Editor's note: This article is part of our "Personal accounts" series. Money management is all about choices: where you live, the job you take, what you spend. But when it feels like the money's drifting out of the bank account much quicker than it flows in, it's hard to get a handle on where it all goes. We asked several veterinary professionals from different jobs and areas of the country to track their spending for one week. Our goal: to share what they've learned from a deep dive into the cost of living and the choices we make every day. Read them all here.
I’m a CVT who works in the Twin Cities but commutes daily from western Wisconsin. Seven years ago, I made the choice to take on close to $40,000 in student loan debt to pursue my dream of becoming a CVT in an emergency and critical care setting. Since I finished school, my student loan debt has been looming and my husband and I have been working hard to pay it off as fast as possible. We make $1,000 payments monthly, though our required payments are only $300 per month. We are on track to pay them off in six years total, instead of the original 10- or 30-year plan that so many students opt for out of necessity.
Making such hefty payments takes its toll on our everyday life. We have put off many adventures, trips and daily treats, we buy almost all things used, we hardly ever eat out, and we have spent the last five years stifling ourselves in order to be student-debt-free. My loan payments have been the topic of many conversations, when we feel like we're never getting anywhere, despite working so hard.
Though there are tons of programs out there for those who cannot afford their student loans (extensions, income-based plans, deferments), there is next to nothing to reward those who are not only paying them off on time, but are ahead of schedule.
I would not trade my job in for anything in the world. I work in an amazingly supportive environment, and I can’t think of a place I would rather be. Next year, when we are student-loan-debt-free and have $1,000 a month to spend on ourselves, we are going to explode into the world. I just hope the world can see how hard we’ve worked to get there.
I knew this week was going to be a doozy. We are short-staffed, and the powers that be have approved any amount of overtime to help cover the shifts. I’m scheduled for three 12-hour shifts this week in addition to two normal eight-hour shifts. I love my job, so it’s easy to work the long shifts, and this Saturday we are going to a campground with my sister and her family—something to look forward to after a long week. I like busy weeks because we are so much less likely to spend money and we end up with a nice payday!
After my 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift, we decided to hit up the local A&W as they were having a Free Root Beer Float day. We always try to get as much free stuff as possible. We also brought a coupon for free chili fries, which we shared, and our entire meal for the two of us, plus root beer floats, was $15.
When we got home, I got the mail and was happy to see I had received the $30 rebate from our Bravecto that I had submitted some time ago. We also received a $100 Walmart gift card from our credit card rewards, which we will use to buy daily necessities like toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, etc. I love getting free money!
Daily total: $15
This is my only day off alone this week, so I had to make it count. While my husband worked 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., I decided to make the week easier on myself by doing some meal prepping. I know I work two twelves and an eight the next three days, so there won’t be a lot of time for making meals and packing lunches.
I spent the day planning our meals, including making a shopping list for my husband for later this week. My meals are centered around what is on sale this week, so we don’t have to spend extra money on items that are not on sale—I hate that. The menu for the week includes taco pasta, chicken alfredo lasagna and, for tonight, a teriyaki pork and rice with broccoli and green beans from our garden. I’m proud of this one, because we bought the pork loin for half price as it was nearing the expiration date and just froze it, rice is cheap and the garden veggies are free. Two meals plus lunches for about $4!
I also pre-packed my lunches for the next three days so I don’t feel the need to order out because I am busy. I packed all of my snacks including mixed nuts, cheese sticks, beef sticks, etc. (all bought on sale last week) and made a few jars of overnight oats. The hardest part of a 12-hour shift is packing enough food to keep you sustained and not running out so you break down and order food. All I have to do now is pack the main meal, which will be the leftovers from the dinner I planned each night.
When my husband got home, we headed out to a local state park, did some hiking and played in the waterfall. We bought a pass for the entire year a while back ($25) and are proud that this trip will make it “paid off” because the daily entrance fee is $5, and this is our fifth trip since we bought the pass. From here on out, each day we go it will be “free.”
After the park, we stopped for a couple of beers for $8. Hiking takes a lot out of you ;) We also had to stop for gas—$32.
Daily total: $44
Today I’m working 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. again. My husband does a lot of the grocery shopping because it gives him something to do and, really, it's one of the few things we actually get to spend money on. He takes the lists I made from the grocery store ads and also makes sure to hit up all of the discount bins in the store (things like meat or dairy nearing expiration date can be half off or more!). It’s rare that we buy anything at full price. Total groceries: $105
He also picks up my one “splurge,” ground Caribou Coffee. We buy two at a time, because it’s cheaper that way, and freeze one until I get to it. Their price is $12 each or two for $20. I love my French press coffee in the morning, and since I will almost never get an actual $5 beverage from Caribou unless I have a freebie or a gift card, it’s my one splurge. I did calculate the price one day, and my daily “Caribou habit” comes to about $0.60 per day—not bad for a decent cup of coffee. To add to our frugality, we make sure to “check in” and get points for our purchase so I can eventually get a free fancy beverage!
Finally, he stops at Fleet Farm and picks up chicken feed—$13, to feed our four chickens. This is an expense I don’t mind, because they provide us with free eggs and good company.
After a 12-hour day, I don’t do much. My husband makes the taco pasta I had prepped and I add some leftovers to my pre-packed lunch for my 12-hour shift tomorrow. I take a hot bath and read a book I’ve had from the library. I then head to bed at 7 p.m. because I have to be up at 2 a.m.
Daily total: $138
Today is a second 12-hour day in a row, but tonight, NFL preseason starts! The Packers game will be a great free activity to do this evening. I stopped for gas this morning—$31. My husband also stopped at Fleet Farm again to pick up some canning supplies for this weekend and found a great deal on an outdoor chair for us to read outside. Total—$23.
I get home around 5 p.m. and my husband has supper ready for me again from the prep I did earlier this week. We sure do make a great team. I take another bath and read my book to wind down, and I’m proud when I make it to the start of the second quarter of the game before I need to go to bed.
Daily total: $54
It’s Friday, baby! I made it! Today, eight hours flew by compared to my 12-hour shifts. My husband stopped at Fleet Farm (again, I know… it’s our version of Target) to get some mousetraps (yay, homeownership)—$10. When I get home, we fend for ourselves for supper with leftovers. We spend some time outside reading in the sunshine and puttering around the property. My husband was mowing the trails behind our house when he hit something and bent a mower blade so badly that we’ll have to replace it (ugh, I hate unexpected expenses)! We finish off our exciting night with a movie we own and some adult beverages.
Daily total: $10
Finally a day off together! My sister invited us down to Jellystone campground/resort for the day. My mother-in-law spent the day with our dogs for us (we paid her in free eggs!).
We filled up with gas before we left for the 90-minute drive—$36. Entrance to the campground/resort was $52 for the two of us, which we found to be well worth the price. We spent the day in the sun recharging, playing mini golf and shuffleboard, swimming in the pond, playing in the pool, spending time in the hot tubs and, finally, grilling out—all while spending time with my sister, brother-in-law and niece.
We brought snacks and our own beer so we wouldn’t spend too much on food, though we did splurge on some food from the Pik-a-Nic Basket. We shared some chicken tenders, fries and a burger. We always share to cut costs because we don’t need that much food, and we always get water instead of pop—$15. I also just had to get a hand-dipped ice cream cone for $4.
We were pretty beat by the time we got home, and hung out watching TV until bedtime.
Daily total: $107
Since I work emergency and we are open 24/7, I’m required to work Sundays. I was scheduled 8 a.m to 4 p.m. today, but oddly it was slow enough and since I was at so much overtime, they kicked me out a 2 p.m. I put in a total of 51 hours this week (that’s going to be a nice paycheck!).
My husband had to go to town to buy the mower blade replacements (you guessed it, from Fleet Farm), which turned out to only be $26, and also stopped at Walmart to buy some groceries that were not on sale this week (if we have to buy it full price, we always find the cheapest prices are here) including cereal and granola bars for the coming week—$52.
I had to stop again for gas—$39. When I got home, we got to work canning tomato sauce. We have a garden every year and always try to do some preserving so we can eat free, healthy food throughout the year. This took up a big part of our evening, and we turned in early after a long week.
Daily total: $117
Overall, we spent a lot more money this week than normal. Granted, some unexpected expenses came up and we did some grocery shopping that will last us a couple of weeks, but I felt a little stretched.
We decided to take some money out of our “vacation savings” account to cover the expenses from Jellystone on Saturday. We put money in each week, so we don’t have to feel guilty when we want to do a mini-vacation like this one. Cutting corners here and there and splurging only on things that truly bring us happiness are going to be the keys to getting that student loan paid off by the end of this year!