My primary form of transportation is walking. Most of my trips are in the 15-25 minute range, but I’ve certainly been known to walk 40 or 50 minutes to get somewhere.
Last weekend I found myself looking at a 2.5 mile/50-ish minute walk and felt a bit overwhelmed: that’s a ridiculously long walk (never mind the fact that it would take me probably 40 minutes on public transit so I might as well get some exercise in)! Who would do that?!?[*]
And then I realized: most days I do double that and think nothing of it since it’s just routine.
Little things add up
My five miles a day feels much different than doubling that one really long walk. With a fifteen minute/2,500 step walk here and another few hundred steps there, by the end of the day I’ve somehow racked up enough steps usually to surpass both my 10,000 step and five mile goals for the day. And obviously four fifteen-minute walks a day feel much more attainable than two hour-long walks a day, but they add up to the same thing.
So I’d rather make slower, more consistent progress that I know I can do instead of aiming for bigger things that I might talk myself out of because they seem like too much (not that a 50-minute walk is unattainable and I’ll gladly walk that far. I definitely went that route last weekend instead of hopping on the Metro or a bus).
Surprise, surprise, this translates exactly to money! There’s been some backlash lately about frugality and whether it’s worth it to focus on cutting costs instead of focusing on growing your income instead. To which my answer is “um, of course it’s worth it!” Growing your income is a huge part of the equation, and I’ve already said I don’t plan to earn my current salary forever. But it’s not everything.
As someone whose rent eats up half of her 9-5 paycheck, frugality and selective spending on what aligns with my priorities is a huge part of the picture. Still not convinced? Let me tell you about my student loans for what’s likely to be one of the last few times I mention them(!).
Student loan saga
When last I talked about my debt after paying off my credit cards in February, I was sitting on about $800 in student loans. By accident I now suddenly find myself with only $143 left to pay down on my student loans before they’re gone. This was totally unplanned—I got bored last weekend and decided to throw $360 of last month’s extra paycheck to my student loans, which would’ve brought the total down to about $300 and I’d just ride that out. Or so I thought.
Well, cash flowing car insurance be damned, maybe I will pay off my student loans in full in May after all, since there’s a mystery $154.77 coming out of my account today that’s not showing up on my loan provider’s web site as payments currently being processed AT ALL. Surprise? pic.twitter.com/ABBEwBDX9B
— Erin | Reaching for FI (@reachingforfi) April 10, 2018
I guess the $44 payment is the minimum I owe and my loan provider decided to revert back to that amount instead of the extra I’d been paying (not that I was warned about that. Plus even if they did tell me, I wouldn’t be able to find it on their horrendous website). My previously auto $110.25/month payments were actually one for $100 and another, random one that I could never control—and it never showed up in my listed auto payments—for $10.25 that came out of my account the following day. I have absolutely zero idea where the single $110.25 payment came from, and the only one that was ever “processing” was my deliberate $360.
Now that the other two have magically appeared/cleared as well, they’re listed as “auto payment,” even though two payments a month isn’t how auto pay works and I in no way approved those changes.
I’ll need to pay my car insurance in May so I was waiting to pay off my loans until after so I could make sure I had the cash flow for that. But there’s no point in paying $110 in May and the rest off in June. Guess I’ll be debt-free in May, even earlier than I thought.
That’s not what got me here
All of the extra payments I’ve been making on my loans are large steps. But it’s the small, monthly $110 (or $44. Or $100 + $10.25. WHO KNOWS ?♀️) payments I sent over automatically that got me to a place where I could send over $360 and halve my debt in one fell swoop.
I’ve always said my debt payoff story isn’t sexy, and it’s not. Thanks to some hefty scholarships, work-study and a Pell grant my last two years, and help from family, I graduated with only about $7,000 worth of student loans (plus the credit card debt I accumulated in the years after, which was 100% me being stupid). In May it’ll have been four years since I graduated college. Those debt payoff stories of $15,000+ a year make my story look laughably adorable in comparison. Aw, it took you how long to pay that off? That’s cute!
But the fact remains that in a matter of weeks I’ll have paid off that debt. I sent larger amounts over periodically, but for the most part I got here by consistently chipping away at it every month.
I’m glad I’ll be seeing the end of my loans pretty soon but I’m also miffed about how this happened. Complaining about accelerated debt payoff is pretty ridiculous, I understand. But I’m also damn thankful I could afford (and had the money in the account so it didn’t overdraft!) a surprise $150 extra in payments this month. It wasn’t so long ago that that would’ve sent me into a serious case of some money anxiety because I didn’t have that amount just sitting around. So there’s the power of a year’s worth of time, as well as the continual progress of saving bits of money here and there so that I’ve now built up a modest amount of savings.
Back to the literal steps
I’ve talked before about how the path to FI feels like an impossibly long slog with the end nowhere in sight because I’m too afraid to crunch the numbers to figure out exactly how long it’ll take me. Much like anything that requires more than an hour of walking in the city (or a hike that’s longer than about 8 or 9 miles), focusing on the whole journey feels discouraging.
But a bunch of consistent small steps over time? That’s how I whittled down my student loans to under four figures and now to one month away from zero, that’s how I paid off my credit card debt, and it’s how I’m saving for my future. And it’s how I hit my Fitbit step goals most days.
[*]Hello there, bike enthusiasts! I can hear you wondering why on earth I wouldn’t just rent a bike to travel that 2.5 mile distance! The answer is because other than a few brewery tours and study abroad daytrips I haven’t been on a bike at all since probably seventh grade. Couple me currently not being comfortable on a bike with DC traffic and that sounds like a recipe for disaster. Walking is not only my primary form of transportation, but also my preferred one 😉