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For Annie Mae Jones Jeffers

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You are hand kneaded dough that rises to become hot bread. Bread, that along with molasses is considered a meal. But I don’t like molasses, so I always just ate it plain. You are gravy and fried chicken. You are coffee that I am too young to drink. But you. You let me drink it anyway, and the taste for it is always with me even to this day.

You are summers spent barefoot in the sunshine. You are a garden tomato eaten raw, juicy with salt. You are a cut in half tire, turned seesaw. You are muscadine grapes and flowers that grow in controlled chaos. You are my love for rocking chairs and sitting porches. You are chocolate cake and maybe I have been craving the taste of chocolate because I knew this day was coming.

You are women gathered at the table. Gathered in the wonderland of your yard. Gathered long after dark and the lightening bugs have come out. Laughing. Loud and untamed. Happy tears of mirth, running down dark cheeks. And occasionally a little trickle of urine. You are a dip of snuff. Tucked expertly between teeth and lower lip. You are the master pincher. In a family full of men that you loved and gave life, you are the heartbeat at the center of the tree.

FullSizeRender 105When I was told that you had passed, my heart went straight into my throat and then took a free fall into my stomach. Given that you were in your 80s, your passing is not unexpected — should not be unexpected. But who can ever be prepared for death?

I remember very clearly the last time we really spoke. I was in town for A.J.’s wedding. I’d stopped by your house to change clothes.

“Who you,” you asked. “It’s me, Mommae. Keshia.” You looked at me. Uncertainty clouding your face. “Keshia?” “Yes, Mommae. Keshia.” We went through that line of questioning about three times. We did it again after I changed into my dress.

“That’s a pretty dress,” you said. “Who you?”

I am what you helped make me. I am every ounce of love that you poured into me and everyone you have ever come into contact with. I am the wind from rolled down windows on winding country roads. I am pallets on floors and fatback meat. I am wild plums and wild strawberries. I am one of the many seeds in the garden of your family. Thank you for the sunshine of your smile, the strength of your hugs and the nourishing water of your laughter. I honor you. I love you. Thank you for being my bonus grandmother.

 

 


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Final Recap: Low Spend January. The End.

Hello Chicks and Chucks. We made it through the last week of Low Spend January and the answer to the question of the last post of whether the last week would be a truly no spend week alas is…NO.

But I was so close.

From Jan 24-28 — five whole days — I spent no coins. And then Friday the 29th happened.

Things were going well. I had even packed my lunch for Friday because I already had it in my head, if I could get through the weekend, on the 31st I was celebrating with a really nice brunch.

Lunch

The Missing Lunch

So, I go bopping off to work, confident in the fact that I was going to make it through the work day without buying anything. Imagine my horror when I reached into my backpack for my lunch and I couldn’t find it.

After weeks of bringing my lunch, this past Friday I forgot it. I was bummed to say the least, and I decided to try Shake Shack’s new chicken sandwich and fries to cheer myself up.

And Friday just got spendy from there. I kept a promise to hang out with a co-worker/friend. I intended to eat before going out, but I didn’t. So I picked up a prepared sandwich from the grocery store. I also took an Uber to the place we were chilling and took one home because the bus won’t let me be great and I wasn’t in the mood to walk home in the dark.

But on Saturday, I realized that this process had changed me.

I stayed in bed late and luxuriated in having a day where I legitimately had nothing that I needed to do. My food supply, however, was getting low. The old me jumped online and set about deciding on what I wanted to order. But it occurred to the new me that I could go to the grocery store and buy enough food to eat for the next three days with the money I was about to spend on one meal out.

The new me and the old me closed the laptop and went to the grocery store.

While I’m not happy that I broke my streak, or that I spent $54.98 in TWO DAYS, I am very happy to report that I achieved my savings goal for the month and only spent $308.75. It would have been nice to have saved that $300 in addition to the other money I was able to save, but it probably wouldn’t have been as much fun.

Would I do this again? Yes, though I think I would torture myself about it a little less. I never realized how mentally taxing not spending money could be. Instead, I think I would stockpile my personal hygiene items and do a better job of meal planning.

In fact, I’m committed to a No Spend/Low Spend Month at least once a quarter because it will help me reach my debt-pay off goals, and eventually my savings goals, that much faster.

And because I am doing it on a quarterly basis I can better prepare for No Spend/Low Spend months. I already know that February and March will be higher spend months because I have travel coming up. I also plan to throw an extra payment at a bill. So neither of those months would be good months to try a challenge. But April is looking like a contender.

So what about you? Want to give it a whirl? Here are my top three tips for a No/Spend, or Low Spend month:

  1. Be realistic. Leaping into a no spend month might make you miserable, so try a no spend week, or pick a day or two each week where you won’t spend money and make sure to save the money that you might otherwise spend.
  2. Pack your lunch. This is where I probably got the most bang for my buck in terms of savings. This month helped me realize that I was being a baby about eating leftovers, and just cooking in general. I like to eat out as much as the next girl, but I have realized I like saving money more. I wanted eating out to be what it should be for me — an occasional treat, not a means for survival.
  3. Make a list. Never go into the grocery store hungry or without a list. If it’s not on the list, leave it in the store. Period.

That’s all I’ve got for now friends. If things didn’t go as planned in January, I encourage you to make this a Fresh Start February. Take a mulligan for the first month of the year, or consider it a practice month. Start fresh on your goals, whatever they are, today.

Happy Adulting!

— Ricks

 

 


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Recap: Low Spenduary Week 3

Hello Too Thrifty Chicks (and Chucks)!

Can you believe that we’re in the last week of this month? I can’t.

But since the calendar isn’t lying, that means we’re in the home stretch of this No Spend/No Spenduary Challenge. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about read about it here, here and here.) As you can also see, I have changed the name of the challenge to more appropriately reflect what has occurred this month. I didn’t NOT spend, but I spent WAYYY less than I usually spend.

Like I said in the previous post, I knew that I would spend money during week three. And I did. I needed some grocery odds and ends, I had to purchase a ticket for my sorority event (which was postponed thanks to Winter Storm Jonas), and I’m having an ongoing battle with fibroids that insists on making my life hellacious on the worst days and really inconvenient on nearly all the other days, so again back to the store for personal hygiene items.

As I was in the grocery store last week, I realized how often I sabotage myself when I go in without a list. I needed flour tortillas and cheese. That’s it. I also had a taste for some chicken wings and since I wasn’t going to order them out, I knew I could get them at the prepared food section of the grocery store, but that was it.

Guess what was in my basket? Peanut butter and jelly, bread and various snacks. I was properly thinking ahead for the coming snow, but I had not initially planned to buy those things. When I realized what I was doing, I put everything back but those things that I had originally stopped at the store to pick up.

At the end of the week, I did go back and purchase the things that I had originally put back. Sure, it added an extra trip that I could have saved, and I forgot the bread. But this whole experience reminded me of how important it is to plan out trips to the grocery store. Planning saves you money and time. On an intellectual level, I know that. But in practice it is often hard to remember.

All and all, week three is my lowest spend week yet. And new budget nerd that I am, I thought you all would like to see some numbers.

Week 1 Total Expenditures: $108.08 on mostly groceries and transportation. These were all allowable expenses under the original “No Spenduary” rules.

Week 2 Total Expenditures: $93.74 on mostly personal hygiene items, groceries and some eating food out. Food out was not an allowable expense under the rules, and I spent about $19.54. Personal care items also were not allowable expenses under the rules, but I spent $36.46. Groceries during this week came to $37.74.

Week 3 Total Expenditures: $51.95. ::pops collar:: I spent $25.12 on groceries. Another $13.83 on personal items (damn these fibroids!), and $13 on my sorority (the ticket to the event was $25, but I had a PayPal credit (thanks, YNAB!) which picked up $12 of the cost).

Already I can see that I would spend far less time in the grocery store (which y’all already know I don’t really enjoy that much) if I really meal planned a little more tightly and made sure that I had the things on hand that I need. Every trip to the grocery store increases the risk of me putting stuff in the basket that I hadn’t intended to buy. That said, this was my best week of meal planning so far and I ate the three things I had on hand all week long without any complaints.

I have to say, not eating out hasn’t been as painful as I thought it might be. Mind you, it’s cold outside and the way the bus system runs in New Haven, I really don’t want to be out in the cold waiting for a bus that 1) might not come on time, or ever, and 2) isn’t going to drop me off right in front of my house.

In this last week of the challenge, my question to myself is: Can I really make this last week a No Spend week?

You’ll have to stay tuned to find out.

— Ricks


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Recap: No Spenduary Week 2

I might have to officially start calling No Spend January/ No Spenduary, Low Spend January/Low Spenduary. If you missed my announcement of this challenge read it here. Check out the first week’s recap here.

Yeah, your girl spent money during week two of this challenge, but this second week was full of revelations. This week, I got very clear on what I absolutely will spend money on and what I won’t.

As much as I love clothes, shoes, handbags, makeup and books, I can resist spending money on those things, and I can stay away from stores that sell them for the most part. This experiment has reminded me that I can make planned purchases in those areas.

For instance, I have a wedding coming up in the spring. I also plan to become more active in my sorority again. All of these are things that require me to dress a certain way. That means a beautiful, well made dress that can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’ is on the list of things to buy soon.

But one thing I’m not going to do is go hungry when I don’t have to, nor am I going to be ashy, or go without legitimate personal care items.

I ate at home and brought my lunch nearly every day this week, but I caved at a Dunkin’ Donuts on Monday and had a croissant and a small coffee. I was meeting people there for an assignment and I had not had breakfast. A failure to plan is a plan for failure.

I had diligently eaten food I had prepared for the week. Reese can attest to the fact that I almost broke on Thursday when I was hella sick of eating soup for lunch again and wanted to order out. Some of my colleagues saved me later in the afternoon with bread and a slice of pizza. But by Friday I was out of leftovers for lunch and on deadline. I ordered lunch, and I don’t feel bad about it because…life.

I also realized twice during the week that I was not going to be able to go 31 days without some lotion that really worked and some other personal hygiene items, so I spent money in those categories.

I will admit that things get tricky in grocery and drug stores because there are other things like snacks that I don’t need (and foundation because black girl make up problems are real). Impulse purchases happened in both stores this week, and I spent a little more than intended.

As I shared with Reese this week, it occurs to me that this experiment is about more than not spending money. It’s about changing habits. And I think some habits are definitely trying to change.

Though I have spent money on eating out, I can count on one hand how often that has happened and the total spent is less than $20. You might not be able to appreciate that because you don’t know that there were months I spent a smooth $150 on restaurants and fast food alone. I want eating out to be what it should be, an occasional treat, not a means of survival.

Looking back at previous months of transactions, I can see that at times I spent money not only every day, but multiple times a day. In fact, I decided to look back at my transactions from this time last month and it was truly eye opening.

By this time last month I had swiped my debit card 24 times. So far, I’ve only swiped it 12 times. And if that weren’t enough, the amount of time between transactions has lengthened. I spent money on Monday and didn’t spend money again until Friday. For me, that’s a miracle. I don’t want to spend money every day, especially if there is truly no good reason to do so.

I can already foresee that I will spend money during week 3. I need a few items to help my meal plan truly stretch so that I might actually accomplish not eating meals out. There also is a sorority event this weekend that I’m really looking forward to attending which has a cost associated with it. I could stay home, but it’s a good opportunity to make some friends in my new town. There will be times in the future where I will have to say no, but this doesn’t have to be one of those times and I feel pretty good about that.

-Ricks

 

 


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Recap: No Spenduary Week 1

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These damn bunnies had me caught up. #nomnomnom

The first week of No Spend January, also known as No Spenduary, was the spendiest week, but I’m not willing to declare it a total fail.

For one thing, 98 percent of my spending was within the essentials category — groceries and transportation. During the winter months, I typically buy two, 10-ride bus passes, which are usually enough to get me through a month of work. I employ a combination of walking, biking and riding the bus to get to and from home and to assignments. It’s not always convenient, but it saves a ton of money.

Groceries, however, are an interesting area of spending on which I’m keeping a close eye. I think I’ve said it before, and I will probably say it again, but shopping for groceries isn’t my favorite thing to do — except when I can’t shop for anything else.

It is amazing how much fun meal planning and grocery shopping becomes when I decide that I will not spend money in other areas. In one week, I made three trips to the grocery store. Three!

One of the trips was for  what I’d call legitimate grocery items; the second for snacks that I didn’t need; and the third to pick up something for a dinner to which I was invited. And those trips are not without consequence. I’m just about $3 shy of having spent the $75 I’ve budgeted for groceries this month.

It’s a good thing I bought that ramen. I will be eating it. I also spent money on stamps, which came out of my “Stuff I Will Forget” line item in my budget because, well, I forgot.

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Impromptu lunch out. #notlovinit

And then the unexpected. I got a worried phone call from my landlord Sunday afternoon, urging my roommate and I to evacuate our apartment. There was a possible gas leak, and the house needed to be vacant until the problem could be solved. Did I have somewhere I could go, possibly for a few hours?

Sure. I had my laptop and stuff to do, but I hadn’t really eaten anything but a banana for breakfast. It was lunch time. So off to Mickey D’s for food and WiFi. Now, my YNAB buffer is $8.39 smaller. Boo! And my secondary January challenge — Brokepedia’s zero restaurant spending — is off to a rough start. Hiss!

There was a time that this kind of “failure” would make me feel kind of crappy and I would just give up on the whole thing. But in the wise and sage words of the late Aaliyah, “If at first you don’t succeed. Dust yourself off and try again.”

— Ricks

Are you on a No Spend Challenge this month? We’d love to hear your progress. Share your story in the comments. 


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A Too Thrifty Challenge: No Spenduary

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I’m not going to lie.

It’s about to get crazy up in here.

That’s right. I’m doing it again. I know, I know. You’d think I would have learned my lesson after the epic fail that was Oktoberfast.

And you’d be right. I did learn my lesson.

I learned that financial fasting without purpose and reward is a recipe for failure.

I also learned that challenges help me stay motivated and keep my head in the game on this Free By 40 journey. Even when I fail, I just get back up, re-evaluate and move forward.

If I’ve learned nothing over these last few years of digging myself out of this pit is that consistency and persistence pays off. I am the tortoise, but challenges allow me to also be the hare, too.

Plus, the first month of the year is a good time for a budget reset after the frenzy that often is December.

Thus, we have No Spend January, also known as No Spenduary.

The Mission

Spend no money on non-essentials during the month of January. Pay all fixed costs, but keep the essential spending like groceries and transportation to a minimum. That means eating from the fridge and the pantry, and walking and biking as weather permits. Sell anything that you think might turn a profit and freelance, freelance, freelance. Weekly updates. (Might as well keep this blogging momentum going.)

The Goal

Quickly save a mini-emergency fund. Anything above that will be thrown at my next savings goal: a fully funded YNAB buffer by March 31.

The Reward

Given my mindset right now, knowing that my mini-emergency fund is chilling in my bank account is its own reward. But I think my reward for accomplishing my mission will be spending $100 on anything I want.

Care to join me?

 

 


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Food For Thought: Passionate Living On Purpose

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In the early months of living in New Haven, I remember thinking, “My life has fallen back into place. Now what?”

Was I just going to work and come home each day, collapse, and then do it all again?

I was (I am) in love with my new job. It was everything that I had asked the Universe for and more. I was falling in love with my new city and all it’s quirky unpretentiousness. But I recognized this head space — this state of being. I was falling asleep to my life.

Prior to all the crazy changes that took place in 2014, I had been reading a lot about mindfulness and meditation. The concept of being present, in this very moment, engaged and not mentally somewhere else, resonated so strongly with me. With Reese’s help, I practiced daily being present and engaged during the first year of our friendship, which we often call Our Magic Year.

We call it that because not only did we create this blog that year, but we created this safe space for each other where we could dream our biggest, wildest dreams. And the magic was so strong that we believed we could accomplish them.

During that year, I discovered Pema Chodrön. She is my Buddhist guru in my head and reading a lot of her books helped me stay afloat in 2014. I read more Alice Walker and bell hooks. But if 2013 was the Magic Year, 2014 was the Absence of Magic Year — also known as the Shit Storm Is REAL Year.

And by the time the clock struck 2015, I was weary of having survived the most difficult year of my adult life. Truth be told, I was especially weary and wary of dreaming and being creative. I mean, look at where my leap of faith had taken us.

We’re both now reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and listening to her Magic Lessons podcast and the lightbulb has gone off so hard, so many times about our Magic Year and why it was magical.

During the Magic Year, our lives were driven by our creativity. Whether it was styling clothes, cooking, writing and fixing our finances — all of those activities were infused by creativity. And while we were doing some of the things that we chose to do that year for very specific reasons like paying off debt, saving and traveling, other things we did — like starting this blog — because they made us happy.

At some point leading up to 2015, after all I had been through, I had taken what I learned from Pema and twisted it in my mind to think that because nothing was wrong, if there was nothing to fix, then there was nothing I needed to do. I didn’t need to be creative. I didn’t need to have goals and dreams.

For the record, Pema has never said anything of the sort. What she has said essentially is that you don’t have to tell yourself stories to do these things. You don’t need to constantly fret and contort yourself because you don’t think you’re good enough. And no you don’t “need” to do these things, but if you want to, it’s OK. All she was saying is that you can just be here, every second of every day, doing whatever you are doing with your whole self, present in the process.

To that end, I realized that when I’m at work, I am at work. I don’t often wish I’m somewhere else.  I can write and report for hours. At the job that I quit, I used to often wish I was home writing this blog.  But when I was physically putting together a story, I could do it for hours, such was/is my ability to concentrate. Such is my ability to create.

It took Reese to point out to me that I had given up dreaming and setting goals. And when she said it, I felt like she had given me a sharp, stinging slap to the face. I didn’t want to admit it, but I knew she was right. During our Magic Year, I would have just read a bunch of books and got myself together. But reading felt like work and I already had enough of that, no matter how much I liked it.

Passion Photos 2A few weeks into the new year, Reese sent me a link to this thing called the Passion Planner. Though she is a huge user of technology for planning purposes, Reese knows I’m a paper and ink kind of girl.

While I have spent much of my adult life trying to break free of the regimen and routine that I grew up with as an Army brat — and now am often plagued by my failure to plan — I have consistently, over the years, maintained a physical, monthly calendar.

When Reese sent me the link, I liked the story of the planner’s founder Angelia Trinidad. She’s a military brat too and I loved that it was a way to create some short and long term goals, write down actionable steps for achieving those goals, and be challenged to not only meet those goals but to reflect on and revise those goals as needed.

But when I saw the daily breakdown of the day, I was low-key intimidated. I’d never scheduled my time that way before and currently my boss dictates what I do throughout the day, which can make it hard to plan. Also, when I saw the price, I was like, “nawl.” I think if I remember correctly, I told Reese that I probably wouldn’t get much use out of something like that.

For some reason, I decided to give it a try. Maybe it was recognizing that I did need a planner for the year and had not bought one yet. But I went back to the site and saw that if you told people about it you could download the template for free. But like YNAB, after about 30 days of using it, I made the purchase. Now I can’t imagine life without it.

My first Passion Roadmap was a hot mess. I was like a child coloring for the first time and my Passion Plan wasn’t much better. But by writing things down, trying to plan my day, and thinking about how I wanted to spend my time, the Passion Planner helped me to prioritize.

More and more I found myself pulling out the planner to not only get ready for the week, but to look at my goals and what if any steps I had taken to accomplish them. When the six month check-up came, my roadmap looked different and my goals were more refined. The concept of Free By 40 crystalized in my Passion Planner and continues to get sharper every day.

And there is something about writing everything down, even your wildest, craziest, buried deep in your heart dream, that makes it start to materialize.  So many of the things that I have written down have manifested, or are manifesting, that I am stunned when I read them back.

  • I started dealing with a health issue that was really impacting my quality of life and a year later I’m feeling so much better
  • I needed to get on top of some of my mother’s financial affairs and now I have a much better handle on them
  • I wanted to become a better photographer and I participated in a workshop in November
  • I figured out that part of my debt free strategy is a) ignoring conventional wisdom and not using cash and b) moving what is left of my consumer debt into a small personal loan and c) cutting up my credit cards
  • I got back to blogging

But it’s not just my goals that are manifesting. My creativity is making a come back. Though I lamented purchasing a coloring book in another post it helped me reconnect with that part of me that always liked to doodle and color as a child.

My lifestyle in New Haven doesn’t present a lot of opportunities to play dress up, but I still play in makeup just for fun. It doesn’t matter to me that no one, but maybe Instagram, gets to see it. I just like the artistry of a well beat face even if it’s my own.

As a child, I loved to paint fingernails, but as an adult it felt like if I couldn’t go to the nail salon, I certainly wasn’t going to make time to do my own nails. In fact, the art of doing my own nails is very calming to me, meditative even.

Passion Photo3And all of the fun things that I’ve seen done to other people’s Passion Planners, and other kinds of planners, has opened me up to a whole community of people who take planning to a level that seems fun and creative.

So when Angelia started a new Kickstarter campaign to raise money to help the company be able to become a get-one, give-one company, I was down for the cause. She blasted her goal and my special edition #stayGOALden Passion Planner was here before Christmas just like she promised.

In the words of Pastor Troy, “We ready,” for 2016.

— Ricks

We hope you have not only survived but thrived in 2015. And we’d love to hear from all of you. Tell us what goals you’ve set for 2016 and what tools you’re using to help you crush ’em.

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