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12/29/2014

Lessons Learned in 2014

When 2014 began, I had no idea what this year would have in store for me.   Just like many other people, I made a New Year's Resolution; I wanted to get my finances under control!  More specifically, I wanted to figure out a plan to get my student loans paid off sooner rather than later.  When I came across the opportunity to apply for Project Money, I knew this challenge was something I wanted to be a part of.  Now, just a few days shy of the end of the challenge, I can confidently say that I've succeeded in my resolution- I've significantly changed my spending and savings habits and am well on my way to being debt free.    Here are some of the most important lessons I've learned over the past seven months:

Review your budget every month:  Since I get paid on a monthly basis, I analyze my budget at the start of each month so that I can anticipate how I will use each dollar.  At first, it was a daunting task, but it's become easier with each passing month.  It's also been helpful to estimate my annual spending in certain areas, like car and animal expenses, so that I can set aside a specific amount each month in anticipation of future needs.  In fact, I've set up five different savings accounts and two checking accounts (one for bills and one for monthly expenses); it's amazing to see how quickly your savings can grow when you set aside a little bit each month and are careful about how you spend this money. 

Look at the big picture and then take small steps towards your goals:  When I first began this challenge, I wanted to try to make a dent on my student loans.  However, my coach Adam was able to help me see that it was more important to establish an emergency savings and focus on eliminating my credit card debt first.  Since the start of this competition, Adam and I estimate that I've paid off nearly $10K in debt, about $8K of which was credit card debt.  This leaves me with only $3K of one credit card balance left to pay off, which has 0% interest until July, so I'll just be paying it off in equal increments until then.  This will then allow me to focus on increasing my student loan payments, so that my original goal can be attained.

Find great deals:  Many of my blogs these past few months have focused on the great deals I've found.  Now that I've established a more firm budget and learned ways to cut costs, I don't think that my spending habits will be changing that much (although there are a few things on my "to buy" list that I've been waiting to purchase).  I will continue to be a bargain hunter and scope out great deals!

Learn to say no:  This has been of the most difficult things to do over the past seven months!  I've always tried to be frugal, but I've had to say "no" a lot more during this competition to purchasing non-essentials, going out to eat, or spending money on entertainment.  Instead, I've tried to be creative and find free or less expensive alternatives.

Surround yourself with cheerleaders:  Of course, the previous lesson was also made easier by having great family, friends, and coworkers who understand why I'm making the choices I am.  I have been so fortunate to be surrounded by cheerleaders who have supported me throughout this challenge!  THANK YOU!  A big "thank you" also to my coach, Adam, and all the individuals at Summit Credit Union that have supported me and the other teams!

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Katie, seeing the big picture and taking small steps toward goals has been a huge part of the year for us too. You really rocked your New Year's resolution of 2014. There is so much to cheer about in the changes and progress of the past year. Yay Summit for helping all of us achieve our dreams. We wish you all the best in 2015, Louise and Dave.

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