Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Spending Challenge: September Totals

I know I started on September 6th but I get paid on the 1st of each month so to make matters less complicated, I'm going to do my updates on the last day of the month. I will still finish on September 5th, 2015. 

Starting Balances
Amex: $1,545.79
Mastercard: $5,714.27
Sallie Mae: $14,123.57
Chase: $19,907.33
Sallie Mae: $24,754.52

October 6th Balances
Amex: $1,545.79 $0
Mastercard: $5,714.27 
Sallie Mae: $14,123.57 $11,472
Chase: $19,907.33
Sallie Mae: $24,754.52

That's a total of $4,518.32 this month! Doesn't that $0 balance look pretty??

I dog sat, babysat, wrote resumes, received bonuses at work, sold my kayak, received an inheritance, found plenty of affordable activities and stuck to the spending challenge rules to make this happen. This is certainly an abnormal month because I won't always have large items to sell and an inheritance doesn't happen every day. The momentum from this month has been incredible though!

Side note: Normally I would follow Dave Ramsey's snowball strategy and I would have made a dent in my Mastercard. However, the money from the inheritance was given to me by my parents who wanted to support my school debt. Understandably, they didn't want the money to pay off my excessive Target trips ;) Any debt payment going forward will follow the snowball plan.  

The hardest part about the challenge this month was: Honestly, it was hard to find a challenge this month. It wasn't always my preference to prep my meals and plan ahead to avoid eating out. But with my food budget, I was able to get a meal or two out without consequence. I suppose you could say I easily would have bought clothes from Target over the past few weeks. Their fall lines looked adorable and definitely my style. Occasionally people were busy doing things that cost more money than I wanted to spend. It left me doing activities solo on occasion, which isn't always fun. The mindset that this challenge is going to make my life better made the challenges worth it. I have a feeling most months won't be this easy though!

What I learned from the challenge this month was: There are tons of free things to do and so many people are on board with doing more affordable activities! I was worried that people would count me out and drift away from our friendship if I wasn't able to spend money and that has certainly not been the case at all so far. I'm learning my insecurities were what was holding me back rather than reality. I learned that it feels great to set a goal and stick to it, rather than sway with any negative feedback of others.

For so long my goal has been to be out of debt and it has consumed me, unsuccessfully. I'm learning that it's not about the numbers. I know that when I'm 100% debt free, my life won't change all that much. I'll have less stress and more options financially, no doubt. But the people that love me will care for me either way. 

One more lesson I learned - it was actually fairly easy to keep my spending money. By Sunday I still had $30 left. I splurged on Thai food delivered to my house. Ugh, the fees and tip alone cost $10. Looking back I'm bummed that I did it. I know in other months that $30 would really help. Lesson learned to save any leftover fun money for rainy days!

The best part about the challenge this month was: seeing how supportive people are. 95% of people I have talked to have been so encouraging and it makes this so much easier. Yes, seeing the $0 balance on my credit card felt pretty great and knowing I have less than $3,000 left in credit card debt is exciting. I honestly would have assumed that would have been the best part of the month.

1 month down, 11 to go! There are already some big things on the October schedule so I'm excited to see those numbers next month!

Monday, September 29, 2014

I could really get used to this spending challenge!

Another weekend in the books and the challenge is still going strong!

I had $30 left for food until my next paycheck so I ran to the grocery store for a few things to compliment what I had in my kitchen. Less than $20 I was out of there and ready to make some baked fajitas thanks to Pinterest.

I paired it with a tortilla shell I had on hand and some plain Greek yogurt because I am blessed to have taste buds that are fooled into thinking it's sour cream. I may have also paired it with the rest of my boxed wine and a night on the porch with my favorite single lady.

Saturday kicked off a new season with the organization I volunteer for. We teach Downs syndrome kids how to read and I was lucky enough to tutor two kids Saturday morning. These kids are the best and I love reading with them!

After being a responsible adult with a walk, lunch, shower, etc. it was time for some bridesmaid duties. One of my best friends from high school is getting married to her high school sweetheart and we picked out our bridesmaid dresses on Saturday. As a way to get to know the bridesmaids better, we also did dinner and went to Bar Louie in Uptown.
I love being a bridesmaid because I get to become friends with the bride's friends and it's super fun! These girls are hilarious so I'm really looking forward to the bachelorette party and the wedding!

As rounds of drinks were bought, the bride was worried that I would talk about how I spent too much money on my blog. Haha! I seriously love how invested in this challenge and supportive people are! I spent more than I would have on a night out with this challenge but I have a "bridesmaid" fund and it covered my bill :)

Sunday was a little rough after the night before but when Erika called me to go hiking, I was on board. The weather was perfect and the views at Afton Alps were beautiful.
It was way cheaper and more active than our normal brunch outing! I really love that we made that switch even if those hills showed how out of shape I am!

I finished the weekend with a Vikings win, getting some work done, and reading for book club. My budget is still completely on track with this challenge and I can't wait to give you the first month's official totals tomorrow! Spoiler alert - the results are good!

Monday, September 22, 2014

A very free weekend

Spending challenge days 14 and 15 complete! People often equate not spending money with sitting at home, being boring and doing nothing. That may be the case occasionally but this weekend was packed full of fun, free things.

Simply turn your head sideways to view pictures in this post because my computer is being ridiculous today.  
Friday was relaxing. I cleaned, cooked and watched Season 1 of You're The Worst, a new hysterical show on FX. Part of my goal for this challenge is to spend more time keeping this organized and getting rid of crap. I took an old cork board that was sitting in my closet and turned it into a necklace rack. My jewelry has been sitting in a shoe box for a year now so it feels great to have it displayed better.

I still need to find a holder for my earings and bracelets but it's a good start!

Saturday I wrote some resumes, enjoyed a walk around Lake Calhoun, and explored my dream life at the Parade of Homes. One of the benefits of the spending challenge is to be in a better spot so I can buy a home so I used this as motivation. These houses were incredible and a cool $1.5 million.

By the 5th house I was starting to get depressed at how far out of reach these were so I headed home, just in time to beat a big storm. I headed to my friend's house to have a drink and watch Jim Gaffigan on Netflix to cheer us up.

Sunday was the best of all. I biked 5 miles to my friend's house, where we met to go hiking at Lebanon Hills. The weather was perfect and the 4-mile workout was fantastic.

Instead of doing our usual Sunday brunch at a cool Minneapolis restaurant, we made our own and it was freaking fantastic! Eggs Benedict, sweet potatoes, asparagus, salmon cakes, bloody mary's and champagne!

We didn't have to wait in line and we each spent less than $10 on the food and drinks. It was a big hit and I'm so glad the girls are on board to do it again! My friends are so supportive of this challenge and it's making a world of difference.

Afterward I had my bike adjusted before I rode back home because not only were the tires nearly flat but the seat was not adjusted to my height correctly. Thank God for friends who know a thing or two about bike riding!! All that exercise showed some great results for my Fitbit that I finally started using!

I ended the weekend with a Paint Nite event with my co-workers. I bought the Living Social deal a few weeks ago so my only expense was a glass of sangria, which I'm regretting since it was $9 that could have been spent in a better way.
Normally I would have picked a different night to go when we were painting a design I liked better but it was a team bonding event and I didn't get a say. Instead of making a painting of flowers that I would never actually hang in my house, I decided to go rogue and make a painting I actually might want. I'm certainly not a skilled painter and my idea became more ambitious that I was prepared for but I was able to cover it up with bold black lines. The instructor was a bit surprised I did something different but if I paid for the supplies, why not paint something I wanted?

It feels great to have another fun weekend without screwing up the challenge! Happy Monday!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Breathing is Expensive

Every fall I have to avoid bonfires, exercise, beer, and sometimes even just being outside. Although it's the most beautiful time of year, it's often the most stressful for me. As someone with chronic asthma, my lungs just can't take the season change and with very few exceptions, I end up in the ER in the middle of the night unable to breathe once or twice a September. It's been happening since 2nd grade and not only does it cramp my fall-loving style but it's expensive. Crazy expensive.

Depending on the year and how bad my asthma is, I end up paying $1,000-$4,000 in medical expenses every fall. That's not exactly budget friendly. And go figure, my asthma is also triggered by stress so worrying about that expense doesn't help anything.

This year, especially in line with the spending challenge, I knew I needed to be proactive. Not only did I not want my roommates to have to drive me to the ER in the middle of the night, I knew I wasn't wasting money on the ER. So I decided to be proactive. Every year, after the asthma attacks, my doctors would give me a preventative steroid inhaler. It finally clicked this year that I should use last year's after thought to be preventative this year!

As I picked up my meds yesterday, I learned that my preventative inhaler cost $191. I was appalled that it costs me $1.50 per puff but I would rather pay that than a medical bill and a ruined fall any day. And fortunately a fee like that can be covered with my HSA account, unlike a couple thousand in medical bills. 

So I puff my Flovent inhaler and take an allergy pill every night and it's amazing the difference I have felt! I have exercised, I drink beer, I go on walks and I even had a bonfire last night! I might actually be able to enjoy this season we call fall! And best of all, I sleep through the night, full able to breathe with no coughing fits. I'm knocking on all of the wood and crossing my fingers, eyes, and toes that this solution sticks.

I'm learning that fairly minor changes like this is exactly what I was hoping the spending challenge would accomplish. I have yet to feel restricted or deprived, yet I already feel smarter about how my actions affect my financial situation.

Cheers to starting week 3 tomorrow!

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!