One woman’s frugality is another’s Rolls Royce.

IMAG4352

And those who were seen dancing
were thought to be insane
by those who could not hear the music.
Friedrich Nietzsche

  Over the last six months, the issues of frugality and living within one’s means have clearly been at the forefront of my thoughts, pretty much on a daily basis.  I’ve not only been thinking about how frugal and moneywise I can and need to be for my own sake, I’ve also been thinking a lot about the relativity of those ideas.  One person’s frugality is another person’s lavish lifestyle.  Your perspective on money is influenced by so many factors, among them your socio-economic background growing up, your values, life experiences, local norms and lifestyles, susceptibility to advertising and peer pressure, education, and on and on.

I have had some really interesting conversations with people about my yearlong debt repayment and no spending plan.  Some people look at me with pity and wonder how I’ll survive.  Others seem to light up and say- wow- I should really do that!  And then they usually go on to describe particular things they spend their money on that they feel they should curtail.  That is the moment when I start to realize we all have so many different ideas of what is important to have in our lives, and what we’re willing –or not- to sacrifice in pursuit of greater financial independence.  For some, going out to eat or see live music on a regular basis brings them enjoyment, and they’re willing to pay the money for it and skimp somewhere else in their lives.  For others, buying quality, organic ingredients is worth the extra bit of money to cook great meals at home.  It really is a matter of consciously thinking about your priorities, what brings goodness into your life, and leaving behind those things that aren’t really worth the time, energy, money, and sometimes your health to have.

So, to get back to our varied perspectives on the meaning of frugality…  I’ve made up a list of examples of ways that I have been saving money on everyday things.  Some I’ve been doing for years, while others I have begun doing (or not doing) just this year.   I realize some of these things won’t be for everyone, as our lifestyles and values may differ.  For example, to some, carrying a reusable bag to the store or reusable coffee cup to the coffee shop for your morning latte is just a pain in the ass.   To others, it’s just a regular habit they don’t even think about once it is an established behavior.   I just think it is important to share as a way to get folks to think about their own choices and see that the “norm” isn’t necessarily normal.  I’m not trying to get up on a soapbox, though I know it kind of sounds that way.  I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty, but rather I’d like us all to question our own “norms” and see if they could be improved upon.  I just think that overconsumption and consumerism without thoughtfulness is a huge part of most issues the world is dealing with today, including, but not limited to economic disparity, environmental devastation and ever increasing health problems.  While my impetus for this whole project was to rid myself of financial servitude, moving toward greater sustainability and the health of the planet are equally important to me.

So, without further ado, here is the list:

1-I do not buy or use paper towels or tissues.  I use rags to wipe up messes and hankies (that’s what they’re called where I’m from, so shush! ;-) to blow my nose and just wash them when dirty. Yes, I draw the line at toilet paper (recycled!), don’t worry.  And yes, it does mean you are using water to wash them, but honestly, I don’t go through so many rags that I’m doing extra laundry-I just throw them in with whatever else I’m washing.  And it just feels better than thinking about all the trees I’m throwing in the trash every time I use a paper towel.

2-Washing dishes- don’t fill the whole sink with hot water right away…just enough to scrub dishes clean.  And don’t start rinsing until you have the sink full of scrubbed dishes!  Then rinse with COLD water! Saves water and energy needed to heat the water.  This is an example of something that can be sooo obvious to some, and a revelation to others.

3-Bring a reusable coffee mug with you to get your latte! (Or mate, or tea, or nonfat-double-grande-soy-no foam-sugar free-mocha…whatever gets you going!)   My favorite local coffee shop has set an awesome example by not even offering to go cups!  Instead, you can borrow a mug of theirs, or buy a Mason jar for a buck to take with you.  Brilliant! I have gotten into the habit of just bringing a travel mug wherever I go.  Actually, that’s not entirely truthful.  These days, I brew my own coffee at home.  Hazelnut lattes are now a luxury that I indulge in only occasionally.  I’m sure the local baristas aren’t happy about that, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do!

4-Don’t buy bottled water!  Not only are you creating more plastic waste when you do, you are wasting money and the water is not guaranteed to be good for you!  This study by the Natural Resources Defense Council has shown that on average, unless you live in a toxic dump or something, buying bottle water doesn’t guarantee that you’re getting better water than what comes out of your tap.  The FDA’s rules (which regulate bottled water companies) are not as stringent as EPA rules (which regulate municipal drinking water), so in most cases, you’re better off just turning on your own faucet.  Just as I do for coffee, I bring a water bottle or two with me and fill it up as needed.  If you buy two bottles a day for $2 a piece, that adds up to $60 a month $120 (Oops!–This may be partly why I have been so crappy at money management!) you could be putting to a much more productive use, such as -you guessed it- paying off debt!

5-Plan your cooking or baking on cold days, or later in the day to warm your house instead of turning the heat up.  Kill two birds with one stone! Alternatively, as my mom used to say, if you’re cold- PUT A SWEATER ON!!

6-Instead of going out to eat for socializing, host a potluck.  This works especially well for those of us with friends that really know how to cook! My favorites are sushi potlucks-everyone pitches in at least one or two ingredients, and you have fun rolling a bunch of different combinations of rolls.  For a lot less cost per person, you can try a huge variety of rolls, and have fun at the same time.  Granted, I do live in coastal Northern California where we have a ridiculous abundance of fresh seafood and produce, but if you get creative, you can make it work no matter where you live.

7-Sell your car!! Avoid buying a car!! Or at least stop driving it so much.  I know this isn’t always feasible, depending on your line of work or where you live, but I seriously encourage you to rethink your car use.  This isn’t only a matter of environmental sustainability or cost, but of your own health. And often when we tell ourselves it isn’t feasible to walk or bike or bus, it’s more a matter of laziness and our  indoctrination into the ubiquitous U.S. car culture.  This is where that issue of “norms” not being normal becomes so apparent when you sit back and take a good look at it.  I could go on, but someone else has already laid out all the reasons in a much more entertaining way than I ever could, so I HIGHLY encourage you to check out this kick ass blog post and this one! (Just do it, you’ll thank me, I swear!)  I do have a disclaimer with this one, however.  I confess I have a company truck that I use for my job.  I get to take it home with me every day, and I don’t pay for gas or maintenance (score!).  I don’t own a personal vehicle, however (see my previous post) and while it can be a pain at times, overall I think I am happier and healthier without one.  I’ve been a bit lazy in the bicycle department, but my next goal is to get my lovely Trek road bike back in shape so I can, too.  Biking really is a miraculous all-purpose method of fitness and transportation, and once I get back on, I know I’ll be hooked again.

Have you read those posts yet? Yes? OK, continue reading below.  No? Go back and read it!! I mean it!

8- Seriously think about starting to make your own bread.  Or tortillas.   Or refried beans.  Whatever food(s) you buy prepared from the store that would actually be way cheaper and healthier to make yourself.  Again, I realize sometimes your time is more important than money.  But if you plan ahead and start simple, I bet you’ll thank yourself.  For example, one loaf of good quality bread such as Franz Hazelnut (my favorite) can cost over $4!! All for something that would cost you pennies to make!  Minus the hazelnuts, of course-unless you can forage for them for free! This brings me to #9…

9-Grow or forage your own!  I’m sure you’re all well aware that food costs have been going up lately, and it looks like that will continue to be the case.  But if you have even a little bit of space, you can grow your own veggies, fruits and herbs.  I have a modest-sized garden that is about 10’ x 8’, and I am currently growing raspberries, two types of kale, three types of lettuce, tomatillos, dill, sage, oregano, borage, mint, strawberries, tomatoes, celery and at least  half a dozen different types of flowers (for the birds and the bees).  Even with a small deck or fire escape, there are ways you can grow even a bit of your own food if you get creative.  And, if you feel confident in your plant and mushroom identification skills, you can go out and find some delicious, nutritious food for FREE! (Again- PLEASE be sure you are absolutely confident in your abilities here, or go with someone who does, as there is potential for fatal mistakes otherwise.)  Even if you only add a few dandelion greens to your salads or omelets, you can add some nutrition and variety to your diet for relatively little effort.  If this is something you want to learn more about, the best book I have seen thus far is Nature’s Garden, by Samuel Thayer, which I found at my local library.  It was a happy surprise, for two reasons – it was exactly the type of book I had gone to look for and as it happens, I knew the author when we were both in high school.  The intro alone is worth the read, but be sure to check the whole thing out.  I have yet to buy it, given my no spending policy, but it’ll be on my Christmas list!

10- Speaking of libraries- use them!! I know this seems a bit old-fashioned in this era of the internet, smartphones and the like, but I’m sticking by it.  Public libraries differ in quality and quantity of items available, but most still provide a lot of great reading material for free.  Most will also have DVDs, saving you money at the rental store or on Netflix or online subscriptions.  I’ll admit, they don’t always have the best selection, but I do end up watching – and enjoying- some movies that I otherwise wouldn’t have given a second glance.  My local library also has a free table of magazines they no longer want to keep, so I find some gems occasionally, even if they are a little out of date. (Magazines are also great for crafting…more on this in future posts.)  If you’re a shopaholic and book lover, going to the library can satisfy both urges, as you never know what you’ll find there, and you don’t have to pay for it!

OK, that’s a start.  I have many other ideas, so I’ll just keep sharing them in future posts.  Some may sound a bit like overkill or completely obvious, depending on your own habits and lifestyle, but think of it this way- just like paying back a debt penny by penny, then nickel by nickel, everything adds up, and if it doesn’t hurt, why not?  I bet that if you pick one or two things from this list and just try them for a month, they’ll become habit, and you won’t even think twice about it anymore.  Just like taking responsibility for our own financial well-being, we sorely need to take responsibility for our impacts on the planet and the others we share it with.

I want to hear your thoughts on this…

What are you willing to sacrifice (or not) to have a better financial life?

What are some creative ways you pinch pennies?

What’s your favorite free find?

Bet ya thought I quit, huh? Nope, not me.

“You’re never a loser until you quit trying.” Mike Ditka

I kinda feel like the Energizer bunny right now with this blog.  Just when I think I’m going to throw in the towel, I come right back beating that silly drum…

So yes, it is now the first week of June and the beginning of the fifth sixth (!) month of my year of austerity, financial re-education, creative frugality, monetary responsibility, yadda,yadda,yadda, and I am finally getting around to writing. Oh well, life happens, at least I’m back, right?

Actually, despite having fallen off the blogging wagon, I have to admit I am pretty damn proud of myself.  I did some number crunching just to get a bigger picture of where I’m at, how far I’ve come, and how much further I have to go yet, and it feels pretty damn good.  While I still have a ways to go, I have made a very good start, and I feel like I have made some good changes in my thinking and habits when it comes to money management.  Of course, there is always room from improvement, and I have a lot to learn.  But for now, I’m going to take a minute to toot my own horn, cuz, well, I earned it, and sometimes you have to take the time to stop and acknowledge what you’re doing well and pat yourself on the back.

So, I made a little list of accomplishments from these past five months.  Here goes-

1-Made all my payments in full and on time every single month.

2-Just made my 4th payment on my U.S. Department of Education student loans…with 5 more to go to remove it from default status.

3-Kept detailed income/expense record for 6 months now, so I know where every single penny is coming from and going to.

4-Have consistently found ways to pinch pennies here and there, including making my lunch to bring to work today.  No more last minute trips to Subway or my favorite and crazy delicious but insanely expensive coffee shop/café for my work day lunches.  No more buying granola or tortillas or bread when homemade is most definitely cheaper, healthier, and most importantly-tastier! (I’m even starting to prefer my own cooking to going out to eat.  I can’t help but finish a restaurant meal and feel unsatisfied, thinking, “…and I paid HOW MUCH for THAT?!”  Don’t get me wrong, I love a great dinner out, but these days I am having too much fun experimenting with food at home, and quite frankly, the area in which I live has a dearth of quality restaurants.)

5-Started a piggy bank with which to painlessly and regularly put a few bucks away for guilt-free spending money.  If I have a buck or two in my pocket after the farmer’s market or I raked in an extra $5 from recycling, I just put it straight in my cute lil’ piggy bank (actually a decorated oatmeal container) and don’t allow myself to touch it.  (Actually, I peeked a few weeks ago, and I had over $50 saved up already!)  This isn’t just any spending money, however.  I plan to use it for specific things, such as a trip home to see family in Wisconsin next month, or a new pair of shoes, etc.  I feel like I’m attempting to reprogram myself to limit impulsive buys and save up for planned expenses.

6-Started setting specific goals to strive toward for each month.  While I have tried to avoid a strict budget, I have decided I need to set some sort of guidelines or limits on my grocery and unnecessary spending.  For example, for June, I am aiming to keep my grocery spending below $400 for the month and my “wants” spending to $70 or less.  I have written these goals on a piece of paper and pinned it to my wall calendar, and keep a regular tally of what I’ve spent already so I have an idea of how much I have left to spend.  After the limit is reached, I’m S.O.L.  I think seeing it so visually every single day will help me keep it in mind more often and help me learn to plan my spending and be less impulsive.  So far I think it’s working.

7- As of today, I am roughly halfway through paying off my old credit card debt.  I have paid off $4915.22 since last fall, with $4931.14 left to go.  At the rate I am paying this off, I should be done by December.  Once that goal is reached, I will shift focus to paying off my student loans.  I am still paying the minimum on those, but since the credit card has the highest interest rate, I decided it was best to knock that one out first and then start paying as much as possible on the rest.  (I no longer have a credit card, by the way.  I cut mine up many years ago when it finally became obvious they were doing more harm than good for me.  Someday when I can trust myself to use one, IF I can get one, I’ll likely use it to help regain a better credit status–by making the occasional purchases with it and paying the full balance EVERY month.  I ain’t stupid, despite what my money predicament may indicate…)

OK, are ya ready for THE BIG ONE?!

8- After five full months of penny pinching, some setbacks and such, and with the help and support of my awesome Mom, I have managed to pay off a total of $4548.71!!!   I am a little behind where I had hoped to be at this point, but I have to say I feel like it’s still a huge improvement over my previous situation, and it is a big morale booster to see the actual numbers and to see progress.

While I have made some great progress, I do feel at times like I am failing.  Logically, I know that isn’t true, but it’s a hard feeling to beat when you’re in it, so I am making a deliberate attempt to focus more on not quitting and just getting back up and starting again every time I fall off the wagon, so to speak.  Cliché or not, the key really is to JUST KEEP GOING.  Just the fact that I am seeing major changes in my approach and attitude toward spending and saving is proof that I am making progress.  It’s just a matter of reminding myself of that.

Whether or not I am hitting every one of my goals on time, I think that something even more important is happening for me that ultimately will contribute to my longer term success.  The first few months of this year, I felt energized and motivated, and then that started to fade a bit, and I was feeling deprived.  But over the last month or so, I have noticed a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction every time I am faced with the temptation to spend and I decide NOT to. Of course I still have my moments, but instead of feeling left out or deprived every time I decline an invite to go out on the town or I avoid the thrift store splurge, I feel proud and energized just thinking about how much closer I am to being debt-free by using the money I would have spent to pay a bit more on my debts.   And, as luck would have it, I happened to find another great blog post from Mr. Money Mustache that speaks to this.  Check it out if you can!

Here’s to another 7 months of progress for me! Cheers.

Oh, since I opened with a Ditka quote, this diehard Cheesehead MUST end with this:

“Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”   Vince Lombardi.

True dat.

Beware the Ides of March (plus one day)

Dolly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here we are in mid-March, the third month of my year long debt elimination adventure.  I am a bit behind in my posts for a variety of reasons, but here I am, still plugging away.  I have to be honest, the last few weeks have been tough, and at times I have had my doubts about my commitment to limits on my spending.  However, nothing worthwhile is easy, and I just need to remind myself to find ways to stay motivated and inspired.

My overall rundown of my spending in February is that I spent way more than planned, and going forward, I can certainly make some improvements. As I mentioned last time, I’ve had some unexpected vet bills for my cat who has had some eye issues.  The good news is that he had his last recheck yesterday, the ulcer has healed, and his last antibiotic dose is tonight!  Unfortunately, I also ended up spending waaaay too much on groceries.  I have two reasons for that; first, since I don’t have a personal vehicle to trek into Eureka for the discount grocery stores, I ended up stopping after work a few times a week at my neighborhood store with my work truck on my way home.  While I try to buy generic and sale items, the local store is quite a bit more expensive.  Second, the one trip I did make to the discount stores in Eureka was with a friend, which proved to be a pricey mistake.  While it was great to hitch a ride with her, I didn’t do a very good job of sticking to my list and overspent.  Who knew peer pressure could extend to buying tahini and hazelnut milk?!  This month, I am attempting to limit my trips and stick to my grocery list.

On the flip side, I did pay off another $546.89 of debt.  It was quite a bit less than what I had hoped thanks to the aforementioned expenses, but it’s something.

As for March, I am off to a good start, since I sent off my first payment to the Department of Education’s Direct Loans for my six loans from them-the first payment toward rehabilitating those loans.  It felt great to send that off and get started in the right direction.  If all goes well, I’m hoping to send off a bigger payment toward my credit card debt at the end of the month.  As I mentioned in my first post, my wages are being garnished weekly for that debt, and it has the highest interest rate, at $1.66 a day.  Therefore, I think it makes the most sense to pay that off first (while still making minimum payments on my other debts) and then focus on my other balances in earnest.  I just need to figure out where to send those extra payments, as it’s being handled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.  Yep, that’s what happens when you default- the law gets involved. Ugh.  Anyway, that is my next goal-talk with the law and give them money.  Double ugh.

In the meantime, I’m keeping up with my other goals of continuing to educate myself on financial matters.  About once a week, I pick up a free copy of Bloomberg News or Kiplinger’s at the library and read whatever looks interesting.  I figure the more exposure I have, the more I’ll absorb and begin to act on in my own life.  I’ve also been checking in with two of my favorite sites/blogs.  First is The Crazy Man In The Pink Wig, a.k.a. Mike Finley.  It’s refreshing to find a financial literacy site that isn’t also trying to sell me stuff.  He is teaching a great course in what he calls financial happiness, which he is filming and posting on YouTube, and he is incredibly accessible and helpful to anyone who wants to learn more.  You’ll have to watch week 1’s video for yourself to find out the story behind the pink wig. ;-)  The second is Mr. Money Mustache, a blog written by a man who was able to “retire” at age 31 through careful money management.  His sense of humor, common sense and badassity (Yes, it’s a word, damn it!) make his writing entertaining as well as educational.  I truly appreciate both sites not only for the information presented, but also for their ethic of living a fuller life with less, rather than wealth as an exercise in materialism and greed.  It’s something that really speaks to my own ethics and to my relationship with money, which has been fraught with anxiety, stress, guilt and mixed feelings.  Check ‘em out, give ‘em some love and tell me what you think!

I have to admit, I’m feeling a little uninspired with posting just my updates on spending and what not, so I think I’m going to work on some other related topics for future posts.  I have a few ideas in mind, such as the varieties of ways I save money while also attempting to help the planet and live a simpler, more authentic life through cooking, gardening, saving energy, make/mend/do, etc.  If there is anything you’re curious about or would like to read about, I encourage you to leave a comment below or send me an e-mail, and we’ll see where it goes!

Here’s to a new season, new leaves emerging and flowers blooming all around!  Be well, and don’t forget to give thanks for today!

Doing the cha cha

“An optimist is one who figures that taking

one step back after taking two steps forward

is not a setback, but the cha-cha.”

– Robert Brault.

 

This quote just so happens to be posted on the wall at my favorite local coffee shop temporarily serving as my internet headquarters, and it is a lovely summary for the second month of my year of austerity/debt repayment/unnecessary expenses fast.  (If you recall, I started out calling this something else, which was inspired by Anna Newell Jones’ blog And Then We Saved.  I quickly learned that the name has been copyrighted, so I can no longer refer to it by that name.  It really shouldn’t matter, but I kind of want to find a catchy, descriptive name for my own plan that won’t put me at risk of copyright infringement.  The last thing I need is to be sued for money! So, any ideas, dear readers? Austerity plan sounds a little too much like the financial disasters in Greece and elsewhere, and I’m looking for something more hopeful and motivational.)

OK, back to February, which is quickly passing into March.  What qualifies as my two steps forward took me about two weeks to accomplish, despite repeated and persistent attempts.  I just have to say that bureaucracy is a HUGE pain in the ass, particularly that of the U.S. Department of Education’s Direct Loans.  I started my attempts to contact them on February 5th, or at least that is when I began in earnest to document my many attempts.  No, seriously- I got so irritated and bored waiting on the phone that I recorded every single automated “we are experiencing a high call volume at the moment, your call is very important to us, blah,blah,blah…”, but I’ll spare you the nasty details.  It took me until February 20th to finally reach a human being who was able and willing to discuss my 6 student loans which are now in default.  Thankfully, I got lucky that day, and the woman I spoke with was incredibly helpful, patient and willing to answer my bazillion questions, after asking if I would be paying the full amount due, of course.  Hey, she had to try, right?

To make a long story short, I owe a total of $24,796.84 to the D.O.E., of which $1666.62 is interest at this point.  I’ve entered into their monthly payment loan rehabilitation program.  This means I must pay a minimum of 1% of my balance on time monthly for 9 months, at which point my loans will be removed from default and my account will be back in good standing.  I have to admit, it was pretty painless, considering other interactions I have had with creditors.  These loans were the last of the loose ends in my debt repayment plan, and it feels soooooo good to have it back on track.  Obviously, I’m not proud of having let it go that far, but it feels good to be doing something about it now.

So that was my two steps forward.  The one step back has been further vet bills for my cat, Jack.  Unfortunately, his eye infection is taking a really long time to heal.  It’s heading in the right direction, but did require more laser treatment and tests to help the process.  Again, I have to admit, I’m glad to be in a place financially that I am able to pay for these things.  It has just been a good reminder that the best laid plans don’t always work the way you expect, and you need to take the unexpected into account.

Less admirable has been my realization of how addicted/dependent I am on my piece of crap smartphone!  Remember my goal was to cancel my Verizon service in order to save money?  Well, I still haven’t done it.  I have some really great excuses, like my new metroPCS dumb phone is horrible for internet access, and I apparently have little to no reception in my house, even for texts, rendering it pretty much useless.  You get what you pay for, I guess.  However, I am still determined to simplify and find ways to save.  So, I plan to buckle down and just cancel the damn thing, go without daily/hourly facebook and craigslistand Grumpy Cat access –oh my!!- and use the money I save to order a landline/internet bundle for my house.  So, I may have sporadic internet access yet again, but in the end I think I’ll be happier and so will my bank account.  Wish me strength.  I can do this!

Jeeps in flames, ulcerated corneas and a pay raise, oh my! Or, my second month of austerity begins.

I bet you thought I gave up, didn’t you?  It’s mid-February, about the time most New Year’s resolutions fade out and are forgotten, after all.  Nope, not mine.  I have too much riding on this plan, so I’m not giving up just yet.

Thanks for hanging in there with me as I’ve had some internet issues that have made it tough to get my posts uploaded.  Hopefully that will be resolved within the next few weeks.  Until then, my posts may be a little sporadic.

I had planned to write a review of one of the books on finance I’ve been reading, but I’m kinda bored with what I wrote, and decided it would be more beneficial for me to write a bit about how it’s been going the last few weeks.  It has certainly been a mixed bag full of ups and downs.

First, I’ll give you the hard and fast numbers and a recap for January.  Compared to what I spent in December when I began tracking every penny, I spent:

-$41.25 less on gas,

-$130.74 less on groceries,

-$299.20 less on my “wants” list,

-and I paid $607.11 toward my debts!!

Whew-not a bad start, if I do say so myself!  There are some easy explanations for spending less in January, mainly the fact that the holidays were over, and I didn’t spend money on gifts or shipping and postage.  I spent less on gas in January mostly because I had the (mis)fortune of having my Jeep engine go up in flames on Christmas Eve.  Yep, Santa apparently thought he’d help me out by eliminating one of my monthly expenses by becoming a pyromaniac.  The crazy thing is that this is actually my second vehicle to go up in flames- the first was a lovely lime green ’73 Ford pickup that spontaneously combusted summer before last.  I think the automobile gods have been trying to tell me something, don’t you?  While I was ready to scream and pull my hair out at my ridiculous car karma, I have been choosing to look at it as a blessing in disguise.  At least that’s what I’m telling myself.  I no longer have to pay for gas, maintenance and other costs, and I’ll be getting more exercise by running errands on foot or by bicycle.  Grocery trips are a bit tricky, since I live about 10 miles from the discount grocery stores I prefer, but the occasional shopping trip with a friend and quick trips to my local store on the way home from work seems to be doing the job.  I’m definitely no stranger to bicycle commuting and errand running, as I was without a vehicle for the first few years after I returned to school in 2006.  I’ve been spoiled the last few years, though, so I’ll have to pump up those tires, grease the chain and get back in bike-worthy shape.  Thankfully, my employer provides a work truck for me, so I don’t have to worry about getting to and from work.

I have other great news about January.  Despite being told by everyone in my local office that I shouldn’t expect a raise –if any- until May, I asked for a raise with my last performance evaluation, and got it! (I work as a utility forester for a contractor to a major utility company.)  While my job has some great perks, the pay leaves a bit to be desired, particularly for someone with a college degree in the field and loans to re-pay, so I was thrilled to get even a small raise.  I realize the economy is less than great right now, so on some levels I am just thankful to have a stable, full-time job.  And yet, I refuse to give up hope of finding work that I love and that pays me what I’m worth.  Call me a dreamer, but I know it’s out there.  In the meantime, I plan to expand my skills and knowledge and work on getting closer to finding (or creating) my dream job.  This brings me to more good news from January…

One of the perks of my job is that the company encourages their employees to further their skills and training by reimbursing the cost of becoming a certified arborist, and gives a substantial bonus after certification.  So, I’ve scheduled my exam for April 6th in Medford, Oregon, and I’m hitting the books right after signing off here.

Another good step for January was to get a metro PCS cell phone account with the free phone a co-worker gave me.  It includes all of the same service my Verizon account provides, for 60% less!! Unfortunately, I can’t access the internet very easily, as the phone is pretty old, so I haven’t yet cancelled my Verizon phone.  Now that I have more reliable internet access via the neighborhood coffee shop’s Wi-Fi (available even when they’re closed, so I won’t be spending money on lattes.), I’ll have to cut myself off the Smartphone cold turkey.

In spite of such a great start in January, February has proven to be a bit more of a challenge, mostly for reasons out of my control.  My cat, Jack developed an ulcer on his cornea a few weeks ago, and the process of trying to figure out the cause and treatment has resulted in quite the drain from my bank account.  Part of the issue is that he is nearly 17 years old with some past medical issues and was overdue for his annual exam and blood work, so I decided we may as well do it all at once to save future appointment fees. Well, that and the fact that his ulcer isn’t healing as quickly as expected have translated into over $450 spent on veterinary care, antibiotics ($36 for ONE tiny tube of eye ointment!!!)  and laser treatment.  His blood tests revealed another major flare-up of pancreatitis, so that means more money for pain-killing and supportive meds and supplements.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am actually happy to be in a place in my life that I have the money to cover these expenses.  Jack has been with me for over 15 years, we have been through so much together, and I feel like I owe it to him to give him as comfortable and healthy a life as I can, given all the crap I’ve put him through.  Call me a crazy cat lady if you want, but my animals are family to me, and I want to do the best I can for them.  That said, I have to admit, I hadn’t planned for these expenses, and it reminds me how much I really need an emergency fund.  I’ll have to work on that.

In other crappy news, after much back and forth with the Department of Education’s Direct Loans office, I have learned that my $24,000 in loans is in limbo between default and going to a collections agency.  Maybe I’m nuts to be writing so candidly about this, but I think I need to in order to stay honest with myself and stay on track.  I could write on and on about my reasons (or lack thereof) for letting things go so far, but for now I’ll just say that it’s a key step for me to take control of  the situation and turn things around.  I have 90 days to “salvage” my loans before they are sold to a collections agency and my credit history takes yet another hit.  I’ll be calling every day until I can negotiate a repayment plan that saves my loan and gets me headed in a better direction.  It’ll take some real patience and persistence, as the D.O.E. has proven to be a real pain in the ass to deal with.  Who would’ve figured trying to give money to a creditor would be so difficult?!

All righty, I think I’ll stop here with my two goals for the coming week: 1-save my student loans by creating a repayment agreement/plan and 2-cancel my Verizon account.

Thanks for reading!  Hopefully my next post will come sooner rather than later…

 

Technical difficulties…stay tuned!

Unfortunately, I am having internet issues that I need to resolve before I can put up my latest post. It’s written, but I’m having connection issues with my laptop, and posting via my phone (as I’m doing now) is less than ideal. So please bear with me and I’ll get my latest update up as soon as I get this figured out.

In the meantime, I’ll just say that January turned out to be a great month-my first full month of my self-imposed year of austerity . I made a good start in paying off my debts, reduced my spending, AND got a raise! Not a bad start.

The great, the good and the so-so…

Welcome to the end of week 3 of my spending fast!
Since I talked a little last time about distinguishing my “needs” from my “wants” and only spending on the former, here is a list to give you an idea of what I’m working with:

NEEDS LIST:

-Rent ………………………………………  Thankfully, I found a decent, very affordable house.
-Utilities  …………………………Conserve whenever possible, cook with wood when I can.
-Firewood ………………………..I use wood heat and my landlord sells me crazy cheap wood.
-Phone ……………………………………..Switching to a much cheaper plan.
-Food ………………………………..Discount, generics, in season, unprocessed, no waste
-Cat food/Supplies ……………………..I have 2 cats, nothing super fancy, but still healthy food.
-Vet care & Meds ……………………….Necessary only & prevention whenever possible.
-Doctor co-pays …………………………Self-care/prevention as much as possible (eat healthy!).
-Some gas …………………………………Bike & walk when possible, combine car trips.
-Work Clothes/equipment ………….Thrift & yard sales whenever possible, get tax write-offs.
-Debts ………………………………………All “leftover” $ at end of month to debt payment!

This is still a work in progress that I may need to tweak here and there, but this is the gist of my expenses and what I intend to limit my spending to.

I am happy to report I have paid off the full balance of my smallest debt! Granted, it was only $150, but it’s one less thing to stress over. It feels good to make some progress, even if it is small.

I’ve also been doing very well overall about making sure to make my lunch every day for work, and have found it to be much easier if I take a few hours on Sunday to prep most of what I need for the week. I happen to love to cook, so spending several hours in the kitchen is no big chore for me. With a little Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me and This American Life on the radio and a pot of strong coffee, I am ready to go!! This weekend was particularly productive, as I managed to make a dozen tortillas, a large batch of beef stew, two loaves of whole wheat/oat/flax seed bread, steamed broccoli, creamy mustard beets, and chopped cucumbers, carrots, onions, mushrooms, sweet peppers and a dark chocolate nut mix. This way, making my lunches for work is a snap, since I just have to grab enough vegetables, snacks and fruit for that day. Doing it this way ends up saving me time during the week, and making my own food from scratch saves me lots of money. (I have yet to crunch the numbers, but trust me, before this year is over, I will.)

Prepped vegetables, chocolate and nut mixes for work lunches, ready to go.

Prepped vegetables, chocolate and nut mixes for work lunches, ready to go.

While I generally eat healthy foods anyway, I am paying particular attention to how I spend my money at the grocery store. I am usually an all organic, mostly local kinda girl, but for the time being, I am buying all my produce from the local Winco store, which doesn’t have much in the way of organic food. (Winco is a giant discount grocery store that also happens to be employee owned, so I feel good about that.) While I plan to work more organic and local foods back into my diet, I felt I needed to cut all costs as much as possible to get a good start. In the meantime, I focus on making my food dollars stretch , keeping in mind that I want the most nutrition bang for my buck. One way I’m trying to do this is to avoid produce that is out of season or is grown really far away. While I love berries, I cringe at the thought of buying them in January, both because of the energy required to grow and ship them in the off season, and because they just taste better in the summer when they’re grown just down the road or in your own garden. Patience is a virtue, and good things come to those who wait, and all that good stuff, right?

Homemade whole wheat bread with oats and flax seeds

Homemade whole wheat bread with oats and flax seeds

I also steer away from both processed foods and foods I know I can make myself for much cheaper, and often with better results. For example, I haven’t bought a loaf of bread for almost two months now, because I can make my own for probably around 25 cents. (Again, I haven’t crunched the numbers, but flour, yeast, sugar and salt aren’t exactly expensive.) It seems ridiculous to spend $4.00 for a (quality) loaf when I can make my own for a fraction of that, AND know exactly what went into it. No surprise ingredients, preservatives or other crap. Now, I have to admit, I am a bit out of practice in the bread making department, so my loaves leave a little to be desired right now. However, I have learned from experience that it only gets better with practice, so from now on my Sundays will be spent kneading dough and listening to Ira Glass. (I also plan to study Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, which I checked out from the local library!)

Another great way to save money on food is to grow it yourself, of course. I happen to have a small garden bed right outside my front door that will make a great vegetable and herb garden. In fact, I hit the jackpot this week and inherited some great looking raspberry canes from a friend, so I have a good start. Thankfully, living in Northern California means I can grow some foods year round, so my plans include some lettuce and other greens next. I’ll share photos as soon as I get the thing weeded…

So, with all of this great news and momentum, I have a confession to make. Are ya ready for it? I spent money this month. Yep, I broke my rule to not spend money on “wants”. I have an explanation for each instance, but I’m chalking it up to this being my first three weeks going cold turkey. And, well, it also had to do with the fact that it was NFL playoff time. I happen to be a huge Green Bay Packer fan (Please, I’ve heard it all already-no need to rub it in!), so when it looked like they may have had a shot at the Superbowl, it was hard to not watch the games! For me, that meant going to a bar or other place with cable, since I don’t get regular TV stations, let alone cable (More on this later.). So, you can probably guess I ended up spending money on drinks. Well, and then there was the day I ran out of food handy for a work lunch, and had another day before I could make it to the grocery store for a full shopping trip, so I ended up buying my breakfast and lunch. But, I bought both at the grocery store on my way to work, rather than going to the local Mexican restaurant like I really wanted to. Small victories, ok?

So what’s the damage…? Altogether, I spent $42.50 on “wants” in the first 3 weeks of my spending fast. Not the best start, but still MUCH less than what I would normally spend. And since I’m not particularly stoked on either of the teams headed to the Superbowl, I think I’m good to go. I think it has just been a good lesson to figure out what my money spending triggers are and find creative ways to get around them or avoid them altogether. I also admit that I may have to give myself just a little wiggle room, and possibly allow for a small set amount to spend on fun stuff. I am still pondering how much might be reasonable – $20 a month? $30? Definitely no more than $35.

Which brings me to the issue I think will be one of the toughest I will deal with this year- my social life. I’ll admit I love to go to my favorite bar and people watch, shoot the shit, maybe shoot some pool, and yes, have an adult beverage or two. I also love live music and going dancing. Unfortunately, these things can get very expensive very quickly. And while I have some great and generous friends who don’t hesitate to buy me drinks, that is really not the point of this spending fast. I don’t want to be a moocher, nor do I want my friends to feel sorry for me or resent me. I am making this drastic change in order to take charge of myself and my life so that I can rid myself of debt and live an autonomous life in which my choices are guided more by intention and desire than obligation, anxiety and guilt. That is definitely worth a little sacrifice and cramping my style for a while, don’t you think?! I am pondering ways to explain this to my friends in a way that makes them happy for me and not feel they have to help me out or feel bad that I’m not spending money. I think it will take some adjusting on my part, and getting creative in my social life. One way I plan to do this is to host regular potlucks, cocktail parties, movie nights, book swaps, etc. It is really a matter of staying focused on the bigger picture of what I aim to accomplish and remind myself of all that I have to gain by sticking with my plans.

On another note, I’ve been reading a few financial planning books (checked out from the library, of course, F-R-E-E!!), and finally found one that doesn’t totally rub me the wrong way or depress the hell out of me. Lois Frankel’s Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich:75 Avoidable Mistakes Women Make With Money (www.drloisfrankel.com) has been a great read so far, and I hope to share some of what I’ve learned from her next time I write. Frankel writes with a down to earth voice, and tackles a lot of the hurdles that many women have to overcome with their learned attitudes toward and misunderstandings of successfully managing money, without the condescension I’ve found in other books. I’ll give you my book report next time, and I promise it won’t be boring!!

In the meantime, my goals for the week are to get rid of my Verizon wireless service once and for all, and switch to the MUCH cheaper Metro PCS (60% less than Verizon for the same services and no contract! Yippee!!).
Thanks for reading!