Too Thrifty Chicks

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A Too Thrifty Challenge: No Spenduary

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I’m not going to lie.

It’s about to get crazy up in here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mission

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

The Goal

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

The Reward

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

Care to join me?

 

 

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Food For Thought: 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. 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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Doing Better: Christina’s Story, Part 2

Christina Walker is Doing Better and this week she’s sharing the part two of who she’s re-writing her financial history and changing her family tree. Missed the first part of Christina’s Story? Check it out here.

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First steps to freedom

In 2007/2008 I got my head together again.  Thanks to some sage advice, I moved my money from a traditional bank to a credit union and sat down with a financial adviser to talk about cleaning up my credit and becoming debt free. In 2009, I met my husband David Walker Jr.  Early in our relationship, we talked about working jobs that we loved and having the financial freedom to change our family trees and travel the world.  We both had a mindset of not wanting to be in debt before we met each other so there wasn’t much fighting over money.  We did have one struggle that led to our decision to merge our separate bank accounts.  We once took a trip and it was a hassle trying to see who would pay for what and out of what bank account so shortly after we had to figure out a new and better system.  Today everything comes out of one account. It’s so much easier with tracking and accounting.  His money is mine and mine is his. We even have wiggle room in our budget for our own personal ‘blow’ money.

We then started reading books by Suze Orzman, Dave Ramsey, Robert Kiyosaki and other personal finance gurus to develop a strategy to become millionaires.  With the help of our friends, we projected our goals for the next five years. We jotted that information down in a notebook that we called our “Goal Book” and we have worked to meet those goals every year since.  But the major thing we did was put ourselves on a budget for a whole year and kept track of everything we spent money on.  By everything, I do mean EVERYTHING! We kept receipts for all purchases, small or big, for a whole year so we could see exactly where our money was going. Each receipt was kept in its own envelope and in categories which helped a lot with our taxes and our knowing where we spent too much so we could ultimately cut back.

Mine + Yours = OURS

246589_4070503641194_1466817754_nDavid came with his own baggage but not much. He had student loans, bills and a car that just broke down on him. But he  lived in a family house that was paid for and didn’t use credit cards anymore.   So most of his overdue bills were small things like a doctor’s bill, which was  easily payable.  But since the universe likes to make things interesting, he got laid off and my car broke down, forcing us to shop for a new/used car.  Now, I was strapped with a car note again.

But we were determined and we loved each other very much. We also both really wanted to see each other be successful.   So with the help of our credit union, lots of financial books and reading financial blogs, we devised a strategy.   We wrote down every debt we owned, from smallest to largest, and decided to do a debt snowball. We redoubled our efforts to cut down on unnecessary spending and put any leftover money we had each month toward bills.  David worked really hard to get back in school and to find employment.  I worked two jobs at one point to pay down bills. He’s now working two jobs to pay down bills while I take a break.

Real sacrifice, real reward

There have been a ton of tough moments.  When we first started all of this, we stopped socializing when the events 228166_10150203044152720_5542172_nrequired us to come out of pocket.  Now, we can afford to eat out and go on trips but that’s not what our goals entail.  Our goals require us to be frugal and sacrifice so that we could do the things we want to do later. Once a friend of ours said when we declined yet another invite,  “Y’all ain’t broke. Why don’t you come hang out?” We stuck to our guns.   In our minds, we were broke.  Not poor.  Being broke, for us, meant we had bills to pay off and life ahead of us.  It mattered that we stop spending thousands of dollars on trips every year or eating out for every occasion or having a lavish wedding.

We paid cash for our wedding.  We only had 20 people in attendance because that’s all we could afford.   People were upset, especially family, but no one offered to pay for a bigger wedding so we made due with what we had.   It was better than we expected and it was classy.   We are always complimented on our wedding photos and we’ve even had friends use some of our ideas to plan their own small, inexpensive weddings.

Paying it forward

Throughout the entire process, I have encouraged my friends and family to jump on the “freedom bandwagon” many times. Some got really excited and started their own plan and some didn’t.   In the end some relationships fell to the wayside because it was either their time to end, or maybe we differed on how David and I were now living our lives.  But we were serious when it came to being financially sound and we wanted to make sure our lives reflected the walk we were talking.

Some of the best moments so far have been paying off our new $18,000 truck — yes, it was too high but we needed a truck to carry around our two dogs and other equipment. It took us less than three years to pay it off because we paid bi-weekly and made extra payments for two years. All of that culminated in us being able to make a final $5000 cash payment to pay the sucker off.  We got David’s student loans out of default and paid back my four 401(k) loans. We  paid off an old overdue but significantly high energy bill from David’s family house, paid off all credit card debt, increased our credit scores by 100-plus points and reduced the interest rate on my loft from 6% to 4%.

Envisioning a beautiful future

382994_10150416391337720_776731016_nSince 2009 we’ve paid off  a little over $67,000  in consumer debt.  That may not seem like much and we still have a ways to go, but  it’s been cash since then and we’re completely free from a lot of the burdens we use to have. Having  each other first and foremost as accountability partners helps a lot. Writing down our goals in our notebook and creating a vision board also keep us motivated.   We know that ultimately we want to open our own business and have children, and we want to make sure we are financially ready to do those things before making those big leaps.  So the beautiful future we envision keeps the fire going…

Want to know Christina’s secret to slaying debt and saving for the future? Check out the last installment of her story next week!