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Student Loan Debt: 5 Ways to Stay on Track with Your Home Budget

By: iTHINK Financial | Dec 01, 2020

It is no secret that student loan debt is on the rise in the U.S. Many students today face tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands in debt thanks to expensive private universities, medical schools, and more.

Even with public university tuition and scholarships, the average college graduate borrows around $30,000 to get their degree.

Paying back your student loan debt can take anywhere from a few years to a few decades. As a young adult, you are likely also dealing with paying rent for the first time, buying a home, navigating an entry-level job, getting married, and more.

If you are a recent graduate or a few years out of college and looking for ways to pay down your student loan debt, keep reading. We are bringing you 5 smart tips for staying on track with your home budget so that you can start tackling your debt.

Set a Realistic Budget

Nearly 70 percent of American families report that they are living on a budget. Adults between the ages of 23 and 38 years old, followed closely by those ages 39 and up, are the most likely to budget. Those aged 22 or younger are far less likely to do so.

While learning to live on a budget is easier than you might think, setting that budget in the first place is often a challenge.

Many people do not realize just how many ways they are truly spending money each month. It is easy to calculate what big purchases, like rent, student loans, or car payments, are costing you. Other expenses can be harder to track.

For instance, if you do not limit your grocery buying to a few big trips each month, you will need to track every visit, even if you are just stopping to grab milk. It is easy to forget small recurring payments, like your Netflix account or a checking account fee.

Another pitfall of setting a budget is being overly hopeful about how much you can cut your spending.

But if you want your budget to be effective, it needs to include every expense and be realistic.

Start by getting real about how much income you have coming in after taxes. If you do freelance work or have side gigs, do not overestimate how much you make a month.

Finally, give yourself some room in your budget for the unexpected. This breathing space could be costs like buying expensive household items or even a new shirt for work. That way, when these expenses do come up, they will not wreck your budgeting for the month.

Avoid Waiting Until the Last Minute to Shop for Purchases

Once you have set a budget, the work is not done just yet. Staying on track with your financial goals means continuously thinking about your spending and purchases, looking for ways to make sure that you are staying in-budget every step of the way.

Fixed expenses in your budget that occur every month, with little variation in cost, are easy to manage. Your student loan repayment, rent, car payment, and insurance are unlikely to vary from one month to the next.

Like utilities, groceries, and credit card payments, other expenses may vary, but often by a manageable amount. If done correctly, your budget will also account for these small variations with the wiggle room you have left in each spending category included in your budget.

However, one significant expense can derail your budget for the month or even for the next several months.

Maybe your car needs new tires or costly repairs. You might decide to take a much-deserved vacation. Or you start buying items for everyone on your Christmas list around the holidays.

The average student loan debt takes 20 years to pay off. While paying down your college debt, you will face a lot of big purchases like this.

To help minimize their effect on your budget, always start shopping early for any significant expenses.

Starting your shopping as early as possible serves a few purposes. It allows you to shop around for the best deal. In some cases, like travel, it might mean the ability to pay for those expenses a little at a time.

You can also start setting aside any extra funds in your budget that you would usually spend on fun purchases or other unnecessary spending categories.

If you know some items that your recipients will love, you can even shop for things like Christmas gifts months ahead of the holiday to spread your spending and make it more manageable.

Pay More Than Your Minimum When You Can

Student loans, unlike some other types of loans, have no prepayment penalty. This lack of penalty means that you are free to make extra payments or pay them off entirely ahead of your projected repayment date.

Paying more than your minimum monthly payment whenever possible can go a long way towards lowering the total amount you will wind up spending during the course of your loan. That is because for every month you carry your loan, it's incurring interest. While student loans have some of the lowest interest rates available, that interest still adds up.

Say that you have $50,000 in student debt and a loan that has a 6 percent interest rate. If you have the same repayment period as the average student loan, you will be paying back your loan for 20 years if you pay the minimum, which will be around $358 a month.

Over the course of those 20 years, you will pay $35,972 in interest. That is enough to buy a nice car, make a sizable down payment on a home, or even jumpstart your retirement fund.

Paying ahead will lower the interest you pay. You do not necessarily need to make double payments each month, every little bit counts.

If your minimum monthly student loan payment is $358, paying just $30 extra each month will amount to an additional monthly payment each year.

Unless you are working towards paying down other loans with higher interest rates, putting extra money, like cash you receive from family around the holidays or a bonus at work, towards your student loans is a significant financial move.

Build an Emergency Savings Account

Less than half of adults in America are prepared for a $1,000 emergency. Even fewer have enough set aside to cover 3 months' worth of expenses if they lost their job or faced other hardships.

When you are already living on a budget and putting money towards paying down your student debt, setting aside more cash in a savings account can feel out of reach. But without a savings account there to lean on in hard times, you are putting yourself at risk of falling into even more debt.

In the same study that found that half of Americans are unprepared for a financial emergency, another 37 percent stated that they would use a credit card, personal loan, or family to cover an unexpected expense. While loans and credit cards are essential financial tools, they may not be the best choice during a financial emergency.

If you already have just enough to cover your expenses each month, an additional loan or credit card payment could be out of reach, causing you to default.

When it comes to savings, too many people think they need to wait until they can set aside hundreds of dollars. But the reality is that the best way to start saving is to start where you are. Even if you can only set aside $50, $20, or even just $10 per paycheck, setting aside money now will help protect you if an emergency does occur.

Once you have saved up a few hundred dollars, make sure that your savings are working for you. A standard savings account will help set your savings apart from the rest of your cash. But it may come with a very low-interest rate.

By comparison, a money market account can help you earn interest on the cash you've set aside.

Cut Your Unnecessary Spending

Most people realize that unnecessary spending can have a detrimental effect on your finances. But what exactly counts as excessive spending can vary from one person to the next.

Finding ways to cut this kind of spending can go a long way towards keeping you on track with your budget and saving money that could be put towards your student loans.

To narrow down any unnecessary spending you might be doing, look at where you are spending your money each month and what that spending costs you.

It is OK to spend money on things like entertainment or shopping if they bring you happiness. However, it is vital to decide which types of spending truly bring you joy, and which come from boredom.

For instance, if you love watching the latest TV shows, the monthly fee you pay towards Netflix or Hulu might be well worth it. But if you tend to go to movie theaters when you are bored, that $20 movie ticket is an expense that you could likely cut.

Shopping for new clothes is necessary from time to time. Buying higher quality, timeless pieces that will last for years rather than spending less on cheap clothes that might only last months save money over time.

You can also look for ways to stretch your spending. That television subscription might cost less than $10 a month but can bring you hours of enjoyment. Compared to a $20 movie ticket for a film lasting less than two hours, and it is clear which expense is better for your budget.

Eating out will cost more than eating at home. But taking home leftovers can turn one meal into two, dividing the cost of your meal.

Getting smart about your necessary expenses and the unnecessary ones will help you make the most of your budget.

Bonus Tip: Consider Refinancing

Federal student loans are known for their low-interest rates. They also offer a variety of repayment options. For instance, you might be able to opt to set your monthly repayment minimum based on your monthly income.

This strategy allows new graduates to start paying down their student loans at an affordable rate with their current income.

Unfortunately, federal loans are not always enough for students to pay for their educations, room and board, and other expenses. For that reason, many college students also take out private loans.

Students may opt for loans with sky-high interest rates and high monthly minimums that can be tough to afford on a new graduate's salary without much experience with loans or finances.

If you're struggling to pay back your private student loans, refinancing or applying for a personal loan to pay off your student loan might be your best option. Refinancing can help you renegotiate your interest rates and minimum payments or combine several loans into a single monthly payment. If you cannot afford your monthly loan payments, it is impossible to get ahead on your debt.

Tackling Your Student Loan Debt and Staying on Track with Your Home Budget

Student loan debt can be a significant financial burden. But it is also a necessary step in earning a degree that will help you achieve your career goals and hopefully start on the path to financial success.

Learning how to create and stick to a home budget can go a long way towards allowing you to tackle your student loans once and for all.

If you have never set a budget before or have struggled to do so in the past, do not be afraid to get help. Whether you take advantage of budgeting tools, or attend a budgeting webinar, take advantage of online resources to help you finally take control of your finances.

Are you looking for more tips and tricks to help you master your finances and tackle student loan debt? Check out our student resource center next.

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