Last year, I submitted my last student loan payment: After seven months, I’d paid off nearly $14,000 of undergraduate debt and saved up a couple months’ worth of expenses in an emergency fund. So I focused on increasing my safety net and saving for my upcoming wedding and honeymoon.
Then six months ago, I added a new goal to the mix: I’d started taking classes toward a Master’s in Education, and knew getting my degree wouldn’t be cheap. I could take out the full tuition cost—$20,000—in federal student loans, but with a 6.8 percent interest rate, that felt too steep. Plus, I never wanted to be that deep in debt again.
So I decided to double-down on my savings strategy and pay in cash as I enroll in classes over the next year. To date, I’ve banked $12,500. Here’s how I plan to hit my $20,000 goal by September.
When I got serious about paying off my undergraduate loans, I got serious about saving, too—consistently banking about $1,200, or 50 percent of my sub-$50,000 salary, each month. I know that amount can seem nearly impossible, but paying off my debt was so important to me that I was willing to make sacrifices. And eventually it became a habit. So I kept it up even after I finished paying off debt. That initially went toward my wedding costs, travel savings and emergency fund. Now, it’s all going to a dedicated grad school savings account.
Remembering my priorities—family, friends, safety and home—has helped me stay on track. So while my partner and I willingly splurge on an apartment in Southern California—it has a pool, gym and night patrol for $1,500 a month—we ruthlessly cut back on expenses like clothes and entertainment by borrowing or renting. And if something doesn’t fall under one of my four valued categories, I won’t buy it. It’s as simple (and difficult) as that.
Even though I’m putting away about $1,200 of my salary every month, I still have to bank an extra $800 to reach my goal of saving $20,000 in 10 months—so I picked up a side gig.
Fortunately, I work in digital marketing and content creation, and my skills translate well to freelance writing jobs. After settling on a writing niche, I set up a coaching call with an established money writer, who taught me how to find and pitch clients. Then I created a free online portfolio and started picking up work. I’m now spending 12 to 15 hours per month working with three or four clients, which helps me hit my $800 goal.
Sometimes, unexpected expenses pop up, and I can’t save the full $1,200 from my salary, or I don’t earn $800 from my freelance clients in a month. So whenever I come up short, I find other ways to hit my $2,000 monthly goal. From cashing out my childhood savings bonds for $1,500 to selling my old MacBook for $150 and offloading a used storage bin on Craigslist. My goal’s too important to me to leave any stone unturned.