Friday, December 16, 2011

Running out of the necessities

My new resolve to cut the amount of money I am spending at the grocery was put to the test this past week as I prepared my shopping list.  Why is it that all the little necessary items around the house run out at the same time?  How is it possible to be out of toilet paper, deodorant, hand soap, laundry detergent,  some of the cleaning supplies, pet food, 5 different spices we use all the time, AND a handful of the condiments we regularly use?!  My trip to the grocery was incredibly depressing, I spent a ton of money and once everything was unloaded the fridge still looked barren!  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The price of my fuzzy friends

While going through the process of combing my monthly budget for ways to reduce costs I took a good hard look at how much my two cats, two lizards, and one dog cost me and the result was shocking!  I calculated the cost of food per day plus the monthly heartworm and flea meds and annual vaccinations and licensing fees… the end result: I pay around $115 bucks a month to keep these critters with a roof over their heads!  A note here: my boyfriend also has two dogs but we mostly keep our finances separate so my monthly estimate only includes my pets. Another note: Yes, I realize we have more pets than other couples would ever want but that’s what happens when two animal lovers fall in love and combine households!  And we’ve firmly agreed that there will not be any new additions to our family unless it is an addition that shares our genes and will someday pick out a good nursing home to ship us off to!

Given the financial situation I am in, I know some people would advise finding new homes for my pets (i.e. my middle sister, the only person in my family who knows what kind of hole I’ve dug myself into and also a self-professed pet hater) but I simply cannot bring myself to even think about that option.  They may cost me financially but their companionship, devotion, and affection is something that I can’t put a price tag on. 

I can, however, make some adjustments to their lifestyles like switching their foods to a less expensive brand.  Also, since I recently moved from Florida, where I treated year-round for flea prevention, to Boston  (I’m pretty sure the fleas don’t like the cold any more than I do) I can cut back flea prevention for a good part of the year.  With all the adjustments, I am looking at a savings of about $50 a month which equates to $600 more I can pay-off my debt in the coming year!  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Next on the list

It's hard to believe that November is almost over!  I've now been on the debt-reduction mission for a little over a month and I've created a game plan, examined some of my bad habits, and paid paid down a little bit of debt.     I am hopeful that I can pick up steam through the end of 2011 and into the new year!

The next thing on my financial to-do list is to reduce my monthly expenses.  Over the next couple weeks I’m going to pick through every aspect of my monthly expenses for ways to reduce the amount I’m spending and therefore increase the amount I have left over for debt reduction.  I already looked into how much I am spending on non-essential small items like soda and eating out and can cut out at least $115 a month from non-essentials spending.  I’m hoping that I can cut at least that much from the amount I spend on essentials!

Here’s my checklist of the essential items that I'll hopefully be able to reduce:
Living expenses: food, toiletries, gas, parking
Pet supplies
Electric and Gas
Cell phone
Car insurance

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Getting the cold is expensive

I’m the kind of person that refuses to admit I am sick and am notorious for blaming symptoms of illness on anything other than actual sickness.  Obviously since I can’t even admit I am sick in the first place, I don’t get treatment until I get to the point that I’m completely miserable and making everyone around me miserable as well (once I admit defeat I turn into a pathetic mess of whimpering, needy helplessness).  I got to that point last week. 

I spent at least a full week blaming my cough, headache, and fatigue on the weather, the time change, the volume of the tv, the brightness of the sun, and pretty much anything else I encountered with the exception of the bug that had taken down at least three of my coworkers.  But early last week, the congestion set in and I ran out of excuses.  So with my white flag raised and my head feeling like it was about to pop I hit the cold and flu aisle at the drugstore and got the medicine a coworker recommended.  The first meds didn’t work as well as I hoped and the congestion got worse so back to the store for something different. 

After another day of increasing pressure and another box of tissues I went back to the store for the heaviest thing they have: Mucinex D Extra Strength.  It was ridiculously expensive for an over the counter cold med but so worth it.  Not only did I start feeling better quickly but I apparently really enjoyed the buzz as well, telling S that I felt fuzzy like our cat and laughing hysterically at every joke in a movie we watched.  After taking it for two nights and spending all of Saturday in a Mucinex induced haze I woke on Sunday feeling better than I had in weeks. 

All in all, I think I took four trips to the drugstore and spent at least $50 on meds, tissues, cough drops, and orange juice.  I can’t imagine how much this simple cold would have cost me if I had gone to the doctor and gotten a prescription med as well!  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The little things add up

The last time I wrote, I set out a plan complete with goals and a to-do list for accomplishing my goals.  One of the items on the to-do list was to give up or reduce non-essential things I regularly spend money on.  Deep down I knew I was spending a small fortune dollar by dollar on things like my beloved Mountain Dew addiction, “forgetting” to make a breakfast or lunch and being “forced” to eat out, going out for a drink after work, etc.  It’s so easy to ignore how much these little things add up when I’m only spending a couple bucks at a time but since I am determined to kick these habits, I took a few minutes and calculated how much money the little, non-essential things are costing me.

Here’s what I came up with as an estimate of my spending each week:
$12 for Mountain Dew, as much as I resist the urge I still usually end up getting one 20 oz bottle a day
$5 for a forgotten breakfast
$10 for a forgotten lunch
$25 for drinks or dinner out
$1 for a snack at work

That equals $53 a week or $230 a month or $2,756 a year!  And that’s just for the stuff I regularly waste my money on, I don’t even want to know what the annual total would be if I add in all the bigger non-essential stuff I buy each year!  I’m sure I could do a more accurate estimate by looking through my debit card statement but considering I am giving the bulk of the non-essentials up, a ball park figure will do. 

It’s pretty unrealistic to think I’ll be able to give up ALL non-essentials but even if I reduce the spending by 50% that still equals an extra $115 each month I can use to pay off my debt.  Next time I get the urge to reach for the Dew or rush out the door for work without food in hand I’ll remind myself that an extra $2,756 would be better spent on something I truly want… to be debt free!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Setting a game plan

Although I haven’t been diligently writing about my efforts this week, I have been working hard on figuring out how to tackle my debt.  I would really love to be debt free in five years but that seems like a pretty high bar to set since it equates to paying off over $1000 a month in debt!  I figure if I shoot for that and don’t succeed I will still end up in a better than I am today.  I always find it easier to take on a big challenge if I set clear goals and objectives so that’s what I’ve been working on this past week:

Goal One: By the end of 2012 pay off all credit card debt (~$14,000) and maintain a $1000 emergency fund so I don’t have to reach for the cards every time something goes wrong.
Goal Two: Pay off the car (should be around $8500 left of the loan by then) and increase savings to $2000 by end of 2013.
Goal Three: By the end of 2016 pay off my student loan (should be around 35k left at beginning of 2014) and become debt free for the first time in my adult life!!

I’ve come up with a financial to-do list to increase the amount of money I can use to pay down debt each month:
1.       Thoroughly examine my monthly budget for any reductions which includes the grocery budget, pet care, utilities, cell phone, etc.
2.       Give up (or at least substantially reduce) some of the non-essential things that I regularly waste money on which will include my Mountain Dew addiction, eating out, beer *sob, and anything else I uncover along the way!  I have a feeling once I really calculate the cost per month that I spend on non-essential stuff it’ll be easier to say no to these things but I know myself well enough to know that this is going to be the hardest change to stick with!
3.       Spend less on the things that I do need like clothes, shoes, haircuts, car maintenance, etc.  I’m sure if I work at it I can be a lot thriftier than I am now.
4.       Sell any junk I have lying around… I don’t know if this will really make an impact on my debt but it will definitely reduce some of the clutter around the house!
5.       Make more money!  The most preferable would be to do a really great job at work, impress my new boss, and get a ridiculously huge raise but obviously I can’t count on that so I’ll be looking into part time work and side jobs that can add a little to the pot each month. 

It’s strange but for the first time in years I’m feeling kind of empowered when it comes to my finances.  Even though I’m way down in a debt hole, I feel better having finally acknowledged it and setting a game plan for getting back out of debt.  I know I’ve got a loooong way to go and some seriously bad habits to overcome but for now I’m going to let myself feel good about taking the first tiny step towards becoming debt free!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Read the fine print

In my efforts to cut household costs I’m going to be making a concentrated attempt at utilizing coupons and watching for sales on regularly used items.  My first opportunity to try out my new thrifty attitude came last night when I walked into CVS get some Halloween candy and saw that the laundry detergent we use was on sale for cheaper than I’d ever seen it.  This was followed by noticing a sign that said something along the lines of spend $30 and get a $10 gift card.  What luck!  I loaded up my basket with all sorts of “on sale” items that we always need at the house including some first aid items that were advertised as buy one, get one 50% off.

Upon leaving the store with all of my great buys, I started scanning my receipt to see what my total savings were and realized in my quest for great savings I may have missed some of the finer details of the sale!  Firstly, my first aid items were all full showing as full price, apparently there was no mix and match on the 50% deal.  As if that wasn't enough, when I got home I realized my boyfriend must have bought some first aid stuff recently so we now have way more than we need!  Lastly, only $7 of my $40 purchase applied to the gift card deal!  I suppose I could have gone in and returned most of it but I was too embarrassed by my blunder.  This morning I stopped in again (it’s right across from my job) and picked up the store circular for an explanation of where I went wrong…  I had to comb through it a bit but all of my mistakes could have been avoided had I read the ad first.  At least I had earned a few extra care bucks on the purchase so it wasn’t a complete wash!

Although my first attempt at leading a more money-savvy lifestyle was not a success per se.  I did learn some valuable lessons.  One, a little advance planning would probably be a better approach to sale shopping to figure out what we really do need. Two, I need to stop and read the fine print!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Funny how ingrained spending is

The thing about this decision to pay off my debt and blog about the experience is that I have no idea what I am doing.   I’m new to blogging, both writing one and reading other peoples’ blogs, and I’m obviously incompetent at money management so I’m not really sure what I need to do to get the ball rolling in the right direction.  I’ve been searching the web for tips and came across some great blogs like: and but what I think I really need is a step by step guide to starting the process.
A memory of a past co-worker of mine came to mind as inspiration.  He and his wife had some 165k in debt and following some kind of program, I think by Dave Ramsey, were able to cut their spending and pay off all their debt in the matter of a few years.  This may be a little bit of an exaggeration but I do clearly remember him eating mac and cheese for lunch almost every day for a year and thinking “if that’s what it takes to pay off debt, count me out”.  Anyways, back to the point… I have a lead to follow.  So what do I do?  I fire up Amazon and start piling financial help books, particularly the ones by Dave Ramsey, into my cart.  I even find “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting out of Debt”.  The irony of my actions don’t hit me until I go to check-out utilizing one touch purchasing linked to my high interest credit card.  Do I really need to go further into debt to learn how to get out of debt?  I quickly cleared my basket and will be hitting up the local library on my way home from work…

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Owning up to what I owe

To be truly honest, it wasn't until I finished graduate school in 2006 that I even took a real look at the debt I had accumulated through my seven years of higher education.  At that time, I was carrying $55k in student loans and credit card debt but I brushed it off... of course I had debt, everyone had debt, who could get through college and grad school without it!  When I graduated it was the height of the market and I had landed a fantastic job so I felt confident that my debt would pretty much take care of itself.  Fast forward to today: $65k debt in school loans, credit cards, a car loan and, most recently and most shamefully, a loan from the Bank of Mom and Dad. 

Coming to realize that in the five years since graduation I have actually increased my debt load is a painful pill to swallow.  I would love to sit here and blame this on the economy or any number of other things that have occurred over the past five years but the economy didn’t take out a car loan or whip out the credit card every time the going gets tough.  It’s time to own up to what I owe and the habits that keep me in debt.

 I guess with that said it’s time to lay out what I owe for the world to see *gulp*:

Student Loan: $38,339 @ 2.5%
Car Loan: $11,684 @ 3.9%
Credit Card 1: $10,577 @ 0% until January when my balance transfer reverts to 16.99%
Credit Card 2: $3,635 @ 15.4%
Parents: $600

Total: $64,835

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I have a confession to make…

I am hopelessly, shamefully, desperately in debt.  There, I said it.  There’s no taking it back and there’s no hiding from the fact anymore.  I've had this growing uneasy feeling for the last several years about the mountain of debt I’ve buried myself under.  What started as a small, nagging concern that was easily pacified (mostly through retail therapy) or ignored altogether has manifested into continuous guilt, shame, anxiety, and depression as well as the physical ailments that go hand in hand with stress and tension.  I am struggling to pay my bills, ashamed when my friends and family members find out any of the facts about my personal finances, and guilt stricken over every dollar I spend on something “non-essential”. 

Something has got to give and I can guarantee that it won’t be my creditors.  So that leaves it up to me to figure out how I got here and how I can get back out.  That’s where this blog comes in.  My hopes are that through this forum I can keep myself honest and accountable as well as document what will hopefully be a journey to becoming debt free.  Let the road to recovery begin…