Too Thrifty Chicks

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When Less Is More: Thoughts on a Minimalist Life Pt. 2

I wrote a post almost a year ago about minimalism and promised y’all a part 2.  And here it is three months after I wrote it in June. (My bad y’all ’cause…life.)

My first post, which you should read here, was all about the genesis of how I came to live with less stuff in my life.

In brief, my journey to minimalism was about equal parts tragedy (dealing with my mom’s Alzheimer’s); necessity (the vicious cycle of living with debt and fluctuating finances) and desire (my quest for peace, presence and being awake to my life).

I have been going through this awakening process since Reese and I started this blog. Though we started Too Thrifty Chicks to curate a space where two quirky black girls could dream, and create our own virtual reality of funky style and sustainability, it has become soo much more.

As we’ve gone through the process of fixing our finances through Operation Do Better we’ve expanded what it meant to us to be Too Thrifty Chicks.

Spending less money necessitated shifting our focus on spending — even thrifty spending — to creating. We stopped poppin’ tags at our favorite thrift stores and started creating meals at home that we looked forward to eating together.

We created experiences with friends that costed very little. We even got to go on our dream trip to South Africa for which we paid cash.

This process of awakening also helped me think about my emotional attachment to stuff, and what it looks like to be focused on experience.

I love to travel, and I have either been to, or lived in more than half of these United States. I’ve visited our continental neighbors to the the north and the south. I’ve been to Africa, Europe and Asia and to three islands in the Caribbean. And I still desire to see more.

But I’ll be honest.

A lot of my pleasure travel was about escape. Being a journalist is as fun and exciting as it is emotionally and mentally draining. It can be particularly so when you love your job, and when you hate it, or when you live in a place that you’ve never embraced.

I confess that I was addicted to travel because I just didn’t want to be wherever I was, and I was always trying to get some place bigger and better than “here”. I also had this fantasy in my head of being a nomad who lived in exotic places abroad, and spending so much time living in southern states was cramping my style.

So I went on many a broke trip to escape my ho-hum life, and came back with the requisite knick knacks that proved I’d been somewhere. Some things I’d give away. Other stuff I simply held on to, feeding the fantasy of one day having a really nice house where I could display all my world treasures, and racking up a shit ton of debt along the way.

Movin’ On Up

When I had the opportunity to move to the DMV, I intentionally set out to do things differently. Living in Montgomery taught me that I could enjoy my life and where I lived even if it wasn’t the place I most wanted to live. I could make the best of it.

But now I was truly moving within spitting distance of a place I’d always wanted to live, Washington, D.C. I was going to be making more money than I’d ever made in my career. This was going to be great.

And in many ways it was. But just not in the ways I thought it would be. My job included travel, which was cool but exhausting, and made me think about whether I truly liked traveling and living out of a suitcase. My determination? I liked travel for pleasure, not for work.

Also, the realities of the cost of living and commuting in the DMV were staggering and I had to make some real grown up choices. I could have lived in the city, or lived in one of the ‘burbs for slightly (and I do mean slightly) less money. I chose the ‘burbs.

When I realized my mother needed more direct care, she moved in with me, and we moved into a townhouse. When I determined that that was not going to work, she went to live with my aunt; Reese became my roommate. When my old car died, instead of buying another one, I chose to give it up and use public transportation.

Little-by-little these things were preparing me for the life that I live now. When I left my job to work for myself, Reese and I changed our lifestyles drastically. We pinched all the pennies. I worked a temp position on the side while freelancing. She was babysitting and working a part-time position as a researcher in Baltimore County. We were miserable.

By the time that Reese knew she was heading to Memphis, I knew that I didn’t have the kind of financial cushion necessary to work for myself, and decided to get a job. But all that I experienced let me know I wasn’t going to go work somewhere that I didn’t love again. I wanted to a) live in a city that I could love, and b) live in a city that I could afford.

Traveling Light

I knew if I moved back to the South, I would need a car. Living in the North would mean public transit but higher rent. In the end it came down to two positions, one in Savannah, Ga., a place I knew very well, and a position in New Haven, Conn., a place I knew nothing about. Both offered an identical salary. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know I chose New Haven.

Here’s why.

1) Roommates are temporary. Car notes are forever. I would have struggled to pay rent and a car note, and I had/have financial goals to accomplish. Unlike most journalism jobs, this one doesn’t require me to have a car. I walk, bike and bus to most places. It’s not perfect. And you can read a piece I wrote about how imperfect it is here, but it beats having to purchase and maintain a car that would spend most days parked.

2) Experience. I spent my first two years as an adult in Savannah, and while going back to a familiar place was attractive, living somewhere I hadn’t lived before was more attractive. Plus, it was closer to Philly where my mom is.

3) Community. I had initially hoped to live alone again, but then I remembered that there is community in sharing space with someone. As a single person one of my biggest fears is dying alone. And while I might technically die alone in the house that I now live in, my roommate and/or our landlords will certainly find my body if I were to meet an untimely demise. I find a strange comfort in that. Plus, I save money, and that leaves me room to pay off some bills.

4) The greater good. By not having a car, I am one less car on the road. One less person damaging the air. One less person contributing to the need for parking lots. Living with others also means I’m one less person consuming things to furnish an entire apartment or creating waste. That’s important to me.

5) Less really was more to me. Not living with more — whether it was more car, more apartment or more stuff — also had become important to me. Yes, I was probably influenced by the growing backlash against consumerism. But I also am influenced by my own personal experience being awake to my life and the reality of my situation.

Operation Do Better taught me that I could be a better steward of my finances, and overcome reckless spending. Dealing with my mom’s stuff made me realize that having an overabundance of material things is its own burden.

So today, I live in a city that I really enjoy, and I’m working in a job that is more fun than not. And while I have high hopes of being here for a little while, if for some reason I choose to move on, there is no “thing” holding me back. And that feels right.

– Ricks


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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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Christina’s Story: Learning to Truly Give

Guest Contributor: Christina Sin 

 “No one has ever become poor by giving.” – Anne Frank

I had a bucket list for 2013.  The most important goal on that list was to “pay off the ACS education school loan.”  I’ll be honest; when I wrote that down I didn’t have a plan of attack.  Then in April after reading about Operation Do Better, I decided to write down my debts and create a financial road map. I felt pretty good about my situation.

When I saw all my debt as a concrete number, I was floored.  I immediately began to reevaluate my budget.  What were the things I needed to pay every month?  How much could I set aside for “fun” things?  I read about strategies to cut debt.  I figured out how much I would need to earn if I wanted to pay off my student loan and have no credit card debt.  I realized that my salary plus babysitting and pet sitting could not guarantee that I would be able to cover all my expenses.  I was beyond frustrated and mostly disappointed in myself.  I felt like a failure.  I kept wondering what I was doing wrong.

 Then I realized I wasn’t doing anything wrong.  I was paying back debt—a lot of it too—but it wasn’t my own.    

Before I continue, I would like to provide some background.  My self-employed parents worked incredibly hard to provide my younger brother and me with opportunities they never had. They instilled in us a strong work ethic and a desire to always better ourselves.  I am eternally grateful for everything that my parents have sacrificed for me.  We were not wealthy, but I had a comfortable and wonderful life.

During my junior year of college, my parents’ income was drastically reduced because of unforeseen medical and economic circumstances.  I worked throughout college to pay my own tuition, and luckily, I found a job straight out of undergrad.  It was during this first summer as a professional that I realized how bad things had been financially for my parents.  Watching them struggle to stay afloat, I decided to help.

At this point, with the exception of rent and two small credit card bills, the majority of my income was going back home. I hustled to get babysitting jobs, and for over a year I worked as a nanny 5 days a week, in addition to my full time job and going to graduate school. I called credit card companies on my parents behalf and placed high interest credit cards on a hardship program, cutting their interest to 2-4%. I also setup a monthly payment plan designed to get my parents debt under control or eliminated in 5 years.  I called banks to negotiate lower interest rates or to remove penalties. It was gratifying to take several bills off my parents’ plate and serve as a translator.

Despite the good feeling I had about straightening out my parents’ finances, after two years I was discouraged and aggravated.  I was proud of myself for being financially independent and for giving to my parents, but I had not paid down a significant portion of my personal debt. In my quest to help my parents, I completely lost track of my own debt.  Granted, I didn’t have a lot of money left over, but I felt I could have done more to change my personal financial circumstances.

My frustrations crept into my daily conversations with my mom. She could feel my growing resentment.  During one phone call, I got angry with my mom for not saying “thank you” to me, and she said something I will never forget.  With a wavering voice she said,

“How many times do I have to say thank you?  You cannot understand how embarrassing it is for a parent to have to ask their child for help, or the intense failure that you feel as a parent.”

I had never been so ashamed in my life.

My mother and father never guilted me into paying off their credit cards or loans.  They never demanded that my paycheck go to them.  I made a conscious decision to help them. I volunteered to take on this role.

There are still days where I feel resentful and wish that my entire paycheck could be devoted to me.  There are still days where I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything because I’m close to paying off someone else’s debt, but mine still stares at me.  There are also days when I feel like I am not doing enough and that I will never get out of this financial rut.  But here are some things that I’ve done to lift my spirits:

  1. Gain some perspective. Whether it is through volunteering, talking to a friend or reading, I find it helpful to truly do something delibrate to shift my focus and gain some perspective.  Yes, things might get tough, but rather than focusing on all the things I cannot do, I sometimes need to focus on all the things I CAN do.  Typically, a making a gratitude list or volunteering helps.  I lead an incredibly privileged life and I want to be able to see everything as a learning experience that helps shape my character.
  2. Feel what you feel. I know that in the grand scheme of things my life isn’t horrible, but I also have learned to allow myself to feel angry or disappointed.  All of my emotions are valid and I am allowed to feel them. I’ve let go of trying to control everything that I feel.  It isn’t so important what I feel, but what I do with these emotions.  I can allow them to consume me, or I can acknowledge them and think of a healthy way to deal with them.  I am human and I am allowed to make mistakes, but I cannot let those mistakes define who I am.
  3. Follow your own path. A wise woman once told me to never compare yourself to others because you will always lose (thanks Reese!).  This is a pitfall I face frequently.  I see my friends saving, or buying homes or going to Europe and I think I’m doing something wrong because I am not doing those exact things.  How crazy does that sound?  It’s not easy, but I am getting comfortable with truly forging my own path and doing things that work for me.  Yes, I could have paid off my student debt faster if I didn’t help my parents, but I know that the decision I made to help them was the right one.
  4. Give to yourself. I believe that in order to truly give, one cannot expect anything in return. I’m learning to give without wanting anything back.  And I’m learning that it is okay to pay myself first through savings and that I shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to treat myself to a cupcake.
  5. Talk to someone. This experience has taught me how to let it all out.  This blog post is probably the most public I have ever been about my financial situation, and it is very scary.  But as I’ve written this post, I found it to be incredibly therapeutic. It isn’t healthy to keep everything bottled in. Talk to a friend, write in a journal, pray to God.  Vent your frustrations and talk about your struggles, but once you’ve done that, have a plan.  Venting is healthy, but constantly complaining is draining for everyone.

As clichéd as it is, life is too precious to constantly worry or have regrets.  There is beauty in all things and the best part of life is finding that beauty and sharing it.


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Back from Hiatus: Operation Do Better Updates

The Thrifty Chicks have been on hiatus…did you miss us? We missed you! The last three weeks have been a whirlwind , and we needed to step back to take in all that the universe wanted to share. But we’re back now and need to catch you up! A lot happened in three weeks.

Good news: We did much better with eating out in May than we did in April. We did eat out (Reese spent $37 bucks on fast food, Ricks spent $59), but for the most part, we continued with our cooking and eating at home….which was a struggle. We’re still figuring out what we like to eat and how to manage the cooking in the warmer months, because mostly, neither of us have huge appetites. However, with our love of running, eating popsicles and cheese for dinner is not gonna work out too well.

Not so good news: We went to Target…and you know what happens when you go to Target  ::insert Home Alone face here::.   Most of what we spent went toward necessities, but I’m pretty sure neither of us needed those super cute running skirts we bought. I’m going to leave that right there.

Charitable giving: In addition to what each of us commits to giving to our church, we were also able to donate to one of our favorite DC-based organizations, Critical Exposure. The students showcased their work and led discussions about the school-to-prison pipeline at their end of year showcase, and they were phenomenal! So happy to support an organization that not only develops students’ artistic eye but also their critical thinking and desires for social change. If you don’t know about Critical Exposure, check them out: http://www.criticalexposure.org/.

Reese’s unexpected expenses: I needed to get work done on my car and that cost almost $800. I wasn’t trippin’ though. It’s amazing how less stressful these things are when you know you have the money in the bank. I also bought a last minute plane ticket. Sometimes you just have to hop on a plane and go see people you need to see.

Ricks’ unexpected expenses: I went to visit my family in Philly over Mother’s Day weekend, which was a planned expense, but I missed my return bus home and had to buy another ticket last minute. It was $14 but I was still peeved at myself because it was money I hadn’t planned to spend for the trip. I also had a last minute trip to Kansas for a workshop where there had to be an outlay of about $50 for food, most of which I will be reimbursed. When I travel I tend to buy charms and I lost a pair of my silver studs and replaced them, so I spent about $39 on jewelry.

Reese revisits wants vs. needs: I suspect this is a theme that will come up time and time again. To be honest, the type of tunnel vision I had in January has waned. Could be because of the warmer weather. Could be because rigidity makes me break out in hives (not really, but I think you get the point). Mostly, though, I think it’s because at any given moment, the line between wants and needs is blurred. I thought a lot about that this month as there were things I felt I really needed to not only be functional but also to live the type of life I want to live. For example, we spent Memorial Day weekend in the Shenandoah Valley area. For someone else, that may have been categorized as a want. For me, it was an absolute need and I knew it. My spirit was yearning to be away from the city, communing with nature in a place where I wouldn’t feel guilty about shutting out the rest of the world. I came back with clarity and energy. Both of those things are invaluable and were worth the money spent on the trip. I think the tunnel vision we had in January-March was completely necessary. It gave us a solid foundation upon which we could structure the lifestyle changes each of us are making. Without those months, we wouldn’t have paid off the debt we were able to pay or save as much as we did. Now, while we’re still saving and paying debts, the focus is on how to determine needs and wants at any given moment, because circumstances change. Needs and wants change with those.

Ricks’ two cents: I think we’ve lost a little of our intensity because we’ve achieved a lot of our goals. I paid off my BOA bill and was able to refinance my Discover card bill with a small personal loan with the help of the good folks at Lending Club. I’ve got a better interest rate and the loan will be paid off in three years (but sooner if I can help it). The loan also means I technically have NO CREDIT CARD DEBT! :: insert praise dance::: The trip to Shenandoah was very necessary for our spiritual well being if nothing else. I went on those hikes with problems and came back with solutions. Money well spent IMHO. I also spent about $50 on books.  All and all, I spent way less than I did last month and that is right on time because there are going to be some big changes coming this month. Stay tuned.

How are you doing with your saving, spending, and giving goals? Any new revelations? Share them with us…we’d love to hear them!

Until next time,

R&R


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Doing Better: Christina’s Story, Part 3

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Christina and her hubby, David, are celebrating three years of marital bliss and financial fortitude. They’ve slayed more than $67,000 in debt. In this last installment of Christina’s story she tells us her top tips for taking control of your finances. ICYMI: Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of Christina’s story.

Christina’s Top Debt Slayer Tips:

  1. Pay yourself first.   I don’t care if it’s $10 or $250.   Open a separate account, aside from your spending account, and make sure you pay yourself.  It can be a Roth IRA, a money market account, a high yield or regular savings account, or another checking account.  Just make sure you have access to the money but not easy access.  Turn paying yourself into a bill.   Our emergency fund payment is a bill to us and we never touch that money unless we have to.
  2. Track your spending for a whole year.  I know this is a huge pain but you’d be surprised at what you spend and what you spend it on.   Keep receipts and don’t buying anything unless you can get a receipt.  You can try keeping your receipts for the month in envelopes labeled with that month’s name on it. Knowing what your monthly expenses are will help you know how much you need in your emergency fund, which should ultimately should cover around three to six months living expenses.
  3. Write down every debt you own. List what the original amount was and what the amount is now.  If it has an interest rate, write down what the rate is, what your minimum payment amount is and what you’re paying now.  All of these amounts should be in columns next to each other.   This will give you a good idea of what you owe and it will get your debt snowball rolling.  Pick which debt you want to start paying off first and write down how much you are going to overpay on that bill (e.g. overpaying $25). Add your overpayment amount to your minimum payment in the column next to your minimum payment column.  My advice would be to pay off the smallest debt first to get a win in your column.  When you pay that debt off take that over payment of $25 plus the minimum payment you had on the debt you just paid off and apply all of that money to the next debt.  This is called a debt snowball.  Google or Bing it because there are a ton of examples on how to do it.
  4. Read as much about finance and investing as you can.  Whether it’s blogs or columns, it’s time to get educated. I always keep up by reading Yahoo, CNN and MSN Money, CNN Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, and finance blogs.
  5. Keep yourself encouraged. A goals list, a vision board and reading ‘debt free’ stories help keep me motivated.   Put your vision for financial freedom on paper and be inspired of how others are getting it done to remind yourself that what you want to achieve is possible.
  6. Turn to your local credit union for help or a financial advisor.  David and I went through three advisors before we knew which one was perfect for us.  They can help coach you through the rough moments so you can reach your goals.
  7. Don’t start spending like crazy once you’ve paid off a lot of debt.   Change your goals to match your changed financial situation.  Constantly search for ways to revamp yourself and create extra income (passive income, extra job, freelance, etc.).

Getting closer

We’re closer than we were before to meeting our financial goals.   Our student loans are monstrous since the hubby went to two expensive art schools.  But we’ve managed to free up over $1000 a month in ‘free income’ so we don’t foresee our student loans taking more than 3 yrs since we are saving up for a bigger home and cash funding a new business.

We’re not sure what we will do once we’re completely debt free other than screaming it from the mountain tops!  Once we are rid of this consumer debt we are going to focus on funding our savings to the max and our retirement accounts too so we can retire early.  We also plan on giving more than what we give now to charities. It’s really important to us to give back when you are finally able to do so.

The Too Thrifty Chicks and the Operation Do Better Clique celebrate Christina and David and we look forward to your mountain top celebration! That is going to be one heck of a party!


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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!


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Doing Better: Christina’s Story, Part 1

As the Too Thrifty Chicks have been on the Operation Do Better train to financial freedom, we’ve met some really great and inspiring people along the way who are in fact doing better.  People like our friend Christina Walker, a self-described 30-something from Detroit, who works for the state of Michigan, and along with her husband David Walker Jr.,  has her sights on being a millionaire.

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Breaking All the Rules

I got into debt early, in college, with credit card offers and a bunch of friends who loved to travel.  It was so easy to sign up for a credit card and not worry about payments until later. I would pay the minimums or use a little student loan money to cover payments.  I worked while I was in college too, which meant not only was I spending a lot of money, but I wasn’t saving any of it.  My mother warned me not to mess up my credit and to stay on campus to save money.  But I didn’t listen.  I wanted the freedom to stay off campus with no rules; to live like other grownups who had their own piece of the American pie; and the financial leverage to keep up with my own interests and the interests of my peers.   To add insult to injury, my first car was ruined by a tropical storm so instead of just saving up for another vehicle, or  using public transportation, I financed my first car and paid way too much for it not knowing the proper way to buy a car.

I graduated with not only more student loans than I needed to borrow, but also with a car note and a Discover credit card balance.  Off into the world I went with the absolute need of a full time job and no room to discover myself. Nevertheless, I left my college town of Savannah, Ga. determined to purse my dreams and make it work. I moved to Sarasota, Fla. to purse an internship at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, but I couldn’t afford to be an intern and continue do what I loved.  The internship only offered a $1,000 stipend for 3-4 months and that stipend had to cover my car note, credit card bill, housing and food.  It just wasn’t going to happen and it didn’t.  I got behind on payments.  The car company was calling my mother because she had co-signed the loan for me. She was so disappointed in me because she had to make up the payments I’d missed and was too ashamed to tell her I had missed.

Once my money matters started to affect my family, I had to make some tough choices.  At this point, Discover already had a judgement against me. To make ends meet, I found a job as a telemarketer that I could do while I continued my internship.  When I found out the internship was not going to turn into gainful employment, my mother told me to move back home to get things together.  I agreed and moved back to Detroit. I got a good paying job and vowed from there on to never make those money mistakes again, but I ended up making more.

 Never no more…well maybe a bit more

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Once I moved back home, I worked out an arrangement with Discover and got my car note payments under control.   The judgment was paid off and the Discover account was closed.  But it stayed on my credit report, so I had to do something to repair my credit.  Fortunately for me, I had a secured credit card from when I was in Sarasota trying to make ends meet.  This card was paid on time and I only had a $200 limit so I couldn’t easily run up the bill and mess things up. That secured credit card helped me establish a good payment history, but overall my newly found resolve to retire a millionaire is what really got me going.  I decided early in my job to be financially sound. I was 22 or 23 and despite my early money missteps, I managed to save money in a 401(k).  I made sure that 3% of my paycheck went into savings and I had an employer match.

But having that goal still didn’t curb my spending habits.   I ended up back sliding and had to close my secured card around 2004/2005.   I paid if off and paid off my car note shortly after, but by then I had house fever. A friend had just purchased her first home at age 25 or 26 and I wanted to purchase a home too.  So in 2006 I went loft shopping and found a place that I loved at the height of the housing boom.  I bought a $141,000 loft  with all the bells and whistles with a 6.125% interest rate. At the time, I was working in the arts community and funding non-profit projects with loans from my 401(k), so a house should have been the last thing on my mind.  But it was happening again. My spending was getting out of control!  I couldn’t believe how  fast it happened and ultimately what I had to show for it wasn’t that great.  My friendships were so-so; the non-profits I invested in were wearing me out emotionally, physically, and mentally; and I really didn’t want to work my job. It was just a means to pay the bills…

Want to find out the rest of the story on how Christina turned her financial life around? Tune in next week to learn more about why she’s on her way to being the first millionaire we know.