spend around $75/week (adding up to $300/month). This may sound crazy for some, but it can be done! I’ve even managed to spend around this amount or a little more on a gluten free diet! This diet actually makes it easier to shop weekly because I don’t want to buy a lot of produce that’s just going to spoil before I have the chance to cook it. For the most part I get exactly what we need for the next week and avoid extra trips in between.

Stocking Up

There are times, however, that I don’t get just what I need for that week. This is something I do on non-perishable items and household helpers. For example, if we don’t need shampoo but there’s a shampoo we like on sale for $1, you better believe I’m getting like 5 of them! The same applies for laundry soap, dish soap, toothpaste, baby items, etc. I stock up on enough of these things so that I don’t have to buy them again until they’re on sale. I can’t tell you the last time we’ve paid full price for any of those items and it has helped us so much!

I hope that these small tips will help make a big difference in your monthly grocery budget! Feel free to comment or e-mail me any questions, and stay tuned for my next tip on saving with your cable/internet bills!

Leaps of Faith

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Throughout my life, I’ve taken several “leaps of faith”. Some have been riskier than others, but none have come as quickly or as obviously as they have in the last 21 months. Our “leaps” began as soon as we got pregnant. We found out at only 4 weeks along. I had never met anyone who found out so soon! But I was grateful for finding out early as it was the first of several times we were forced to fully rely on God’s will and provision. I knew that many things could happen in the first trimester and I wasn’t in control of a single one of them. The only thing I could do was pray constantly that God would protect our new baby during such a questionable time. Thank God, I was fortunate to experience a {mostly} enjoyable pregnancy. This, however, was only the first “leap” we would take.

 Our next “leap” opportunity came in the form of a financial crossroad. Growing up, I was raised by a stay-at-home mom. I have so many memories of the days I spent with her and my siblings, and I have always planned to do the same with my own children. It was a decision my husband and I quickly made, until we looked at the numbers. They didn’t add up. At all. My husband is also a teacher and we all know teachers aren’t exactly raking it in. I prayed and prayed, seeking guidance on whether I wanted to stay home to relive my childhood, or because I truly felt convicted to do so. My conviction was affirmed when my husband agreed it would be best for me to stay home, and the mad dash to figure out expenses began. A sold car here, some refinancing there, and plenty of other cuts later we’re making it happen. But the funny thing is, we don’t miss a single thing we’ve sacrificed. Through our financial “leap”, God has showed us what brings real joy and we haven’t looked back.

 After being home with Baby Girl for about 5 months, I started to get the “itch”. I know my teacher friends know exactly what I’m talking about – that “itch” you get when you’ve been on break for a while and you’re ready to get back into the classroom to try out all the great ideas you’ve come up with. The only problem was I had no classroom to go back to and Baby Girl wasn’t exactly ready for homeschool. So, I decided to take a personal “leap” – I opened a TeachersPayTeachers store. It may not sound like a big deal, but this one was more difficult for me than any of the others. I’m not usually one to put myself out there, but what was there to lose? Even if I listed products that didn’t sell, I’d be putting my education and passion for teaching to some creative use while Baby Girl napped. Once again, God has blessed my trust! While I’m not making a fortune, putting in some extra work during naptimes has allowed me to help pay a bill here and there, which is huge right now!

 And now here I am, probably taking my biggest personal “leap” and throwing our story out there for people to read. I have felt God carrying us through each “leap” we’ve taken, and it just doesn’t seem right to keep His faithfulness to our family a secret. We aren’t in our current situation because we have created this path for ourselves. We’re here because God has repeatedly opened doors, giving us opportunities to trust and obey Him. These open doors sometimes seem scary or uncomfortable, but have led to a deeper sense of trust in Him each time. I know that this is preparing us for even larger jumps in the future! I hope that you will find encouragement in our story, and seek guidance in areas where God is calling you to trust Him as well.