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!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Talking about finances with my partner

S and I have not really learned how to talk about money in a productive way in the two years we’ve been together.  This is partly because I’m ashamed of the debt situation I’ve created for myself and avoid discussing my financial woes with anyone, including him.  Actually, I haven’t even mentioned that I am writing this blog to anyone because of how ugly the truth about my finances looks all written out.  I realize that I’d probably be better off with some support from S, friends and family and maybe the time is coming soon that I share my struggles with them but for now I’m keeping it to myself until I have some real successes under my belt.

Another big reason we struggle to discuss finances is his own situation which is, in some ways, as bad as mine.  He ended up saddled with an underwater mortgage during the recession, struggled to keep up with rising utilities and insurance for two years, and eventually started falling behind.  After losing his job, the house was soon to follow, and here we are today… he’s lost everything and all I have is a gigantic pile of debt.  That, coupled with the fact that we are both extremely independent people who regard turning to others for help as some sort of weakness and you can see why we struggle to have productive conversations about our finances.

But life has slowly started to turn around for us, we took a leap of faith leaving Florida and coming up to Boston for my new job.  He has landed a great job as well and our restrictive financial situation is slowly easing up.  Since October I have been working at changing the things about me that hold me in this debt cycle and am feeling generally positive that I can make lasting changes.  But even with all this positive change we still avoid the financial discussions at all costs. 

I understand the “whys” to this situation but I have no idea how to address them.  I want us to be able to work at this together, without arguing, so that we can do the things we’ve always wanted: travel, marriage, kids, another house someday… and a long ways away, a nice comfortable retirement.  I think I’ll devote the rest of April to exploring ways in which couples address money positively.  I think it’s long overdue that S and I learn to open up to each other about money.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Oops, that was embarrassing

I've been really diligent about keeping a spreadsheet up-to-date with my current balance and any expected expenditures and deposits for the coming months.  Sort of like a balanced check book for the computer age, I check my balances online, make sure payments are set up or went through on time, and it all gets tracked in one place.  This has been really crucial since I've started tackling my debt since I need to know how much I can pay off each bill while making sure there's enough left over for all the other bills.  There have been a couple times in the past months that my account has dipped too close to $0 for comfort but I've stayed out of the danger zone by carefully planning when I send bills off so I don't bounce my account.... except for today.

I knew I was "in the red" coming up soon based on a review of my spreadsheet last week and I had planned on transferring some cash from my newly padded savings account.  For some reason I thought I had more time because I opened up my spreadsheet this morning when I got to work and realized that today was the day I would bounce my account unless I deposited some money.  Too late to do a transfer from my savings (which I have safely out of easy reach at my credit union) to my big bank checking account, I counted up the cash in my pocket and realized I was still $7 short of covering the bill.  Fortunately, I keep a little wallet of quarters in my car for parking meters so I ran out and breathed a huge sigh of relief that I had $9 in quarters.

I hustled into the bank with my coin purse and $13 in cash with a fear they wouldn't take my coins since they weren't rolled up.  Thankfully the bank was practically empty when I dumped my coin purse on the counter with a look of desperation.  I know I shouldn't feel so embarrassed but I work in one of the wealthiest towns in the area and I could just imagine the thoughts of the rich people around me.  The teller agreed to take the change since it was quarters and not 900 pennies but I could tell he was feeling sorry for me.  So even though it was an embarrassing encounter, now I won't bounce my account and I've learned that I really need to leave some wiggle room in my budget.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

End of first quarter 2012

Now that it April is well underway it’s time to face the music about my debt reduction efforts for the past three months.  First quarter 2012 is not going down in any books as a huge success for my finances but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be either.  I struggled with keeping my bad spending (and bad diet) habits in check and I had several moments where I just felt like waving the white flag and admitting defeat.  Fortunately, a few really great things happened during the last three months that will help me gain some momentum in the coming quarter.  The biggest was S landing a killer job with killer pay… now we can equally split the household expenses which frees up more of my money towards debt reduction! 
Besides the meager amount of debt paid off I did have some other achievements to help me become debt free:
  • Took a look at some of the triggers that unleash my spending fury and am working on making lifestyle and habit changes to help me avoid disaster in the future.
  • Wrote out a list of major expenses I have coming up and worked them into my budget so they won’t sneak up on me anymore.
  • Changed my direct deposit at work so that a small amount goes automatically into savings to build up that emergency fund.
  • Paid off the small debt to my folks which significantly reduced the “shame factor” I carry around with me.

All in all here’s where I am today:

Student Loan: $37,611
Car Loan: $10,600
Credit Card 1: $4,746
Credit Card 2: $4,893
Credit Card 3: $636
Parents: $0

Total: $58,486

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
1st Q 2012: $1,298 + $150 in savings

Monday, April 9, 2012

Spending trigger 3: Creative and home improvement projects

Since I’m still avoiding going over the last three months of debt reduction, I’m going to write about another one of my big spending triggers: Crafts and home improvement projects! 

I constantly get myself into new home improvement, crafting, or creative projects… and each new idea comes with a list of supplies I have to buy to complete the project.  The problem is I don’t have time to accomplish everything that pops into my head so I end up spending money before I need to and creating a ton of clutter.  The other half of the problem is that I frequently lose interest in finishing the project, like the baby blanket I started knitting for my best friend when she told me she was pregnant (her son is now 2) and I have only completed about 15 inches of blanket!

To solve this I’ve decided to have a “waiting period” of two weeks before buying any supplies for the new project.  I am going to keep a little notebook with me and jot down the ideas and what supplies I need and then wait for a couple weeks before getting the supplies.  Most likely after two weeks I will have come up with some other idea that I can jot down and then wait through, a nice cycle that never results in purchasing supplies or creating more clutter!

In the meantime I can work on some of the projects I’ve already started.  Some evening soon or maybe this weekend I’m going to go around the house searching for unfinished projects.  I know they are lurking in every closet, drawer, box, bin, and shelf.  It’s time to either give the project up as a lost cause and get rid of the clutter or actually get the project finished!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

April already?!

How did the first quarter of 2012 fly by so fast?!  I guess I should post how I did during the first quarter but I know it was probably pretty disappointing and I'm not ready to face the truth so I'm going to write about something else instead...

So a ways back I was reading this blog by someone who is also doing the whole debt pay-off with a frugal living spin.  For the life of me I can't remember what blog it was but the post I remember was the blogger, I'm pretty sure it was a woman, writing about how she saves all the spare bits of vegetables that would normally get thrown out (or composted if you're really industrious) and put them in a container in the freezer.  Then when she was making a soup she would make her on vegetable stock with all these scraps.

At the time I read it I thought it was kind of extreme.  But this is a new me, struggling to make real changes, and I was chopping up some veggies for a stir fry the other night and I just looked at the pile of vegetable throw-away bits and decided I couldn't toss them out.  I grabbed a container and put all the spare bits in it and then put it in the freezer.  What I didn't realize is the S was watching me do this, he had this look on his face like I had finally lost it.  When I tried to explain why I was doing it he seemed to take it as confirmation that I really had lost it! 

The thing is two days later he was chopping veggies and he pulled out the container and put all the left overs in it... without me asking and without knowing I was noticing... I guess I'm not the only crazy one in my house :)