Needs & wants

I’ve heard about the 50/30/20 rule (which, by the by, is attributed to Elizabeth Warren and daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi) before this latest journey deep into my finances. There are many kinds of budgeting perspectives – some really very detailed, while the 50/30/20 is less so.

I’ve had my budget organized in fixed versus variable expenses for a little while and thought that was fine. I had larger budget categories of fixed, variable, debt, and goals. Boom. But I haven’t been able to shake the idea of 50/30/20. So this weekend I just messed around with my budget, slotting into the three categories. Since I have some serious debt and a savings goal deficit of [redacted] years, for the foreseeable future I will aim for 30% towards debt and savings goals and 20% towards fun. For the past year-plus, my budget has been more 50% debt, 35-40% needs, and the rest slotted for fun/savings/haircuts.

I am not sure what it is going to be like to have more wiggle room in my budget. One of my more prominent worries is that I won’t feel the difference once my debt payments and loans go from 51% to 10% of my gross monthly pay. That looks impossible on paper. How could I not??? But as I try to build up a proper emergency fund and fully fund my retirement account for the first time in a long while, my money is spoken for. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to spend more on groceries. Maybe $20?

This year, I might manage to save for retirement and put a big chunk into my emergency fund. But my car is limping along and I’m hoping to buy a new-to-me used car late this year or early next year. Thinking about spending my first proper emergency fund – which doesn’t even exist yet – is… ugh. Even if I spend it in pursuit of avoiding a car loan.

So the 50/30/20 is my goal for 2019 – in 2018, I’ll be busy playing catch-up, reallocating former debt dollars for nest egg bucks. Dream big, kiddos, and eat frozen vegetables.

Patience is a what now?

“Patience is a virtue” is one of those things that your grandmother says to you when you’re a kid and you’re so excited for your birthday that you lose all your chill and then some. (Little kids are not known for their chill, you know? So they can fall pretty far.)

Patience is also a requirement for folks like me with a boatload of debt. At this point, I have worked my way up to allocating nearly $900 a month towards my debt – on top of my monthly student loan payments.

How did I do that? Putting a near-embargo on buying new clothes and shopping for groceries once a month made a big difference for me. My wardrobe feels a bit worn out but not awful; well-timed consignment store sprees helps. I need a haircut, but it’s not a total horror show over here. Simplifying my grocery shopping, while a bit boring, has also made cooking a lot easier and a little more healthy. It also helps that, at this point, I’m eating two or three servings of meat a week on average and all the seafood in my house comes from a can (tuna or oysters). Frozen vegetables are the pathway to freedom, yo! In addition to groceries and clothes cuts, I’ve spent less on auto-related costs and restaurants and almost nothing on travel. My laptop is eight years old, my phone just had its third birthday, but we’re making it work.

So, spoiler alert, paying off debt is like any other hard thing: There’s no magic bullet. It’s a lot of work sitting on my hands and entering every dollar allocated into the world’s most beautiful spreadsheet. (beautiful because it works for me, not because it’s *actually* beautiful)

But I’ve cut out all I can and here I wait, impatiently, watching minute-by-minute as my balances go down. By May 2018, all the debt that I set my eyes on paying off first (1 credit card, 3 loans) will be gone. I have to wait until May BUT THEN in the space of 19 months I will have done it!!!! Is this what so-called overnight sensations who have been working their asses off feel like?

Next I’m going to talk about what comes after May – because after things are paid off, I’ve got to amp up my emergency fund and retirement and continue paying off my remaining loans. A baller vacation will have to wait. Maybe in 2019…

A personal finance course

Since I have committed happily to regular career slash personal retreats, perhaps it is not a surprise that I’ve also dabbled in similar material related to personal finance.

I recently went through a free seven-day course from Lydia Lois. She’s a cheery “millennial” (self-described, please know I’d never use that to describe anyone) finance motivator that I found via Pinterest, I think. Yes, there is a personal-finance corner of Pinterest, and I am grateful to it.

I cheated and did the course over three days, aimed mostly at generating improved awareness of how I’m spending my money and how my goals could be refined. Since I’ve been focusing a lot on my finances, there was no need for me to reflect additionally on what it costs me to not spend money, for example. But I have no doubt that would be worthwhile and may have even stretched the course outside of a week.

Since I read and listen from many sources, I didn’t learn a ton. But it was a clarifying exercise that took very little effort. Efficient and useful? Helloooo. I suspect I’ll do something like this a couple of times a year and am now curious about other, similar resources. And thankfully, Lifehacker’s Kristin Wong is on it. More later!

Personal finance podcasts — these are a few of my favorite things

Y’all, my financial journey is going okay! It’s a great relief to know that my plan is working, and that I can do hard things.

Across my adult life, as soon as I left my cush pre-recession job, I have read a lot of finance books. Suze Orman is a personal favorite; I don’t think it has much to do with my love for Oprah, but it might. Reading finance books, even if their advice is often repeated, helps keep me mindful of, focused on, and always refining my financial position and goals. Podcasts are a more modern version of this. I’ve tried a few and found that most financially related podcasts have an episode or two of use to me – something on student loans, financial goal-setting, renting versus owning – but I do have favorites that speak to my financial position now as well as the position toward which I am moving, slowly but surely. Without further ado:

  • Bad with Money, with Gaby Dunn. This pod has a very specific point of view – not-so-vaguely socialist/liberal, unapologetically feminist and queer – and I love it. I’ve learned a lot about the intricate web of finances, emotions, mindsets, and systems, despite my study of personal finance and my unflinching awareness of my budget and debt situation. Although I did not learn about whether to rent or buy, or how to manage debt and investments, I am now more mindful of how I think about money, what I learned about money in my childhood (and what other people may have learned), and how I can communicate with others – family, friends, potential partners – about finances.
  • Afford Anything with Paula Pant. Anything Gaby can’t teach you about money management, Paula can totally handle. I’m not sure how I first found this pod, but I really love it for practical advice. I don’t have any money to invest right now, and from what I gather, Paula and her partner have made bank on rentals in the Atlanta area. On call-in episodes, Paula answers a wide range of questions, sometimes with the help of guests. I recommend starting with one of those!
  • So Money with Farnoosh Torabi. Real talk, I go back and forth with Farnoosh. She comes off as a little less down-to-earth than Paula Pant (although both women are way weathier than me, so it’s possible that it’s just affect!) Her show is similarly structured – “call-in” shows and interviews with guests. In the plus column, her callers are less focused on investing in real estate; for those of us without that worry, it’s nice to not have to wade through that.
  • NPR’s Planet Money. This doesn’t have much to do with personal finance but the show does great storytelling and it’s a good way to pick up the vocabulary and discussions of the financially savvy

What do you listen to or read when it comes to finance? Does it help you focus on your goals or annoy you to hear from people who actually have money? (It’s annoying at least sometimes, right?)

Adventures in No-Spend Months

I’m trying to get ahead in my debt pay-off adventures; I figure the more I do now, the more excited about my progress and thus more motivated I will be to keep going. This isn’t a radical idea – it’s straight out of Dave Ramsey’s playbook. (I’ve got mixed feelings about Dave Ramsey, but I appreciate his rah-rah tone if nothing else)

Anyhow, I decided that since February is the shortest month, I would take on two challenges:

  1. A no-spend month, with ideas from Hello Giggles and Believe in a Budget.
    On one hand, it’s not like I spend a wild amount of money out on the town, but on the other, Ben Franklin said it: a penny saved is a penny earned. I aimed for only one grocery run this month (I bought some bananas today so… it’s more like 1.2 trips), with an added benefit of trimming my pantry stockpile and trying to be better about using the food I have on hand in general.
  2. One tank of gas. This is mostly an enticement to walk more while the weather is temperate (I dread the hot summer months!) and ease the tiniest dram of my climate change anxiety, but… see Ben Franklin above. And carpooling with my friends is always nice.

How’s it going, you ask? My beginner’s luck is okay but not perfect.

In the con list, I took out some money for entertainment times – I had a dinner planned with friends, running group always ends in a beer and/or pizza, a couple of coffee dates came up. Yada yada yada, the entertainment funds are gone. And I pulled out my debit card this weekend. Next time I do this (next month?!), I will keep a running tab of expenses to indulge my own curiosity – but I still need a game plan for impromptu lunch invites.

And alas, I have a long way to go before I match my Aunt Molly in pantry cooking. She can open hers and make a gourmet three-course meal. But! I did make muffins on a whim this weekend using only ingredients on hand (and discovered a stray, full bag of flour in the pantry).

In the plus column, I didn’t want to buy a bunch of stuff at the end of January and pretend that my February expenses were sooooo low. So I’m pleased that February’s expenses reflect reality. I needed some stamps to correspond with my pals. I finally remembered to buy a window-insulation kit which hopefully will make my house a little less porous. Worthwhile costs, slightly superfluous, but all well within my budget (though I have spent more on housegoods/etc than groceries this month!)

Another plus: turns out one tank of gas isn’t hard. I have a little more than half a tank left, and a little more than half the month to go. I count eight days in the next two weeks when I’ll need to drive, and most of it will be short 12-minute jaunts around town.

All in all, I’m glad I ventured these experiments and am sure I’ll try again in the future. The one-tank gas challenge will likely return in March. As for the No-Spend Month, I do not think I can hazard it every month and expect success; my pantry is not Mary Poppins’ satchel, even if it did produce a bag of flour today, for one. But I’m hoping I can find a few more ways to save cash and the planet, or my pantry. The challenge has been rewarding even if the payoff isn’t quite as high as I’d hoped.

Regrets, I have a few, and all of them are related to my debt

I remember my pre-debt life. I was 17, picking the college that I would attend three weeks after turning 18. My mom went to a private college and defended my choice of a private, liberal arts school; my dad, who went to a federal service academy, tried to bribe me to go to a state school. I don’t remember having a clear conversation about what my parents could/wanted to afford. I do remember not doing any math when my dad offered to buy me a car if I went to a state university.

Me sometime in 2019

I agreed to amass the maximum federal loan debt I could and pay my parents additional money through school and summer jobs. A very good deal, but also the start of me having no clue what $20,000 or $120,000 really was. What did that mean in working hours? In interest? While in college I accumulated a little bit of credit card debt. I didn’t feel any crunch from my missteps, though, because I got a well-paying job before graduation (that’s so 2006) and paid it off quickly.

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One-woman career retreating

Recently I have seen a couple of instances in my professional life and thought, I really need to devote some time to think about my career. More than a couple, actually: where do I want my career to go, and to do? What opportunities am I going to grab and which ones am I going to let float on by? Because I’m one archivist with a full life, so I am not here to do everything.

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Recreation of my retreat because apparently I didn’t take any photos! Important take-away: notebooks for days.

At the end of the summer, I set aside a half-day to do a personal retreat and consider some big questions about myself and my career and also answer some specific questions about upcoming opportunities. It was great, and I highly recommend treating yourself! Here are some resources that helped me determine what I wanted to consider in my four-hour window:

  • How to Conduct a Career-Planning Retreat. I condensed the three parts into around 30-minute pieces each, though I didn’t time myself; that’s just what came naturally. Being honest with myself what my current strengths and areas for development are, and then using that information to plot my future conceptually and into discreet steps makes sense for me.
  • How to Plan a Personal Day-Long Mindfulness and Meditation Retreat. My day was a less meditation and more writing, but coming back to these big questions was good. Summary always helps illuminate the way and provide a clear goal for me to focus on. While I didn’t do a full day this time, I would like to in the future! My pal Jennie recently took, I believe, at least 36 hours for a personal retreat on the coast and … yes. In the future, I’d like to add a walk along a body of water.

In keeping with the first link, I wanted to have a day where big thoughts were distilled into action items. “Where do I want to go?” is important, but so is actually getting there. To this end, some questions that I considered were:

  • What do I value?
  • How do I view myself? And how much of that is true?
  • What clear direction or calling has emerged for how I want to guide my career?
  • What is lacking in my job currently?
  • What interim steps do I need to take to get from here to there?
  • What training do I need to get there?

I anticipate that as I begin to check things off my list, the questions will evolve, so each retreat will require a little bit of advanced planning and question-seeking on my part. I am aiming to retreat twice a year – a short, half-day check-in and an annual longer (whole day even!?!?) retreat. In theory, the whole day will take place in advance of my annual goal setting in January. So I’m blocking a day off in my calendar and brainstorming where to get my shoreline walk fix now!