Too Thrifty Chicks

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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.

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Food For Thought: A Gift That Keeps On Giving

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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!


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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

 

 

 


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Food For Thought: Talk Budgets To Me Pt. 1

The holiday season is one of my favorite times of the year and let’s be honest, it is the time of year where I spend money on other people and enjoy it. It’s never a lot of money because in my former life I was a procrastinator and always failed to plan for Christmas even as the decorations were going up in October.

This year followed a similar trajectory. But in October I got a budget, made a plan and now all my Christmas shopping is done almost done.

And you know what I discovered about budgets? Budgets equal confidence. And confidence is sexy. Therefore, budgets are very sexy.

Wait, let me explain.

I clearly have not always felt this way about budgets.

For much of my life, budgeting was about the pain of discipline and the shame of failing.

Budgeting, at least for me, has always been about achieving perfection, and then feeling guilty when I proved time and time again that I’m not perfect.

Budgets made me feel inadequate and unsure of my ability to adult. Budgets were very unsexy.

Until I met a budget that I liked.

After that, I realized budgeting is a lot like dating. Sometimes you’ve got to kiss a few frogs before you get a prince/princess.

So if you haven’t found “The One,” keep looking. Never give up and think through these three things to recognize “The One”:

  • The right budget doesn’t hold your past against you, supports your present being, but is willing to help you plan for the future. You took out too many student loans. You ran up the credit cards. You don’t have enough saved for an emergency. Retirement? You mean I can’t work until I die? Oh. The right budget helps you start wherever you are and says, “You can do this.”
  • The right budget doesn’t make you feel like you’re always doing it wrong. The right budget says, “We can do this better, together.” You budgeted $100 for eating out. You spent $125. You technically “failed.”  A good budget says, “You spent more than you intended. Adjust and move on without guilt.”
  • The right budget puts you in the driver’s seat and empowers you to prioritize what you really want out of life. You say you value experience over things, but when it’s time to snap up that great flight deal, there is nothing but cobwebs and tumbleweeds in your savings account. The right budget helps you put your money where your heart is instead of just where your mouth and feet are. The right budget helps you set goals instead of just limiting your spending.

The reality is that you have to find a system that works for you. Before the advent of phones that are basically handheld computers, I used Dave Ramsey’s monthly cash flow planning sheets and his cash envelope system. I liked the cashflow sheets and kept a binder full of them, religiously, for years.

(If you read the OktoberFast Update post, you know I now use software called YNAB (You Need A Budget) to manage money.)

But I didn’t last more than two months with the cash envelope system, which was supposed to govern my daily money management. I probably had too many envelopes and I was not the best at always writing down what I spent. I also never felt the “pain of spending cash” as Dave Ramsey likes to call it. The only pain I felt was when those envelopes were empty and payday was off in the distance. Empty envelopes just increased my anxiety because the grocery store money was gone, but there was no food in the refrigerator, and I didn’t know why.

When Reese and I started Operation Do Better we were living and cooking together. We also were overspending on our shared grocery budget. We’re a little bougie. We like good cheese and wine. Having one envelope strictly for grocery money and meal planning helped us rein in that spending area.

And that leads me to my next point. No one thing is going to fix your finances. But a number of specific, very intentional steps might. Reese and I had to budget and then develop a strategy for how we met that budget. We saw spending less on groceries as a goal rather than a limit. We saw occasional spending fasts from things like eating out as a way to realign our priorities and to reach goals faster. Reaching that goal allowed us to reward ourselves appropriately. Rewarding ourselves appropriately encouraged us to keep going.

You might be saying to yourself: Ricks, this is all cute and what not, but why are y’all still in debt?

Fair question.

The short answer: When I quit my job, we also quit the system. Not just the system of regular steady income, but the system of managing resources and managing them well. And honestly, while we’re not out of debt, we’re actually only wrapping up year two of actually trying to get out.

You’ll have to read Part 2 of this blog post if you want a more detailed answer. 🙂

Now that we’ve refocused our attention on slaying debt and saving with purpose and intention, basically Operation Do Better 2.0 (3.0 starts next year), I have been stalking these Interwebs for tips and tricks on how to do better on everything from budgeting to meal planning. And what I have discovered between You Tube and various personal finance blogs is a whole community of folks pushing back against the mass consumption of everything, and opting out of the Cult of Credit Card Debt.

The older I get the sexier financial responsibility gets.

— Ricks

(Hat tip to blogger extraordinaire J. Money over at Budgets Are Sexy for inspiring this post.)


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OktoberFast: Failing Forward

Yes, I know it is essentially the end of November and this post is going up on THEE most high, holiest shopping day of the year, Black Friday.  But I promised y’all an update on OktoberFast.

Two months ago, right on this blog, I repented of my backsliding, wayward financial ways. I had seen the error of my money sins during Splurge September and I was going to “Do Better” this time. Or so I thought.

Yeah…so…no.

OktoberFast was kind of an epic fail, and I’m writing this post as a cautionary tale about budgeting, spending and well meaning but failed fasting.

If you don’t remember the OktoberFast Challenge ground rules you can read them here. But the basics of what I was supposed to do vs. what actually happened are below:

Journal my feelings instead of soothing them with “retail therapy.” I journaled 5 times in the month of October. There are 31 days in October and one thing I’m sure of is that I spent emotionally. That’s all I have to say about that. FAIL.

Save at least $300 by the end of the month. I technically accomplished this goal. But keep reading to find out why it’s not really a success. FAIL.

Go to the one grocery store I like, Trader Joe’s, twice a month. I went to TJ’s once, and looking at my checking account, I didn’t spend much money at any of the local grocery stores. FAIL.

Meal prep food I actually like to eat on Sundays. I didn’t “maintain” my grocery store high because I didn’t go to the grocery store. That means I didn’t cook very much. FAIL.

If I “must” eat out, eat a vegetarian meal at a sit-down restaurant. Lies! FAIL.

Use my library card. *in my whiney in my head justification voice* “You can’t check out coloring books from the library.” I don’t know that. I never checked and bought a fancy coloring book and coloring pencils. FAIL.

Replenish my personal hygiene products as needed. I did this, but drugstores are kind of my happy shopping places in New Haven. Book stores and the Kiko Milano makeup store are my top two happy places in the city. Going to a drugstore for a personal care item, invariably meant buying something more than what was on my list. FAIL.

Ricks, You in Danger Girl…

giphy (1)I am zero of seven on OktoberFast goals and it’s all my fault. I pretty much set myself up for failure.

I already knew that continuing to follow a really restrictive spending fast — no clothes, no shoes, no make up/nail polish, no hair products, no books, no coffee out, no credit card use — with no clear and specific reason, and no reward at the end of it was a bad idea.

I even said so in the post.

I figured, if it got me closer to my big hairy, real goal — being Debt Free by 40 — that would be its own reward. Lies! It wasn’t.

Also, the thing that always happens when you recommit yourself to your finances, but don’t actually do anything different, happened because…life and Murphy’s Law.

Serious dental work is my ministry, and I’ve known I needed some work done for some time. In my head, and on paper, I was putting a little something aside for that.

But in fact, something more immediate would always come up — mostly travel that I had already committed myself to before I had committed any actual money.

Of course, I didn’t want to “hurt” my savings that I had just restarted, so when the two created conflict, I found a “savior.”

‘Oh look,’ I thought, ‘I have this 0 percent interest credit card. I can pay the balance when I am paid for my freelance gig.’ Never mind that I had applied for that card to transfer some of the balance of my one credit card to help pay it off faster. It was an emergency. I should have used the emergency money for that.

Duh.

A Life Line

Though this challenge was doomed from the start, some really good things came out of it.

It reignited passion for Operation Do Better. Reese and I started Operation Do Better to change our relationship with our finances, and ultimately leave a legacy. We’ve had some set backs, but we refuse to give up.

It killed my procrastination disorder and my aversion to planning. I was pretty disgusted with my lack of planning for things that I knew were going to happen. I knew I was going to travel to Atlanta in October. I’d known that for months, but I failed to really plan for it beyond purchasing a plane ticket. That lack of planning ended up costing me a significant amount of money because I simply had not considered the logistics. I also was experiencing some frustration with myself for a lack of planning in other areas of my life and I’m taking a more proactive approach to how I do almost everything.

I reconnected with my accountability partners. Reese, our 5509 roomie Tasha and I  have been about this Operation Do Better life for a while now and the many changes that we’ve all gone through in the last few years — moves and new jobs — have left us all a bit shell-shocked financially. The fog is starting to clear and each month we’re working together to get a better grasp on the situation. We check in with each other periodically and I always leave those conversations inspired to keep going.

I learned about You Need A Budget (YNAB). In the words of the software’s creator, Jesse Mecham, “You need a budget. Yes, you do. We all do.” And boy is he right.

Up until now, I have used Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace and Total Money Makeover to address debt, and to some extent to mange money. Reese and I used it to great success to pay off debt a few years ago because we were (and still are) hyper focused on eliminating debt.

But I confess, the day-to-day management of money always seemed to stump me. I was telling my money where to go, but aside from my fixed monthly expenses, those variable, everyday expenses were like a black hole.

When I started my new job, I had to adjust to being paid once a month. I just celebrated my one-year anniversary and I love getting paid this way. I know up front that I have all the money I need to cover my expenses. It makes me feel a sense of control that I have never felt.

On the flip side, being responsible for managing everyday expenses and planning for emergencies and retirement are anxiety inducing. I often start the month with very good intentions, but ultimately end each month feeling desperate. I needed a practical strategy to manage those very different realities in my budget and YNAB has been that for me for the last 60 days.

(Hat tip to  blogger Dad Is Cheap. I stumbled onto this post where he talks about YNAB and decided to give the 34-day free trial a go. Before the trial was over, I bought the software and, so far, it feels like the best $60 I have ever spent.)

So, with only four days before December, I have money in my checking account and peace in my heart. And, y’all it feels so freaking good! I have laid out a plan and refocused on how I can save for emergencies and retirement, pay off what’s left of my consumer debt in 2016, and manage my daily cash flow throughout each month.

The best part is that it doesn’t involve me eating ramen four nights a week, though I love me some ramen.  It also doesn’t mean giving up the few things I consider luxuries. It’s guilt free, and allows me to savor the things and experiences for which I do spend money.

That feels like failing forward to me and it feels like peace and contentment, something I’ve never felt about money. I’m actually excited about budgeting, and that excitement might be contagious. I plan to write more about it so stay tuned.

Happy #StayInTheBlack Friday people!

— Ricks

 

 


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“SCARY SCARY SCARY. Everything is so goddamn scary!”

The title of this post is taken from Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. It resonated with me; so much so that I stopped reading so that I could write about it. The book is about living a creative life, and this line appears after a laundry list of fears that keep people from pursuing creativity for the sake of creativity. I shook my head in agreement with several of them. I thought about how “adulting” often excludes carving out space and time for creating or trying new things.

“SCARY SCARY SCARY. Everything is so Goddamn Scary!”

…except it hasn’t always been. I don’t mean that in the you must be “fearless” in order to accomplish things kind of way. I mean it in the “curiosity can trump perceptions and fear” way. When I was younger, I’d read to anyone who would listen, including cows. Especially cows. I’d drag a chair in the middle of the dirt road. My teacher chair. I’d read to them. Teach them. Point at them to answer a question. Chastise them when they weren’t paying attention. Sometimes my younger sister played along, but I don’t think she fancied cows as much as I did. I also simulated funerals for bugs sometimes (creepy, I know). When I was a fourth grader, I asked for a sewing machine. My first project was a two piece pattered short set. My grandma taught me how to sew in between fussing and my tears. In high school, I ripped up hand-me-down jeans to make them cooler. I wrote really awful poetry full of teenage angst. And then…

“SCARY SCARY SCARY. Everything is so Goddamn Scary!”

…somewhere between being ambitious, figuring out life, and navigating very real structural constraints, I began to see creativity as something separate, something bonus or extra, apart from my “real” work.  Let’s look at blogging, for example. When we created this blog, it brought so much joy to our lives. But then we started to think about ways to make it more “legitimate,” and as soon as we crossed into that territory, blogging became more stressful and less about creating for the sake of creating. As I moved closer to my career goals, I worried that I wouldn’t be considered a “serious” scholar because of my blogging. Creating for the sake of creating became less important. Let’s take photography as another example. I love photography, so I took it up as a hobby. I’m pretty good at it. I started thinking about a photography business to “legitimize” my art. I stopped photography for a while. Somewhere I had internalized that doing for the sake of doing somehow conflicted with my career and life goals. So, I tried to validate my creativity…

“SCARY SCARY SCARY. Everything is so Goddamn Scary!”

…but we have a shit ton of work we have to do, don’t we? Our creative pursuits are part of that work, but in a different way. They sustain us. Keep us curious. Push back against the voices of perfectionism that tell us we shouldn’t do something if we aren’t the very best at it.  A couple years ago, I decided I wanted to learn how to rollerblade. My friend Bridget gifted a pair of rollerblades to me. I rolled around the basement for several hours. Finally, I said fuck it. I’m going out to skate. While my buddy Keila rode her bike, I skated, weaving in and out of people.  I had a blast. Even though I didn’t know how to use the brake. When I needed to stop, I’d roll into the grass or railing. I busted my ass a few times. I laughed a lot. I tried. I still don’t know how to break, but I’m no longer afraid to skate.

“SCARY SCARY SCARY. Everything is so Goddamn Scary.”

…until we try. Until we accept that sometimes, we just need to create or try things just because. No validation needed.

-Reese


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When Less Is More: Goodbye Splurge September. Hello, OktoberFast!

In May, I wrote down a goal that I want very badly to achieve. I want to be Free By 40. Debt free that is. And since that time I have been plugging away at that goal. From May to August, I’d like to say I was pretty frugal. I also felt like I was clear in my commitment to the concept of minimalism (and you can read about that here, here and here), as it had organically developed in my life.

I had implemented a spending fast. No clothes, no shoes, no make up and nail polish, no hair products, no new books, no coffee out and absolutely no credit card use. (And if you know me even a little, this spending fast looks like no fun. I’m a thrifty chick, but this probably was even a little too rigid for too long.)

At first it was easy. I had splurged a little at a couple of thrift stores at the beginning of the summer so I didn’t need any new summer clothes. I’d given up on growing out my hair so I had no real need for hair products. It was summer time and far too hot to wear much makeup and ride my bike. And we have coffee in the office so no need to go out. I also had cut up one credit card and took the other out of my wallet. Out of sight = out of mind, was the way I saw it.

I had even started back cooking more, though eating out and not going to the grocery store enough was/is still one of my biggest vices.

But then came September — my birthday month — and things got a little ridiculous very quickly. To be honest, I went into my 36th birthday a bit melancholy. I don’t feel any kind of way about getting older, but I did feel down.

After working so hard to wrap up everything at work, and to save money so I could pay cash for my trip with Reese to Abu Dhabi and Dubai — a trip that we’d been planning since the end of last year — I was feeling a little flat.

So I started spending to get things I “needed” for the trip. We didn’t do a lot of shopping during our trip, but there was always something to pay for because when you’re on vacation you’ve got to eat, you’ve got to get to places and you’ve got ish to see. I got very comfortable spending money, very quickly.

While I thoroughly enjoyed our trip, that nagging sadness I was feeling before we left was waiting on me when I got back. I came back to a house that had almost no food in it, and since going to the grocery store is not my ministry, I cooked what little food I had (kale, y’all. All I had was kale), and ate out the rest of the time.

Eating out a lot seems to always result in low energy for me, and while I finally dragged myself to the grocery store and cooked some things that made me feel better, I was still feeling down. The alarms started to go off faintly. I was in a rut, a funk. I had to do something. But what?

Instead of spending a lot of time journaling through what I was feeling, I took a different, certainly less helpful approach. I watched a lot of YouTube videos and spent a bunch of money that I hadn’t intended to spend.

Splurge September, as I am now officially calling it, didn’t put me in the poor house, nor did it actually amass me a bunch of stuff that I can’t consume. But I quickly realized that it wasn’t helpful to my goal of being in the “free” house. Hence OktoberFast 2015. No it’s not me giving up beer in October. That would be just plain cruel.

For the 31 days of October I’m going to refocus my energies on my being Free By 40. I’m going back on my spending fast (yes, the one I previously said was too rigid), but this time I want to intentionally focus on what I can do instead of focusing on what I can’t do.

Ricks’s OktoberFast  Challenge Can Dos:

  • Journal my feelings instead of soothing them with “retail therapy.” Shopping isn’t therapy. It’s succor. Therapy is therapy and there is no substitute for that.
  • Save at least $300 by the end of the month. My savings game is off — way off. It’s time to get back on track.
  • Go to the one grocery store I like, Trader Joe’s, twice a month. I like to eat. I even like to cook. But going to the grocery store? Nope. I know I could get groceries delivered, but I actually like shopping at TJ’s. Though it’s in another city, I’m willing to make the extra effort to go there because I actually will eat what I buy.
  • Meal prep food I actually like to eat on Sundays. I usually go to the grocery store on a Sunday so it makes sense that when I get back I should cook while I’m still on my Trader Joe’s high.
  • If I “must” eat out, eat a vegetarian meal at a sit-down restaurant. I like to eat out, but far too often I’m grabbing something quick, made from questionable ingredients. My thinking here is that I will be forced to consider whether I a) have the time, and b) really have a hankering for eating something that I could make myself.
  • Use my library card. I like libraries. I want to get back to being more intentional about using them this month.
  • Replenish my personal hygiene products as needed. There is no need to stockpile. Period.

Reese is in on the OktoberFast Challenge, so look for a post from her about her recent move to Atlanta and how she’s holding down expenses for the next 31 days.

And that’s it.

Well no that’s not exactly it. There are the usual round of spending “no’s” mentioned above, plus no YouTube “haul” videos, but I will evaluate if the “do nots” are too restrictive at the end of the month.

It would be easy to give up on this Free By 40 goal, but I know the keys needed for getting into the free house. Discipline and persistence. I might not always win on the discipline side, but persistence is my ministry. I’m trusting all of you to hold me accountable, so I will be posting an update at least once a week.

Watch me work.

— Ricks

Below are three people I’m watching (instead of haul videos) that are helping me “fall” back in love with my finances. (See what I did there?)

Lydia Senn: I started watching Lydia over the summer. I should have been watching her in September instead of all those haul videos. While I was getting all splurgy in September, she and her family were on a No Spend September challenge. Check out her blog Frugal, Debt Free Life.

Focused Spender: This channel popped up in my feed one day when I was sad and binge watching YouTube videos. This video about the net worth of black women made me want to get back on the Operation Do Better train.

Cait Flanders: Check out her blog Blonde On A Budget because…life goals. She paid of $30,000 in debt, and then decided there was still more to do.