I was just looking through some of the older posts on our Operation Do Better Facebook group. One of our contributors posted about some unexpected outlays of money that were going to derail her spending plan for the month of February. Her comments about her setbacks got my wheels turning and thinking about a conversation I had with Reese about not going into panic mode when everything goes wrong financially in the face of your doing everything right.
I technically was in a similar situation. A trip to the dentist for my six months check-up, resulted in the announcement that I was going to need a root canal re-treatment. Unexpected $1,000 bill? Oh joy. For months my car has needed a catalytic converter, a $500-$600 repair that I’m going to have to make if I want my car to pass inspections in Virgnia. Cha-ching! Add having my taxes done (I know I can do them for free, but this just works), a blogger conference and sorority dues, and before you know it all the plans that I had to tell my money what to do and where to go, were getting derailed pretty quick. I can’t lie, these kinds of problems give me mild panic attacks. In fact, writing this out made me feel a little light headed. The old me would have just blindly paid all these people and eaten Ramen noodles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for kicks, or worse, if I had the money on a credit card use that.
But I had to (and I keep having to) step back and reevaluate. I have to say “Self…” my self says, “Hmm?” (lol) “Prioritize!” To reach your goals and not be sidetracked, you have to prioritize, which is the next big lesson I’ve learned in this whole thing. The first big lesson was that I really don’t need a whole lot to be happy.
The big unexpected bill:I had to get real with myself about what needs to be taken care of now and what can wait. Right there in the dentist’s office I decided to take a deep breath, and then pause. My tooth wasn’t hurting and it wasn’t necessary for me to address it a week after the issue was discovered, so the procedure will wait until my insurance company provides and estimate. Doing that allows me a chance to at least take a look at how I am directing my money around the time that the procedure should occur, what kind of damage I can expect and how I can spread the pain over at least two months by negotiating a payment arrangement with my dentist’s office. Handled.
The not so unexpected car repair: I had already worked out how I would pay for the repair to my car –it will wait until April or May. I realize I’m taking a risk, but I’m also fully prepared to rely on public transportation to get to work if my 16 year old car decides to give up the ghost. I do not plan to replace this car should that happen. Handled.
Blogging While Brown Conference: This item was an unexpected addition to our travel itinerary, but it also is an investment. If we’re serious about what we’re doing, we believe it’s worth it to put some time AND some treasure into it. Since the only way to save is to pay the early bird fee, I’ve decided to forgo an additional payment on my Bank of America loan and eat this cost. I could take the money out of my travel fund, but since I already have planned trips coming out of that fund, I had to shift gears.
The Aftermath: Changing course for that one additional payment means my payoff date for BOA might be pushed back another 30 to 45 days, and the start of my debt snowball for my Discover card pushed to June, but none of these changes impact my top three finance priorities: giving, saving and debt elimination. At the end of the day I’m doing the first two at maximum capacity and number three I’m still paying more than the minimum.
The third big lesson I’ve learned in these two months is patience. I didn’t get into this mess over night and I’m not going to get out of it unless I a) hit the lottery, which I don’t really play and b) someone dies and leaves me a lot of money in the near future (too morbid to think about).
If I’m real with myself it’s probably going take me three years to completely eliminate my debt, including my student loan. That is unless I go on an even stricter break from spending that would cut out cable, direct TV, selling my vintage car and not traveling for a year. I don’t think I’m ready for that. But another month of this? Bring it on.
Onward: March is a month where I’ll get to systematically be allowed to spend some money. This is a planned break, but I’m nervous. And I know when I’m nervous it’s time to plan. I sat down and plotted my spending for the month. I’ll have sorority activities and it looks like my dental insurance will cover the majority of the expense for my procedure.
Here’s how it went down in February….
Debt Reduction: I paid about 1/3 of my remaining credit card balance. If life goes according to plan, I’ll pay the remaining balance in March (cross your fingers). Savings: Soooo I didn’t add as much to my savings as I intended, 1) because I put more $$$ toward the CC debt and 2) I decided to do the Ragnar trail run and attend the Blogging While Brown conference (see next note). Unplanned spending: I had originally said I wouldn’t do a Ragnar Relay this year, but I was feeling like I’d regret it if I didn’t. I ran the fall race last year and had a less than stellar experience, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to run the inaugural Ragnar Trail race in the Appalachians with the awesome ladies who make up the team. Each of us running 30+ miles over two days, camping in the Appalachians, and sitting around a campfire….that’s what I call perfection. Who wouldn’t want that?! I consider the Blogging While Brown conference as professional development. If we’re going to be serious about this blogging thing, I want to learn from some of the best out there. Giving: Around mid-month I reconfigured my finances to include more systematic giving. Until this month, I wasn’t focused on charitable giving, unless people asked me to donate to causes close to their hearts. I wanted to change that, so I allocated 10% of what was left of my income to charitable giving, and I feel good about that.
Things I need to work on: On top of the 10% I allocated, I ended up donating more $$$ to charity — money I hadn’t planned for. I certainly want to give myself the space to give as compelled, but I need to remind myself that giving to XYZ cause is going to mean I can’t put money towards debt reduction or savings. I need to be very proactive in examining exactly which pot of money that’s going to come from. Lessons learned: Checking my account, writing down expenses, reallocating when necessary works for me. Legalism or strict rules have very little place in my life, so I’ve learned that while I’m wholeheartedly committed to the basic tenets of this fast — we’re still cooking all our meals, no happy hours, no Chipotle, no mani/pedis, no gym membership, etc.– I had to reflect on the things that are important to me, and in my original estimations, I’d left off one: charitable giving. It means I might have to alter my goals, but I feel good knowing I’m investing in humanity.
Soooo….the thrifty chicks ate like a family of four in January. When I tallied our grocery receipts, the total came to $453.45 (I know, shameful). This month we did WAY better. We spent a total of $286.02, which includes 17.95% savings from coupons and sales prices (yay!). (Note: If you’re wondering why we know our % savings, it’s because we downloaded this nifty grocery calculator/tracker. You can get it HERE). For March, our goal is to come under $250. Do you think we can do it? Wish us luck! And feel free to check in to make sure we’re not spending too much time in the ice cream aisle!
Are you taking a break from spending or drastically reducing how much you spend? Tell us how it’s going!