Being frugal means being flexible

by Karen on November 5, 2008

Over the weekend, I posted my goals for November. In summary, I planned to pay off the entire remaining balance on my credit card and finish half of our Christmas shopping without reducing the amount budgeted for savings.

Well, this week I received a letter from my student loan company that threw off my plans. My student loans are currently in voluntary forbearance, which is a lender-approved delay in repayment. It has no negative effect on my credit score, but the loans continue to accrue interest.

It’s obviously not an ideal situation. However, when I made the decision I had just transferred my credit card balance to a card with an interest-free introductory period. I was simply too overwhelmed by both payments, so I decided to focus on one at a time. I wanted to focus on paying down my credit card debt before the interest-free period ended, and start paying down my student loan debt once my credit card was paid off.

My remaining balance on my credit card is a little higher than the amount I usually budget toward credit card debt, but I shifted things in the budget to allow me to pay it completely this month. My forbearance period on my loan is set to end in December, so it would have worked out perfectly. I would have made my final credit card payment this month, then used that money in December to begin paying down my student loan.

According to the letter I received from my student loan company, even though my forbearance period doesn’t end until December, my first payment is due November 28. Because my consolidation loan hasn’t finished processing yet, the minimum payment due is $300.

I started moving things around in the budget, trying to fit in this extra $300 payment. I found a little wiggle room in our discretionary spending, but our budget was already pretty tight because of Christmas. I didn’t want to cut too much and risk spending more than our income this month. Even after cutting several spending budgets, including a drastic cut to our Christmas shopping fund, I still came up short.

I came up with two possible options to make up the difference:

We could split the difference between the credit card debt and the student loan debt. It would delay our final credit card payment until next month, but allow us to pay the minimum payment on my student loan this month while we wait for the consolidation loan to process.

Or we could reduce the amount we put into savings this month. If we cut our savings amount in half, we could pay the student loan and still pay off my credit card.

Neither option is particularly appealing to me, but you know what? Tough. This is the way it has to be.

I made the decision to cut our savings for the month. I’ve been looking forward to paying off this credit card for a year now. When I opened the interest-free credit card last December, I figured out how much I needed to pay on my credit card each month to ensure that it was paid down before the interest-free period ended.

Even though we were on a very tight budget before I found a full-time job, we diligently paid the bill every month, always looking ahead to the final payment. Sometimes when I started to feel overwhelmed, the only thing that kept me going was the thought of making the final payment this month. The idea of delaying that another month is just too frustrating. I’m willing to cut our savings for a month to make it possible for us to pay the remaining balance.

I was really bummed when I realized my plan wasn’t going to work out perfectly. But you know what? At least we have the money to pay all of our bills. Even when our plans are unexpectedly derailed, we’re still able to put a little bit in savings. It’s not as much as we’d like, but it’s something.

There was a time when $300 would have been impossible to squeeze into the budget. There was a time when we absolutely just didn’t have that kind of extra money. If cutting back our savings a little for a month is as bad as it gets right now, then we’re doing a-ok.

What would you have done?

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