Since graduating from college in 2009, Jessica Elberfeld has paid $104,182.42 of her student loans.
In November, she’ll have paid her full balance — over $113,000 — and will be loan-free.
She said she had always made her loan payments a priority, but didn’t create her budget until 2015, when she exported as much transaction data as she could from her online bank statement into an Excel spreadsheet.
She combed through six to nine months of her spending history to average how much she spent in each category per month, and then made that average her budget. Every night, she inputs her receipts into her spreadsheet in weekly increments. If she goes over in one area, she’ll course-correct the next month.
While she’s aggressively paying debt, she contributes 1% of her earnings to her work-sponsored retirement plan, which isn’t noted in her budget. When she’s done paying, she’ll increase this contribution to 6% to take full advantage of her company’s employer match. She keeps $1,500 in savings, just in case she needs to pull some out to fill her $2,200-a-month goal. Some months, she manages to “roll over” spare cash from the previous month to put even more toward her loans.
Elberfeld says the easiest places to keep her costs down are housing and transportation, two areas that are minefields for many.
“I’m pushing 30, but I don’t believe in throwing away $1,100 or $1,200 a month on a one-bed in Nashville by myself,” she said. “It’s easy to live with my two roommates — I’ve lived with one for six years. I didn’t realise other people thought that was hard. They don’t understand there’s a big difference between $1,200 and $450. That’s so much money that you could potentially put in an IRA.” She lives close to her office, and doesn’t have to spend much on gas.
The hardest areas to save are shopping and food, an expense that she’s divided into a few different budget categories: groceries, restaurants, fast food, pizza, and food purchased “while at work.”
Here’s a look at her budget and spending for June 2016, when she earned $3,523.56. Her budget is in green and her spending in purple: