Connie's Blog

12/29/2014

Marathon not a Sprint

As a former track runner, I’ve viewed Project Money in ways that go beyond how much money is in my bank account and religiously monitoring my debt. It’s innate in me to want to go fast but I’ve learned that steadiness and consistency helps to maintain your pace. These past 7 months have challenged me as an individual and bettering my future self and life. I would be whole-heartedly lying if I said this was easy. It was probably one of the most challenging experiences I’ve been through but also one of the most rewarding.

For the last 2 weeks, I have been home in Virginia and South Carolina enjoying the company of some of the people that I love the most. It is so fitting that I am ending this Project Money Journey where it officially started for me back in June. As we conclude this challenge, I’d like to take the opportunity to thank those that provided me with support, words of encouragement, prayers, random meals, hugs and company. I can’t name them all—but they know exactly who they are.  

Looking back since June—a lot has transpired and there were so many invaluable lessons that I’ve learned. I admit that I am very hard on myself and I sometimes have to be reminded of my own accomplishments. Below is a letter I wrote to myself as a reminder that indeed, this journey is not over…

Dear Connie,

You started this journey and the 2014 year as a 27-year old with a little over $30K in debt and minimal in savings. You are rounding out this amazing journey as a 28 year old who has paid down over 12% of her debt and increased her savings to exceed the goal of having at least 3 months worth of income in emergency savings.

Just in case you forgot, here’s what you’ve accomplished this year:

  • You paid off BOTH credit cards, equating to around $3,500 in debt paid.
  • You sacrificed personal travel/trips knowing that the savings accumulated would help you be in a better financial standing in the long-run. Don’t worry there is a beach and cabana somewhere with your name written in the sand in 2015. J
  • You refinanced your car loan lowering your interest rate from 10.9% to 3.75%
  • You raised your credit score.
  • You cut down on eating out drastically.
  • You helped others as much as you could.
  • And most importantly, you shared your story.

I see a change in you. And it’s a good change. Your excitement when you score double coupon savings at Walgreens or the grocery store is amusing yet exciting because you see the value in consistent habits.

You’ve made friends along the way and offered up advice to those that were humbled enough to ask.

You faced you’re fear of “what will people think” in the attempt to conquer a feat that seemed far-fetch.

I want you to remember that in the journey of financial independence mistakes and lessons will be learned—but let’s cut down on those okay?

Practice, Patience, and Persistence. These 3 things are key. I am proud of you. And I am sure so many others are rooting for you as well. You’ve done well. Keep it up! So, this isn’t goodbye—this is “so long”. See you on the other (debt-free) side.

Hugs,
Connie

 

12/15/2014

Online Financial Support Group for Women of Color

As we round out the last couple of weeks of Project Money, I am thankful not only for the opportunity to accomplish some of my financial goals but also for all the many opportunities that have come as a result of this platform. I have spoken about my journey so much so--there isn't a day that goes by that at least once I am not asked how everything is going. This discussion include words of encouragement, questions about the program, and insight or solicitation of advice from that particular individual's own journey. Back in August, I was approached by a young lady who had recently moved to Madison from the East Coast. We instantly connected on our affiliation to Virginia and some of the mutual friends that attended the same universities.

My new found friend, invited me to coffee one random Saturday evening at Starbucks (no I didn't buy anything!) to discuss an idea that she thought I would be interested in, given my involvement with Summit Credit Union and Project Money. We talked about where we are in terms of becoming debt-free, what it would take to get there, and what resources we have and wished we had. We talked and talked and TALKED---for about 2 hours. After all of this, she informed me that she was looking to start an online financial community group, with an emphasis on women of color, to support each other on their(our) individual journeys of becoming debt-free.  

Since that initial conversation, there have been 2 other ladies that have been involved to transform an idea into a reality. All of us speak from the perspective of being a young black woman ranging from our latter 20’s to early 30’s, all in different stages of life and careers including a Mom and Physician, A Graduate Student, Senior Researcher and myself. I am SO very proud to be apart of such a dynamic group--knowing that financial independence is something beyond our own individual struggles. If our stories can help just one other young lady knowing that she is not alone--then we have accomplished something in this lifetime.

This initial investment to start this group has been minimal--with me contributing about $30 overall to get a few things in line as we develop the group, website, and resources.  This opportunity is a direct result of my involvement with Project Money. Without Summit Credit Union, I would not have had the platform or the opportunity to candidly discuss my journey on becoming financially well.

We are looking to launch our group in January 2015, and I couldn't be more excited to continue this journey with 3 other dynamic women. Stay tuned...

12/08/2014

'Tis the Season...to be Frugal

This time of year is filled with holiday parties, gift exchanges, ugly Christmas Sweaters, love and joyous times with the family and friends that mean the most. This is also my “birthday month”, so historically I have been known to splurge during the month of December. But not THIS time.

Here are some of the things I have thought about differently this year vs last:

1. Find creative ways in wrapping your gifts.

You don’t have to buy the $3-5 gift bag/wrapping paper. Recycle old newspaper or re-purpose gift bags that were given to you. I have several solid colored bags that I plan to reuse, as well as leftover rolls of wrapping paper. Disclaimer: Be sure not to give the same person the bag that they gave to you. That goes for re-gifting an item as well. You’ve been warned--be careful

2. Be selective in your gift list.

Your grade school bus driver’s daughter’s cousin does not need to be on your Christmas list. My list includes, immediate family and close friends. If I don’t give you a gift for Christmas it does NOT mean that I love you any less, it just simply means--I’ll catch you on your birthday :

3. Be creative in your gift selection and make it meaningful.

The amount an item costs does not equate to the meaning behind it. I plan to make a few friends gifts this year, which will be a first for me. I suggest utilizing Pinterest to create gifts (i.e. baking goodies, knitting a scarf, etc.) Just leave the fruit cake recipe alone--I never came across one that I liked or one that couldn’t be used as an extra brick on a foundation of a house.

4. Know your expectations of being invited to a holiday party.

Are you required to bring a white elephant gift? How many times will you have to make your infamous caramel cake? All in all the amount of money you spend adds up. I have a holiday party each day this upcoming week. Luckily--only one requires that I bring something for the group. Bottom line--choose your RSVP wisely.

5. Value the moments that cost the least.

Spend time with your family and friends--and I can guarantee it will be the best investment you will make all holiday season.

BONUS: Buy yourself something nice. It’s okay. Just make sure it is within reason. Don’t buy anything that you will regret next month.

Whatever you choose to do...let’s not forget the reason for the season!

12/01/2014

Closing a Chapter

At the beginning of Project Money, I promised myself that I would do everything that I possibly could to make my financial situation better than it was before. I promised myself that through sacrifice I would achieve the personal goals that I set in place. It was at the beginning of Project Money that I decided to take on another job that would help me rapidly save towards my aggressive goals. It is after 6 months, after juggling committee obligations, volunteer events, after-work events, a full-time job--that I have decided to leave my part time position.

This experience has been a positive one. The management team has been nothing short of great. They have been flexible with all of my other commitments and understood my goals in maintaining my position with them. So much so—when I decided to take advantage of my 40% holiday discount and other promotional deals this past week for Black Friday, they could hardly believe I was buying anything. On a bright note, I was able to get some “thank you” and Christmas gifts for a few people on my list—as well as a necklace I had been eyeing for some time. After this, I can honestly tell myself, “Connie, you deserve it!”

So, I will be completing my 6 months of working at Charming Charlie, with my last day being Dec. 6th . I have been able to save a little under $3000 just from working this part time job alone. I think this was time well spent and something that I look back on, and realize that it wasn’t easy—but I never expected it to be. 

11/24/2014

A Precautionary Tale

This week I was going to write about something totally different, but I was lead to recant an incident that happened to me a few years ago after what I witnessed on Sunday evening.

I was headed to SuperTarget after work to pick a few things to eat for the week. It was raining and it was dark. As I turned into the parking lot, I saw a girl driving across the parking lot, in a perpendicular direction from which I was driving. She pulled out in front of me, perhaps not realizing that there was oncoming traffic, so she didn’t see me. I saw her look at me, but unfortunately she didn’t see the other car coming from the other direction either. And just in that instant--the other car hit her on the passenger side. I called 911. The young lady in the other oncoming car was shaken up, and visibly upset with her air bag deployed. I got out and asked if she was okay, and checked on the other driver as well. Both fairly young and both with pretty bad damage to their cars. We sat and waited a few minutes for the police to come.

As we sat there, I couldn’t help but think of my first (and last) accident, about 4 years ago. I was on Mopac Expressway in Austin headed to work. Anyone that has driven in Austin’s traffic knows that during certain times of the day it is bumper-to-bumper. So naturally, I wanted some entertainment on my 45 minute commute. I looked down for a split second to turn my pandora station and yup, CRASH. I hit another car from behind. No (visible) damage on my car, but the other driver’s rear bumper had noticeable damage. I was scared out of my mind because I knew this was bad. Why? Because guess what, my insurance had just lapsed 2 days prior because I didn’t have the money to pay it until I got paid on Friday. Not only, did I not have the insurance I was billed $4,500 for the damage done to the other person’s car as an uninsured driver. And on top of that--I didn’t even have a savings account. Needless I will never allow any parts of my situation to happen again.

Luckily, in this case both drivers had insurance coverage. Not sure what the result was going to be for the insurance claim, however I gave them each my information just in case, and went about my way. All in all--drivers should always exercise the undivided attention and alertness when driving, a split second decision my change your life or someone else’s. And usually there is always kind of some monetary or emotional debt to pay as a result, so make sure you are insured.
 

11/17/2014

It all Adds Up!

If there’s anything that I learned, it’s that money adds up. I have learned not to look at the individual increments but think about how much those amounts add up over time. This week I received three different payouts from various activities:

With my job, I periodically have clients from out of town come to visit Madison. With showcasing all that our beautiful city has to offer, I drive my car and tour them to various facilities and attractions that are of interest to them and their respective groups. My employer reimburses a percentage of the mileage used for these client appointments. I submit the miles driven during that time period for approval and I receive a reimbursement check. So, as a result of a site visit earlier this month, I was reimbursed $25.17 for miles and gas.

Secondly, I received a $25 Good Health Bonus reward check from Physicians Plus insurance for completing the “My Healthy Choices Succeed” health assessment. Many insurance companies have like programs that incentivize families for promoting healthy lifestyles. Jason and Andrea were able to cash in on some "easy money" through their insurance company this past summer. Additionally with my assessment, I have the opportunity to earn an extra $75 with completing 30-,90-, and 180-day follow-up on-line surveys.  

Lastly, Summit Credit Union has implemented this very cool “ Cash Boomerang” program, where SCU give customers cash back for investing and entrusting Summit with their money. Essentially the more you save and borrow with summit, the more cash you could get back each November through this program. As a result, I received $14.03. I was able to immediately redeem that award and deposit it directly into my savings account. (Thank you Summit!)

With the additional $50 in checks, I plan to put that towards my car loan, as my focus will begin to aggressively focus on paying towards that balance. This will allow the total $425 to go directly to the principal balance of the loan, and $50 to cover the interest for the month. So all in all, the extra $64 I received this month, may be just a drop in the bucket in terms of payment—but it certainly is helping me get a tad bit closer to my goal. 

11/10/2014

Let’s Get Fiscal!

Throughout the last 5 months of Project Money, I have grown in the sense of what I am willing to splurge on and what I realize it not worth my money. This journey has “shaped” my thoughts and choices in ways that I didn’t know it would. Here are a few things I learned about myself so far:

  1. I  will never buy brand name toilet paper or paper towels again. The Dollar Store or the generic brand at Walgreens have saved me upwards of $5-10 each time with needing to purchase these items. Bye, bye Charmain and Bounty.
  2. I will never buy shaving cream ever again; I use coconut oil as a substitute and it is AMAZING! Coconut oil also has many additional uses: Click here
  3. I will always shop laundry detergent with coupons. What I’ve found is that if you’re strategic on where you buy the detergent from and when they go on sale, you can save A LOT of money. I bought detergent for the first time since this past August after getting 4 bottles for $10 at Walgreens using coupons and capitalizing on a $5/per bottle sale.
  4. If it is appropriate, split birthday, wedding, congratulatory gifts, etc. amongst friends; the recipient will get a more significant gift and it will be kinder to your wallet in the long run.
  5. Always Go Generic. Target and Dollar store: Bodywash, soap, qtips, etc. Qtips were my last item that I converted to generic. I don’t know what it was about the Qtip brand but I am happy to report the Target qtips clean my ears just as well, saving me $3.50 on that one box.
  6. I will go out of my way for a sale, and I look for the best deal everywhere. Never thought I would consider buying toiletries at the grocery store but if it’s cheaper I will!
  7. I will not buy drug store foundation--sorry, Covergirl, Revlon, etc. I tried it and I looked like a blotchy mess. I will however use drugstore brands for mascara, liner, and eyeshadows.
  8. Dove deodorant has never failed me. Yes, it is probably one of the more expensive of the deodorant brands but I like it the best. Ironically after looking through the Copp’s circular--I saw they had 2packs of Dove deodorant for $4, which is usually the price of 1!

I understand that while on your journey to financial freedom you still have to live your life. There will still be weddings, you will still have financial emergencies and you will always have to make choices between needs vs. wants. Just make those choices don’t compromise your well being but they don’t hurt your wallet either.

 

11/03/2014

Cash Corner w/ Connie- Part III

By now, I’m pretty sure most of my Facebook friends are aware of my goal to be debt free. Consequently, I have had many individuals inquire about what I am doing to get there. This past Monday, I had 10 ladies join me for my 3rd installment of ‘Cash Corner with Connie’. I implemented this event to share my experience throughout my Project Money journey. This group has also evolved into a support group of sorts for individuals that are on the road to financial freedom or trying to figure out where to start. (Read my past Cash Corner blog here).

This event was extra special because we had a few Summit Credit Union leaders attend, including my financial coach, Emily, who presented on the topic of budgets. In light of the upcoming holidays, she touched on the ways that would make this time of year less stressful regarding finances. Additionally, Attendees also had the opportunity to ask any personal questions and share their own tips and tricks with the group. Emily followed up via email with the group and shared a holiday budget sheet and personal inventory document used for estate planning.

Here were a few takeaways from our discussion:

  1. Plan for holiday expenses throughout the year, by setting aside $20, $50 or whatever amount you desire, each pay period to appropriately plan for the many expenses you would anticipate during the latter part of the year.
  2. Have the tough conversations regarding will and estate management in order to plan in advance for any unexpected life events; share passwords and “hiding places” that may need to be accessed. (Read how Louise and Dave have started that process here)
  3. Pay your credit card balance off each month; think of it as cash versus using it as “life line”. If you can’t pay for it in cash that month--then you shouldn’t be buying. Emergencies are the exception. Those new pair of shoes that are on sale at Nordstom Rack is NOT an emergency.

 

The subject of budgeting was befitting as Emily and I have implemented my bi-weekly budget with adjusting allotted amounts being directly deposited into their respective accounts. Emily’s motto of “every dollar should have a home”--is one that can help avoid any scrambling when life’s unexpected events happen. At least this will allow you to be somewhat prepare.

A very special shoutout to my neighbors, Jen and Paul at Oasis Cafe for allowing me to utilize their space. Much, much appreciated! Thank you Emily, Lisa and Amy for supporting the event and providing the goodies and Summit swag--everyone seemed to have really enjoyed themselves!

The last Cash Corner w/ Connie will occur in December where it will be part educational and part celebration for completing the journey! See you there...

10/27/2014

“Because of them…”

This past Thursday evening, I had the opportunity to hear motivational speaker and photographer, Eunique Jones, at the American Family Dream Bank. She is the dreamer and successful creator of the “Because of Them, We can” Campaign. This campaign started as a 28-day Black History Month personal project stemming from her love of photography and passion for social justice. It has now been nationally recognized, and has successfully transitioned to a year-round movement with partnerships with American Family Insurance and the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, KY just to name a few.

This was a free event that had great energy and lots of familiar faces from the community. Her message of inspiration was meant for those that have little ones and for those that are kids at heart with dreams (that’s me!). And I think she did just that. Eunique also gave everyone who attended her 365-pg commemorative book showcasing little ones dressed up trailblazers like Harry Belafonte to Maxine Waters to Dorothy Height.

When you think about those that have paved the way for opportunities that you may or may not have fathomed being able to accomplish--it makes your situation that much more palpable. You can’t help but to feel a sense of gratitude towards those that have helped you afford the very rights and everyday choices we sometimes take as granted.

So not only did I get a good message, great appetizers, and embraced fellowship. I left with a sense of empowerment. My take away from this event was tap into your passion and take a chance, it is the crossroads of passion and tenacity that can lead to your life’s purpose. In the words of Ms. Jones, “Sometimes not taking a risk, is riskier than taking it…”. I highly recommend anyone to visit the American Family Dream Bank in downtown Madison, where you can become inspired and cultivate your dreams.

For more FREE Dream Bank events information visit: http://www.amfam.com/dreambank/upcoming-events.asp

For more information on “Because of Them, We Can…” visit: http://www.becauseofthemwecan.com/

10/20/2014

Holiday Travel Planning

To me, the holidays are a time of love, great food, and spending time with family and friends. With an increased focus on consumerism during the latter months of the year--not budgeting for expenses you anticipate to have can leave you pinching pennies into the New Year.

For the last 5 years, I have not traveled home for Thanksgiving. Mainly because the plane tickets are awfully expensive. As an alternative-I usually plan a potluck dinner with friends where we each contribute 1 or 2 dishes. Back in Austin, my friends and I cooked like we were feeding the Duggar Family but it was usually only 4 of us. And each year, I came not only with my baked macaroni and cheese in hand but also a brand new tupperware set that I used for leftovers and stocked up for the week. I am not ashamed--sue me.

For some, family is within driving distance. For me, to attend a family gathering usually requires a plane ticket. This past week, Southwest was advertising a major sale, so I decided to take advantage of it. After figuring out vacation days, doing some math and cost comparisons, I ended up only paying $192 for my round trip ticket back home to DC/VA for Christmas.

Southwest Airlines- Milwaukee to BWI Airport= $99

American Airlines- DC to Madison- Used loyalty points + additional point purchase = $93

Here are a few tips I have for booking airline tickets:

Keep an eye on airfare and watch for sales

Bing.com/travel and kayak.com are my go to sites. They compare all major airlines, and both sites also lets you use different filters to get your “perfect” itinerary.

Try to be as flexible with dates and airports as possible

Luckily, DC has several airport options. The most convenient is Regan International, which is about 20 minutes from my mom’s house; however this time it wasn’t the cheapest. So I opted to fly to BWI for my departure trip and return back to Madison flying from Reagan International.

Building in a day on both ends of your trip also gives you some flexibility in booking the cheapest fare

Sign up for loyalty programs--ALL of them.

I accumulated 11,000 points last year by flying American Airlines. One-way ticket in/out of Madison on the same airline is 12,500 points. I saved over $250 just from using points versus purchasing a ticket outright, which could have cost me (as of Friday) $383 for one way.

Additionally, I participate in AirTran and Southwest airline loyalty programs. These companies are in the process of merging, so as of Nov. 1--with the combined past travel accumulated, I anticipate to have another free one-way flight to use.

Window seat, selected. Visa card, entered. Submit. Boom. I cannot wait!

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