Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Frugal Tips: Bing Rewards Review

I had mentioned in my previous weekly spending post that I had made a purchase off of Amazon, and I had a $5 gift card to make this even cheaper. I'm going to give you a tip on how exactly I managed to get this gift card, and how I keep a constant supply of these coming in while doing nothing out of my ordinary routine and taking only a few minutes or less of your extra time. And we all the know the important part of being financially independent is the fact that your time in life is much more valuable than your money.

The way to do this is through the 'Bing Rewards'. Now I know what you are thinking, "Who the hell actually uses bing?" Trust me, I had the same exact reaction when one of my friends first told me about this. Whenever I don't know something, I instantly head to Google to look it up and see if I can find more information on the subject.

Enter "evil" Microsoft with Bing, offering to pay me just to use their search engine. Yes, you just read correctly - Microsoft will pay you just to use Bing in your searches. Now the payments are not just in straight cash or checks, but they will reward you for using the search engine with gift cards and rewards in several areas.

In order to do this, it took a little re-training as I would instinctively still head to Google. I changed the search engine in my browser to Bing and I also had to start going to Bing when I wanted to search, and now I end up using it more often than not. The search results with Bing are decent, and usually compare to Google pretty well. For those times I need to search for something specific in quotes, I do agree that Google is superior in that aspect.

When it comes to earning points through the Bing Rewards program, you can gain 1-2 points each day by just clicking their daily search or deal. When you initially start, there are a bunch of tutorials and videos that can be done in a short amount of time to get you started with about 300 base points (this may have changed since I first started). You can also link your Facebook account if you have one for 50 points, and then just not allow Bing to ever post or share any information. I'm not sure if you can de-link it and still keep the points. You can also get a one-time bonus credits for referring your friends. These activities are probably the most time you will ever spend on this program, after that it will all come down to earning points through searching.

Depending on the level of your account you can gain 10-15 points through searching each day. Some days they even double the max amount of points you can gain, which is pretty cool. You earn 1 point for every 2 searches, so in 30 searches you will have your maximum daily points from searching. There are always a bunch of trending topics at the bottom of Bing, so I usually just click these for a bunch of 'free' searches and then continue to use Bing throughout the day.

There are also the three 'statuses' or levels of accounts: Member, Silver, and Gold. You start as a member, and then when you get your first 200 points you become a silver member (which gives you 50 more free points). Once you buy your first reward and get 750 lifetime points you will become a 'gold' member which will give you discounts on all the rewards. So the first reward you buy must be at full price, but after that my goal is to aim to stay at the gold level by doing 150 searches each month.

The main reward that I target is the $5 Amazon gift cards, these cost 525 points for regular and silver members - once you have Gold status it will only cost 475 points. I find these to be the best value for me but you are also able donate $5 to charity of your choice, buy skype credits, Hulu plus subscriptions, red box rentals, and a few other things.

In order to reach the 475 points for the Amazon gift card, I will assume that you usually hit 15 points a day. Really you can usually hit 16-18 with the daily deals, but 15 is an easier number to work with and sometimes I miss the maximum amount of points. This means I can earn a $5 Amazon giftcard roughly every 32 days so almost a gift card a month.

To me this is a no brainer, as I accumulate these gift cards and only use them when I have to make a purchase anyways. I'm not going to Amazon JUST to use my gift cards that I have. The minimal time invested at the beginning to breeze through all the tutorials to start this program definitely seems worth it, as now I am not spending any additional time that I wasn't already using to search the internet. Some of those reward websites seem to be great, but then you realize you actually getting paid less than $1/hour - and your time is worth much more than that! For this program, I was already doing this - so why not make a little extra "cash", even if it is very minimal? I just had to switch the search engine I use, and it's not that big of a deal to me. I would recommend taking advantage of this program if you don't have a problem switching search engines!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Weekly Spending - 5/19/13 - 5/25/13

It's that time of the week once again...let's see how I did! My weekly spending for this week consists of the following:

Sunday 5/19:

Monday 5/20:
Charcoal Chimney Starter - $12 - $5 Amazon GC = $7

Tuesday 5/21:

Wednesday 5/22:
Gas - $20

Thursday 5/23:
Car Repairs - $300

Friday 5/24:

Saturday 5/25:

Total Week Spending: $327

This week was everything going really well with my extra spending for the week looking to come in under $50, until the check engine light decided to come on in my car on Wednesday. My car had trouble accelerating at times, and it took a few times on the gas pedal around 20-30MPH where I would have to let off the gas pedal and try again. It would work perfectly fine for stretches on the way home, but then this would happen again and I knew I had trouble.

I took it to Autozone immediately and had them do the check engine diagnostics so that they could get a reading on the error code. It said that I had either a faulty camshaft position sensor or a crankshaft position sensor. They said it would be OK to drive in the short term, but obviously I shouldn't bring it on the highway or do any long distance driving. I obviously did not plan on doing any of that and drove it straight home.

I did some research with my Dad to see if we would be able to do this ourselves, and it did seem relatively simple but they were both in awkward positions and unfortunately we didn't know exactly which one was malfunctioning. We decided it was best to just take it to a mechanic. Of course having great luck - the mechanic replaced the camshaft sensor and the car still had problem, it turned out that both of the sensors had gone faulty!

This was some pretty bad luck, but I guess it could have been much worse. This is the first major problem I have had with my car, and I'm around 62,000 miles (bought used at around ~28,000) so I can't complain. The total cost ended up being just shy of $300, putting a big dent into my monthly spending. I can't wait until I am able to move out, hopefully to a location much closer to work enabling me to commute with bike and drastically cut down on the car usage.

I also purchased a smaller version of a charcoal chimney starter off of Amazon for my camping trip next month. We already have the larger one, but this one is portable and should pay for itself by eliminating the need to buy lighter fluid. I had also filled up my tank for $20 on Wednesday morning. I'm definitely hoping next week goes much smoother, no major purchases are in the plans.

Photo Credits for this post: Pixabay

Friday, May 24, 2013

Putting Your Wallet in Your Back Pocket

You might read this post title and think I'm trying to come up with some clever expression, but that is not the case here. I am literally talking about putting your wallet in your back pocket. This might be slightly off topic from my normal blog topics, but I had to share my new found knowledge with you! And hey, some of your money does have to go into your wallet doesn't it (probably not as much as we'd like)?

Some of my coworkers and I had a discussion about wallet and key placement in pockets at work a few days ago. Super exciting conversation, right? I had never thought that anybody really did differently than me. It was one of those things where I just assumed that most everyone always put their wallet in their back pocket without even thinking about it.

Sure, when I visited a crowded city or went to a concert I would move my wallet to the front pocket - but this was only a temporary solution. Right after this, the wallet went right back to it's normal location. But as I found out - ost of the people I talked to during this conversation keep their wallet in their front pocket, and someone actually mentioned that you could have a lot of problems later on in life with your hips, legs, back, etc. from years of sitting on your wallet.

This part of the conversation intrigued me, and I decided to do a little bit of research. I spend most of my day sitting in an office as well as driving in a car, though I don't always sit directly on my wallet. A lot of the times it is somewhat off to the side, but I'm sure this still makes a difference. I'm not completely level on both sides in that case (especially because my wallet is so fat - I wish!).

The first article that I stumbled upon was this one from the BBC. It doesn't really give any numbers or statistics, but they do recognize it as being an actual thing and the wallet in the back pocket being the cause. It definitely stresses the back pain part, and I know that my dad deals with that on a daily basis so it's definitely something I've been trying to avoid.

The second article I found was in the NY Times. It once again re-iterated the chronic back and hip pain, and that definitely gets my attention. I also found several discussions on forums and other articles debating whether this is just an old wives tale or not, but it definitely seems to have some validity behind it and the logic makes sense.

Since reading these and talking with my coworkers, I have made an effort to start putting my wallet into my FRONT pocket all of the time. It just seems to make too much sense and if it can prevent problems down the road, it seems like a simple change. It is a bit frustrating for me though, as most people now have smartphones so they put that in one pocket and their wallet in the other. I, on the other hand am still rocking my 'dumb' phone so I also carry my iPod around with me for quick googling on WiFi. I also use it for listening to music in my car and the extreme cold in the winter is not good for the battery, and the extreme heat of the inside of a car is not good for electronics in general. So that's why I keep the iPod in my pocket, forcing me to have slightly crowded pockets with the wallet moving to the front. I think this minor inconvenience is worth avoiding potential pains!

If you keep your wallet in your pocket, where do you keep it? Front or back?

Photo Credits for this post: Pixabay

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Student Loan Progress - May 2013

For some reason I was looking forward to making progress on my student loans this month, instead of just hiding from them. I couldn't wait to throw a huge amount of money at it, and show you and myself that progress can be made and that progress can hopefully be made quickly too. Now don't get me wrong though, I definitely was not looking forward to the parting with my money!

Let's dive right into the numbers and see what I did this month. First I'll start with what my loans looked like last month:

April 2013:

Loan  Loan Amount  Interest Rate
Private 1  $ 27,220.04 7.92%
Private 2  $ 20,097.38 7.92%
Private 3  $ 3,067.54 7.92%
Private 4  $ 3,588.77 7.35%
Gov 1  $ 22,041.66 5.22%
Gov 2  $ 7,704.42 6.80%
Total  $ 83,719.81

Here's what they look like this month after my payments were made this month:

Loan  Loan Amount   Change  Interest Rate
Private 1  $ 27,131.22  $ (88.82) 7.92%
Private 2  $ 20,037.32  $ (60.06) 7.92%
Private 3  $ -    $ (3,067.54) 7.92%
Private 4  $ 3,561.09  $ (27.68) 7.35%
Gov 1  $ 22,118.82  $ 77.16 5.22%
Gov 2  $ 7,566.56  $ (137.86) 6.80%
Total  $ 80,415.01  $ (3,304.80)

I made a huge payment this month, taking some money out of my huge emergency fund and I plan to do that again next month. I'll break down exactly how much I paid and how much I took out of my savings account when I fully complete my monthly spending and budget. I completely eliminated Private Loan #3 and it felt really good to see one of my loans change its status to "paid in full". It was a good psychological motivator to pay it in full and it was also one of the highest interest rates, so it sticks with my avalanche payment plan.

I'm also a little a lot pissed off at the government loan minimum payment being set lower than what even covers the accrued interest. I've never made a minimum payment before, but with my new strategy of targeting the higher interest loans first I decided to do that and put all the extra money towards higher interest ones. I guess I will have to be more careful from now on, but I still took a loss of $77 on that which annoys me. Imagine someone that can only afford to make the minimum payments each month and they are making zero progress? At least there are income based repayment programs for government loans, though these can pretty much make the loan last forever.

The next step for me will be to completely pay off either Private Loan #1 or #2, though I'm not sure which one I'll be targeting first. They both have the highest interest rates remaining so I want to get them out of the way as fast as possible. I think I might go for #1 first, so that when I do finally finish paying that one off the 2nd one wont really seem as big.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Weekly Spending - 5/12/13 - 5/18/13

It's that time of the week once again...let's see how I did! My weekly spending for this week consists of the following:

Sunday 5/12:
Mother's Day Dinner - $15

Monday 5/13:

Tuesday 5/14:

Wednesday 5/15:

Thursday 5/16:
Gas - $17

Friday 5/17:
Train Tickets - $30

Saturday 5/18:
Parking - $10

Total Week Spending: $72

My total spending for this week ended up at $72 , under last week's total of $88 which is always a good trend. I split the bill for going out for dinner with my Dad for our Mother's Day celebration, we ended up using one of the gift certificates that I had touched on a previous post which is what kept the cost down.

Spent $17 on gas to fill my tank on Thursday, and then $30 on train tickets to visit my girlfriend as well as the return trip. I also chipped in for $10 in parking as we went to the concert that I had bought tickets for last month. I'm aiming to keep my total 'extra' spending for this month under $350, so let's see if I can meet that goal. With basically two full weeks left in the month, we'll see how it goes.

Photo Credits for this post: Pixabay

Monday, May 20, 2013

Recent Student Loan Developments in the News

Recently there have been some developments regarding student loans in the news dealing with both the current and future interest rates. The current rates for subsidized student loans are 3.4% and unsubsidized loans are locked in at 6.8%, with many private loans coming in at rates even higher than this. Right now the 3.4% interest rate loans are set to double as of July 1, though there are bills on the table to prevent this rise from occuring

Then there is other end of the spectrum - Senator Elizabeth Warren is actually campaigning to get the rates on student loans lowered.

As you can see from the above image, she wants students to be able to get loans for the "same rate as the banks". I personally find this a bit ridiculous, as the 0.75% rate is the overnight lending rate to the banks. These loans are not being held for 4+ years and it would be impossible to even break even at these rates. Trust me, I am no fan of the banks but I just don't see this strategy being feasible or sustainable. Whoever is loaning you money needs to either profit (private), or be able to break even (government or non-profit).

I'm not 100% sure about all these rate changes, because I'm not sure how much subsidized loans actually come back to the taxpayers but I do agree that student loans should be able to pay a competitive rate. You can get a mortgage around 3% in the current environment and car loans and other loans can also give much better rates when compared to the current student loan market, especially on the private side of things.

I know there is a lack of collateral behind student loans when comparing it to mortgage or a car loan, but there is also the fact that student loans are very rarely discharged in bankruptcy - they are with you for life! A better campaign would be to try and keep the subsidized loans at a rate of 3.4% in the current environment, and focus on getting the rest of the student loan rates below 5%. I think this would be a fairly reasonable solution and would help out a lot of students. Of course, we all know what happens when reasonable and Congress are brought up in the same sentence. We end up with two extreme stances and have to hope they somehow to end up on that reasonable solution.

I still personally believe the biggest thing that needs to be done about student loans is education as I had said in a previous post. General education on personal finance, taxes, and credit in general would be great too! This topic in general is of great interest to me, because the interest rate on my student loans is what really makes me want to get rid of them. The fact that I'm losing so much extra money each month on top of the money I borrowed is what really is driving me to pay them off as soon as possible.

What is your opinion on the current state of the student loan interest rates? Do you think lowering them is the correct solution? 

Further reading on this topic: 
LA Times - Elizabeth Warren Proposal
NY Times - Preventing Student Loan Rate Increase

Monday, May 13, 2013

Weekly Spending - 5/05/13 - 5/11/13

It's that time of the week once again...let's see how I did! My weekly spending for this week consists of the following:

Sunday 5/05:
Mother's Day Gift - $12
Oil - $6

Monday 5/06:
Gas - $20

Tuesday 5/07:

Wednesday 5/08:

Thursday 5/09:
Haircut - $20
Fundraiser - $10

Friday 5/10:
Gas - $20

Saturday 5/11:

Total Week Spending: $88

My total spending for this week ended up at $88 which is pretty good. Not as good as I did last week, but I doubt that's going to happen most weeks! And it's problem not going to be nearly that low as the summer months approach.

I bought a charm for my Mom that she had been wanting to put on this bracelet she had, I also chipped in on going out to eat on Mother's Day (but that will be on next weeks spending).

I spent around $40 in gas, I didn't fill up the week before so this carried over to this week. I also visited my grandma so that was extra mileage compared to usual.

I got a haircut for $20, which I know adds up over the course of the year. I plan on learning how to cut my own hair and saving that money once I move out. Unfortunately my barber's son has been fighting cancer, and it had been in remission but it came back. I bought two of the 50/50 raffle tickets to support him because I've been getting my hair cut at pretty much the same place for 10+ years. I always see an opportunity to help someone out as money well spent, you never know when you might need that help yourself.

Photo Credits for this post: Pixabay

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Student Loan Education

I personally believe the biggest thing that needs to be done about student loans is education about what exact these student loans mean for your life after college. I personally had no idea the extent the amount of debt I was piling up while at school or how exactly it would affect me after graduation. I definitely didn't have much knowledge on personal finance, investing, or anything of the sort - and I'm still a novice at this.

My parents did teach me the importance of saving money, not wasting money, looking for deals, and never abusing credit. For this I thank them; I have never built up a credit card debt and always pay the full amount each month.

But when it came to student loans, this was brand new to all of us. My parents had never went to college, and my high school guidance counselor never even hinted there was another option. I had great grades and student loans were just part of the process of going to college in my mind.

Most 17-18 year old seniors in high school have no idea the concept of a huge sum of money. The extent of their personal finance probably comes from car payments, car insurance, gas money, and money to hang out with friends. They most likely do not have a mortgage and hopefully don't have a huge credit card debt to their name. The concept and size of $25,000+ student loan debt is foreign to them.

A few things that I think can prevent situations like my own, or even worse case scenarios is full education on student loans:

  •  Guidance Counselors in High School and parents should be able to tell students that college isn't the end all solution. It IS possible to learn a trade, get job experience, and still be just as successful within certain professions.
  • Community college is a great option, especially if you are unsure of what you want to do. A majority of people switch majors, so you can save here by making the change at a lower cost.
  • Many state schools have great reputations and can be a lot cheaper per year compared to private schools
  • Before accepting any loan students should be given a screen showing how much they are taking out for that year and then the following calculations would also be mandatory for the lender to show before the borrower accepts: 

    1. We'll go with an example of $5,000 a year. First of all, the student should be shown how much this $5,000 debt will actually be if it is unsubsidized loan. If that loan is taken out freshman year, it will be closer to $6,500-$7,500 by the time the student graduates. The borrower should be made aware of this amount!
    2. The borrower should be given an estimation of their 4 year cost of going to school based on this first loan. So if they are taking out $5,000 for the first year, it should show them that they will most likely end up with $25,000-$30,000 total in debt after graduation. I believe that seeing the total amount gives a much better perspective than the individual amounts being taken out each year
    3. The borrower should then be given an estimation of how much their minimum monthly payments would be based on that calculated total debt. I think it should also show them an estimate of how much is going to principal each payment, and how much would be going to interest.
    4. The last thing would be that they are able to select various degrees and the area of the country they are in and be given salary estimates. Based on these salary estimates, the net income for each month should be shown and then the student loan payments should be subtracted from that total. The borrower would then be able to see how much money they would have leftover each month after those minimum payments. 

I believe that if this transparency was shown before every student took out a loan, you would see a lot of people rethinking their choices. That $50,000 graduating salary doesn't look as good when you have to give half your take home pay to paying that loan off! Just being able to see the huge amount and the effect it will have on you in front of your face would be a huge deal.

Do you think that education and transparency about student loans would help reduce the amount of debt that students are graduating with?

Photo Credits for this post: Pixabay

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Frugal Tips: If you have to go out to eat!

Today I'll be continuing my weekly spending posts as a summary to keep tracking of my extra spending. My weekly spending for this week consists of the following:

I know, I know - you are probably reading the title and right away you are thinking that nobody HAS to go out to eat. Eating at home can be healthier because you are preparing the food yourself and you know exactly what the ingredients are and you can control exactly what is being added in. A lot of the chain restaurants are notorious for using a huge amount of sodium and who knows what else, and then of course it is up to actual chef. I will definitely agree with all of those points, but I feel like there are sometimes when it is okay to treat yourself.

But even after all those points, If you are inclined to eating out I'm here to give you some tips that you may have not heard of yet. When my family goes out to eat, we never spend full price if it's just us (or at least I can't remember the last time we did). The #1 reason for this is because of a great website called You can always get gift certificates on this website for 50% off or even more! You just plug in your zip code or local area, then search for the participating restaurants.

If you are just two people, there are plenty of gift certificates that are $25 for only $15 or $10. At $5 a person - that's not bad at all for going out to eat. That's probably around the full price you'd pay for lunch so you are definitely getting your money's worth depending on the restaurant - thought obviously not as good as eating in. If you are in a larger group, there are plenty of gift certificates that are $50 for $25 or even $70 gift cards for only $30.

Another thing to check out is all the local deal sites like Groupon, Living Social, etc. Just make sure not to get suckered in to always buying these "deals" and the other ones they have - those expenses add up. They are always offering something like this with a lot of restaurants not featured on that website - more of one time deals.

Now the most important thing in my opinion is that if you do go out to eat you definitely want to limit those times! If you are going out once a week, make sure you are getting a good deal - but also try to cut that down to once every two weeks and so on. Before you know it - you'll be eating most of your meals at home.

I have personally cut down on going out to eat almost completely. The only time I really do it is for necessary social times, like when people from work want to go out or my friends absolutely can't be convinced to just hang out at home. I almost exclusively make my lunch from work or take leftovers from home if there happens to be any. My senior year at college I prepared a lot of meals with leftovers in mind, it's necessary a lot of times when cooking for one person. Sometimes I check out the soup in the cafeteria but I haven't bought a full lunch from there in over a month.

Photo Credits for this post: Pixabay

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Weekly Spending - 4/28/13 - 5/04/13

Today I'll be continuing my weekly spending posts as a summary to keep tracking of my extra spending. My weekly spending for this week consists of the following:

Sunday 4/28:

Monday 4/29:
Gas - $10

Tuesday 4/30:

Wednesday 5/01:

Thursday 5/02:
Lunch - $11

Friday 5/03:

Saturday 5/04:

Total Week Spending: $21

First of all - can't believe that it is May already...looking forward to the warmer weather finally arriving! Gas spending for this week consisted of $10 on Monday - not bad at all. It seems that gas prices are slowly creeping back up for the summer though. I also spent $11 on Thursday for dinner. Normally I wouldn't really go out for lunch during the week but my boss suggested we should go to lunch as a team, and I always think this is a good opportunity for networking and building relationships. At least I didn't have to make lunch on Thursday night for Friday! $21 for the entire week is really good I think, but this is definitely at the low end of the scale for me. We'll see if I can keep it up throughout the month.

Photo Credits for this post: Veezzle

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Frugal Tips: Carpooling

It seems that one of the main things I read on personal finance and blogs dealing with frugality and saving money to tell you ditch the car when it comes to commuting. You move as close to possible to work and then use a bicycle or walk to commute. I fully agree that this can cut spending down tremendously especially when your cost of fuel plummets as well as the maintenance on your car for when only using it for long distance trips when necessary.

Right now that is just not in the plans for me; as much as I would like it to be in the future. So I've been looking for other ways to cut down on the costs of commuting. I have looked into a few mass transit options and while they are less than convenient, I will admit I still haven't fully researched those options.

But this leads me to a new solution: carpooling! I'm lucky that I have coworker that lives around me that is also looking to save some money and is willing to carpool with me. We are going to start out with each just doing 1 day a week, so I'll be driving 4 days a week instead of 5, not a bad way to start.

Here's the current breakdown:

  • My drive to work is around 16 miles each way, for 32 miles round trip
  • That's around 160 miles a week just from commuting!
  • 52 weeks in a year, but I'll use 48 to account for holidays, working from home when it snows, etc: so that's 7680 miles a year - just from commuting

Here is how my new commute will look:

  • 32 miles round trip for 3 days a week: 96 miles
  • One day I will be getting a ride
  • On the day where I drive my coworker, it will be a 44 mile round trip
  • That totals to 140 miles a week, so I'll save around 20 miles a week
  • That will have me end up around 6720 miles a year - almost 1000 less miles!

Just for fun, if we both decided to do 2 days a week it would like:

  • 32 miles round trip for 1 day a week
  • Two days I'll be getting a ride
  • Two days where I drive, it would be 88 miles a week
  • That would be 120 miles a week
  • I would now be all the way down at 5760 miles a year

After looking at the numbers, it's really amazing that more people don't take advantage of this! Now I know it's hard to coordinate a lot of the times, and like I said - I'm lucky to have a coworker that lives such a close distance to me. But it's amazing when you are sitting in traffic and every single car only has 1 person in it. Imagine how much better the traffic would be if only 25% of those people could carpool a few days a week? Or if we stopped using the car to take 2-3 mile trips to the grocery store and instead took bicycles.

As you can see from the above picture, carpooling has gone down dramatically over the last thirty years. If you can carpool, take mass transit, or even ditch the car all together and take a bike to work - I would highly recommend it. At an estimated cost of $0.50 a mile, these savings can really add up over the course of employment.

Photo Credits for this post: Pixabay

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Unbury Me!

Now I don't know if you are like me - but if you read my first post you'd know that I hated the thought of student loans. I didn't want to look at them, I didn't want to acknowledge them, I just wanted them to go away and pretend they weren't there. Now that I have finally acknowledged them I want to establish a target of actually getting rid of them (not just by hoping they magically dissapear - though if this somehow did happen you wouldn't hear me complaining).
While living at home is not the optimal solution that I was looking forward to after college, it helps me keep my spending way down and allows to me to put that money towards my loans instead of paying a full rent every month. In this post I'm going to tell you exactly how I plan on paying off these loans, and hopefully establish some sort of timeline!

I have come up with a few scenarios to pay off my loans using the awesome yet simple website called It's super easy to use as well as modifying once you have already put in all your information - and it's free. I'm going to be using the avalanche method to pay off my loans, and while the psychological aspect of using the snowball can have its advantages, I think for myself I'll gain the biggest psychological advantages by paying the least amount of interest possible.

The first scenario I'm going to talk about will be the conservative method of paying off my loans, with trying to aim for $1500 payments a month: I will have fully paid off my loans in about 5 years, but have paid about $17,000 in interest still. That really sucks - but the 5 years part doesn't sound TOO terrible.

The second scenario for paying off my loans would be aiming for $2000 payments a month: This brings me to a debt free solution over a year ahead of the $1500 payments! I also end up "only" losing near $12,000 in interest - a savings of $5,000 which would be great.

Just for fun, I've also done a scenario where I somehow manage to make payments of around $2500 a month just to see how much of a difference that would make:
My loans would be fully paid off in just 3 years, and I would end up paying less than $10,000 in interest. Wouldn't that be awesome? I don't see this scenario ever playing out realistically though, as great as it would be. With my fixed expenses it would live be with basically zero spending money each month and with the constantly rising cost of gas that wouldn't help either.

I think what I'm going to end up targeting is somewhere in between the $1500-$2000 payments a month and hope to have my loans completely paid off sometime in late 2017/early 2018. Hey, maybe I will even have months where I can strive to get my payments over $2000. I know next month when I use some of my overly large emergency fund to completely eliminate one of the loans I will definitely be over that amount. I hope you too will follow me along in my journey to become debt free and maybe even make progress on your own if you are in a similar situation!