Bet ya thought I quit, huh? Nope, not me.

“You’re never a loser until you quit trying.” Mike Ditka

I kinda feel like the Energizer bunny right now with this blog.  Just when I think I’m going to throw in the towel, I come right back beating that silly drum…

So yes, it is now the first week of June and the beginning of the fifth sixth (!) month of my year of austerity, financial re-education, creative frugality, monetary responsibility, yadda,yadda,yadda, and I am finally getting around to writing. Oh well, life happens, at least I’m back, right?

Actually, despite having fallen off the blogging wagon, I have to admit I am pretty damn proud of myself.  I did some number crunching just to get a bigger picture of where I’m at, how far I’ve come, and how much further I have to go yet, and it feels pretty damn good.  While I still have a ways to go, I have made a very good start, and I feel like I have made some good changes in my thinking and habits when it comes to money management.  Of course, there is always room from improvement, and I have a lot to learn.  But for now, I’m going to take a minute to toot my own horn, cuz, well, I earned it, and sometimes you have to take the time to stop and acknowledge what you’re doing well and pat yourself on the back.

So, I made a little list of accomplishments from these past five months.  Here goes-

1-Made all my payments in full and on time every single month.

2-Just made my 4th payment on my U.S. Department of Education student loans…with 5 more to go to remove it from default status.

3-Kept detailed income/expense record for 6 months now, so I know where every single penny is coming from and going to.

4-Have consistently found ways to pinch pennies here and there, including making my lunch to bring to work today.  No more last minute trips to Subway or my favorite and crazy delicious but insanely expensive coffee shop/café for my work day lunches.  No more buying granola or tortillas or bread when homemade is most definitely cheaper, healthier, and most importantly-tastier! (I’m even starting to prefer my own cooking to going out to eat.  I can’t help but finish a restaurant meal and feel unsatisfied, thinking, “…and I paid HOW MUCH for THAT?!”  Don’t get me wrong, I love a great dinner out, but these days I am having too much fun experimenting with food at home, and quite frankly, the area in which I live has a dearth of quality restaurants.)

5-Started a piggy bank with which to painlessly and regularly put a few bucks away for guilt-free spending money.  If I have a buck or two in my pocket after the farmer’s market or I raked in an extra $5 from recycling, I just put it straight in my cute lil’ piggy bank (actually a decorated oatmeal container) and don’t allow myself to touch it.  (Actually, I peeked a few weeks ago, and I had over $50 saved up already!)  This isn’t just any spending money, however.  I plan to use it for specific things, such as a trip home to see family in Wisconsin next month, or a new pair of shoes, etc.  I feel like I’m attempting to reprogram myself to limit impulsive buys and save up for planned expenses.

6-Started setting specific goals to strive toward for each month.  While I have tried to avoid a strict budget, I have decided I need to set some sort of guidelines or limits on my grocery and unnecessary spending.  For example, for June, I am aiming to keep my grocery spending below $400 for the month and my “wants” spending to $70 or less.  I have written these goals on a piece of paper and pinned it to my wall calendar, and keep a regular tally of what I’ve spent already so I have an idea of how much I have left to spend.  After the limit is reached, I’m S.O.L.  I think seeing it so visually every single day will help me keep it in mind more often and help me learn to plan my spending and be less impulsive.  So far I think it’s working.

7- As of today, I am roughly halfway through paying off my old credit card debt.  I have paid off $4915.22 since last fall, with $4931.14 left to go.  At the rate I am paying this off, I should be done by December.  Once that goal is reached, I will shift focus to paying off my student loans.  I am still paying the minimum on those, but since the credit card has the highest interest rate, I decided it was best to knock that one out first and then start paying as much as possible on the rest.  (I no longer have a credit card, by the way.  I cut mine up many years ago when it finally became obvious they were doing more harm than good for me.  Someday when I can trust myself to use one, IF I can get one, I’ll likely use it to help regain a better credit status–by making the occasional purchases with it and paying the full balance EVERY month.  I ain’t stupid, despite what my money predicament may indicate…)

OK, are ya ready for THE BIG ONE?!

8- After five full months of penny pinching, some setbacks and such, and with the help and support of my awesome Mom, I have managed to pay off a total of $4548.71!!!   I am a little behind where I had hoped to be at this point, but I have to say I feel like it’s still a huge improvement over my previous situation, and it is a big morale booster to see the actual numbers and to see progress.

While I have made some great progress, I do feel at times like I am failing.  Logically, I know that isn’t true, but it’s a hard feeling to beat when you’re in it, so I am making a deliberate attempt to focus more on not quitting and just getting back up and starting again every time I fall off the wagon, so to speak.  Cliché or not, the key really is to JUST KEEP GOING.  Just the fact that I am seeing major changes in my approach and attitude toward spending and saving is proof that I am making progress.  It’s just a matter of reminding myself of that.

Whether or not I am hitting every one of my goals on time, I think that something even more important is happening for me that ultimately will contribute to my longer term success.  The first few months of this year, I felt energized and motivated, and then that started to fade a bit, and I was feeling deprived.  But over the last month or so, I have noticed a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction every time I am faced with the temptation to spend and I decide NOT to. Of course I still have my moments, but instead of feeling left out or deprived every time I decline an invite to go out on the town or I avoid the thrift store splurge, I feel proud and energized just thinking about how much closer I am to being debt-free by using the money I would have spent to pay a bit more on my debts.   And, as luck would have it, I happened to find another great blog post from Mr. Money Mustache that speaks to this.  Check it out if you can!

Here’s to another 7 months of progress for me! Cheers.

Oh, since I opened with a Ditka quote, this diehard Cheesehead MUST end with this:

“Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”   Vince Lombardi.

True dat.

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Beware the Ides of March (plus one day)

Dolly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here we are in mid-March, the third month of my year long debt elimination adventure.  I am a bit behind in my posts for a variety of reasons, but here I am, still plugging away.  I have to be honest, the last few weeks have been tough, and at times I have had my doubts about my commitment to limits on my spending.  However, nothing worthwhile is easy, and I just need to remind myself to find ways to stay motivated and inspired.

My overall rundown of my spending in February is that I spent way more than planned, and going forward, I can certainly make some improvements. As I mentioned last time, I’ve had some unexpected vet bills for my cat who has had some eye issues.  The good news is that he had his last recheck yesterday, the ulcer has healed, and his last antibiotic dose is tonight!  Unfortunately, I also ended up spending waaaay too much on groceries.  I have two reasons for that; first, since I don’t have a personal vehicle to trek into Eureka for the discount grocery stores, I ended up stopping after work a few times a week at my neighborhood store with my work truck on my way home.  While I try to buy generic and sale items, the local store is quite a bit more expensive.  Second, the one trip I did make to the discount stores in Eureka was with a friend, which proved to be a pricey mistake.  While it was great to hitch a ride with her, I didn’t do a very good job of sticking to my list and overspent.  Who knew peer pressure could extend to buying tahini and hazelnut milk?!  This month, I am attempting to limit my trips and stick to my grocery list.

On the flip side, I did pay off another $546.89 of debt.  It was quite a bit less than what I had hoped thanks to the aforementioned expenses, but it’s something.

As for March, I am off to a good start, since I sent off my first payment to the Department of Education’s Direct Loans for my six loans from them-the first payment toward rehabilitating those loans.  It felt great to send that off and get started in the right direction.  If all goes well, I’m hoping to send off a bigger payment toward my credit card debt at the end of the month.  As I mentioned in my first post, my wages are being garnished weekly for that debt, and it has the highest interest rate, at $1.66 a day.  Therefore, I think it makes the most sense to pay that off first (while still making minimum payments on my other debts) and then focus on my other balances in earnest.  I just need to figure out where to send those extra payments, as it’s being handled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.  Yep, that’s what happens when you default- the law gets involved. Ugh.  Anyway, that is my next goal-talk with the law and give them money.  Double ugh.

In the meantime, I’m keeping up with my other goals of continuing to educate myself on financial matters.  About once a week, I pick up a free copy of Bloomberg News or Kiplinger’s at the library and read whatever looks interesting.  I figure the more exposure I have, the more I’ll absorb and begin to act on in my own life.  I’ve also been checking in with two of my favorite sites/blogs.  First is The Crazy Man In The Pink Wig, a.k.a. Mike Finley.  It’s refreshing to find a financial literacy site that isn’t also trying to sell me stuff.  He is teaching a great course in what he calls financial happiness, which he is filming and posting on YouTube, and he is incredibly accessible and helpful to anyone who wants to learn more.  You’ll have to watch week 1’s video for yourself to find out the story behind the pink wig. 😉  The second is Mr. Money Mustache, a blog written by a man who was able to “retire” at age 31 through careful money management.  His sense of humor, common sense and badassity (Yes, it’s a word, damn it!) make his writing entertaining as well as educational.  I truly appreciate both sites not only for the information presented, but also for their ethic of living a fuller life with less, rather than wealth as an exercise in materialism and greed.  It’s something that really speaks to my own ethics and to my relationship with money, which has been fraught with anxiety, stress, guilt and mixed feelings.  Check ‘em out, give ‘em some love and tell me what you think!

I have to admit, I’m feeling a little uninspired with posting just my updates on spending and what not, so I think I’m going to work on some other related topics for future posts.  I have a few ideas in mind, such as the varieties of ways I save money while also attempting to help the planet and live a simpler, more authentic life through cooking, gardening, saving energy, make/mend/do, etc.  If there is anything you’re curious about or would like to read about, I encourage you to leave a comment below or send me an e-mail, and we’ll see where it goes!

Here’s to a new season, new leaves emerging and flowers blooming all around!  Be well, and don’t forget to give thanks for today!

Doing the cha cha

“An optimist is one who figures that taking

one step back after taking two steps forward

is not a setback, but the cha-cha.”

— Robert Brault.

 

This quote just so happens to be posted on the wall at my favorite local coffee shop temporarily serving as my internet headquarters, and it is a lovely summary for the second month of my year of austerity/debt repayment/unnecessary expenses fast.  (If you recall, I started out calling this something else, which was inspired by Anna Newell Jones’ blog And Then We Saved.  I quickly learned that the name has been copyrighted, so I can no longer refer to it by that name.  It really shouldn’t matter, but I kind of want to find a catchy, descriptive name for my own plan that won’t put me at risk of copyright infringement.  The last thing I need is to be sued for money! So, any ideas, dear readers? Austerity plan sounds a little too much like the financial disasters in Greece and elsewhere, and I’m looking for something more hopeful and motivational.)

OK, back to February, which is quickly passing into March.  What qualifies as my two steps forward took me about two weeks to accomplish, despite repeated and persistent attempts.  I just have to say that bureaucracy is a HUGE pain in the ass, particularly that of the U.S. Department of Education’s Direct Loans.  I started my attempts to contact them on February 5th, or at least that is when I began in earnest to document my many attempts.  No, seriously- I got so irritated and bored waiting on the phone that I recorded every single automated “we are experiencing a high call volume at the moment, your call is very important to us, blah,blah,blah…”, but I’ll spare you the nasty details.  It took me until February 20th to finally reach a human being who was able and willing to discuss my 6 student loans which are now in default.  Thankfully, I got lucky that day, and the woman I spoke with was incredibly helpful, patient and willing to answer my bazillion questions, after asking if I would be paying the full amount due, of course.  Hey, she had to try, right?

To make a long story short, I owe a total of $24,796.84 to the D.O.E., of which $1666.62 is interest at this point.  I’ve entered into their monthly payment loan rehabilitation program.  This means I must pay a minimum of 1% of my balance on time monthly for 9 months, at which point my loans will be removed from default and my account will be back in good standing.  I have to admit, it was pretty painless, considering other interactions I have had with creditors.  These loans were the last of the loose ends in my debt repayment plan, and it feels soooooo good to have it back on track.  Obviously, I’m not proud of having let it go that far, but it feels good to be doing something about it now.

So that was my two steps forward.  The one step back has been further vet bills for my cat, Jack.  Unfortunately, his eye infection is taking a really long time to heal.  It’s heading in the right direction, but did require more laser treatment and tests to help the process.  Again, I have to admit, I’m glad to be in a place financially that I am able to pay for these things.  It has just been a good reminder that the best laid plans don’t always work the way you expect, and you need to take the unexpected into account.

Less admirable has been my realization of how addicted/dependent I am on my piece of crap smartphone!  Remember my goal was to cancel my Verizon service in order to save money?  Well, I still haven’t done it.  I have some really great excuses, like my new metroPCS dumb phone is horrible for internet access, and I apparently have little to no reception in my house, even for texts, rendering it pretty much useless.  You get what you pay for, I guess.  However, I am still determined to simplify and find ways to save.  So, I plan to buckle down and just cancel the damn thing, go without daily/hourly facebook and craigslistand Grumpy Cat access –oh my!!- and use the money I save to order a landline/internet bundle for my house.  So, I may have sporadic internet access yet again, but in the end I think I’ll be happier and so will my bank account.  Wish me strength.  I can do this!