Goals for May

If there’ s one thing I’m learning as I start this journey of intentional living and spending, it’s the vital importance of having a plan. (I love the idea I read in one of Dave Ramsey’s books that if you aim at nothing, you’ll definitely end up there!) And because a long-range plan can be intimidating and hard to stick to – especially for born procrastinators like myself – it’s very helpful to break it down into smaller goals. (Yes, I realize that none of this new, but I’m just now embracing it for myself.) With that in mind, here are my goals for the month of May (inspired by The Budget Mama’s goal update #4 post):

  1. Earn $300 through “side hustles”. (Tomorrow is my last day of work until September, as discussed here. This means a four-month break in my regular paychecks.)
  2. Write four blog posts each week.
  3. Read one book each week.
  4. Exercise three days per week.
  5. Decrease our total credit card debt by $500.

What do you think? What are your goals for this month?

Last Week’s Frugal Living Highs

I really like the idea of publicly sharing weekly frugal accomplishments, which I first saw on The Prudent Homemaker Blog. This concept appeals to me because I think it’s motivational to celebrate small wins, and because it can be a great way to share ideas. With that in mind, here’s the first of what I intend to become a weekly list:

  1. Ate Easter meal leftovers for dinner three nights. (Thanks to my husband’s family for hosting AND sharing the leftovers with us!)
  2. Negotiated a lower rate from our trash/recycling company, which will save us $96 per year!
  3. Inquired about advertising options with WordPress, to – hopefully! – increase my income.
  4. Sold items in two local consignment sales, and netted $133.
  5. Cashed in some eRewards survey points for a free Money magazine subscription.
  6. Emptied my composter and added the contents to one of my veggie boxes. Planted sugar snap peas, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.
  7. Read Say Goodbye to Survival Mode (borrowed from the library), by Crystal Paine from MoneySavingMom.com. I shared some initial thoughts before I finished it here.
  8. Paid cash for my weekly groceries for the first time ever!

What about you?

Becoming Intentional

As I’ve mentioned, I recently began reading personal finance books (borrowed from the library, of course). I started with two Dave Ramsey books, (Financial Peace Revisited and The Money Answer Book), and my biggest takeaway was the importance of being intentional with money. It’s clear to me that not fully applying this principle contributed greatly to our current financial state. I say “fully”, because I was very intentional, or at least aware, in some ways, like calculating our (growing) monthly debt totals. But in many more crucial ways, I completely missed the “intentional” boat. No budget? Check! No debt repayment plan? Check! No specific financial goals? Check! It’s no wonder we’ve been just spinning our wheels.

I’m currently reading Crystal Paine’s book, Say Goodbye to Survival Mode. I had read a bit about the book on her terrific blog, Money Saving Mom, but wasn’t motivated to read it because I wasn’t sure how much of it applied to me. Yes, I’m a wife, mother, have a part-time “real” job, a small business, and several small “side hustles” going at any given time. But I wasn’t feeling too overwhelmed by commitments. However, because I enjoy Crystal’s blog so much, I thought I would give her book a try. WOW! It really hit home from almost the first page that I need to become more intentional throughout my life. While I’m not sure I’m ready to take on all of the lists  she recommends, (she also emphasizes starting small!), the idea of having overarching personal goals, which are distilled down into monthly and weekly goals, really appeals to me. I’m certain that I’ll benefit from this approach in many areas of my life. Specifically, in addition to budgeting and debt repayment, I’m working on goals for meal-planning, (something I’ve done in the past and loved, but have fallen off the wagon), housework, and scheduling time working at home and with my daughter. It’s so incredibly fortuitous that I’ve come upon this book as I’m heading into my four-month summer break. I’ll have the time and breathing room to start small and really put into practice these new habits. Once I’ve put my goals down on paper, I’ll be sure to share them here.

What about you? Have you read Say Goodbye to Survival Mode? Did it impact you in the same way? What are the most important lessons you’ve learned from it?

Let’s Get Specific

In the car this morning, I heard a researcher say that a link has been observed between non-specific goals and depression. I don’t remember many of the details, but the concept caught my attention because I’ve been thinking about how I need more concrete debt repayment goals. I’ve heard many times that the more specific and measurable the goal, the more likely we are to achieve it. (Thus, “Exercise more,” is a much less successful New Years resolution than, “Complete three 5K races.”) With that in mind, here are my more concrete debt repayment goals for this year:

  1. Bring total credit card debt down $4,000 in 2014. Since there are essentially eight months left in the year, this means an average of $500 per month. Given that I won’t be working at my primary job for four of these months, this feels appropriately specific ($4K total), yet flexible (average of $500 per month).
  2. Earn $300 each month of my summer break. How will I do this without a job? Excellent question! While the idea of picking up extra sources of income is certainly not a unique one, it really became much more concrete for me when I read about Joan’s Financial Journey on the Man Vs. Debt blog. I’ll address my existing “side hustles” in a later post, but I believe that $300 a month in additional income is achievable for me this summer through my very small business, consignment and other forms of selling our unused things, and various other sources.
  3. Develop more of a  debt-repayment dialog with my husband. This truly is a story for another post, but my husband is not really a part of this journey. It’s not that he’s a big spender, or isn’t interested in paying down our debt. When we got married, we agreed that I would be the point-person for our finances and most household shopping. Initially, this meant just paying our bills on time, but as our financial situation has deteriorated, it’s become more complex than that. For a variety of reasons, I haven’t pushed him to have monthly meetings and discuss our strategy with me on a regular basis, and I really need to.

What do you think of my goals? Are they specific and achievable? What are you debt repayment and financial goals for the remainder of 2014?

Summer Starts Early For Me

I work part-time on a college campus, where I meet individually with students. Because I only meet with students, (meaning I don’t work on side projects, events, or even attend staff meetings), my work schedule is determined by student traffic into our office. If the demand for student appointments goes down, I don’t have any work. Therefore, I don’t work during the summer, spring break, or the six-week holiday break. And starting in April. the demand for students appointments drops precipitously. (Thus, I started this blog and am writing this very post from work.)  Therefore, I’m working this week and next week, before officially starting my summer break. This happens every year, and every year I greet it with a mix of joy (no 5:40am wake-ups!) and dread (lack of structure is hard for me). To make it easier on myself and my family this year, I’m putting together a list of summer goals. Here’s what I have so far:

  1. Create a realistic monthly budget, with just my husband’s income. (I earn small amounts of income throughout the summer through “side hustles”, but nothing constant or significant.) Include some budget for summer activities that aren’t free, so I don’t feel guilty every time we do one of them. At the same time, learn about more great free and cheap activities in our area. (Note: I’m talking mainly about activities for our daughter here.) And by all means, stick to the budget!!
  2. Develop structure for my days home with our daughter. We have an only child, and while she can be great at independent play, she also looks to my husband and me for entertainment. She’ll be attending camp five mornings per week for five weeks, so I need to create some structure for our afternoons and non-camp weeks together. Otherwise, I end up feeling like I’m not accomplishing anything, and she gets bored and whiny. Not a  good combination!
  3. Read at least two (library!) books each month. Before my daughter was born, I was an active member of two book clubs and enjoyed reading tremendously. I still love reading, but I’ve stuck primarily with magazines since becoming a parent. I think this has in large part to do with my love of completing things, and it’s been much easier to commit to completing magazines than books. (All of my magazine subscriptions are obtained for free using Recyclebank and survey rewards, BTW.) But I plan to make “quiet time” a part of my daughter and my summer schedule, and will use some of it for reading.
  4. Stock my freezer with meals that I can use once I return to work in the fall and life becomes crazy again. I’ll focus more on this during the latter half of my summer break, and will use the first half to research and test healthy and affordable recipes.

What are some of your summer goals? What do you think of mine?

Good News, Bad News

Good news: I saved $44.21 at Target today!

Bad news: I spent $26.59 at Target today.

This isn’t tragic news, because I bought only grocery basics, all with at least one form of coupon/saving. (How great is it that we can use manufacturer, store, online, and mobile coupons, plus Cartwheel at Target??) But this trip put us over-budget for groceries, and a couple of the items – marshmallows for Rice Krispie treats and peanut butter for a dessert bar recipe I want to try, for example – were not necessary. Living with a strict budget is tough, and I have tremendous respect for those who do it consistently. I know I need to improve,  and will try to adjust my grocery spending down next week.

Just How Bad Is It??

The Numbers

To me, our debt total is pretty shocking and frightening, but I know that there are people with more – sometimes much more. (And of course plenty of people with less…) Here are the numbers:

Chase Card #1: $20,604.99

Chase Card #2: $5,837.54

Chase Card #3 (Chase must REALLY love us!): $6,334.72

Discover Card: $11,619.32

Citibank Card: $8,186.88

Total Credit Card Debt: $52,583.45

We’re also the proud owners of a mortgage, two graduate school loans, one car loan, and a 0% interest for one year furniture loan, but our credit card debt is what I’m focused on here. Oh, and we use Target and Home Depot store cards, but pay them off each month.

How Did This Happen??

It’s a very good question, and I can identify several factors. But first let me explain a little about our income. My husband is a professional, and he earns a good salary. He is by-far our primary earner. I work part-time and earn a decent hourly rate, but we have a preschool-age daughter, so half of my salary goes to her babysitter. Are there cheaper childcare options available? Absolutely, but this is one expense we deem more than worth it.

Not only do I work part-time, but my job is essentially seasonal. What this means is that I’m off summers and other school breaks, including six weeks during the holidays. I both love and hate this schedule. I love having big chunks of time off, especially the summer. But it means that I’m only earning a regular income about seven months of the year. Looking forward, though, our daughter will be in full-day kindergarten starting in September, and my boss is allowing me to schedule my hours so that I’ll be home for the morning and afternoon buses. Thus, I’ll be keeping my full hourly net pay.

Back to how this happened… We bought our house when I was six-months pregnant and working at a different, lower-paying job. We had a (different) car payment and our school loans, but no credit card debt. We knew the mortgage payments would be a stretch, but we were tired of looking for a house and really liked ours. Fast forward to my next birthday, when my husband came home from work at 11am and announced that he’d been laid off. At the time, we had no savings, two unemployed adults, and a two-month old baby. Happy birthday to me!

My husband hated that job, so being laid off truly was a blessing in disguise, but we were SERIOUSLY terrified about paying our bills. Fortunately, my husband was able to land another job ten days later. (Yes, I realize just how lucky we are.) Unfortunately, this job entailed taking a $15,000 pay cut, which basically put us into the red. Sure, we probably could’ve really scrimped to break even, but it didn’t work out this way.

Since then, we’ve slowly accumulated credit card debt by living above our means. We’ve also had some unfortunate expenses pop up – two paid-off cars that needed to be replaced faster than we’d hoped, plus huge vet bills for one of our geriatric cats. (I’m talking several thousand dollars in the last year.) We didn’t go on extravagant vacations, buy flashy (or even new!) cars, or take on major house projects. Most of the debt just came from not tracking our spending, not budgeting, and indulging ourselves more than we should have. And of course there’s the fun of compounding interest…