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12/18/2009

One Day at a Time

Well this seems odd; it’s my last blog for Project Money. I want to thank Carrie, my coach, for all of her help. I definitely don’t think I could have made such good progress in such a short time with out her advice and encouragement. It’s strange, I am definitely not debt free but I am in a much better position than when I started. I currently have an actual emergency fund and immediate savings. I also have a little money at the end of the month so I don’t feel like I am barely making it to the next paycheck. I am working with my emotional spending. It is quite hard during the holidays with all the sales. I can’t imagine how it will be when the after Christmas sales begin. I do have a tendency to go overboard some time. I recently pulled a heart off the angel tree at Pinnacle and it is so hard for me not to buy too much. A few weeks ago I think it was Rachel that mentioned how you feel guilty for spending money when you want to save and pay bills but I also feel guilty about not being able to give more. (Just so you know I did set a budget.)

I don’t have any profound words to say but I am going to take it one day at a time just like they do in AA.

Below are a few sites to check out.

FICO Score Estimator
http://www.bankrate.com/calculators/credit-score-fico-calculator.aspx

Budgeting and Finance
http://www.mint.com

12/02/2009

Tis the Season for Emotional Spending

I went to the Women’s Expo the other week and, yes, I made some irrational purchases. So I have been thinking about emotional spending and how difficult it is to avoid unnecessary purchases during the holidays.  I found this article online that lists four key points to avoid holiday debt.

1. Set spending limits—Carrie suggested that I set aside a small amount of money each week for gift giving. Does anyone remember the “Christmas Club” accounts? I know many banks have gotten rid of these nifty accounts but a lot of credit unions still have them or a form of them. So it seems that NOW is the time to think about next year’s Christmas budget. It is kind of like the envelope method Kari, Darek, Cree, Chay and Coen are using; once the account is empty…

2. Make a list—Follow Santa’s example. Make a list of all the people you need or want to buy gifts for and don’t forget to include money for postage and Christmas cards. Those small items add up. I often leave out the postage. You know you get a really good deal on a gift for $4.00 but you spend $8.95 to ship it. You should also include holiday entertainment on this list as well.

3. Set a limit—Determine how much you want to spend on each person on your gift list and add a little cushion for unexpected items or price fluctuations.

4. Decide where to shop—two words: comparison shop.

Hopefully this is a little helpful. I also found a video on YouTube that I found quite helpful. I never really thought about holiday depression and the after holiday debt before. That majority of Americans are charging their holidays and typically do not pay them off until June. All the more reason to save a little bit each month to finance your holiday.

You Can Stop Being Held Hostage by Holiday Credit Card Debt
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezWTicNnT8c

11/19/2009

Holiday Impulse Buying

Thanksgiving is coming and with it two of the busiest shopping days of the year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Believe it or not Black Friday was one of my favorite shopping days in addition to the day after Christmas and the month of February. Although I must admit the Black Friday sales have not been very good over the last few years, I still enjoy perusing the sales flyers, looking for gifts. The strange thing is that although I was usually looking for gifts for other people I would usually end up buying more gifts for myself, thinking that this is an ideal price—which by the way wasn’t true, hence the credit card debt.  The other problem I would have is guilt of spending so much money on myself and to some extent I would feel like I needed to get really good thoughtful gifts.

This Christmas will be a little different. I plan to make most of my gifts. Hopefully this will detour me from being out and about looking through the isles. Since I won’t be looking through the stores, I can avoid impulse buying. Earlier this year when Steve and Barry’s closed I bought several plain black fleeces. I plan to buy those embroidered letters and sew them on the fleeces. The letters are about 60 cents each and I paid 96 cents for each of the fleeces. I think it will make a nice, cute, thoughtful and practical gift for my family members. I was also planning to buy coffee mugs, personalize them and make homemade hot cocoa mix for my friends.

11/03/2009

Looking Forward To What's Next

Last week as I was waiting to see This Is It — awesome movie you gotta check it out — I decided to check the status of my bills. I owed Lane Bryant, my favorite clothing store, $27.14. So of course I paid it and I officially have three less credit cards than when I started the program back in May. I am really looking forward to what’s next. It really feels nice to actually accomplish something. I am still quite a ways away but there is definitely an end in sight. The next question is do I begin paying on the card with the next lowest balance or the card with the next highest interest. The problem here is that the card with the next highest interest is the Visa card that I have had the longest and it has the highest balance, which seems like it will take years to pay off. However, the card with the next lowest balance I could definitely pay off in three months perhaps two months if I really conserve over the holidays, which to be honest will be a little difficult.

10/21/2009

Permission and Freedom to Spend Wisely

Currently, I work one full-time job and several part-time and part-time casual jobs, so you can imagine that my income fluctuates from month to month. Lately, I have been thinking back to my first meeting with Carrie and she asked me if it was hard to keep track of all my bills, accounts and things. My answer to her was “no, not really”. Before Project Money I honestly thought I was not really worried about money and I had not gone over the deep end yet. I knew that I had a lot of debt and it would take time to get out of it, but I had it under control or so I thought. For each month I kept a list of all my bills, the amount due, the amount owed, the amount paid and the due dates in a tablet. I would not fill in the amount paid column until I actually initiated the payment and would check it off when the payment cleared my checking account. I have been doing this since I moved here and had my first apartment. However, the crazy thing is that I would check it quite often to see how many more bills I had to pay and how I could ensure that they would be paid before the due date. I now realize that I was definitely a little beyond the point of worried, perhaps obsessed. I would honestly check my accounts and look at the tablet almost every day, sometimes twice a day to make sure I didn’t “miss” anything. I was definitely a money worrier and did not know it.

Lately, I have noticed that since I have been budgeting with a realistic budget I don’t think about it as much. I still keep my tablet—I find it useful to have a general reference in one place—and I still check my accounts but definitely not every day or multiple times a day. I do still plan out which bills will get paid by my first, second, third check but I don’t sit and think about this every day or every week. A budget is very important and for me it gives me the permission and freedom to spend wisely and to some extent freely without the guilt and urges to spend erratically. I feel like I am truly on my way to living within my means.

Recently, a friend was telling me about a new iPhone app from www.mint.com. Since I did not have an iPhone I wasn’t too interested at first. Then a co-worker, who did not have an iPhone, mentioned it, so I checked it out. It is a pretty neat website that will definitely help you get organized. It reminds me of Quicken or Microsoft Money but it is free and available online so you can check it anywhere. You can view all of your accounts and balances in one place and it has many tools and analyzers to help you see where you are spending money, as well as budgeting tools and did I mention it was free. It was recommended by several business magazine and they boast that they use the same internet security as banks—for whatever that is worth.  I suggested it to one of my friends who does not want to track her expenses because she knows she won’t like what she sees—and she probably doesn’t want to do the work. Summit Credit Union has a similar tool called Debt in Focus, http://www.debtinfocus.com/?refer=SummitCU, which I also mentioned to her because she is concerned with internet security. Unlike mint.com you will have to input your own financial data but you will get a nice colorful PDF document of your data. Debt in Focus has many of the same tools and analyzers but the data is static. They both are really nice, free (I really like free) tools to use to help you get started.  Check them out and let me know what you think.


 

10/07/2009

Birthday Week

This week is my birthday and I am trying to have a great time on a dime. So far I have been celebrating at least once a week for the past three weeks (you’d think I would have brought my camera at least once). The great thing about my birthday is that several restaurants offer free food and great promotions for your birthday week or month. I think this is great marketing strategy because who wants to eat alone for their birthday? Since the month has started I have eaten out three times for a total of $10. I hope I can continue this eating on a dime for the rest of the month, to help pay my traffic violation ticket.

Since this month has started, I have received numerous coupons and double point offers from several of my favorite stores. I tossed the coupons and so far I have not been tempted to go out and splurge. To be honest I do not have a need right now, especially for clothes. So no matter how cute the item is and no matter how cheap it may be I don’t need it. It’s a matter of necessity from here on out.

09/23/2009

Tackling Debt One Credit Card at a Time

So as you may remember, I have been spending quite a bit of time at my local library or at least the library’s website, www.madisonpubliclibrary.org. Saturday I made a trip to pick up some items on hold and noticed that they were having a book sale. Believe it or not, I have never been to one of the library's book sales and I can see why. I had 5 books in my hand 2 paperbacks and 3 hardcovers which would have totaled $4.00 so instead of buying just them I paid $3.00 to buy a bag of books. Instead of 5 books I ended up with, about 20. Although I saved money I still purchased way more books than I needed. Thus no more unexpected library book sales for me in the future.

On another note, I think I am getting much better with my food budget. I am more easily able to say no to a meal out and it feels really good to have a little extra money at the end of the month, especially this month. This week I am appearing in court to contest a traffic ticket—definite unexpected expense—as well as renters insurance is due next month. Although you save a little for unexpected expenses, you never know when you will have to use those funds and how much they will be depleted. I am doing well with paying down my debt. Since recognizing the emotional spender in me, I have become more aware of how to control my urges and have only used a credit card once since beginning the program. I have paid off two credit cards so far and by the end of next month I hope to turn that into three. I am officially under $70,000 in debt. Next, Carrie and I will have to make a decision about which card to pay off next. I need to really work on increasing my savings. So if any of you have any ideas please feel free to comment.

I also have a challenge this month. Making a long story very short, I am hosting a Lia Sophia Jewelry Party this Sunday. My problem is that I enjoy—some aspects—of hosting. I enjoy the preparation, making sure things operate smoothly and to a certain expectation. As you can imagine this feeds into my emotional spending. I want everything to be grandiose and elaborate; however, I don’t have that kind of budget. In order to cut down on the costs of the hors d'oeuvres, I am preparing most things from scratch and plan to use the remaining $45 from my food budget to prep for the party. This will definitely be a challenge of my new skills, which I hope are habits now. I will have to go in the store with my list and stick to it.

09/09/2009

Obsessions and Random Thoughts

I have been a little lazy this past month (this is probably due to my recent obsession with Star Trek Voyager). I have not been entering my daily expenses daily nor have I entered them for last week. I plan to get all of that done pretty soon so I can give you an update on how I did with my budget last month. Until the actual numbers come in I am considering the past month a huge success. I actually had money left over at the end of the month—which was used to pay MGE and a small portion saved for some unexpected expenses. I am also getting closer to being able to pay all of my bills out of my paycheck from my full time job. At some point I would like be able to save all of my part-time earnings for a special trip or something.
 
Although there are huge differences some days I feel like Richard Prior’s character in the movie Brewster’s Millions. So hopefully Project Money will have a similar affect on me, (e.g. - I will not like to spend money as much as I once did). I have noticed my desire to window shop has decreased. I now just go in the store, stick to my list and convince myself that I do not need or want this clearance item if it is not on my list of items to buy. So far it is working. Yesterday, one of my friends called me a big baby. This is quite true for the most part—especially when I am sick—but I think this is also how I go about justifying my unnecessary purchases. I do have a knack for persuasion, or at least I have been told.

Recently, I have developed an obsession with Star Trek Voyager. Thanks to my local library and Netflix, I have successfully completed watching all seven seasons of the television series. When I embarked on this journey, I was quite excited to finally be able to finish the series and to watch each episode sequentially. I must admit as the season’s progressed the writing improved as well but clearly the writers did not have a clue as to how to end the show. In addition to my disappointment with the series finale, the special features did not include deleted scenes or director/writer/actor commentary, which I do enjoy. I say all of this to say please check out your local library…they are awesome especially for cheap (e.g. free) entertainment.


 

08/25/2009

Food Budget Battle, Cont.

This month has been quite a challenge. I decided to do something a little different with my food budget. Since last month I went over my budget by a total of $35, I had $165 to spend this month so I went to the grocery store at the beginning of the month. I bought enough food to last till the end of the month. I spent a little over $100 leaving me with money to buy milk and maybe eat out at least once or twice the rest of the month.  However, this seemed quite a daunting task in the beginning because my friend’s birthday was the second week and I had two goodbye celebrations to attend before the month’s end. 

At first it seemed quite difficult to tell people I could not go out but it did get easier as the month progressed. However my first real challenge was to my friend's birthday week which was the second week in August. The good thing about your birthday week is that you can register with a lot of restaurant clubs and programs so that you can typically get at least one free meal every day of the week. However, it is not my week so I of course would have to pay for my meals.

By the end of this week I had made it through one goodbye party, an entire birthday week, one milk run and a trip to the state fair with about $10 left in my budget.  Now after Corn Fest, the second going away party, and a BOGO coupon for the Pizza Hut buffet, I am once again over budget, but at least not by $35. Only one week to go.

08/11/2009

Following Through

The last couple of weeks have been about following through. I officially set up my food allowance for the month by having a $200 direct deposit going into a checking account. Now I have a special account so that when the money is gone I cannot finagle money from my other account. I decided to take money from my online savings account with HSBC and open a GoSave account at Summit Credit Union. The GoSave is earning 1.85% APY which is slightly more interest than my HSBC Online Savings. The only thing left to do is setup my direct deposit with my employer. After a very long contemplation period, I have officially switched my car insurance saving me about $50 a month. I feel like I’m in a Geico commercial I am expecting the Gecko at any moment now. I know that you should check insurance quotes quite often but I like my agent and I have a long history with Allstate but at the moment Geico is much cheaper. This week I plan to call my credit card companies to ask for lower interest rates and to reduce my phone services.

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