Monday, June 24, 2013

Student Loan Progress - June 2013

Another month, another round of student loan payments. Unfortunately this month ended up being a little strange in my student loan payments, due to circumstances beyond my control. I was not able to put as much money towards my loans as I was expecting. But first I'm going to start off with where I left off last month so you can get a frame of reference.

May 2013:

Loan  Loan Amount  Interest Rate
Private 1  $ 27,131.22 7.92%
Private 2  $ 20,037.32 7.92%
Private 3  $ -   7.92%
Private 4  $ 3,561.09 7.35%
Gov 1  $ 22,118.82 5.22%
Gov 2  $ 7,566.56 6.80%
Total  $ 80,415.01

Here's what my loans look like this month after my payments were made in June:

Loan  Loan Amount   Change  Interest Rate
Private 1  $ 26,053.92  $ (1,077.30) 7.92%
Private 2  $ 19,971.82  $ (65.50) 7.92%
Private 3  $ -    $ -   7.92%
Private 4  $ 3,532.69  $ (28.40) 7.35%
Gov 1  $ 22,118.82  $ 0   5.22%
Gov 2  $ 7,566.56  $ 0   6.80%
Total  $ 79,243.81  $ (1,171.20)

As you can see from the above, I have started to tackle Private Loan #1 as my next big target, but not quite as much as I would have liked to this month. I set up an auto-payment ahead of $1500 towards my three private loans ahead of time. This was because it was due when I was on vacation. I didn't want to put too much because I was unsure of what my expenses would look like this month. In hindsight, I definitely could have bumped it up this month but I guess I can do that next month instead.

You may have also noticed that I did not make any payments towards my government loans this month, which is one of the reasons things were beyond my control. That would have been another ~$400 or so, bringing me close to $2000 total for the month. Unfortunately it did not work out this way because for the 2nd time in a little under a year - my government loans have been sold to a different provider! Apparently nobody wants to take my money from me? They can really pay it off in full if that's what they want...

But I did receive an e-mail that my loans had been transferred to Previously I had been using, and I forgot the name of the one that my loans started out with. I received that e-mail on June 11th and they told me it can take up to 15 business (!!) days for my loan to transfer and show up. I'm going to hate to see how bad the interest on my loans look like once this is finished processing. After screwing up the payment last month, and now over a month of interest accruing it will not be pretty. Needless to say, I'm still waiting for the loans to show up. They were shown as fully paid on my previous account right away on the 11th, so not sure what the hold up is here. I also have no idea when this new payment will be due, but I'm hoping that it is later in the month like it was on the previous website.

The only advantage that I'm going to be enjoying is that this new loan service does provide a 0.25% interest rate discount if you set up an automatic debit. I plan on setting up automatic debit that is slightly higher than the minimum payment, as long as it does bring the principal down. If not I will configure my own "minimum" payment to do exactly that. This will be helpful as I continue to put the majority of my money towards my higher interest private loans.

Here's to hoping that next month brings more significant progress and less confusion!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Robert H Treman State Park Camping Review

This post is going to deviate slightly from the normal theme of my posts on here, but it's definitely going to stick to the theme of trying to save money. As you may have seen from my previous weekly spending posts, I had made a few purchases in preparation for a camping trip. My girlfriend and I took a week vacation by renting a cabin at Robert H Treman State park in Ithaca, NY. I know we both like to research where we are going so I figured if there are any camping enthusiasts (or looking to get into camping) in the area I would be able to assist in your own research!

First I'd like to start out by saying that neither my girlfriend or me are expert campers, and we are definitely not talking about backpacking or parking at a trailhead and camping into the forest. The extent of our camping knowledge is just with car camping. For those not familiar, this is where you pack as much as you can into your car and usually pull into a designated camping site at a park with your car with your tent pretty much right next to it (or close enough). Since we were going for a week this time, we decided to upgrade a bit this time and get a cabin so that any potential rain would not be as much of a hinderance.

After first entering the park, we checked in at the park office. The ranger was very friendly and showed us exactly how to drive to our cabin, where the bathrooms and showers were, as well as pointing out how to get to the start of the trails and how to purchase firewood in the camp. The entrance to the camping area is pretty cool, as you actually get to "ford" your car across a tiny little stream. There is a central parking area for all the cabins and they supply wagons to bring all your stuff to the cabins.

When we arrived at the actual cabin, it was locked with a padlock and the doors slide open kind of like barn style doors. Behind that is a pretty heavy duty screen door. Maybe our expectations going in were kind of low for the cabin, but it was actually really clean. The inside cabin consists of 4 beds, lights, a (small) full refrigerator with freezer, 4 shelves to put things on, and 6 outlets to charge everything or plug whatever you bring in. The outside of the cabin has a porch, a bench, a picnic table, and an open picnic style grill.

Pictures of the Cabin At Robert H Treman State Park

If you are looking for a secluded campsite, this is not the place to go. You are definitely within shouting distance of your neighboring cabins - but don't get me wrong - at no time did me and my girlfriend feel like we didn't have privacy. They are a reasonable distance from each other. There are plenty of taps to get water from scattered about, and our cabin was pretty close to the bathrooms with some cabins being further than others. The bathrooms were cleaned daily and always stock with soap & toilet paper. The bathrooms by the cabins are cold water only and unfortunately don't have showers.

If you want to shower, you will have to walk a bit of a distance to the camping loop for that. It didn't bother us too much, and if you really wanted you are able to park right outside this set of bathrooms. These bathrooms also contain larger basins for doing your dishes and all the showers and faucets in this facility contained hot water. The showers were relatively cleaned, and you could tell these bathrooms were cleaned daily too. Everything was well maintained for a state park and we had no complaints there.

For people with kids, there are two playgrounds with one being in the day use area and an almost brand new one in the camping area near the cabins. There is also a swimming area with a diving board that is right below the falls! You will definitely need some sort of watershoes though, as the bottom is rocky. There are quite a few other state parks in the area as well. We took day trips to Buttermilk Falls State Park, Watkins Glen State Park, and Taughannock Falls State Park. There is more waterfall swimming at Buttermilk Falls, swimming right on Cayuga Lake at Taughannock Falls, and a olympic sized swimming pool at Watkins Glen. There is also plenty to see within the city of Ithaca if you get a day that doesn't have the greatest weather. 

The trails at Robert H Treman State park are really nice, as well as all of the state parks in the surrounding area that we visited. I think our favorite trails would have been the gorge trail at Robert H Treman State Park as well as the gorge trail at Watkins Glen State Park. All of the waterfalls and the gorges themselves were amazing. None of the trails that we walked were overly difficult, but The trails definitely require some stamina if you plan on doing the whole "loop" at a park, with some being around 5-6 miles in total and having hundreds of steps. Most of the time we hiked our way up the trail, had a lunch we packed at the top at a picnic area, then hiked our way back down.

If anyone plans on going to this park or anywhere nearby, feel free to leave a question and I'll try to answer the best I can!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Getting a Raise

Well it seems that I have stumbled upon some good luck as of yesterday, getting notice from my boss that I would be receiving a 6% raise. But I'd like to think it was also having to do with all the hard work I've put in, after all we do create our own luck, don't we? My salary will now be bumped up to $53,000 from the $50,000 that I had started from. Needless to say, I'm still thrilled - just the $50,000 I had started at was more money than I could have ever imagined to be making in one year in my life and I know I am extremely lucky to be in the position I am in, even if it includes all of this debt.

So what effect will this have on my finances? I'm thinking that it wont be too big of an effect - but it definitely will be large enough to notice. My current monthly net income is around $2,800 and now I estimate it will be at around $2,900 after receiving this raise and making a few changes. The raise will take effect starting the month of July and I receive two paychecks a month, one on the 15th and one at the end of the month. That should be around $100 more a month, or $1200 a year. Maybe it will end up going to my student loans?

The few changes that I plan on making are towards my 401k contributions with my employer. I'm currently contributing 6% of my salary pre-tax to my employer 401k, and they match 50% up to 6% - so I'm taking full advantage of that 3% free match. I've decided that because of this raise I'm going to up my contribution to 8%. I'll still only receive a 3% match, but I figure I'm still getting a raise this way and contributing more to my future at the same time. My take home pay might have been closer to $3,000 a month without increasing my contribution rate, but I don't mind this at all in my current situation.

You might argue that it would be smarter to keep putting as much money towards my loans at the current interest rate they are at, the chances of me earning more on the market in my 401k are slim. Paying off my loans are guaranteed interest. The reasonable side of me would definitely tend to agree with you! Unfortunately the psychological side of me does not agree with that...I enjoy seeing my loans go down, but I also like to see my wealth grow on the other end of the scale too.

It already kind of sucks watching most of my paycheck going to pay most of my loans instead of being able to take advantage of the years of compound interest, so this is my compromise to myself. I'm working on getting my huge "emergency" fund down, maybe the next step will be to increase my loan payments even more! I'm definitely trying to target $1500+ to my loans each month though, and will stick to my budget. For now I'll just enjoy my raise, and stick to the new plan I have outlined - saving more money and maybe putting a little extra towards my loans as well.

Photo Credits for this post:

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Note on Student Loans

 A few weeks ago I had wrote a post on the current state of interest rates in the student loan market, and right now I wanted to do a follow-up post on that. We are quickly approaching the July 1 deadline for student loan rates (from the government) to all jump to 6.8% if Congress does not act by then.

There are several plans outlined, but I wanted to highlight Elizabeth Warren's plan in this post. I recently came across a petition for supporting Elizabeth Warren's plan started by her. At the time of writing this, the petition has over 450,000 (!) signatures on it. While I may not fully agree with her plan, I think her method of attacking it and bringing the issue out into the open is the important part here.

If we can show Congress how important this issue really is by getting as many signatures as possible on this petition, I think it could really spark a debate or at least get the news talking more about this. I know that sometimes online petitions have a bad rap, and many times they are ignored - but in this case Senator Warren plans to deliver the petition to Congress.

You can sign the petition right here:

Photo Credits for this post: Mother Jones

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Monthly Budget Review - May 2013

This is the fun part where you get to see how exactly I spent my money this month, and how well I stuck to my planned budget. I will also show how much 'extra' money I spent outside of my allotted entertainment budget that could have went to my student loans instead.

For now my budget is set to have $0 remaining at the end of the month, with every extra dollar going to my student loans but this will not be an exact science. My student loan payments are due not quite at the end of the month, so it will be hard to be perfect with this but I'm going to stick to the plan and try to throw as much money as possible at the student loans.

This month will also look a little weird as I told you in a previous post, I wanted to completely eliminate one of my smaller, high interest loans. I did this by pulling money out of my sizable 'emergency fund' as I try to bring it down to a more reasonable level of 6 months worth of income. I'm currently living at home, so I think the amount I have sitting in my savings account is way too conservative for now.

Here is the breakdown for my budget this month:

Item Budgeted Actual Difference
Income $2,800.00 $2,800.00 $0.00
Rent -$100.00 -$100.00 $0.00
Car Insurance -$110.00 $0.00 $110.00
Cell Phone -$20.00 -$20.00 $0.00
Gas -$75.00 -$97.00 -$22.00
Gym -$20.00 -$20.00 $0.00
Entertainment -$100.00 -$100.00 $0.00
Total Income After Fixed Expenses $2,375.00 $2,463.00 $88.00
"Extra" Spending $0.00 -$357.00 -$357.00
Total Income Before Student Loans $2,375.00 $2,106.00 -$269.00
Student Loan Payments -$2,200.00 -$3,900.00 -$1,700.00
Total Remaining $175.00 -$1,794.00 -$1,969.00

I ended up being over budget by almost $1,800 - but this was done on purpose. I took that extra money out of my savings account and extra large emergency fund to completely pay off one of my private loans. I plan on doing this for a few months until I am able to get my emergency fund down a reasonable level, I do not want to actually spend more than I make in a normal monthly situation.

As you can also see the rent, cell phone, and gym payments will not change. There was no car insurance this month as I made my last payment for the 'year' last month and now I will have a few months where it will not have to be paid. I think I'm going to have to up the budgeted amount for gas money to around $100. It will end up being higher than my current budgeted amount most months with gas prices seeming to always be going up. With my current drive to work and visiting my girlfriend at college, it was too conservative.

I used up all $100 of my budgeted "entertainment" money for this month, and unfortunately because of the car problems I had this account for a significant amount of my extra spending. I also plan on adding in a $50 budget line item for dining out, that way I can see how much I use on that instead of just placing that into 'extra spending' after my $100 "entertainment" budget is all used up.

If you take out the $300 I had paid in fixing my cars, my entertainment budget was out $157, which is only $57 over my budgeted amount. I can't complain with that at all. I definitely thought I was doing much worse, but maybe keeping track of all my spending helped me remind myself not to throw my money away! I would have still ended up with about $118 left over if I had not pulled extra money out of my savings account for the month. Once I add in a $50 item for eating out, I think that this will definitely be a more realistic budget that I can target going forward:

Item Budgeted
Income $2,800.00
Rent -$100.00
Car Insurance -$110.00
Cell Phone -$20.00
Gas -$100.00
Gym -$20.00
Dining Out -$50.00
Entertainment -$100.00
Total Income After Fixed Expenses $2,300.00
"Extra" Spending $0.00
Total Income Before Student Loans $2,300.00
Student Loan Payments -$2,000.00
Total Remaining $300.00

Photo Credits for this post: Charles Rondeau

Monday, June 3, 2013

Weekly Spending - 5/26/13 - 6/01/13

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 5/26:
Propane - $6
Camping Stove Hose - $20

Monday 5/27:

Tuesday 5/28:

Wednesday 5/29:

Thursday 5/30:
Gas - $20

Friday 5/31:
Lunch - $10

Saturday 6/01:

Total Week Spending: $62

This week did not include any car problems, which is always a good thing after the week I had last week. I also did not make any major purchases and tried to keep my spending to a minimum. I made another purpose for my camping trip that is coming up, buying some propane for the camping stove for $6.

When I went to test the stove, I realized that the shut off valve wasn't really working. I tried some WD40, but that didn't solve the problem. The hose and stove functioned fine other than that, but I figured it might be leaking propane while using it - or I'd forget to unscrew the little tank and the next day would be out of propane. I decided the best idea was to just buy the new hose, which cost $20. If you are going camping, it's always important to check your gear before you leave!

I also filled up my gas tank on Thursday, which once again ran me $20. On Friday we went out for a co-workers birthday. I picked a relatively cheap item on the menu for $10, and just got water to go with it. I'd rather just bring lunch everyday, but it doesn't really bother me if this only happens once or twice a month. At least I could save my leftovers until today and didn't have to get anything ready on Sunday night.

 Photo Credits for this post: freeimageslive / baronsboy