Too Thrifty Chicks

Think.Thrift.Create


Leave a comment

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

 

 


1 Comment

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


1 Comment

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

 

 


6 Comments

A Too Thrifty Challenge: No Spenduary

giphy (3)

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?

 

 


Leave a comment

Food For Thought: Passionate Living On Purpose

Passion Photo 1

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.


3 Comments

Food For Thought: A Gift That Keeps On Giving

giphy (2)

How I often feel at Christmas. Sigh.

I was talking to Reese the other day about a mini-revelation I had about Christmas saving and spending.

I got a word of encouragement from Vic over at Dad is Cheap on my OktoberFast post where he mentioned how ultimately YNAB could alleviate the need for spending fasts because it helps you refine your values and spend your money accordingly.

In my response to Vic, I wrote about how YNAB had helped me belatedly set aside money for Christmas for a handful of tiny humans in my life — something I value — and then immediately regretted it. Maybe regret is too strong of a word, but I regretted my response because in my quest to give physical/material gifts to the these tiny humans, I realized that I might be undermining a few things that are more important to me including their well-being.

We’re going to take the scenic route on this one, so hang on.

If you don’t know, I’m single and child-free, so the only person I have to keep alive every day is me. I share a living space, which helps me keep my basic costs low. Aside from my monthly obligations for debt, my money is my own. My favorite thing to do with my money is travel.

But one decision — setting aside money for Christmas gifts — made me question what I value. I’m the cousin and play auntie who gifts books and educational toys. Books have always and still do mean so much to me and I want that for every kid to whom I am connected.

But what I really want is to position myself financially so that when these kids go off to college, they can afford their books without costly student loans. I want to position myself so that if they’re a little short, I can help. They still might need a part-time job, but they won’t need to go into debt AND work five jobs like I did during one semester of college.

The other part of me started to think: if I never received another physical gift, I wouldn’t be sad. And if these aforementioned tiny humans never received another book from me specifically they might not be sad either. As far as I know, they all have what they need and probably more than they could ever want at this super young stage of life.

I personally love make up, nail polish, clothes and shoes because I like to play dress up and change my look. I also like stationery, journals and art supplies because they feed my creativity. While I might be happy to receive any of these things as gifts, I hate clutter. And when I have more than I can use, I reach a tipping point, and will get rid of everything that isn’t nailed down to get my balance back.

I came to the conclusion that while I know these gifts will be appreciated they also might be adding unnecessary clutter to the lives of the families of these tiny humans. I wouldn’t want them to add clutter to my life. That would make the gift feel like a burden.

So Ricks, hold up. Are you saying you didn’t get these babies any gifts?! Slow down. I’m going to get there.

My intention was to take the money I set aside and add more money this pay period, but then the question popped in my head: Why are you trying to spend so much?

As I told Reese, I realized that I wanted to spend more because I felt like the gifts had to equal some invisible standard that I had foolishly set for myself.

Given that I don’t have the added financially responsibility of keeping a whole extra human alive, I believed I should be able to do more. And if I had been a bit more wise with my money in the past, I could do more. But I haven’t been. That’s why we’re all here today.

For some unconscious reason, I believed that my gifts should reflect that I’m That Chick.

But then that would mean that the gift was about the giver and not the recipient. That was about me, not about the tiny humans. Shame on me. One lump of coal.

Though I wasn’t planning to use a credit card to buy my gifts, I was still planning to spend above my means. I was setting aside money in my budget in a way that a) was stretching me a little too far and b) didn’t reflect my values.  Two lumps of coal.

The reality is I’m trying to pay off debt so that future me can help future them. I want to help them not only go off to college, but possibly go on their first international trips, buy their first homes or even start a business.

So, tiny humans the gifts will be small this year and maybe the next few years after that, but I will make it up on the back end. Promise.

— Ricks

P.S. Consider the Four Gifts Rule for Giving that I learned from this YouTube channel Do It on A Budget: Give something the person wants, something the person needs. Give something to wear and something to read.

Happy Holidays!


Leave a comment

Food For Thought: Talk Budgets To Me Pt. 2

So I promised y’all a longer answer about why Team Too Thrifty Chicks is still in debt, (read this post if you just got here and welcome) two years after the start of Operation Do Better. And here it is from 1/2 of the team.

The Long Answer

2014 was rough on our ability to adult. For a time, after I quit my job, we budgeted, but the reality of a drastically reduced income meant that we did so with limits and no goals other than survival.

And because we had no goals, there was no fun and there was nothing to reward. We were in survival mode.  Survival mode without a strategy for how to get out paralyzes you. You can’t think about tomorrow when there is only today. It kills your will to think about the future.

Hindsight informs me that quitting my job might have been was very good for my emotional, spiritual and mental well-being, but it was hell on a sista’s bank account. Reese and I were still on Dave Ramsey’s Baby Step 2: Debt Snowball.  We still are. We had not reached Baby Step 3: Save three to six months living expenses.

Had I had that kind of savings when I quit my job, I might have stuck out freelancing a bit longer. Ideally, I would not only have saved that money, but I would not have left my job unless I had a certain number of regular clients, or a real strategy for how to get more.

By the time I realized that I was in the middle of the ocean in a very leaky boat, and I only had my two hands to bail out the water, it was almost too late. I am not going to lie, had my depressive state not broken when it did, had I not accepted that this experiment had failed, and had I not realized that I needed more than a bigger bucket, but I needed to be saved, I would have drowned.

Recovery Is A Process

When I finally landed a job, the funny thing is that survival mode didn’t immediately end. I thought returning to the Land of the Steady Paycheck would allow me to get back on the Operation Do Better train. But things were different. Reese was in Memphis and I was New Haven. It was the first time since we became friends that we had to “do better” on our own. Solo Adulting is not as much fun as Team Too Thrifty Chicks Adulting. Just sayin.

For probably the first three months, I barely spent money. My student loan was still deferred, so I often had money left over. I also was scared to spend it. Funny thing about that is when the student loan payment kicked back in the following February, I suddenly felt like I didn’t have enough money to get through the month.

But even crazier than that, at least to me, is that knowing that my paycheck was going to show up like clockwork eventually freed me of the fear of survival mode for about 3/4 of the month. That means I always had this euphoric, “I’m rich” feeling when I got paid, but by the end of the month I was pinching pennies like a miser.

I also had low-key started using my credit cards again. I had started using the only one I still had when I was in survival mode after quitting my job with no savings. We had saved cash for our trip to South Africa, and I had bought my plane ticket before I quit my job. But life after that trip for me financially was a downward slide.

One of the few smart things that I did do before I quit my job was consolidating the last of my credit card debt through a loan from Lending Club. The interest rate was lower than my remaining credit card and knowing that they snatch the money out of my account every month meant I couldn’t play around with not having the money to pay the bill. Not that I do.

I automated all my monthly payments a long time ago so I have a stellar on-time payment history. The other reason I liked the loan is because unlike a credit card, you can’t spend against it. I also reduced the credit limit on the one credit card I kept. I still ran it up, but not as high as I could have.

If At First You Don’t Succeed

When I got the new job, I refocused on paying off that one credit card. And by refocus, I mean I applied for and received a zero interest for 18 months credit card that I could transfer some of the balance from the card I had.

My thinking was that I would pay down a portion of this balance and avoid some of the high interest for the card that I still had. The plan was never to use that credit card except to pay down the balance quickly and transfer more of the other balance before the interest free period ended. The reality is that that never happened. Though I set up payments that would have paid the card off long before the 18 months were up, I couldn’t resist the temptation of using the card.

I was shelling out all this money, but the needle wasn’t moving. And to be honest, when I really look back, I wasn’t doing anything different about it. Sure, I was still freelancing, but I wasn’t being intentional about how I used my steadiest resource — my regular pay check — so you know I wasn’t being strategic about extra income. I invariably used that money for travel that I had committed myself to, but hadn’t properly planned, and to CYA when I had spent money but was falling short.

Reese, Tasha and I started talking about money — how to save it and how to grow it — during the summer months. But it was more in a post mortem fashion, after all the damage had been done. (To read a funny, but serious spending analysis I wrote for the month of July and shared with my girls click here.)

I realized I was quickly slipping into my old financial habits. I had already been down that road and I knew there wasn’t anything but a ramshackle house at the end of it. That road led to broke. I wanted to get serious again about slaying debt and saving, but it seemed like the old tried and true — $1,000 emergency fund, attack the debt — wasn’t enough. I wanted it, but I didn’t feel that excitement to go after it. I needed something to help me mentally engage in the process and align my behavior accordingly.

When we first started Operation Do Better, Reese and I spent a lot of time reflecting on our personal money management histories. But we also talked extensively about what we were taught about money from our families: the good, the bad, the ugly and the just plain ridiculous.

We come from two different financial backgrounds, but we still have similar fears around not having enough money to give, to save, to exist. Operation Do Better was about not only addressing those fears, but making sure that financially our whole family could do better when we’re little old ladies rocking Chuck Taylor’s in assisted living.

I’ve learned over the last couple of years of focusing on my finances that success in this game is mostly behavioral and psychological. What you think about money influences how you behave with money. And though I wanted to do better, my mindset was doing broke. I’ve been working in some capacity since the summer after I graduated from high school, but I don’t have any money that is 18 years old. You feel me?

I’m 36 now. If the Universe allows me to live at least another 18 years, I want to have money that is 18 years old.

When I embarked on what you now know as the failed OktoberFast Challenge, I did a few smart things that have benefited my overall life, not just my finances. As I mentioned in the post, I gave up the procrastination ministry. I have this wonderful planner called the Passion Planner, that I will write about in another post. But it is saving my life and helping me reach my goals.

It’s a struggle every day not to procrastinate, but I plan everything that can be planned. I meal plan and guard against eating out by keeping a few things on hand that mimc eating out. I haven’t ordered a pizza at all in during the month of November. I only ordered pizza once during the month of November. (I was hangry Nov. 30 after covering a three-hour meeting!) New Haven-style pizza is something that I have come to enjoy so much. Resisting it, at least for me, is akin to walking on water.

Like I also mentioned in a previous post, I stopped watching so many YouTube videos where people show you all the stuff they buy, and started watching a ton more about how to save money, plan and organize. I also bumped up the amount of email traffic I get about personal finance. Even if I don’t do anything with the advice in those emails, just reading them helps me psychologically stay focused on my goals.

But most importantly, I got a budget that works. When I wrote about the OktoberFast Challenge, a number of people liked the post. As I checked out their pages, I discovered the blog, Dad Is Cheap, that led me to YNAB (You Need A Budget). And more than 60 days later, I’m hooked. I religiously watch the videos on the YNAB YouTube channel — Whiteboard Wednesdays are my favorite.

It was there that I learned that 60 percent or more of people live paycheck-to-paycheck regardless of their income. That resonated with me because I know personally that it is absolutely true. I’ve made as little as $23,500 in my career and as much as $60,000 and the results were the same: BROKE! YNAB’s Four Rules has been a game changer.

I also listen to the YNAB podcast and read the blog. I love the mindfulness that the software and the phone app interjects into the budgeting process. And I love how the software functions like those physical cash envelopes that used to cause me so much anxiety back in the day — minus the anxiety, of course. As I mentioned in the OktoberFast update post, this is the first time in months that I have approached the end of the month confident that I have more money than month. A budget that works gives you confidence. Confidence is sexy. Therefore, budgets are very sexy.

Ironically enough, Dave Ramsey, the man who helped us get this party started, has also adopted technology that I have heard is kind of similar to YNAB, called Every Dollar. But I’m not switching to it because I am super happy with YNAB. I am still following my own right-for-me version of Dave’s Baby Steps. Right for me means focusing on Baby Steps 1-3 and completing them as quickly as possible in the next three years.

I have no interest in buying a house so I’m not saving for a down payment. As long as I live where public transportation is a real thing, I won’t own another car. The way I see it, my more than $28,000 in student loans is my house and car. And my goal is to pay that off by the time the clock strikes 40 on Sept. 13, 2019. I could probably pay it off a little sooner, but I was fortunate enough to only have federally subsidized student loans and to consolidate and lock in my ultra low interest rate of 3.375 percent years ago.

My monthly payment is incredibly low in the grand scheme of student loans. God bless you, but some of y’all got student loans that make my soul hurt. I also have been paying my student loans for a long time, and while I want to be rid of them, I am in that magic place that means even if I take another 10.5 years to pay them off (not going to happen), the end is nigh. Paying them off sooner obviously would save me money, but it is more advantageous to me, I think, to get out of consumer debt and save aggressively for emergencies and retirement during my peak earning years.

I work in the volatile world of journalism, where people get laid off no matter how good they are at their jobs. I’ve managed to stay ahead of the ax, but if for some reason I don’t, I want to be prepared. I also think I want to work for myself again, but I want to know that I can build a business and still eat. Because my loans were federally subsidized, I can always have them deferred if something happens to my income.

So I’ll keep you guys posted. And feel free to check in with me. Knowing you guys are watching is extra incentive to make you proud.

— Ricks