Monday, June 22, 2015

Back at it

The last several days, I've been focused on getting back on track in all areas of my world. Finance is an especially key one for so many obvious reasons, but fitness is another big one.

I spend much of my time in March-May training for my second half marathon. I was burnt out by the last month or so, and I didn't let myself enjoy it the way I did the first time around. Long runs were a chore, I cut out activities I love for the sake of getting runs in, and I ended up kind of miserable. And to top it all off, the race didn't even go well. After that, I took a bit of a hiatus, and if I'm being totally honest, the hiatus went a bit longer than planned.

Almost a month later, I was feeling sluggish and lazy, and I knew it was time for a change. So last week, I got back on the #freefitness bandwagon, and I'm so glad I did.

technically unrelated picture, but whatevs.
On Thursday, I rode my bike (The Mauve Avenger) to work, and made plans after work to go to a free yoga class on the Boston Common. On Friday, I started off my day with hills for breakfast at November Project, and then rode my bike home at the end of the day - I had left it locked up on campus overnight.

On Saturday, I was sore, but happy. And then I didn't leave my apartment for two days.

I'm going for a moderate approach right now - doing things that sound like fun, and letting myself rest when exercise sounds miserable. I know the baseline I need to maintain in order to feel good and healthy, and I also know that if I push myself just a little, I'll feel like a strong badass lady, and like I can tackle anything. That's the feeling I want, but I can't get there overnight.

That's also the feeling I want when it comes to finances, but again, I can't get there in one go. I need to take my time, give myself breaks and allow myself to have off days occasionally, but generally stick to a plan and keep moving forward. And so far (yes, this is four days later) I am right on track.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Three months later

Did I forget about you, blog? Mostly. Life got busy. I got lazy. Things got off track.

The good news is, one of those things was *not* the payment of my student loans. I've continued to pay $719 per month at minimum toward my loans, and if I'm being totally honest, this is during a period where I let my finances get away from me. Summer has made me want to sit out on a patio with a beer, or go out and get an ice cream cone every day. It's definitely made me more social. If it hadn't been for automating my loan payment I almost definitely would have let myself slide a bit in May and June. Luckily, that wasn't an option. Thanks, past me!

So here we are, getting back on track. It's still early in the summer, and there are still a lot of things I want to do, but I can't keep spending at the rate I have been and expect to come out the other side without a problem.

I'm lucky to live in a city with abundant options for free activities. My plan for the summer is simple to take advantage of them. Most of the activities I want to explore are outside, enjoying the summer weather, and many are fitness-based. I'm already a big fan of the November Project, a free fitness movement that meets outside, year-round, for a weekly dose of sweat and smiles. This summer, I'll be exploring free yoga and Zumba classes, biking alone and in groups, and maybe some outdoor movies to round it all out.

I had a bit of tunnel vision when I started writing here, and I made a rookie mistake - I took on too much, too soon. Now, as with many things in my world, I'm trying to find balance. I want to be able to pay off my loans as planned, but I don't want to sacrifice the next two years of my life to the cause. Life is too short to go without the occasional ice cream cone.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Resolution Check-In: February

Does making it through February still thinking about my resolutions mean I'm ahead of the curve? February was, in a lot of ways, a difficult month, but I think I stayed pretty well on track for my resolutions.

Let's take a look:

Get my stafford loans under $9000
I paid a total of $734.33 toward my Stafford loans this month - $35 more than the automatic payment I've set up. Right now, my total amount owed is $19,237.99. With 10 months left to go this year, this feels about right. I'm planning to increase my payments a little over the summer, and quite a bit in the fall. Assuming nothing changes in my income, I should be on track!

Find a way to earn from a creative side hustle
This is crossed out not because I did it, but because I don't think I will anytime soon. It's simply not a priority for me at the moment, and that's okay.

Learn a new skill
The copyediting certificate program I'm enrolled in is going well. Don't get me wrong, the night classes are rough and I'm ready to be done with that part, but it's exciting to be back in a classroom and I'm enjoying the material.

I also took an HTML and CSS Basics workshop that our IT department offered. I wouldn't say I learned too much new information (turns out, I already know a fair amount of HTML and CSS), but it was a fun way to spend a couple of hours practicing.

Don't spend beyond my travel budget
Right on track for this as well. I've continued to contribute to my travel savings with each paycheck, and last month booked my first trip for the summer. It was great not having to worry about where the money was going to come from! I haven't made much progress on planning other trips for the summer, but I'll be getting started on that soon.

Continue tracking expenses in Mint
Done and done.

There we have it! I'll check back in next month with more updates.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

My Month-Long Experiment: Dining Out

I mentioned in a previous post that I like to have goals of many varieties. One of my most recent goals was to go a full month without spending any money on food outside of groceries. That meant no restaurant or fast food meals, no stopping at a coffee shop for a snack (although I did make an exception for coffee with my pre-loaded Starbucks card), no popping in to 7-11 to buy a candy bar. I didn't do the best job setting up what my rules would be, but all things considered, I think I did pretty well.

Going into the month, I had one planned exception - a coworker and friend was leaving the office, so if a bar or restaurant celebration was planned, I was going to attend. As it turns out, we're still in the planning stages for said celebration, so crisis averted!

Here's how I did:

From January 21 to February 20, I spent $28.59 on restaurants.

February 5 - $19.30 - this was the day before a major event at work, and although I planned to stay a little late, I did not plan on working as late as I did. I took a break with a colleague and went out for Thai food. I knew at the time that I was breaking my own rule, but I felt like it was worth it. Otherwise, I'd have worked for another hour, taken 45 minutes to get home, and arrived at home hangry beyond belief. I'm a delight.

February 17 - $9.29 - my other "failure" during this experiment followed a three-day weekend where I did not leave my apartment. R was on a trip out of state, and we had yet another blizzard so the MBTA wasn't running and I couldn't get anywhere. I didn't really see another human for three days, so when my regular Tuesday night play date rolled around and we were concerned about getting home (neither of us live on lines of the T that were running at that time) we agreed to meet up downtown for dinner. I know we could have brought food and eaten at one of our offices, as we've done in the past, but after three days of solitary confinement, the idea of sitting in a sad dark office eating soup out of tupperware was too much. Worth it.

So, technically, I failed. That said, I did a lot better on food spending than I have in other months, so I'm not feeling too badly about it.


I realized that with a bit of planning, I never need to spend money on dining out. There are certainly going to be days that I don't plan for, but for my regular routine, I can plan ahead and be just fine. I need to stop using "failed to plan" as a legitimate excuse for dining out.

A lot of my social life revolves around restaurants and bars. There were many reasons that this month was isolating. During the month-long period that I was conducting this experiment, we got about 8 feet of snow. That said, even when things were running as usual, I didn't reach out to people to make plans as I didn't really know what to suggest we do. I'd like to work on this in the future - there's no reason that all of my group outings need to take place "out."

Finally, because I did it a lot less often, the two times I ate meals out felt like special occasions, and it was kind of awesome. I didn't grab lunch somewhere and eat it at my desk. I didn't go out for dinner three times in a week and never really enjoy it. Each time I made a special exception to go out to eat, it felt more special.

So even though I may have failed, I learned a lot from this experiment and will be carrying on with limiting my dining out spending.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

How do you value time v. money?

For anyone not living in the arctic tundra formerly known as Boston, you may not be aware of how crazy things have been lately. We've received over seven feet of snow in less than a month, and our aging public transit system, the T, has not been able to keep up. I won't speak to the policy and politics behind all of this - I'm not well informed enough on those issues to speak with any authority - but it's brought to my mind a major question: How do I value my time?

Look, snow!

Rewind to Tuesday night.

I live on an above-ground line of the T, and after our most recent blizzard, the above ground trains weren't running. I run-commuted (ran-commuted? ran?) to work on Tuesday morning to avoid dealing with the transit mess, but Tuesday evening I still had to get home, and running again wasn't an option. Instead, I figured out which busses were running and were most likely to get me home efficiently. I walked to a bus stop, waited about an hour for the bus, got on and rode to the next destination where I waited another half hour or so, and finally boarded a bus that would take me within half a mile of my home. All told, it took me close to three hours to get home.

I commute in style
All the time that I was standing in the cold, in the dark, with one very wet foot (I had run to work, so I didn't have my boots and was instead wearing running shoes. Stepping in a freezing puddle in running shoes is not something I'd recommend, and standing outside for an hour after doing so is what most people would call "foolish."), I found myself thinking about time and money.

On the occasions that I've taken a cab home from the office, it's usually cost me about $20. I haven't done this in many months as I've been focused on getting my spending under control, and it hasn't seemed worth it to save half an hour by spending that much. On Tuesday night, though, I think I should have changed my tune. Admittedly, with traffic as bad as it has been, a cab probably would have cost me a lot more, but I also probably would have been a lot less miserable and that is worth something. Actually, I think that's worth a lot.

Let's assume a cab would have taken about half an hour to get me home, and cost $40. It would have saved me two and a half hours. I would have paid about $16 per hour saved. So the question becomes, would that be worth it?

I don't have an answer for you. This is a question that's been on my mind a lot this week. We have student employees in my office who are so desperate to get to work they're paying $60 for Uber rides, when they'll only earn $30 during their shift. We have other student's who've opted to get to work 3 hours early to avoid the morning rush, or who have walked 4 miles through the slush to be on time. None of it is necessarily wrong or right, and after living in this mess for a while, none of it seems crazy to me. It just makes me think.

What is your time worth? These days, I think my time is worth more than $16 per hour, especially if it means getting me out of the cold. That said, I still haven't been willing to bite the bullet and pay for a cab, and the T is slowly returning to normal.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mid-Month Mint: February

Let's take a look at my Mint pie chart for February so far:

As you can see, this month looks a little different than previous months. First off, it's worth mentioning that my student loan payment hasn't happened yet, so that will shift things around significantly. Second, there's a category here that I haven't seen in a while: travel.

I've mentioned a few times that I have a dedicated travel savings account, and this month was the first time that I put it to use, as I booked a cross-country plane ticket for May! I think this was the first time I've booked a trip with dedicated funds set aside to pay for it, and it felt pretty great. I don't have to worry about cutting down in other areas to pay my credit card bill this month; instead I can focus on continuing to contribute to my travel fund for the other trips I want to book and the expenses outside of the literal travel to get places. This feels like a huge step!

Health and fitness also makes an appearance here, as I've signed up for my second half marathon, taking place in late May. It was a less expensive race than my first one, and I think it will be fun. If my travel fund allows, I might even go a day early to the town where the race is taking place to avoid having to rent a car and deal with driving and parking. I'll have to see what work looks like that weekend, but it would certainly be more enjoyable that way.

Food and dining is a smaller piece of the pie this month, as I've been focused on not eating out for any meals - I'll talk more about that in a later post.

In all, February is going well spending-wise, and I'm hopeful that I can keep up the good work!

Friday, February 13, 2015

What I've learned about risk aversion by playing Farkle

When I was a kid, I went to the after school program at my elementary school every day through fourth grade. By the time I stopped going, I was almost always the oldest kid there, so naturally I had developed something of a rapport with the day care teachers. Basically, I was super-cool and awesome because instead of playing tag at recess (I was way too lazy for that), I played Farkle with the teachers.

I didn't know it at the time, but I was learning a lot about myself, and my comfort when it comes to risk.

Farkle, for those of you who maybe think I'm talking about a made up game, is a dice game. Played with 6 dice, you roll at the start of each round - any 1s are counted as 100 points, and 5s are 50 points. For three of a kind, you get 100x that number (three 6s would be 600 points), and there are additional rules that can earn you more points. The risk comes in next. After you've rolled once, you can either take the points you've earned and stop playing, or you can set aside at lease one scoring die and roll again. When you go that route, you can either win big, or lose all your points if you don't roll any more scoring dice.

When we play, R and I play to 10,000 points. I've noticed a few things about both of us in playing Farkle a lot over the past few weeks:

  • We're both pretty risk averse. If we have five dice that we can roll, and we're only gambling 50 points, we'll probably go for it, but if there's only one die left, we'll take the points we have rather than risk them 9 times out of 10.
  • When we're falling behind, we look for big wins. This is probably not the right move necessarily, as we lose a lot of smaller point accumulations in the process!
  • We'll also take bolder risks when we have a comfortable lead, but comfortable means something different to each of us. To me, a comfortable lead is when my score is around one and 1/2 times his!
  • We're both very competitive.
I can't speak to R's attitudes outside of Farkle, but I'd say that mine are pretty much in line with my attitudes in the game. I don't like to take big risks or gamble with any quantities that I'd be upset with losing. I'm a "what if" kind of thinker, and I know that can do a lot to both help and hurt me, in Farkle and in life.

One thing that I can absolutely point to in Farkle that relates to my attitude toward finance is the idea that I want to get as far ahead as possible, as quickly as I can. Right now, that means paying off my loans, but in a couple of years it might mean saving aggressively for retirement or other goals. The more I do now, when I know what my circumstances are for the immediate future, the more opportunity I'll have later on down the road to take reasonable risks. If I have a 8,000 point lead, I'll probably roll the one die left over, even if it means I might not score any points that round.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Snow Day, take 5

As we are now on our fifth snow day in the past three weeks, I thought I'd change things up a bit here and share what a typical snow day looks like for me. Enjoy!

5:30am - Alarm goes off; double check if snow day hasn't yet been announced, then back to sleep 6:00am - Wake up, make coffee, drink coffee
6:30am - Exercise. Usually some form of body-weight exercises. This morning, I did this Jillian Michaels yoga video. Ouch.
7:15am - shower
7:45am - Eat breakfast - today, breakfast was one of the banana muffins I made yesterday; while eating breakfast, start looking for recipes for more snow day baking
8:30am - Wake R, mix 12-hour Lazy Pizza Dough for later
9:00am - Watch Friends while R eats breakfast, and keep watching Friends for a while because Netflix is dangerous that way
10:00am - Check work email, realize there are things that need to happen since I haven't been at my desk since Thursday, get sucked in to work
11:30am - Bake brownies
12:00pm - Write blog post while brownies are in the oven! Alternatively, read other blogs
1:00pm - Go on a walk, because I haven't left the house since Sunday morning
2:00pm - Come home from walk and commence feeling very grateful for our over-heated apartment; defrost while watching Friends and eating brownies/lunch
3:00pm - Check back in to work email, respond to things as needed and add items to tomorrow's to do list via todoist; hope that school is open tomorrow
4:00pm - Whine about being bored until R agrees to play games with me. Start with Farkle, move on to Spit, accuse him of cheating when I lose
5:00pm - Check work email one last time, then read the internet for a while
7:00pm - Make pizza with mushrooms and garlic and way too much cheese
8:00pm - Eat pizza while watching Parks and Rec, then eat brownies while watching Parks and Rec; think how glad I am that I did yoga and went for a walk
9:00pm - Begin wondering if it's too early to go to sleep
9:30pm - Alseep

It's an exciting life. At least I'm avoiding online shopping? Here's hoping this is the last of the snow days...

Friday, February 6, 2015

Frugal Hobby Highlight: Games

I'm trying to get out of the habit of coming home every night, putting on Netflix, and binge watching Friends until it's time for bed. This isn't really even an issue of spending, but quality of life - I sometimes let myself believe that I "can't afford" to do anything else, so I may as well fuse myself to the couch. The worst part is, sometimes I'm really not even enjoying any part of it!

When I talked with my boyfriend about wanting to change our routine a bit, we thought it would be a fun idea to try playing more games. Board games, word games, dice games, card games. You get the idea.

What a fun change! Because I'm fiercely competitive, I've been petitioning for a new house rule which states that I always win at games, but so far, that hasn't worked out. Even so, we're enjoying literally sitting down to play together every couple of days. We were both off from school/work for a few days in the past couple of weeks due to snow, and playing games was a nice way to change up the pace of a day spent entirely inside our small apartment.

Right now, we're playing a lot of Farkle and Ticket to Ride. I'm also a big fan of Boggle. I recently learned about the best perk of R's weekend job at the toy store - he can borrow certain games and toys in order to learn more and be better able to explain them to customers. Which means we can test out games before we decide if we want to keep them! Like a library of games!

What are some of your favorite games? Would you let me pass a house rule stating that I am always the winner?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Resolution check-in: January

In order to hold myself accountable, and make sure I'm actually making progress on these resolutions, I'm going to try to check in here at the end of each month with a little recap of how I did.

January was not my best month financially. That said, I still managed to put a good amount of effort toward these goals. I'd say I'm making good progress. Let's take a look:

Get my stafford loans under $9000
I paid a total of $719.50 toward my Stafford loans last month, which is just what I planned on. As of today, my total amount owed is down to $19,898.92. I'll need to up the ante on my payments to make this goal a reality, but for this month at least, staying on track felt like a major accomplishment.

I was also able to raise my automatic payment with Navient, so paying less than my planned amount of $719.33 is not an option anymore. To automate this even further, I set up a second checking account and scheduled half of my loan payment to come out of each paycheck and go into that dedicated account. Although I know the money is there, that account isn't linked to anything else, so getting to it would be a major pain, and it's highly unlikely that I'll be temped to use it for anything other than loans.

This month, I'll focus on throwing a bit of extra cash at my loans - I'm going to aim for $30 extra. Every little bit helps, right?

Find a way to earn from a creative side hustle
This was probably the least thought out of my goals. I haven't made any progress on this yet. While it seemed like a nice idea in theory, I don't really know what I had in mind. Open an etsy shop for knit goods? That's about all I can come up with.

This month, I'll try to spend some time brainstorming on this goal.

Learn a new skill
This is real! It's happening! Actually, a few times over. I may have been a bit over-zealous here. I'm working on the following:

  • Learning some basic code at  Code Academy
  • Brushing up my French skills on Duolingo in preparation for my trip to Montreal this summer
  • Taking a copyediting course
I've been somewhat consistent with the first two. The copyediting course is perhaps the most concrete of these. I receive tuition benefits from work, and decided to finally take advantage by enrolling in at least part of the copyediting certificate program we offer. Of course, the first classes were supposed to be last week, both postponed due to snow. So now the first class is supposed to be today, but we have yet another snow day. The class is bound to start eventually, right?

Take advantage of my employer 403(b) match
Well, I can't do anything much toward this except stay at my job until July. We'll call it a work in progress.

Don't spend beyond my travel budget
I'm continuing to save into my vacation account, and think I should be on track for this. In the next couple of months we'll begin actually booking travel, so that's when the real test begins.

Open a holiday/gift savings account
Done! And I set up a small automatic transfer from each paycheck. I think we can officially cross this one off the list.

Continue tracking expenses in Mint

So, things are moving along just as expected. I'll check back in next month with more updates!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Importance of Diversified Goals

I'm not here to talk about investment strategy, at least not in the financial sense. I think we can all agree that you should get that advice from someone with more of a financial background than I have. Instead, I'm here to talk about how you invest your energy in goal setting.

I've always been a goal oriented kind of person. Crossing one thing off my list, and moving on to the next one - that cycle energizes me through everything I do. Paying off my student loans as quickly as possible is just one of the many goals I'm working toward now. I'm also saving for several trips, working toward some running goals, focusing on my diet, and working on new skills for both work and life. In fact, this blog is part of one of my goals - writing twice a week.

So why is it important to have diversified goals?

There are several reasons I think this is important. The first builds off the idea of Dave Ramsey's Snowball Method of Debt Repayment:
"Pay minimum payments on all of the debts except the smallest one then attack that debt with a vengeance. We're talking gazelle intense, sell-out, get-this-thing-out-of-my-life-forever energy. Once it’s gone, take the money you were putting toward that debt, plus any extra money you find, and attack the next debt on the list. Once it’s gone, take that combined payment and go to the next debt. Knock them out one by one." Source - Dave Ramsey
While I don't subscribe to this method of debt repayment, I do think that the Snowball Method can be applied in other areas of life, financial and not. This method basically says that you'll feel good as you cross debts off your list, and that good feeling will help carry you through to the next debt. I think the same can be said of goals - the more you achieve, the more you believe you can achieve.

This means that my debt repayment can't be my only goal - it will take me a couple of years to achieve it. In that time I'm bound to run into discouragement, especially if I don't have other successes to look back on along the way! My goals are spread out over various timeframes, from one day to one year to decades long. Those shorter goals will fuel my success in longer-term goals. In other words, I'm building the framework for success spirals.

Another reason that diversified goals are important to me is that they allow me to change focuses without feeling guilty. Now, I don't mean that I change focuses entirely, but having goals spread out over various interests means that when I can't fathom reading another article about personal finance, I can change gears and work on my half-marathon training plan or take a French lesson in Duolingo.

I spent an embarrassingly long time on this.
As long as I'm working on a goal, I feel fine about changing gears. When I move to something that's outside my goals - outside the grey circle - that's when I start running into problems. Since I have a lot of variety in my goals, I don't feel limited by them.

Finally, it's important to diversify your goals because your goals should reflect who you are. Now, maybe you are a person with only one thought at a time - you keep thinking that thought until you're done with it. I doubt it. I know I'm not that type of person. My goals reflect me, and they change as I change. If I only had one goal, paying off my loans, for the next two years, I think I would go insane. I would almost certainly drive everyone in my life insane if that's all I could talk about.

Having diversity in my goals allows me to have a diverse, fulfilling life. And that's what it's all about.

Monday, January 26, 2015

My one-out, one-in policy for clothes

An area of my budget that I often find myself struggling in is clothing. And it's funny, because I don't really enjoy shopping or clothing all that much. Actually, I really dislike shopping - I find the whole experience overwhelming. Regardless of that, I somehow end up buying clothes every month or so that I don't need, I don't wear, and I ultimately don't even want. Why do I keep doing that?

In an effort to continue my loan payments while also enjoying my life with occasional outings and trips, I took a look at my spending and my priorities, and it became really obvious what area I would be most willing to cut back or even cut out entirely: clothes.

I've never kept a lot of clothing around, and I recently did a pretty major purge of my wardrobe. I share a single closet with my boyfriend, so there simply isn't a lot of room for extra, unnecessary stuff.

Our closet
The rest of my wardrobe

These images sum up pretty much all of the clothing I own right now, with the exception of shoes, outerwear and underwear. There are a few items in the hamper, but otherwise, what you see is what I've got. It's not much.

When I first toyed with the idea of cutting back on my clothing spending, I thought maybe I could do what Mrs. Frugalwoods did - cut out clothes shopping for an entire year. I realized pretty quickly that that wouldn't work. My wardrobe is just the right size, but if something wears out, I don't have much of a choice but to replace it!

Instead, what I've decided to adopt is a "one-out, one-in" policy when it comes to clothes for the next year (and beyond!). That means if something has to go out, I'm allowed to bring something else in. Otherwise, I'll work with what I've got.

A couple of key rules:
  • If I can reasonable mend an item or do without it, it doesn't need to be replaced.
  • An unexpected "occasion" is not a reason to buy a new outfit - I can work with what I have, or borrow from a friends
    • The exception to this rule would be a job interview
  • I can replace my running shoes, once
  • Finally, if I do change jobs and need to step up my work wardrobe, it will be on an "as-needed" basis, with a very strict budget
I think that about sums it up! I'm hoping that this new rule will help give me some structure in my spending decisions, and allow me to free up the extra for loans, travel and enjoying myself!

How do you manage clothes spending? I've never really had a system before, but I know plenty of people budget monthly or annually for clothing.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

I raised my payment with Navient

I made a phone call last week to Navient, formerly Sallie Mae. I was calling about changing the bank account used for my automatic debit (spoiler alert: they couldn't do that, I had to cancel and sign up again with the new account), but while I was on the phone, I mentioned that I routinely overpay my balance. And as simple as that, the customer service representative asked if I'd like to change my payment.

Now, maybe I'm just crazy, but I truly didn't think this was an option. I sort of assumed that Navient wanted to make it harder for me to pay more than my minimum each month, in order to keep collecting interest from me. I guess I was wrong, because when I said, "Sure," the woman on the other end of the line asked what I'd like my higher payment to be and put in a request, just like that.


It will take a month to activate, and about the same amount of time for my automatic debit to start working, but when it does, I'll only have one payment to Navient each month, and it will happen automatically!

This is a little scary, because it means that the payment I set is the payment I'm stuck with, but that's exactly why I went for it. Although I've been good so far about not letting my loans be an area where I pull from when I spend too much in a given month, my willpower has been slipping this month. Now? It's not an option, so I'll just have to find other ways to make things work.

All it took was a simple phone call, and suddenly I'm not the only one holding myself accountable for my extra monthly payment. It's out of my hands!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

And I know things now, many valuable things, that I hadn't known before

Did anyone else see Into the Woods? I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it! But, I actually am here today to write about some lessons I've learnt, albeit a little too late.
  1. Pay your loans while you're in school - if there's one thing that I would without a doubt go back and change, this would be it. It would have been so simple to pay even just a little bit on my stafford loans while I was in college, and it would have saved me quite a bit in interest. I don't dwell on it, because what would be the point, but every now and then I read or hear about someone much smarter than me doing just that. If not paying while you're in school, at least paying while you're in your 6 month grace period could make a big difference!
  2. Don't take more than you need - I took out loans my first year living off campus to cover my housing expenses, only to realize that I was earning enough in my part time job to pay a large chunk of my rent. That extra money ended up sitting in my savings account depreciating, and now I'm paying interest on loans that I didn't necessarily need.
  3. Think long and hard about what you study - I know. I know. I know this is covered by every single person telling you how to get the most out of college. I got a degree in theatre. I knew going into it that it wasn't a lucrative option, but I did it anyway. It's not something I regret, but if I were to go back? Maybe I'd add a double major in something a bit more practical, or even taken some summer classes or electives that would beef up the "skills" portion of my resume.
  4. Consider where you choose to go, as well - Going to a private liberal arts college is not something I regret or would change. At all. My financial picture would be different had I gone somewhere else, but so would my entire life and worldview. That's not to say that financially it was the wisest decision, and frankly at the time, all I knew was that this was my dream school and I was going to make it work. I'm glad I did, but that doesn't mean it was smart.
These are little things. And you'll read them on any list of finance tips for high school seniors or college students. I think sometimes we see things like this, but because we've seen them so often, we ignore them and move on, they become like white noise while we search for ways to earn more and pay faster so we can spend more.

Like I said, I can't change any of this for myself, but if you're early enough along in your student loan journey to be able to consider these things, don't tune it out.

What would you change about your past financial self? If you had access to a time machine, would you use it? I probably wouldn't - I'd be too scared of changing everything that I'm so happy with now!

Later this week, I'll focus on the positive.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mid-Month Mint: January 2015

Let's go ahead and make this a series, shall we?

This month, my Mint pie (that does not sound delicious) is not looking too great:

That "home" section is really taking over - stupid table. You'll also notice that the education slice is a bit underwhelming. Don't worry, I'm not going back on my word already and paying less on my loan. I made a payment at the beginning of January for half of my Stafford loan, and I'm making the other half at the start of next week. I also just sent a check for my family loan, so that will be reflected next week as well.

The food and dining section and shopping sections are, as usual, where I need to focus my energies. I'll talk more later this week about my plans for getting those under control. Particularly when it comes to shopping, I've got a fairly rigid idea in mind, and one that I think I'll actually be able to stick to!

In all, the chart above isn't really surprising to me, but it is helpful to look at my spending like this, and see how one or two decisions can really impact my financial picture. I'll check in on this again at the end of the month, so we can see how the categories hopefully shift a bit.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

No, it won't "all work itself out" - my attitude problem

I have an attitude problem when it comes to my finances.

I have a nasty tendency to think that things will work themselves out. Basically, if I ignore the problem, it will go away. I'm about to drop some knowledge here - the problem will not go away on its own.

Last week, I impulsively purchased a table. This week, I accidentally spent more than I planned to at drinks with friends. I'm still paying my loans at the rate I planned to, that's not the concern here. The concern is that I'm not entirely sure where the money is coming from. It'll all get paid, on time, but it's going to be a much tighter month, and I probably won't be able to transfer anything extra to my vacation account. A little over a month ago when I opened a second bank account, I planned to put the extra $100 incentive toward my loans - that money is now going to go toward my credit card.

I don't regret these purchases, necessarily. It's the attitude that's a problem. It's the attitude that says, "Future Becca will figure this out." So far, it's always worked out, but I'm setting myself up for failure here. There will, without a doubt, come a day when Future Becca can't bail me out of whatever nonsense I get myself into. That is, if I continue with things the way I have been. So I won't.

Here's where I make a declaration: I am going to change my attitude, and my actions. I am no longer going to defer to my mysterious future self to solve my problems and make my bad decisions go away. I won't be perfect, but I'll try harder and I'll eradicate from my mind the idea that "it will all work itself out."

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Motivating yourself for long-term goals

One of the hardest parts about my goal to pay off my loans is that it requires a lot of motivation, over a long time. To be able to put the majority of my discretionary spending money into my loans means delaying gratification each and every time I want something.

So how do I maintain my motivation? This is something I'm still working on, but here are a few tactics that I've found to be helpful so far in this process:

  1. Set shorter term goals - things like "increase my payment by $50 this month" or my resolution to be under $9,000 by the end of this year seem more manageable.
  2. Allow for small failures - in fact, I plan on small failures when calculating various scenarios for my repayment. There might be a month that I can't pay the full extra payment, and that's okay. I'll just have to find a way to get back on track.
  3. Plan how I'll reward myself - For the first month that I'm debt free, I'm planning to take half of my loan payment to treat myself. I'm not sure yet what that will look like, but you can bet I'm having a grand time thinking of ideas!
  4. Plan my next goals - after I finish paying, I have several savings goals and life goals I'd like to achieve, but I know I can't give them their due focus until I've crossed this one off the list.
  5. Don't delay all gratification - I think I would be miserable if I let myself believe that because I'm paying down loans, I can't enjoy myself. It's just a matter of striking a balance. I'm willing to work more hours if it means I can go on a couple of trips this year while also paying my loans. I'm willing to whittle down my entertainment budget if it means I can go out for drinks twice a month. I might feel differently in the home stretch, but for the time being, I can't imagine spending 2+ years without having any "fun" money to spend, and I don't want to!
These are just a few of the things that have been working for me. What do you find most motivating throughout the payment process? Feel free to share in the comments!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

An impulse purchase

With a new year beginning, and all of these resolutions whirring about, you would think I'd have a little more self-restraint. Alas, you'd be wrong.

I moved into my apartment a year and a half ago. At the time, it was just me, but I knew that my boyfriend would be joining me over the summer, so I found a place that, while small, would comfortably house the two of us. When he eventually moved in, we moved some things around, made some small changes, found a place to keep his bike, but for the most part, everything stayed the same. That changes today.

Our kitchen table up until now is a piece I inherited from my mom - it's an oval shaped drop leaf table, and the supports extend diagonally to hold up the leaves on either side. It's a great table, but more and more we've been finding that it doesn't suit our needs. It's not the most comfortable for dining, and it's definitely not designed to seat more than two people comfortably. So with that in mind, we decided to purchase a new table, and it's coming today!

Of course, the flip side to this is that the new table (and chairs, because the ones we have now are the cheapest ikea chairs I could find while I was in college) ran us about $300, and it's an expense that *gasp* I didn't budget for. I know I should have waited and saved up for a couple of months to purchase it, but I wanted it now. Not a good reason, not a good practice, and I know it's something I need to work on. When I decide I want something, I can get a bit obsessive. I was the same way with my bicycle, but you know what? $500 later, I have a great bike that I rode quite a bit in the fall and I'm excited to pick back up in the spring!

So, I could beat myself up over the table. I'll have to borrow from my savings to pay off my credit card this month, probably, and that's not a great feeling. But what's done is done, and I'm excited to have something that's ours, not mine. We're keeping the old table, folded down, and we're going to try to find a way to store the old chairs as well, so we suddenly have twice as much seating and we can host more humans in our apartment. Maybe I should feel guilty about all this, but I don't.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My New Years money resolutions

Until last year, I hadn't been one for New Years resolutions. I made them, certainly, but they were always vague, and mildly impossible. Last year, instead of ambiguous big picture items, I made concrete goals. Most of them were a reach, but none of them were totally out of the question. Looking back at the things I've done this year, I think I did a great job!

For this year, I'm focused a lot on my finances, with a couple of other goals thrown in for kicks (and to keep myself from turning into a robot). So, here they are:

  • get my stafford loans under 9k - if I pay according to the plan in place now, I'll be under 10k, but I'd like to believe I can do better than that. It's about reaching, after all, and if I don't succeed, I'll still have paid off more than I would have otherwise.
  • find a way to earn from a creative side hustle, whether knitting on etsy, writing, or some other wort of creative work.
  • learn a new skill, preferably a marketable one. Whether it's something I learn at work, through a professional development class, or by teaching myself, I'd like to walk away this year with something learned.
  • take advantage of my employer match for my 403(b). That will kind of happen automatically, but it's still a big deal. This is assuming I stay at my current job through at least July, or that my new employer considers time previously served.
  • don't spend beyond my travel budget. I've been contributing for the past few months to a travel savings account, and I'll continue to do so. By this summer, I'll have several hundred dollars saved, which is what I'll use to find my airfare and any housing costs for my trips. When I run out, I'll ever have to find it elsewhere in my budget (lighten the grocery load, spend less on entertainment, etc) or else stop traveling, period. Which means I'd better figure out where I want to go, how much I'll need to save, and get on that!
  • open and contribute to a holiday/birthday savings account. I don't buy for a lot of people, but it sure will be nice to be able to pull from there instead of trying to scrape money together each time something comes up. As more of my friends start getting married, this will also be the one for wedding/shower gifts. Man, having friends and family is expensive...
  • continue to use mint to track finances regularly

So, a kind of long list, and it doesn't take into account my other resolutions/goals, but in general, I feel pretty good about it. Most of it is just taking what I'm already doing and stepping it up a notch. All in all, I think it's going to be a good year.

Happy 2015 everyone!