Back in May 2011, I took out a personal loan to pay off the remaining balance of the mortgage that my ex-husband and I shared jointly. It was part of the divorce process, to delete the last debt-laden account that had both his and my names on it. Thanks to our mutual frugal ways, that amount was only $40,000 out of an original $120,000.
If course, $40,000 at 11.75% APR on a soon-to-be single mom’s income was daunting. But I breathed in, took stock of my finances, and knew I could handle it. Each monthly payment was $889.48, with the 61st and last payment being June 16, 2016.
On February 18, 2015, I paid it off — sixteen months early.
In other words, I live below my means — WAY below my means. As a PhD-holding community college professor, having worked eight years at my current campus, my salary is solidly middle-class professional at $55K. But my yearly expenses is $27.5K. How?
My kid’s at the local public school. I buy necessities from Goodwill, WalMart, Target, eBay, Amazon, Half Price Books, Kid to Kid, or Kroger. I use my Kroger grocery reward points to buy cheap gasoline. My kid and I don’t eat that much (coincidentally, we both eat about 1600 calories a day). I don’t have much clothes and wear them until they fall apart, and that’s the only time when I replace them. I sell un-needed stuff to Half Price Books, Kid to Kid, and eBay. My cellphone is prepaid. I have no cable. My car is a basic 2007 Honda Fit that I paid off in a year-and-a-half.
(A happy result of that — I don’t sweat the small stuff when a hailstorm makes my car look like a golf ball or I get a minor side scrape avoiding an accident by nudging against curbs or highway stuff, like an HOV wall during yesterday’s icy roads when I was about to slide into a fender bender. No fender bender — just a small scrape across a passenger door.)
When I was married, my ex and I — both working professionals — lived on one income and paid down debts with the other. Post-marriage, I still operate on taking 50% of the household income (now just mine) towards slamming down debt while living on the other 50%.
This will come in handy as I tackle the one remaining monster debt: my graduate school loan. I was in grad school full-time for four years (fall 1998-fall 2002), per the requirement of my scholarship. However, while that scholarship paid tuition, books, and fees, I was a grown adult with grown-up bills like rent, utilities, car insurance, and car repairs. Adjunct pay teaching a class or two a semester — at $375/month per class — wasn’t enough for those grown-up bills.
“I’m qualified for up to $21,000 a year in school loans? I don’t have to pay anything until I’m done? Wow! Where do I sign?” Yeah, it seemed like a good idea at the time. When I finished my full-time coursework, I began teaching full-time in fall 2002, but I was still a student — preparing for comprehensive exams and the dissertation — so I could defer payments.
In 2005, when all that was left of my student status was dissertation work, I consolidated all of those loans (plus any interest accrued) into one monster loan: $96K at 3.125%, with monthly payments being $411.44.
As of today, that amount is $66K at 1.875%. (Discounts for autodebit and paying on time — WOO-HOO.) While I can wind that balance down to the bitter end, to the 360th payment on July 23, 2035 — when the kiddo will be 27 YEARS OLD and I’ll be 63-FREAKIN’-YEARS OLD! — well, that prospect isn’t all that appealing, you know?
After paying off that last bit of mortgage-as-personal-loan two weeks ago, I fired up a spreadsheet, calculated a payment plan, and came up with a reasonable time-frame. Right now, that’s up to June 24, 2024, nine years out.
My personal goal? To pay it off two years earlier than that, as a 50th birthday gift to myself — and freed-up funding for the kiddo’s post-high school future.
As long as I live below my means, I might be able to achieve that gift.
Eyes on the prize, Lizardqueen. Eyes on the prize.