20 Things We Did to Pay off $78K of Student Loan Debt

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My husband Travis and I paid off $78,000 of debt in less than two years.

We paid off $53,000 alone in ONE YEAR!

Today I’m sharing 20 ways you can change things up, save money, etc, for how to pay off student loans faster… and what I would change if I had a do-over.

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How to Pay off Student Loan Debt

Let’s start with some baseline facts. Throughout our debt payoff, our combined income was roughly $88K meaning we lived off $35K and put 60% of our income towards loans.

While we put $53K toward debt the first year we only put $25 toward it the second. That’s because we also bought a house around six months before we became debt-free. It’s not the order I’d recommend doing things but we were forced out of our rental and decided we’d rather put off our debt-free scream a few months than wait another year to buy.

Now for the hard truth: It was really easy signing for these loans but it was not easy paying them off.

Over $12,000 of my personal income alone was from side jobs and I (no lie) contracted shingles early on in the process from how stressed I was about the task at hand.

What’s also true, aside from the discipline it took to turn down trips to Disney and dinners out, is that I had a great year. I had fun, went out, and we even took a vacation. Even though sometimes I felt deprived in the moment, looking back I wasn’t deprived at all. Every “no” made me a stronger person.

There are countless stories on the Internet about how people paid off massive amounts of debt in short amounts of time and they mostly say the same thing. So I wanted to give you something a little different and tell you what I think are the 20 most important things we did to tackle this big problem as quickly as possible.

1. Determine Your “Why”

This is the first and most important step we took. We decided we want to travel and buy a home big enough to foster children (one of my side jobs was at a foster group home.) Every time it got hard I reminded myself of why we’re doing this and it influenced every financial decision I made. You’re gonna need this one to succeed.

2. Have Clarity

You can’t finish a race if the route’s not laid out. The next thing we did was take inventory of our debt, savings, income, recurring bills, etc. to have a clear picture of our financial situation. Some couples don’t combine their finances, for us it was necessary to be transparent with each other since his earned income would be paying off my loans and vice versa.

3. Make a Budget

You’re gonna need a specialized budget. It’s 100% necessary to have a written budget before every month begins. We do ours in EveryDollar, it’s the easiest user interface I’ve worked with. We’ve never made a perfect budget, we’re always tweaking throughout the month but we always spend less than we bring in. We’re able to meet and exceed our loan payment every month because of the budget.

4. Change How You Shop

I traded Publix for Aldi, Target for Walmart, and the mall for Goodwill. Some changes were better than others (LOVE Aldi, hate Walmart) but it’s all for the sake of saving money.

While getting out of debt we committed to not paying full price for anything. I sit in my car or stand in line looking for coupons before I make a purchase. Here are some of the ways I save on full-priced items

  • Groupon and LivingSocial for deals on activities.
  • Shopping through Rakuten when making any purchases online will get you cash-back from virtually any retailer. (I never get a Groupon without getting Rakuten cash back!)
  • Use Blink to save on prescriptions.
  • EyeBuyDirect to save on prescription eyewear.
  • Energy saving methods like buying low-flow showerheads to reduce our utility bill or using wind power through Arcadia (it doesn’t save me money but it’s better for the environment!
  • Sites like Restaurant.com for dining deals.
  • ThredUp for nice secondhand clothing at steep discounts from retail.
  • I take advantage of free trials at gyms.
  • Apps like ibotta to save at grocery stores and other big box retailers.

5. Pick Up Extra Jobs

There are only so many things you can cut out of your life but there’s virtually no limit to the amount of money you can bring in. We started with hourly side jobs and since starting this blog I’ve had opportunities to freelance that have given me much more flexibility with my time.

You have to start somewhere and I am convinced bringing in extra income is the key to paying off large amounts of debt fast. If you can’t work any extra then negotiate a raise or find a higher paying job. This is that vital of a step.

I’ve laid out some 21 ways to make extra money and if you’re interested in blogging you can start here or check out my post about how to start and monetize a blog in any niche.

6. Drive Old Cars

We both drive Toyota Corollas and will drive them until we need something bigger. IMO, you don’t deserve a new car if you’re in debt, you don’t even deserve a nice used car. I don’t care how shiny it is.

You need something to get you back and forth from your 2 jobs and when you can pay cash for an upgrade then you deserve whatever you can afford.

7. Buy Used or Find Free

I don’t buy new clothes anymore and half of our furniture we got for free next to dumpsters and repainted. New doesn’t always mean better. We’ve saved a lot of money this year by not falling into that trap.

8. Meal Plan

I’m so passionate about this I wrote a book on it.

Meal planning is essential to saving money on food. I worked in restaurants during college and they did inventory every week and planned specials around it to minimize food waste and save money. So I do the same in my kitchen. I plan meals around what I have and the grocery budget has become the one section I never exceed because of it.

If you need help:

  • Making a simple DIY meal plan
  • Buying less and saving money at the grocery store
  • Preparing food once you plan it
  • And reducing the food waste in your house

Then check out my book Meal Planning on a Budget (It’s available on Amazon!)

If you’re bad at doing stuff like this or don’t have a lot of time, Cook Smarts is the meal planning I recommend. It’s the best value out there and I always say work smarter, not harder.

9. Celebrate Milestones!

Every time we pay off a loan or hit a milestone we have a little celebration. It’s usually dinner out (using Groupon or Restaurant.com) or a glass of whiskey and a movie on Netflix. If you have big loans that don’t have little milestones, make your own. $3K and $5K increments are a good start.

10. Sell Stuff

We didn’t have any big things to sell but we got a few nice appliances from our wedding so we sold the old stuff and made enough for gas for the month. We regularly sell clothes at Plato’s Closet and random stuff on OfferUp or Facebook Marketplace.

11. Find Cheap Housing

We own our house now but living in something small and cheap was clutch while we were paying off debt. You get smaller utility bills and have less room to buy “stuff” for. We live in a growing city in a pretty nice neighborhood and I’ve kept no secret that we paid $800 for a 1/1 in a duplex.

As the housing market rises so do rent prices so you have to get creative while looking. My husband went for runs in different neighborhoods and found it on one of those. It wasn’t listed. We also negotiated adding water & sewage into the rent.

12. Stop Eating Out Alone

We still eat out, even when we don’t have a gift card, but we stopped grabbing food out of laziness. I used to get tacos every Wednesday after work (not on Tuesday? Gasp.) and grits on Saturday before I went in.

For millennials, eating out is part of our culture, it unites us, but these taco and grits trips weren’t bringing me closer to anything but my fork. So now I only eat out if it’s with friends or my husband.

13. Visualize

We had a 4 ft paper thermometer on our wall (next to our thermostat, lol) that we fill in after we’ve made our loan payment for the month. I used to just watch numbers get smaller in all my accounts but with this corny visualization trick, It’s been fun to see that red bar go up and the white space above it get smaller and smaller.

I made a free printable debt thermometer for you here if you want to try it!

14. Give

Seems a little counter-intuitive doesn’t it? We could be making an extra $500 payment on our loan, shave a month or two off our total repayment. Only 67% of households give to charity & religious organizations.

It’s over half but Americans still get a D in social justice. It’s important to me to give what we can now so in the future giving more will be a natural progression.

15. Chill Out

Where all my Type A brothers and sisters at!? Let me hear you say “Ahhh. Omg. This is too much. I’m freaking out…” I used to live somewhere on that level.

It’s gotten a lot better since my Shingles outbreak (at the ripe age of 26) but I still have to remind myself to just go with the flow. Whatever happens, will happen and it’ll all work out in the end.

16. Unfollow Your Friends on Social Media

Confession: I unfollowed two of my best friends on Instagram and I didn’t tell them. I love them but they’re always traveling to cool places, eating great food, buying new stuff, and I just couldn’t handle it.

In no way has it affected our relationship (it’s probably improved it) and I can scroll a little safer now.

Also Read: Why Unfollowing my Friends Helped my Finances

17. No-Spend Challenges

I’ve done a few no-spend challenges and they’ve all taught me more about my spending habits. I still bought groceries and went out to eat but I didn’t buy any personal non-necessities. The beauty of a no-spend challenge is that it can look different for everyone and you’re guaranteed to save money for as long as you do it.

If you want to learn how to do a no-spend challenge that transforms your habits and causes you to spend more intentionally you can check out my other book on Amazon, The No-Spend Challenge Guide. (#shamelessplugs)

18. Check Your Bills

Whenever it’s time to renew or we see an ad for a good offer (on something we already pay for) we call to negotiate a better deal. It’s unfortunate that companies take advantage of their customers like they do but that’s how it is and it’s on us to keep our necessities affordable.

19. Ditch Cable

We never signed up so this one is a no-brainer. I don’t care how much you love sports or how many kids you need to keep occupied. There are cheaper, if not free, ways to do it than cable. Try Fire TV Stick or Roku to fill your cable sized void.

Our friend knows our budget is tight while paying off debt so she let us use her Netflix account for free. You never know, maybe one of your friends will do the same while you’re getting your finances together.  And football isn’t going anywhere.

20. Stop Investing

I wouldn’t stop for more than a year or two but it motivated us to go that much faster. I know we missed out on future compound interest but the fire it lit under us helped pay way less in interest.

And now we max out a 401k, two Roth IRA’s, and an HSA. Which is way more effective than just $50 or $100 a month toward these accounts.

If you want to pay off your loans fast, then pile on the money you would be investing to your loan. And remember it’s not forever.

You Can Pay off Student Loan Debt!

So what would I do differently? I would’ve chilled out a little more but that’s really it. I’m proud of how flexible we were able to be and still stay motivated to get the job done so quickly. But there are still things I missed out on that I wish I would’ve spent the money and done.

Whew! That’s a lot, right? Don’t expect to start all these at the same time. We worked up to doing all these things. Start with the first four and work your way down, you’ll be surprised at how naturally they all come over time.

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Are you tired of drowning in your student loan debt? Here are 20 tips and tricks one couple used to pay off $53,000 in student loans in 1 year. #payoffdebtquickly #Payingoffstudentloans #howtogetoutofdebtfast #studentloantips #payingoffstudentloans

” data-medium-file=”https://i1.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/20-things-we-did-to-pay-off-78k.jpg?fit=200%2C300&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”http://www.hanovermortgages.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/20-things-we-did-to-pay-off-78k-of-student-loan-debt-1.jpg” loading=”lazy” data-pin-description=”Are you tired of drowning in your student loan debt? Here are 20 tips and tricks one couple used to pay off $53,000 in student loans in 1 year. #payoffdebtquickly #Payingoffstudentloans #howtogetoutofdebtfast #studentloantips #payingoffstudentloans” data-pin-title=”The tips and trick a couple used to pay off $53,000 in student loan debt in 1 year.” src=”http://www.hanovermortgages.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/20-things-we-did-to-pay-off-78k-of-student-loan-debt-1.jpg” alt class=”wp-image-3993″ width=”265″ height=”398″ srcset=”http://www.hanovermortgages.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/20-things-we-did-to-pay-off-78k-of-student-loan-debt-6.jpg 1000w, https://i1.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/20-things-we-did-to-pay-off-78k.jpg?resize=200%2C300&ssl=1 200w, https://i1.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/20-things-we-did-to-pay-off-78k.jpg?resize=400%2C600&ssl=1 400w, https://i1.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/20-things-we-did-to-pay-off-78k.jpg?resize=768%2C1152&ssl=1 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 265px) 100vw, 265px”>

<img data-attachment-id="2438" data-permalink="https://www.modernfrugality.com/20-things-pay-off-53k-student-loan-debt/1-22/" data-orig-file="https://i2.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/1-1.png?fit=735%2C1102&ssl=1" data-orig-size="735,1102" data-comments-opened="1" data-image-meta=""aperture":"0","credit":"","camera":"","caption":"","created_timestamp":"0","copyright":"","focal_length":"0","iso":"0","shutter_speed":"0","title":"","orientation":"0"" data-image-title="20 Tips to Help you Kick Your Student Loans to the Curb for Good" data-image-description="

Are you ready to pay off your student loans and be done with them? Here are 20 things a couple did to pay off their massive student loan debt in 2 years. #studentloantips #moneysavingtips #howtogetoutofdebt #gettingoutofdebt #howtogetoutofdebtfast

” data-medium-file=”https://i2.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/1-1.png?fit=200%2C300&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i2.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/1-1.png?fit=400%2C600&ssl=1″ loading=”lazy” data-pin-description=”Are you tired of drowning in your student loan debt? Here are 20 tips and tricks one couple used to pay off $53,000 in student loans in 1 year. #payoffdebtquickly #Payingoffstudentloans #howtogetoutofdebtfast #studentloantips #payingoffstudentloans” data-pin-title=”The tips and trick a couple used to pay off $53,000 in student loan debt in 1 year.” src=”http://www.hanovermortgages.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/20-things-we-did-to-pay-off-78k-of-student-loan-debt.png” alt=”We paid off $78K of debt in 23 months by doing these things.” class=”wp-image-2438″ width=”238″ height=”357″ srcset=”http://www.hanovermortgages.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/20-things-we-did-to-pay-off-78k-of-student-loan-debt-1.png 400w, https://i2.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/1-1.png?resize=200%2C300&ssl=1 200w, https://i2.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/1-1.png?w=735&ssl=1 735w” sizes=”(max-width: 238px) 100vw, 238px” data-recalc-dims=”1″>

<img data-attachment-id="4245" data-permalink="https://www.modernfrugality.com/20-things-pay-off-53k-student-loan-debt/20-tips-to-help-you-kick-your-student-loans-to-the-curb-for-good/" data-orig-file="https://i0.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/20-tips-to-help-you-kick-your-student-loans-to-the-curb-for-good.jpg?fit=1000%2C1500&ssl=1" data-orig-size="1000,1500" data-comments-opened="1" data-image-meta=""aperture":"0","credit":"","camera":"","caption":"","created_timestamp":"0","copyright":"","focal_length":"0","iso":"0","shutter_speed":"0","title":"","orientation":"1"" data-image-title="20 Tips to Help you Kick Your Student Loans to the Curb for Good" data-image-description="

Are you ready to pay off your student loans and be done with them? Here are 20 things a couple did to pay off their massive student loan debt in 2 years. #studentloantips #moneysavingtips #howtogetoutofdebt #gettingoutofdebt #howtogetoutofdebtfast

” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/20-tips-to-help-you-kick-your-student-loans-to-the-curb-for-good.jpg?fit=200%2C300&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”http://www.hanovermortgages.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/20-things-we-did-to-pay-off-78k-of-student-loan-debt-2.jpg” loading=”lazy” data-pin-description=”Are you tired of drowning in your student loan debt? Here are 20 tips and tricks one couple used to pay off $53,000 in student loans in 1 year. #payoffdebtquickly #Payingoffstudentloans #howtogetoutofdebtfast #studentloantips #payingoffstudentloans” data-pin-title=”The tips and trick a couple used to pay off $53,000 in student loan debt in 1 year.” src=”http://www.hanovermortgages.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/20-things-we-did-to-pay-off-78k-of-student-loan-debt-2.jpg” alt class=”wp-image-4245″ width=”312″ height=”468″ srcset=”http://www.hanovermortgages.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/20-things-we-did-to-pay-off-78k-of-student-loan-debt-7.jpg 1000w, https://i0.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/20-tips-to-help-you-kick-your-student-loans-to-the-curb-for-good.jpg?resize=200%2C300&ssl=1 200w, https://i0.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/20-tips-to-help-you-kick-your-student-loans-to-the-curb-for-good.jpg?resize=400%2C600&ssl=1 400w, https://i0.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/20-tips-to-help-you-kick-your-student-loans-to-the-curb-for-good.jpg?resize=768%2C1152&ssl=1 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 312px) 100vw, 312px”>

<img data-attachment-id="4284" data-permalink="https://www.modernfrugality.com/how-to-find-what-you-value-to-make-smarter-spending-decisions/mf-the-secret-to-paying-off-debt-fast-78k-in-2-years/" data-orig-file="https://i2.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MF-The-Secret-to-Paying-off-Debt-Fast-78k-in-2-Years.jpg?fit=700%2C1350&ssl=1" data-orig-size="700,1350" data-comments-opened="1" data-image-meta=""aperture":"0","credit":"","camera":"","caption":"","created_timestamp":"0","copyright":"","focal_length":"0","iso":"0","shutter_speed":"0","title":"","orientation":"1"" data-image-title="The Secret to Paying off Debt Fast!- $78k in 2 Years!" data-image-description="

Do you want to figure out how to FINALLY pay off your debt? Here is the secret to paying off debt fast. #payingoffdebtfast #payingoffdebtquickly #howtopayoffdebtfast #howtopayoffdebtquickly #studentloantips #moneytipsformillennials #moneyhacks #debthacks #gettingoutofdebt #howtogetoutofdebt #payingoffstudentloans, howtogetoutofdebtfast

” data-medium-file=”https://i2.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MF-The-Secret-to-Paying-off-Debt-Fast-78k-in-2-Years.jpg?fit=156%2C300&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i2.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MF-The-Secret-to-Paying-off-Debt-Fast-78k-in-2-Years.jpg?fit=311%2C600&ssl=1″ loading=”lazy” data-pin-title=”The Secret to Paying off Debt Fast!- $78k in 2 Years!” data-pin-description=”Do you want to figure out how to FINALLY pay off your debt? Here is the secret to paying off debt fast. #payingoffdebtfast #payingoffdebtquickly #howtopayoffdebtfast #howtopayoffdebtquickly #studentloantips #moneytipsformillennials #moneyhacks #debthacks #gettingoutofdebt #howtogetoutofdebt #payingoffstudentloans, howtogetoutofdebtfast” src=”http://www.hanovermortgages.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/20-things-we-did-to-pay-off-78k-of-student-loan-debt-3.jpg” alt class=”wp-image-4284″ width=”251″ height=”484″ srcset=”http://www.hanovermortgages.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/20-things-we-did-to-pay-off-78k-of-student-loan-debt-8.jpg 311w, https://i2.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MF-The-Secret-to-Paying-off-Debt-Fast-78k-in-2-Years.jpg?resize=156%2C300&ssl=1 156w, https://i2.wp.com/www.modernfrugality.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/MF-The-Secret-to-Paying-off-Debt-Fast-78k-in-2-Years.jpg?w=700&ssl=1 700w” sizes=”(max-width: 251px) 100vw, 251px” data-recalc-dims=”1″>

Jen Smith is a personal finance expert, founder of Modern Frugality and co-host of the Frugal Friends Podcast. Her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Lifehacker, Money Magazine, U.S. News and World Report, Business Insider, and more. She’s passionate about helping people gain control of their spending.

Source: modernfrugality.com

Are You Prepared for Health Care Costs While in Retirement?

There is a simple and unsettling reality in the United States. Many Americans don’t feel financially prepared for health care costs in retirement. In a recent study of U.S. adults ages 50 to 64, nearly 45% had low confidence in their ability to afford health insurance during retirement. We’ve all heard these costs are rising faster than inflation, but how do we plan for something that feels so uncertain?  

So, how much is health care likely to cost during retirement? The average 65-year-old couple in 2020 will need $295,000 in today’s dollars during their retirement, excluding long-term care, to cover health care expenses, according to Fidelity. But depending on your age, income, health, location and Medicare eligibility, that number could be much different. When long-term care is factored in, the expense for health care can increase considerably. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a person turning 65 today has almost a 70% chance of needing long-term care services in their remaining years. Currently, the national average median cost is $8,821 for a private room in a nursing facility and $4,576 for a home health aide, according to the Genworth Cost of Care survey.

While these high figures may seem alarming, it is not all doom and gloom and there are some ways to proactively prepare for the costs of health care while in retirement. So, what can you do if your retirement and health care savings need a shot in the arm?   

Save in a tax-free account for health care expenses

One great way to begin budgeting for your health expenses is by contributing to a Health Savings Account (HSA). If you currently have a high-deductible health care plan, your employer may offer an HSA. This type of account allows you to contribute while receiving a tax deduction, the money can get invested and grows tax-deferred, and if the money is eventually used for qualified medical expenses the withdrawal is tax-free. In 2021 the IRS allows individuals to contribute $3,600 and families to contribute $7,200.

Over several years this contribution can add up to a significant sum, which can be a ready source of health care funds when needed.

Prepare for long-term care

Even sound retirement plans can be disrupted by rising health care costs and catastrophic illness. Medicare Part A covers skilled nursing care for a specific period after hospitalization. It does not pay for custodial care for Alzheimer’s or other cognitive illnesses. This is why many people protect themselves with a long-term care (LTC) insurance policy. The benefits of LTC insurance go beyond what your health insurance may cover by reimbursing you for services needed to help you maintain your lifestyle if age, injury, illness or a cognitive impairment makes it challenging for you to take care of yourself.

By planning with long-term care insurance, you can prevent your retirement and savings from being devastated if this type of care is needed in the future. In addition, by owning an LTC insurance policy, you provide your loved ones with greater options for providing care while relieving them from full-time caregiver responsibilities.

Where you live makes a difference

Another factor that will have a big impact on how much you spend on health care is where you are living while you are retired. Traditional Medicare coverage is the same all over, but prescription coverage (Part D), Medicare Advantage (Part C), “Medigap” supplemental plans and private insurance vary depending on where you live. The costs of long-term care can vary by thousands of dollars depending on the state you live in. If you are currently living in a state where health care costs are higher, you can consider moving somewhere different while in retirement.

Consider your age when you retire

While you are eligible to begin collecting Social Security at age 62 you are not able to begin Medicare until age 65. If you choose to retire earlier than 65 there are some options that you can explore for health insurance. When you retire, you may choose to continue your employer’s coverage under COBRA for up to 18 months. However, your premiums will increase significantly since you will now be paying the full premium yourself. If your spouse is still working and eligible for health insurance, you may be able to move to their plan relatively easily. Another option is buying an Affordable Care Act plan on a federal or state health insurance marketplace. You may also qualify for a subsidy if your household income is below a certain level.

It is relatively unsurprising to learn people who are most confident about retiring have spoken with a professional financial adviser about retirement planning. Will you be able to retire comfortably? The answer can be equally complicated. It is a complicated question. Financial planning is not a static activity. Retirement goals, income needs and projected expenses may change significantly over a lifetime. As a result, it is important to review retirement plans often and revise as needed.

The good news is that whatever your health care costs end up being, those costs will usually be over the course of several years. This gives someone with a well-developed plan the ability to feel confident and prepared for what’s ahead.  

Financial Adviser, Western International Securities

Matt Stratman is a financial adviser at Western International Securities in Southern California. His focus is helping business owners and entrepreneurs who are planning for retirement. With a strong, client-centered approach he creates personalized investment strategies to help them reach their financial goals. Matt is extremely passionate about retirement planning, believing the better prepared a person is, the more fulfilling their retirement will be.

Source: kiplinger.com