Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gave myself a raise

I’ve gone back and forth on the 401(k) issue quite a bit but I finally decided to enroll and put a 5% contribution into my retirement.  My company matches up to 4% to my 5% so I effectively just gave myself a nice 4% raise.  My hesitation to enroll at first was that I didn’t want anything to detract from my mission to pay off my debt, following Dave Ramsey’s advice to put off investing in the future until all debts are paid off.

The more I thought about it though the more uncomfortable I became with the idea of potentially not putting anything aside for retirement for another 5 years (my original estimate for how long it would take to pay off all credit card, car loan, and school loan debt).  I then thought I might at least pay off the car loan and credit cards before enrolling which would take two years.  After crunching the numbers I realized that in those two years I would be missing out on the 4% “free” money plus any interest I would be earning on the whole 9%.  By enrolling now, even if my rate of return is low, I would still end up adding roughly 11k to my account in those two years.

Besides the pure numbers, I also thought about the other factors in my life.  Life has been changing pretty rapidly for me lately and it’s made me realize that there will ALWAYS be some excuse for me not to put money away for retirement (just like there used to ALWAYS be an excuse to not pay down my debt).  The past year’s journey has taught me some valuable lessons and the biggest is that I can achieve a better financial future if I can just take one tiny step at a time!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Energy savings

I’ve been looking back at some of the changes I’ve made over the last year to reduce my expenses and free up more cash to pay towards debt.  Besides the food bill which I looked at last post, the energy bills are also a big chunk of the monthly budget.  To cut energy costs I made the following top five changes:

#1: Cold water washing:  This was an experiment at first to see if cold water washing would get our stuff as clean as using hot/ warm temps in the washer.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that I couldn’t tell any difference in the cleanness of the laundry and have noticed that our darks are staying darker which can also be due to my next change…

#2: Line drying: Our washer and dryer are out of the way in a corner of the basement so we hung a couple clothes lines from the ceiling, put a stackable flat racks for sweaters, and a folding rack for the smaller stuff and started letting our clothes air dry.  Sheets and towels still get tossed in the dryer.  It’s more work but it saves electricity and is also easier on our clothes. 

#3: Thermostat battle: The one thing we did that is still a constant battle for me is turning the thermostat up in the summer and down in the winter.  The summer’s not too bad for me but S hates it when the thermostat is set at 78.  During the winter we have the opposite problem where I’m freezing at 60 and he’s loving it.  But in the name of savings we have toughed it out as much as possible.

#4: Smaller energy items: We switched all our bulbs to compact fluorescents and have been making sure we turn off the lights when we absolutely don’t need them on (which is a lot harder to do than I would have thought).  We are also turning off or completely unplugging more of our smaller electronic items when not in use.

#5: Cook wiser: This is probably a teeny amount of savings but we’re trying to be more aware of the energy we use in the kitchen for cooking.  Like when I heat up the oven I try to use it for multiple meals instead of just the next one we are preparing to eat.  This has actually been really helpful in having lunches ready for work and already prepared dinners for the nights we are too busy to cook.  Also, we’ve been making sure we’re using the lowest temp on the stove or oven required and using the right size burner on the stove. 

Because we’ve only lived in this place for a year and I implemented all the changes when we moved in plus we moved from Florida to Massachusetts where energy costs and consumption are different, it’s hard for me to estimate how much these things have actually saved.  However, the elderly gentleman who lived in our place before us shared some of his previous year’s bills with us before we moved in to help us budget so I’ve been comparing the costs.  Our January bill for electric was $114 and gas was $69.  His bill from last January was $162 for electric and $147 for gas.  His bills for April were $170 and $33 while ours were $77 and $11.

I know it’s not really accurate but using his cost as a baseline means we saved around $120 per month by making relatively minor changes to our lives or at the very least we are $120 smarter about how we use energy!

Monday, November 5, 2012

November update

I haven’t been feeling particularly bloggie for the past month, life has been a lot more hectic than usual and I’ve found myself taking on too many extra responsibilities and getting burned out in the process.  Add to that some pretty big curveballs that S and I have recently experienced and I’ve just turned into a big mess (and turned back to some of my old nasty spending habits)!  

To remind myself of the journey I’ve been on for the last year with the debt pay-off and financial overhauling, the next few posts I make are going to be dedicated to the ways I’ve changed over the past year.  Hopefully, reminding myself of all the big and little things I’ve done in my day to day life to get me where I am today will get me back on the straight and narrow.

I’ll start with the food, one of my biggest areas of weakness!  Here are the top 5 changes I’ve made over the last year that have reduced my monthly expenditures in the food department:

#1: Reduced the junk food and meals out.  When I started a year ago I was spending a small fortune every month on junk food and eating out.  I calculated around $250 a month went to completely non-essential food like soda, chips, lunches, drinks and dinners out.  In retrospect, now that I actually know how to track my spending, that number was probably a lot higher.  I’ve cut that amount in half and am still working on whittling it down by packing plenty of food including snacks for work, making more interesting food at home, and just plain saying “no” to my food cravings!

#2: Amped up the meal planning.  Part of cutting back on spending for eating, drinking, and snacking out was to be better prepared with food on hand at home.  I was already pretty good at making and sticking to a list for the grocery so making an actual meal plan was just one step further.  By planning out meals and snacks I’ve been able to really reduce the amount of food waste we have and be better prepared for all our meals and snacking urges!

#3: Discount shopping.  The nice thing about having a meal plan and list of household items that are needed is that I can now hunt for sales, coupons, and cheaper alternatives.  I’ve pretty much mastered the art of maxing out the discounts at my CVS and get most of the household goods there.  I’ve also got a handle on what stores have the best deals for the staple food items, I regularly use coupons (which I previously thought was such a time-hog it couldn’t be worth it), and I shop the discount rack at my grocery store and then prepare/ freeze the soon to expire food ASAP! 

#4: Went  vegetarian (kind of).  Meat is freakin’ expensive so we have been experimenting with a mostly vegetarian diet.  I was kind of shocked the first time I did a “meat-less” grocery run, my grocery bill was automatically cut by at least a third!  S was already comfortable with a vegetarian diet since pre-me he was a strict vegetarian and my transition was actually kind of fun getting to look up all sorts of new recipes to try out!

#5: Making it from scratch.  Sure opening a can or box of something is convenient but making things from scratch has really saved me a ton of money over the past year.  Take beans for instance, a great and cheap protein staple for the new semi-vegetarian diet we are trying.  A can of beans is somewhere around $1 but a bag of dry beans is also around $1 and makes the equivalent of 4 cans.  Dry beans are not at all hard to make and, unlike the canned beans, don’t come with a ton of salt already mixed in. 

So that’s how I’ve reduced my food spending each month in a nutshell, looks good to see it written out and definitely is the reminder I need right about now that I can stick with the positive changes I’ve already made!  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

One year of debt reduction

Today marks the one year anniversary of my decision to finally tackle my finances and mountain of debt.  Many of the changes I’ve made over the past year seemed pretty insignificant against the mountain… how much does remembering to use a coupon really save, is a couple degrees on the thermostat actually worth freezing/ heatstroke?  Some of the changes I needed to make seemed impossible… could I really give up my junk food addiction, could I learn to want less stuff in a commercial world? 

I stuck with it for a whole year and now I get to look back and see how far I’ve actually come!  I haven’t perfected my lifestyle by any means; I still struggle with eating out, I still give in to “wants” more than I should,  I still forget to bring my coupons and I still debate the thermostat setting.   But now for all the times I fall back to bad habits there are at least ten times as many occasions that I do the right thing without pause.  I’ve also learned how to keep and stick to a budget, started saving for emergencies, and increased how much cash I bring in by focusing on side jobs.

In the past year, I’ve paid off $12,435 of my debt which is 19% of the total debt and roughly on track to the 5 year debt pay-off goal I originally set.  I’ve also already met my goal to set aside $1000 in an emergency fund by the end of the year. 

The next year of debt pay-off will be pretty interesting since I’ll also be saving towards the wedding with S.  I’m still determined to have all of my “bad” debt (car and credit cards) paid off by the end of 2013 so that’s going to mean a small wedding budget coupled with hard work and diligence on keeping spending in check.  I’m thrilled with what I’ve accomplished in the past year and motivated to keep the momentum going in the next year!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Proposal accepted

I thought September was full to the brim but October has already blown it out of the water!

S and I took a little romantic weekend getaway last weekend to celebrate his birthday (keeping within a small set budget of course).  It was also the first time he and I had ever taken a vacation together which makes it extra special.  We drove up the coast from Boston to Deer Isle, Maine which was absolutely wonderful... the sun was out, the leaves were all shades of red, yellow, and orange, the coastal towns were charming, and we were having a grand time just driving!  We stayed at a historic B&B, which by visiting during off-season and staying in the smallest room available were able to pay a rate similar to what I've paid for crappy hotels!  

After enjoying one of the best meals I've ever had we were just relaxing in our room when he surprised me by popping the question!  I was absolutely thrilled (and still am) and now that I've had a week to process the excitement I can start focusing on some of the realities of becoming engaged as it relates to my financial life...

Some of the big questions I'll need to face in the following months:
  • So far in our relationship we've chosen to stay financially out of each others business, how are we going to work together on financial issues? 
  • How much financial merging needs to happen pre-marriage?
  • How much financial merging do we want post-marriage?  
  • Weddings can be ridiculously expensive, what kind of wedding do we want and how much are we willing to spend to get it?
  • How long will it take to save for the wedding?  
  • And lastly, how does all this effect my plan to pay off my debt?  
I'm sure I've just skimmed the surface of questions that will crop up as S and I move towards a union but for now I'm just very happy that S and I have decided to take this big step together!  

Monday, October 1, 2012

End o' the quarter report

Well folks it’s been almost one full year since I started this debt reducing journey and being that it's the beginning of a new quarter it's time to take a look at where I stand:

Student Loan: $36,731
Car Loan: $9,277
Credit Card 1: $612
Credit Card 2: $4,543
Credit Card 3: $1,357
Parents: $0

Total: $52,520

Here’s my starting point back in October 2011:
Student Loan: $38,339
Car Loan: $11,684
Credit Card 1: $10,577
Credit Card 2: $3,635
Credit Card 3: $0
Parents: $600

Total: $64,835

Paid off to date:
4th Q 2011: $5,051 + $0 in savings
1st Q 2012: $1,298 + $150 in savings
2nd Q 2012: $2,771 + $506 in savings
3rd Q 2012: $3,195 + $344 in savings to hit my goal of $1,000 in emergency fund!

Total: $12,315 + $1,000 in savings

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

September update #2

Besides taking a trip to NYC with my sister and staying on budget for the first vacation in my life, I also finally had my wisdom tooth removed.  The surgery and recovery was a horrendous experience with the pain and swelling, and 12 days later I am still sore but there is a silver lining to the experience!  The biggest is that the whole shebang only cost me $68 ($50 for the surgery plus the pain meds)!  I was thrilled when I got the insurance estimate since it meant I would not have to dip into my precious emergency fund!

The other silver lining is that I decided to do a juice/ veggie fast during my recovery to try and kick my soda/ caffeine/ junk food addiction.  I figured since I couldn’t eat or drink anything the day of the surgery anyways I might as well keep it going and get rid of some bad habits in the process.   For the first 5 days I stuck with fresh juices and veggie purees/ soups.  Since then I’ve gone back to my more normal diet sans the caffeine, soda and junk food.  I plan to stay caffeine free for at least 30 days since most of my caffeine intake was coming from soda and I want to make sure I’m well past temptation before going back to tea. 

Since I started tackling my debt a year ago I knew that one of the biggest money sinks for me are my bad diet habits including junk food and soda.  Bit by bit I’ve cut back on the amount I was spending on the junk but it’s time to kiss that expense goodbye forever (and hopefully my waistline will be thankful that I’m giving up the junk too!).  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

September update #1

September has been an unusually jam-packed month so far which has kept me very busy in life but turned me into a complete slacker as far as this blog is concerned.  It's a shame too because so many of the things I've experienced this month have been financially related or perhaps it's just that I can now see the financial impact of every little thing I do!  Either way I wish I had written more as the month progressed, now all I can do is give some updates on how the month has been going so far...

I started September off in New York City (this is where I was when my landlord freaked out about the rent).  My middle sister and I had been planning the trip for a few months, she had found a cheap flight option and we decided Labor Day weekend would be perfect to meet up since we both already had a day off of work. Plus, it was the weekend before my birthday so we would get to see each other near my birthday for the first time in a while.  I know some folks would advise that going on trips when so far in debt is a bad idea and I agree if you're just looking at numbers.  But for me it's not just a numbers thing, spending time with my family and friends is extremely important especially since I live so far away from them.  Traveling and experiencing the world outside of my little day-to-day life is also something I place a high value on.

Since both of us are in the midst of personal finance overhauls and debt pay-off plans we set a very small budget to work with.  We were able to find a pretty inexpensive hostel outside of Manhattan that had a full kitchen so we made breakfast there and also packed snacks to take with us each day.  We also pre-paid for a few meals through Groupon so we could cut our meal budget down even further.  We decided to buy the CityPass, which is bundle of six major tourist attractions at a deeply reduced price, so that we could go to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, some of the major museums, and the Empire State Building.

The trip was fantastic, it was great to be able to spend some one on one time with my sister and to see one of the most amazing cities in the US.  But the truly amazing part is that we (both of whom have been struggling to change our financial habits) were able to set a reduced budget, actually stick to it, have the cash set aside to pay for it, all while having a fantastic time.  We could have easily spent triple what we had budgeted and probably would have if we had taken this very same trip a few years ago!  I am so proud of my little sister and of myself for finally making real changes in the way we handle money!  

So that's how I started the month, I'll post some more September updates soon!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Rent woes AKA My landlord makes paying the rent as difficult as possible

Let me preface what is going to become a rant by saying that I am NOT a deadbeat renter.  I have been renting since I was 18 and have lived in at least 10 different rental properties owned by at least 10 different landlords before the place I am renting now.  Each landlord has had their own rent paying policies and I have ALWAYS paid rent, on time, according to those policies.  OK preface over…

My current landlord has the most ridiculous rent paying policy ever: the rent must be in our mailbox at 9 a.m. on the 1st for him to personally pick up.  We can’t mail it in advance or drop it off to him.  There is no grace period.  We can’t use e-pay, paypal, or any other 21st century form of payment.  We must write out a check and, on the morning of the first day of every month, put our check into our mailbox by 9 am. Period.  No exceptions.  

I realize this sounds like the easiest thing to do but for a multitude of reasons it is not working for us.  In the year that we have lived at the apartment, S and I have forgotten to get the rent in the box at least 4 or 5 times.  Why, you ask.  Because the morning of the 1st is an extremely small window of time when you’ve got two people who are rushing to feed and walk all the pets, prepare lunches and be out the door, half asleep, by 7:30.  Or, for instance, the 1st falls on New Year’s Day and you are still SLEEPING when your landlord comes banging on the door for the rent at 9 am.  And, yes, sometimes we put it in the mailbox the night before but if it rains or snows we can’t because whatever is in the mailbox gets soaked (which is something that Mr. Landlord really needs to fix).  

After the last missed pick-up I was able to convince Mr. Landlord that we should be permitted to mail him the check in advance.  So this past month I wrote out the check and popped it in the mail several days in advance so it would have plenty of time to get from one side of our small town to the other.  So easy.  Except the check didn’t get delivered on the 1st which means I got an urgent text, e-mail , AND phone message from him stating that I need to bring him a replacement check right away.  I was in New York visiting with my middle sister so I couldn’t get him a new check and the rent money was in my account so S couldn’t write him a check either to cover the missing $1700 either. 

I called him and was able to talk him off the ledge (he’s really high strung) and I haven’t heard from him today so I’m assuming the check finally arrived.  The whole situation is absurd and is really getting under my skin.  I’ve never had trouble paying my bills before and am really frustrated with my landlord for his policy and with myself and S for not getting this bill paid the correct way every month.  Unfortunately, we signed another year’s lease agreement a few months ago so we’re stuck dealing with it.  For now I’ll be adding alarms to my smartphone calendar and sticky notes around my house.  Hope that takes care of the problem because I really can’t deal with another freak out from Mr. Landlord.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Oral surgery update

Had my consultation for my wisdom tooth extraction this morning.  Not a fun morning.  In typical doctor's office fashion I spent over half an hour just sitting in the waiting room.  I had the first appointment of the day so I'm really not sure why I had to wait so long and I have a suspicion that doctors are now purposefully scheduling their appointments early to make sure none of their precious time is wasted.  By the time I get into the exam room I'm already annoyed.

The assistant tells me that I have to watch a standard video about wisdom teeth and the surgery that is involved to extract them.  The video is specifically catering towards teenagers and their parents and is full of doom and gloom warnings against waiting till past the age of 25 to extract wisdom teeth.  If you keep your teeth you are at risk for all sorts of HUGE health problems... even if they don't emerge, even if they don't hurt, even if they don't come in sideways.  If you wait till you are an adult to have them removed your surgery will be more complicated, risky, painful... the entire seven minute video was basically telling me that I am an idiot with a death wish for keeping my wisdom tooth till the ripe age of 32.  Now I'm really annoyed, shouldn't they have a different video for those of us who did not know we should have undergone a major surgery on a non-problem when we were 18?!

Anyways, part of the consultation was talking about the insurance and payment.  They are going to run an estimate with my insurance company and I have to pay in full my portion on the day of the surgery.  They asked if I would be using anesthesia since some insurance companies don't cover it... um, heck yes I am!  There is not a chance that I would let someone near my mouth to cut out a part of my bone if I was awake, would anyone?  I'm hopeful that my insurance (which is pretty good) will be covering the majority of the surgery including anesthesia but we'll see in a week when I receive the quote.  

The only good thing about this situation is that I actually have the money set aside in my emergency fund to cover whatever costs come up.  I'm so thankful that I've really started getting a handle on my finances and I don't have to worry about pushing off a needed procedure or going further into debt to get it taken care of!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Minty fresh

I feel like kicking myself for not checking out sooner!  Multiple bloggers I read have mentioned it but it wasn’t until last week that I finally checked it out.  I spent this past weekend adding all my info to the site and setting up a budget.  I am already totally sold that this is the method of cash flow management for me!

Why I think this method will work for me:
I love that I can see all of my financial data on one screen.  Now I won’t have to log into every single account to check balances, due dates, etc.  I am already almost 100% online banking/ cashless and this is a great tool to manage all of my online accounts in one place. 

I love the budget tool.  I have tried doing cash only and separating out my little stacks of cash into different funds based on a budget but it always ends in failure.   I find it way too easy to spend cash and generally find that the more cash I have on hand the more likely I am to give in to all of the smaller temptations (like junk food).   Since almost all of my transactions and expenditures are either made online or via card, it’s going to be super easy to sort my expenses into the budget categories and allot extra income towards my goals!  Plus, I think with all of my data in one place it will be a lot harder for me to “hide” bad spending from myself…  yes, I admit that I sometimes “forget” that I’ve spent money I shouldn’t have during the month.  At least now I’ll be able to get a much clearer picture of where all my money is really going.

Why this method would not work for some other people I know (thinking about my mom and S here):
They don’t do any online banking, bill pay, etc.  To use this method you have to maintain an online account for anything you want to automatically track and include on  In my mother’s case, she just hates computers and prefers to do everything the old fashioned way: paper, paper, paper.  I really have no tolerance for paper clutter and can’t understand how she can keep thousands of pieces of paper in order to make sense of her finances.  In S’s case, he doesn’t trust the safety of online accounts.  Obviously, keeping your information safe when doing anything online is extremely important.  I’m pretty diligent when it comes to account information, passwords, etc. but I can see where online banking could be disastrous for someone not following basic online safety tips:  

Even though it’s just a financial management tool and won’t increase the amount of money I have coming in or the amount I can pay towards debt, I’m hopeful that by using this tool I can get a much better understanding of my finances, spending habits, and goals.  I’m excited to see if using this tool will have a big impact on how I handle money.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Am I doing this right??

I've been wondering lately if I'm going about financial planning the "best" way (and yes, I know best for some may not be best for me).  Even though I've been successfully paying off my debt and squirreling away some savings, I have this feeling like I'm not quite going about financial planning and management in a very efficient way.  So far I've been using one pretty simple spreadsheet to track incoming and outgoing funds which I set up to mimic a balanced check-book, another spreadsheet lays out the budget, and lastly a "quarterly" report spreadsheet where I log where I'm at at the end of each quarter.  None of the spreadsheets are complicated and so far they've done pretty well at giving me an idea of where I'm at on any given day.  

But these simple spreadsheets have some pretty major limitations which have lately been frustrating me to no end.  I feel like my financial life is a little too complicated lately for my spreadsheets to handle plus it takes for-ev-er for me to enter all the information and adjust all the figures.  I just don't have time to spend hours every week tracking money now that I'm working so many side jobs and, honestly, I'm just tired of constantly thinking of money and making tweeks to these spreadsheets.  It's great that I've made so much progress but I've got other aspects of my life to live outside of excel!

So why is my financial life so complicated?  Here's why:

I've got my main paycheck from my 9-5 job coming in every other week.  The way S and I have split our household costs has him owing me a check so that comes in at the beginning of the month. I currently sell my work on etsy and at two different galleries so I have funds coming in randomly from that, not to mention all the outgoing funds to run the etsy shop and buy supplies.  I am sewing side jobs pretty steadily now so have small amounts trickling in from that too.  And every once in a while I have a business expense from the 9-5 that has to get paid out of pocket then reimbursed.  Plus all the regular bills and the big ticket items that I can plan for in advance.

It seems like every time I set up a monthly budget it gets blown out of whack in the first week by some unknown expenses coming up or unexpected additional funds coming in.  And each time one of these unknowns comes up I have to go back to my spreadsheets and adjust everything, I spend so much time looking at these darn spreadsheets that I feel like I'm becoming obsessed.  Surely there has to be some better way to handle this mess so that I can successfully pay off my debt and save without spending all of my spare time thinking about money!

I've seen that a couple other debt bloggers use to track and manage their cash flow so I'm going to check that out this weekend.... any other suggestions for handling money are welcome!  I need something simple, where I can track ALL incoming and outgoing easily, and doesn't take too long to manage. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I want, I want, I want

Do you ever have days that you find your self wanting stuff, whether it's new clothes or snack food or some other non-essential thing?  I've come a long way in recognizing which things I need and which things I just want but every once in a while I still have days where I wake up on the wrong side of the bed when it comes to saying no to myself!  Today is soooo one of those days.  I WANT everything today!  

I knew it was going to be a day full of inner-fighting since my first thought upon getting up was stopping by Dunkin' Donuts on my way to work to get a breakfast sandwich.  I grudgingly forced myself to make breakfast at home.  Then when I was getting ready for work I started thinking about how nice it would be to have some new clothes for work.  On the drive to work, my thoughts turned to buying some new music to liven up the drive.  Walking into work led me right past a half-dozen coffee shops.  Looking out my window at work I see all the shops that line the main street.  I just can't escape wanting things today.  

So here I am sitting at my desk on my lunch break, writing about how much I want and wondering why some days it's just harder to ignore the endless list of wants.  Fortunately I've saved up a couple tricks to combat the day that my power to say no would be tested.  I've got a free pizza slice coupon so I can go out to lunch without spending.  And for this evening, I've got a nice long grocery list so I can go spend some money after work.  Hopefully these two things will satisfy my urge to give in to my wants.... 

What do you do when you are having trouble saying no to yourself?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What not to do to save money

I can officially add home haircuts to the list of things that I should never do to save money.  I already knew I was not great at men's cuts after an attempt about a year ago to give S a trim.  He didn't flat out say that it was the worst haircut of his life because he loves me too much but OMG it was terrible!  Think Little Rascals Alfalfa in the back, lopsided chunky cuts on the side with some scissor lines that look vaguely reminiscent of Vanilla Ice, and a little too long and shaggy in the front.... I got a good number of chuckles out of that haircut while he waited for it to grow out enough to go to the barber.

So S won't let me touch his hair again but I figured I could at least handle a little trim to my bangs between real haircuts.  I wear my bangs longish with the ends coming right to my eyebrows and since they grow fast I was constantly needing to have them trimmed or I would wear them pinned back once they got too long.  A couple weeks ago I decided to trim them up myself before my parents came in town for a visit.  I had all the right tools and felt like I did exactly what the stylist does when she cuts my hair.  In the mirror they looked pretty good, not pro but definitely not bad.  

And then my parents arrived and out came the camera to document all the fun we were having.  Lots of pictures were taken the weekend they were here and today I downloaded those pictures from my camera.  And in every single picture of me my bangs look terrible!  Completely  lopsided and whispy for one half and blunt cut for the other.  I am mortified that I have been leaving the house everyday thinking that my home haircut looked pretty good.  Why does the mirror tell me one thing while the camera is singing a whole different story?  I will be going to the salon ASAP to fix this mess, perhaps today on my lunch break, and I will forever be removing haircutting from the list of things I can do to save money.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Oral surgery on the horizon

It looks like my newly stockpiled emergency fund is going to see it's first real hit... a trip to the oral surgeon.  bleh.

When I was a teenager and all of my friends were having their wisdom teeth out, I considered myself pretty darn lucky that A) I only had one wisdom tooth and B) that one little wisdom tooth was not moving.  Over time both of my little sisters had their wisdom teeth removed and still my lone tooth refused to budge, although it was sitting just below the gum surface and facing sideways so it would be a problem if it did decide to move. And I was fine with that, let it stay there and let me not have to experience the pain and swelling that everyone else was going through!

When I moved to Tampa back in 2006 my new dentist sent me to an oral surgeon to see if I should go ahead and get the tooth removed.  That surgeon said the risks (potential nerve damage) and cost (no insurance) of the surgery outweighed any benefit since the tooth wasn't moving and therefore wasn't doing any harm.  Plus the procedure itself would include breaking part of my jaw bone since the bone was no longer the pliable bone of a teenager and the tooth was still embedded!  So I gladly declined the surgery!

But early last week I started feeling some pain and tenderness back there and by last Friday I was in enough pain that I decided it was time to head to the dentist to see what the problem was.  Turns out that my wisdom tooth has finally decided to emerge at the age of 31!  The dentist took one look at the new x-ray and said "it's about time!".  And out the door I went with a referral to another oral surgeon.  

Part of me is glad that I have great dental insurance so I'm pretty sure the surgery won't cost me too much (although I haven't actually checked into the plan costs yet) but the other part of me, the part not thinking about money, is terrified of having surgery!  When I meet with the surgeon in a few weeks I'm hoping they'll be able to calm my fears because right now I'm remembering all of the horrible reasons I didn't go through with the surgery back then... until then I'll just keep putting money aside to cover the surgery...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

10k and counting

Even though I just updated my numbers at the end of June (I update at the end of every quarter because I don’t have the time or patience to update every time I make a payment and because I really just despise looking at my big fat debt balance), I really wanted to update them again today because I am officially over the 10k paid off mark!  So without further ado…

Here’s where I’m at today:
Student Loan: $37,024
Car Loan: $9,720
Credit Card 1: $2,408
Credit Card 2: $4,693
Credit Card 3: $423
Parents: $0
Total: $54,268

Here’s where I started in October 2011:
Student Loan: $38,339

Car Loan: $11,684
Credit Card 1: $10,577
Credit Card 2: $3,635
Credit Card 3: $0
Parents: $600

Total: $64,835

As of today I’ve paid off a total of $10,567 in the past 10 months plus I’ve got 652 smackaroos in my savings account!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hitting the $10,000 mark

I'm so excited!  In only a few days I'll be getting paid which means I get to make a debt payment!  And not just any debt payment, it's the payment that will push me over the $10k paid off mark!  It's unreal that I am hitting such a big mile marker having only been at this for 10 months and it's even more unreal that I'm actually excited for my pay day to get here just so I can pay off debt.

When I started this journey to tackle my debt I dove right in but, I'll be honest, there was this little voice in the back of my head that told me that I would give up when it got tough and that getting out of debt was impossible so why try.  It's the same little voice I have to battle every time I confront a "want", the little voice always has about a hundred rationalizations for turning "wants" into "needs".  After the last ten months, I can gladly say that even though I don't win every battle with that little voice, I am proudly winning the war!  Looking forward to the next 10 months and 10k paid off!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Food prep day

This past Sunday unexpectedly turned into a giant food prep day which at the time was kind of a drag since I had a bazillion other things I needed to do but now I am realizing how awesome it was.  As per my usual Sunday morning routine, I woke up way to early (I’ve lost the ability to sleep in on the weekends) and figured I’d go ahead and make the grocery list.  My process involves rummaging through the fridge and cabinets to see what we have/ don’t have/ running low on/ or about to spoil.  Then I make two lists, one is the meal plan which I prioritize using stuff we already have and then figuring out what ingredients we need to buy to make the meals complete which goes on the second list.  

This Sunday when I went through the fridge, there were a bunch of items in our fridge that were on the verge: wilting veggies, super soft fruit, and chick peas and black beans that needed to get made into something before they went bad.  There were also some things that had gone over the edge and had to get pitched which really irks me, it is such as waste of money and I know that the reason for it is because we chose to eat out instead of at home which is another big slap on the hand but that’s another issue altogether… Back to the point, once I had gone through the fridge I realized I was going to need to do some cooking that day to turn all of the on the edge foods into something that could be frozen or eaten that day. 

Then at the grocery I realized we had timed our trip perfectly since they had just rolled out the “seconds” cart for the day.  I don’t know if every grocery store does this and I’ve just never cared to look for a bargain or if it’s just this particular grocery store I usually go to but the “seconds” cart is amazing!  Everything on the cart is at its ripest so it needs to be used right away but the prices are unbelievable.  Since I already knew I would be doing a lot of cooking when I got home, we decided to take advantage of the cart.  We got 2 eggplants, mushrooms, grapes, avocados, and some peppers and I think the total was less than $10. 

I spent a few hours cooking when I got home and made the following items:
  • Roasted eggplant, which I peeled, chopped and put in the freezer so we can use it later for this spicy Asian eggplant dish we eat regularly
  • Roasted red peppers and sautéed mushrooms which I marinated in balsamic vinegar then made sandwich wraps using tortilla, goat cheese, and lettuce
  • Falafel and tzatziki to use up the chick peas, cucumber, and onions that were looking sad
  • Black bean burgers which I froze for easy to grab lunches
  • I froze the fruit to be used later in yogurt or baking
  • The avocado has made a delicious spread on toast for breakfast
  • And the rest of the veggies got made into a stir-fry
Besides feeling good about not letting a bunch of food go to waste and saving a ton of money on fruits and veggies, I also enjoyed all that prepping and have really enjoyed eating my last three days’ worth of meals!  Our usual meals are boring and prepared as quickly as possible around our work schedules which adds to the temptation to just eat out instead (something we both give in to way too often).  I’m going to start setting some time aside each weekend for meal prep which will help me stay on track with not eating out and hopefully reduce some of the food waste we have in our house.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

all good things must end

I guess I was feeling a little too cocky for all the luck I've had in the money department over the last couple weeks because karma finally came along and balanced me right back out the other day.  Or at least that's what I'm blaming for the fact that I got pulled over and ticketed for turning right on a red!  It's only a $60 ticket so I should be thankful that I have pulled in extra money lately to cover it but instead I'm just frustrated with myself for not paying enough attention to the signage.

It was right after work and I was trying to get to the store to run a quick errand before I had to be at the commuter rail station to pick up S.  Since I didn't have a list written out I was concentrating way to hard on trying to remember everything I needed to pick up and not hard enough on actually driving to the store.  I know it's a stupid mistake that I'm sure many people have made but the cop who pulled me over acted like I had just committed a capital offense.  Plus it turns out that my car registration is incorrect... it says my car is white when in fact it is gray.  The cop kept repeating that over and over like I was too slow to understand what she was saying or perhaps she thought I was blind to the color of my car since I was obviously blind to all of the "no turn on red" signs.

All in all it was a frustrating moment and marks the end of my lucky streak, which is too bad since I hadn't yet made it to the store to buy the winning lotto ticket.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Good luck continues

Just a short update today: my money luck continues... there was a modest mid-year bonus at work!  Not only does it help me cover some car maintenance expenses coming up without having to dip into my emergency fund it also helps calm my fears about how my bosses view my work.  I'm feeling a little foolish now for all the worrying I've done over the past month about whether my boss is trying to push me out the door.  I'm hoping I can take this as a good lesson to chill out and stop with the constant analyzing of every little thing that happens at work!

With all this good money luck coming in maybe I should go buy a lotto ticket... it sure would help to pay off my debts if I won the powerball 60 million bucks!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The end of another quarter

The end of another quarter is here which means it's time to tally up my efforts and see how well I did for the past three months.  I know a lot of other debt reduction bloggers that I follow seem to update their numbers more frequently but for me every three months is already a lot to handle.  Even though I am tackling the debt and am always happy to see the amounts I have paid off, I still don't like to look at my bloated account balances.  I'm hoping the residual dread will wear off the longer I keep at this and the lower my balances get.  

Plus, when I totaled my debts this quarter, I realized that I am super close to having paid off $10k since last October!  A year ago I would have thought that kind of debt pay-off was impossible and I'm still a little dazed that I've come this far already.  I can't wait to post that I've hit the $10k mark which should be very soon!  Here's looking forward to the next three months!

And the grand total is:
Student Loan: $37,172
Car Loan: $9,942
Credit Card 1: $3,908
Credit Card 2: $4,693
Credit Card 3: $0
Parents: $0

Total: $55,715

Here’s my starting point back in October 2011:
Student Loan: $38,339
Car Loan: $11,684
Credit Card 1: $10,577
Credit Card 2: $3,635
Credit Card 3: $0
Parents: $600

Total: $64,835

Paid off to date:
4th Q 2011: $5,051 + $0 in savings
1st Q 2012: $1,298 + $150 in savings
2nd Q 2012: $2,771 + $506 in savings

Friday, June 29, 2012

Success to share

A few weeks ago I made a goal for myself to spend the last bit of April using all my newly developed debt reduction skills together.  While I can't say I've been 100% successful everyday with every skill, I can say that on a couple fronts I've completely exceeded my own expectations... my etsy shop and taking on new sewing jobs!  

During the past three weeks I've doubled up my efforts at listing items in my shop plus did some outreach to one of the craft galleries I have my work displayed at.  The extra effort paid off... the gallery sold some of my work so they cut me a check plus ordered a bunch of new items and would like me to be a bigger contributor to their gallery!  The big winner though was selling a $200 commission work on my etsy site plus a couple little orders!

To top it off, before I even had a chance to re-advertise for sewing jobs, a lady that I've done work for in the past contacted me for more work for her AND for her daughter... so there's another $150 coming my way!

This all may just be a fluke incident or maybe just plain luck but I'd like to think that at least a portion of it comes from my own hard work, that my efforts to change my ways and focus on my financial world are paying off.  In any case I can't wait to put all that extra cash towards my debt!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My net worth

Something that I’ve been doing along with tracking my debt and debt reduction progress, is tracking my net worth.  What prompted me to do it in the first place was this desire to prove that my huge amount of debt had actually bought me something.  What I ended up proving to myself was that I had wasted a ton of money on nothing.  I’m young in my career so I don’t have much set aside in retirement and my personal savings was at $0.  I owe as much on my car as it is worth and my personal items don’t amount to much when compared to my huge debt.  My net worth was 10’s of thousands of dollars in the negative.  I was worthless…. actually I was worse than worthless.   

When I started this process I was so ashamed of where I was that I never shared with any friends or family my financial situation.  That included not telling anyone that I had started a real plan of debt pay-off and a blog to record my progress.  The biggest reason I didn’t want to share this information was not because I was worried they would judge me based on the amount of debt I had racked up, it was because I was worried what they would think if I completely failed to keep whittling away at my debt… I have a history of jumping gung-ho into a project, be it tangible or self-improvement and then giving up when things get tough or just losing interest altogether when something new comes along.

But given that I have been sticking to this goal and gaining steam every step of the way, I decided it was time to start sharing my efforts with those closest to me.  It felt great to admit to people that I had been struggling and was not proud of my past debt-ing ways but was overcoming my debt and really accomplishing something.  I didn’t really give too much detail about the actual numbers and the only person I gave the blog address to was my middle sister who is similarly trying to dig her way out of debt but it still felt great to get it out there. 

When I was talking to my mom about it I told her that I was looking forward to the day that my net worth would break even, that I would officially be worth nothing financially speaking and we got a good laugh at that.  She, of course, assured me that I would never be “worthless” but it was just so freeing to be able to talk openly about my debt problems and my attempt to overcome the debt with someone so close to me.  And now that I’m out in the open to my friends and family it gives me the added push to stay on track!  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer finally hit Boston

I knew it was only a matter of time before the summer finally reached New England but after such a mild winter I was hoping that perhaps the summer would also be kind to my utility bills.  No such luck... after weeks of cool 60's the heat wave finally hit yesterday sending me running for the a/c and it's not expected to cool down any time soon.  

All winter I was able to endure slightly frostier temperatures in the house setting my thermostat on 60 in the name a savings.  I bundled up, cuddled close to S and the pets for warmth, and survived just fine.  The summer heat though is a completely different type of torture.  If it were just me I could get by with the thermostat set on 78 and a fan on at night to keep the air moving.  S, however, is miserable once the temperature passes 70 degrees and would probably set the a/c at 68 if it were only up to him.  

I expect that that 10 degree difference in our comfort zones will cause some problems between us this summer especially since I am on the cut costs/ reduce debt mission and he is on the I finally have money again and am going to spend, spend, spend mission.  Hopefully, we can reach a reasonable compromise...  I'm wondering if the answer is to get one of those programmable thermostats so that we can only have the air running when we are going to be there to benefit from it.  I'll have to check into those and see if the landlord would be ok with us installing one.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Time to challenge myself

I've been on this mission for 8 months now and expect to have paid off around $8,500 by the end of the month which is something that I'm very happy about.  However, I think I can do better... some of the changes I've made have been easy like making a better meal plan, reducing energy consumption, and hunting for better deals on the stuff I have to buy.  Other changes have been tougher, like curbing my creative/ crafting/ home improvement spending and reducing the amount of meals and snacks I eat out.  I am consistently being more conscious about what I spend money on and how much it costs and I've come a long way but I've yet to "put it all together".

In other words, I still don't think I've pulled off a significant number of days in a row where I use ALL of my new found skills.  Some weeks I bargain hunt, some weeks I don't.  Some weeks I'm better at saying no to myself when I want to start a new project, most weeks I'm not.  And I don't think there has been even one whole week were I ate every meal from home.  So it's time for me to challenge myself.  For the rest of June (all 19 days of it) I will be adhering to the following:
  • Every meal must be from home (or from the office if someone brings something in) and this includes all snacks and drinks!  
  • Make a thrifty meal plan and bargain hunt for savings, use coupons
  • All errands done either on the way home from work or in a group... no single stop errand trips.
  • Hang all laundry to dry
  • Shorter, cooler showers
  • No new home improvement or crafts projects 
  • Take on a new sewing job or two
  • Push the Etsy shop
I'm sure I will think of other things to add to the list but for now it looks challenging enough, the first one on the list alone will be a huge challenge for me!  Wish me luck...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

To invest in my 401(k) or not...

Tomorrow will officially mark my one year anniversary at my new job which means that besides having been in this roller coaster of a stressful job for a whole year, I am now eligible for company 401(k) matching.  The big question is "should I go for it?"  The company matches up to 4% if I contribute 5% which is probably the only way I'm going to get any more money out of this company given everything that has gone on lately.

According to Dave Ramsey I am better off putting all of my financial resources towards paying off my debt in as short amount a time as possible.  And I can really understand why that advice makes sense.  However, I have not been able to contribute to a retirement plan for almost 4 years: three because of constant pay cuts at my last job that sent me re-arranging my finances ever couple months to stay above water and the last year because I wasn't yet eligible to participate.  If I stick to my current debt pay-off plan it will be another 5 years before I'll be debt-free and that doesn't take into account all the "what-ifs" that could happen in that amount of time... like me or S losing a job or starting a family.

So that makes almost a decade of no retirement savings which I think even Dave Ramsey would say is too long to put off planning for retirement.  Perhaps I need to look at my debt in terms of "good" debt vs. "bad" debt:  My "good" debt is my student loan, it's the bulk of my debt but it's at a really low interest rate and it helped me get the jobs that will eventually pay it off.  My "bad" debt includes my credit cards with their high interest rates and my car loan even though the interest rate on that is low.

I should be able to pay off the "bad" debt within the next two years.  That seems like an amount of time to continue putting off saving for retirement that I can feel comfortable with.  

What would you do?  Push off saving until all debt is paid?  Start saving now regardless of debt?  Or split the difference and pay off the "bad" debt before saving?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Troubling times at work

I moved up to Boston (from Florida) almost exactly a year ago for a job.  Life in Florida had been giving S and I a rough time ever since the recession began especially since both of our careers are so highly dependent on the economy (me in the construction industry and S in the non-profit arts education industry).  My job in Florida had been on the verge of collapse for a couple years with all the joys of pay cuts, hour cuts, benefit cuts, and furloughs... and layoffs all around me.  When S lost his job and then house we knew it was time to head to higher ground.

I was ecstatic to find the position in Boston... it pays great, solid benefits, and the type of company I really wanted to be with.  So we packed up the moving van and headed up the coast hoping for a better life.  And in many ways we've found that life, we've made some new friends, the area is amazingly rich with things to do, and we've both got great paying jobs.  On the other hand, neither of our jobs are going the way we had anticipated they would.

Shortly after I started working I realized that my company has an extremely high turn over rate of employees... within the last year I've seen 4 full time employees go and a handful of part timers (the place only has 12 full time employees on any given day so you can see how disproportionate that is).  And it's not because we don't have the work, new hires have come in immediately and we're all extremely busy.  At first I only though it was odd but as time passed I started understanding the many reasons behind the high turnover rate.  And most of these many reasons have at some point smacked me in the face.  

Let's just say that my boss has a knack for forcing people out if she decides for any reason that they aren't performing up to her incredibly high, unrealistic standards.  If the person doesn't leave on their own after a period of her applying her tactics, she just fires them.  And even though this sounds like the paranoid ramblings of discontent employees, I can assure you this is actually something she has proudly stated to me.  Now I'm not sure where I fall on her spectrum of discontentment but I have noticed an increase in particularly passive-aggressive behavior over the last month so I'm starting to worry that I've made it onto her list.

Also, I'm just not used to feeling so discontent at work, I love my profession and have generally enjoyed every job I've had in the field.  Most days at my current job are a struggle to get through with composure and there have been more than one occasion over the year that I've eaten lunch in my car so I could cry without my co-workers seeing me.  

I am going to be working on my resume and starting to feel around for other opportunities but the whole thing has me wondering if I should be focusing more on building a savings account just in case.  How many months worth of expenses should I have socked away?  It took 6 whole months for me to find this job but that would mean needing $13,500 or so in the bank to support me if it took the same amount of time again.  I'm not going to get anywhere near that kind of money socked away in a short amount of time and it would mean I would have to stop paying down debt beyond the minimum.  I'm feeling really uneasy about the whole situation and the stress of dealing with this person day to day is starting to wear me down.

I guess the best I can do right now is try to quit with the "what if scenarios" until I have a little more time to think over the best approach :(

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Oops! I did it again... but will undo it ASAP!

S and I were using our extended holiday weekend to get done with a ton of household chores.  One of those tedious chores was to run errands... the pet store, the hardware store, the grocery store, etc.  We were doing great until S said the magic words "oh, I just need to stop by Target for some things".  Target is possibly my biggest enemy on this new quest to get rid of debt and live a thriftier/ simpler life in general.  It doesn't matter if I walk in there armed with a list and resolve by the time I leave I have managed to pick all sorts of random crap that I "need" that I didn't know I needed until I saw it.

But we were already out and it seemed silly for me to just sit in the car while he ran in to get his stuff.  Right now I'd love to tell you that I made it out without spending a dime but, sadly, that's just not the case.  I made it so close but we were literally walking to the register when a new sports bra and a gift for my bff's daughter ended up in my hands.  I would also love to tell you that I realized I did not "need" these items before it was too late but again that's just not the way it happened.  It wasn't till I opened up the bag at home and looked in that I realized I had mindlessly purchased more stuff that I don't need (although my bff's daughter would look really adorable in the jumper I bought).

Instead of shamefully cutting off the tags and promising myself it would never happen again (which is sort of my routine) I put the items back in the bag with the receipt to be returned ASAP!  In the process I also remembered a shirt I had bought for a gala but didn't end up wearing that still had the tags on it and the receipt... those went into the to-be-returned bag as well!  And all of that stuff went immediately into my car so that I can do the returning some evening on my way home from work (and to help me avoid the temptation to just cut off the tags and accept them into my home!)

One more teeny tiny step towards making real habit changes.  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thrifty shoppping trip

I've been getting better and better about making a shopping plan for our weekly needs.  Making lists comes pretty naturally to me so for years I've made a weekly meal plan.  I've done well at cutting the grocery expenses just by making a thrifty meal plan.  The part I have trouble with is hunting down the best deals for the items on my list.  I usually end up at the most convenient grocery store, which is not the cheapest one near me, and just pick up everything I need at once because I'm always rushed for time.  I do buy store generics but the weekly grocery tab has really been nagging at me.  I know I can do better at reducing what we spend on groceries and toiletries by getting better deals.

This weekend I put together the meal plan and wrote out the grocery list, added all of the other household items and pet supplies we were running out of, then sat down at the computer to deal hunt.  I'm amazed at how easy it was to find good deals for almost everything on my list!  Just by going to multiple stores (all within a very reasonable distance from one another) I was able to pick up everything we needed for at least 30% less than I would normally spend!  I even ended up with a $10 gas card from CVS for spending $30... and those $30 only went to items on my list.  It did take significantly more time to get the weekly shopping done but I'm hopeful that once this sort of pre-planning will become second-nature and I'll get better at cutting down the time.

I know I've got a long way to go in changing my spending habits so I can get out of debt but it's shopping days like today that I realize that I've already made a lot of progress in my attitude towards the money I have to spend.  Just because I have to buy something essential doesn't mean I can't spend a lot less on it than I used to!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Contemplating my faults

When I started this blog I thought it would be a good way to document my progress at tackling my debt including the methods I was using to get there.  I envisioned myself writing about things like switching to cold water washing or using less electricity.  You know, easy things to change.  Buy bulk, on sale, with coupons, etc…  What I didn’t realize is that through this process I would start to confront a lot of uncomfortable behavioral issues with myself.  That part of the process has been a lot more painful than I would have expected.

I guess no one really likes to look deeply into their own faults but I should have known going into this that just making surface changes wasn’t really going to work in the end.  And it’s not that I’m surprised that my debt issues stem from something quite a bit deeper than just forgetting my coupon wallet or not switching my light bulbs to compact fluorescents sooner.   It’s just so dang uncomfortable to be honest on here when I’ve spent so much of the last ten years lying to myself about my habits.

Really what I’m saying is that my goals through this process have kind of evolved.  Obviously Goal #1 is still to pay off my debt but I’ve realized that in order to achieve Goal #1 I’m going to have to confront some really personal issues about the way I deal with stress, anxiety, and depression.   I feel like by making the decision to tackle my debt I was also unwittingly making the decision to face some qualities about myself that I’m not quite sure how to deal with.  Not sure where this is leading me but I have a feeling that the outcome could change my entire life not just my credit score.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Working overtime

First off, let me just say that I have a decently good salary at my career job.  It is enough to cover my bills and pay down my debt in a reasonable amount of time plus there are bonuses from time to time that I can shovel towards the debt.  However, I am still struggling with some of my worst spending habits like dining out because I am too busy rushing to my well-paying job to make food or using retail therapy to ease the stress from my well-paying job.  I am making OK progress at kicking those habits but I decided I need to bring in some extra dollars to make up for the extra spending I haven't been able to completely kick yet.

Thankfully, I can sew and  from time to time I list my sewing services on Craigslist when I'm strapped for cash.  So I posted my ad and quickly lined up several large jobs which seemed manageable when I took them on but....  I also bring in a little extra money from my Etsy shop but it's never been very significant.... until recently which has sent me scrambling to make orders to ship!  Add to that my actual real job has been demanding way over 40 hours for the last couple weeks with no end in sight and you've got one incredibly stressed out girl!

And unfortunately this girl runs right back to old bad habits when stressed out and strapped for time.  So in my quest to earn a couple extra bucks to cover my habitual bad spending decisions I've actually set myself up for complete and utter failure and increased my bad spending over the past two weeks.  sigh.  I will eventually get this right, it's just frustrating to keep getting in my own way.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cheap pet food experiment is officially over

When I first started this journey to eliminate my debt, one of the first things that got axed was pet costs.  S and I have a rather large pet family (three dogs, two cats, and two lizards) so you can imagine how expensive taking care of them is each month.  I created a spreadsheet and logged in each pet’s food, vet, vaccines, and general care costs… plus the amount of money we were spending spoiling them rotten.  My portion of the expense was somewhere in the $115 a month range which I got down to about $65 mainly by switching to the store brand dog food and cutting out the treats and toys.

After 6 months of this, I have come to the decision that the cheap food is absolutely not worth the other expenses and headaches that have come along with it.  Since switching, all 5 pets have experienced some sort of food related illness including food allergies, dull coats and dandruff, and some very nasty digestive problems that I’m not going to describe to spare you the gory details!   After 6 months of dealing with sad, unhealthy pets, messy accidents in the house on an almost daily frequency and ridiculously expensive vet bills I am officially convinced that nutritious and quality pet food is NOT one of the areas in my budget that can take a funding cut!  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

New friends/ Expensive City

I have been in Boston for almost a year now and am still sadly short on friends here.  It’s not the first time I’ve moved to a new place, far away from family and those few steadfast friends, and had to create a new network but it is the first time I’ve tried to do that on a budget.  Coupled with the fact that I’m working non-stop, live in a bedroom community, and other than my professional society don’t belong to any groups, I’m finding it really challenging to get a network going here.  And a network of people I can trust in the area is really important to me… I’ve realized that the one thing that has always made it ok to be so far from my family and close friends is making some new connections!

I have been able to reconnect with a woman that I met a few years ago in Florida.  We are in the same profession and met at a conference, subsequently we worked for the same company in different offices and stayed in touch periodically.  Although we were never more than acquaintances in Florida, when I stumbled upon her name here in Boston I was thrilled to see a familiar name and sent her an e-mail. Since then we’ve met up a few times for happy hour, which is sort of expensive with the commute and high drink prices but I figured worth it if it would help me connect here plus she’s genuinely fun to be around. 

Last week she invited me and S to meet up for brunch at a restaurant near her house, which I gladly accepted since it would be the first time our partners would meet, a sure sign of friendship!  I was also partially relieved since brunch is the least expensive meal of the day so how bad could it hurt the bottom line.  I found out the hard way that brunch can indeed hit the wallet hard.  When I first opened the menu I just about gasped out loud at the prices and pondered if I could just order water and a cup of $8 yogurt and pretend that I wasn’t starving to death while everyone else ate full meals.  In the end my hunger and desire to just enjoy the time with new friends won out.  S and I left the restaurant $70 poorer but with new friends by our side and some good lessons learned…
  1. When someone has invited us out, check the online menu first so we can make a better decision about whether to go or not
  2. If the other party is open to it, suggest another place that is more affordable
  3. Eat a little something before going so our stomachs aren’t overruling our decision to stay financially solvent
  4. And lastly, be the inviter not the invitee… during brunch the couple mentioned having never gone on a bike trip along the river or picnic at one of the public parks both of which are very affordable and fun things to do here in Boston so I jumped on the chance to invite them to do that with us soon!
Other than those things how else do unmarried, childless, 30-somethings make new friends in a big city without breaking the bank?  I’m at a loss but I think I should make it my May goal to find out… 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Successful finance talk with my partner

This will be a short little update as I'm running really late today but I wanted to get this out there before it becomes old news... I was finally able to bring up finances with S without going to battle!  Because of his new job we had talked about splitting the household expenses more equitably but we still hadn't ever sat down and actually figured out what that meant.  Almost every time finances have come up between the two of us in the past, we've left the discussion (argument) with a sour taste so I was dreading having to hash out the new household budget.

Thankfully, I've been doing some reading on talking finances with your partner and some of the tips were pretty easy to handle.  The first tip, not waiting until your angry or bitter about the finances to talk to your partner, has generally been my biggest stumbling block in the past.  I wait until the last minute, as in when our landlord is on his way over to pick up our rent check last minute, before I bring it up with S.  By that point I'm so irritated that S didn't take the initiative that I explode (and yes, I do have a temper).

To minimize our financial outbursts we've tended to stick with a once-a-month hand-off when our rent is due. Instead of waiting until today to bring it up I forced myself to bring it up a couple times calmly and casually over the last week so he knew it was coming.  Then two days ago after we'd had a nice relaxing morning, I brought it up again very casually.  I had come prepared with my excel spreadsheet totaling up our monthly expenses and the division between the two of us.  He wasn't really interested in anything but what he owed (which is another issue that I'll have to write about later) but I firmly asked him to review the household expenses, asked him if he felt like all the amounts were correct and if the division was fair, he wrote his check and with that, our first successful financial discussion was over!

The whole encounter lasted 5 minutes so it seems ridiculous the amount of time I spend dreading having to talk about it.  It gives me hope that with time, effort, and understanding we may just be able to handle our finances together after all.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Small triumph at the grocery

In previous posts I've shared my personal struggle with my soda addiction, namely Mountain Dew which I've been drinking daily for the last 15 years.  It's bad for my wallet and my health so with this whole get-rid-of-my-debt, change-my-life, the Dew has to go.  When I realized that going cold turkey off was not an option (I can't stand coffee and tea wasn't satisfying the craving) I decided that I could at least switch to a diet soda and buy 12 packs instead of the expensive single serving from the convenient store.  

This morning, when I realized I was out of soda, my first instinct was to just stop at the gas station on the way to work and pick up a 20 ounce which would probably be MD because I obviously lack self control.  Instead I reminded myself of the purpose of my mission and decided to take the extra 10 minutes to stop at the grocery.  I'm glad I did because 12 packs were on sale, 3 for $10 (which they are usually $5.99 each up here in Boston).  Proud of myself I went to the u-scan register to check out... but for whatever reason the total was over $16!  If it was a year ago, I probably would have just paid this amount so I could be on my way and just grumble about being ripped off.  Not today!  I called over the cashier who re-scanned the order, when it was still over $16 she tried to convince me that once I ran my card the additional amount would come off.  Um, no, who's ever heard of the total being reduced after you run your card?!

I told her to void the order and I would go through the regular lane.  Again the total was too high so a manager had to get involved... who decided to give me the discount AND give me a free 12 pack for my trouble!  So in the end I walked out with three 12 packs for less than $9 and a new understanding of why it pays off to be patient and watch out for the bottom line.  It might be silly but it's these types of things that keep me motivated to stay on track... small manageable changes over time will add up and in the end I'll have a much better life!