A Long Break= A Lot of Catch Up!

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Well, I did it. I quit my job and moved back home.  I actually put in my notice in late August….and then again at the end of September…and then again in Ocotber. My boss did not want me to go, and asked that I please stay until they could find a replacement. So I agreed to work a few more months until everything could be worked out. I helped bring any interviewees and contacted law school career services. but it was just too hard to find someone willing to move to a rural community at the offered salary. So, eventually, I had to pick an end date and stick with it.  I will continue to work from home in the interim until they can find a good replacement. This job and especially my coworkers mean the world to me, and I can’t leave them until I know everything is secure in the office. It was a difficult decision to leave, but it was the right one. This was my first weekend being back home, and I feel the stress literally melting away.

However, I now have new issues to work out. My boyfriend, D, makes more than enough money to support both of us and put close to $800 into savings each month. We’ve decided that he will pay the expenses while I look for a new job, but I will continue making my student loan payments by myself.  I saved up about a year’s worth of payments before I left, and still have a few more paychecks coming. I will make the minimum payments until I find a new job, and then it’s back to the aggressive pay-off plan.  D wants me to take my time and really make sure that the next job will make me happy and, hopefully, bring in a little better salary. 

Also, we have tentatively discussed a summer 2014 wedding. We’ve been wanting to get married for a few years now, but put it off for law school, student loans, etc. We are taking the next few months to try out our new financial plan and seek out premarital counseling. Wish us luck!

Most importantly, this time will allow me to really dedicate myself to budgeting, loan repayment options, and financial planning for our future. These last few months I have been majorly preoccupied with work, and it’s time to get back on track.  I’ll be seeking out new ways to budget, meal plan, and make the most of every penny.

I’ve missed the blogging community and am so excited to dive back in.

My conversation with Sallie Mae today

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After wondering why I’ve been double billed for numerous loans, and why my IBR payment is  continuing to increase each month, the customer service rep is now trying to go through all of my billing statements and past Sallie Mae requests….

 

“Why hasn’t anyone put in your requests? I see that you’ve made numerous phone calls to request a payment investigation. This is CRAZY. I don’t know how you could possibly understand how your loan repayment works!”

Exactly, sir. Exactly.

Vacation!!

Honestly, a vacation was NOT in the plans this year. I’ve been working hard on starting a new career and paying off student loans, and a vacation just didn’t seem practical.

However, the bf has training in the Southeast, so we will be heading there for a week. The company pays for his flight, the hotel, and his food costs per day, so it makes for a very inexpensive trip. We almost always share a meal when we eat out, and can survive on leftovers. I’ll be working from the hotel while he’s out training, and we’ll meet each night for dinner. We do hope to spend at least one weekend hiking and exploring the area, and booked a cute inn for our anniversary gift to each other. All in all, we hope it results in a cheap vacation!

 

Total cost so far: $371 for my ticket.

A Frugal Labor Day

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Last weekend, my friends and I decided to head to San Diego to celebrate the Labor Day holiday. We had not seen each other since the bar in February, and it was a great way to reconnect. However, as we are all just starting our careers, and some are still looking for jobs, we knew we needed to keep costs low.

For me, just being able to admit that and know that you aren’t being judged is a mark of a great friendship. I’ve often been in situations where I’ve ended up spending much more money than planned, just to keep up with the group’s lifestyle. In fact, I once paid $100 for a breakfast for 3 people because I felt guilty about the unbalanced financial situation. It’s ridiculous, and I’m trying to avoid a repeat of that fiasco.

So, here’s how we planned our frugal vacation:

—We stayed in someone’s home. My friend’s parents own a beautiful home in Chula Vista. Sure, it would have been great to rent a beach-front property in La Jolla, but this was much more practical and comfortable.

—We split meals.

—We opted to drive, and shared the cost of gas. Much cheaper than a plane ticket!

—We drank at home, instead of going out to bars and clubs.

Total cost for this 4 day vacation weekend? $80. Yep, i’m pretty happy about that!

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Anyone else celebrate a frugal weekend??

Sacrificing Relationships for My Job

My job is actually pretty cushy. I don’t <yet> work the 60-80 hour weeks, or come in on weekends, or have to bill a ridiculous amount of hours a year. I love it.

Guess who’s not loving it so much? The bf. I left him at our lonely apartment to deal with a lot of issues.

First—Living apart is more expensive! Right? How did I not think of this? Bf’s bills went up when I wasn’t there to contribute, and I’m now paying to manage a second household closer to my job.

Second— Our weekend travel bills are ridiculous. Like, two weeks ago my bf spent almost $400. In on weekend. To ‘make the most of our time together.’ It’s a horrible habit, and I’m pretty ashamed of it.

Third—We fight more. The only time we get to talk on the phone is at the end of very long days, and we’re both tired and cranky. Not worth it.

Fourth—Our friends and family are missing us, because we only want to spend time with each other on the weekends.

 

So yesterday I finally had ‘the talk’ with my boss. Honestly, I think my coworkers prepped him a bit, which made it a lot easier. He told me that family and relationships always come first, and that I should not feel guilty about making that decision. A victim of law school divorce himself, he knows that the pressure, time commitment, and financial stress put a heavy burden on relationships. Lawyers are one of the top professions to get divorced, and for female attorneys, it’s even higher.

And guess what? Divorce is expensive! A PF nightmare. A situation I’d very much like to avoid.

I guess the next step is to plan for the next 3-6 months and decide what the next step is. My boss did ask that I give him a few months notice in order to find a replacement attorney. No problem.

I also need to weigh the financial pros and cons of leaving this great job environment, but hopefully finding a higher paying job in my bf’s city. Wish me luck!

The Joy of My 5 Minute Commute

I started this new job without a decent place to live. I ended up staying with family for the first 2 months, but that resulted in a 1.5 hour drive each way. I was miserable.

 

Fortunately, a college friend had connections to a family vacation home just 5 minutes from my work. I now have a simple month-to-month lease for a 2 bedroom cabin with a loft.

Although I hate living alone (I’ve always had roommates!), I love my simple commute.

 

An additional plus? I haven’t purchased diesel since Friday, August 17th!

 

Simple pleasures, right?

 

The Post Where I Try to Explain My Student Loans

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First Step: Undergraduate Degree

My parents were incredibly smart and made me work my tail off in high school at a minimum wage job to save money for college. I never had a college fund, or false promises of a stress-free financial situation. I knew college was expensive, I knew I needed scholarships, and, quite frankly, I’d be paying my own way.

I do not resent this. It made me work harder in school, receive a tuition scholarship, and get plenty of waitressing gigs to fund my education.

My dad actually refused to co-sign on any student loans. Both of my parents helped out with expenses such as car insurance, cell phone, and a little spending money here and there. This was a huge blessing. However, the summer before my senior year of college my uncle deployed to Iraq. My aunt had two little babes and was alone on base, so I spent my summer with her. As a result,  I needed a little help going into my senior year. I took out a $5000 loan, and diligently started paying it back after graduation. Not a big deal, right??

 

Second Step: Law School

 

Well, this is where the you-know-what really hit the fan.  I, foolishly, chose a private school so I could start a semester early. I was pretty young and desperate at this point, and would have signed anything to start the next step of my life. I also deferred my undergraduate loan in addition to this wonderful plan. 

I used loans to pay for tuition, books, and a modest living stipend. After three years, I had a large number. I mean, L-A-R-G-E number waiting for repayment.

Third Step: Repayment (Ohh, the fun part)

I spent many, many hours on the phone with Sallie Mae, trying to figure out a payment plan that would work. Every time I called, the story would change.

—–No, you don’t qualify for a reduced payment, and once your interest capitalizes,    you’ll   owe even more.

—-Oh, yes, you qualify for reduced payment and don’t have to make any type of payment for a year!

—-Oh, nope, made a mistake, you need to pay all of your montly interest plus a predetermined amount and, if you’re really, really lucky, we’ll let you pay down on your principal every once in a blue moon.

Yep, these are how every phone went down. And there were many of them. Finally, I decided to go on the Interest Based Repayment plan.  Basically, I pay a portion of my loan based on my 2012 tax return and my current salary. After I make that monthly payment, I am free to pay down on the principal of the remaining loan.

Hallelujah.

I decided to attack my highest interest rate, 8.5% (!!!!!!!!!!), first. I’ll slowly pay that down in addition to my IBR payment, and then attack the next highest interest rate, and so forth.  I’m not quite ready to reveal my total loan amount, but I’ll keep myself accountable by giving the status of my current 8.5% loan.  I’ll do this for every loan, and if anyone out there is really clever, they’ll add them all up at the end to get the total amount. Wow, what a fun little game, right???

Loan #3

Original loan amount: $15,094.00

Amount after Capitalized Interest: July 1: $19,317.07

My current balance: $18,171.35

Daily Interest Accruing: Around $4, according to Sallie Mae. Lovely.

 

So there’s my first plan of attack. If I look too broadly, I’ll end my day with too much wine and frozen yogurt, so I instead focus on a small portion. It’s what works for me.

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Ok, let me have it: any advice on this current loan attack plan??

 

 

 

 

Sallie Mae: My Nemesis

It would be way too difficult to sum up my feelings about Sallie Mae in a simple blog post, but words like ‘hate’ and ‘the enemy’ and ‘absolute and utter frustration’ often come to mind.

We are not friends.

 

I usually call Sallie Mae at least once a week for some type of glitch on my online account. I spend about 20 minutes on hold (as seen on my Verizon bill every month, thank you very much), then the operator appears with a message about some obscure system error that only takes place during my phone calls, and finally a customer service rep is unable to adequately answer any of my questions.

It is a miserable process.

To minimize contact, I make all of my payments online and with Automatic Debit.  However, today I again opened my my online account and find a message alerting me of my late payments. Late payments?! I check my bank account: yep, there’s the Sallie Mae Educational Service Processing payment.

I call my all-knowing customer service rep, who tells me that I should know that it takes 2-4 days to process payments.

I understand that, I say. 

So I don’t understand why you’re confused, he says. Your payment is late.

But Sallie Mae set up my payment schedule, and takes out my payment on the same day each month, I say. So if Sallie Mae knows this, why do they still alert me to my supposed lateness?

Oh, that must be another glitch, he says. We are still working on our system. Or, maybe your payment really is late.

I hang up.

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How worried should I be that this is America’s number one student loan service provider??

Is My Job Good Enough?

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Unlike many of my friends, I was fortunate to have a job waiting for me before graduation. The job market is rough, and legal jobs are incredibly competitive right now. So having a job offer made me feel secure and happy during my last semester of law school.

Many people dismissed my job because it is located in a rural area. I grew up in a small town, and understand the dynamics and culture of small-town life. Sure, I’m not learning a lot about mergers and acquisitions, but I feel good knowing I’m dealing with real problems that affect real people. I get satisfaction knowing that I’m making a big difference in someone’s life.

But, unfortunately, I cannot support myself solely on personal gratification. It wasn’t until after I had already accepted the position that I learned the salary. Or, rather, hourly wage until I recieve my law license, and subsequent salary after licensure. The job offers no health benefits or retirement package. The travel costs of commuting between different county courts alone is 10% of my paycheck.

Now, you may ask why I’m just barely considering all of these factors three months into this job. The truth is that I did consider all of this, but naively thought everything would just ‘work itself out.’ My student loan payments would magically go down, my salary may miraculously increase. I wanted everything to work out because I really, really love the work I’m doing. I feel great in my office envirorment, and truly enjoy the company of my coworkers.

Yet when I receive my paycheck every two weeks, my warm, fuzzy feeling disappears and depression sets in. This pay is not sustainable for paying off my debt and subsidizing the additional living expenses I incurred moving to a rural area. My relationship is suffering ( more to discuss in an upcoming post), and my family and friends are noticing a big difference in my attitude.

So what’s keeping me here? GUILT. I feel guilty walking out on good people and work that needs to be done. I wish someone could just make the decision for me, but that obviously won’t be happening any time soon. So I’ll continue to weigh out the pros and cons and hope I can make the right decision.

Has anyone reluctantly left a job for more money and security? Did you feel guilty about it??

Surviving the Bar Exam…Without Going Deeper in Debt

As a law student, you start thinking about the bar exam your first day of law school. Professors sat us down on our first day and went line-by-line down the syllabus.  They told us to do our reading, keep up with outlining, and find a good study group. Take practice exams to prepare for our finals but, most importantly, remember that the real final goal is passing that bar.

Each semester, I filled out my FAFSA and applied for my student loans. I received the cost of my tuition and books, as well as a modest living stipend. (My outrageous tuition costs are a post for another day.) Some semesters I took the entire amount, others I made a little extra money through internships and research assistant posts. 

As I came up to my final semester, I had a decision to make. I needed to budget for my final semester, but also for the next six months after graduation.  You see, folks, the bar exam is expensive.  Here’s a breakdown of the costs:

Bar Application: $580

Laptop Fee: $125

Bar Prep Program: $2721.50 ( with a $250 refundable deposit)

Character Report:  $300

                 TOTAL: $3726.50

* based on the February 2013 bar exam

Of course, you can forego the bar prep program and rely on your own study materials. You can handwrite the exam, instead of typing on your own laptop.  But either way, you still need to come up with a pretty big chunk of change.  You also need to plan to cover your own monthly expenses, as well as a growing food budget. I planned a lot of my meals from home, and tried to make my own coffee/tea, but there were many days that the stress and time restrictions led to a pricey meal. Fortunately, my family and friends gave me a lot of Starbucks and other gift cards for use during the bar, and I definitely appreciated  them. 

My friends and I also split a hotel suite during the bar. Again, not necessarily a necessity, but definitely a good idea.

Bar Loans

Of course, about halfway through my last semester I started receiving emails from student loan leanders offering me post-grad bar loans.  Extra loans? Really? At this point, I was willing to avoid more debt like the plague. Unfortunately, many of my fellow students did not. One friend took a $8,000 at 14%. Student loan lenders know that you are prepping for the bar, and that financial situations are getting desperate.   I truly think these can be avoided by carefully planning and budgeting out the last few semesters of law school. One friend asked for donations to her bar fund as a graduation gift. Consider any and all alternate routes before heading in this direction.  

In my case, I budgeted for my semester, and then took an extra $1500 at 6.8% in August. Along with some generous graduation money from my family, I was able to budget for five months after graduation.

 

Having a financial plan set before the bar is going to save you a lot of stress and worry during one of the most stressful events in your life.

Has anyone out there sat for the bar exam? How did you manage your bar finances?

 

 

 

 

 

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