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Operation Better Don’t: Filet Mignon Tastes on a Do Better Budget

Remember when we told you about our YOLO month in April? Let’s just say we had that kind of month again in June. It wasn’t as bad, and we feel like we were at least conscious of what we were doing, but we still have some stuff to come clean about.

Reese and Ricks’ Good News: Reese was tempted to not do her charitable giving this month, but she did…and guess what? She exceeded the amount she  planned to give. This is the thing she’s most proud of from June. The other thing worth bragging about is she stayed within the $200 budget she set for the NYC trip…yeah! Ricks also stayed within her $200 budget and actually came home with money, like seriously $40! ::hits the running man::

Celebrating Ricks’s Last Day at Work: Celebrating Ricks’ last day at Air Force Times with friends was on June’s calendar. You can read about why she quit here. Reese planned to take care of that and other celebratory things.  Dinner, drinks, and mani/pedis totaled $163. Money well spent considering the magnitude of the event. The goal was to celebrate with no worries and lots of love. Mission accomplished.

Unplanned Expenses: Coffee shops, TJ Maxx, Forever 21, and a search for bowties got Reese this month. Total spent: $220. Ricks’ unplanned spending came in at about $350 with eating out, shopping in preparation for NYC and a brand- spanking-new pair of Chuck Taylors.

Groceries: We failed. Like forreal. We’re embarrassed to even tell y’all how much we spent. ::long pause while we hang our heads in shame:: OK. We’ll tell you. We spent $418 in the grocery store. SOH. That’s not going to happen again. Forreal. Never. We promise.

Moving Forward: Looking at the raw numbers, we know it could be worst. But it’s bad enough. This whole journey is about doing better, right? Here’s are our next steps:

  1. Weekly Finance Meetings: Every Monday, we plan to sit down on our thrifty couch, balance our checkbooks, talk about what we spent and why we spent it, and make whatever adjustments we need to make for the week. This, we hope, will keep our spending consciousness high and helps us stay accountable to each other.
  2. Grocery Shopping: We’ve noticed a trend: When we shop with cash, we’re much more conscious. At one point, we got our grocery spending down under $250. We’re aiming for that again. From now on, we’re going to the grocery store with cash only. What can’t be bought with what we have will have to stay at the store.
  3. Retail Fail? No More. Back to avoiding retail stores. We both fell short under the powers of funky sunglasses, studded tops, and cute pants. No more shopping alone. No more shopping without a list. Heck, no retail stores at all unless it’s an absolute need.
  4. Planned fun. We’re leaving ourselves some grace for spontaneous drives to Fredricksburg for a trip to the Sonic Drive-In restaurant [Don’t judge], and we allow a $20 allowance for spreading some good cheer in the neighborhoods we plan to visit for our Around Town series, which we’ve written about here, here and HERE, ICYMI.

There you have it folks. June in a nutshell. What are you doing to improve your financial health this summer?


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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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Sudden Loss: Are You Prepared?

Submitted by a Too Thrifty Chicks reader committed to Operation Do Better

What would you do if your current financial snapshot was suddenly frozen in place? What if you would never make any more than you already make? In fact, what if your income was to temporarily disappear and reappear only after the passage of time, and then only in greatly reduced quantity? Do you have a plan for how you would pay the mortgage or rent? Your credit cards? Is that emergency fund in place?

You leave for work one morning, and the whoosh you make as you pass by yesterday’s stack of mail actually blows one of the bills to the floor. Still, your momentum can’t be broken because you have things to do that day. “I’ll take care of this when I get home,” you reasonably think to yourself. Later, I would say “handle it right then” is the first lesson I learned on the day when I would fall at lunch, shatter a leg, and be wheelchair-bound for two months.

My doctor remarked on the number of times I’d fallen in less than a year and ordered an MRI of my brain after surgery to set the leg. Good risk management, I thought. Later I would view the scan with the heads of neurology departments of two major hospitals. Even I could see the neurological abnormality. Was I born with it, only to have it manifest in my last decade in the workplace? Or had I merely fallen one too many times? Only extensive testing could determine the age of the injury, and I had no time for exploration. I had to get healthy because I had a job to do. Or so I thought. Seven months later, I would lose that job shortly before turning 60 and, yes, a few months before vesting in the company’s defined benefit pension.

Let’s shelve the panic and gloom of losing your job just as you turn 60. Or 50, or any age. This calls for swift action What happened to me could happen to anyone if you view the hypothetical situation broadly. Regardless of how you get there, you may face a sudden (read: unplanned) absence from your job. Accidents happen. Illnesses happen. Yes, even to working people who think that their steady income is forever. My advice is to reform your thinking and spending now. Prepare now. Following are some bits of advice that I learned both the hard way–all by myself–and the easy way from the Too Thrifty Chicks:

1. Cut out all extraneous spending. Now. This includes, but is not limited to, cable TV, a landline phone at home, and wine with dinner. Learn to watch your favorite shows online. For example, it is no tragedy to watch ‘The Good Wife’ online on Monday, a few hours after the latest episode airs on Sunday. Eliminating TV service requires you to be intentional in what you watch. During football season, I hang out with friends on game day and watch NCAA football on their TVs. No landline means no robo calls or edgy charitable solicitations. No wine with dinner means you’ll lose weight without changing anything else in your life. Depending on your cable package and taste in wine–in one month’s time–you can re-capture up to two hundred dollars that you were spending unnecessarily. Put at least part of these funds in advancing step #2.

2. Build your $1,000 Emergency Fund now. Sell what you aren’t using or don’t love to fund it. Try pet sitting, dog walking, or babysitting. Brainstorm with your online community. I didn’t have an adequate Emergency Fund. When the inevitable happened–repair work on a car, a pet’s illness, new medical needs–at first I would use a credit card, vowing to pay off the expense the next month…and then another inevitable event would occur. You get the picture. Are you still working? Great. Do it now. I have come to view the Fund as the most important step, regardless of your income.

3. Consider renting space in your home, short-term. I took a deep breath and just did it. What I found was a delightful and steady stream of med school students, interns, and residents who needed housing short-term,( ex: six weeks at a time). I find medical professionals to be ideal tenants because you have a modicum of leverage over their behavior by virtue of having contacts in the admissions office. Medical school is all about advancing through the ranks by doing everything right. Your contacts with people in the medical school means you can retain a measure of control over your tenants’ behavior. So pay a visit to the admissions office for medical school, generally, and to the departments of medical specialties, where you will find out-of-state students who need a place to stay during their 6-week rotations. Yes, this requires a certain amount of bravado. Here, the risk is worth the rewards. Depending on where you live, this could create several hundred dollars per month.

4. Stop shopping. Undertake a spiritual journey towards a path of living in the moment. Try not to want anything. When you realize that you have enough to eat, adequate shelter, and clothing, you begin to realize how lucky you are to have your most basic needs met.

5. Re-define your needs vs. wants, and do so honestly. Realize you have resources to get what you need but don’t yet have. There will be another job. Really.

The author of this post wanted to remain anonymous, and we respect her wishes. We are so appreciative of her sharing her story and hope it inspires you to simplify your living, set up more savings, and be prepared for anything that might come your way.

Until Next Time,

R&R


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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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Mindset Reset: Needs vs. Wants

We recently had a conversation about delineating the line between needs and wants and came to the conclusion that real needs — food, water, clothing, shelter and love — are just the basic, bare minimums that most any human must have to survive. Everything else is truly extra.

But the why and the how of  obtaining these basics is about more than surviving and strikes at the heart of what we value as really living.  You can choose to eat at home or eat out. You can choose to drink only bottled water or straight from the tap. You can choose to only shop at thrift stores, big box retailers or high end department stores. You can choose to share a space or live alone. All are choices that provide you varying levels of the four basic things that you need. The value in which choice you make  is completely personal and the only thing that truly matters is the honest truth of why you make the choices that you make.

Anyone who knows us knows that we like to eat out, spend time with our friends and travel near and far. We like to run races and we like to buy the latest thing that our heart desires. But when we embarked on Operation Do Better we discovered that what we really value above all the stuff that we might own or ultimately obtain  is experience. We also realized that we can’t have the kinds of experiences that we truly desire until we changed our mindsets about what what we truly need and want, and what we were willing to do to about both. We are constantly talking, grappling. wrestling with and pressing the evolution and transformation of our mindset. Here’s a cleaned up excerpt of a conversation we had about needs and wants.

The Conversation…

Ricks: We’ve been eating beans and anything else we have lots of every day, until its gone for 78 days. That means we’ve had to plan meals and make sure what we are cooking are things we like to eat regularly because we’re going to eat them  MULTIPLE times in a week, often times back to back. Because we’re good cooks, eating our own leftovers is not such a chore. But if we do get bored we cook something else and keep eating it until its GONE. If we want the social aspect of going out, we invite friends over. We have made these choices because there are things that we truly NEED to see happen in our lives if we’re ever going to know financial freedom in our lifetime. We have big dreams and sometimes those kinds of dreams come with just a little bit of self sacrifice.

Reese: As a person who used to say “I don’t like leftovers,” I came to a place where I realized that wasn’t the case. It’s just that I wasn’t that great of a cook and I didn’t like eating MY leftovers! LOL. Once I invested time and creativity into cooking, I started eating more leftovers. I think I’ve discovered that this whole process requires a level of honesty that overcomes the rationalizations we used to make for not cooking after a long day, or buying our lunch because we forgot our lunch or don’t want to eat the leftovers we brought. It really comes down to the mindset we decided we would have and how much we were willing to stretch to change our old “spend it now, spend it all” mindset.

Ricks:  If nothing more, this process has solidified my ability to identify what is a need and a want. If I’m not going to die without something it’s not a true need. If I believe that it’s something that adds to the value to my life, it’s still not a need, but a highly valued want. I’ve learned that if I’m going to indulge in a want, even a high value one, I need to call it what it is — it’s a want.  It’s not a need and I shouldn’t call it that. I have to say to myself, “I’m making a conscious decision to spend on this thing that I want. I know the consequence might mean extra money might not go where it should go. I can rationalize that buying this want makes my life easier, more fun, more beautiful and that might be true. But it is still a want and I’m OK with that.”  But I have to acknowledge that I made the decision to indulge in that want and not play mind games with myself about what are my true needs and what are my true wants.

I’ll freely admit that the fact that I have a credit card bill that is the living, breathing, life sucking embodiment of my WANTS,  means that whether to eat the same thing every day or not spend money eating out is not a trivial matter for me. It’s simply NOT an option because of something that I want more than another dinner that I didn’t cook.  I WANT to be free of this debt — like yesterday.

Reese: I personally try to steer clear of the phrase “I can’t.” I think putting out energy about what “you can’t do,” illustrates a mindset that says  1) other people can’t question me or hold me  accountable because I’ve said I can’t live without this thing, and 2) it’s OK to fall short of growth or goals because I’ve said I’m not able to do a certain thing. On top of all of that, I think there’s an implicit assumption that if I say what I can’t live without something then I’m honestly engaging in this process because I’m telling people what I can’t do. Maybe you are being honest, but maybe you are not. Maybe you want something bad and haven’t really thought deeply about what it means to let that desire go or to question  if you really need it.

A starting place…

We pretty much have conversations like this on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. After this conversation we thought about a helpful way to draw the line between needs and wants. Try making “I” statements like the ones that follow.

I need to live without fear…

I need to stop digging my own financial grave…

I need an emergency fund because it’s going to rain…

I need to break this generational curse over finances in my family…

I need to DO BETTER.

I want to be free of my debt more than I want to eat out…

I want the financial freedom to help my family and help myself…

I want to have options that allow me to make the best decision for my future rather than only being able to make the best decision for right now…

I want to DO BETTER.


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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


6 Comments

Single Parenthood on a Budget

Guest Contributor: Tosha Allen

I’m a single parent raising a 12-year-old daughter, Taylin, who is active in softball and concert band.  When I decided to join “Operation Do Better,” I had to tailor my break from spending to accommodate Taylin’s needs. I first discussed this idea with her in early December over dinner (we love sushi). I informed her that if we were going to Disneyland in December 2013 for her 13th birthday, we needed to cut back and start saving A LOT! Taylin actually agreed, mainly because she really wants to go to Disneyland, and she’s really concerned about our finances.image_1359728611991731

I informed her that since I am the only working person in our household, we really needed to reign in our spending. Taylin understands that being a single parent is difficult. She was 10-years-old when her father and I divorced, so she has seen a big shift in our household. We went from having two incomes to only one. I want to show her that life sometimes deals you a bad hand, but you have to continue to smile and work hard.

As a single parent, I know there are some things I can’t cut out. For example, Taylin has to eat breakfast at school because of time constraints (school starts at 7:30 and her ride comes at 6:45), which costs $1 a day. She does take her lunch, so we don’t have that additional expense. We’re not cutting out sports or band (that includes her instrument). She’s played softball since she was 4 and loves it. Band is also an important part of her education as it helps her with following directions and concentration.

Despite the constraints, we cut our biggest splurges: eating out and shopping. Before Operation Do Better, we spent about $150 a month on eating out and shopping. Taylin knows this means no going out to eat at all for three months (unless it can’t be avoided when I have to go out of town for business). She was a bit concerned because we usually go out for Sunday breakfast, but I had a solution.

I recently started cooking more and decided we would still get our Sunday morning breakfast in…I would just cook it. Taylin was excited about this!  She helps in the kitchen sometimes and especially loves pizza and fried chicken. 🙂  As far as shopping, neither of us will be getting new clothes or shoes in the next three months (with exception of a new pair of softball cleats). After three months, I plan to evaluate our savings and then proceed from there. I hope this helps any single parents interested in significantly reducing their spending.

All in all, I believe this spending cutback is good for us both. It is teaching us that there are things that we just don’t NEED! I will also be able to see actual savings. Both my daughter and I are doing the 52 week savings plan and it is going very well. It started with just a dollar, and each week we add a dollar to the amount that goes into the savings. If (when) we stick to it, each of us will have saved $1378!

For any single parent interested in revamping your finances, my advice is try not to get caught up in giving your children EVERYTHING!!! My daughter is a typical preteen. She wants a lot of stuff, but she already has too much! To stay balanced, I focus more on her needs, and I try to give her some of her wants. Being a single parent and trying to save is hard, but it is not impossible.