4 Important Lessons the Pandemic Taught Me About Money — That Helped Me Save $10,000
At the beginning of 2020, I decided to make the lofty goal of paying off the rest of my student loans before I turned 26. The thought of having to pay both health insurance and student loans at the same time put me in an anxious budgeting tizzy. Plus, it would seriously reduce the amount of interest I would pay over time.
I had approximately $15,000 of loans left at the time, so I knew I’d have to be a bit aggressive in my payoff: I would pay about $900 a month as opposed to the $220 required for the 20-year loan payment plan. While my plan seemed to be going swimmingly, albeit on a tight budget, things took an even tighter turn.
My company gave us five weeks of furlough and I decided to escape the city to live with my parents temporarily (while still paying rent). I was nervous I wouldn’t complete my goal, but I found myself spending a lot less, and with the government pausing interest on student loans until May, it’s allowed me to stay on track.
Despite not fully paying off my student loans (yet!), the money is there waiting to pay them off the second the interest rates kick in again in May. Here’s what the pandemic taught me about money.
Reevaluate what’s important.
Like most people, a lot of my IRL activities got temporarily canceled because of the pandemic, including both my gym membership and pricey barre subscription. When I transitioned to that GFH (gym from home) life, I had no idea what workouts to do. I ended up buying a discounted eight-week fitness guide from an influencer and decided to do the workouts in the ample space in my parents’ home.
While I did miss the class atmosphere and form corrections from instructors, I found myself getting stronger doing more bodyweight exercises a few days a week — even more so than from those costly barre classes. Because of this, I’ve decided not to commit to an expensive gym or a boutique workout class pack, but I take the occasional drop-in class. I still prioritize fitness, just in a more affordable way.
I’ve taken a similar approach to other things I was frivolously spending on, from clothing, to makeup, to quarantine games. I definitely cut back on all the above, but I still splurge from time to time — when there’s a sale.
Because of my at-home, not-doing-much lifestyle during the beginning of the pandemic, I found myself in the lucky position to not spend as much money. I decided to keep as much in savings as possible for the big student loan payoff plan. Later, through improving my financial literacy, I learned that money wasn’t doing much sitting there collecting $0.02 in interest each month in my savings account.
I knew I didn’t want to invest said money because, hello, I need to pay off my debt. But I found that this important cash would do better in a high-interest savings account where I get 0.50 percent annual percentage yield (APY). It was the easiest thing I’ve ever done to “make” more money each month and my savings feel even nicer with some padding.
Side hustle, but not too hard.
With a lack of a commute and more free time, I decided to finally take the plunge with freelance writing, which I had been putting off starting for a while. Things began slowly as I excessively pitched different media outlets, but after a few months, I started to earn a consistent income. It almost became addicting watching my monthly side hustle money hit a different goal each month. I’ve learned since then that it’s important to actually say no to some opportunities or to ask to push deadlines in order to not be working all the time. I’ve also started putting 30 percent of each freelance check into savings, so I can use that money later when I file my taxes.
Money goals are great, but so is life.
Through my mix of prioritization, extra cash flow, and smart savings, I now have more than enough to pay off my loans. However, I would never let it stop me from still enjoying my current life, especially as things begin to open up again, allowing me to take an in-person workout class or actually want to dress up for the first time in months. I now find myself weighing my social engagements with my finances a little more to decide what is actually valuable enough to be worth my time and money. There’s no need to live a FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) life, when I can enjoy life now.