The great, the good and the so-so…

Welcome to the end of week 3 of my spending fast!
Since I talked a little last time about distinguishing my “needs” from my “wants” and only spending on the former, here is a list to give you an idea of what I’m working with:

NEEDS LIST:

-Rent ………………………………………  Thankfully, I found a decent, very affordable house.
-Utilities  …………………………Conserve whenever possible, cook with wood when I can.
-Firewood ………………………..I use wood heat and my landlord sells me crazy cheap wood.
-Phone ……………………………………..Switching to a much cheaper plan.
-Food ………………………………..Discount, generics, in season, unprocessed, no waste
-Cat food/Supplies ……………………..I have 2 cats, nothing super fancy, but still healthy food.
-Vet care & Meds ……………………….Necessary only & prevention whenever possible.
-Doctor co-pays …………………………Self-care/prevention as much as possible (eat healthy!).
-Some gas …………………………………Bike & walk when possible, combine car trips.
-Work Clothes/equipment ………….Thrift & yard sales whenever possible, get tax write-offs.
-Debts ………………………………………All “leftover” $ at end of month to debt payment!

This is still a work in progress that I may need to tweak here and there, but this is the gist of my expenses and what I intend to limit my spending to.

I am happy to report I have paid off the full balance of my smallest debt! Granted, it was only $150, but it’s one less thing to stress over. It feels good to make some progress, even if it is small.

I’ve also been doing very well overall about making sure to make my lunch every day for work, and have found it to be much easier if I take a few hours on Sunday to prep most of what I need for the week. I happen to love to cook, so spending several hours in the kitchen is no big chore for me. With a little Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me and This American Life on the radio and a pot of strong coffee, I am ready to go!! This weekend was particularly productive, as I managed to make a dozen tortillas, a large batch of beef stew, two loaves of whole wheat/oat/flax seed bread, steamed broccoli, creamy mustard beets, and chopped cucumbers, carrots, onions, mushrooms, sweet peppers and a dark chocolate nut mix. This way, making my lunches for work is a snap, since I just have to grab enough vegetables, snacks and fruit for that day. Doing it this way ends up saving me time during the week, and making my own food from scratch saves me lots of money. (I have yet to crunch the numbers, but trust me, before this year is over, I will.)

Prepped vegetables, chocolate and nut mixes for work lunches, ready to go.

Prepped vegetables, chocolate and nut mixes for work lunches, ready to go.

While I generally eat healthy foods anyway, I am paying particular attention to how I spend my money at the grocery store. I am usually an all organic, mostly local kinda girl, but for the time being, I am buying all my produce from the local Winco store, which doesn’t have much in the way of organic food. (Winco is a giant discount grocery store that also happens to be employee owned, so I feel good about that.) While I plan to work more organic and local foods back into my diet, I felt I needed to cut all costs as much as possible to get a good start. In the meantime, I focus on making my food dollars stretch , keeping in mind that I want the most nutrition bang for my buck. One way I’m trying to do this is to avoid produce that is out of season or is grown really far away. While I love berries, I cringe at the thought of buying them in January, both because of the energy required to grow and ship them in the off season, and because they just taste better in the summer when they’re grown just down the road or in your own garden. Patience is a virtue, and good things come to those who wait, and all that good stuff, right?

Homemade whole wheat bread with oats and flax seeds

Homemade whole wheat bread with oats and flax seeds

I also steer away from both processed foods and foods I know I can make myself for much cheaper, and often with better results. For example, I haven’t bought a loaf of bread for almost two months now, because I can make my own for probably around 25 cents. (Again, I haven’t crunched the numbers, but flour, yeast, sugar and salt aren’t exactly expensive.) It seems ridiculous to spend $4.00 for a (quality) loaf when I can make my own for a fraction of that, AND know exactly what went into it. No surprise ingredients, preservatives or other crap. Now, I have to admit, I am a bit out of practice in the bread making department, so my loaves leave a little to be desired right now. However, I have learned from experience that it only gets better with practice, so from now on my Sundays will be spent kneading dough and listening to Ira Glass. (I also plan to study Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, which I checked out from the local library!)

Another great way to save money on food is to grow it yourself, of course. I happen to have a small garden bed right outside my front door that will make a great vegetable and herb garden. In fact, I hit the jackpot this week and inherited some great looking raspberry canes from a friend, so I have a good start. Thankfully, living in Northern California means I can grow some foods year round, so my plans include some lettuce and other greens next. I’ll share photos as soon as I get the thing weeded…

So, with all of this great news and momentum, I have a confession to make. Are ya ready for it? I spent money this month. Yep, I broke my rule to not spend money on “wants”. I have an explanation for each instance, but I’m chalking it up to this being my first three weeks going cold turkey. And, well, it also had to do with the fact that it was NFL playoff time. I happen to be a huge Green Bay Packer fan (Please, I’ve heard it all already-no need to rub it in!), so when it looked like they may have had a shot at the Superbowl, it was hard to not watch the games! For me, that meant going to a bar or other place with cable, since I don’t get regular TV stations, let alone cable (More on this later.). So, you can probably guess I ended up spending money on drinks. Well, and then there was the day I ran out of food handy for a work lunch, and had another day before I could make it to the grocery store for a full shopping trip, so I ended up buying my breakfast and lunch. But, I bought both at the grocery store on my way to work, rather than going to the local Mexican restaurant like I really wanted to. Small victories, ok?

So what’s the damage…? Altogether, I spent $42.50 on “wants” in the first 3 weeks of my spending fast. Not the best start, but still MUCH less than what I would normally spend. And since I’m not particularly stoked on either of the teams headed to the Superbowl, I think I’m good to go. I think it has just been a good lesson to figure out what my money spending triggers are and find creative ways to get around them or avoid them altogether. I also admit that I may have to give myself just a little wiggle room, and possibly allow for a small set amount to spend on fun stuff. I am still pondering how much might be reasonable – $20 a month? $30? Definitely no more than $35.

Which brings me to the issue I think will be one of the toughest I will deal with this year- my social life. I’ll admit I love to go to my favorite bar and people watch, shoot the shit, maybe shoot some pool, and yes, have an adult beverage or two. I also love live music and going dancing. Unfortunately, these things can get very expensive very quickly. And while I have some great and generous friends who don’t hesitate to buy me drinks, that is really not the point of this spending fast. I don’t want to be a moocher, nor do I want my friends to feel sorry for me or resent me. I am making this drastic change in order to take charge of myself and my life so that I can rid myself of debt and live an autonomous life in which my choices are guided more by intention and desire than obligation, anxiety and guilt. That is definitely worth a little sacrifice and cramping my style for a while, don’t you think?! I am pondering ways to explain this to my friends in a way that makes them happy for me and not feel they have to help me out or feel bad that I’m not spending money. I think it will take some adjusting on my part, and getting creative in my social life. One way I plan to do this is to host regular potlucks, cocktail parties, movie nights, book swaps, etc. It is really a matter of staying focused on the bigger picture of what I aim to accomplish and remind myself of all that I have to gain by sticking with my plans.

On another note, I’ve been reading a few financial planning books (checked out from the library, of course, F-R-E-E!!), and finally found one that doesn’t totally rub me the wrong way or depress the hell out of me. Lois Frankel’s Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich:75 Avoidable Mistakes Women Make With Money (www.drloisfrankel.com) has been a great read so far, and I hope to share some of what I’ve learned from her next time I write. Frankel writes with a down to earth voice, and tackles a lot of the hurdles that many women have to overcome with their learned attitudes toward and misunderstandings of successfully managing money, without the condescension I’ve found in other books. I’ll give you my book report next time, and I promise it won’t be boring!!

In the meantime, my goals for the week are to get rid of my Verizon wireless service once and for all, and switch to the MUCH cheaper Metro PCS (60% less than Verizon for the same services and no contract! Yippee!!).
Thanks for reading!

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Here I go!

My name is Rachel, and I have debt. A LOT of debt. OK, maybe not as much as some people, but I have enough.  Enough that it has felt like a creeping, sneaking, heavy, disturbing, invisible monkey on my back for WAY. TOO. LONG. And actually, to be more accurate, that monkey has been hiding under the rug where I’ve been sweeping it for a while now, and it finally had enough and jumped out and bit me.  No longer can I ignore it. So, that’s why I am here at my kitchen table on a cold, stormy night in my pajamas writing my very first blog.

To make a long story short, a pretty embarrassing event a few months back was the last straw, and I knew I needed to own up to my debt and figure something out, as my usual “if I don’t look at it, it isn’t real” tactic wasn’t going to work anymore.  Hey, it works in horror movies, so why not with money, right? Oh, wait…

What was that awful, embarrassing moment, you ask? Well, I looked at my paycheck one day and saw the words “wage attachment” next to the list of money withdrawn from my check.  Clueless, I called headquarters of the company I work for to figure it out.  Again, to make a long story short, my credit card company was finally collecting what I owed them (plus insane amounts of interest, of course- we *are* talking about a credit card here!), as they were granted rights to garnish my wages by a judge….several years back. And it was now catching up to me.   Lovely.  The crazy thing is, I had almost entirely forgotten about the judgement and that this was a possibility, or rather, an inevitability.  How the hell could I forget something like that? All I can say is that I had been through such a cycle of ups and downs – financially and emotionally – with my debt that it became easier to shove it all under the rug than it was to just cowgirl up and face it.  I felt so burdened and ashamed and convinced that I could never make a dent that I didn’t know where to start, so I just didn’t.

As anyone who knows me well will tell you, I am an independent person by nature, and asking for help is not usually an easy thing for me.  I’m not bragging, in fact, I think that trait has hurt me more than it has helped when it comes to money.  I think that if I had not been so fiercely independent and not afraid to admit I made a mistake, I would have asked for help sooner.  I don’t mean help as in I should have asked for money to pay my debts, but rather asked for help in planning a way out of my debt hole.  Instead, I was so ashamed and intimidated by it that I just didn’t act, didn’t look at it at all.

But you can only run from the ugly dust bunny, er…monkey so long before it starts flinging shit at you, right? Bad analogy, I know, but that’s kinda how it has felt- a big, nasty, messy wake up call. So what’s with this blog, right? Why declare your indebtedness to the world when it isn’t something to be proud of? Well, because sometimes you have to be uncomfortable for a while if you want to change your life for the better.  And that brings me to what I will be writing about on this here blog.

After finding and following Anna Newell Jones’ blog (http://andthenwesaved.com) a few weeks ago, I have been inspired and motivated to take some concrete action.  I have pledged to undergo a yearlong “spending fast” in 2013.  Essentially, this means that I will only be spending money on the things I really NEED, and whatever “extra” money I have left will go toward paying off my debts.  It will most definitely be a struggle at times, but if I keep in mind what I have to gain at the end -coming closer to a more independent, autonomous life without debt– I know I can do this.

Now, since the point of this blog is to keep me honest and accountable, I have to fess up.  While a big chunk of my income will be going toward my debts this year (and beyond), I am very lucky that my mother is willing and able to match my payments.  Before you yell “cheater!!”, hear me out, ok?  When I started accumulating my debt as a bright eyed and bushy tailed college freshman with my first student loan way back in the 90s (ouch!), my mom was not in a position to help me out financially.  No big deal- it was just a reality that I was going to have to take out loans and work my way through school, which I eagerly did, being the bookworm and nerd that I am.  Now I am happy to say that my mom has done well for herself, and while she is not rich, she does have more financial freedom than she did while raising me.  As I was telling her of my plans for a spending fast last month, she made it clear she wanted to help me reach my goal of a debt-free life, and I am incredibly lucky and grateful to have her financial, and most importantly, her emotional support.  Thank you so much, Mom!  So, if after that disclaimer you still call me “cheater!” – oh well, get over it.

I think that’s enough for my first post.  I plan to go into more detail in future posts about how I plan to undertake this crazy yearlong experiment in creative frugality, but for now I’ll just end with what I aim to do with this blog.  Who knows where it’ll end up, as I can go on some fun tangents and rants at times, but first and foremost, I see this blog as a way to publicly declare my spending fast goal in such a way as to (hopefully) provide a structure for both accountability and support/feedback through this process.  In other words, I’m gonna bare my guts to y’all in order to keep myself honest.  (Man, that is really quite scary!)  In the process, if you find something here that resonates with you, you’re curious about or just gets your goat, feel free to leave a comment.  I’m sure I’ll need a lot of cheerleading along the way, too, so don’t hesitate to get out your pon poms and work on your back flips.

All right, 2013, bring it on!!

Happy New Year everyone, let’s make it a great one.