Debt Free Resources and Motivational Support

gazelleintensity

When I realized that debt meant that I was broke, and that being broke was normal, I decided I didn’t want to be normal.  My life needed a reboot, and I was ready.  One year has passed since I’ve turned up the heat and become gazelle intense.  There are times that I’ve felt very alone in this journey, especially as a single woman.  My family and friends think I’m nuts, and any time I bring up personal finance to my parents, they change the subject as quickly as possible.

I’ve seen my mom’s rolly-eyed look of exhaustion about a thousand times.

Some people just don’t like to talk about this stuff, and now that it’s become a central part of my life, I’ve often turned to the internet to find resources, support, and motivation.  Here is what I’ve found.  I hope they help you.

1) The Dave Ramsey Podcast.  This podcast creates more content than I can listen to.  Every week day they upload their live three hour podcast to their website and stream it on a continuous loop.  This is great because you can tune in any time that is convenient for you.  My other favorite thing about the Dave Ramsey Podcast is that it is a caller-based show.  Yes, sometimes Dave goes off on a rant when something irritates him or makes him frustrated, but he’s a funny guy.  However, most of the content is devoted to callers who phone in their personal finance questions.  They cover subjects like budgeting, marriage and family communication, the debt snowball, dealing with credit card companies, behavior modification, job situations, mortgages and real estate, and every related problem you can think of.  Dave has been doing this show for decades, so he has heard every question in the book and is up to date on his information.  He knows how people are hurting, and it’s the first thing I suggest to someone who is not happy with their financial life.

Favorite part: Debt-free screams.  So emotional.  If these people did it, you can do it.  I tear up almost every time.  Listening on a daily basis helps me stay hungry in the pursuit of my goal.

Whenever I see a single woman do a debt-free scream, I’m usually in sobs – I relate to you, sister!  There are so many of us out there.

2) The “Debt is Dum” Youtube Channel.  This is a channel run by married couple Josh and Christine who share their life and how they got out of debt.  Their adorable family and homestyle approach to becoming free makes their story very sweet.  On the brink of divorce, Josh and Christine found a way to reconnect and, through the Financial Peace University class, realized their problems were financial, not personal.  Their channel, however, is very personal.  They share their feelings, ups and downs, and achievements with their subscribers.  Common posts hit on subjects like meals on a budget, raising kids, communication with your partner, and DIY projects around the house.  Young couples without kids can take a cue from their wise words – they know how to do it right, because they’ve done it all wrong.  They have been in the trenches, yet somehow never sacrificed the quality of life of their kids.  They practice “real contentment,” finding happiness in each other, not in material things or spending.  Contentment is something I’ve struggled with – and continue to struggle with on a daily basis being a woman who always wants her hand in every pot, wanting to experience everything life has to offer!

Favorite part: Debt-kickin’ Sundays.  Josh and Christine take questions from their YouTube subscribers.  They also respond to comments on a pretty regular basis.  One of their recent vlogs mentioned that they will soon be providing hourly coaching sessions for anybody who wants more in-depth advice.

Whenever I need a little tough love, I watch their channel and it helps me re-commit to the process of delaying gratification and telling my money where to go instead of the other way around.

3) Every Dollar & Mint.com – two of the best online budging tools around.  I started on Mint.com, because it lets you connect freely to your bank account, and automatically sorts your purchases into categories – food, clothes, payments, etc.  If it doesn’t know what the charge is, it asks you when you log in.  Quick… easy…  terrifying.

Within seconds of signing up, Mint.com conveniently told me I was spending over $600 on food per month – which included fast food and grocery store trips.  Holy.  Freakin’.  OW.    If you need a kick-in-the pants, and are ready for the ugly truth, I suggest you go there immediately.  Every Dollar is great for easy budgeting.  You pop in your monthly income, expenses, and other payments, and it calculates everything instantly, Excel Spreadsheet style, except it has a much cleaner, fun look to it.  It lets you adjust for irregular incomes, and if you’re following the Financial Peace baby step program, it shows you your progress through each step, and how much left you have to go to be on track to a million-dollar retirement.

Another online tool I’ll throw out there is Chris Hogan’s Retirement IQ.  If you want to know how much you need to retire based on your age and income, it’s a good idea.  Chris Hogan also hosts Retire Inspire, a motivational speaking retreat and workshop.  And, damn, if you haven’t heard the sound of his voice, he’s… he’s just got an amazing speaking voice!  Does he do movie trailers or something?!

Favorite Part: The little pie charts on Mint.com, and the horror they instilled in me when I finally saw where all of my money was going.  The best part of online budgeting tools, in general, is if you’re a couple, each of you can log in anytime to view your budget or make a change.

There’s no need to squeeze two chairs together at a table cluttered with papers with teeny-weeny numbers written over the place.  God, no!  There’s a better way.

Do you have any resources you’d like to add to the list?  Leave me a comment and let me know so I can potentially feature it on my blog.

“I’m not broke.”

girlpouting

Okay.  Someone said this to me today.  I couldn’t help but look at her funny since I’ve started following the Financial Peace University plan.  The person that said this to me is a good friend, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for her.  She said it with the unspoken connotation that… she’s not broke, and, shame on me for saying I am.  If her eyes could talk they would have said something like,

Here you sit in a coffee house with a hot chocolate in your hand and a buttery croissant on your plate.  You have money in the bank, a place to live, a car, multiple gadgets like a laptop and an iphone.  You’re not broke.  I have all of those things, too.  I’m not broke.

If you asked me a year ago I would have happily agreed and went on spending money like I didn’t owe every cent of it to a bank.  This friend, and most of my friends, have forgotten that they owe shit to a bank.  And, as long as they owe shit to a bank, none of that stuff is theirs.  If that bank decided to collect on those loans, like some banks did with mortgages in the financial housing crisis, they would all be in big trouble.  Their independent lives hinge on the decisions that bank makes.  Our culture of “healthy debt” or “necessary debt” has put a set of blinders on them.  Yes, I am broke.  I owe $35K in student loans.  It doesn’t matter that I have some money in the bank.  It’s not $35K.  I set aside this $3.50 to have coffee with you four weeks ago.  It went in my budget, and I’ll be doing my laundry by hand this week to offset the cost.  I put it under “fun,” ironically.

This particular friend I was talking to went to an expensive, out of state, private, Catholic university.  She graduated with over $100K in debt, and by my calculations and the way she lives she probably still owes about $75K of it.  But yet she goes to the mall and spends hundreds of dollars on clothes at a time, she financed a new car – two new cars if you count the one she shares with her husband, she eats out every day, she has a fancy expensive New York City apartment.  If this sounds like you, it’s worth asking the question: Are you in denial about your debt?

My friend is broke off of her ass.  Why is she not running around screaming like she is on fire?!

And while her comment made me feel momentarily ashamed, like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, like I’m preaching some kind of poor woman’s sob story, like I’m telling people I have no money because I want them to feel bad for me… no.  That’s not why I’m doing this.  I want the truth.  I am thousands of dollars in debt.  Nobody is going to convince me to go back to believing that this is normal.  Debt is normal.  I need debt to achieve.  I need it to make something of myself.  As I looked at this friend in the eye, I felt pity for her.  She hadn’t realized any of this stuff yet.  Most of my friends haven’t had the a-ha moment.

I am afraid for my friend, and for all of my friends back in my “old life” in New York City.  The girls I grew up with who were raised with this privileged and skewed view of economics.  Some of them really are smart enough to work up to jobs in the 200K range, but most of them won’t get that far even if they are smart.  They’ll never be out on the street, or scrape the bottom of their car for quarters, or know what it’s like to feel hungry because you can’t buy groceries, and, thankfully, I’ve only had a small taste of the quarter thing and a night or two where I slept in my car.  But will they be able to afford to retire?  Will they be able to pay for medical bills if something happened to them or their loved ones?  Will they be 40, still living month to month, paycheck to paycheck in a row house in Queens with two roommates?  Or will they live in a house more expensive then they can afford to pay off, and be a slave to the bank their entire life?  And pay $10K in taxes every year for that privilege?

Most of them live on the edge, financially.  I know.  I used to do it too.  I lived paycheck to paycheck to afford a cramped, crappy studio in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and buy groceries from Whole Foods and go to Broadway plays.  I wonder when my friends will wake up and what will happen when they do.  I feel like screaming at them.  I feel like shaking them.  I’m not saying I’m better than they are or will be any better off in the long run, but I still worry about them.

These are the questions go through my mind on a daily basis.  It feels awkward watching my friends live that “old life.”

Crap! Crap everywhere!

Mrs-Doubtfire-GIFs

Inspired by a post by fellow blogger Renee of LaughUpMySleeve.com, I am taking inventory of my crap.  I have so much crap!

  • Crap in boxes that I’ve been dragging around with me from apartment to apartment.
  • Non-sentimental crap.
  • Clothing crap. Jeans that I can’t get halfway up my leg.  Tank tops from the 90’s.  Stacy and Clinton… HELP ME.
  • Art supply crap that I haven’t used in three years.
  • Crap from when I tried to be a YouTuber
  • Childhood crap that my parents convinced me I should save for when I get a house (OMG ME IN A HOUSE?  It would just be a bigger place for me to put MORE crap)!
  • School crap – notes and textbooks I haven’t touched in a decade
  • Decorative crap on shelves
  • Crap in boxes that I can’t even identify.

I would really like to use the extra rooms in my apartment for what I intended to use them for – an art and music studio, a study space, and a spare bedroom.

Time to get rid of some crap!!!!

I’ll do a before & after photo, so check back.  Check out Renee’s posts on minimalism to see what she is doing with her crap!

The Value of Your Education

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and it’s time to post about higher education.  Some of you older people already know this, but because I hope younger people are reading this blog too, I feel like it needs to be said.

Your degree is worthless in itself.

That’s right.  The piece of paper that says you spent thousands of dollars learning things and has the seal of a university on it is worth absolutely nothing.  You can’t sell it on ebay to recoup the $80K you spent on it.  You can’t even pawn it off to recoup 10% of that amount.  The $80K value is in yourself.  In your future.  Graduate into the great blue yonder, young’uns!

It seems like an easy concept to grasp, but I’m amazed at the number of teens and grads who don’t understand this.  They think that just because they spent $80K on a piece of paper that they deserve, will get, or shouldn’t be denied opportunities to work.  That isn’t how it works.  The value is the knowledge you have, and if you skated through college just to get A’s and B’s (or C’s) and hoped to scoot out of there and into a comfortable 9-5, forgetting everything you’ve learned in your classes immediately after the final, you’re going to find yourself in trouble.

nowwhat

The undergraduate college experience is still worth it if you commit yourself to being a learner, not just a college student.  It’s worth it if you internalize crucial, special skills that other people graduating won’t have.  Those students will be snatched up quickly by an employer.  And in just a few years, the knowledge will pay for itself.  It’s not the degree that pays for itself.  Because, remember, the actual piece of paper is worthless.

Networking is an important variable in this equation – with your professors and with your classmates.  These are people that give you opportunities in the future, or recommend you for an open position.  You owe everything you know to your teachers and classmates – especially in a creative field like design, music, or writing where ideas and collaborations are created with those around you.  They should be your number one resource upon graduation.  You can’t discount their importance.  People who slip quietly through their classes unseen without making friends, speaking up, and contributing to their institution of higher learning will be in for a rude awakening.  That guy who always raised his hand in class but got C’s will be getting the job over you and your straight A’s.  Unfair?  I don’t necessarily think so.

If there was an apocalypse and everyone’s degree was washed away or burned to ashes, your only tool is that noggin’ of yours.  Your knowledge and ability to contribute is worth everything.

Keep this in mind when you’re choosing your field of study.  And, if you’re taking a chance on a soft skill like communication, art, or German polka history that won’t necessarily translate immediately into an entry-level position, don’t go to an expensive school for it.  And, by golly, find a way to pay cash!

My New Year’s Resolution Taking Shape

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I set a pretty cool New Year’s Resolution this year.  Normally, I don’t set resolutions but I wanted this year to be my year.  We all spend time and energy trying to get ahead and make life better for ourselves, but in the process we sometimes start doing things other people expect us to do instead of the things we want to do.  “That was the old me, this is the new me.” Inspired by Shay Butler and his rapping buddy Rawn, I’m going to make this year my year.

shayandmommytard
Shay’s wife Colette kissing him after running his second marathon. Shay lost over 100lbs.

My new year’s resolution is to pay off $20K of student loan debt this year.  I originally said I would pay it all off, but then I realized I had more than I originally thought, thanks to taking out a loan last year to help me get back on my feet – which I will never do ever again.  I’m done with loans.  I’m done with credit cards.  A mortgage is a little different, so unless I want to rent for the rest of my life I’m probably going to buy something in the near future once my debt is cleared up.  That is probably my biggest motivation in paying off my debt now.

“Get on up, make your own motivation, Get on up I think it’s time to change the station.” -Shay Butler and Rawn Erickson

I’d like to stay here in the Capital District for the next 4-5 years at least, and with no romantic prospects on the horizon, that also means I won’t be having a family for the majority of those years, even if I do meet someone up here in the Capital District.  The good news is that the housing market is fantastic up here.  Low interest rates, lots of affordable housing in good communities that are recovering from a bout of foreclosures.  I can really pick a winning property and have it appreciate in value. Owning a house would bring me a lot of peace of mind and hopefully let me get my second “career” started.  I don’t have that much student loan debt left – about $29K.  However, I’d really like to go into a home with no debt payments whatsoever, and be able to apply all of my earnings to paying off my mortgage quickly.  Following the recommendations of the Churchill Mortgage company, which is a company that specializes in underwriting mortgages for people who don’t care about credit scores, I’m aiming for a 15 year fixed mortgage, to be paid off while I’m debt-free and working as hard as I can.  I am also going to be looking for a duplex or a legal multi-family home to bring in some rental income – having been a B&B host for many years, I’m ready for it – and to potentially offer a place for my parents to live if they decide they don’t want to live alone in their golden years. For now, dreams of moving back to Long Island or New York City (or anywhere within an hour) have to be put aside.  There is the option of living in Bridgeport, or somewhere close to the Bridgeport Ferry, which would be really convenient to visit my parents, but I don’t know much about the cost of living up there.

Dave Ramsey and his visual aid. What did grandma say?  Save for a...
Dave Ramsey and his visual aid. What did grandma say? Save for a…

To pay off $20K in one year, I’ll set aside $1670 every month.  It is now March, and I’m on track.  With my current savings, I’m actually way ahead of track, so that is exciting!  Perhaps my original goal of being able to pay it all off will actually happen!  But I need those extra savings for unexpected expenses (which, for me, seem to happen every other week).

“‘People say, ‘But Dave, be positive!’ I am positive. Positive it’s going to rain.” -Dave Ramsey, FPU’s Baby Steps Live

I am on track!  Keep checking back to see how I’m doing as I’ll update everyone on my progress throughout the year.  If you have any ideas of posts you’d like to see – how I’m managing saving that much, where I’m putting my savings, or comments – let me know below.

Grocery Store Shopping Do’s and Don’t’s

A.k.a…. how I save 30% on my grocery store bill.  Here’s a list! Do: 

  • Stick to one store.  I know a lot of major budget-tip websites say shop around for the best price.  These people have not had to dig themselves out of thousands of dollars of debt.  They don’t feel the weight of one bad decision that can de-rail you indefinitely.  If you shop around, you’re less likely to stick to your budget, and more likely to buy more than you need at one store.  Plus… gas costs money too.  The more time and energy and resources getting out of debt takes, the less likely you are to do it right.
  • IMG_1191Get the store card if it’s free.  It opens you up to a world of savings!  I kicked and screamed and resisted this little buddy for two years.  If you put it on your key ring, you’ll never forget it!  Check out the bottom of this post where I’m going to post my last grocery bill and see how much I saved by using my store card.
  • Be in and out.  Do it quickly.  Don’t get caught up thinking about anything for too long.  If you’re not sure, don’t buy it and think about it later at home.  If you’re sure you need it, get it.  You can’t save on everything every time.
  • Have a plan.  You need to sit down and write down your meals for the next cycle.  I go grocery shopping every two weeks, so I plan out my meals for those two weeks.  That way I know what I’m looking for, and I’m not cruising the aisle mindlessly.
  • Add up your ingredients’ prices before you go to the store.  This way you’ll know that you’re going to be on budget.  Have a little extra room?  Put the money into another category or envelope so you don’t accidentally spend it.  Not sure of the prices?  You can do a dry-run to check them out, or you can..
  • LOOK at the store’s discount flyer!  You might think,

    “Oh, who cares if there is $.50 off of a can of corn?”  Well, let me let you in on a little piece of factual information.  If a can of corn is $.99, and you saved 50 cents, you just saved 50% of your bill.  If you can do this with all of your purchases, it turns a $50 bill into a $25 one!

  • Feel the cash.  Finger those Benjamins.  Or.. er… Lincolns (do you think he is insulted that he only made it on to the $5)?  Get intimate with those boys.  Love them.  Count them often.  That will make it all the more painful when you hand them over to that 15 year old brat at the counter.
  • Consider alternatives.  If you normally use bread for sandwiches, but there aren’t any good sales on it, but English muffins are buy 1, get 2 free, you can make English muffin sandwiches for the next few weeks, right?  This happened to me the last time I went shopping – see my receipt below.  And to be honest, I get bored of the same old stuff, so it was a nice change.
  • Look down / Buy generic.  No more buying Kraft Mac & Cheese.  Go for the Walmart version on the bottom shelf.  Forget Ragu tomato sauce.  The Walmart tomato sauce will be just as tasty, if you like the taste of freedom from debt.
  • IMG_1189Look at your receipt when you exit the store – revel in how much you have saved, and congratulate yourself!  Call your mom and tell her!  Give yourself a pat on the back!  Make yourself feel good for what you’ve achieved, and remind yourself why you’re doing it.  Everyone else will think you’re crazy and / or stupid, and will give you those judge-y eye-rolls that makes you want to smack them. Those people are broke.

Don’t:

  • Keep buying things you’re not using.  If you bought a huge bag of rice intending to cook it at home for cheap… and haven’t touched it… nix rice.  If you bought lettuce to make healthy salads and it rotted away in your fridge… nix that, too!
  • Go shopping hungry
  • Go shopping with a credit or debit card (leave the wallet in the car if you must – no plastic enters the store).  People say debit cards are okay, but I’ve found my will is too weak.  Plus, you need to feel the cash, remember?
  • Spend longer than 1/2 hour in the store
  • Look at items that are not on your list
  • Count calories.  We don’t care about calories while we’re getting out of debt.
  • Get take out on the way home because you’re too tired to actually cook any of the stuff you just bought.  Your reward is not food.  This relates to, “don’t go shopping hungry!”  I’ve been guilty of this SO many times.
  • Steal money from another envelope to add to your list.  If you can’t buy milk, you can’t buy it.  Use water and feel the pain of eating gross food until you budget correctly next time!  I’ve eaten cereal from the box on weeks I didn’t budget enough for milk.

And, now, I present to you, as proof that this stuff works, my most recent shopping receipt.  Notice how much I saved, and how many tiny discounts I used.  My balance was a little high this time because I was stocking up on some stuff I don’t normally have to buy (sandwich bags, toilet bowl cleaner, etc), but you still get the idea.  Normally, if I just buy my 2 week staples – milk, juice, fruit, bread, etc – it’s about $25-$35. You can see the three identical items near the top of the receipt.  Those are all butter.  They were on super sale sale (80% off), so I stocked up and put the two extras in the freezer.  That’s one thing I won’t have to buy for probably the rest of the year.  You can also see 2 boxes of Cheerios and 2 boxes of granola bars near the bottom.  They were on sale if purchased together, and I use both all the time, so I stocked up.  The first item is Thomas’ English Muffins.  Buy one, get two free!  Which is the same as getting 50% off on each box.  So, you can see, I really don’t go for those special sales unless they get me close to 50% off, and it’s an item I normally buy.  My total savings = $21.64. IMG_1187 Now go and try it yourself, and post your receipts in the comments!  Or leave me a comment and tell me what I left off of my list.

Why Apple Pay is Not the Next Big Thing

It’s time to break from my usual posts about budgets, money, and living debt free, and instead talk about something that’s been on my mind lately: Apple Pay.  I’ve seen it in a few places and, despite having an iPhone, never had the desire to connect and pay by phone.  For those of you who aren’t sure what Apple Pay is, here’s a short video to get you up to speed from the Mashable geniuses.

I was shocked to find it at Panera.

There are a lot of reasons why I don’t think the Apple Pay system is the best, but I know that this is only the first version and that subsequent updates in the system will be more efficient.  There’s the fact that most iPhone screens are dirty and fingerprinted – this makes it hard for the phone to read your fingerprint occasionally.  There’s also the issue of having so many different types of merchants – retailers, busses, taxi’s, restaurants, and a limitless number of other places that accept various types of payment.  Considering Apple Pay is reaching large cities first, the diversity of what each retailer needs – and how they check you out – means that it must survive there before being more widely distributed.  I was shocked to find it at Panera.  But, let’s put all of it’s technical and strategical faults behind for now.

The reason why Apple Pay is not going to catch fire as much as we think is because Apple has, yet again, underestimated the severity of the economic state in major cities.  Sure, you’ll always have wealthy people who will want the next cool gadget, but the number of wealthy people, especially in places like New York City and Los Angeles, is undergoing a shift.  The middle class, tech-savvy 20 or 30 something, their friends and family, and their jobs are moving out of these cities.  I consider myself a part of this category, despite being on the poorer side income-wise, but most of my friends who aren’t from wealthy families are being priced out of New York City.  The rents are skyrocketing over $300 a month, and there is limited affordable housing.  If you’re wiling to sell your soul, find a job that lets you work 60 hours a week, and can make enough to afford rent + the $112 monthly metro card, price of food, and general exorbitant cost of living, you are still going to be only slightly above breaking even.  Living with roommates can cut down the cost of living immensely, but you don’t want to do that forever, and there is no long-term solution for us.

…but this time, it’s your real money flying out the window

The other thing that has convinced me that Apple Pay is not the next big thing is that it encourages us to spend.  You have the convenience of a credit card – except now it’s already in your hand.  Let’s face it, even when you’re walking down the street your hand is probably in your pocket around your iPhone, whether it’s to protect it from pick pockets or to pan through your iTunes playlist.  It’s a credit card glued to your hand… but this time, it’s your real money flying out the window.

With so many people in financial straits, and more of them becoming aware of their problems and scaling back, and then… enter the Millenials, the stingiest group of spenders ever tracked by economists – and they have good reason to be, considering they lived through the trauma of the housing bubble bursting and watched their parents’ retirement and stocks dip dangerously… I can’t imagine they’d want money to disappear out of their hands as easily as Apple Pay proclaims it can.

Freedom?  I think not!

Today’s shoppers are getting wise.  The most ironic thing?  Apple Pay showing the Chase Visa Freedom card on the home screen of the iPhone in their advertisements.

Freedom?  I don’t think so.

Have Fun the Broke Way

This post will be a little different from the posts I normally share.  Usually I’ll be sharing money saving ideas, budget tips, and stuff I’ve learned in my 20’s about saving money.

Today I’m just sharing some photos.  That’s pretty much it!  When you don’t want to dip into that “fun” envelope, or that “blow” envelope – whichever you use to save money for having fun – you can always come up with something to do that break your budget.

My favorite thing?  Photography.  Pick an event, go to a fun neighborhood, get together with a friend and take portraits, or just mess around and have some fun.  We just had a huge snowstorm (a commonplace occurrence here in upstate NY), so I decided to take some photographs of the frozen wonderland that is my neighborhood.  The best part is… it’s free!  If you catch my drift…

So, go out and take some photos of your own, post them to your blog, and leave me a comment and share.  We can all encourage each other to live within our means – and have fun the creative way!