Too Thrifty Chicks

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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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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.


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When Less is More: Thoughts on a Minimalist Life Pt. 1

I must admit I came to minimalism through tragedy.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my mother was diagnosed with early onset dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. Part of dealing with her diagnosis has been dealing with her stuff: her house, her physical personal belongings, her finances.

I discovered that my mom, retired Army veteran, lover of all media, homeowner and divorcee had an overwhelming amount of stuff! Honestly, if she wasn’t so neat and tidy, I would call her a borderline hoarder.

And I, her only child, had to dive in, when she couldn’t.

The experience of going through her house — our house — and trying to decide what to do with it all broke me down. I cried. Sobbed in fact. I was overwhelmed with the amount of stuff, but also by the memories.

At some point in the process I realized my mama wasn’t ever going to live in her house again. She had no need of all of the things she had accumulated over her now 58 years of life. Me, her only daughter? I haven’t lived in the same city longer than four years. Ever. I’m a nomad, at home every where and no where. Where would I put all this stuff if I kept if for nostalgia’s sake? I don’t have a house and the way this journalism thing is set up, I might never have one.

I’m still dealing with what to do with my mama’s stuff. It’s come a long way since that very first time I went through it, but the process continues. Dealing with her stuff forced me to have a come to Jesus meeting with myself about my own stuff. I had questions.

  • Why did I continue to drag things from my imagined life of living in a permanent space into my actual life of living in temporary spaces?
  • Did I place more value on “owning” a thing, rather than on its function in my life?
  • What would happen to my self-worth, self-esteem if I gave a lot of it away?

These are questions that I am still trying to answer.

In the beginning

When I got my first full-time gig at The Tuscaloosa News, I was stoked. And I wanted a grown up apartment to go with my new job. I did no math. Rent in Tuscaloosa and Alabama can be cheap. I would not discover until two years later how cheap it could be. All I knew was that I could get a whole townhouse for less than $500 a month. But a whole house needs furniture, right? And decorations, and, and, and…..

Yeah. That was a thing. Until I realized how much money I did — or rather, didn’t — make. I had to move to a less expensive apartment across town and try to get my mid-20 something head around the dismal state of my finances. I moved from Tuscaloosa, Ala. to Sarasota, Fla. in 2005, for a job that paid more, but I couldn’t afford to take my stuff, which I’ moved to Georgia. The re-location money wouldn’t cover getting all that stuff to Florida and I was broke. I also didn’t have a place to put it. This was Florida, pre-housing bubble bursting. Apartments were being converted to condos and rents were outrageous compared to Tuscaloosa.

Instead, I shared space with great roommates until I moved to Anniston, Ala. for graduate school a year later. I was moving toward minimalism mostly by circumstance, and a little by choice. I lived for three years without most of my stuff. I told my mama to keep what she wanted for her daycare and sell/giveaway the rest. I was on the road to Montgomery, Ala. vowing to never, ever accumulate that much stuff again.

A broken vow

While I never accumulated a house full of furniture again — Reese can attest to this — I still managed to amass a closet full of clothes, kitchen supplies and books. Oh, and there were the huge pieces of art that I had been dragging around since my summer internship in Zambia, circa 2001! And did I mention the heavy, vintage typewriter? Yeah. That was a thing. My house was mostly a statement in minimalism, but it also didn’t feel like home. It felt empty. Disconnected. I knew I wanted less stuff, but I didn’t have the language to talk about it when everything about growing up seemed to be about getting more stuff.

Two steps forward, two steps back

I got to test these questions again when I moved to the DMV. I left Montgomery, Ala. with only what I could fit into a two-door, 1997 Saturn SC2. Clothes, kitchen supplies, books. I was jammed in that car like toes in too small shoes. And still I ended up leaving a lot of things behind at a good friend’s house.

Though I had successfully managed to give away a ton of stuff, I still couldn’t bear to part with anything more. I mean, for goodness sake, I got my book collection down to four small banker’s boxes. Who does that? I vowed to purchase a Kindle and to never physically turn a page again.

And then I met Reese. This girl loves books. When she became my roommate, she came with books. Her books reminded me how much I enjoyed reading. How much I enjoyed turning a physical page and devouring a book in a 24-hour period. Her books reminded me how good it feels to walk into a book store, especially in Washington, D.C.

Our nation’s capital is home to Sankofa Video, Books and Cafe, The Children of the Sun, Busboys and Poets and Kramerbooks & Afterword Cafe. Not to mention thrift stores where you can find out of print books dirt cheap. (True story: I purged my suitcase while in Memphis because I bought books at a thrift store. Reese still had to bring some of them when she last came to visit.)

Ahh, glorious books. Truth be told, if it wasn’t for Operation Do Better, we would have spent every dime we made on books. The public library near our house, saved our pocket books to be sure.

But then it was time to move. And we both realized that in creating a home together, we had managed to amass a lot of stuff. That troubled the minimalist spirit that had developed in my heart from all my previous moves. Orchestrating a move is not my most favorite thing in the world, even though I have moved a lot in my 35 years. (Hello, Army brat.). I felt it whenever we visited friends, who had these spry, carefully edited apartments. Nothing more, nothing less. We had created an amazing space, but it was starting to feel like too much. Moving helped us both realize just how much it was.

Throw it out

When a friend posted a great article that encouraged us to throw everything away, ish got real. We jumped on a challenge to intentionally get rid of three or four things every day for 30 days. Because I was in transition, I had to modify the challenge. But I’m happy to say that by the time I unpacked my last box at my new space in New Haven, I managed to purge about 200 items over the last month.

While my stuff is still a little bit more than is necessary, it’s not much more, and that feels right. I learned while living with Reese what it means to create a space with intention, and I believe I have achieved minimalism without sacrificing comfort in my new place. I have some thoughts about how to ensure that I continue to travel light and ready for new adventure that I will share in another post.

So, I’ll leave you with these additional question to ponder: If you had an opportunity to pick up your life and move it to another country, state, city would your stuff hold you back? Would you chuck it all for the experience of a lifetime?

My courageous line sister recently did it. Check out her story and blog chronicling her adventures teaching abroad.

Do you consume, therefore you are? Share your thoughts on minimalism in the comments below.

-Ricks


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Body Art and Green Jeans: Resisting Temptation

Guest Contributor: Valerie V. Reed

Anyone who knows me well knows I have a fascination with all things involving ink. Yes. I’m the tattoo’d teacher and proud.

Last tattoo...isn't it pretty?!

Last tattoo…isn’t it pretty  I’m thrifty when it comes to almost everything I spend money on. Tattoos are the exception. I have 11 (or is it 12? I lose count!) and they range from $50 for the itty-bitty stars behind my ear to $350 for the cherry blossom tribal on my thigh.

It’s been over a year since I last went under the needle so it’s time for another…*sigh*… but I can’t. What I want is too big, too expensive and simply does not fit in my Total Money Makeover budget. That makes me kind of sad, but I’ve had to keep it in perspective. I could easily take the $400 out of my savings and splurge. I could rationalize the expense and convince myself that it’s something that will last a lifetime (literally), so it’s worth the money. But I’m not going to do that this time. I GOT GOALS! And my goal is to get from under the credit card debt that I’ve been buried in for way too long. But I know me. I’ll obsess over this next one until I get it. So I’m giving myself 6 months. In June I will have paid off two of the cards that I’m taking on in my money makeover. If I’ve met that goal and I still am obsessing over tattoo #12 (or 13?) in June, then I’ll treat myself. Win-win situation for me!

Last big shopping trip before the spending fast

Last big shopping trip before the spending fast

My next tattoo is a big temptation, but there are small, everyday temptations too. A few weeks ago I went into Marshall’s to make a specific purchase. They have earbuds for $3.99, and I needed some new ones. This particular store has been renovated and the bright lights and pretty colors of the new clothes sucked me in. I was immediately drawn to a pair of emerald-green skinny jeans and an animal print puffy vest. I wasn’t in there for clothes though. It was all about $3.99 earbuds, and they didn’t even have any in stock! I had a proud moment though. Instead of doubling back to get the jeans and the vest so I could feel good leaving out of there with a bag, I left empty-handed.

One thing my Total Money Makeover has shown me is that I’m stronger than I once thought I was resisting temptation. It’s only been a month but I’m doing pretty good. I got goals! I keep telling myself that. For the last 30 days I’ve forced myself to think about every single penny I spend. No ink. No green skinny jeans. No animal print puffy vest. I’m asking myself, “Do I really need that?” and often times the answer is “No, you really don’t.”


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Operation Do Better Month 2: Breathe, Prioritize, Evaluate, Keep it Moving!

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Ricks’ Reflections…

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.

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Reese’s Roundup…

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.

IMG_20130223_092642….and now a word about groceries.

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!

R&R


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Operation Do Better: Month 1 Update

WE SURVIVED!!!!!!!!!!!

That’s right. We made it through 31 days of no Chipotle burrito bowls, no Domino’s spinach Alfredo pizza, and no Indian takeout. We said no to Happy Hours, Groupon purchases, new fitness gear, and trips to IKEA. No trips to Target or the thrift store and absolutely no dry cleaning.

Based on all of this “NO”,  you all probably think we lived a dreary, no frills, no fun life for 31 days and we’re ready to give up all this no spending money business. But you’d be wrong.

While pinching our discretionary income pennies, we cooked, we brought our lunch, we invited our friends over and we generally stayed at home and drank 3 Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s.

But we took the first deliberate steps toward our financial freedom, though there were some setbacks and missteps along the way.

Here’s a roundup of how we did.

Ricks Month 1

The Good: I set out to pay down debt and save, and I got my first win in January. I paid off a small but lingering Firestone bill, which was nearly $500 and there are funds in the emergency account. The biggest thing is that there are funds in that account and I made it through January without spending that money. I wasn’t even tempted, and that’s a first. But since I didn’t have anything to spend it on, there was no actual temptation.

The Bad: I grossly underestimated what it costs to cook every meal and eat everything I cooked. I certainly thought that $100 a month would be more than sufficient. I was wrong.

The Ugly: I believe in reality checks, and I got several in this first month. When you tell the universe that you’re going to do something scary and awesome like, stop spending money on everything you want so that you can pay down your debts and save, stuff happens. Some of it good, some of it not so good. Though I’m going to have another bill pay off victory soon, the next victory will take a bit longer than I’d like to achieve. The reality is the bill is much bigger and even though I want it paid off now, there’s nothing more that I’m willing to give up to make that happen.

Lesson Learned: There will be setbacks and disappointments, but such is life. Go with it. My goal is to not lose focus as I have in the past. If I want to achieve the financial goals that I’ve set for this year, I have the keep the fire in my belly to do this stoked. I’m excited about February and am happy with the progress I’ve made so far.

Reese’s Month 1

The Bad: I’m a graduate student living primarily on a (generous) stipend from the National Science Foundation. My stipend is administered by my university. You’d think after three years they’d be able to get my money right, but alas this is not the case. They’ve messed up and I’m two paychecks behind, which means I’m did not meet the January savings milestones I had hoped, but…

The Good: …all my bills got paid! I still put some money into savings and I stuck to the plan to not spend on frivolous things!  Can I get an amen?! ::insert amen here::

Lesson Learned: I actually consider this (frustrating) setback a blessing. It gave me an opportunity to truly give thanks for what I have. This last 31 days taught me a lot about what I DON’T need. I’m excited about this financial journey and equally geeked about this emerging desire and quest toward simplicity.

Room for Improvement: Collectively, we spent over 400 bucks on groceries this month. Granted, we did cook every meal (that’s a total of  140 lunches and dinners between the two of us. I didn’t include breakfast because neither of us are traditional breakfast eaters). Our original $200 budget may not have been realistic considering what we eat and how much we eat (don’t let these relatively small frames fool you!) but we’re going to do better. We’re armed with coupons for the next shopping trip and a spreadsheet is being developed to keep up with prices at different stores. We have resolved to give up some of our “bougie” eats (sighs) in favor of savings, but since we both love cooking and food, we’re trying to find the right balance for us.

Overall, we’re pleased with what we’ve done. Two months ago, this was just a thought…one that we were not completely sold on. Now, we’re all in and looking forward to every milestone.

Stay tuned…

— R&R