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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Operation Do Better: First Quarter Wrap Up

Ninety days of surviving and thriving on the Operation Do Better spending pause train is cause for celebration and nobody gets down like Bro. Franklin Na Wa. Press play. We promise it will bless you real good.

“And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it,” — Melchizedek, The Alchemist

Because of our willingness to do better, the universe has been beyond generous. It has sent us a community of support and it has given us all manner of free stuff including treating us to a Sunday brunch, giving us fried chicken, gym equipment, discounted trail shoes and a fully stocked bar. We are grateful and we will continue to pay it forward.

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Ricks reflections…

The Good: I paid off a bill! I am one payment away from paying off another! There is money in my emergency fund! I paid for my trip to NYC with money I saved! There is still money in my travel fund! I am even more motivated to tackle my next debt! *insert cabbage patch, running man and da butt here*

The Bad: I might need a root canal re-treatment, and I’m not sure if my insurance is going to cover the whole thing.

The Ugly: There is a high likelihood that my vintage vehicle is dead, unless I make expensive repairs to revive it one more time.

Life happens. Did I know this dead car thing was going to happen one day? Of course I did. Did I plan appropriately for that day? Nope. The old me would have dove head first into debt and got another car, but guess which thrifty chick is riding the bus? *raises hand* When I think about what I can save in gas, car repairs, insurance and inspections, I am tempted to donate this sucker just for the tax write off. Life happens on vacation. Reese and I thought we were going to be the queens of good times and frugality on our NYC trip and for the most part we were, but gosh darn it, we saved money for that trip and we spent it. And we still managed to save money in each of our pots of savings and pay the extra money we intended. No harm, no foul. Struggle happens. In another life, these big ticket problems would have caused me to lose my head, lose my focus. But having an accountability partner, who has willingly invested in my future’s future, and a supportive community keeps the fire burning.  As fired up as I am about paying off my next debt, it’s bigger and the interest rate is criminally high, so I am trying to be honest with myself about how long it is going to take to pay it.  I’m going to have to remember to celebrate along the way.

Going forward: Because I’m so driven to pay this last credit card off, I’m continuing on the spending pause for the rest of the year. O_O! Yeah, I said it. But of course with slight modifications. I am still allowed to replace things sparingly. Rather than an allowance, I am allowed to plan for one thing such as a brunch with friends, or a Mother’s Day treat for my mom, my aunts and my grandmother within the context of my budget. I am allowed a reward of my choosing when I save a certain amount of money, or pay off a certain amount of this particular debt. But I will still take my lunch every day and eat at home nearly every night.

Reese’s reflections…

The Good: Who paid off 2k in credit card debt in six weeks? ::points at self:: This thrifty chick. And who’s paying the last payment on her one and only credit card bill next week? ::points at self:: Me again! Who has reached 40% of her savings goal for the first half of the year? You guessed it…ME!!! I guess this is the financial manifestation of giving up Chipotle and fancy cheese everyday….and I am sooooo OK with all of this!

The Bad: My current fellowship ends in a month, and I’m waiting to hear about the one I applied for in November. I should hear back this week or next week. I started doubting if  I made the right choice to pay off the credit card, because that is extra money I could have saved. I was really stressed about it at first, but then I had to stop and think about all I’ve been blessed with. I sent this message to our ODB community on Friday:

Yesterday as I drove, I felt compelled to give thanks for the financial blessings bestowed on me during the last four years of my PhD pursuit. In a week or two, my finances will change and there has been a great deal of anxiety about that. But I’m reminded that I survived the first year of my program w/more bills than I have now on a 19K fellowship + babysitting on the side. Then, I was blessed w/a fellowship worth way more than the first with less responsibilities for three years. On two different occasions, friends felt compelled to send $$$ to me in the mail in support of this PhD pursuit. A year ago I received a check unexpectedly from my car finance company for a service charged I’d been paying for two years that I wasn’t supposed to pay. Two years ago I got a year long fellowship that supported my training in public health…I’ve had great luck with families to babysit for to make extra money on the side. I am extremely grateful for the great friendship that was built that led to this current roommate situation that has allowed me to save money in preparation for these upcoming changes. All of these blessings and more remind me that 1) I’ve never been left or forsaken, 2) I’ve always had necessary provisions–even when I was stupid with money 3) I know better, so I’ve done better…that will work in my favor 4) Thanks to ODB, I don’t have to rush to plan for anything, I can wait to hear the next fellowship decision and then take the next step. I can feasibly live through September or longer w/the money I have saved + babysitting (praises!!). I have no reason to be scared. I have what I need, and what I may need in the future will take care of itself. Besides, who among us by worrying can add a single hour to her life?

….and then guess what?

Praises: I received a call today that I have been offered a senior research position I applied for a couple months ago. You see how this works? Worrying didn’t add anything to my life, but opening up space for praise and thanks did….and now i have a job offer on the table. ::bustin’ a Bro. Franklin move::

dancing like Bro. Franklin

dancing like Bro. Franklin

Going forward: Assuming everything is kosher with the offer, I’ll start a new job soon! Yeah!!! Credit will be paid off this month, and then I will tackle the little bit of student loan debt I have. Guess who has plans to be completely debt free by the end of next year? You guessed it? Me! I too am doing the spending pause for the rest of the year. Why not? I haven’t missed out on anything. I still have good health, great friends, and it doesn’t hurt that Ricks and I are pretty amazing cooks. Plus, we started this together, and it’s really important to me that we finish this process…together. I’ve made plans for the trips I need to take this year and this month I’ll buy sewing supplies so I can FINALLY do some of the DIY projects I have lined up. I’ll deal with other things as they come along, but for now, I have no plans for an allowance or anything like that. I’m kinda diggin’ the at home spa treatments and happy hours.

Lessons learned/Affirmations: I can live without a lot (even Chipotle).  Support makes a world of difference. Our friends love us enough to come hang out at our house instead of going out to spend money. I truly do love the simple things in life, and this spending pause has lovingly brought me back to that. When you free up your resources, you can rediscover the joy of giving. The universe provides. Not a single thing is solved by worrying.

We’ll leave you with the words this post began with:

And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it

Thank you, universe for helping us achieve our goals.

R&R


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Body Art and Green Jeans: Resisting Temptation

Guest Contributor: Valerie V. Reed

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

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

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

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

Last big shopping trip before the spending fast

Last big shopping trip before the spending fast

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

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


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

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Ricks’ Reflections…

I was just looking through some of the older posts on our Operation Do Better Facebook group. One of our contributors posted about some unexpected outlays of money that were going to derail her spending plan for the month of February.  Her comments about her setbacks got my wheels turning and thinking about a conversation I had with Reese about not going into panic mode when everything goes wrong financially in the face of your doing everything right.

I technically was in a similar situation. A trip to the dentist for my six months check-up, resulted in the announcement that I was going to need a root canal re-treatment. Unexpected $1,000 bill? Oh joy.  For months my car has needed a catalytic converter, a $500-$600 repair that I’m going to have to make if I want my car to pass inspections in Virgnia. Cha-ching! Add having my taxes done (I know I can do them for free, but this just works), a blogger conference and sorority dues, and before you know it all the plans that I had to tell my money what to do and where to go, were getting derailed pretty quick. I can’t lie, these kinds of problems give me mild panic attacks. In fact, writing this out made me feel a little light headed. The old me would have just blindly paid all these people and eaten Ramen noodles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for kicks, or worse, if I had the money on a credit card use that.

But I had to (and I keep having to) step back and reevaluate. I have to say “Self…” my self says, “Hmm?” (lol) “Prioritize!” To reach your goals and not be sidetracked, you have to prioritize, which is the next big lesson I’ve learned in this whole thing. The first big lesson was that I really don’t need a whole lot to be happy.

The big unexpected bill:I had to get real with myself about what needs to be taken care of now and what can wait. Right there in the dentist’s office I decided to take a deep breath, and then pause.  My tooth wasn’t hurting and it wasn’t necessary for me to address it a week after the issue was discovered, so the procedure will wait until my insurance company provides and estimate. Doing that allows me a chance to at least take a look at how I am directing my money around the time that the procedure should occur, what kind of damage I can expect and how I can spread the pain over at least two months by negotiating a payment arrangement with my dentist’s office. Handled.

The not so unexpected car repair: I had already worked out how I would pay for the repair to my car –it will wait until April or May. I realize I’m taking a risk, but I’m also fully prepared to rely on public transportation to get to work if my 16 year old car decides to give up the ghost. I do not plan to replace this car should that happen.  Handled.

Blogging While Brown Conference: This item was an unexpected addition to our travel itinerary, but it also is an investment. If we’re serious about what we’re doing, we believe it’s worth it to put some time AND some treasure into it. Since the only way to save is to pay the early bird fee, I’ve decided to forgo an additional payment on my Bank of America loan and eat this cost. I could take the money out of my travel fund, but since I already have planned trips coming out of that fund, I had to shift gears.

The Aftermath: Changing course for that one additional payment means my payoff date for BOA might be pushed back another 30 to 45 days, and the start of my debt snowball for my Discover card pushed to June, but none of these changes impact my top three  finance priorities: giving, saving and debt elimination. At the end of the day I’m doing the first two at maximum capacity and number three I’m still paying more than the minimum.

The third big lesson I’ve learned in these two months is patience. I didn’t get into this mess over night and I’m not going to get out of it unless I a) hit the lottery, which I don’t really play and b) someone dies and leaves me a lot of money in the near future (too morbid to think about).

If I’m real with myself it’s probably going take me three years to completely eliminate my debt, including my student loan. That is unless I go on an even stricter break from spending that would cut out cable, direct TV, selling my vintage car and not traveling for a year. I don’t think I’m ready for that. But another month of this? Bring it on.

Onward:  March is a month where I’ll get to systematically be allowed to spend some money. This is a planned break, but I’m nervous. And I know when I’m nervous it’s time to plan. I sat down and plotted my spending for the month. I’ll have sorority activities and it looks like my dental insurance will cover the majority of the expense for my procedure.

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Reese’s Roundup…

Here’s how it went down in February….

Debt Reduction: I paid about 1/3 of  my remaining credit card balance. If life goes according to plan, I’ll pay the remaining balance in March (cross your fingers).  Savings: Soooo I didn’t add as much to my savings as I intended, 1) because I put more $$$ toward the CC debt and 2) I decided to do the Ragnar trail run and attend the Blogging While Brown conference (see next note). Unplanned spending: I had originally said I wouldn’t do a Ragnar Relay this year, but I was feeling like I’d regret it if I didn’t. I ran the fall race last year and had a less than stellar experience, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to run the inaugural Ragnar Trail race in the Appalachians with the awesome ladies who make up the team. Each of us running 30+ miles over two days, camping in the Appalachians, and sitting around a campfire….that’s what I call perfection. Who wouldn’t want that?! I consider the Blogging While Brown conference as professional development. If we’re going to be serious about this blogging thing, I want to learn from some of the best out there.  Giving: Around mid-month I reconfigured my finances to include more systematic giving. Until this month, I wasn’t focused on charitable giving, unless people asked me to donate to causes close to their hearts. I wanted to change that, so I allocated 10% of what was left of my income to charitable giving, and I feel good about that.

Things I need to work on: On top of the 10% I allocated, I ended up donating more $$$ to charity — money I hadn’t planned for. I certainly want to give myself the space to give as compelled, but I need to remind myself that giving to XYZ cause is going to mean I can’t put money towards debt reduction or savings. I need to be very proactive in examining exactly which pot of money that’s going to come from. Lessons learned: Checking my account, writing down expenses, reallocating when necessary works for me. Legalism or strict rules have very little place in my life, so I’ve learned that while I’m wholeheartedly committed to the basic tenets of this fast — we’re still cooking all our meals, no happy hours, no Chipotle, no mani/pedis, no gym membership, etc.– I had to reflect on the things that are important to me, and in my original estimations, I’d left off one: charitable giving. It means I might have to alter my goals, but I feel good knowing I’m investing in humanity.

IMG_20130223_092642….and now a word about groceries.

Soooo….the thrifty chicks ate like a family of four in January. When I tallied our grocery receipts, the total came to $453.45 (I know, shameful). This month we did WAY better. We spent a total of $286.02, which includes 17.95% savings from coupons and sales prices (yay!). (Note: If you’re wondering why we know our % savings, it’s because we downloaded this nifty grocery calculator/tracker. You can get it HERE). For March, our goal is to come under $250. Do you think we can do it? Wish us luck! And feel free to check in to make sure we’re not spending too much time in the ice cream aisle!

Are you taking a break from spending or drastically reducing how much you spend? Tell us how it’s going!

R&R


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Tidbit Tuesday: 50 Ways to Spend Smart

Refraining from spending money ain’t easy and what you do after a period of abstaining from something can make you feel like it was all a big waste of time. The reality is when most people finish a fast — whether abstaining from eating, spending or even watching too much TV — they often binge on the the thing that they gave up if they don’t give it up forever, make it a habit, or devise a management strategy.

We don’t want that to happen to us or to you during Operation Do Better. When we get our allowances back, we want to spend. And if we spend, we want to  spend wisely.

We’ve come up with 50 ways to continue to be conscious savers and spenders:

  1. Taking a trip? Book a megabus ticket and stay with friends instead of flying and staying in a hotel.
  2. Cook at least enough for dinner and lunch the next day.
  3. Pack your lunch the night before. This protects you against that inevitable “I’m running late and don’t have time to pick my lunch.”
  4. Take public transportation more and drive less….ESPECIALLY if you’re in a city with excellent public transportation.
  5. At home mani/pedis
  6. Become good at doing your own hair. Ricks had been doing her own hair since she went natural nearly  six years ago, and Reese has given up hair color which is the only thing she regularly went to a salon for. YouTube and blogs are super helpful. And remember: if you mess up, it’s ok. It’s hair. It grows back.
  7. Brazilian waxes are amazing….but they’re expensive. Ditch ’em. Shave.
  8. Eat at home before going out with friends. If they must go and you don’t want to leave have dessert instead.
  9. Drink at home. Depending on the wine, you can get a bottle for the same/similar cost of a glass or two at a bar.
  10. Bust out the iron and some Magic sizing instead of dry cleaning so much (*deep sigh* We both hate ironing).
  11. Get a library card for free books and DVDs.
  12. Take your money out of banks that charge too many fees.
  13. Ask for reduced interest rates on credit cards.
  14. Learn how to clip, use, and save with coupons.
  15. Sign up for free classes at REI or other local stores/companies that offer freebies.
  16. Checkout all the Smithsonian Museums! They’re free.
  17. Instead of immediately buying new things, check with friends and family to see if anyone wants to swap clothes or goods.
  18. If you’re not big on cooking or don’t have as much time, partner with a friend or a neighborhood to do a cooking-share.
  19. Got an instrument you haven’t played in a while? A cheap hobby you’ve let fall to the wayside? Pick them up in your spare time to reduce the urge to go out to the mall or a restaurant.
  20. When shopping for groceries, try the cheapest brands FIRST. If you don’t like them, you can always try something else on the next trip. But if you do like them, you’ve reduced the temptation of falling in love with a more expensive brand.
  21. Give homemade gifts.
  22. Grow your own herbs. They’re easy to grow and maintain, especially in small spaces.
  23. If you have a car, clean it yourself rather than taking it to a car wash or detailer.
  24. Get rid of Living Social and Groupon. Unless you’re a really disciplined person, these discount sites can really bite you in the butt. Most people load up on too many deals and never use them. If you use these sites, set limits on how many deals you can buy.
  25. Use cash. We notice that if we only take cash to the store, we’re more likely to think about what we’re spending. Debit and credit cards are nice, but they encourage overspending because of how easy they are to use.
  26. Cancel memberships and subscriptions you don’t use or need.
  27. When you buy perishable items, make several meals out of them so they won’t go bad.
  28. If you’re having trouble with late fees, set up automated payments to avoid wasting the money and write down on a calendar when you expect a payment to come out of your account and subtract the amount in your check register to ensure that you don’t spend it.
  29. Old t-shirts make great cleaning rags. This can help reduce the amount of disposable waste like paper towels.
  30. Be honest with your friends/family about your budget. If they’re not supportive, they’re probably not people you want to hang with regularly anyway. ::shrugs::
  31. Learn the basics of using a needle and thread to mend your own clothes.
  32. We both enjoy cooking, but we know there are days when we’re lazy and would rather have chipotle. Make sure you have some easy meals on hand that won’t require too much prep or cook time. This minimizes the temptation to go to Chipotle.
  33. Keep a record of your grocery spending. We spent $81 bucks on our last big grocery shop, but we know we can spend less. We wrote the total on a wipe board to remind us that we’re trying to reduce that number.
  34. If you’re giving yourself the freedom to see movies or shows, try to get tickets to the matinee showing. And look for free tickets for advance showings.
  35. Get over Starbucks. It’s expensive, and it’s not that good anyway (that’s what we tell ourselves).
  36. Volunteer at shelters or soup kitchens. There’s something about seeing people in times of distress that remind you to be giving and grateful for what you have.
  37. Crockpots are the bomb.com. Use it often to make cheap meals that stretch over multiple days.
  38. Plan a weekly menu. We plan to do a “big cook” every Sunday where we prepare meals that are more time consuming. We also include a couple quick meals each week that wont require more than 30-45min to prepare.
  39. There are tons of inexpensive ways to make your own beauty products, if you choose. Pure Skin has great recipes for body scrubs, etc. Check it out from your library.
  40. Search meetup.com for opportunities to find free events or activities that you might be interested in.
  41. Look into your local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) options. Sometimes, it is much cheaper than buying fresh produce in the grocery store. But do your research!! Not all CSAs are affordable or well-run.
  42. Unsubscribe from the mailing lists of your favorite stores. I swear Forever 21, City Sports, and Under Armour were out to get us! Had to let them go.
  43. Use Google Reader, or some other RSS feed service, to keep track of blogs that help you stay motivated to save and spend less. It’s a simple way to sort through blog posts that will be help you manage time on your daily grind.  If you need help setting it up, let’s us know. We both use it for professional and personal purposes.
  44. Declutter. If you know what you have, you’re less likely to buy duplicates.
  45. Take an inventory of the cupboards and fridge before going to the grocery store to know exactly how much stuff is already there.
  46. Shop in bulk….if it makes sense for your household. Buying in bulk isn’t always cost effective. Find out what is and only buy those things.
  47. Set up automatic deposits into a savings account.
  48. If traveling and need to stay at a hotel, rent a car, etc., try Hotwire. Sure, you don’t know what you’ll get ahead of time, but you can save up to 80% per transaction.
  49. Set up some type of financial tools and use them. Check them weekly to see where your money went. Reese set an alert on her calendar to check her mint.com account every Sunday. Ricks gets a weekly summary from Mint.com
  50. This is the BIG ONE: continuously work on changing your mindset. You’re not depriving yourself. You’re living within your means.

We started a Facebook group for people who are serious about getting rid of debt, spending wisely, and saving more. If you’re interested in joining it, send us an email or let us know through our Facebook fan page!

Until next time,

R&R