How to start paying student loans – best practices guide

[This is the first installment in a series examining repaying student loans. Part II will discuss an alternative payment plan, Revised Pay As You Earn or REPAYE.]

As someone who started off her debt reduction journey on Get Rich Slowly with some pretty astronomical student loan debt, I've learned the hard way about the repayment process. And with school starting up again and many feeling tempted to borrow, I wanted to share some of that retrospectively gained wisdom.

Best Practices Guide for Paying Student Loans
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More about...Budgeting, Debt

How much does it cost to start a side gig?

So you're thinking to start a side gig. Congratulations! Whether you are trying to pay off debt or just trying to fully fund your savings account, a side gig can help you reach your financial goals.

But be aware: There is a grain of truth to the old adage, "You have to spend money to make money." Exactly how much money are we talking?

The cost of starting a side gig depends on several factors, so let's explore some of the costs you are likely to encounter regardless of your new business focus.

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More about...Planning, Side Hustles

So easy, it’s barely cooking: Healthy, simple recipes

Recently, I wrote about meal planning and delivery services. Most of the meal delivery services that I found were priced similarly per meal to most of the fast-casual restaurants in my area. To me, at least, that's rarely worth it, especially when you consider that with, many such services, you still have to do the cooking yourself.

One reason a service like that might be worth it for many people, however, is that they simply don't know what to make when left to their own devices. I've definitely been there, even though I have a bunch of cookbooks and practice the Pinterest strategy.

It takes practice to identify recipes that you will like, and there is always a learning curve when it comes to making something new. For that reason, I also keep some easy, tried-and-true recipes in a recipe box on my counter that are healthy and simple to make. Bonus points for any recipe that tastes fresh but can be made from items that I can store in the pantry so that they're there when I need them.

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More about...Food

Summertime reads: How to get cheap or free books

I have always been a big reader. Maybe it's the fact that I'm introverted -- so introverted, in fact, that I almost lost my fourth grade reading challenge.

  • First, you had to go up to the teacher and tell her that you'd read something.

  • Second, after you told her, she gave you a big sticker and you had to go up to your name on the wall in the cafeteria -- in front of everyone! -- and put the sticker by your name. No way, Jose!

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More about...Frugality, Investing

Meal plans and delivery programs — costly or cost-effective?

The three biggest items in most people's budgets are usually housing, transportation, and food. That's because they are needs; but like most needs, costs can range from the inexpensive, no-frills version to the outrageously expensively extravagances seen on some reality TV shows. For example, you could live in a studio apartment or a mansion, take shanks' mare or drive a luxury car, slap a PB & J together at home or eat out at a five-star restaurant.

What you choose depends on your means (what you can afford) and your priorities (what's important to you). Maybe you are willing to make all your meals at home so you can drive your dream car. Or maybe you're willing to bike or take the bus … to your favorite restaurants on a weekly basis. If you are debt-free, stashing some cash in a high-yield savings account, saving for retirement, and meeting all your other financial goals, more power to you.

I am willing to bet, though, that most people are seeking a happy medium in all categories. Nothing too expensive, but a home and car that are safe and comfortable, and food that's tasty and convenient. When it comes to food, even if you are eating at home, there are more options today than ever before: Having your groceries, or even fully-cooked meals, delivered are all possibilities to meal-plan and save some cash. But not every option is equally cost-effective. Here are a few options, with some pros and cons. Continue reading...

More about...Food

5 ideas for a productive staycation

According to a recent blog by the Wall Street Journal, Americans leave $52.4 billion on the table each year in unused paid time off (not including sick or personal leave). This lowers employee productivity and can lead to burnout and retention issues. It is also quite expensive for companies themselves, since the time and money associated with PTO are liabilities on their balance sheets.

Sometimes, though, it is just not feasible to get away, even if you follow these tips to save money on a family vacation. However, even if you're not able to get away to an exotic (to you) locale, that doesn't mean you should let your vacation days go to waste. Here are some ideas for a fun and productive staycation.

1. Complete a Home-Based Project You've Been Putting Off

Is there a project you've been hoping to complete that's too big to accomplish in a weekend? It may just be the perfect candidate for a staycation! Ideally, you want to take enough time off to finish what you have in mind -- with a day or two left to relax and admire your creation, whatever it is.

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More about...Travel, Frugality

How Social Security can help you catch up on retirement savings

I was chatting with my dad on Father's Day (he prefers phone calls to Father's Day gifts), and everything seemed ordinary at first. He asked how Jake and I were enjoying our house and whether I still liked my new job. However, I was in for a surprise. When I asked him how his work was going, he said, "Oh, I retired a couple of weeks ago."

!!!

After I stopped sputtering, I learned a couple of things:

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More about...Planning, Retirement

How to cancel COBRA insurance

In a recent article, I described what COBRA insurance is and my experiences obtaining it. One of the biggest complaints I had about COBRA was the sign-up process. Signing up for COBRA insurance had to be initiated by my employer, and it was a paper process to boot. This meant there was a lag between when I signed up and when I received proof of insurance.

Unfortunately, after wading through the sign-up process, the rest of my experience with COBRA didn't get any easier. A paper bill was mailed to me each month and I was supposed to send in my check. I couldn't find cancellation instructions anywhere on the documentation I received, and it wasn't possible to initiate the cancellation process online either.

Billing Mismatch was Just the Beginning

As I stated in my previous article, I needed COBRA only for the period between April 15 and May 1, when my insurance at my new employer was set to kick in.

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More about...Insurance, Career

Real-life case study: Should I save money or pay off debt?

An issue was raised in the comments of my recent post, Celebrating One Year of Homeownership. In that post, I mentioned that we currently have over $30,000 in liquid savings. At least one reader felt that, with our level of debt (currently over $390,000), that this was an excessive amount and instead we should pay down some of our debt. So I thought that this was a good situation to weigh the eternal savings-or-debt debate again using my own situation as case study.

First, Some Updates and Future Plans

  • The shed: We had the old shed demolished and removed and the new shed assembled, which cost about $500.
  • The back deck: We also got an estimate on the back deck. The issues there are that the paving is cracked throughout and, in certain places, the edge of the pool is crumbling, well, into the pool.
  • The handrail: The quote we received was to resurface the entire back deck, to address the structural issues along the edge, and to install a handrail in the steps into the shallow end of the pool.

That quote came back in the neighborhood of $7,500. This seems like a lot to us, so we are going to get another quote as well as ask some questions about this one. For example, the estimate lumps some things together that I think could be broken out if we wanted to do a less extensive repair.

In other words, we want to know how much it would cost if we focused exclusively on the structural/safety issues and postponed the more cosmetic repairs for sometime down the road. We do need to at least get the crumbling portion fixed and I would feel a lot safer getting in and out of the pool if we had a handrail.

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More about...Debt

What is COBRA insurance? (and other frequently asked questions)

Next week marks my two-month anniversary at my new job. Huzzah! In addition to celebrating my new, higher salary, I am also feeling simultaneously challenged and less stressed.

I feel challenged because my new job is in an entirely different industry than my former position. But I'm definitely less stressed because the performance expectations are reasonable and my colleagues are fun and friendly. I may even be celebrating a new coworker soon, since the friend who got me into SEO in the first place (and who was also one of my professional references for my current position) has applied for a job in my department.

Saving can Make a Job Transition Easier

While all of these are good things, one aspect of my job transition that was less than festive was the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) insurance process. Since one of the features of an improved economy is an increased willingness to switch jobs -- or even to leave a current job without having another lined up -- I thought I would share my experience with COBRA.

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More about...Insurance, Career