Too Thrifty Chicks

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Tidbit Tuesday: Operation Do Better 2.0

Now that summer is rapidly coming to a close, the Thrifty Chicks are in the mood for rapidly pulling back on spending. Yeah, we know we have said that we’re on the Operation Do Better train for the long haul, but even the the Thrifty Chicks fall off the wagon.

So, we are making yet another public declaration. It’s time to push pause on any form of unnecessary spending. What that means is Operation Do Better 2.0 starts Sept. 15 and we’d like to invite you to join us as we say no to spending that doesn’t help us achieve the things that we said were important to us when we started this whole thing, namely: giving, saving and debt elimination.

We picked that date because Ricks’ 34th birthday is on Sept. 13 and there will be a few festivities — scaled back though they are — to get through. Ricks’ also considers each blessed birthday she is allowed to see as her new year and an opportunity to re-evaluate and make necessary changes just as most people do Jan. 1 each year. Reese is a legit near-new year baby (Jan. 2) and part of her birthday celebration is one of the reason’s we’re talking about Operation Do Better 2.0.

We’re going to SOUTH AFRICA, y’all! Since the beginning of 2013, we’ve known that we wanted to celebrate the new year in South Africa.  We’ve been making necessary changes to how we handle our finances so that we could live better lives overall, but those changes also had to do with the short term goal of getting to South Africa.

As many of our regular readers well know, Ricks quit her job in June and is pursuing life as her own boss. The reality of that means that Reese is the only Thrifty Chick bringing in a steady paycheck. With a lot of communication, faith and support we’re making it, but December is no longer 12 months away. December is only four short months away. Yikes! In our favor is before Ricks left her job, we both purchased our round trip plane tickets with travel insurance. Now, the only thing we have to cover is lodging, food and in-country travel.

While the trip is important to us,  so is Operation Do Better 2.0.  This reduced income life is hard, and we will be sharing some of the things that we’ve done and are doing in posts to come. But what it means is refocusing on what we said was truly important when we started this whole thing almost nine months ago. We care about experiences, not stuff. We don’t mind working, but we don’t want to define our lives by what we do to make money. Living simply and sustainably isn’t something we want to TALK about, but BE about.

For us, Operation Do Better 2.0 means refocusing on the big three: giving, saving and debt elimination. And we invite to you to recommit to what you truly want out of life. Maybe it is owning a house, with a white picket fence, two kids and a dog. Maybe it’s seeing as much of the world before you die as possible. For you, it might be the satisfaction of knowing that you control your own destiny because you don’t owe anybody anything. Whatever it is, we invite you to join us in Operation Do Better 2.0.

Here are a few things to get you going:

1. Be accountable. If you don’t yet have someone to share your money triumphs and struggles with it’s time to find that person. This person should be someone who won’t judge, but will call you on your foolishness. It also helps if this person is willing to reciprocate. This person needs to be someone you trust enough to confide the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

2. Be real. When we say the whole truth. We mean the whole truth. Share your money story — all your hang-ups, the stupidest things you’ve ever done with your money, and why you want to get it right this time. Reese and I shared our stories this summer and it was eye-opening to say the least.

3. Be transparent. Reese and I instituted a weekly finance meeting. We talk about sources of income and how much is coming in. We talk about how much is going out. We talk strategy about how we can make adjustments. We also talk about how we’re feeling. These talks can be morose when money is tight so…

4. Be thankful. After too many finance talks that sounded like defeat, we’ve decided to put a praise report at the start of every Too Thrifty Chicks finance meeting. We want to give thanks for all the good things, no matter how small. We’re blessed and we know it. You are blessed too. Never forget it.

5. Don’t forget grace. There are going to be rough moments. We knew this going into Operation Do Better and you should know it too. You’re going to make bad choices once in a while and that’s OK. Don’t beat yourself up. Keep your goals in sight. Write them somewhere you can see them and keep moving forward.

Stay tuned for more information about what we’re doing with Operation Do Better 2.0 and what we’re learning along the way.

— R & R


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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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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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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.