Meet the Winner of Our July 2016 Call to Action!

Meet the Winner of Our July 2016 Call to Action!

woman in stripped shirt by white railsWhen you're deep into the lazy days of summer, it can be easy to forget about your financial goals. After all, spending time on the beach sounds way more appealing than keeping tabs on your budget.

But the truth is, your financial goals don't go away just because life has slowed down a little. In fact, now might be an opportune time to check in and see how you're making progress. This prompted the request to tell us ... What is the hardest money goal you gave yourself, and what did you do to follow through and reach the finish line?

We received a wide variety of answers, from the teacher who took massive amounts of overtime to save $20,000 for an emergency fund, to the family who cut every corner imaginable to pay off more than $100,000 in medical bills. Thanks to those who answered!

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And congratulations to our winner, who will receive $100 to help her reach her financial goals: Alma Zeno, a program assistant from Staten Island, New York.

Here's her story.

"One of the hardest money goals I gave myself was to pay off the $25,000 I had in student loans before the age of 40.

I picked that age because by the time I turned 30, I was tired of being in debt. I had been unemployed for almost two years and, during that period, had put my student loans into deferment. When I finally got a job again, I knew I had some catching up to do, but I also just wanted to be debt free so I could finally start saving for other goals like retirement. Between my new salary, my penny-pinching skills and a new budget I had put together for myself, I calculated that being debt-free by 40 was an attainable goal.

In order to reach it, I knew I had to pay more than my $121.77 minimum payment. So I started throwing an extra $100 to $150 a month toward my loans by being super strict with my spending. I only paid for things that were absolutely necessary, like rent and utilities. For everything else, I got creative.

Instead of going to the movies, I rented DVDs from the library. I avoided shopping at department stores and joined clothing-swap groups. For makeup and toiletries, I signed up for online word-of-mouth marketing programs like BzzAgent and Pinch Me (in which you receive free products in exchange for supplying consumer reviews) or looked for free samples on Slickdeals. To save on food, I used online grocery sites and apps to find coupons or got cash back on what I did spend. And to bring in extra income, I did everything from mystery shopping to selling jewelry on Etsy to participating in focus groups.

Last year, at the age of 35, I paid off all my student loans—five years ahead of schedule. The money that used to go toward my student loans now goes toward my 403(b) and mutual funds. Now, my new goal is to save enough to be able to travel and live comfortably in retirement.

My advice to those who are having a hard time paying off their student loans is to go over your budget with a fine tooth comb and cut out everything that is not absolutely necessary. If you're still having trouble making your payments, look for ways to make extra money."

Thanks for sharing, Alma!

RELATED: How ‘Gamifying’ Your Finances Can Help You Reach Your Money Goals

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