Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Going to the movies for FREE!

I once paid $14 for a movie ticket. Just the ticket without popcorn. As I mapped out my spending challenge, I was bummed to realize that I would likely have to quit going to the movies. With $50/month for fun, an expensive ticket + popcorn just wasn't going to happen.

I'm happy to report that although I've found that many local theaters have actually lowered their prices to $5-$8 per ticket (yay!), I've found ways to see movies for FREE!

Of course you can rent a movie through Redbox. You can easily find promo codes to get a free rental or a BOGO. Now, don't forget to return these DVDs or you will be charged the full price of the movie. Not that I would know...

If you don't want to wait until a movie comes out on DVD, I've found ways to see new releases in the theaters! If you still have your student ID, you can see if you college shows free movies a few weeks after the movie has been released. The University of Minnesota does that!

Best of all, you can even see movies in theaters BEFORE they've been released! Several sites, including Gofobo, promote free movie screenings the week before the movie comes out. You can typically Google to find an RSVP code or several local media outlets will promote RSVP codes and promotions as well.
So far I've seen The 100 Foot Journey and This Is Where I Leave You and they were both fantastic films!

The spending challenge is alive and well, thanks to opportunities like these! Do you have any tricks to seeing free movies?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Simple Minded

My sister and I are incredibly different people. Growing up, I always joked that I was adopted because we had nothing in common. As we've grown up, we have become closer and I'm thankful to find that a friendship has formed.

While she was visiting from England a few weeks ago, my sister helped me realize a new perspective and I'm looking forward to applying it to my spending challenge. I was frustrated about a group of people, claiming they were simple-minded. She looked at me and explained that she was simple minded, and that there was nothing wrong with it. I don't say this often, but my sister was right.

When someone asks me if they should spend money on going on a cruise when they're also saving for a wedding, I weigh the pros and cons and analyze every angle. I see it as gray area that can be adjusted to squeeze in every opportunity out of life. If someone were to ask my sister the same thing, she would see it as black and white. She would say no, save for the wedding. Focus on one thing, simple as that.

This spending challenge aligns well with a more simple-minded approach. In fact, talking with my sister solidified this plan after months or even years of considering it. No more justifying purchases or debating how I can spend a little more money. When the allowance is gone, it's gone until the following month. One goal in mind and the rest is background noise until I've met my goal. Black and white.

Friday, September 12, 2014

1 week down - 51 to go!

I assumed the first week would be full of adjustments. Always preparing my meals, avoiding expensive activities, etc. But honestly, it has barely phased me. Sure, there has been one or two unusual meals by eating whatever I had on hand, but I've stayed busy enough to not worry about it too much.

It's been a very busy week with work and volunteering so I haven't had any opportunities to pass on fun, costly activities or feel deprived of anything. The only expense I had this week was attending a networking event. $5 to attend, $3 to park. I had appetizers (included) and I passed on buying myself a drink. It felt odd to not have a glass of wine in my hand but I didn't miss it too much.

My co-worker had a Buy One, Get One at Noodles & Co and offered to take me out to lunch. She knows I can go to lunch, I just can't buy my lunch. It was so nice that she thought of me and was supportive of my spending challenge that I set aside any pride of her "buying" me lunch.

I used this week to tackle a few things I had been putting off, like selling my kayak and organizing the finances for my resume business. I was able to sell my kayak to a 12-year-old boy who had saved his money for 2 years to buy a kayak! And I hadn't taken a profit from my business all year (I'm still learning about this small business stuff!) so I finally paid myself a portion of this year's profit. So far I've been able to make a decent dent in my smallest credit card and it feels amazing. I'm already excited to share my Month 1 totals! 

Here's hoping every week is this easy :) Week 1 down, 51 more weeks to go!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Just another day

I had a fantastic weekend, filled with friends, family, side jobs, and FOOTBALL (Go Vikings)! Oh, and I started my spending challenge on Saturday. September 6th marked the big day and to be honest, it felt like just another day.

The weather was gorgeous so I took my dog-sitting pups on a walk, I spent time with my friends, I helped a client with his resume, I enjoyed babysitting a crazy 2-year-old and I read for book club. Not only did I avoid spending, I made money too! The only slight difference was that I had to think ahead a little more on what food I ate to avoid buying coffee or fast food. Easy enough.

I'm thankful for friends (and readers!) who are supportive of my spending challenge. I'm relieved that they not only remind me of fun free activities but they don't complain or try to convince me to join them in costly activities. 

My goal is to make progress without completely disrupting my whole life and making this unsustainable. And so far, so very good. Yes, it's only been two days but I don't feel like life has changed all that much, and I usually forget I'm not spending money. I didn't want this challenge to consume me and it turns out it's not, yet.

I'm already prepared to make my first debt payment while on this challenge after the money I made this weekend. It feels great to see that pesky debt shrink and I'm excited to see my monthly totals! I cannot wait to see how little I'll owe by September 6, 2015! Cheers to day 3!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

One Year : A Challenge

A storm has been brewing lately. One of those awesome lightning storms that make amazing pictures and you sit in your garage watching it. The kind where you want to run out and dance in the pouring rain. A storm I'm kind of excited about.

I am doing something drastic to get out of debt. It's going to stir things up and create some big change. I will no longer be clueless. And it won't be easy.

In college, someone sent me a link to a Spending Fast® from Anna at And Then I Saved.

I was inspired but I never felt confident enough that I, too, could pull it off. You see, it requires a FULL YEAR of not spending outside of the necessary. She even learned how to cut her own hair. Seriously. And $24,000 later, she was out of debt.

It's been a few years since Anna coined the phrase "Spending Fast" and she has helped an entire community of people tackle their debt. Go read everyone's Get Out Of Debt Pledge - it blows my mind how many people are in my same shoes. I've stayed up to date on her blog and it continues to inspire me, even though I've never acted on it.

More recently, Cait from Blonde on a Budget started a year-long shopping ban too. While she is not in debt anymore, due to her incredible hard work and persistence, she knows that changing her habits will help her accomplish bigger dreams. I relate to that 100%. Cait admits she's terrified of "living without" and I share her concerns for my challenge.

With the inspiration and information these ambitious women and many others have provided, I'm joining the club. September 6th, 2014 is the official start of my spending challenge. And like most challenges, I have to set some rules to follow.

What I CAN spend money on:
  • Rent
  • Gas ($120 per paycheck)
  • Groceries ($150 per paycheck - includes any liquor store purchases)
  • Basic Household Items
    • Toilet paper, meal storage, cleaning products, laundry detergent, etc.
  •  Toiletries
    • Makeup (only refills of what I currently use), shampoo, razors, etc. 
  • Utilities 
    • Does not include cable but does allow Internet, Netflix and Hulu subscriptions
  • A new pair of Ugg boots (Minnesota winters, enough said)
  • One pair of winter work shoes
  • Mandatory car maintenance and repair
  • A minimal phone upgrade - it's time after 2 years
  • $75 per paycheck for savings - to be used for emergencies and bridesmaid expenses only
  • $50 monthly allowance - this is to exclusively buy gifts or experiences, not things
What I CAN'T spend money on:
  • Clothes and shoes (with above exceptions)
  • Books
  • Unnecessary household items and decorations, including flowers
  • Activities and gifts outside of my $50 monthly allowance - when it's gone, it's gone
  • Buying a dog
  • Electronics
  • Donations to charities - I have donated as much as I can in the past and I will do much more after this challenge
  • Plane tickets!
  • Unnecessary cosmetics and luxuries (spray tans, teeth whitening, nail polish, manicures/pedicures, massages etc.)
  • Cable
  • Gym equipment or additional memberships - my current membership is already paid for 2.5 more years.
  • Office supplies
The first step is to tell friends and family about this challenge. Most people are initially shocked, and one person even said I was crazy and potentially unhealthy. Once I explain my motivation and how one year of sacrifice is so much better than decades of debt payments, they are supportive. I'm definitely curious by how this will make a difference in my relationships over the next year.

I will have regular updates at the end of each pay period throughout this challenge to talk about how I stretch my $50 allowance and my debt payment totals. I don't have a specific amount of debt I expect to get rid of and I'm aware that I probably won't be entirely debt free next September. However, I'm really excited to see what the monthly and final numbers are.

Call me crazy but I'm actually a little excited for September 6th!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Failure is not Fatal

I've started spending challenges before. Quite a few of them, in fact. Some have been more successful than others but none of them have been completed for one reason or another.
I've had excuse after excuse for why I haven't been more proactive about my debt. Sure, I've had intentions, obviously it's all I write about, but my words have always spoken louder.
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture

Brick walls (excuses) I've used to stay in debt:
  • I need all of the things from Target. I couldn't possibly give up Target!
  • I wouldn't have a social life and I would miss out on everything
  • My friends would think I am lame and stop inviting me to things
  • I would be so bored and lonely
  • If I gave up unnecessary spending, it still wouldn't make much difference in my debt to be worth it
  • Chipotle is way too good 
  • I don't want to be too consumed with all the sacrifice and put too much pressure on myself
  • My schedule is too busy to give up convenience and make all my meals
  • There's no way I would skip buying presents for birthdays or Christmas or donating to charities
  • I have to travel to visit my friends and family or take advantage of cool opportunities!
  • "I could really go for a drink, or pizza, or pad Thai right now," which always turns into ordering more. 
Lately I've been hearing a lot about how failure isn't the worst thing to happen. And I wonder about what the world would be like if the greats allowed failure to stop them. We would have no Disney movies or light bulbs. Hell, slavery could still be a thing (though I like to think it would have ended eventually!)

Lincoln was a champion and he never gave up. Here is a sketch of Lincoln's road to the White House:
  • 1816: His family was forced out of their home. He had to work to support them.
  • 1818: His mother died.
  • 1831: Failed in business.
  • 1832: Ran for state legislature - lost.
  • 1832: Also lost his job - wanted to go to law school but couldn’t get in.
  • 1833: Borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business and by the end of the year he was bankrupt. He spent the next 17 years of his life paying off this debt.
  • 1834: Ran for state legislature again - won.
  • 1835: Was engaged to be married, sweetheart died and his heart was broken.
  • 1836: Had a total nervous breakdown and was in bed for six months.
  • 1838: Sought to become speaker of the state legislature - defeated.
  • 1840: Sought to become elector - defeated.
  • 1843: Ran for Congress - lost.
  • 1846: Ran for Congress again - this time he won - went to Washington and did a good job.
  • 1848: Ran for re-election to Congress - lost.
  • 1849 Sought the job of land officer in his home state - rejected.
  • 1854: Ran for Senate of the United States - lost.
  • 1856: Sought the Vice-Presidential nomination at his party’s national convention - got less than 100 votes.
  • 1858: Ran for U.S. Senate again - again he lost.
  • 1860: Elected president of the United States.

Getting out of debt is a big task, sure. But it's certainly not Earth shattering and it won't be the singular action that changes the world. I'm not the first to get out of debt and I won't be the last. So there really should be no reason to say "I can't." I have no good reason not to get myself into a better financial situation.

Well, Winston, I'm ready to try again with more confidence than ever. My current challenge isn't technically over yet.  I haven't set foot in a Target and I've avoided buying clothes and eating out 95% of the time. However, I've spent a little bit decent amount with my sister in town. Although it hasn't been perfect, it's been my best shot yet. I want to keep that momentum going and see what I'm really capable of.

Stay tuned for the official plan tomorrow! 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Foreign Concept

Tomorrow is payday. Typically this means I can finally stop scrapping by and buy more things. Or in last paycheck's case, it means I am impatiently waiting for funds to hit my account so I can get out of a negative balance (yes, that really happened. I'm definitely still clueless).

This time it's different. This morning, as I reviewed my budget, a funny thing happened. I have money left over in most categories! And not just a few cents here and there. Money worth transferring to a pesky credit card balance!

Granted, with my sister being here, I've used my credit card a little bit too. And there were a few one-time scenarios where I spent more than I normally would in a given week (the State Fair, Fantasy Football Draft, etc.)

But seeing money left over at the end of a pay period is just the incentive I need to keep going with this challenge. In fact, starting September 6th I'm upping the ante with a more difficult challenge. More on that coming soon!