There has been a lot of talk about privilege in varying circles I run in. Like I’ve mentioned before, my parents are both Deaf, and I encounter regular mentions of Hearing Privilege in my closest circles. There are conversations on social platforms and in the mainstream media on White Privilege or Cis Privilege.
And in the Personal Finance sphere I see talk of Class Privilege. As allies, there are a lot of people who are examining their own implicit biases. To these people I say hurrah! And to anyone who has ever called attention to injustice I say: Thank you.
When The System Does (or Doesn’t) Work For You
I am a white, cis, straight, abled, college educated, married (to a white guy) woman who makes an above average income. My blog posts come from this framework. Perhaps for that reason alone readers may stop by my site and not relate to me. My ego is mildly bummed by that, but damn my ego. It never makes rational decisions. Thankfully, my head and my heart understand.
I did not grow up with a lot of money, but my parents are both educated. This alone stymied any real poverty for my family during lean years. While my parents are Deaf, and do not personally identify as disabled, society at-large views them as such. This is how they have been treated in infinite encounters with the general public. Side note: in American Sign Language, an out-dated sign for “hearing” was the same sign for “public”. As a hearing child I went to “hearing” school (or public school). **footnote: the sign is used less frequently these days, and another sign has been adopted to mean public**
Since my parents are educators, I cannot express how much this shaped me as a person. My love for learning is one of the biggest privileges that isn’t societally imposed and I am grateful for it. If you are an educator, thank you.
There are a million ways the world is not designed with Deaf people in mind, but it is not my story to tell. And I have to be very careful to not appropriate the events I have witnessed as my own lived experiences. No matter how much I may understand about the world being inaccessible to Deaf people via education, financial literacy, employment, incidental learning, access to resources and information, ad infinitum, I am not Deaf and I do not know what it is really like. What’s also noteworthy is that it’s not all doom and gloom: most Deaf people love being Deaf, love their language and culture, and have no desire to hear—nope, not even for music (odd how often that question comes up).
I mention this example, the marginalization of Deaf people, because it is the most blatant one I am familiar with. Of course, as a woman, I have experienced discrimination, but because of the way our culture is socialized to accept the idea of female inferiority, it is strangely harder to pin-point. The situations I find myself in as a woman are so normalized, and happen so frequently, sometimes I don’t even register them.
However, in summary, my life is mostly a privileged one and I know this.
My Own Privilege
I have been thinking of writing a post on privilege since I began this blog (just 3 short months ago) because it almost feels like a necessary disclaimer for all I write. However, I have seen so many posts in the Personal Finance world about it, and I wasn’t sure what else I could really contribute. (If you are curious about Personal Finance and Privilege, google those 3 words and you will see a ton of stuff.)
Nevertheless, I still feel the desire to speak for myself. After all, just because someone else says injustice is bad, does that mean it’s not worth me saying it too? Also, how full of shit do I have to be, to not mention the elephant in the room, when talking about money?
A google search of Class Privilege helped me set a baseline for myself (quizzes can be found here and here). I knew I wasn’t poor, but at points in my childhood it felt like it. I grew up wearing mostly hand-me-downs, rarely having the coolest new toy, sometimes re-used school supplies from year-to-year, didn’t fly on a plane until adulthood, ate Ramen Noodles and hotdogs by the truck-full, and regularly walked places because at one point we did not have a reliable car. But I knew I wasn’t truly poor.
My parents divorce was an ugly one, but my single mother re-built our lives in a few short years. She paid off all the debt my dad left her with, worked through the summers (as a teacher) for extra pay, and finally pulled from her retirement to put a down-payment on a new house (which I wouldn’t recommend, but I also don’t know what it’s like to have 3 kids in a 2-bedroom apartment. She built her retirement back up, and is now living comfortably as a retiree). Because she was educated, had a safety net via family members, had a reliable job, had self-esteem, was an attractive white woman, etc she was able to do this. Do I think she busted her ass and faced some pretty tough odds? Absolutely. There is no way hard work isn’t part of that equation. But it isn’t the whole equation.
By the time I was ready for college, I had all of these advantages rallied behind me. In addition to being white, straight, young, etc, I must (again) stress the gift of being raised by an educator. Even when she was tired, burnt out, irritated (at one point we were all teenagers at the same time), she never stopped teaching us. I have already written about how I excelled at school and my test scores were above average. I went to college on a full scholarship because of this gift. Did it take hard work? Sure! Was it me against the world? In no way.
What Does This Have to Do With Money?
Acknowledging privilege can be a struggle for people who have it, because of the helplessness that follows. If there are advantages and disadvantages for certain people, how do we make it just and fair? I cannot speak for everyone, so I will speak for myself: I struggle with the helplessness. And even this new helplessness reflects my privilege. Very rarely do I feel this helpless. Imagine if this was my lived experience?
A resource I have found when navigating some uncomfortable introspection, and a desire to translate it into action, is this website called: Guide to Allyship. They list the Do’s and Don’ts of Allyship, and is meant to be what it advertises—a guide for people who want to be effective allies.
So Tell The Truth About Your Wealth
And I’ll tell the truth about mine. Life has given some of us really raw deals, and this isn’t to diminish real struggles or trauma that seem unrelated to institutionalized discrimination. I’ve experienced trauma that has gotten in the way of my happiness, mental health, and success. Others may have experienced far worse things.
What I think is helpful, however, when drawing attention to privilege, is to begin with ourselves. When we tell the truth about our wealth and our privilege, we expose the system for what it is. It’s unjust and unfair, and the myth anyone can escape poverty if they just “try hard enough” or “work hard enough” keeps the system strong and intact. Being born into privilege isn’t a merit system. I didn’t do anything to have my privilege so I do not have to collapse and apologize at anyone’s feet. It is when I pretend it is not a part of my story that I am complicit.
Spending less than we earn, or living below our means is no small feat—especially living in the United States, or in any consumer culture. Advertising is the best it’s ever been, with never-ending new techniques. We have the technology to impulsively click “buy” when we feel the desire. Others’ highlight reels are literally at our fingertips via social media on our smart phones.
All of this (sometimes overt, sometimes crafty) pressure can influence our self-perception. It can drive us to compare ourselves to others in ways that have unhelpful results.
How Does This Happen?
In a simple way, these pressures can make us feel we need something to make our lives easier, better (or better than someone else’s), more comfortable, etc. They can allow for uncharitable and harsh behavior toward others (think judging someone’s choice for insert whatever here). Or we can turn the criticism inward and indulge in self-deprecating talk. These negative attitudes toward ourselves can take root and become an internalized new “truth”.
At times it may feel like we are swinging on a pendulum. We oscillate between feeling justifiably superior to others, or feeling inferior, and that our lives are less than what they could or should be.
Unfortunately, a seemingly quick-fix to the external messages we receive, is to buy something. Buy that nicer car, the “right” clothes, jet-set to an exotic locale, pick up a trendy new hobby, pick up fast food on the way home—anything to give relief and just feel better. Treat yo’ self!
Arguably, even people who wouldn’t normally identify themselves as “emotional” are susceptible to making purchases based on their feelings. After all, no matter how logical we are, we all have feelings. There is some motivation behind every choice we make, no matter how ordinary it is. How we choose to spend our money is no exception.
Paula Pant, of Afford Anything, made the fantastic proposition that “We don’t buy things. We buy stories.” Whether it be clothes, transportation, or even our food, she argues we are buying stories, feelings and identities.
Now, I am not sure we can truly separate our purchases from whatever identity or story we are trying to create. I don’t know that we have to. The challenge is to ask, what story are we trying to buy for ourselves?
When I started my Financial Stability journey, I began by designing a budget for myself and attempted to live by it. At the oddest times I found myself more challenged than others, which allowed me to learn what kind of story I was trying to tell myself (and others).
One example readily comes to mind. I had only been at a new job for about four months and I hated it. I already accrued some PTO so I called in sick and immediately felt guilty. The day was spent in a way any reasonable person would spend a day off—Netflix and online shopping. Understand, this was contrary to everything I was working toward at the time—a little debt payoff, an attempt at budgeting, living within my means—all of it.
As self-indulgent as it may seem, I have always been curious about myself, my brain, and why I do what I do. This curiosity is more like an expression of self-love. It translates into curiosity about people in general and is part of why I think life is such a fascinating adventure. This life, our existence in earth, can be quite enthralling!
A self-admitted perfectionist, I have intentionally worked toward leaning inward, without judgement. On that day, when I blew an ungodly amount of money on random online items, despite my conscious decision to not spend on non-budgeted things, I turned inward.
What story was I trying to tell myself?
I felt guilty for calling into work when I wasn’t really sick and that was an uncomfortable emotion. More than anything, I was disappointed I wasn’t feeling successful at this new job I did not (yet) know I hated. The assumption was, there must be something wrong with me for not jiving with this new work experience, as qualified as I believed myself to be.
Without any intentional thought (other than I felt kinda lousy and restless), I purchased several hundred dollars worth of clothes online. Professional clothes! More clothes, to add to my closet full of clothes, to wear to a job I hated, because I felt incompetent. If I couldn’t feel competent, at least I could look competent.
Buying Things Does Not Equal Feeling Good
The day I bought a bunch of nonsense to squash my feelings of unrest, I was buying a story. I was spending money to get a quick feel-good. It was a short term effect that faded. In a few days, the feeling returned and I was back to not liking my job (one I had quit my previous job for). Back to feeling insecure for not fitting in like I expected myself to. I was buying time (ha! puns!), trying to avoid the tough question: was this job for me, or should I take the risk and try again elsewhere?
(Spoiler alert: I chose to go part-time and began my self-employment journey. Eventually I quit the job entirely and established my LLC that I operate today.)
This example may not translate for everyone, which is fine. However, I hope the sentiment I am attempting to express is relatable enough. I have found myself signing up for memberships, buying clothes or household items, purchasing gifts for others, all for varying motivations.
Get Curious About Consumerism
Some intentions have been more noble than others, but ultimately I just wanted to feel good. Whether it is an item for myself I think will make my life easier or better (and sometimes it actually does), or a hefty donation to a charitable organization, I would like to feel like I am doing this life thing right.
Rather than feeling downtrodden or cynical about the pressures of consumerism, we can take this as an opportunity to get interested in ourselves and our underlying wants. I’ll keep meandering through this wild experience we call living, and I’ll keep being curious about myself and asking myself hard questions.
Will this purchase bring me joy or relief, or am I trying to bury something uncomfortable? At the very least, if I find myself stepping outside my budget, rather than it being an impulsive escape, it can be a thoughtful choice. Life is meant to be enjoyed—yup, I said it! I want to allow my budget to be flexible so I can make decisions which truly benefit myself and others around me.
What questions do you ask yourself before you make a purchase? How do you resist the bombardment of consumerism? Comment below, and let me know what you think!
Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!
This week I had my 13-year-old nephew with me for his Spring Break! A lot of our activities were focused around him, and we definitely spent a little more money than usual. However, we still found some ways to approach situations Frugally!
We ate leftover veggie lentil soup, frozen pizza, veggie casserole, Mexican take out, and lasagna. Basically, we ate goooood this week!
Made bread from scratch using this recipe. This was my second attempt and I was much more successful than my last attempt (no smoke in the kitchen)!
Picked up more baby stuff (clothes) from my local Buy Nothing group on Facebook. Also picked up a pair of swim goggles for my nephew to use in our neighborhood pool.
Weeded my garden. This allowed me to prep the soil for planting this year’s garden, and it was free exercise.
My husband and I realized we were overpaying for carrots. We had been overlooking a brand of organic carrots on the shelf—it’s significantly cheaper than the bundle we were in the habit of grabbing.
During this busy week, I practiced breathing meditations a lot and also took a hot bath.
Went jogging around the block with my nephew—free exercise!
Took my nephew to a free youth group. It’s a really cool group my city offers that provides snacks, is 4 hours long, and aligns with his interests. It’s pretty much perfect and any time he’s in town, we make sure to swing by at least once. As an introvert (who loves my nephew very much), dropping him off is a break for me as much as it is for him.
My nephew was sick for a few days this week (poor guy!) so we did a ton of stuff to help him feel better without going to the store. We did hot baths, hot water with lemon, tea, medicines we had on hand, soup, fruits, water, and rest! He was not down to try my Apple Cider Vinegar concoction.
I booked a vacation for this summer using mostly credit card points. For 3 people, we got hotel, airfare, and entertainment covered, using cash for about 25% of the total cost of the vacation. The remaining 75% was covered using points and I am excited!
We had a Spring Tune-Up on our lawn sprinkler system. It cost some money to have the guy come out, but he found a leak that would likely cost us more in water bills than if we hadn’t checked.
Reached a minimum spend for a new credit card I opened. I was able to book my summer vacation using the bonus points earned from various credit card promotional offers.
My nephew withdrew money from his bank account for a haircut. (My nephew has opened a “bank account” with me. Since I help out quite a bit with his various wants/needs, I went ahead and started giving him an allowance that I keep in the bank for him. He can deposit/withdraw money as he sees fit, but if he leaves it in the bank I will pay him interest. By setting it as a structured amount that he can practice managing, I am attempting to offset how much money I would spend on him anyway. I also want to teach him the value of leaving money in savings and watching it grow.)
Picked up some early morning work. Because I had my nephew in town, I tried to finish my work day as early as possible (by 12 pm or 2 pm at the latest). To compensate for the early end times, I picked up some early morning shifts to make up the difference in my income. He sleeps-in through the early morning hours anyway. 🤣
What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?
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Since about mid-January my husband and I have gone meatless! Sort of. Originally we wanted to try to not eat meat for one month, and see how it went.
[In cockney accent] Why the Dickens would we want to do that for?
Glad you asked.
Why We (Sort-Of) Stopped Eating Meat
We bounced around the idea of going vegetarian for quite a while before we took action. We both grew up as meat-eaters, so it was familiar. I (only sorta-kinda) wanted to, because I felt ashamed of killing animals to eat. This is totally a personal thing, and I am absolutely 100% non-judgmental for anyone that does eat meat. Hell, I felt bad about it for years, and continued to eat meat, before I took any action. This was mostly because I was too lazy(?) and fearful to change a habit. Also, shame is a lousy motivator.
Additionally, I knew if I removed meat from my diet I would potentially eat more healthy vegetables. Because I work some weird hours, and I’m always in my car with a packed lunch, prepping vegetables to pack was a dreadful chore. Lunch consisted of a salad, but dinner was where I got my veggies most times, and half my meal was meat. I was full quickly, and my vegetable portion was quite small.
Understand, we have gone through really healthy phases where we meal prepped everything, and counted our veggie servings. However, I think it’s a fine line between that, and obsessing over food—feeling bad when we “failed”. We wanted a healthy relationship with food, and this militant (to us) approach wasn’t helping (again, shame based).
There are cost benefits to not consuming so much meat. Frankly folks, it’s cheaper to not eat meat. We’ve noticed a significant reduction in our grocery bill since we’ve switched, even with buying a ton more produce, lentils, beans, etc.
And there are environmental considerations to eating meat at every meal (or even every day)—it takes quite a toll on the Earth. While we could be better, we are generally environmentally conscious people. It left a bad taste in my mouth to be so flippant about consuming our Earth’s resources (more shame).
Oh shame. You useless emotion. Unlike guilt, where we acknowledge we did something wrong, shame makes us feel like we are wrong. We are bad. It’s paralyzing because if I’m bad inside, how do I ever get good? It feels impossible, so I continue to do what I am doing, because what’s the point? I’ll never be a good person. (Here’s a great Ted Talk by the wise Brene Brown on shame.)
These are subconscious thoughts, and it’s not always easy to recognize that we even have them. In the case of eating meat, I had this choice (to not eat meat) that aligned with my values, yet I was afraid of change. I was afraid if I tried to live by my values I’d fail at it (thereby have no integrity), and it was easier to not try. Now, not even trying appears quite lazy, yet, look at all the mental energy I spent talking myself out of it! Such black-and-white thinking! This may seem extreme, but shame is insidious like that.
How We Stopped Eating Meat
Shortly after the New Year, my husband mentioned he would like to cut down or eliminate meat from his diet. His biggest motivator was to lose weight and he was inspired by a close friend of ours who made the change to a meatless diet (you never know who’s watching and learning from you folks).
I jumped at the chance. Since he makes most of our meals, it would be so much easier for me to just eat what he makes. Also, I was being a supportive spouse, or something like that. 🤪
We decided to use up all the meat we had in the house, and not buy any more. Through meal planning a week or so out, we had a rough idea of when we would run out of meat, so we could mentally (and emotionally) prepare. We continued our grocery shopping schedule (one big trip every 3 weeks, and supplementing weekly for produce), but began shopping for products that would be used when we transitioned into a vegetarian diet. Research was done on what vitamin deficiencies we could watch out for, and supplements were purchased that included B12 (which apparently you can only get from meat products).
We. Were. Ready.
Since my husband is the chef 99% of the time, he curated a list of recipes we wanted to try. Here’s a short list of what we have been eating the last couple of months.
Burrito Bowls—we cooked these veggies and threw them on a bed of rice with black beans, added cheese, Greek yogurt, etc.
Salads: with various toppings for our daily lunch
Our intention was to eat this way for a month, to allow new vegetarian recipes to make their way into the rotation. Then, we planned to go back to eating meat, but we’d at least have a handful of recipes to incorporate into our cooking that weren’t so meat reliant.
What we found after a month of eating this way, was that we did not miss meat at all. We decided to keep it going! I mean, we hadn’t even cooked half the stuff we wanted to yet!
It’s worth noting, that we weren’t extreme enough to forbid any meat-eating. We decided outside the home, we were allowed to eat meat. My husband has work lunches on the regular, and when food is catered in, it’s not always vegetarian-friendly. When we go to an event with friends, sometimes there is BBQ and other goodies we like to partake in. Knowing our diet was flexible (just like a budget), we didn’t feel restricted, so no meat in the house didn’t feel like a sacrifice at all.
“It’s Kind of Fun to Do the Impossible”—Walt Disney
So we’ve continued to not buy meat, and only eat it rarely when we are out. While it takes time for all the vitamins and nutrients to be reflected in bloodwork, I recently went to the doctor and she had no concerns about my bloodwork or my diet change. Our grocery bill is down, and we feel great.
This approach can work for any new habit being built. What helped effect this change for me were flexibility, a teammate, and focusing on the new things we were trying (rather than what we weren’t having). Shame didn’t help motivate me, and in fact, hindered me from making this adjustment long ago. Eagerness to try something new—that inspired me more than anything.
Have you overcome shame before? Got any good vegetarian recipes? Comment below! I’d love to hear from you.
Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!
This week we ate leftover burrito bowls. My husband made tofu stir-fry which fed us for two days, and I made veggie lentil soup (I hardly ever cook, so this was miraculous) which is enough for 4 days for both of us. A side note on the veggie lentil soup—it’s delicious (most important), organic, and it costs us just $1.20/meal to make. Not bad!
Had an impromptu conversation with a colleague about budgeting. Of course, I didn’t share anything about my blog, but she seems to be doing really well and it was nice to find someone like-minded who enjoys “household economics”, savings, and simple living as much as I do.
Did our grocery shopping for the next 3 weeks (our tri-weekly grocery trip?) and spent $196 for two people (includes household items, paper products, etc).
My husband bought a probiotic (per his doctor’s recommendation) at CVS, and later checked the price on the same item at our local grocery store. It was 38% cheaper at our grocery store. He will be returning the unopened product this weekend to capitalize on those savings.
We had an old batch of bananas, so we made smoothies twice this week. We used the bananas, some frozen fruit, spinach, yogurt, and water in the blender. We also made a batch of banana bread for the week. I decided to not buy any bananas for the next week-ish, so the next time I grab them I might be more enthused about eating them!
My husband and I are planning to have a baby in the next year, and the mothers in my Buy Nothing group have been fantastic. I picked up a changing pad with covers, unexpired pregnancy tests, and a few other items. I figure why not start planning to offset the cost of baby things? 😉
Bumped my savings rate by 10%. While we are paying off my husband’s student loans, we are still saving a small amount. I have been increasing it by 1% every month, but it was so negligible that I decided to push for 10% this month. We will see if that hurts, and if so, we can always pull back next month.
Downloaded a free e-book online. Also started a new audiobook this week from my local library using the Libby app.
We have vaulted ceilings and there was one lightbulb we could not reach to change. We debated purchasing a special ladder, or maybe even hiring someone from TaskRabbit to come do it, but instead it came up organically in conversation with a friend this week. He had a pole-tool-thingie that will do it! We borrowed it, and changed the lightbulb—no problem!
My husband purchased a lightbulb for the change, and realized we already had one sitting on our shelf in the laundry room. He will return the lightbulb we didn’t need this weekend (along with his probiotic—batching them errands!).
We had several freezing nights here this week, so I’ve tried to bring my potted plants outside during the day to maximize sun, and bring them in every night. I want them to survive so I can re-plant them in my garden bed when the weather is warmer. I am ready for winter to be over!
This week I read several blogs (as I usually do) and one by The Fioneers was so fantastic, I wanted to share it here. It is about our culture of busyness and the value of slowing down. I also was listed in an online directory for personal finance blogs at Rockstar Finance, and highly recommend this site as a place to find other personal finance writers.
I batched errands this week, making sure to hit key places when I am in that part of town already (usually for work). This helps me squeeze random productivity in my day, and also to save on gas.
Negotiated and solidified rates with a new client, and also discussed with a colleague another possible work opportunity.
Went to the doctor for my annual check-up. Alls well, but I did get some referrals for other services. Some things (like dermatology, seeing an allergist) have been on the back burner for me a long time, because I had lousy insurance. Being self-employed I purchased mine from the marketplace (without which I would’ve been uninsured, so I am grateful for it), but since I was married last year, I’m now on my husband’s awesome insurance through his employer, and you can bet I’m maximizing that.
My lovely mother bought a second sewing machine for me to use. I have been holding off on buying one, partially because I can always use hers, and also because I wanted to be sure sewing was a hobby I’d stick with before I invested in the equipment. Her gifting me one is generous and sentimental, since sewing is always something we do together.
What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?
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A good credit score is the ever elusive goal that we (who are trying to get our money in order) strive for. But how do you get that good credit score, and what does it mean anyway?
Let’s Start With Some Definitions:
A credit score (also known as your FICO score) is a 3-digit number calculated through a
wonky formula mathematical algorithm based on your credit report.
A credit report is a list of your history with various lenders, banks, credit card companies, etc. It will record your payment history, the length you have had an account open, how much credit you are using (e.g. your debt), credit inquiries, and other pieces of information.
A soft pull happens when your credit history is pulled, but does not count as an inquiry. It is not factored into your credit score. This can happen when employers, insurance, or credit card companies (when soliciting promotional offers) check your credit.
A hard pull is the opposite of a soft pull. Your credit history gets pulled and reviewed, and does count as an inquiry. It is factored into your credit score. This usually happens when you apply for a new credit card, a loan, or a rental. These hard pulls can stay on your credit report for up to two years.
What Does It Matter?
Your credit score is reviewed when you are applying for just about any financial vehicle. When you apply for a credit card, your approved credit limit and your interest rate both hang on this number. If you need a loan for a house or a car, whether or not you are approved and your interest rate also will depend on your credit score. As a renter, your apartment leasing office or your landlord will likely check your credit report.
For all these reasons, arguably it is important to have a good (or at least decent) credit score.
Creditors use your credit score and credit report to weigh how much of a financial liability you might be. If you have a ton of on time payments, or very little debt, they are more likely to approve and lend to you with favorable conditions.
What’s “Good” Anyway?
How Do I Get From Here To There?
There are several factors that play into calculating this score.
- On-Time Payment History: Since the majority of your creditors will report to the 3 major credit bureaus, it is important to pay bills on (or before) their due dates. Not only does this help you avoid any interest or fees, but it also creates the impression that you are a responsible borrower. Lenders will be more likely to work with you if they can trust you to pay them back. This is the most heavily weighted category when calculating your credit score, and if you are trying to pull up your credit score, start here.
- Oldest Credit Line: The length of your credit history shows responsibility over time. The longer you’ve had credit, the more information the lender can glean about what type of borrower you are. For this reason, closing old cards should be considered carefully. Unless it’s an exorbitant annual fee to keep the card, it might be worth it to leave your oldest credit line open, to preserve that history.
- Credit Utilization: Lenders look at how much of your available credit is being used. Meaning if you have a $3000 limit on your credit card, and you have $1500 charged that carries over to the next month, your credit utilization would be at 50%. The amount of credit you are using is helpful for lenders to review, to see if you typically max out your credit cards, and if you overextend yourself when it comes to borrowing. The recommended credit utilization number is 30% of credit used, and the lower the better. This factor is also weighed pretty heavily in determining your credit score.
- New Accounts or Recent Inquires: Too many new accounts, or too many recent inquires (hard credit pulls), could be viewed as a risk by lenders, so keeping this number to a minimum is best. Only apply for loans or cards that you need to avoid any unnecessary inquiries on your account.
- Credit Diversity: Being able to handle multiple types of credit is interpreted positively. Spreading your accounts over bank credit cards, installment loans of some kind (student loan, car loan), rental history, etc. create the impression that you are a responsible borrower, no matter the type of financial vehicle you are using. If you do not have diverse credit, before you run out and unnecessarily open new accounts, be sure to consider the drawback of having too many new accounts/recent inquiries.
I’m Not Just Sayin’ This Neither!
Back in 2016 my credit score was a lowly 603. This was the beginning of my Financial Stability journey, and I wasn’t sure where to start. I had just figured out a rough budget and payment plan for my IRS tax repayment.
I wondered what else I could do.
So I hopped onto www.annualcreditreport.com and pulled my credit history for free. This is the only website accredited by the Federal Trade Commission to provide free credit reports. I ordered it from all 3 credit bureaus (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax) and got to work.
Through pulling my credit report, I found a delinquent medical bill that I mistakenly thought I paid, and hadn’t. Though the credit report will not show my credit score, it can give me an idea as to what makes up the credit score that lenders might see. You can pull your credit history once a year for free from the above website. Now, I have it in my calendar and it is part of my annual routine.
You can also use websites like CreditKarma for free credit checks, and there are resources through some credit cards (if you’re a customer) that allow you to view an estimated credit score. Staying on top of your credit report is also a good way to catch identity theft or errors by creditors, by noticing any accounts or inquiries that look unfamiliar.
It’s a Long and Worthy Road
Just like with anything on our financial journey, it takes time to repair credit. It might have taken us some time to throw our credit out of whack, so it will take time to clean it up. It’s worth the effort to work toward a good credit score. In this way, you can position yourself to have some leverage when going to creditors and asking for financial clout, whether it be a loan or a credit card.
Paying your bills consistently and timely, and using credit responsibly (and only when you need to), will set you on a path to that achievable good credit score. And remember, a credit score is only a number, it is not a definition of you. While it is helpful, you are so much more valuable than that.
Self-esteem in some ways is akin to self-trust. It can include trusting yourself to have good judgment, confidence that you are capable, and generally liking yourself. In my journey, I have certainly struggled with self-esteem, as I suspect many of us do, at one time or another. This struggle, and the bizarre and gratifying experience we call life, inspired this blog’s name: This Fascinating Adventure. Personal self-esteem has a significant impact on healthy living, and financial self-esteem does the same for our money-life.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
The imposter phenomenon, often called imposter syndrome, is not an actual diagnosis. However, it has been researched and discussed in depth in various corners of the internet, including Forbes and Time. The American Psychological Association has seen fit to weigh in (read their article here), and a quick Google search will reveal lengthy exploration on the topic.
Quoted from the APA’s article referenced above “impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.”
Imposter syndrome goes hand-in-hand with my experience of low financial self-esteem. For a long time I operated under the limiting belief that I was terrible with money. Some people are good at it, and I just wasn’t. Any personal success experience that translated to financial success (e.g. landing a good job, getting a raise, etc) was a lucky accident. I assumed I would always live paycheck-to-paycheck, as I couldn’t imagine myself making prudent financial choices. What I was familiar with, was just getting by.
And who was I to imagine I might be financially successful? Heck, in some subconscious way, I didn’t even want to date someone who was financally stable. They were too good for me (seriously folks, when I started dating my very smart husband I thought these words “He is too ‘together’ for me.” Talk about the opposite of an empowering belief!). I am reminded of a quote by Marianne Williamson anytime I find myself playing small:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”—Marianne Williamson
“A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles”
My Experience With Financial Self-Esteem
I came from an educated family, was raised in a bi-cultural household, and my parents divorced when I was in elementary school. My parents are Deaf and faced oppression in their everyday lives, both through job opportunities, and economic opportunities. However, my single mom was a teacher, and while my dad was MIA for a few years, she managed to pull through and her 3 kids were raised in an amazing home.
But, we didn’t have a lot of money. We didn’t have conversations about investments around the dinner table, we wore hand-me-downs from a family friend’s kids, and when we wanted a snack, we ate a slice of bread.
We were not truly poor by any means, though some years were leaner than others. My mom had some financial help from aunts and uncles in the years she was reeling from a divorce. In that time she managed to pay off all of the debt my dad racked up in their marriage (he filed bankruptcy so she was liable for all of it). She’s the most amazing woman I know.
The privilege of being raised by a professional educator led to a lifelong love of reading and learning. This positioned me to do well in school, view my teachers as allies, and to thrive in all of my academic experiences.
With a phenomenal transcript in my hand, my mom found a way to shell out for a good ol’ fashioned scholarship book at the bookstore (I hear it’s all online these days). I was also equipped with a couple rolls of stamps, a carton of envelopes, ink in our printer, and an old, rickety computer. Through this home office set-up, I spent my junior and senior year of high school applying for any and all scholarships.
I applied for over a hundred scholarships, wrote countless essays, and earned myself 6. Of those six, four were for $500-$1000 one-time amounts. The other two were my saving grace. They covered all the rest of my tuition, room-and-board, books, and left me with some money for living expenses.
I was emboldened by this victory, and thought myself 100% independent at the age of 17. In typical rebellious teenage fashion, I did not recognize the part my mother played in this success, yet I wasn’t sure who to credit. Surely not myself. I was certain I had bamboozled everyone into thinking I was far more brilliant than I was. As much as I craved success, I was playing small, for fear someone would find me out.
The high school I attended was a low-performing school, and coupled with my love of learning, my grades stood out. I was convinced had I attended a more academically rigorous school, I would not have looked so good on those scholarship applications.
When I attended college, I was sure everyone was smarter than me, and I did not make many new friends. Instead, because the school was in my hometown, I hung out with my high school buddies for most of my college years.
Part of my story includes alcoholism. My father is an alcoholic, my siblings both have struggled with substance use, and at least one grandparent on both sides of my family tree had alcoholism. The genetics, coupled with my self-doubt and low self-esteem set the stage for my own alcoholism. Between the ages of 18 and 25, my consumption escalated quickly to drinking in the mornings, drinking everyday, and heading to the bars every night. Alcoholism looks differently for everyone, and that is what it looked like for me.
Thankfully, I got sober at 25 and haven’t had a drink in 7 years. I am the only living member of my family with a substance use problem who is clean and sober.
Influences on my Self-Esteem
Being raised by Deaf parents who were treated like “the other” in almost all societal interactions, feeling like my home-life was different than other kids (translate: I was different), and developing a substance use problem myself, my experience with self-worth was virtually non-existent until my mid-20s.
However, I was raised with a phenomenal example of a mother and woman, who modeled triumph over adversity. I did graduate college on time without losing my scholarship despite my developing addiction, and I landed a decent job post-graduation.
But I will say, I felt like such a fool. I felt I had always only squeaked by, and others were more deserving of the opportunities I felt had been handed. I did not have experience with managing my money well (addiction is a Hard Master, and can take every dime you have); chronic stress was my daily condition.
Ready for Change
I’ve made several financial mistakes. I’ve done 3 payday loans with all that predatory interest. Because I wrecked a car (3 weeks after I bought it), I had a large outstanding car loan that insurance didn’t cover. I was making payments on this, in addition to the car I was actually driving. All I could do was keep showing up to work and try to juggle all of the debt. Meanwhile, I prioritized buying clothes and junk at Target trying to feel like what I imagined a self-sufficient adult felt like—someone that worked hard, who could have nice things.
Low self-esteem can lead to an altered perception of the facts. Reality can be skewed when viewed through a dark pair of sunglasses. At times, I have considered promotions to be out of my reach, because I just wasn’t smart enough. I have been intimidated to network and chat up colleagues and my boss because I felt I was not competent enough to be in that professional environment. All this to say, my earnings were affected for several years. Low self-esteem has led me to make professionally and financially harmful decisions just to feel ok in the short-term.
Things That helped:
- Support: I leaned on friends and family for emotional support. I became transparent about my internal struggles and how that was translating into life decisions, including money decisions.
- Became teachable: I started to listen to people and their advice and experiences. Previous to this I oscillated between extremes. Either I knew what I was doing, dammit, or I knew nothing and I was the biggest dummy walking the earth.
- Inventoried what I did know: part of moving away from the extremes of knowing everything, or knowing nothing, included examining what I did know. There were things I was good at. And there was still room to grow.
- Read: as a lover of books, I shifted to reading Brené Brown, Oprah, Marianne Williamson, and other authors who discuss the value of knowing and loving yourself.
- Changed the script: I stopped being mean to myself in my head. When I would catch myself thinking unkind things to myself I practiced thinking “That’s not true. And I don’t talk to myself like that anymore.”
- Created a budget: I attempted to look at my money without fear. Debts and all, mistakes and all, all the while not beating myself up for not knowing, what I didn’t know.
- Wrote mantras: I wrote positive things about myself and posted them on the mirror. It helped remind me who I truly am. It’s corny, but our self-talk is so very precious and the best compliments are truly the ones we pay ourselves.
- Allowed myself to be human: being human means doing some things really well, and other things not so much. Compassion comes seemingly natural to me, but financial prowess did not. I had to practice it and work on it like a muscle. Any skill set can be exercised and grown to be strong.
- Do esteem-able things: a very smart person once told me “You know how you gain self-esteem? You do esteem-able things.” Once I made even a small move in the right direction (like applying for the better job, or starting to track my spending), I gained slightly more confidence to do the next right thing.
- Owned my money story: I looked for mistakes I made, and for things I did right, all without judgement. Mistakes are learning opportunities in disguise. Just because I once did things a particular way, doesn’t mean I can’t start doing them differently. Wanting to improve doesn’t mean I must feel shame or foolishness about past decisions. It all has helped me to get to where I am today.
We Are Worth It
These are just a few things I did to change my attitude about myself and my capabilities. It has taken time, perseverance, patience, and making a few more mistakes along the way (I’m sure I’ll still make a few more). Above all, it’s taken believing that I deserve to be happy.
I’ve practiced (with effort) not comparing myself to others. This has helped me not feel better than, or feel others are better than me. There’s been conscious practice of trusting myself to make solid decisions regarding my money. If I am unsure, I research, and I ask those who’s opinions I value. I’ve gotten comfortable with not knowing how to do everything. How would I know?! We are born without knowing very much at all. We learn it on the way. If we haven’t learned it before, so what? We can learn it now. Life is one fascinating adventure indeed.
Here is another weekly installment of Living Frugally where I share my frugal accomplishments for the past week. Be sure to share your frugal successes in the comments!
It was time to change the filters in our water softener. It is cheaper to pick up the supplies than it is to get them delivered, so while I was on that side of town for another reason, I picked up the supplies. Saved on gas by batching the drive, saved on delivery by doing pick-up myself, and we are saving on labor by doing the replacement ourselves. Youtube is our friend, folks!
Listened to really good free live music.
There was a Free to the Public day at a local wildflower garden, and I was able to go out there and spend a few hours wandering. It happened to be a beautiful day (smack in the middle of a rainy week), and it worked out wonderfully.
My mom stopped by with surprise pizza from the local gourmet pizza shop. We ate delicious food, and enjoyed even better company.
Visited with a friend without spending any money. We had a long, deep talk about anything and everything. It was one of those visits that made us closer friends than we were before (which I didn’t think was possible!).
My husband and I are still working on enclosing our back patio (the weather has been holding us up). We reached a point in the project where we needed a particular tool, and were unsure if we wanted to purchase a tool that we probably wouldn’t use again. Lo and behold, a friend of ours happened to have the tool we needed, and was willing to lend it to us. Gooo friendship!
For food this week, we ate leftover lentil spaghetti, lots of baked potatoes, another round of burrito bowls, and a frozen pizza.
I made a batch of banana bread with some soon expired bananas, and also tried my hand at making regular no-knead sandwich bread in the oven. Making the no-knead bread was an experiment. I literally filled my kitchen with mild haze of smoke, and the bread was rather flavorless, but I will attempt it again!
Enjoyed coffee at home and slow wake-ups a couple of times this week. Talk about that Self-Care!
I balanced the lazy mornings with a few early rises for work this week, and was able to capitalize on the higher pay-rate for taking 6am shifts.
As a result of those early-to-rise mornings, I napped. It all came full circle (Self-Care y’all).
I received a contact from a potential new client, and we’ve scheduled to meet next week. This potential new client came out of a referral from a social acquaintance. All the more reason to treat everyone as a potential client, as you never know where your next lead will come from.
Picked up new book from my local Buy Nothing group, read one from the library, and listened to 2 audio books.
My husband was sorely due for new work shoes, and we discussed how he at some point would need some new everyday sneakers as well. He went off on his own to buy the shoes and came home with 2 new pairs within the Budget we set aside for the one pair of work shoes.
What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?
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Having multiple streams of income can make a seamless budget feel unreachable. Income may be sporadic and variable, but fear not! This post is dedicated to taming that beast and making life just a little more simple.
About half of my income comes from 2 part time jobs, and the other half comes from contract work. When filling out taxes for 2018, I counted 14 sources of income. With all of this fluctuating income, and some entities paying me twice a month, budgeting can be a little different.
When dealing with variable income and paydates, I have found planning my money to be a two-fold process. The first part is the “hustle” in making sure my schedule is full. The second part is budgeting the money and being sure when I get paid, my bills get paid.
A key part of me being able to budget in any form with a bananas pay schedule is knowing how much I need to make. The starting place for any budget-making process includes listing all monthly bills with amounts and due dates.
Step One: Divide bills up into essential bills, and non-essentials goals.
Essential bills are the things that must get paid or there will be some consequence (i.e. my lights will be turned off). I choose to include my monthly savings amount in my essential bills list, because paying myself first is essential (future me is worth it, after all).
Non-essential goals include things like debt repayment and my semi-monthly trips to visit my nephew. I will not be evicted if I can’t go down to the coast very often. It’s a priority to me, so I plan accordingly, but it’s not required for my survival.
After I have my list(s) I total the amounts and come up with two numbers: my Barebones number (all the essentials), and my Target number (everything I want). My goal is to make the Target amount per month, but if I just make enough to cover my Barebones number, I know I will be fine.
Step Two: The Monthly Target amount is divided by 4 (for the average 4 weeks in the month).
Now I know how much I need to make per week. This is the number I choose to attach myself to. I’ve even divided it further (by 5—for the 5 business days in the week) to find the amount on average I should be shooting to make per day. However, for me, the weekly number suffices.
Step Three: Fill my weekly schedule with work that will total the Target Weekly amount.
If I hit my weekly goal, I know I will hit my monthly goal. I can then be confident I’ll make enough money to pay my Barebones Monthly amount (all my essential bills) and ideally my Target Monthly amount (all my goals).
Having a weekly Target amount helps me discern if I need to take additional gigs that aren’t my favorite assignments, or are at odd hours. Having a Barebones number helps me recognize if I need time off, or Self-Care time, financially I will be just fine.
Knowing whether or not I’ve made enough money for the week aids me in practicing good judgement and avoid overworking myself. It has taken some time, but thankfully I have built up my business, and work for several entities. I typically am able to fill my schedule and reach my Target amount.
With the “hustle” and schedule in place, I am sure to take care of the back end piece of my business. I send invoices every week (sometimes at the close of business the same day the job was completed) to make sure there are no delays in getting paid. This is a habit I’ve embraced, and in my field it’s just a good business practice. Some prefer to invoice every month—whatever works for you and your profession.
Once upon a time, I had a traditional job, and fell into relying on a biweekly paycheck. I enjoyed that consistency, so that is how I approach my current budget system. One of the entities I work for regularly pays every other Friday so I chose that “payday” to work around. I have chosen my Personal Payday to align with a consistent check I receive, but arbitrary dates like the 1st and the 15th work just fine.
I list all of my anticipated “paydays” from each entity and split them between my Personal Paydays. For example, if I know Entity A pays me on the 1st of every month, Entity B pays on the 5th, and Entity C pays on the 7th, I will lump them together and use it toward a Personal Payday that hypothetically is on the 8th. Any paid invoices I receive after the 8th will be lumped together and I will “receive” these amounts on my next Personal Payday (say the 22nd). Anyone who pays me on the 15th, or 20th of the month, will be lumped together for the 2nd Personal Payday of the month.
Separately I have a chart which organizes my bills by amount and due date. I chart and assign bills using my Personal Paydays. This ensures no bills are paid late or fall through the cracks. Whether it is a paper chart, or a spreadsheet on the computer, the idea is the same.
Set it and forget it
I get the hustle down, and schedule myself accordingly to make the money I need to make. I then divvy up that money into 2 self-set Personal Paydays that I use to lump income together to make it manageable. I use my Bills chart to help me determine which bills are paid with which Personal Payday.
It requires minimal effort to set this system up. This is how I am able to operate my business, and my household economics so efficiently. I do not work in the finance field, so small business practices initially were not my realm of expertise, despite being a small business owner. This process has been cultivated through trial and error, but once this system has been set in place, it’s quite effortless.
Taxes: Certain income is earmarked for my quarterly income taxes because I am technically self-employed. I have found it easiest to delegate 1-2 entities that I work for regularly to be my “tax” money. I do not include those amounts in my Personal Payday. Instead, when I am paid, I immediately move the money into my Tax Fund (a separate savings account) until I reach the amount due for that quarter’s taxes. I follow my accountant’s advice as to how much I need to pay in quarterly taxes.
Retirement: For retirement contributions, the approach is the same as my Tax Fund. A few sources of income which are reliable are earmarked for my solo 401k. As I do not receive benefits from an employer, I have set up a solo 401k through my LLC. Only money paid to my LLC (meaning my 1099 income) is allowed to go toward my 401k, and I reserve paychecks from certain entities for this purpose. I do not account for them in my Personal Paydays. I happen to have a solo 401k, but this approach would work for anyone, even if there is no LLC. The retirement vehicle instead of a solo 401k could always be an IRA account (which anyone can open).
Vacations: The nice thing about knowing how much money I need to make per week is the ease in planning for vacations. I can save and budget for an upcoming vacation, and also know how much money I need to save to offset the missed work. If I plan to take a week off, I know I need a certain amount saved in advance to offset the loss of earned income that week. This way, I can take a vacation, have money saved to serve as my Paid Time Off (since I don’t have PTO through an employer), and not scramble when I get back to make up the money I didn’t earn while off.
Taking care of your money is taking care of yourself
This is one approach to budgeting with variable income. I’m sure there are a ton of self-employed people who find themselves in a similar situation. Just like with any of my writings, there is no one right way to operate your personal finances.
I have found a sense of peace in operating my business in a way where I am able to spend 1-2 hours a week doing invoices, scheduling, and budgeting. It frees up my time to perform the service I am being paid for, and to enjoy my free time. Managing my money so it is not a point of stress in my life, is absolutely a form of self-care!
*I chose to do a mock-up of numbers and bills with all the images shown, rather than show actual images from my personal budget. The field I work in has a Code of Ethics regarding the work we take, and I did not want to reveal anything, including who I’ve worked for, to protect the privacy of my clients.
This post may contain affiliate links, and this blog could earn a small commission if the affiliate links are used. I would never link to a product or service that I have not used myself.
“And if I asked you to name all the things that you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?” —Unknown
I saw the above quote years ago, and I felt as if I had to catch my breath. Perhaps all humans struggle with loving themselves first in some form. Getting to know ourselves is a most fascinating adventure. Part of honoring ourselves in all ways, includes honoring ourselves through our finances. This can be done through reducing as many stressors as we can (debt, paying interest, scarcity mindset). But another way we can honor ourselves through our finances is to pay ourselves first!
That’s right, I said it! Pay yourself first! It may sound like I am promoting self-absorption when I say: To yourself, you are the most important person! However, I don’t think it is a classic definition of selfishness at all to care about yourself. It is not an either/or equation. It’s not: either you get to care for yourself and not care about others. Or care only for others and not for yourself. You can absolutely do both, and I sure hope you are.
When we apply this concept to our personal finances, it still holds true. We don’t have to only pay others, and not pay ourselves. Or only pay ourselves, and not pay others. We can certainly do both, and I sure hope we are.
What does Pay Yourself First Mean?
Pay Yourself First means, when you get money, you take some of it and put it in your savings account. Then you pay your other bills. You do not pay all bills first, see what is left, and slide that in your savings account. Of course, if you’ve already paid yourself first, paid bills, and have some left over, you can certainly slide the surplus into your savings account. The main point is: money does not go into your savings account as an afterthought! You are not an afterthought!
This concept can mean different things to different people. I can only speak to my own experience. For me, it means when I get some money (usually in the form of a paycheck), I pay myself a certain amount off the top, and then I budget the rest. The money I pay myself goes into a savings account or an investment account where it stays until I decide I need it. I am planning for my future and I am ensuring no matter what happens in life, I will take care of myself. I love myself that much.
How I began using Pay Yourself First
When I first started Paying Myself First, even while I was doing debt pay-off, I moved $50 into my savings account every pay period no matter what. I then would budget using what was left. If I got paid $1000, I would move the $50, and be left with $950, which would be used to pay bills, give myself an allowance, and throw what I could at debt.
Of course, any amount will work for this, whether it be $10 or $50 or $500. I continued to do this every pay period, without thinking too hard about it. This account served as my Starter Emergency Fund for a long time. Over time, as I was able to pay off some debt, I was left with more un-assigned dollars in my budget. When I was no longer making as many payments toward debt, I was able to bump up the amount ($50) to a higher number and keep paying my savings account (aka me!) regularly.
Are savings really that important?
It may seem I harp too much about the importance of a savings account, an Emergency Fund, and spending less than you earn. Yet, I still found Paying Yourself First a topic worthy of its own article, because of the integrity and self-love behind the concept.
If I don’t believe I deserve this, I end up viewing my savings account as one more difficult thing I have to do. I then miss out on the benefit of confidence and self-esteem that comes with honoring myself. Instead of viewing my payments to myself as a victory, if I view them as something to slog through, I am not only making the Financial Stability journey harder, but I am also not being very nice to myself.
To yourself, you are the most important person! Above anyone you care for, above your employer and your creditors, you are important! Without you, none of this matters! You play an important role, and you deserve to benefit from your hard work and your perseverance.
When I am treating all of this budgeting and finance stuff as a chore, I am unkind to myself in my thoughts for making financial mistakes (when I did not know any differently). In turn, I actually find it harder to stick to my goals. I am more likely to splurge on an expensive haircut, or buy myself some nonsense at Target, even if I did not design my budget for those things. If I view paying myself first as another obligation, I will cheat myself in the future, thinking I am rewarding myself now.
Taking care of ourselves financially is Self-Care
Anyone can benefit from the reminder that we are doing this for ourselves. We are not afterthoughts, or the least important person on the list of people to pay. We are the most important!
And we deserve to be treated as such. So when you make your regular transfer to your savings account this next pay period, know that through that action you are loving yourself. It is growth to put ourselves first, and we become better citizens, and lovers, and parents, and neighbors, and yes, even bill-payers, when we do this.
Last weekend, my mom and I drove down to visit my nephew in a nearby coastal town about 3 hours away. We packed pretzels, ginger ale (both leftover from my husband’s poker party), and popcorn to snack on in the hotel (which I paid for in full with credit card rewards points)!
One evening while we were in the hotel, I ordered a pizza for the three of us. With pick-up, it was $9 and we also got free breadsticks! We were all stuffed, and I even had leftover breadsticks to snack on the drive home the next day.
We also got up early one morning and went to the beach to watch the sunrise. It was cloudy and foggy, so not as breathtaking, but it was a lovely way to start the day and didn’t cost us a thing.
Took my nephew to a free Teen/Young Adult book fair. There were about 30 authors there promoting and signing books. We didn’t buy anything, but we enjoyed perusing the books and I put a few on my list to get at the library.
We stayed 2 nights and swam in the hotel pool both nights.
My mom and I split the cost of buying my nephew new gear for the swim team and the track team he’s joining this year. We were happy to help offset some of the costs for his parents, and also to spoil him with practical gifts that he will use and enjoy for a while.
I dyed my hair using a box of dye I bought from the grocery store for less than $3. I stopped going to the salon about a year ago, and have been using a box dye to cover some sneaky grays. I have been growing my hair out, but when I am ready for a haircut, I am going to ask my mom or my husband (if he’s brave enough) to give it a try. My mom is pretty good at trimming hair, so I’m not scared!
Took a couple of hot baths with Epsom salts this week to relax and nurture myself.
Practiced several guided meditations this week from YouTube and from the Plum Village app, and also practiced walking meditations.
I’ve made the drive to see my nephew at least 50 times in the last 5 years (probably more) but this time, on the way home, I mapped it through Waze (a mapping app). I managed to take a different route that got us home an hour earlier than planned. Definitely going to do that more often, even for routes I’m familiar with. Saved an hour of our time, and also whatever gas we would’ve used driving for that additional hour.
Picked up a few things from my Buy Nothing group on Facebook. Our pizza cutter was rickety and would only work if you held it a certain way, and my husband has been wanting a salad spinner for when we make zucchini noodles. We got both, for free! I also was able to re-gift a nice mug that I never used.
Went to the dentist! Hey, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care!
Made plans with a friend to lend her our Air Fryer. She has been debating getting one and we happily will loan her ours so she can decide if it’s a worthwhile purchase before spending any money.
Received a quarterly check from Ebates. It’s an app/website you can use to make purchases you would’ve made anyway from your favorite stores and earn cash back. Since I purchased all of the Christmas gifts I bought this year, and a few other things, through the app, my cash back check was $107! Ain’t bad!
What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?
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Some of us start our journey to Financial Stability at different places in life. We may have no credit and no debt or we may have a long credit history and large amounts of debt. Or we may be somewhere in between. Debt can be a big barrier to being financially stable, but paying off your debt definitely is doable. So let’s do this!
Paying off debt simply requires a plan
- Starter Emergency Fund: Make sure you have $1,000 in savings as your Starter Emergency Fund. This money is on reserve to ensure any small emergency doesn’t derail you while you are in Budget and Debt Repayment mode.
- Gather up all your debt: You might have done this when you began Tracking your Spending, but if you haven’t yet, go ahead and list all your debt out on a piece of paper. Include total amount owed, monthly minimum payment amount, interest rate, monthly due date, and final payoff date (if you have a payment plan in place). Also include any amounts you may owe friends or family members, and include your car payment and your mortgage payment. It is eye-opening to see how much we owe everyone. (Note: You may need to pull your credit for this, or call some of the banks/creditors and ask for this information if you didn’t keep any of the paperwork.) Leave no stone un-turned.
- Look at your budget: Determine how much money you have in surplus at the end of each month. You may decide while you are in serious Debt Repayment mode, some things on your budget need to go. If you have $50 a month earmarked for coffee, or lunches out, you may decide to reduce that amount or eliminate it entirely. Or not—this is definitely your budget and you are the only one who decides what is valuable to you. Re-evaluate essential expenses and non-essential expenses and come up with an amount that is your surplus. *A surplus: The difference between what you spend and what you earn. If you do not have a surplus, but you have debt, you may need to trim the budget and be sure you are only spending on essential items. If you have trimmed all you can trim, and still do not have a surplus, you may want to consider picking up a side job (babysitting a couple times a month, or a second job) so you can have some extra income to go toward your debt.*
- Divert your entire surplus toward your debt: This is the point where you decide which debt you will pay off first. There are a couple different methods you can choose, and there is no right or wrong.
- Avalanche Method: Pick the debt with the highest interest rate, and shove all your surplus toward this debt, every month, until it is paid off. Attacking the debt with the highest interest rate may save you tons of money in additional interest payments if you get it off your books. The name implies, once you knock off the debt with the highest interest rate, your Debt Repayment will begin an Avalanche, eliminating debt quicker because of the money not unnecessarily paid toward interest.
- Snowball Method: Pick the smallest debt, and shove all your surplus toward this debt until it is paid off. Attacking the debt with the lowest dollar amount owed may bolster your confidence because it knocks down the number of creditors on your list faster. The name implies, once you knock off the smallest debt, you can roll that minimum payment into your next largest debt (like a snowball), and by the end of your list, you will have a large amount rolled together to tackle your largest debt.
- You will always continue to pay the minimum payment toward all debt while you are practicing either of these methods. This helps avoid any additional fees or penalties for late payments which would only increase the amount you owe.
- With either of these methods, when you pay off a debt in full, you will then roll that payment into your surplus and it will free up available money to go toward debt repayment. For example, you were paying $20/month to a Furniture Store for items you purchased on a payment plan. If you pay that debt off in full (either through the Avalanche Method, or the Snowball Method), you now have an extra $20/month freed up in your budget to be put toward the next debt on your list.
- Methodically pay off your debt: Whether you do Avalanche or Snowball, rinse and repeat until all debts are paid off. Depending on how much you owe, this could be a years long process. It was for me, and that is ok. Remember how important persistence is to your future of Financial Stability. As daunting as it may feel, you will thank yourself when you are finally debt-free.
- Emergency Fund: When you become debt-free, begin throwing that surplus, and all the money you were previously putting toward debt repayment (minimum payments, etc.), toward building your Fully-Funded Emergency Fund (3-6 months of expenses).
Anything interest-free: if you aren’t paying interest on the debt (sometimes stores will offer promotional interest-free financing), there may not be a rush to pay off the debt. If you would feel better having it all paid, by all means go for it, but the urgency doesn’t exist in the way it does for the debt that carries an interest payment as well.
Your house: This is absolutely debatable, so if you disagree with this, feel free to attack your mortgage in the same way you have attacked all other debts. At this point, the only debt my husband and I have remaining are his student loan payments and our house. We are on track to have the student loans paid off this summer. The debt we have already paid off together includes my IRS bill, some outstanding medical bills, my car, and a few other odd debts. We are choosing to focus our surplus on fully-funding our Emergency Fund after the student loans are paid off, because we want to have that safety margin. I feel more comfortable doing this, as we never know what emergencies could happen, but it ultimately is a matter of opinion and personal risk-tolerance.
Retirement Accounts: Depending on how much debt you owe, how much you have in retirement, how far off you are from retirement, if your employer offers a match, etc. you may decide to hold off on contributing to retirement while you are paying off your debts. I didn’t, because the longer you are in the market, the more opportunity you have for your retirement investments to compound and grow, but that is a post for another day.
That’s The Plan
As you can see, there definitely is a plan and some design around debt repayment. However, there is also a lot of room for personalization and tweaking to suit your own circumstances. This may be a fast or slow process for you, but it is a worthwhile one for all of us. Come back to this article to keep yourself centered and on-track during the process. Eventually, the budget gets to have fewer line items, and the gap between how much we spend and how much we earn becomes larger when we aren’t diverting a ton of money toward minimum payments every month.
Above all, be patient and kind with yourself. You are worth the time and energy it will take to become debt-free. It is absolutely possible to rein in our spending and follow a budget that will lay out a plan to freedom from debt. I used to think I was terrible with money. As I slowly started to follow a budget, and spend money only on what I truly valued, I gained confidence and financial literacy. We can all do this together, and I am on your team. Onward and upward!
What is an Emergency Fund and why do you need one?
A critical piece to being financially stable is the Emergency Fund. An Emergency Fund (EF) is typically 3-6 months of living expenses set aside in savings to be used in the event of something unexpected and requiring immediate action. Examples of emergencies can be a car accident, a major medical (or dental) expense, a drastic home repair, job loss, etc. Examples of non-emergencies can be any travel, gifts, home remodeling, treat-yo’self expenses, etc.
As fantastic as life is, sometimes there are stumbling blocks. In 2016 I was in a car accident that thankfully left me with minor injuries (though I do have the scars!), but also left me with no car. I struggled in the aftermath, but thankfully I had enough money in savings to put toward a down payment for another car. In that way, I didn’t experience the inability to get to work which would’ve furthered my stress. At that time, I didn’t have a fully-funded EF, but what I did have got me through!
The actual dollar amount of this fully-funded 3-6 month fund will depend on how much your monthly expenses total up to be. If there were a medical catastrophe or a job loss, 3-6 months of expenses in the bank might be all the difference between a bump in the road and the feeling you were thrown off a cliff.
How can I build up to a Fully-Funded Emergency Fun?
Now, 3-6 months of expenses can be a laughable amount when you are starting out. It was for me! No worries. A modest start, is still a start. As a Starter, $1000 is a good amount to work toward. One reason for this amount is most car insurance policies have a deductible of $500-$1000. A car accident would be one of the emergencies that we could not predict, but we could prepare for! When a car accident occurs, and we need to shell out for the deductible, it’s on-hand and ready.
This amount might also be enough to get by in a medical/dental situation. You may need to pay out of pocket for something necessary, and not meant to be put off. For the home, an imperative roof inspection, or a service call for a funky washer or dryer situation could also be covered by this amount.
By having a $1000 Starter EF in savings, your budget does not have to be thrown off course, just because life happens. Instead, these minor, unexpected expenses can be paid for with cash. You can go about your business, and work on replenishing the funds back to the baseline of $1000 in case of another emergency.
Which is more important: an Emergency Fund, or paying off debt?
I’ve stressed how important savings are, and how we serve ourselves by not spending more than we earn. If a solid budget is in place, and we are living by it, then adding a line item for savings is not as difficult as we might think. If you have no money reserved for your Starter EF, that is where your savings will go until you hit the $1000. This is your biggest priority.
It may feel uncomfortable to save toward anything if you owe money and you are trying to get out of the red. If you have any debt, definitely continue making minimum payments so you do not get hit with any penalties. However, any extra money should go toward getting that $1000 funded. After this Starter EF is reached, you can then shift your attention to debt payoff.
So if my budgeted savings amount is $25/month or $150/month or whatever, I continue to shove that money every month into a savings account. Then I pretend it does not exist. At the end of the month, after I have lived by my budget, if there is any excess cash leftover, I can sweep the leftover money into my Starter EF. The money will continue to grow, slowly but surely, and one day you will wake up and realize, you did it! You have a Starter Emergency Fund!
Once you’ve done this, you can examine your debts and get into full-fledged debt repayment mode. When you shift to debt-repayment mode, you should continue to have a line item for savings in your budget. You can adjust this savings amount to free up some money for debt repayment, but should never stop saving entirely. Saving consistently, every month (even just $10/month), is a lifelong habit. This will continue to build the savings/Emergency Fund in the background while you focus on more pressing things. Your debt repayment is a new type of “emergency” (yay)! You want to avoid paying more interest than necessary so we want to get these interest-carrying debts paid!
When you have knocked out your debt (more about this in another post), you shift right back to your Emergency Fund. Your line item for savings will continue to go into this account to build up to 3-6 months in expenses. The nice thing is, you will have some surplus cash in your budget because you are no longer paying any minimum payments (or extra) toward your debt. You can roll in all that debt repayment with your savings account and start pushing larger amounts into your Emergency Fund.
Now, you’re ready!
The concept of an Emergency Fund isn’t an original one, penned by me, by any means. Everything I have learned about an EF, came from various rabbit holes I fell down on the internet when I was starting to get my financial house in order several years ago. There are several different approaches, and you can merge a few different approaches to suit you. The important thing is, you do something.
Remember persistence is the key to any large goal. If we live by our budget, make a Starter Emergency Fund (and then a Fully-Funded EF) a priority, we are certain to get one step closer to Financial Stability.
A friend of mine invited me to an arcade with her kids. While I love her, and enjoy spending time with her and her kids, I declined because an arcade isn’t my thing. I am trying to not spend time or money doing things that “aren’t my thing” and I was proud of myself for honoring my values. We made plans to spend time together in another setting.
I accepted a gift from my mother-in-law for an item she was planning on donating anyway (see image below). It is a bowl meant to hold dip, and there is a space underneath to keep ice, thereby keeping the dip chilled. Instead, I am using it as a nice, new-to-me decoration in my living room.
I gifted 3 items in my local Buy Nothing group. Two of the items were brand new gifts I received and never used, and the other gift was my wedding dress. The woman who received my wedding dress was so gracious and thrilled. It made me happy.
I also received a decorative platter and a bag of Epsom salts (y’all know I like my self-care) in the Buy Nothing group this week.
Went out to eat with my in-laws for a belated Birthday Dinner for my husband. It was a nice treat and I had leftovers enough for 2 meals!
My husband cooked a new veggie casserole that included broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cream of mushroom soup, and Swiss cheese. It fed 2 people for 2 days and it was soooo good.
My husband hosted a poker night at our house, while I was out visiting with friends. I came home to a ton of leftover snacks which we have been enjoying all week. Most of the snacks we provided, but people did bring goodies like pie and pretzels that we were left with. We also brought some of the leftover cookies and an unopened cheeseball to an event we attended the following day.
Loaded up on groceries this week, which included all of the poker night snacks. Our total for 2 people for 3 weeks (minus produce replenishments in the next few weeks) was $240.29. Not bad for mostly organic, healthy foods for 2 people.
I am in the process of signing up for life insurance, and I had my physical examination this week by the life insurance contracted nurse. It was painless (other than the drawing of blood—ha!). I will be comforted when the process is over, and my family will have some financial relief in the event of a catastrophe.
Cleaned the garbage disposal with ice, 1 cup of baking soda, and 1 cup of vinegar (all items I had on hand). Insert items in garbage disposal while it’s running. Viola! Good-bye odors!
Worked on an ongoing craft project. My mom and I are making The Book from Hocus Pocus using craft materials and old books we have on hand. I plan to add this to my Halloween decorations to be used later this year. That movie is a blast, and the project is a lot of fun to do together.
Used points I’ve earned from a credit card to book a hotel for this weekend. My mom and I are heading out of town (only 3 hours away) to spend the weekend with my nephew. All we plan to spend out of pocket will be for gas and food (and maybe some entertainment). Of course any additional spending over the weekend will be on a credit card with rewards so I can keep rolling in the points for any future trips. However, I will definitely pay my bill in full to avoid any interest!
Submitted my LLC tax info to my CPA so that I can maximize my business deductions. Thankfully, I keep meticulous records so it wasn’t too overwhelming to submit all the requested documentation.
Napped a few times this week! I also did guided meditations through the Plum Village app (though there are several meditation apps out there), enjoyed several cups of tea, and generally tried to slow down during a busy week.
My husband and I attended a social event on Valentine’s Day. We didn’t do gifts (nor do we do gifts for Christmas or Birthdays), but we enjoyed each other’s company, and enjoyed the company of our friends. It’s corny, but we make a point to express our love and appreciation for each other year-round. We don’t feel additional pressure on this day over other days, which is nice.
What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?
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Boosting how much money we put into our Savings account each month can sometimes be difficult. Especially when we are first starting out. It may seem daunting to look for places within our spending to save a few dollars, but here are twelve things you can do today to start saving money:
- Pack your lunch: I started packing my lunch for work everyday about 2 years ago. My lunch usually consists of: almonds, a cheese stick, a salad, a couple of cereal bars or crackers, and a banana. Occasionally there are variations to this, but I do not mind eating roughly the same thing every day, and I make my salad the focal point for any variety. I am a freelance contractor, so I am often driving from job to job. This means I need to leave my lunch in the car, and I do not have access to a microwave. I use this cooler to keep my lunch cold throughout the day.
- Use containers instead of Ziploc bags: I use these Rubbermaid containers to pack my nuts and salad, and the occasional banana bread or other anomaly in my lunch. I also pack a fork for the salad, but I do keep a couple of individually wrapped forks in my car in case I ever forget! If you prefer glass over plastic, here are some Pyrex ones that come highly recommended from fellow lunch-packers.
- Clean your own house: For some, this is a crappy suggestion. Perhaps for you, paying someone to clean your house (especially if you have kids) is how you keep your sanity. I totally get it. If the benefits outweigh the cost, I genuinely think you should keep doing what’s working. If not, maybe consider in-sourcing this task. I use the method of doing a little tidying
every daymost days, to reduce the heavy cleaning I do once a week. I have a rather large house and it takes about 1-2 hours to clean it thoroughly once a week. Sometimes I skip it, and sometimes I vary the degree of cleanliness, but I enjoy loving on my home, some chores are great exercise, and I don’t spend any money to do this.
- Use washable rags for everything: When cleaning my house, I use these microfiber cloths to clean everything. I stopped cleaning with paper towels a few months ago, and between my husband and I, we can make a bulk package of paper towels last several months. Bonus: Use cloth napkins instead of disposable napkins/paper towels for meals.
- Make your meals at home: While cleaning is my purview, cooking is my husband’s, and he batch cooks all of our evening meals at home. We might go out to eat for a special occasion (a birthday, or a retirement meal for a relative), but it is very rare we go out to eat or order-in on a random night. Batch cooking helps for those nights when we are rushed and hungry, or don’t feel like firing up the stove. Preparing meals at home also helps us eat healthy and mindfully, which is a long-term savings win. When I take care of my body, I am in better health, and statistically less likely to have (expensive!) preventable health problems later in life.
- Go meatless: My husband and I have been doing a “Meatless Month” where we are challenging ourselves to get creative with our food choices and incorporate more vegetables into our meals. I love meat, and I thought this would suck, but it has been surprisingly enjoyable. I might write more on this in another post, but the pros of going meatless for the month (or even for one day a week) are:
- Spend less money at the grocery store (meat is expensive)
- Cook time is less because we aren’t waiting for the meat to cook through
- Batch cooking vegetarian meals last much longer (because there are a lot of stir-frys, soups, etc, we can make leftovers last several days!)
- Use overlapping ingredients in recipes (ex: an onion or a few bell peppers can be partially used in one recipe, and then again in another, to reduce waste)
- Delicious and Healthy!
- Do a no-spend month (or week, or day): Occasionally we will challenge ourselves to a No-Spend month. This is when we try to go a whole month without spending money on anything that is not budgeted for, or not a bill. We have yet to make it through a whole month (because life happens!), but this has taught us to refrain from impulse buying. Example: “Oh shoot, we really need to get some more Post-its for the home office! Wait, its a no-spend month. Wonder if I can wait until next month? I suppose I could.” BAM! No money spent. Now, next month I might end up buying these, or maybe in 1 week I realize, I truly need to get some. But the best case scenario, is when I find that old stack of index cards I’ve been carting around since college *in case*. I can cut these up, use them with tape for now, and avoid spending money, and wasting what I already have. Random example, but using what you already have as a substitution for a new purchase is a great way to save money.
- Brew your own coffee at home: I see this often as a tip to save money, and I have also seen the backlash stating “I do not have enough money to buy coffee at Starbucks every day, this is not the reason I am struggling to save!” Fair enough. But if you are buying coffee while out, try to start brewing coffee at home. I use this Toddy Cold Brew system to make a week’s worth of coffee at a time, and just pour and go in the morning. You can also prep your hot coffee maker the night before, so it brews on a timer, or at the push of a button in the morning. This goes for water too. Invest in refillable water bottles, and never buy a bottle of water again.
- Increase your monthly savings rate by 1%: If you are already saving a certain amount each month using your budget, great! No matter the amount, bump it up by 1%. So if its $10/month, make it $10.10/month. If its $100/month, make it $101/month. You will not even notice the difference. If this works for you, continue to increase your monthly savings amount each month.
- Check out your local library: Even if you haven’t been to your library before, walk in and ask for a library card. You’ll get access to free internet, tons of books, apps you can use to check out e-books/audiobooks on the go, music, movies, magazines, and so much more. Check out their website and see if there are any free events or classes in the upcoming month that look cool. Invite a spouse, a friend, or your kids, and make it a date!
- Join a Buy-Nothing group: Search on Facebook for “Buy Nothing (insert your town here)” and see if anything pops up. A Buy-Nothing group is a place where people can post items they are looking to get rid of for free, and you can also post pictures of things you no longer need for free. The goodwill and the generosity makes everyone happy! This is also a cool place to check if you are in search of something during a No-Spend month (see the Post-it example above). * While you’re at it, Like This Fascinating Adventure On Facebook to get easy access to all the articles I publish 🙂 *
- Visit with a friend without spending money: You can host a game night at home, or a potluck, or go out for a walk, or to the library for a free class, or so much more! You don’t have to schedule a dinner or a happy hour, or even buy an obligatory cup of coffee at the coffee shop to see a friend. Don’t let not spending money prevent you from maintaining relationships with awesome people! See if you can find a way to not spend money and instead, focus on the real treat: the person who is with you.
All of these suggestions are things that you can do today, and I hope they help you save money! Over time, not buying coffee, lunch, bottled water, every book I want to read, every item that crosses my mind that I think I need, etc, has certainly made a huge impact on how much I am able to save every month.
If you can widen the gap between how much you make, and how much you spend, you are in great shape! If you turn even one of these suggestions into a new habit, it surely will make a difference.
There are several priorities in life I value. Among these priorities are kindness, family, contributing to the world, working smart (and budgeting smart), loving others, and self-care. While I try to approach life with a thoughtful, joyful, and frugal lens, sometimes it feels like a lot of high-caliber experiences cost money.
Frugal Self-Care Honors All of My Priorities
Small aside on why Self-Care is worth every second. Simply, you deserve it. I have found I am a better partner, worker, friend, family member, citizen, and person when I love myself. Self-Care is one of the most impactful ways I have found to practice compassion for myself.
Some of the approaches I list below on practicing Self-Care made me feel silly when I first started consciously trying to incorporate them into my day-to-day. The good news is, no one has to know you’re doing these things! These things can happen in private moments, when no one is watching. It doesn’t matter if you feel silly! It’s a moment with yourself, and you may find you are more fascinating than you ever imagined.
One of My Go-To’s: The Frugal Self-Care Trifecta!
A hot bath (using Epsom salts), guided meditation, and cup of tea! I can’t tell you how much I adore this ritual I indulge in at least once a week. These things are solid as stand-alone approaches, but when their powers unite—no words! Youtube has a bunch of guided meditations to choose from. Just search “guided meditation” or “guided meditation + whatever topic you want to be inspired by.” It is well worth the time to experiment and find a meditation or channel you like. Though the hot bath uses a lot of water, and the tea and Epsom salts cost money, these small prices are well worth it to me.
Other Frugal Self-Care Strategies
- Take a walk (bonus points if you incorporate your breathing)
- Listen to music
- Google “Noble Silence” and give it a shot for a few minutes
- Read a good book (bonus points if it’s from your library!)
- Have a conversation with someone
- Spend time looking at the sky
- Schedule a date with yourself
- Call or schedule a date with someone you haven’t seen in a while
- Sleep in or take a nap
- Focus on your breathing
- Clean your house with the mindset that you are loving and honoring your home
- Fly a kite (it gets you outside, you can be childish, you only need a kite and the outdoors!)
- Look at cute pictures of animals
- Write a gratitude list
- Look for inspirational or positive quotes online
- Color in a coloring book
- Exercise (even if it’s some jumping jacks and a jog around the block.)
- Look in the mirror and say: “I love you and I am proud of you.”
- Consciously give yourself permission to be a human and feel any and all feelings
The Best Investment You Can Make Is In Yourself
While massages, the spa, or a day at the golf course are wonderful things, you can take care of yourself at any moment throughout the day—frugally!
Some of these things might not be up your alley. No problem! Do what is up your alley. These practices are beneficial when we are having any kind of day or moment. They are called practices, because we practice them. We aren’t perfect, and we don’t have to do a single thing perfectly, including any of the above suggestions. However, if you are having an especially challenging moment, maybe try something you wouldn’t normally try. See what happens! You have nothing to lose.
Did I miss anything? Feel free to add in the comments how you practice Self-Care Frugally!
Learned how to two-step. I count new things as frugal wins, because if it’s new, it’s usually thrilling (insert cheap thrills joke here). We were out listening to live music (free) and a friend was willing to show me how to two-step.
Cooked a batch of lentil soup that lasted both of us four days this week.
Made the choice to decline some offered weekend and evening work. I sometimes take this type of work because of the pay differential, and sometimes I don’t. When I don’t, I am equally proud of myself for honoring my personal time over my money. (If you’ve never read Your Money Or Your Life, go read this now!)
Listened to two audiobooks on my commute this week and also read one e-book, all courtesy of my local library.
Grocery shopped prudently. Only spent about $26 for the week (mostly on produce). Next week will be our larger grocery trip, so I anticipate a much higher bill.
Considered picking up food on the way home one night this week. We have a delicious Mexican restaurant nearby, and while I was hungry, and it was tempting, I went home and made breakfast for dinner instead. By doing this, I was also able to use up some eggs before they went bad, and I didn’t spend any additional money!
Made a frozen pizza one night, when we didn’t feel like cooking, and ate the leftovers for lunch the next day.
My husband enjoys cigar smoking and a dear friend gifted us a hand-crafted ashtray. It easily could sell for $50, it was beautiful, and most of all, the gift was very thoughtful.
Unrelated to the above gift, it was also my husband’s birthday this week. While we do not exchange gifts for birthdays, we were able to go to the local cigar shop hang-out and my husband was showered with cigar gifts from all his friends.
Celebrated the Super Bowl with friends. We brought several bags of chips to the party, and we also ate a lot of delicious BBQ. We went home full and happy! At the end of the event, most of the food was gone. There were a ton of artisan bread rolls left, and when the host offered some to take home, we happily did. We paired this with our lentil soup. (I’m also realizing a lot of my frugal successes involve food!)
I took 2 hot baths this week and drank numerous cups of my new favorite tea. I love frugal ways to nurture myself.
Hung out with friends several times this week, all without spending any money. The real treat is the quality time and conversation.
Began a new 80-day work-out program this week via Beachbody. I am not affiliated with BB in any way, but I love that it is only $99/year, it streams to my living room, and there are hundreds of workouts to choose from. I am always challenged.
We are planning on purchasing a piece of furniture for our bedroom in the near future. My mom owed me a small amount of money, and she happened to also have store credit to the same store we plan to buy the furniture. She previously returned an item and didn’t know what to do with her store credit. I accepted re-payment in the form of store credit, and in this way, we both were helped.
Pruned my plants. They are surviving so far, as long as I remember to bring them in when it freezes. This winter has been pretty mild (so far!) and I am looking forward to planting new plants in my raised garden bed in the spring. I am glad to have some surviving ones from previous seasons, to reduce the cost I will spend at the Garden Center in a few months.
Received refund checks from our previous home/auto insurance policy. We cancelled our policies recently, and switched carriers for a cheaper rate. Receiving the prorated checks from the cancelled policy was a nice reward.
What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?
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Imagine going to a gas staton and asking the attendant if you can have $20 of gas on pump 3. Oh, and by the way, does he mind if you pay him later? Impossible right? In today’s world, there aren’t any IOUs, or running up a tab in the local grocery store. Things have to be paid up-front and in full. This is difficult for many people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, and also for those who buy what they want, when they want. What happens when we want something we do not have money in the bank for? Or, even worse, what happens when we need something we do not have the money for?
Recently, I was talking with someone very close to me who is in a bit of a financial pinch. He has made some wrong turns and is looking at about $8,000 in credit card debt. He was very nonchalant about this amount, and emphasized over time, he could knock out that $8,000. I realized he did not understand the credit card interest was eating away any minimum payment he might be able to send toward the balance. This is why I am writing about something as seemingly simple as interest.
Interest Isn’t All That Simple
Credit cards, staggered due dates, payment plans, and other financial hokey pokey all make spending money seamless. Why might this be problematic? It makes it very easy to spend more money than we earn, every month, and not even know it!
What’s the big deal? If everything gets paid at some point, and I am still bringing in money every month, what’s the problem? The problem is, it is expensive to spend more than I earn every month. Not just because I am spending all of my money, but because I am likely paying interest on some of my spending.
Fascinating Example of Interest: Credit Card Debt
Back to the example of my friend who owes $8,000 in credit card debt. Say his annual interest rate is 17%, and he pays the minimum payment every month of $25. Using calculator.net, I plugged in these numbers to see a bone-chilling result: “It is unlikely that you can pay off the balance with a monthly payment of $25”. Wait, what? He will pay that forever? Not exactly, but it’s still pretty grim.
Here’s why: every month the remaining balance is “taxed” with interest. Initially, he charged things on his credit card when he did not have the money. In return for “loaning” him the money, the credit card company will charge him interest if he does not pay off the balance in full by the end of the billing cycle. If his interest rate is high, and his payment amount isn’t high enough, he may end up not paying down much of the debt at all.
Credit Card Interest Broken Down
Credit card companies use an annual percentage rate (APR), but assign billing cycles and due dates using a monthly time frame. To complicate matters, when he reaches the end of his billing cycle while carrying a balance, the interest accrues daily. So we’ve got months, days, and years all jumbled into a formula that spits out an extra amount to be tacked onto the initial balance. Translation: It is not as simple as 17% on the entire balance (in our example, 17% of $8,000).
So How Do We Translate an Interest Rate to Real Dollars Owed?
A simplified version: Divide your APR by the number of days in the year. Multiply this number (your daily rate) by the balance you are carrying at the end of the billing cycle. Then, multiply this number by 30 (the number of days in your billing cycle).
When his billing cycle ends and his payment is due, the 17% APR will be broken down to a daily rate. This daily rate will then be multiplied by the balance owed ($8,000), and again multiplied by the number of days in the billing cycle. Result: The amount of interest added that month. In this case, his owed amount shoots up to $8,111.78. If he makes a $25 payment that month, great—it will bring his balance due down to $8,086.78. Notice this amount is more than he started with, even after he made a payment.
Then he chugs through the next month, not using his credit card, and therefore not adding to the debt. The month is over, the billing cycle ends, and his credit card payment is due again. Interest is charged on the balance due (which is now $8,086.78). Using the formula above, he now owes $8,199.77! He will have to pay much more than $25 a month if he wants to ever be free from this debt.
Another calculator showed that paying $25 a month would allow for the credit card debt to be paid off in 33.8 years. Over the life of the debt, the total amount paid would be $17,332.58, or $8,000 in principle and $9,332.58 in interest. That’s a pretty hefty charge from the credit card company for this “loan”.
Editor’s note: The formula to calculate interest on a credit card is likely more complicated depending on your credit card company. Your credit card company might take your average daily balance for the billing cycle, rather than your end of cycle balance. Or the interest rate might negatively compound each day beyond the end of your billing cycle, rather than negatively compounding monthly. The interest could also be higher if you have a variable APR (instead of a fixed APR) and your bill is past due.
Bottom line: Don’t carry a balance so you won’t have to pay interest at all!
Fascinating Interest Example: Car Loan Debt
Credit card interest isn’t the only way we can pay more than the actual value for an item. What if I need a car to get to work so I can make some money? I am not going to go into detail the merits of buying used vs. new at this point. Let’s just say I get a used car, a couple of years old, for about $17,000, with $2000 down, and 5% interest (in 2015 I actually did this very thing). Using calculator.net I can plug in the numbers to see how much interest I will pay over the life of the loan.
Whatever the interest is, its worth it, right? I need to be able to get to work. With no car, I am seriously jeopardizing any shot at bringing home any money. So I sign the papers, and am happy to pay whatever in the future, so I can have this car today. In my mind, this loan puts me at an advantage.
Car Loan Interest Broken Down
Perhaps it’s (arguably) advantageous to have a car loan, if it means getting a car. However, I might not realize for a loan spread over 5 years, I will pay over $2000 in interest alone. Now, compared to the price of the car at $17,000, this 4 digit interest payment feels like pennies. But it’s not! It’s a decent chunk of change no longer available to put toward my savings, emergency fund, investments, retirement, vacation, living expenses, etc. Now the $17,000 car becomes almost $20,000!
This is not to say, never get a car note. I did, and I paid it off as quick as I could, well before the 5-year payoff date. Driving all around town as a free-lancer, I am in the car at least 25% of my day, and I am happy with my car. If my car was totaled tomorrow, and I needed to make this decision all over again, would I? For me, probably not. Knowing now, what I did not know back in 2015, I would probably look for a quality, used car and pay cash up-front.
What’s My Point?
Pay our credit cards off in full, avoid paying interest and spend less than we earn! A fool-proof way to avoid paying hundreds of dollars in interest (or tens of thousands over a life time) is to save money and pay for things in full. The problem with paying cash up-front for anything, whether it be a new car, a new TV, a tank of gas, that month’s groceries, whatever… I have to have cash! I can’t pay anything up-front and in full without cash on-hand. If I don’t have it, I just might put something on a credit card without having a plan for how I will pay the bill ASAP to avoid interest. Or at the dealership I might sign a stack of papers with tedious language I don’t understand, and be indebted to someone for 5 years.
When I am able to not spend all my money, and especially not spend more money than I earn each month, I am able to set aside some “power” money to be used at a later date. “Power” money is exactly what it sounds like. It’s money on stand-by that gives me power. With “power” money I can pay for my groceries in full; I can even pay for a car in cash if I was diligent and saved. Who calls the shots? Me! Who decides how much I am going to pay for something? Me! I can make well-thought-out decisions that allow me to not overpay for an item via interest.
Are Credit Cards Really That Awful?
I admit, I do almost all of my spending on credit cards. I have a few credit cards open that provide really top-notch rewards programs. However, once I got myself out of debt, I did not start using credit cards again until I was certain I could pay them off every single month. It was crucial to avoid any interest, and not pay the bank and the store for an item I purchased. Initially, it was challenging to send way more than the minimum payment to my debt every month. But, with a little persistence, and some budgeting, it happened. I have never heard anyone say they regret getting themselves out of debt. And anyway, who doesn’t like a challenge?
My first experience with an allowance was back in elementary school, where every Friday I would get $2. Up to this point as a kid, I never got money or toys unless it was a birthday or a holiday, so when I was told I would be getting an allowance, I was psyched. I would dutifully go to Target or Walmart or wherever, and spend as much time as my parents could tolerate, perusing the toy aisle looking for what I could buy with that amount of money. I inevitably landed on Barbie wigs for $1.99 each. Yup, wigs for my Barbie dolls.
I never was much of a saver, so instead of saving up a month’s worth of allowances and hopefully purchasing a more exciting toy, the money burned a hole in my pocket until I could beg my mom to take me to the store to pore over the toy aisle and inevitably walk out of the store with yet another Barbie wig. I didn’t necessarily want the wigs—they were super hard to squeeze on my Barbie’s head—but that didn’t stop me. They were all I could afford, and I wanted a taste of the autonomy that came with spending my own money.
Fast forward to high school, when my mom started giving me both my lunch money and monthly allowance on the first of the month. This must have been an attempt to allow me to practice budgeting, but all this did was make me count out exact change for a slice of pizza per school day for that month, and then go straight to the mall to buy clothes with the rest of the lunch money (combined with my allowance). My mom caught on and stopped doing this since she wasn’t sure I was eating enough (I wasn’t) and went back to giving me my lunch money weekly. She was right in assuming I was less likely to save up my weekly lunch money over time to go clothes shopping—I still had not learned to delay gratification.
This behavior followed me into early adulthood. When I was younger, money was a scare resource and some years were leaner than others. As I got older, when I had money, I spent it. It’s as if I didn’t trust that I would ever get more, and really, future planning was scary anyway. It was short-term thinking only for me.
As I eased into my late 20s, I discussed with my mom the novel idea of me giving myself an allowance. I was so proud of myself for coming up with a way to budget for any “extra” spending. I learned that she had been giving herself an allowance for decades! This woman was a single mom for a lot of our lives, had 3 kids, and did a fantastic job of providing (without child support some years). Y’all, in the thick of it, I literally didn’t even know we were poor for several years of my life. She struggled and parented and raised us into adults, and I can’t express how much I admire her. I digress—the point is: the most fiscally prudent person I know has an allowance!
In my current life situation, a big part of taming my spending included giving myself this personal allowance. Very similar to when I was a child, I can use this money for coffee while out, a product off Amazon, lunch with friends, nonsense, whatever. I pay myself an amount biweekly to be used for anything or nothing. I can spend it right away, or save it, but I won’t get another infusion for 2 weeks, so I have to keep this in mind.
Initially, when I began giving myself an allowance, I admit it was a rather high amount. I wasn’t sure what the upcoming 2 weeks would hold, and I didn’t want to have to put myself in a position of saying no to myself, or not getting what I wanted. As I have mentioned in previous articles, spending money on what I wanted, when I wanted, was part of “being an adult” in my eyes and made me feel capable and successful. Like I was doing this life thing right.
As time went on, I was able to parse out things from my allowance that come up frequently enough to be their own line item on my budget. For example, I visit my nephew in a town about 3 hours away pretty frequently. He moved there 5 years ago to live with his dad, and I went from seeing him 4-5 times a week, to seeing him, at most, 1-2 times a month. Visiting him was a huge priority to me, but the travel, the spending on dining out and kiddo activities etc, needed to be budgeted for. After trying to eek out weekend trips like this on my biweekly allowance, I finally gave up. I reduced my allowance, and made those monthly trips for the weekend their own budgeted item.
While I became more familiar with spending only what my allotted allowance would cover, I incorporated the habit of checking out the 2 weeks ahead on “Pay Day” (aka Allowance Day). I usually glance over my calendar for the next two weeks, see if there is a friend’s birthday coming up, or a lunch date, to make sure I reserve from my allowance whatever amount I think is necessary for that special event. With this strategy, I am able to not blow it all on the first day, as I did when I was a child, because I know that something more exciting and worthwhile will require the very same spending money in the future.
My allowance today, compared to a few years ago when I first started this exercise, is quite small. I have built a life around not spending money on things that I do not value, so I have no desire to buy lunch every time I meet a friend, or pick up a new make-up product. Having to make value-based decisions on how I will spend my limited allowance has made me more aware of what things I actually value. Without meaning to, I began spending less and less of the amount I was giving myself for an allowance, and was able to build my cushion, or savings, quicker. At one point, I actually ended up reducing my allowance, then realized that I reduced too much. So I bumped it back up (I am not trying to deprive myself after all), and have been using the same allowance amount to fund my “fun times” for the past couple of years. My set amount and your set amount may be different, and this does not matter. The important thing is, we have a set amount.
Throughout this process, I have been able to build up the skill of delaying gratification to where I don’t rely on my allowance for every little thing I want; I instead budget for it. If I know I want to get a massage next month, I will make sure I can put it as a line item. If Christmas is coming up, I begin setting aside money for it months in advance. If I want an expensive face cream (this is one of the few items I am unwilling to cut from my personal care spending), I track how long it takes for me to use it all up, and budget accordingly (in this case, its every 3 months).
Surprisingly, putting a “restriction” on myself, like a personal allowance, has made me feel more free, than when I was spending as I used to. There is a contentedness and a satisfaction from spending my hard-earned money only on things that I value and enjoy. A personal allowance can be budgeted, just like anything else, and will keep your budget unharmed as you work toward Financial Security.
Ate packed lunches all week.
Used my refillable water bottle all week while I was out at work and running errands.
Renewed my cell phone service for the year through Mint Mobile. I pay $240/year (yup! A YEAR) for 8GB of data, but they have different packages. It’s one of the best financial decisions I’ve made to date. They use T-Mobile’s towers and I was able to bring my own device and keep the same number I’ve had for years. I am thrilled to sign-up with them again for another year.
Listened to free guided meditations on YouTube as a way to wind down. I like these guys, but find whatever resonates with you. Paired best with a hot bath.
Offered to bring the cake for a friend’s birthday party. I wasn’t sure what to get him (he pretty much has everything he wants). I was just going to get a gift card to Target (cause I figure, who doesn’t want a Target gift card?), but I felt the cake contributed more and gave me the satisfaction of bringing a “real gift.” I didn’t have time to make one, but thankfully our local grocery store is pretty good about gourmet cakes so I was able to pick up a nice one that was cheaper than if I bought it at an upscale grocery store, or bakery. I spent probably about as much as I would have spent on his Target gift card, but felt better about the gift.
Listened to several audiobooks on my commute, and started a new e-book from my local library using the Libby app.
Used an essential oils/massage oil concoction on my feet a few evenings this week. I made this massage oil for free when I attended a class at the local public library.
Collected all of my W2s/1099s and organized my tax info somewhat. I still have some left to do, but I find that I am more productive and peaceful when I have things orderly. Although I pay a tax professional to do the heavy lifting on my tax prep (my taxes have gradually gotten more complicated through the years), I am still able to learn a little bit more about my taxes each time I ready the paperwork to hand off to my CPA.
I picked up a short job on the weekend, and a couple evenings this week. Doing work outside of standard business hours pays a differential (aka more money) and is worth it to pick up from time to time. However, I have learned that I like to be at home evenings/weekends and I do not serve myself by forcing myself to regularly take jobs at all hours just to make some extra money. In this case though, the occasional infusion of extra cash is nice.
At a social event this week, there was a ton of pizza left over. Not only did I eat for free while there, but I was able to bring home a whole extra pizza to enjoy with my husband.
I worked out 5 days this week. I use a streaming service for $99/year (Beachbody) to work out in my home, but Youtube also has a ton of workouts/yoga for free. Investing in my health and fitness is a huge long term frugal win (think savings on doctor’s appointments, medications, etc).
Almost made a purchase on Amazon for some free weights for my husband. We ended up being able to modify what the exercise required using equipment we already had, and did not have to spend money on an extra piece of equipment. Pausing before making a purchase really allows for the time to be creative and come up with a frugal equivalent.
I have a setting on my washing machine for “hand-wash” and I use it for some articles of clothing that are dry-clean only. I washed a heavy coat this weekend using this cycle. I don’t remember the last time I sent clothes to the dry cleaners.
A friend of mine was looking to part with some extra rubber bracelets and a mason jar mug that she got from a local indoor skydiving arena. My nephew loves that place, so I was able to receive these things for free and store them away to begin stockpiling knick-knacks for birthday and Christmas stocking this year.
One of the entities I work for tries to host staff meetings at a local coffee shop to break up the monotony of the work day. I attended, but did not order anything or spend money. I did not even notice the difference. It is nice to not feel obligated to spend just because I am in a particular setting.
A credit card I hold was offering an additional 2% cash back for the month of January when purchasing gas (for a total of 4%). Though I had half a tank left, I filled up one last time to maximize the rewards points. Keep in mind when taking advantage of credit card rewards, it is important to always pay off the card in full every month.
Tried a new tofu/veggie stir-fry recipe (it was sooo good) and it ended up being plenty to feed the two of us for 3 days. It was nice to not have to cook so often, and also what a great, frugal recipe to make in bulk! We used veggies, tofu, rice, and seasonings. This was the first time I have ever tried tofu in my life and it was surprisingly delicious!
We also made burrito bowls again which fed us for 2 meals each, and also used similar ingredients as the stir-fry so we didn’t waste any produce (e.g. the other half of an onion, etc).
Thought I would need to get a new phone, because my current phone (an iPhone 6s) was running out of battery quickly. I resigned myself to this, figuring the phone was pretty old and it was time, but then I remembered I just updated the operating system and perhaps something in my settings was changed that caused the battery drainage. Sure enough, after a quick Google search, I figured out what settings were changed after the update, reverted them back to my preferences, and my phone is working great. I’ll eventually get a new phone, but no sense in replacing it when it still is working great.
What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?
This week was a little crazy schedule-wise and stress-wise. I practiced a lot of self-care this week which included free activities such as taking warm baths, making tea, and taking a nap. While shelling out for a massage or some other self-care sometimes is helpful (and I definitely do this at times), there are many things I can do to nurture myself that are free.
It was nice having an extra day off this week and I spent a lot of quality time with my husband.
I enjoyed coffee made at home all week. One especially crazy day I felt like a (caffeine) treat, and while I normally drink my iced (Toddy) coffee black, I added some almond milk and maple syrup and made the coffee an extra large.
I ate a packed lunch during the workweek every day.
I hung out with friends a couple of times in public cafes and chose to not spend money on ordering anything. Two times I just hung out while they snacked and I enjoyed their company, the third time I enjoyed some fries with my allowance. I’m glad that I can have a good time without spending money, and that at times, I can spend money on things I want using my allotted allowance.
I went to a social event that served tamales and enjoyed a free meal while hanging with friends.
Cleaned my whole house using washable rags and cleaning products we have on hand. I appreciated not having to outsource any chores, and its great physical exercise for me! Plus, I admit, I love a clean house.
Went grocery shopping for the next 3 weeks. While we bought a lot of household items (toilet paper, etc), we also have decided to go meatless for the next month (an experiment!) and I was happy with how much lower our grocery bill is when we do not purchase meat.
Ate leftovers often this week. We batch cooked Burrito Bowls, Lentil Soup, and Beans and Rice and these dishes fed us for dinner all week.
I had some leftover cilantro that I used last week to make guacamole. As cheap as it is, I didn’t want to waste it, so I threw it into the Beans and Rice to give it a little kick. I also made a batch of cilantro rice for our Burrito Bowls. Who knew cilantro was so spicy?!
When we chopped up the carrots for the Lentil Soup, we used the green leaf (stems??) from the carrots in our smoothie. It was a little grainy but it felt good to not waste a single bit of the food we bought, and to get the extra nutrients.
We made smoothies a few times (once with the carrot heads!) using frozen fruit and fresh veggies to satisfy our sweet tooth.
Usually, because of the nature of my job, I drive a lot! This week, I was able to keep my driving to a minimum (partially because of the holiday on Monday, and partially because I scheduled jobs close together in town) and only used half a tank of gas. There have been weeks where I have used 3x this amount, so I am pleased it is Friday and I still have a decent amount of gas left.
A friend of mine is reading a book series I love and I happen to own. He was bemoaning the local library for not carrying the entire series and I was able to loan him the next book. It is nice to share what we have so others don’t have to use their own resources unnecessarily.
I read several ebooks from my library, and finished up my audiobook. I checked out a new audiobook that is fantastic so far.
My smart husband called around and got a better deal on our home and auto insurance. We are going to save over $100/month. This extra work is so worth it.
I completed some online trainings for one of the entities I work for. It was a slow week work-wise for this particular entity, so being able to pad the time with some trainings will help my income flow.
I was able to transfer a significant amount of money from one paid invoice into my savings account. I am preparing for some upcoming large expenses and make sure to move some money into a high-yield savings account periodically in order to capitalize on the interest. Also, by having it out of my checking account, I am less likely to be tempted to spend the money on non-essentials.
I helped a family member out with some money. While I try to be careful when doing this, because my family has some codependent habits, I was grateful I had the surplus to help when someone I love truly needs the help. My partner and I made this decision together, as we do all financial decisions.
What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?
As someone who used to spend every last dollar every pay period, I am familiar with the sensation that there is just no way I could put money into a savings account and not touch it. Life would happen, and any surplus left after I paid my bills would be allocated toward a need like an oil change or new tires. At other times, after
mildly majorly stressing over money every pay period, I would have a surplus and I would treat myself to a new article of clothing, or an expensive haircut, or gourmet coffee. Then I would feel what (I thought) everyone else on the planet must feel like: capable; like I had my stuff together. Because see…I can give myself nice things from time to time.
This isn’t a commentary on real poverty by any means. This is a recognition of my spending cycle: Not have enough, finally have a little extra, spend it, not have enough, and so on.
Part of the journey to Financial Security includes some savings. This should come as no surprise, but building money in the bank can be daunting to someone who has never had any. How to start building your savings is quite simple: figure out your surplus at the end of each pay period, and put that amount into a savings account (preferably a high-yield savings account).
When your zero-sum budget has been filled out, and you have given yourself a small personal allowance (more on this in another post), look at what is left. Are you typically left with $15 extra every month? $150? $500? Whatever your dollar amount is, add this amount on your list of bills you made when you created your budget. Then, pay this dollar amount every month into your savings account, just like a bill. Pay it faithfully, and automatically. The only exception is if there is a true emergency that comes up, and you need the funds to get those new tires, or pay that parking ticket. Otherwise, you keep paying that Bill every month. This is an important bill, not to be made light of, because the person who is getting paid is you.
The objective is to reach a point where you have a month’s worth of essential expenses saved up in your savings account. At this point, we can divert our attention to other endeavors (retirement accounts, etc), but in the meantime, this step is crucial to stopping that vicious spending cycle that always ends in not having enough money.
The reasonable allowance allows for you to treat yourself from time to time, and this Savings account will be the beginnings of your Emergency Fund, to be used only for an emergency: Something unexpected, requiring immediate action. Unless you already have a healthy Emergency Fund set up (the eventual goal is 3-6 months of essential living expenses), this is not to be used as a travel fund, a shopping fund, or any other invention of the mind. This is for situations when “life happens” and this cushion preserves your budget.
If you are able to build an Emergency Fund, you do not need to wreck your budget if something comes up. You can pull out of your EF, pay the surprise medical bill, and keep your budget intact and on track. No other bills have to be put on the back burner because you already have the money set in “reserves” to cover the truly unexpected. A major purpose of budgeting, (other than making sure you pay all your bills on time and have what you need, and a few things you want), is to cushion yourself with a savings account.
There is no way to “get ahead” without savings. Frankly, I don’t like the phrase “get ahead” because (brace yourself) I believe life is a journey to be enjoyed (not a race) and every moment on this earth is a gift. Cornball, I know! I also know from experience, that some moments suck, and life can be hard. But my word! We are all here alive on this planet. What a trip. 🙂
So while I don’t like using “get ahead” I spent most of my 20s playing “catch up”. We can use the linear analogy of forward and backward, ahead and behind, and I hope you know what I mean. Basically playing catch up sucks. Its rough worrying about each paycheck and feeling like you can’t catch a break. There’s some pleasure in the whimsy, but not usually when it comes to money. Being uncertain about money threatens our instinct to feel secure.
Building this savings may seem intimidating, and maybe imagining a life with Financial Security seems fanciful and even impossible. However, when the situation inevitably arises where you need some extra funds to cover the unexpected, you will be relieved and proud of yourself for making this a priority. If you’ve ever heard the expression “Pay Yourself First” that’s what this means: Savings!
And its nice to watch your money stack up. It will strengthen your financial confidence to watch your money grow, no matter how slow. Once you’ve made it a priority, and pay your savings account just like a bill, you will be amazed at how simple it turns out to be.
Getting your financial house in order is no small feat! It takes time, patience and most of all, persistence. For any lifestyle change, whether it be fitness, clean eating, or really anything, the most important thing to do is not give up. You can get frustrated, you can slow down your efforts, you can do a half-ass job, but as long as you don’t quit, you can potentially cycle through low motivation and inch forward until you’re ready to commit full effort again. Below is your cheat-sheet checklist on steps to take, even when you don’t want to, to keep yourself moving toward the end goal: Financial Stability. Budgeting and Tracking your Spending are meaningless concepts if no action is taken. So get ready to make moves!
1. Track Your Spending: If you haven’t already sat down and input your accounts into a spreadsheet or software that tracks your expenses (Mint, Personal Capital) do this now. Just like assembling a new TV stand or whatever, you only have to do this once, and then you won’t have to do it again, so go knock it out and get set up!
2. List Your Fixed Bills: Write a list of your monthly bills and the amounts and due dates. These should be fixed amounts that do not change month-to-month (ex: rent, internet). You can make a separate list for any quarterly (and another for annual) expenses if you prefer, but if thats too complicated, hold off for a couple of weeks and for now, just focus on what you pay per month. You can add quarterly and annual expenses into your budget as you get more practice using the budget to guide your money.
3. Make a list of any and all debt: If you have input every single account you have into one of the Track your Spending apps, this should be easy to view in one place, but write it down separately anyway. What are your minimum monthly payments on this debt? What are the interest rates for each of these debts? When will these debts be paid off? See it all in one place. This will help motivate you when you hit step 5.
4. List Your Variable Expenses: Look at your monthly living expenses and hone in on the variable categories. What amounts change every month? Make a list of what those are (groceries, utilities, gas) and see if you can come up with some goals for the upcoming month to reduce any frivolous spending. You can use this opportunity to cancel any ongoing non-essential expenses (monthly subscriptions you don’t need, etc). Again, this will vary depending on values, and there is no right or wrong. This step simply requires honesty with self. If you acknowledge that there is room to trim the grocery budget, or cut down restaurant spending, figure out what you are willing to do. Remember you always get to be the one to make the choice, but the choice (and results) are yours. Maximize this.
5. Prioritize Your Expenses: Review all of the line items you’ve now created. Put them in order of importance: 1. Bills you need to pay to live (rent, groceries). 2. Minimum debt payments. 3. Discretionary/optional expenses. Your list may look different from mine, or anyone else’s and that absolutely makes sense. You and I value different things, so our priorities will reflect that.
6. Build Your Zero-Sum Budget: Put all the pieces together using zero-sum budgeting. For simplicity’s sake, I am going to pretend we are getting paid once a month, but of course pay dates differ for all of us and definitely modify this to suit your own situation. Start with your monthly income, and subtract essential monthly living expenses, making sure you include groceries and utilities. These are variable categories, but still essential. You can determine the average amount of what you’ve spent on these variable categories, and what you are now willing to spend, based on the previous steps. Then start subtracting minimum debt payments. After this, any amount you are left with can go toward non-essential categories that you value, starting a savings account and extra payments toward any debt you have.
Do not use the last part of Step 6 as an opportunity to fool yourself about priorities. No matter how massive your debt, start putting extra money toward it every month. Track those extra payments to bolster your motivation, and always continue to look for places where you can trim variable costs. If I can cut my grocery bill by $10, thats $10 I can either stick in my savings for an Emergency Fund, or throw toward my debt. You are carving a beautiful ice sculpture and you’ve gotta chip-chip-chip away at it. There is no inconsequential amount of money. No matter how small the amount, if you use your money wisely, you will have access to freedoms and possibilities. If its spent on fleeting, unimportant things, those possibilities aren’t on the table.
This is a simple guide to get started. I know that sometimes income isn’t enough to cover essential expenses, let alone extra payments toward anything. I also recognize that debt-payoff, boosting your savings account/Emergency Fund, and setting aside money for retirement each are topics that deserve their own post and more in-depth discussion. However, budgeting and tracking your spending is a good starting place on the journey to Financial Stability. These somewhat tedious and slightly annoying steps are some of the most important things you can do.
With any goal you want to keep, difficulties may arise. We are changing habits and patterns and its uncomfortable to try new things, or face challenges. But it can be done. Its ok if its not pretty, its ok if a ton of mistakes are made along the way, if you have to erase and start all over a couple of times, if you need to take a break (as long as you commit to returning to your task at some point), or if when you are all done, you feel like you completed a piece of artwork that belongs in a Kindergarten class. Its ok.
You’re doing something new, and its in the new and the doing where your skills get sharpened and you are building a tool kit that can serve you forever. You can’t start investing in the market, or become debt-free, or have 3-6 months of monthly expenses in the bank as an Emergency Fund, without budgeting. This is the only place to start, it is your foundation, and once you get this part down solid and strong (or even rickety and wobbly at first), you can begin to build your Financial Future on top of it.
I attended a free class at the library that taught about Essential Oils. I was able to make and take home 2 different massage oils (one to soothe muscles, and one to reduce stress). I attended this class with my mom (who also made some take-home oils), and we enjoyed our time together.
My husband and I packed our lunches for work all week.
I picked up a few last-minute jobs this week and was able to generate additional income.
Used washable cloths all week for my cleaning needs.
I cleaned and sealed all of the grout in our kitchen, dining room, entryway, and laundry room. I priced paying someone to come do this (because it was hard work!) but was quoted $400+ and was happy to spend the course of the week working on it myself. I am enjoying the finished product more, especially because I labored over it myself. It was also great (free!) exercise.
One assignment I worked this week is in a downtown area where parking is hard to find. Last time I paid $20 to park in a lot because I was tired of circling the block! I left my house early enough and found parking at a meter paying only $2.40. I can write this off through my business, but because I am the only employee, any money I don’t spend on operating costs goes straight to me.
I batched my errands so I was able to complete a few things on the other side of town on the way home from a job. This would have been inconvenient if I had done otherwise.
I grocery shopped for the week and only spent $35 on additions to what we already had. In the upcoming week it will be a larger grocery trip, but I was pleased to spend so little.
I attended a free meditation class that ended with a Noble Silence walk. I was apprehensive about trying something new, but it was pleasant to spend a couple of hours with friends in a peaceful setting and I was glad I went.
I signed the agreement with my CPA to complete my LLC taxes through him again this year. Though his price has gone up since last year (ouch!) I had the funds available and was able to pay this with no problem due to planning and saving. Last year was the first time I used him, and he saved me several thousand dollars, so the expense is well worth the savings I anticipate this year.
Read several free books from the library using my Libby app, and also listened to a new audiobook on my commute (also from the library).
Enjoyed a lot of leftovers this week from some batch cooking. We only cooked 2 times this week and we still have enough to feed us for a couple more days. We also went out to eat this week to celebrate my Father-in-Law’s retirement. It was enjoyable to pick up the check and honor the hard work he put in over a 40-year career, and I was able to enjoy leftovers the following day.
After making too much coffee in my coffee pot, I saved the remaining coffee in the fridge using a mason jar and drank it the next day.
I was gracious with a customer when they made an error and I could’ve billed them nevertheless, but didn’t. This maintains good relations and I am comfortable enough with my income/savings to where this was possible with no resentment.
I completed a sewing project that I worked on with my mom. It was wonderful spending the time together and I now have a beautiful tree skirt and a set of stockings to use for next Christmas.
I was able to socialize with friends several times this week, all just hanging out, without any money spent.
What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?
These habits help you to spend less than you earn, and get you on your way to saving. Saving money opens so many doors. It opens the door to an Emergency Fund, to retirement (which isn’t a given without saving for it), to investing in the stock market (not just for the swanky folk), for travel, for financial security in the event of an injury, illness, or job loss, and so much more. I know many people, especially those who make a healthy income, who think that budgeting and tracking spending is unimportant. As long as you have enough money in your bank account to pay your bills, alls well…right?
Surprise!! That is not ideal. I will refrain from referring to that philosophy as wrong, or incorrect, because I have made my share of spending and (lack of saving) mistakes, and frankly, sometimes that is the only way to learn. However, I am equipped, through those experiences, to explain why approaching money in this way will inevitably put you in a position to be at a disadvantage when it comes to financial security.
I have already shared how I was in my 20s, earning a decent income, and didn’t have a care in the world when it came to paying my bills. Yes, I had outstanding debt on my credit cards, and I had a few negative accounts on my credit report, but the money was coming in, I was not afraid of hard work, and I had no concept of the future and what my future self would want. I did all the things I thought I needed to do: graduated high school, went to college, and was now employed in a (albeit not related to my college degree) decent paying job at the age of 22. I drifted for several years, experiencing personal hardships while putting any future-planning on the back burner. I had no idea what my future looked like, and did not want to make any decisions or plans, as I couldn’t predict what might happen, and had no true grasp on what I wanted to happen. It was a transition period, one that is all too familiar for many young people who are venturing out into the world, and for the first time, sitting in the driver’s seat.
After floating along for several years, not thinking about money (except when I didn’t have enough), I finally became tired. I was tired of the grind, of working evermore hours to make more money to keep up with doing whatever and spending whatever I wanted to. I was ready for a change.
This is in the face of a higher than expected tax bill due to the IRS ASAP. This also coincided with driving a piece of junk that truly needed some TLC to be sustainable, a couple of medical bills that were left unpaid because I (mistakenly) believed that there weren’t any consequences for putting medical bills off indefinitely. Any time I needed new tires, or needed to make any purchase that was more than a couple hundred dollars, I had to exert mental effort to see how I would make the numbers work. This has included anything car related, dental work, taxes, anything electronic (hello, ever-increasing-in-price new phone), any referrals to a specialist, insurance premiums, and definitely anything that constituted a “financial emergency” (a car accident, anything health/medical related, a death in the family that required travel, ad infinitum).
Actually, anything that wasn’t a regular monthly expense was an “emergency”. I did not plan for these things, and when they inevitably occurred (good to see you, annual car registration), I had to shift and adjust and tighten up my bank account to be sure I could squeak by. This kind of living promotes an underestimated exhaustion. It is tiring to live paycheck to paycheck, and not because I didn’t make enough, but because I did not plan enough. Or at all.
These trivial things I listed above aren’t life-shattering, but ignoring them can have far-reaching consequences. Flat tires, an inoperable car, ignoring my health, etc affects my ability to work, to earn money, and most importantly, my quality of life.
And that is the real answer to the question above. Why is tracking your spending and budgeting important? Because it leads to a better quality of life. I sleep better, I breathe better, I work better, I love better, I open mail better, I answer my calls better, and I respond to life better. I am not afraid, or nervous, or looking desperately to escape from reality. I am here and now, and able to face just about anything that comes up. An exorbitant car repair is just an inconvenience. Needing to see a specialist, is stressful only in the severity of the medical reason, not the financial hit. A needed vacation is something I can plan for and enjoy because it does not feel like an escape. A random last minute weekend away is doable and available to me if I feel the urge to wander.
In the invincibility of youth, I had a hard time seeing why I would need money saved up for an “Emergency Fund” and I had no grasp of retirement, or even how to read my pay stub. If I was told that I would sleep better if I saved money, I would have rolled my eyes and resentfully thought “easy for you to say.” It was unfathomable for me to imagine a life where I had financial security. I didn’t have it growing up, and I had no idea how to attain it as a young adult. My financial literacy was extremely poor (no pun intended), and I accepted that I “just wasn’t good at it”. No matter your age, or your financial state, this is a predicament many Americans find themselves in. And just like with kindness, or riding a bike, or multiplication, or how to make scrambled eggs—it just takes a little practice and some learning. Financial literacy is like a muscle that can be exercised. Even if at first, it is weak and we struggle, with time, we will grow stronger and be able to do more. We are all capable of making good decisions with our finances. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. I promise.
Began a project to enclose part of our back porch. We are hoping to have a nice place to sit during the colder weather days, and some hot summers (we have a ceiling fan out back already). By doing the labor ourselves, we are only out the price of materials.
I re-gifted a gift card I received to a restaurant that my husband and I will never go to. It was a nice gift for a friend’s birthday.
I attended several social events this week that had fantastic food spreads and was able to eat several good meals for free.
My husband packed our workday lunches all week.
We ground our own quality coffee beans and make our own Toddy coffee to-go for the week.
I chose to take several hot baths and listen to guided meditations on YouTube this week to relax and pamper myself.
I mopped our tile floors using a Vinegar/water spray and re-usable microfiber cloths that fit our Swiffer.
I listened to an audiobook on my commute that I got from the library. I also read an e-book from the library. Additionally, I downloaded a free e-book on personal finance from the internet.
I consolidated some errands I needed to run, so I was able to minimize the gas usage.
I got a grab bag of various silly toys from a mandatory training I attended this week. I was able to throw those in with some clothes I bought on sale as a birthday gift for a family friend’s 4-year old.
I ate leftovers several times this week.
I also used a coupon for a free medium 1-topping pizza from a local pizza place. I just paid for the tip.
I was able to pay my quarterly tax payment for January. This is my last payment going toward 2018 and I have to budget in advance for this hefty amount since some of the work I do is as an Independent Contractor. I was only able to make this payment with no stress because of prudent planning and saving throughout the quarter.
I made a smoothie with some produce that was close to spoiling.
I upped my monthly savings transfer by 1%. I intend to do this every month.
I participated in a program to buy back my dying iPad and received a $120 gift card to Apple.
I continued work on some sewing projects with my mom. We are making a matching Christmas tree skirt and stockings that we can use for next year (and hopefully many years to come!)
What are some of your frugal accomplishments for this past week?
In my last post, I discussed how I rely upon zero-sum budgeting to arrange how my dollars will be spent. Over time I have honed my budget with precision, but when I first started out, I didn’t know what to budget for, because I didn’t know how much I spent.
Sure I knew how much rent was, and I had an idea of other fixed bills (like my cell phone, auto insurance, etc.), but how was I supposed to budget for gas, or spending money, if I wasn’t sure how much I spent on those things? I couldn’t very well predict what to put down for groceries, if I had no idea how much it cost to feed me, and if I was using a zero-sum budget, every other dollar was supposed to be spent/allocated elsewhere. What if I didn’t budget enough grocery money? Would a different bill not get paid so I could use the money for groceries instead? Or would I starve?
Fear not, my friends! I began my budgeting adventure by tracking my spending. There are fantastic websites/apps that can do this for you (Mint, Personal Capital), or you can use an old fashioned spreadsheet. I do all three because I’m weird like that (and people…I really do love budgeting).
I began with Mint. Its free (so is Personal Capital), super user-friendly, and uses different methods of displaying your spending habits (whether it’s graphs, transaction listing, or my favorite: pie charts). You can sync all of your accounts to a single Mint profile, and see your spending across all accounts. For example, I have a few credit cards (that I use responsibly and pay off in full each month!), my checking account, my savings accounts, a joint account with my spouse, some retirement accounts, and some taxable investment accounts. I am able to view the balances and transaction history for all accounts, in one platform. I will note that Personal Capital is more conducive for viewing any of my investment accounts, which is why I added a PC account as I got out of debt and began to amass some savings, however, it is strictly personal preference. Both are free and secure and can help put all of your spending data in one place.
When I initially began tracking my budget, this allowed me to see that I was spending a whopping $600/month on gifts/donations (I really loved to shop for my nephew), about $250/month on shopping for myself and for household items, and $200/month on personal care products/services. I could go on and on about other embarrassingly hefty spending categories, but no need! Already that was about $1000/month on things that I couldn’t remember buying! Things I thought I needed at the time, that I couldn’t do without, but quickly realizing the exhilaration I got out of making those purchases was long gone.
Instead of trying to cut out all extraneous spending cold-turkey, I tapered it down. I initially allocated $250/month on gifts/donations, $100/month on general shopping, and $100/month on personal care. Over time I dropped these numbers to smaller and smaller dollar amounts, and during that process I was really able to ask myself what was a priority to me? If I only had $100 for personal care, do I buy the expensive new face cleanser that swears it will “fix” my skin? Or do I spring for a massage instead? Or do I take a hot bath to pamper myself and instead use the money for some quality make-up? Having to make these choices forced me to be creative, so I could still get what I wanted (in the case of personal care: to be pampered), and through my creativity and substitution methods, I was able to reduce it from a monthly budget item, to a quarterly budget item.
You might find yourself saying “But I don’t spend money on personal care like that. I don’t even wear makeup!” No problem. Maybe your spending is for books. Or entertainment. Or dining out. If you are trying to curb your spending, or pay off some debt, there might be an area that is hogging all your hard-earned money that you aren’t aware of. This is why tracking your spending is so important! Once you have a couple of months of data you can narrow in on what you truly spend, ask yourself if it aligns with your values, if it truly is worth the dollar amount on your monthly bank statement (or Mint profile if you so choose), and if it is, great! Throw it on the budget. If it is not, then great! You now have freed up some of your income to go toward more long-lasting freedoms, like your freedom from debt, or saving up for your future.
By no means am I suggesting you ignore any budget attempts until you have the necessary spending data. Do your best to practice a zero-sum budget with the best information you have offhand. Once you accrue the true, cold, hard, facts from whatever method you use to track your spending, then you can fine-tune your budget to reflect more of what you really value, and you can sprinkle in some long-term goals as budget line items when you are ready.
Of course I understand that everyone is coming from a different place. Some of this may be right up your alley, or this may sound like the worst thing in the world. I am not saying you have to give up everything except basic necessities (unless you want to, of course) and I am not implying I have all the answers. When I started budgeting, I never would have considered not spending my money on most of the things I had been. I just wanted to rein it in a little. Wherever you are in your process, while I strongly advocate for this opportunity to be an eye-opening and mind-opening experience, I also hope this is an opportunity for you to be as gentle with yourself as you can be. There is no wrong way to learn, and there is no such thing as too late.
To live, you gotta eat, to eat, you gotta work. To make my living, I am a contractor for about half of my time, and I am a part time employee at various locations the other half. Whether I am working as a contractor, or as an employee, I perform the same job and get paid a reasonably high hourly rate. I recognize my privilege in being able to have access to the volume of work that I do, and to make an above-average income.
With that, however, I have not always been fantastic with money (gulp)! When I began my career, most of my paycheck was spent at the bar with friends, or at the mall to buy outfits to wear and attempt to impress my friends at said bars. Over time, I stopped going to the bars, but instead would go to Target every paycheck and spend money on things I thought I needed, but most certainly did not. I would regularly overdraw my bank account, and my credit cards were maxed out at all times. It was a stressful way to live, and yet, I continued to live that way for about six years.
Making The Decision To Do Something Different
Inevitably, my spending caught up with me, and I couldn’t keep up any longer. Something had to give! Because I am an hourly employee, I was finding myself having to work more hours than I wanted to, just to keep buying things that I didn’t need, and I was approaching some serious burnout at work. The only way to cut down on the amount of work I “had” to take, was cut down on my spending. I am not sure exactly how or when the paradigm shift occurred, but I suspect, like anytime I have found myself re-examining my values, it was gradual. I remember having to slowly warm up to even toying with the idea in my brain before I allowed it to take root and become a part of who I am.
Strangely, deciding to rein in my spending was scary. At the time, I did not think of it in such terms, but spending was how I coped with difficult things in life. When I was bored, I went to Target, or ordered clothes online. When I was having a tough day, or needed a quick recharge, I found myself in the drive-thru line for a sugary Starbucks drink. When I was out with friends, I offered to pick up the check, because I didn’t know a way to do nice things for people without using money.
I suppose it ultimately came down to a desperate dissatisfaction with my hectic work schedule, and the realization that it would always be this way if I did not do something different with my money. Especially because I am an hourly employee, I would always have to work more, and give up precious hours of my life, to earn money to continue to live as I was. Then I’d be right back in the same position once I blew through my checking account. I mean literally folks, I didn’t have a dollar in retirement, or in my savings account. I was around 27 years old and didn’t know how to manage my money to be able to view my future with any security. And I was getting to the point where security was more valuable to me than it had been before (I am now in my mid-30s).
So I started to budget. I “gave every dollar a job” as EveryDollar recommends, though I had never heard of that philosophy at the time. I gave myself an allowance, and attempted to start putting money toward the debt that I had accrued. Meaning if I received a $1500 paycheck, I would list out what each dollar was allocated for, and try to follow the spending patterns I chose. It was shaky going at first, but I frantically wanted to determine my spending patterns, rather than let my spending patterns determine me.
I still follow this simple pattern of a zero-sum budget (budgeting my money until the ledger read $0) and it has served me well. I made sure to include regular bills, any debt, a personal allowance, any upcoming expenses I foresaw, and an amount to go toward savings. When a paycheck would hit my account, I would pay the assigned bills and transfer the earmarked money right away, the way I laid out in my budget. This prevented the temptation of not making that “extra” $25 payment toward my credit card next paycheck, and treating myself to dinner with a friend instead.
Slowly over time, I paid off my debt, started putting small amounts of my money into a savings account, learned to not immediately transfer the savings money right back into my checking account (ha! The joke was always on me), and have even been able to put away significant amounts per check toward my retirement. In order to align myself with my intention (of being more fiscally responsible), I had to curb the spending. So I found other ways to entertain myself while bored, or cheer myself up when things got tough. I found other ways to connect with my friends that did not revolve around money. When I was able to start chipping away at some of the debt I had amassed, I felt the results. I wasn’t so stressed about creditors, and I closed accounts that I knew would not serve me if left open (I’m looking at you, department store cards).
The peace is worth it, and there are many budgeting strategies out there that have helped people just like me (and perhaps you!) A quick Google search on “Budgeting Strategies”, “Getting Out of Debt”, or “How to Save More Money” will lead to a plethora of results. It seems like a boring concept, but I get excited about budgeting! It puts me in the driver’s seat of my finances, and allows me to call the shots. Where I previously felt out of control of my finances, my work-life balance, and my serenity, I now feel powerful and capable! All because of some discipline, and a budget that worked for me.
Hi Everyone! This is the first in what I’m hoping to be a weekly installment of Living Frugally. Here I plan to talk about what I did this past week to practice simple living and frugality, and my plans for the upcoming week.
My husband and I felt like we were coming down with colds, so we made an Apple Cider Vinegar home remedy with ingredients we already had at home. We are feeling better already.
I picked up one day of work this week (though it is my two-week holiday vacation) to make some money I otherwise would not have.
My nephew was in town and wanted to make a long-time family recipe of his Great-Grandmother’s for fudge and peanut brittle. There was sentimental value in it, as he is very interested in the family and he never met his Great-Grandmother, in addition to being able to have enough desserts to enjoy at home. We purchased the ingredients we needed at the grocery store for less than $20, as we had most of the items on hand.
We attended a New Year’s Eve party at my parents’ house, where we brought the fudge/peanut brittle as our potluck item, and we brought the rest of the dessert to a New Year’s Day party we attended with friends.
A long time home project of new tile floors was completed today, and while we outsourced this project, we spent a lot of time researching tile prices. We chose to go through a contractor who’s work we know, rather than hire someone to do the labor from the same store we bought the tile. We saved around $1100 going this route, and the floors look fantastic. I also was able to schedule the labor to occur during my pre-planned two-week holiday vacation, so my spouse and I did not need to miss additional work.
I returned an iPad case I ordered to Target as it was not what I expected. I ended up ordering a different one off Amazon that is much hardier and less than half the price.
I returned a jug of peanut oil to Wal-mart that I did not use when we deep fried our turkey for Christmas.
I read an e-book from the library. I also listened to a different audio book (also from the library) while running my errands this week.
My nephew, husband, and I played a lot of card games this week.
I ate leftovers from various holiday meals all week. Tonight will be the first night this week that we are cooking dinner.
I began planning a trip to Disney World that my nephew and I will take this summer. We plan to pay for the flight and hotel with rewards points I’ve earned on my credit cards (that I always pay in full every month). I’ve earned these points through my regular spending on food/gas/etc. over the last few months.
What about you? What are the frugal highlights of your week?
On New Year’s Day, around 6pm, I started to feel something not right in my body. I was stuffed up, and a little weak and stiff in some places. As much as I wanted to brush it off and call it good, old, reliably miserable, allergies, I knew it was something much grosser.
I wasn’t hung over, hadn’t eaten too much junk food over the holidays, and it was definitely related to my respiratory system. I’ve had my share of bronchitis in my lifetime, and once, even had a case of Walking Pneumonia (where I cracked a rib from coughing so hard). I am leery of anything respiratory as it has its own timeline, and left unchecked, the misery can last a couple of days, to a couple of weeks. I am here to share what cures my ails: Nine other things you can do if you’re coming down with something:
- Take a hot bath with Epsom salts.
- Or a steamy shower (more than once a day if you have the luxury).
- Wash your hands regularly.
- Drink plenty of water—and then drink more.
- Drink hot teas…they smell good, and the heat (and most varieties of herbs) soothes your passageways.
- If your cough/runny nose is productive, get it out! Blow, spit down the toilet, whatever. It’s nasty, but even nastier if you leave it in your body.
- Eat healthy foods. At the very least eat something! It’s hard to want to eat when you feel lousy, but your body needs quality fuel to keep fighting the good fight!
- Rest. Sleep. Wake up, and rest. Repeat.
- Most of all…if you really feel like trash, and it’s not improving at all—go to the Doctor. Skipping this step is how I ended up getting that Walking Pneumonia I referenced earlier. Yuck!
When you’re done being sick, wash your sheets, and run a wipe over your phone, bedside table, etc. If you’re wild like me, you can spray your couch with Lysol, vacuum, clean everything in the house, do all the laundry etc. Just get them germs out of your house! I’m off to rest (read: watch Netflix shows I’ve already watched multiple times). Cheers to healthy lives!
I had never been one to buy into the whole New Year’s Resolution gimmick (or whatever it is). I haven’t had much success with making a promise to myself and keeping it. Believe me, there have been a lot of things in my life that have brought pain and consequences, that I just couldn’t magic away. You’d think I would be more motivated to keep a promise to myself of all people, and yet…
A few years ago, after some introspection, I realized why my resolutions were not successful. I was making a promise or a goal, and then sitting back and waiting for the results. I did no planning for any course of action. There are adages such as “Fake it till you make it”, or “Act your way into right thinking”, that sound bogus and conjure mixed emotions that are opposite from my inner compass that points me in the direction of authenticity and transparency. However, sometimes, I have to put action first, before a new habit becomes a part of me. So, I began setting plans of action to reach certain goals.
For the New Year, while I do not set “Resolutions”, I do think it is an appropriate time to review and potentially reset. I am looking back on the past year, and I admit, I really like what I see. I have worked hard, and accomplished more than I thought I would. At this time last year, I was trying to convince my soon-to-be spouse to get on-board with some financial goals that I thought would really push our family in a direction of comfort and security and peace. He was generally less than enthusiastic, but I had his buy-in on saving for the down payment for our future home. When we hit our goal, he was amazed at what we could accomplish when we got dedicated, and we began setting broader goals, together.
Whether its a promise, a resolution, a goal, a dedication, every time I have been successful in changing something, committing to something long term, changing a knee-jerk reaction into a thoughtful response, it has required a plan of action. When we wanted to save up for the down payment it took several steps to work our way toward that accomplishment. We looked at our time line, decided when we wanted to start looking for a home, reviewed what we could comfortably afford (not necessarily what the bank approved us for), and worked backward counting how many months we had between now and the time we wanted to buy and divided the amount of money we needed by the number of months we had to save. We then took that dollar amount and set that as a savings goal for each month. We “paid” our high-yield savings account (where we were getting 1.89 % APR) that calculated amount every month, as if it were a bill, and continued to chug away within our careers, and within our relationship. When the time came, and we were ready to start looking for a house, we had the amount we wanted in our account, ready to pull the trigger the moment we found a place we were in love with.
This is how I approach anything I want to do in life. I don’t always love to exercise (my motivation ebbs and flows) but I do want the end result: a healthy body that is functional and well-taken care of. So I set goals (work-out 3-5 times a week) and I check them off as I accomplish them. I train myself to do something massive that requires long-term commitment (have a healthy body, save up tens of thousands of dollars for a down payment), and I break it down to something bite-sized that I can work toward every day/week/pay period. Then I go through the motions. I Fake it till I Make It, I Act My Way to Right Thinking and I wait for the motivation, or the euphoria that comes from seeing my progress to come after. Once the thrill of noting progress kicks in, my motivation feeds upon itself and I am able to get the momentum going. It is like kicking off on a bike: at first it’s a slow pedal, but once I begin moving, I start gaining ground and I am able to move my legs with minimal effort because the pedals are already spinning forward from the initial effort I put in. Its a beautiful thing, and the confidence it brings allows for more traction, more progress, and the results follow. I don’t know of a more powerful thing.
So this year, I am not brushing off the opportunity to look within myself, look outward at my life, and review and reset. I am setting a few more goals (some personal, some financial), and looking at actionable steps I can take to break down some of the more lofty changes I want to see in my life, into manageable pieces. Do you have any goals you want to take this “Day One” of the year to speak into motion? Let me know in the comments below what you will do to maximize learning and growing opportunities in this upcoming year. Maybe we can hit it hard together 🙂
Fear permeates much more of our lives than we suspect, or would ever want to give credit to. It has been revolutionary for me to realize that, recognize what I am so afraid of, and actively work toward acknowledging those moments in my life when I am reacting out of fear.
Fear, in many ways, makes sense. We need it biologically for survival. When someone sneaks up on us, we jump—to avoid a surprise attack by a predator. I know when I see a snake, I am repulsed (to the extent of making a face, hunching over my body like I am gagging, and usually emitting a drawn out grunting noise—it’s dramatic, and absolutely unintentional). Fun fact about me, when I was a child and read Zoobooks (a magazine for kids about various animals), I’d flip to the double-page spread of a snake with its mouth open, ready to strike. The magazine would magically drop to the floor and I would be frozen in fear for a couple of seconds. I even would leave the magazine on the floor and walk away, too disgusted to even touch it.
Our minds are fascinating. The snake was not in my house, my spouse startling me by appearing soundlessly is not going to hurt me, and yet I react. What the heck is going on in my brain to simulate something that feels so threatening and real? Similarly, fear of not being accepted by our peers is in many ways a biological response. Harkening back to the idea that we are a tribal species, if we were truly rejected by our tribe or community, we would potentially die on our own. We wouldn’t have the advantages of shared knowledge, resources, and protection.
Human connection is so important, for that, and so many other reasons. But, pettily, if a colleague of mine doesn’t seem to be too crazy about me (or, perish the thought, a family member) the rejection can be hurtful and I can react in ways that aren’t helpful (to myself, or anyone else). Our minds are fascinating.
How to Manage Fear in Daily Life
So when someone doesn’t seem to care for me, or says something I perceive as rude, or lies to me, or betrays me, I decide how I will let it affect me. Sometimes, I allow myself 5 minutes to be pissed, maybe rant to someone about it, maybe give myself time alone to cool off. Sometimes I allow myself an hour, and at certain times I have even allowed myself a week. Sometimes, I seem to have moved on, and months (or years later) an old hurt will resurface, and I will feel surprise at the way the hurt reared its head anew. There are hurts that do not go away just because I decided I was done feeling hurt. But they will definitely not go away unless I make that decision.
I remember someone once telling me that “You alone are responsible for whether or not you are happy.” Oh man, that really got my goat! At that time in my life, I was terribly unhappy, and thought to myself: “Brother, if I could make myself be happy, I would be. This isn’t optional for me. Who would choose this?” I don’t know that forcing happiness is possible in a tangible way, but I let the general concept ruminate in the corners of my mind while I trudged through some very dark days. Eventually, the concept became less foreign and came to be a truth. I felt so very powerful. I am responsible for my happiness. Me! No one else can get in my mind and flip switches for me.
Let’s Take Our Power Back
It doesn’t mean that every interaction with every person creates pleasant feelings. I am responsible for feeling pleasant, just as I am for feeling less than pleasant. When I am upset, or angry, or bothered by some injustice, that is ok. Those are normal, human emotions. I do, however, get to decide how long I will allow these things to hang out in my brain, and whether or not they fester.
Fear is an amazing actor. It has many faces. It looks like anger, or hurt, or even irritability. So when I am any of those things, and I am gearing up to take whatever negative idea that resulted from that emotion and go ahead and add it to the list of the things I think I am, or am ready to lash out, or shut down for an indeterminate amount of time, I ask myself “What am I really afraid of here? Does it make sense to be afraid of the result I think might happen? Am I afraid what this person thinks of me might be true?” With those (and other) questions, talking to my own best friend (me), I show myself I am valuable enough to be curious about. After asking these questions of myself, while the hurt may still sting, it becomes a dull sting.
Today marks a new beginning on a path to living my best life. I know that if I do not eventually make the decision to start, my best life will be out of my reach forever. At some point I have to make the decision to begin; it will not just happen for me. It requires a consciousness and a commitment and there is no better way to help me not to forget who I decided I wanted to be, than by documenting it.
Upon a quick Google search, “Living my best life” is an entry in www.urbandictionary.com, meaning “having fun or relaxing”, and I see this as a hashtag on social media regularly. This isn’t meant to be one of those facetious appropriations of a term already being used in a mainstream way. This is a genuine attempt at transparency and a documentation of myself as I know myself. And so here I am.
Oprah said “The biggest adventure you can ever take is to live the life of your dreams.” And that is what This Fascinating Adventure is about. Living the life of my dreams. Taking pleasure in precious simplicity. Shying away from the acquisition of stuff as a way to show the world my value, and instead being bold enough to know my value, no matter what happens.
This may sound somewhat “woo-woo”, and in truth, it is. I am, most times, quite practical, and I hope to share some of that practicality in my writing, but I also want to share my real self, the one who lives in my body, who loves finding a way to optimize life, to save money, to live with what I need and a few wants, and who also cares very, very much about how to truly connect with others and to love. That, I believe, is why I am here in the first place, and what I think my life’s mission is. I suspect, this is why we are all here.
I have always found it interesting (or dare I say, Fascinating) how humans are tribal by nature—how we cannot survive on our own as young, how we need each other, just for basic survival. Brené Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” I need you, and you need me. And I look forward to it so very much.