student loans

The No Spend Month calendar

Elyse Lyons, a 28-year-old from Nebraska, is a money blogger and budgeting whiz who conquered a whopping $34,000 in debt over two years by having “no-spend months.” During no-spend months, the goal is to spend as little money as possible each day.

“When I was 22, I was in $34,000 worth of debt because I had student loans, car payments, and some credit cards,” she told Good Morning America. “And I knew that if I wanted to enjoy my life a little bit more, I had to pay it off.”

That’s when she devised her no-spend month strategy.

If you’re looking to save money like Lyons, she recommends buying a calendar and jotting down the few days you might need to part with some cash, such as buying gas for your car or going food shopping. The calendar is also a way to track and celebrate your money-saving wins. It's a fun, visual reminder of your journey to financial freedom.

She also recommends making a list of things you didn’t buy, and if you keep returning to that item, find a way to put it in the next month’s budget. The entire process is all about being intentional and conscious about your spending habits.

“The goal is not to create shame around spending. It's to see who you are at your core and what your actual spending habits are about,” Lyons said. She also said the goal shouldn’t be to restrict yourself to spending $0 daily.

“Extreme deprivation is not going to work for your budget for long,” she added.

Photo by Leon Wu on Unsplash

Graduation is easier to celebrate when you're debt-free.

Taking on college-related debt is something that most Americans now expect when graduating high school, especially if their parents are middle class or working poor. There are only so many scholarships to go around and so much you can earn from work study. In fact, the average millennial has just under $40,000 in student loan debt and Americans owe around $1.7 trillion in student loans. Taking on large amounts of debt fresh out of high school has become the norm, but that may be changing soon.

Some states are already offering two free years of college for graduating high school students, and now the 30th state is ready to sign on to do the same. Some states are taking it further than two years of free college and extending it to four years with the option to use the program for trade and technical schools as well. In New Mexico, the Opportunity Scholarship provides free college to its residents and expands that even further to include adult learners, returning students and immigrants regardless of immigration status. That last provision is unheard of, because, contrary to popular belief, undocumented immigrants are not typically able to participate in any sort of government funding or programs due to their lack of social security number and other documentation needed for participation.

The long-term effects of free college could be massive for the average American. It would open up the door for other opportunities that may have otherwise been hindered by holding so much college debt. Homeownership would be easier to come by for graduates due to an inherently lower debt-to-income ratio. It could also allow college graduates to save more money for retirement, a down payment on a house or to open their own business because they wouldn’t have to spend a large portion of their earnings on student loan payments. This could help bridge some of the wealth gap between higher earners and people that went into a lower paying profession such as teaching or social work.

Thirty states signing on to this type of initiative would bring us much closer to having universal college. And this would help give a fighting chance to those who may feel like they started life on the lowest rung. New Mexico’s Higher Education Department Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez told CNBC, “We want to be the national example of how you create a higher education ecosystem system that’s inclusive and accessible, so nobody is turned away from the opportunity to go to college.”

Maine would be state number 30 to allow for free college if the bill passes. Governor Janet Mills has proposed a plan that would make two years of community college free. When speaking to CNBC, Morley Winograd, president and CEO of the Campaign for Free College Tuition, said "If we get to 50, it's mission accomplished." Most are “last dollar” scholarships, which essentially means that any federal aid and private scholarships would be applied first, and the state-funded scholarships would cover the remaining balance.

If all 50 states signed bills similar to the ones in the other 29 states, it would make free college a reality and many families struggling with how to afford to send their children to college would rejoice.

New Mexico has passed the most wide-ranging free college legislation of any U.S. state.

The student loan crisis that has been brewing for decades has reached a fever pitch in the U.S. The cost of college tuition has been on a steep upward trajectory since 1980, far outpacing wages and resulting in many student borrowers being buried in mountains of debt they have little chance of repaying.

In fact, many students end up not making a dent in their loans, even after paying on them for years. One report found that even among students who made voluntary payments to their Navient loans during the student loan payment freeze, 63% were "underwater," meaning they owe more on their loans than what they originally borrowed. Some even owe more than 150% of the original loan amount. And these are people who are actively trying to pay down their loans, making payments when they technically didn't even have to.

It's truly a crisis, which is why we saw such a push for student loan forgiveness being put on the agenda during the 2020 election. That hasn't happened, but at least one state is taking a big step toward mitigating the college debt problem.

New Mexico has passed a bill that makes all in-state public and tribal colleges—both 2-year and 4-year—free for all residents, as long as they enroll in at least six credits and maintain a GPA of 2.5. That means residents can take classes part-time or full-time without worrying about tuition.

The New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship Act, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law March 4, makes New Mexico the first state to waive tuition for all public colleges and universities, regardless of a family's income. Some states offer free community college programs and a handful of states have state-sponsored scholarships for some students at state universities. New Mexico has just upped the game, waiving tuition across the board.

And people are loving it.

The signing of the law was received as "good news" by those who advocate for affordable higher education.

​Some asked why all states or the federal government don't do the same.

It's not an unheard-of idea, by any means. More than a handful of countries in Europe and some in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia offer free college education.

In her speech given prior to signing the law, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham explained how the law will help provide flexibility and opportunity to people from all different backgrounds and circumstances and remove so many of the barriers that prevent people from getting the education they need or desire.

"College is too damn expensive," she said.

Indeed, it is. Congrats to New Mexico for this historic move to make higher education more accessible for everyone.

Watch Gov. Grisham speak at the 20:30 mark:

Nicki Minaj is a lot of things — rapper, business mogul, and now, the patron saint of cash-strapped students.

Minaj just announced the winners of her Student of the Game contest, all of whom will receive financial assistance for school straight from the "Chun-Li" singer herself.

After narrowing down finalists, Minaj chose 37 people to support — with money going toward everything from tuition to equipment to helping pay for some students' AP tests and get others back into school (because you know the FAFSA isn't all it's cracked up to be).

The reactions to her act of generosity were more than just a little enthusiastic.

Here's just a selection of responses to the announcement:

And a special congrats to this person, who said they were winning something for the first time in their life and really hitting that jackpot:

How did this begin? In May 2017, a fan asked Minaj to pay for his tuition, and it started a movement.

Minaj was promoting a contest for a fan to join her at an awards show at the time. And after she let it be known that she could fly anyone from anywhere to hang out with her, one fan hit her with an important question: Could you help me with my tuition payment instead?

The tweet was (mostly) a joke, but Minaj not only paid the fan's tuition — after she verified he was picking up straight A's — but started paying off other fans' tuitions, too. She helped more than a dozen students at that time.

Imagine making a joke and getting that phone call.

And Minaj isn't done yet. She's said she's going to keep the scholarship running — hopefully until there are no applicants left or she runs out of money.

The artist has always been outspoken about the importance of education. She's been preaching at her fans to stay in school since the beginning, sometimes even telling them to skip her concert if the choice was between watching her perform and planting their butts firmly into their chairs for first period.

Here's Minaj yelling at her stans to stay in school from a moving vehicle:

And at a 2012 concert in Denmark, Minaj asked "Where my girls in school at?" "Don't you drop out of schools, barbs, OK?" she implored.

The scholarship proves that she's not just paying lip service to the message. I can't wait until a college names an entire wing after her.