Monday, April 30, 2012

close out

Is it just me or did this month fly by? I can't believe tomorrow is the start of May.

I have to admit, I fell back into some old habits this weekend when it came to spending. But, I recognized it (albeit after I had spent the money) and now I'm ready to get back to saving.

Let's close out April by reviewing the last few steps of Financial Literacy Month (review the other 26 days here and here).

Step 27: Understand the cost of credit. Compare the following before you borrow: Interest rate, length of loan, the total cost of the loan (including interest), credit limit, minimum monthly payment, grace period, and overdrawn & late payment fees. I would also add any pre-payment penalty (I honestly can't believe banks charge you for being responsible). Their blog also reminds you to take into consideration the psychological costs of debt, which, in my opinion, can sometimes outweigh the actual costs (it did for me!)

Step 28: Assemble a financial team. This includes a tax advisor/accountant, a credit counselor, a financial planner, and a lawyer. You may not need all of these componants, but I've heard visiting a financial planner is an expense that's well worth the cost. It can definitely help to have an objective opinion about your finances. The Weakonomist compares your financial team to a football team (helpful!)

Step 29: Appreciate the benefits. "Change may be hard, but the payoff can be priceless." MMI provides a little checklist - "If I stick to my plan, I will..." - I have every box checked off:
  • feel a sense of accomplishment
  • have less anxiety
  • build a secure financial future
  • improve my creditworthiness
  • appreciate the things I have purchased
  • avoid legal problems
  • be prepared for financial emergencies
  • feel more in control of my finances

  • I would also add "have a greater sense of self"

    Step 30: Moving forward & Reflections. Is it weird I'm kind of disappointed Financial Literacy Month is over? Even though many of the topics covered during the month were things I already knew, it was nice to review some concepts and apply them to my current finances.

    The last reflection of FLM is "What will you do next?" One of the themes I saw over & over during the month was tracking your spending, which I do... kinda, sorta, not really. So May's goal will be to jot down every expense. Whether it's fifty cents in the vending machine at work or paying my half of the mortgage, it's going down in my dollar store journal. I'm hopeful that actually writing it, instead of just reviewing it on the computer screen, will help keep my spending in check.

    Did Financial Literacy Month help you at all? I wonder if May has any kind of money theme... "Mad Money May", perhaps? Let's make it happen.

    Friday, April 27, 2012

    clothes make the (wo)man

    Yesterday I had one of those mornings where I hated everything in my closet and felt like everything looked terrible on me (I'm sure all the female readers out there can understand). I have a love/hate relationship with my work clothes. I don't exactly have a job that necessitates a "power suit", but I feel like I should do more than wear slacks & button down everyday. Somedays I take the phrase "dress for the job you want, not the job you have" to heart and somedays I barely make the dress code.

    Then I started looking at my other clothes which are a mash-up of nicer, "adult" pieces and things I've owned from the juniors section for the past five years. Blah. Hating it. Unfortunately, there's still no room in the budget for extraneous shopping trips. I need to start shopping smarter when I do buy things and pick up pieces that can work for the office and for down time. I know there are folks out there who swear by thrift stores, but I've never had any luck with them. There is a consignment shop near our home, but the prices there are the same as if I bought a new shirt from TJ Maxx.

    How do you budget for clothes? A friend of ours used to get a clothing allowance for his job- he would buy one new polo shirt a year then spend the rest on beer. The hubs has a standard uniform of khakis(work)/jeans and a Ralph Lauren polo shirt. Anyone else out there a Maxxiniesta?

    Wednesday, April 25, 2012

    sugar lips

    That title has nothing to do with money and everything to do about the massive amount of sweet treats I've eaten today. Free breakfast at work... is there anything better? (actually, a glass of milk would be awesome right now, but I'll manage.)

    I'm currently waiting on Card #1's decision about my credit line (read more about that here) and I have another financial transaction pending that I'll be able to divulge more information about soon, hopefully. In the mean time, it's been awhile since we checked in at Financial Literacy Month, so let's catch up!
    Step 17: Save for Your Goals. The tips for savings are "make it automatic, turn a hobby into an income, downsize, & use gifts wisely." I already started the automatic savings ($50 taken out pre & post tax into separate accounts), but I don't really have a "hobby", unless you know somewhere I can get paid to lay on the couch and watch Law & Order SVU. We don't really have a lot of stuff to begin with in order to downsize, and we recently used our tax return to re-bolster our savings account; However, if I get monetary gifts for my birthday or Christmas, I'd be lucky if they lasted a week in my wallet. That'll be a goal to work on at the end of the year.

    Step 18: Where Does All the Money Go? Seriously! Where is it? This step is about tracking expenses. I hate tracking expenses, even though I know it's a necessary evil. I just can't seem to commit to carrying a piece of paper or a notebook around for more than a week. Instead, I've been trying to log onto my online banking every few days to analyze/catagorize where the money is going. Next week, I'll be breaking down this month's spending and see where I can do better.

    Step 19: Identify Fixed Expenses. Sounds easy!

  • Mortgage: $600.00 (includes taxes)
  • Water/Sewer: $40.00 (paid quarterly)
  • Cell Phones: $178.00
  • Cable: $125.00
  • Student Loans: $205.00
  • Credit Cards: $300.00

  • My total fixed expenses are about $1,200 or one paycheck per month. I did not include the electric bill, because that's our biggest variable expense! It's like a roulette wheel every month on what it's going to be.

    Step 20: Identify & Plan for Periodics. It's crazy that I never even thought to pre-budget for these expenses before now. "Often, we know when these events will occur, but still fail to plan for them." Uh, hello, that's me! As I touched on yesterday, birthdays are an expense I don't specifically budget for, even though they come at the same time every year. Renewing my car's registration is another one (for the hubs too!). I do a fairly good job at budgeting for Christmas. Usually around October I start pestering everyone for gift ideas, but I've also been known to buy things throughout the year in order to spread out the spening.

    Step 21: Document Your Spending. FLM suggests uploading your monthly expenses into their worksheet or a similar one in Excel or Quicken. I know my SIL uses a spreadsheet tracker. I guess I better jump on this bandwagon!

    Step 22: Identify Ways to Reduce Spending. One way I've reduced spending that I've briefly mentioned before is carpooling. I now only have to get gas 3-4 per month instead of 5-6 times. It doesn't seem like a lot, but with as prices on the up & up, saving an extra $60-$70 a month comes in handy! I also use the GasBuddy app on my iPhone to locate the cheapest gas near me. A penny saved is a penny earned, right?

    Step 23: Save Money on Groceries. Ugh, yes, this is what we need. You may recall the other week when I noticed we spent almost $500 on groceries in March 2012. And there's only two of us in the house. FLM's website encourages weekly meal planning. One of my co-workers does this with success, but I really haven't been able to get into it. What I plan out on Sunday just doesn't translate by Thursday when I want chicken instead of fish. Instead, I've been utilizing my favorite stores apps to make lists and stick with them and trying to set an overall budget. It's a work in progress, but I'm getting better.

    Step 24: Share a Financial Tip for Change."When you identify ways to reduce spending, you are being honest with yourself about your finances.  Being honest with yourself and others about your finances will ensure your success." Well this blog is one big lump of honesty - the good, the bad, the ugly, it's all here.

    Step 25: Document Your Desired Spending. In other words, indicate how you would like to change your spending. I actually just revamped my budget last week and set up e-mail alerts so I know when I'm at or near my budget threshold. I decreased spending in a few catagories (namely personal catagories like health/clothing).

    Step 26 (for good luck): Protect Yourself by Performing Personal Financial Check-Ups. Check in on your home/auto/health/life insurance policies to make you're covered in a way that best fits your lifestyle. There's no sense in paying for stuff you're not going to use!

    How is your financial literacy month shaping up? I think it's clear my goal for May needs to be an exhaustive documentation of my month's expenses! Has anyone received a good financial tip lately?

    Tuesday, April 24, 2012


    I feel guilty for such a lack of posts! We all know weekend posting isn't my forte (the house has to get cleaned sometime and Molly still can't walk herself yet), but lately, I've actually been busy at work and haven't had the extra time to blog. Although I'd much rather be busy than bored, I figure I can squeeze a quick one out before lunch.

    Since having the extra time during Lent to reflect on my spending habits and reign them in, I think I've become a lot better at not excessively buying things for myself. Case in point, I have been to Kohl's on at least two occasions and haven't bought anything. Unfortunately, when it comes to buying for other people, I can't seem to stay within my budget.

    I've always been a bleeding heart for various organizations. You name it, I've probably donated money to them. In 2010, I donated over $800 to various charities. That number seems so insanely large now, even though I'm making more money now than I did then. The same principle applies to friends and family. I love to give. I love to find the perfect gift. It doesn't have to be expensive, but sometimes, it is. In the next six weekends, the hubs and I have a string of events to attend- a bridal shower, baby shower, wedding,  engagement party, a birthday, and two wonderful mothers to celebrate. Do you hear that? It's our bank account screaming bloody murder.

    When it comes to bridal and baby showers, I always make a budget. And invariably, I always blow through it. More so with babies than brides. There are just so many things those little people need! I did better with sticking to my bridal shower budget this year, I think I only went over by about $15. But my biggest budget buster is my mom. She's just so awesome that I want to buy her everything in the world to thank her for putting up with me all these years and for helping us out so much. Same with my MIL.

    While we were at lunch on Sunday, the hubs and I brainstormed Mother's Day ideas. We're still finalizing what to get his mom, but I'm going to take my mom out to The Lizzie Rose tea room for lunch and later, for pedicures. The hubs is going old school and giving her a coupon that she can redeem for him to cut her lawn.

    Does anyone have any tricks for staying within budget when it comes to special occasions? I think what does me in is adding little "extras" that are really $2-$3 each!

    Friday, April 20, 2012

    the limit does not exist

    Actually, in this case, a limit DOES exist and I am not happy about it.

    Yesterday afternoon, I received an e-mail from Credit Card #1 stating they were dropping my credit limit - by $2,000!!!

    As you can imagine, I totally flipped out. I immediately called the company and pitched a fit. My main problem with the decision was my new limit ($3,000) only spared me about $200 from maxing the card out. In addition, I've never made a late payment on the card, have paid the balance off before in the past, and used the card actively. So what gives?

    The customer service rep told me they had pulled my Experian credit report as part of an "Annual Credit Profile" (which, in the four years I've been with the company, is the first I'm ever hearing of this procedure). Having just pulled my credit report last week, I knew exactly what Experian had reported, and I couldn't see any negative reasons why they should drop my limit that much. The main reason was because my "debt to credit utilization ratio was too high". I know my utilization was a bit high (about 43% - read about it here), but, doesn't knocking my limit down so much make the situation worse since now I'm almost maxed out on one card? Apparently this company doesn't think so.

    Other reasons were the length of time my accounts have been opened (nothing to do about that but age) and the amount of my payments (the minimum, right now while on my payment plan) in relation to the balance. Geez. At least I pay my credit cards (and on time, for that matter!).

    I had half a mind to tell her to cancel the card right then and there, but then that's not going to help my "length of time accounts have been opened" situation. Instead, I asked her what I could do about it. There are two ways to appeal the decision. The first is to make a large, lump sum payment on the card (not happening, since we're still rebuilding our savings account). The second is to file an appeal based on income. So after work today, I have to run over to the UPS Store and fax over copies of all my assets (savings account, retirement accounts, last paystub) to the company with a request for my credit limit to be restored either to its original amount ($5,000) or another amount. I'm going to ask for my original limit back, but if not, at least increased to $4,000.

    The one good thing that came out of this scenario was I'm totally re-motivated now to pay these stupid things off as soon as possible so I never have to deal with a credit card company and their sneaky tactics ever again. Oh, and I found out my FICO score was 709. Still lower than last year by about 30 points, but not as bad as I thought it was.

    Anybody else have a similar experience before?

    Friday Spending:
    $5.97 Dunkin Donuts (breakfast)
    Friday Saved: $0.00

    Wednesday, April 18, 2012

    writing with a broken pencil pointless. Hah!

    I'm sure I'm not the only child of a baby boomer who was told college was non-negotiable. I'm sure I'm not the only person who didn't know what they wanted to study in college but who wanted to "get as far away from home" as possible. I'm also sure I'm not the only person who left only to come back and study at a state school. And I'm 100% sure I'm not the only person with significant student loan debt.

    We've talked a lot about credit cards, "bad" debt, and even worse habits. Like many people, I don't think about my student loans as bad, since I got something out of it (although, with a B.A. in Sociology/Anthropology, whether I got the better deal is up for debate). Yesterday, I read an article in my hometown paper about Stockton students having some of the highest student loan debt in the state (read it here). Approximately $30,000 for a state school. Granted, this is about a quarter of the debt you would have if you went to an out of state, private college, but, still, I find that number shockingly high. Let's run & compare my numbers as a Stockton alumnae, shall we?

    Year 1: About $15,000 for room & board at Simmons College in Boston, MA after grants & scholarships (half the total price). That's a hefty price tag for the "college experience". My major? Being ridiculous.
    Year 2- Fall: I'm only coming up with about $2,000 in loans, which doesn't seem right, but I did obtain some grants, scholarships, and continued in the work-study program. I transferred to the Catholic University of America for fall semester because I decided I wanted to be a theater major.
    Year 2- Spring: I leave CUA two weeks into spring semester because I realized I wasn't crazy enough to be a theater major. It's too late for me to transfer into Stockton, so I work & party pretty much everyday. Summer 2006 is still one of the best memories of my life (so far).
    Year 3: I start classes at Richard Stockton College. I live at home, since my mom's house is less than five miles from campus. I decide to go for a Sociology degree because it would be the fastest track to graduation. Mom helps me out financially with school and pays for one semester a year. Loan amount: $4,170.77
    Year 4: Stockton needs to fund it's expansion projects and tuition is slowly creeping up. Loan amount: $5,440.31
    Year 5: Mom has to take a pay freeze, so she can't help me with school this last year. Stockton ups their tuition significantly. I took loans to pay for the whole year to the tune of $12,761.13.

    When I graduated in May 2009, my total loan debt was approximately $28,000 and it hasn't decreased much at all. I should also note that unlike Years 1 & 2, I did not receive any scholarships/grants/work-study at Stockton, which definitely contributed to the overall total.

    Once I started working, between my low wage (thanks to that Sociology degree) and my bill payments, I couldn't manage the $400 a month Sallie Mae wanted and I signed up for a 5 year interest-only plan. I'm almost into year three of the plan and I still couldn't fathom finding an extra $200 a month to pay for my loans (I pay about $200 per month right now). While it's not something I stress about now, in a year or so, I'm going to have to figure something out!

    Do you feel like you got your money's worth out of your degree? If I could do it all again, I would've gone to community college for the first two years, then transferred to a state school. Although I met some great people and got to experience life on my own, I'm not sure it was worth $15,000 (and then some, when you include the other bed debt I got myself into!).

    Monday, April 16, 2012

    the why factor

    Anyone out there a Storage Wars fan? I bet you know my answer:
    thanks, dave
    Anyway, Darrell "The Gambler" Sheets is always talking about "The Wow Factor", but I'm going to talk about "The Why Factor". This past week, I've been listening to a few podcasts about money and my favorite by far is Adam Baker's Man vs. Debt podcast. Seriously, I have about four pages of notes/quotes on the subject. Here's a little nugget:
    We've been sold a myth...that the pursuit of a living environment filled with things is going to grant us security- even grant us happiness. In the pursuit of these things we start to identify with these things... [without stuff] it's easier to bounce back of anything negative that came into life... what happens when you need to adapt? Either physically, emotionally, financially to any situation? At best, you're restricted, you're clogged, you're congested...How much more fufilling would life be if you started collecting experiences instead of things
    That's just a brief synopsis - he talks more about how we're in a cycle of working longer & harder in jobs we don't like and rewarding ourselves with more stuff which is putting us deeper in debt so we have to keep working. I make no bones about the fact that I don't like my job all that much, but I stay because of the salary. How great would it be if I could take a pay cut and not worry about whether I could pay my bills? (the answer: super great).

    Today is the hubs' and my first wedding anniversary. On Saturday, we invited some of our friends over to have a little get together. Afterwards, we were in the kitchen talking and I asked him what our goals should be for Year 2 (the goal for Year 1 was just not to kill each other). He looked at me kind of strange at first, but I kept talking about what we should be working towards as a couple and how by researching topics for this blog I had learned a lot about goals. And I essentially admitted to him I had more credit card debt than I was comfortable with (I didn't give him the exact number), but I was ashamed to tell him about it. Of course he told me I shouldn't have been worried and he expressed he felt like he wasn't contributing as much to the household as I was and that's probably why I felt like I was coming up short each month.

    While we didn't set exact goals, we agreed to work together towards paying off my debt. It was really nice to have an in-depth conversation about what we wanted - which we dont do nearly as much as we should - and I hope it's something we can continue to do in the future.

    Back to the podcast (this all relates, I promise) - the central theme Baker talks about is "Your Big Why":
    [the] real, honest, transparent, selfish reason that you are getting out of debt or you are stepping up to take back control of your finances. The real reson.
    He says there are three levels: In the first level, we take the "why" at face value-
    "Debt is bad. Being rich is good. So I'm going to pursue this thing that's good and not this thing that's bad." Baker says "We simplify that much because we aren't willing to really dig deep and analyze the big why, the deep why, the real reson that we're doing this - why do you want to get out of debt? why is debt bad?"
    Obviously, my first level is along those lines as well. But why? In the second level, you answer that why. It may be because you want to have extra money to buy expensive things with cash instead of credit. Baker emphasizes it's okay to be selfish here. He literally says what my second level is in the podcast "I just want to get away from the stress. The stress of having to pay bills. The stress of this debt. The weight of this debt. I just want to get it off of me." But why?
    Your Big Why exists three levels down... Why do you want to get rid of the stress of your debt? What's the real reson deep down?"
    I feel like I'm falling short of what I really want out of life. The hubs and I have talked in the past about moving out of state and I would love to be able to do that and not worry about if I'll be able to find a job that pays what I make now. I want to be a person who works because they love what they do, not because they have to. I want to be able to explore other career paths without fear that we won't be able to afford our monthly bill payments. I used to be this really fun, spontaneous person who was always up for anything and now I feel like I plan everything and I don't do or experience as much as I used to because I'm always concerned about money. I'm sick of settling.

    Today's step of Financial Literacy Month is about making the commitment. They recommend creating a visual map of your goals and surrounding yourself with them. That's definitely something I'll be doing in the coming days so I can be reminded daily about why I'm on this journey.

    What's your Big Why?

    Monday Spent: $3.84 Wawa breakfast
    Monday Saved: $0.00

    Friday, April 13, 2012

    goal tending

    In continuing the theme from Wednesday's post, we're going to sail on into Financial Literacy Month with more tips. This weeks FLM topics seem to be centered around goal setting and goal tending. Ironically, I was listening to the Man versus Debt podcast yesterday and Baker interviewed a blogger who believed in a "no goals" theory.

    I'm not sure yet whether goals are for me, but perhaps that's because I have a hard time setting realistic goals. Or even if the goals themselves are realistic, I can't deal with slow results. I'm a "needed it yesterday" kind of person. I want immediate results, whether it's in my finances, weight loss, the house, etc. So as you can imagine, I'm often disappointed when things don't happen as fast as I think they should and I abandon whatever the goal/resolution was. I'm honestly surprised I stuck with the Lenten goal (for the most part) even when I wasn't able to make big dent in the debt overall.

    But back to Step 12: Set short, mid, and long-term goals. Their default goals are: Pay down debt (short), establish emergency savings (mid), and Retirement (long).

    My goals would be:

  • Short (one to two years): Build our emergency savings back up & save for a new car
  • Mid: (two to five years): Pay off credit card debt (we established back in February this would take me at least four years)
  • Long: Continue contributing to my retirement accounts and increase the contributions back to 10% once the debt is paid off. Establish a solid long-term savings. Sell our house and buy one I actually like in Atlantic County.

  • Step 13 of FLM covers a topic we're super familiar with around these parts: methods to pay down debt. They provide the examples of Debt Snowball (lowest balances first) and Debt Avalanche (highest interest rates first). I'm not one to beat a dead horse, so here's a handy debt pay-down calculator if you're interested.

    Moving right along... we're going to bang out Steps 14 & 15 today as well, since I'm a bit lax on the weekend blogging.

    Step 14 talks about the importance of an emergency savings account. This is an area I've been worrying a lot about lately, since our savings was wiped out after the bat removal. If we hadn't just received our tax return, I don't know how we would have managed. I know most financial websites recommend saving three to six months of living expenses which would put us somewhere between $7,377 & $14,755. Yow-za. I think we have $1,300 in the account right now (all thanks to the hubs).

    Step 15 makes me feel better since it's about preparing for retirement and I'm all over that. Prior to this debt paydown journey, I was contributing 12% of my salary to a Roth IRA and a Deferred Compensation plan. This was in addition to our mandatory pension contributions (which, to be honest, I wish I could just opt out of since I doubt NJ will have the money to pay it back to me when I retire). For now, I'm contributing 2% while I focus on knocking out my debt, but I'm look forward to getting back to fully funding my retirement accounts once my credit cards are wiped out. The Hubs also contributes a lot (I don't know the percentage off the top of my head) towards his 403(b) plan so we're on track to spend our retirement golfing (him) and at the beach (me).

    What are your financial goals? Do goals motivate you or do you get discouraged like me? Any tips for better management?

    Wednesday, April 11, 2012

    April is Financial Literacy Month

    Did you know that? I didn't until I was doing research on a different topic for the blog.

    Money Management International is sponsering a Financial Literacy Month Challenge as well as guest bloggers on their Blogging for Change website which highlights each days "step". You can enter the Challenge for a chance to win $500 - you know I did!

    I'm a bit behind on the steps, so lets kick this baby into overdrive to catch up, shall we?

    Step 1: Commit to Change. Done!

    Step 2: Assess Your Finanical Situation. I scored 12 points on their quiz, which "reflects a good effort to manage your money effectively. The 30 step plan can help determine changes that can be made to improve your financial well-being."
    Step 3: Clearing Out Financial Clutter. I will give myself a pat on the back for being pretty organized; I usually alway toss receipts (except for major household purchases), I print & save our utility bills for one year to compare costs. I'm hit-or-miss on saving credit card statements. Lately, I've just been reviewing them online.We have a big bag of bills I need to get around to shredding then burning in our fire pit. I need to add our paystubs to the pile now that we've received our tax return. The blog post for day 3 lists an interesting tip about carrying three different registers - one for cash, one for your bank/debit card, and one for credit cards. The author also mentions people who struggle with their finances may need to document their spending for longer than a month (ugh!)

    Step 4: Set Yourself Up for Success. I would consider myself the Family CFO, meaning I track and pay the majority of our household bills. Again, I'm pretty organized with our paperwork. We're half & half on automated payments- I should probably work towards full automatic payments. I couldn't view the webcast at work though, unfortunately.

    Step 5: Get Copies of Your Credit Report. Done - over 40 pages!

    Step 6: Clean Up Your Credit Report. Easy-peasy since there were no errors from the three reporting agencies.

    Step 7: Make Your Money Count. Using their Income Worksheet Form, I calculated a monthly take home of $2,553.24 (a bit more than my previous estimates due to knocking down my retirement contributions in the short term).
    Step 8: Identify Your Starting Point. I calculated my net worth at $1,130.87. Woo-hoo! In the positive! I didn't have the information on the balances in my pension & IRAs so I just estimated some rough numbers based on my last year & a half of contributions. I did not factor in our joint savings because I haven't recently contributed anything to it (whomp whomp)

    Step 9: Passing the Debt Test. I answered "yes" to four questions:
  • Is an increasing percentage of my income going towards debt payments: yes, but that's because I'm riding the debt meteor
  • Is my savings cushion inadequate or nonexistent: bats- 1, savings account- 0
  • Are you at or near your credit limits: depends on your interpretation of "near", but I answered yes anyway
  • If you lost your job would you be under immediate financial strain: hell yes. this scenario gives me nightmares.

  • The guest blog posts lists "5 Great Reasons to Have Less Debt". They all sounds fabulous.

    Step 10: Set Your Priorities. When filling out the worksheet they provided, I could almost place each priority in the "need" catagory, but I decided to be reasonable. The blog tells you to "market to yourself" what your priorities are instead of letting the mass media market to you which I think is a really interesting concept.
  • Rank 1 (most important): Paying off unsecured debt; Making on-time payments on secure debt; Maintaining a savings account (all ranked as needs)
  • Rank 2 (semi-important): Buring a car (still more a want than a need), taking a vacation (want), having money for entertainment (want)
  • Rank 3 (not as important): Saving money for a down-payment on a house. Obviously, we already own a house, so we don't need a D.P. but we should work on increasing our home equity.

  • Step 11: Set financial goals. They use the acronym SMART:
  • S - "A smart goal is specific. It pinpoints something you want to change to achieve." (I want to pay off my credit cards before I turn 30.)
  • M - "A smart goal is measurable. You can measure or count a SMART goal."
  • A - "A smart goal is achievable. Setting goals too high can lead to frustration." (going to be hard, but achievable)
  • R - "A smart goal is rewarding. Reaching the goal should be a reward for your hard work."
  • T - "A smart goal is trackable. Set milestones and schedules for your goals." (first goal: Pay off Card 3 by July at latest)

  • That brings us up to date on our steps. Are you motivated to take the Challenge now? I'm actually kind of excited about it. I'm definitely a person motivated by challenges/experiences so this is right up my alley.

    Tuesday, April 10, 2012

    pay it downward

    Since the "challenge" portion of the blog has officially ended, I thought I should check into my various cards and see where my balances are at and if I've made any progress. Plus I had to schedule my online payments for the month anyway. Two birds, one stone kind of deal.

    Card 1: $2,752.02 (+ $32.51)
    Card 2: $2,047.82 (+ $104.85)
    Card 3: $409.29 (-123.50)
    Card 4: $3,579.61 (-$300.00)

    Total debt: $8,788.74

    For a difference of $288.14 less than when we started. Blah. That's kind of depressing. But at least I'm under the $9,000 mark.

    We get paid this Friday, so I'll be able to throw my credit cards back in their "hiding place", hopefully for a lot longer this time, barring any home or car emergencies (like this one).

    A quick check on Credit Karma revealed no changes to my estimated score from the last time. Not surprising, given it's been less than a month since I last checked.

    I'm reading a new money management book which gives yet another way to manage your payments, so this week we'll analyze the sixth (or so) debt payoff strategy.

    Do you become frustrated by how slow some things take? Even though I know I've only been making two months of credit card payments I feel like there should be a much bigger dent in the debt - probably because I blog about it so much!

    Monday Spent: $1.45 coffee
    Monday Saved: $0.00

    Monday, April 9, 2012

    grand finale?

    Well friends, we made it.

    Yesterday was Day 40 of our journey. This week has been a bit stressful on the money front and I have had to use my credit card for a few necessities (like gas... gotta get to work somehow, unfortunately).

    I'm happy to report I went into Kohl's today - the one store I did not step foot in within the past 40 days - and I didn't buy a single thing. I tried things on, but everything was very meh. I actually could look at the items and know I didn't need them and I wasn't wowed by them so I put them back. Even the clearance items!

    Obviously, the challenge isn't over yet. Don't worry, I won't abandon you! I have some ideas floating around in my head which I'll be talking about this week.

    Day Forty One Spent:
    $3.45 K-Mart (1/2 priced Easter candy!)
    Day Forty One Saved: $0.00

    Thursday, April 5, 2012

    the secret life of mees.

    I have to be honest with ya'll: I used my credit card twice recently. After the check for the bat removal clears and my student loans are taken out on Monday, I'll have a whopping $33.41 to last until Friday's paycheck. Have I mentioned how high gas prices are right now? $3.75 a gallon on my way to work today. Yikes. It's going to be a close call.

    But I digress. On March 29th, I paid $32.10 for a full day of doggie day care at Camp Bow Wow. The hubs and I were supposed to go out that night for a friend's 30th birthday celebration, so I didn't need Molly destroying the house all day and night. I ended up having a migrane and staying in, so if my future-vision was working properly that day, I could've avoided that expense. This was also prior to finding out just how much it would cost to have bats removed from the premises. Damn future-vision.

    Yesterday, I paid $25 to the NJ Civil Service Commission, but I can't tell you why just yet.

    There's another secret I've been keeping from you and it's a doozy. It'll probably help you understand me better, but you'll probably also be a bit surprised and/or disgusted.

    This is not my first go around on the credt wheel. I've been here before, albeit not with this much money. When I was a sophomore in college, I had three open credit cards. I don't remember what the combined balance now, but it was more than I was comfortable with only working 3 or 4 days a week on campus. I called Consumer Credit and was set up on a payment plan. While in the plan, you had to sign off that you wouldn't use credit cards and you had to complete their online education program. Having taken a personal finance class the year before, I blew through the online test without actually attempting to learn something. About 6 months before I completed the program, I signed up for Card #1.

    After the hubs and I got married, we took about half of the monetary gifts we received and each paid off one card. Now, most of the items charged on my card were wedding-related items, but I still feel this guilt that the money was essentially wasted, since the card has a balance on it again after only a year. Clearly, I had learned nothing from my past mistakes.

    The good thing is, I think the third time is finally the charm. I get it now. I can look you in the eye and tell you I have a shopping problem. I was in the jail at work the other day and my co-worker was interviewing a guy who had an extensive shoplifting history. He said when he didn't have money for drugs, he would shoplift. He said he would get the same high clearing a metal detector as he could hitting the pipe. I think almost everyone has the capacity to become addicted to something. I certainly could have. But no more. I'm done. I have to be.

    Day Thirty Seven Spent: $0.00
    Day Thirty Seven Saved: $0.00

    Tuesday, April 3, 2012


    Yesterday, I was feeling ambitious. Well, not ambitious, maybe annoyed is a better word. But a motivated kind of annoyed. You all know by now we're a bit strapped for cash at the moment (if you don't know why, check here and here). On the right side of our property, we have a long line (about 25 feet) of forsythia bushes. Sounds beautiful, right? Yeah, not so much. Like many other things in our house, the previous owner(s) didn't keep up with any maintenance, and it's become a veritable jungle of branches. Some branches became too heavy and sunk to the ground where they re-rooted themselves and sprung more branches. It's crazy.

    I busted out the clippers when I got home from work yesterday while it was still sunny and relatively warm outside. It was kind of intimidating at first, because I didn't know where to start, so I just started clipping all the little branches away. Then I was able to to move inward, upward, and around. It was kind of liberating to clip the bush and throw the branches in a big pile. Here's what I was left with at the end:

    In the middle of it, I came up with a great analogy. Clipping the forsythia bushes is like chipping away at my debt. It seems massive and overwhelming when taken as a whole, but when broken into small portions, is much more managable. And the sense of accomplishment when completed is great!

    Is that the cheesiest analogy you've ever heard or what? It makes me giggle.

    Day Thirty-Five Spent: $1.45 Wawa coffee
    Day Thirty-Five Saved: $0.00

    Monday, April 2, 2012

    Book Review: Hot (broke) Messes

    Little known fact about me: I'm a wallow-er. When I'm in bad mood or have a funk I just can't shake, I bathe in depair and shower in my own self-pity. Putting it that way sounds much more poetic (and way less pathetic) than it actually is. In order to keep a shred of my journalistic integrity, I'll refrain from whining about how I don't have any money and how I feel like a failure (see why here). Instead, I figured I would give you all a short review about a recent personal finance book I read. This would probably easier if I thought to write the review before I returned the book to the library, but that just wouldn't be me.
    Second little known fact: I regularly judge (actual) books by their cover. Clearly, the bright pink and yellow combo called out to me in the library. I was initally intrigued by Ms. Trejos' claim about "having your latte", since most programs tell you to cut all your spending and don't encourage frivolous spending on things like coffee, manicures, new shirts, etc. To start, I felt like the author's kindred spirit: we were both young, had a lot of debt and didn't know what we spent it on, and definitely needed a plan on how to spend less.
    When it came to my own personal finance, I was basing my decisions on the personal, not the financial, part of it. I have made pretty much every personal finance mistake you can make. I got my first credit card in college. It didn’t take long for me to max it out. That was the beginning of a string of errors.
    Ms. Trejos chose to use a certified financial planner to assist her in getting out of debt (which I might do, if I could afford it). She had more debt than I do, but she also made about $30,000 more a year than I do (as a personal financial writer, where do I sign up?!). Like me, she kept track of her expenses and looked for ways to cut costs. Unfortunately, this is where lost me- her tastes were much more expensive than mine are. I had never even heard of Kerastase shampoo before I read this book (which sells for $22 on Amazon, FYI), so I didn't find her cost cutting strategies very helpful. I need more than "stay in and have parties with friends instead of going out" since I only go out-out once or twice a month.

    However, I appreciate where the author is coming from (since I'm right there too) and I could identify with her struggle to get back in touch with the financial side of personal finance. It was a quick read and would've fit in nicely with my "books for the beach" rotation.

    Read any good finance books lately? When's the last time someone asked you that question?

    Sunday, April 1, 2012

    give me a break (down).

    Yesterday was a rough day, financially speaking. And it's all my fault.

    Our pest management guy came over to remove the contaminated insulation, sanitize, and install new insulation. I was under the impression our remaining balance was in the $2,700 range, but when it came time to pay the bill, our balance was $3,721.60 (I think that number will be stuck in my head forever). Because I read the invoice wrong, we now have absolutely zero money in our savings account and I will barely be able to scrape by until the 14th (the next payday).

    So I did what any rational person would do : I had an absolute mental breakdown about it. I cried, nay, wailed for a good hour. I felt destitute. If only I hadn't been so irrational with my money in the last year, we would have more money in our savings account and this wouldn't feel like such a disaster. I thought about asking my mom for money (I didn't). The thought of not being able to pay the bills was overwhelming. I felt like I was drowning.

    I don't really feel any better today. Like I said to a friend yesterday, I feel like a failure. What would we have done if we hadn't just gotten our tax return? What will we do now if something else happens with our house or car? How do I contribute to our savings account when I have this debt to pay off?

    Who has a time machine I can borrow?