The Climb to Pay Off Debt and Be Financially Independent

I sent a payment today to my student loan company for $100. It felt like throwing a glass of water on a burning building. But that’s the exactly the attitude I’m trying to break.

Yes, right now, $100 toward my $47,584.54 student loan debt felt like taking a drop of water out of the ocean. But it’s $100 that’s out of the running for all that compound interest.

I’m trying to balance wanting to invest for the future, travel like a mofo, and get rid of all this damn debt. My student loan has an APR that will make you wince, so get ready for it: 6.75%. Any investment I could make may or may not have that type of return. But putting $100 in an investment account isn’t going to do me any good until I can wrangle the cost of my previous education.

It’s so weird that I could theoretically pay off this loan for the rest of my life. And I guess some people are OK with that. But I’m not. I want to get this debt off my plate ASAP. Even if I pay off $1000 a month, it’ll take 48 months, AKA 4 years – and that’s assuming no interest! It’s simply got to happen sooner than that.

I’m reading this book, Walden on Wheels, about Ken Ilgunas’ journey with this exact same thing. It’s such an inspiration. I highly encourage you to check it out.

I’m about to get real aggressive with this real fast. I know I’m not the first person to grapple with this crippled system, but until I get this debt outta here, I can’t feasibly invest for my future or buy a house. Once I get into the principal a bit, maybe I can balance my goals a little better. But not now. This is my first priority.

I listed some stuff on eBay, I’m selling my books, and I work part-time for a courier service which nets me about $1000 a month, in addition to my salary of $50,000 a year. But now that I’m in super payoff mode, I want to find a way to generate even more money. I’ve been wanting to get my CFP certification, which costs only about $5000. But that’s now five months of loan payments… and thinking in terms of loan payments is the mindset I have to be in for the next couple of years.

I can’t stop traveling. That’s why I have so many cards that generate points and let me go places for free. In fact, I’m off to Alaska next week (on American in economy, but except thoughts/trip report nonetheless!). There is marginal cost, even for free travel, but I have to seek new experiences or I’ll wither away inside.

I want to chronicle, as so many others have done, my climb up the mountain of raging student loan debt. This blog will hold me accountable, motivate me, and hopefully allow me to learn some nuggets of wisdom that I can pass along.

I’ll post regular “Financial Snapshots.” In a decade, I want my net worth to go from $-50,000 to $+500,000. Let’s do this.

Thanks for reading!

Why I Want to Work for LearnVest

LearnVest-logo

 

I’ve recently gotten hugely into turning my finances around. It’s been a part of taking control of my own life, dreaming out loud, and beginning to think about the future. The long-term future.

I’ve been reading a bunch of points and miles blogs for a while now, and recently added a new slew of financial advice blogs to my feedly account. One of them was LearnVest. Their articles are great, and I highly recommend them to anyone. The breadth and scope of financial advice was/is exactly what I’m looking for at this point in my life. They also help you to budget, keep track of financial accounts, and have a bunch of handy calculators.

I’m taking what I’m learning to heart. So much so that I want to go back to college to get my certification in financial planning so that I can help others by applying what I’ve learned. I typed “CFP jobs” into Google to see what the prospects were and got some results from… LearnVest. I audibly gasped. All of the CFP positions were in Phoenix, and besides, I’m not even certified yet. I went to close the browser window when I saw a few other positions… in New York. Including one I’m totally qualified for. This one: Operations Associate. It’s the perfect blend of my previous experience and future goals. Plus, it’s a woman-owned and operated company. And a tech startup. Headquartered in New York. And hiring! It couldn’t have been more perfect. I sent my resume in within five minutes, then tweeted them.

Maybe I’m putting the cart before the horse here, but I really want to work for this company. Along with getting my own finances in order and starting to think about getting my CFP license, this position seems like dream job material.

I saw the founder had a talk in New York a couple of nights ago. I couldn’t go because I had a lot going on at my current position and it fell on a Wednesday evening. The timing wasn’t right. Still, I hope I hear back from them. Wouldn’t that be awesome?

I freaking love feedly (a review)

<3

<3

 

In the wake of Google Reader’s demise, I scrambled, like everyone else, for a solution to find a new content aggregator for my daily blog consumption habit. In the beginning, I was hoping that Digg’s Reader would be a good replacement. It ended up being a valiant effort, but no dice. I signed up on the first day – keeping in mind that it was still very much in beta. I didn’t like how there was no unread post count, and no way to connect the desktop version with the iPhone app. I also didn’t like that my “Uncategorized” subscriptions sat on top of my categories. Small stuff I know, but Google Reader had it super figured out. Oh, and it was slow as shit. And had no search function. And just… wasn’t getting me there.

Flash forward to now. Digg Reader has added all the things I immediately wanted, and sped up the service tremendously. The app is great, and so are all the added options. But it was too little, too late. Another suitor swept in from the sidelines. Enter feedly (all lowercase).

feedly just “got it.” They seemed to really understand what a content aggregator/RSS service/blog scraper should be. In the beginning, I couldn’t stand how I had to have that stupid Chrome extension installed on both my home + work computers. Not to mention there was no app to speak of. Pffft, I thought. Fuck them. I didn’t even care that they got the unread post count right.

But then…

They made everything cloud-based. They sped it up to rival Google Reader’s speed. The app picks right back up where I left off from the desktop. They have themes! And options! And lots of other little things that make me want to use exclamation points! And from a design point of view, it’s incredibly simple and functional. It also updates automatically, just like Google Reader used to do.

When I saw they were offering a lifetime pro membership for only $99, I swiped my Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express out of my wallet so fast it burned my fingers. I could imagine so many other Brooklyn-based RSS lovers doing the same thing and I couldn’t get my card number entered fast enough. But everything went through, I got the lifetime membership, and am loving the pro version so far. Can’t wait to see what else they do with it.

Also, if you’re using a content aggregator, please consider adding this blog to it. Here’s the link to copy and paste:

http://www.outandout.net/feed/

I appreciate my readers and would love to know: do you use an RSS service? Which one?

 

New York Story

New York Story

 

 

My new book is available in digital and paperback versions. It’s all about living and loving in the beast that is NYC. I wrote it while I was between jobs last year, and edited it in my free time. Very pleased with how it turned out, and with the response I’ve gotten so far.

For more info and to purchase, click here: New York Story

 

Financial Snapshot 8/10/13

Screen shot 2013-08-10 at 9.04.48 PM

 

 

I use mint.com to keep track of my credit card accounts, IRAs, and student loans. My student loans are by far the bulk of my debt – about $50,000.

I currently have IRAs with two companies, Fidelity and USAA, and a brokerage account with Fidelity (the one my Fidelity Investment Rewards card plugs into). There’s about $4,000 among them.

My immediate goals are to pay down student loan debt, save up for a down payment on a house, and put the rest into an IRA until I max it out. This will definitely be a “slow and steady wins the race” kind of proposition.

My current salary is about $60,000 ($50,000 base + yearly bonus + reimbursements for healthcare).

My first Financial Snapshot. Really putting it all out there. Here goes nothin’…

Direction

I’ve decided to take this blog in an ever-so-slightly different direction.

Over the past few months, I’ve done a lot of soul-searching about what I want to be doing as far as a career path. I’m obviously hugely interested in travel, and to some extent travel writing, and that’s certainly one side of it. The other side is that I love to mine the terrain of points and miles. I’ve been getting more and and more into improving my finances – beyond just credit score.

I started investing. Slowly, at first. Now I have about $4,000 saved in IRAs and want to continue on a path that makes me financially independent. My goal is to save up $500,000 for my eventual retirement – while also paying off my student loan debt and saving up enough to buy a house in Vermont.

I’m just getting started on this new journey and want to share my thoughts here as they evolve. It’s been wonderful to document my travels and interest in points/miles, and hopefully writing about my finances will be a natural extension of that. It’s way more convoluted that any airline loyalty program, but I’ve found the best course of action is to keep it simple. And writing here will help to keep me accountable to my goals. It will involve a lot of purging, cutting out what’s unnecessary, and keeping an even close eye on my monthly budget. But I’m up for it.

Of course the travel stuff is going to stay, too. Thanks to all the supporters I’ve received so far here on Out and Out. Looking forward to interacting more with all of you.

 

Update: Blog Giveaway: 2 Admirals Club Passes

Sooo I should’ve totally kept my word and done this when I said I would.

Without further adieu, I’ve selected Manda to receive the two Admirals Club passes.

Manda said:

I would use it on a trip home to see my folks!

Congrats, Manda, and I hope you get these in time to go see your folks. 🙂

I’ve sent an email and will move on to the next winner in case it’s too late or there’s no reply.

Thank you to all who entered.

 

 

Blog Giveaway: 2 Admirals Club Passes

I got these passes as part of the signup bonus for the Citibank AAdvantage Select American Express card, and I’d like to give them to a reader.

2 Admirals Club Passes

2 Admirals Club Passes

 

To enter:

01. Leave a comment on this post telling me when you’d use the passes.

02. Follow me on Twitter, then retweet THIS status: https://twitter.com/harlanvaughn/status/352995490054406144

 

I’ll randomly pick a winner on Thursday, July 11th at 11:59pm. Residents of US and Canada only. You must be over 18 and have same-day ticketed travel on American Airlines to use the passes.

 

A big thanks to all my readers and supporters so far! This blog is a bit new, so I want you to know I truly appreciate all of you!

One More New Credit Card: Fidelity Investment Rewards American Express

Fidelity_investment_card

This signals a shift in my spending patterns and way of thinking, for sure. I thought about this a lot and decided this would be a good decision, for now and for the future.

The Fidelity® Investment Rewards American Express® offers 2% cash back into an investment account on every purchase: no categories, no minimum spend, no signup bonus, but no annual fee. I thought about it. My average spend is about $5K a month. That’s 10,000 points or $100 in cash each month. But then that $100 will be invested and will turn around a further 6-20+% return, depending on where I invest it. In 20 years, that $100 could be worth a few thousand, which is pretty cool to think about and to behold the power of compound interest.

The reason I got this card now is because I have my travel (and all my vacation days) planned out for the next six months:

And that’s in addition to my courier work. I also have a healthy amount of Avios, AAdvantage miles, Skymiles, and Ultimate Rewards points in case I need/want to go anywhere in the months beyond January. So, I’m set with points and miles for now. But thinking further, much further, I’d like my spend to be working for me even more.

This card is quite a hybrid. It’s an Amex issued by a Bank of America subsidy and partners with Fidelity investments. Pretty cool. It gives me the benefits of Amex and the investment power at Fidelity, a company I really like. It didn’t count for or against my relationship with Chase or Barclays or Citi, which is a positve. And, I  have investments at USAA, Betterment, and MetLife, and would like to diversify even more. So I took the plunge, opened a mutual fund account, and got approved for this card. With my travel set, I can set aside some free money for my future just for using this card. That kind of blows my mind. Literally – FREE money.

With some creative manufactured spend, it truly is free, and though I’m giving up points in favor of invested cash for a while, I feel good that I took some time to make a thoughtful decision.

Anyone else have or heard of this card? Do you like it?

Booked: London on Virgin Atlantic in October

I’m a HUGE Tori Amos fan, and have been looking forward to seeing the musical she’s been working on, The Light Princess, for a while now. Well, tickets went on sale this past week and I was able to snag some good seats to both her talk beforehand and the show itself – in London. Which meant I had to get myself to London.

Luckily, ol’ Deltoid just entered into a partnership with Virgin Atlantic – and award space (in economy) is great. I had the pick of about 5 different flights each day, all at the low-level cost. There was nothing in business or Upper Class as it’s called, but that’s fine because I’d like to hoard my Skymiles to go down to Patagonia on Aerolineas Argentina in the near future anyway.

And the point – to get to London – was quickly addressed. I booked some great flights on Virgin Atlantic and cannot WAIT to see the musical. My out-of-pocket cost was 120,00 miles and $369 for two flights. Not bad for crossing the Atlantic.

Cheep! (Most of it is GB tax.)

Cheep! (Most of it is GB tax.)

This, for me, is the true value of points and miles. Being able to pop over to London for the weekend to see this show is something I’ve been looking forward to for a few years now. The day came, I bought my tickets, and I’m able to go without paying very much at all. Now we just need to find a place to stay for two nights, which should be pretty easy. Then head to JFK, enjoy the flights – and the show!

Looking forward to flying on VA metal. It’ll be my first time. Trip report and show report to follow! October 18th!

 

Booked: MEX-LIM-EZE-SCL-IPC-SCL-MEX in November

CRAY

CRAY

 

I am SO looking forward to this crazy-ass itinerary. Basically, I get to SCL for a night, fly to IPC and back on the 25th, then get chill out in SCL for another two days. Then, I head up to MEX and will hang out there for two days before returning to NYC.

It’s all on LAN, in business class, which will earn me a heap of miles and points on American.

MEX-LIM-EZE-SCL-IPC-SCL-MEX

  • 14,051 miles (plus 100% bonus)

  • 21,077 points

Only regret: just one hour in EZE. Le sigh. I really wanted to check out the Amex Centurion lounge there, but I might not have time to even leave the gate area.

But how cool is it that I get to fly to IPC twice in one year? And that this business class ticket was just a hair over $1000?

 

Can’t wait to check out Santiago, Valparaiso, and Mexico City over Thanksgiving!

First upgrades on American as a Platinum

I took two flights on American last week as part of my courier work: IND-ORD and ORD-LGA.

It was booked into K class, which doesn’t earn complimentary upgrades. I arrived at IND a little early and asked to get on the next flight. The agent re-booked me into Y class (as a full fare) for the entire trip back and took four upgrade “stickers” out of my AAdvantage account.

Whatever about the stickers. I knew she was wrong, but loved being re-booked into a higher fare bucket.

Then when I got to ORD, I was actually supposed to fly back to EWR, which I despise. I noticed a shit ton of flights headed for LGA and asked if I could do to SDC onto the next LGA flight. The agent rebooked me (staying in the Y fare bucket), and my upgrade cleared instantly. I flew first class on both segments with instant upgrades both times. Easy peezy (and to LGA).

I knew they should’ve used three upgrade stickers instead of four. I called the Platinum desk, they answered on the first ring, and gave me back two certs instead of just one – for the trouble – although flying in first was really no trouble at all. I took the certs and enjoyed the upgrades.

All-in-all, loving American’s service. They seem more willing to do more “behind the scenes” stuff for higher tiers than Delta will, and with no cost. Delta is all about the nickeling and dime-ing these days.

Content to stay with American.

Although, I must say, Delta makes it so freaking easy to earn MQMs with credit card spend. Especially with the newest offer to get 20K MQMS with the Platinum Biz card. Damn, that’s nearly Silver right there. But oh well, can’t win ’em all, right? At least American lets you qualify on points instead of just miles – which might end up being my saving grace if LAN keeps pumping out these cheap deals to South America.