A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way

19 For '19 Goals: A Wrap-Up


Way back in January of this year, I posted an ambitious, finance-heavy list of 19 goals. I called it "19 for '19". (Had it been 2017, I would have posted 17 goals. 2010? Ten goals. You get the picture. I'm going to be in real trouble in 2050.)

When I developed this list, I was feeling optimistic. We were building our savings. We were paying off debt and ramping up on investments. Plus, I had a fancy new job in the works.

We were on a roll! Prepare to be crushed, goals!

And then... Then, life did its thing. My "career" (if you could call it that) exploded in a spectacular, irreversible way. Or perhaps more accurately, I felt the need to start over and blew it all up. I left The Worst Job Ever and became a quitter without a plan.

I spent a few random months as a lady of leisure. I learned some Italian, took daily afternoon naps, watched every documentary that caught my attention on Netflix (might I recommend The Dawn Wall and Losing Sight of Shore?), and walked dogs for what amounted to pocket change.

It was fun. It was not lucrative.

I started to think that perhaps we should scrap the entire goals list. I mean, it's tough to meet your money goals if you have no money. Everything felt so uncertain.

By the end of July, I had a new part-time job that I liked for the most part. Money started trickling in again - less of it than before I quit, but enough. Somehow, it all worked out okay, and somehow, we ended up meeting many of our goals anyway.

So here are the goals in review, along with an assessment of how these priorities evolved throughout the year.


Success!: The Goals I/We Met


1. Quit my job. I quit a well-paying but mindnumbing job in January of 2019, took a week off, launched into The Worst Job Ever, and walked out three months later. Technically, I met this goal twice. Bonus points!

A few weeks ago, I actually saw an ad for the mindnumbing job. Same company, same position, same responsibilities, and I had to ask myself: do I regret leaving, especially considering that I left for a total disaster? Could I ever see myself going back?

Answers: no, and NO. There was a reason I was so desperate to get out of that job. True, I was compensated fairly, but I was also bored out of my mind, and management treated me and my perfectly capable coworkers like wayward children who needed constant supervision and feedback. It wasn't as bad as The Worst Job Ever, but it was still pretty terrible. The money wasn't worth it, and I'm glad I left. 

2. Paid off my student loan. We paid off the last $3500 in March. Getting rid of one of our student loans was so motivating. It was a bright spot during a dark, insomnia-ridden spring.

3. Paid off our remaining medical bills. We had a balance of $1300 for my kid's 2018 appendectomy. We paid that off in March, too.

4. Saved $10,000 in our emergency fund. We crossed this threshold in October. Of all of the goals on the original list, this is the one I most wanted to achieve. When I quit my job, I was skeptical that we'd be able to do it. I thought we'd end up depleting our cash stash, not adding to it. We were able to accomplish it thanks to a combination of extra hours at my new (well, new-ish) part-time job and some good bonuses for Fortysomething.

5. Paid off our campground membership. I definitely didn't think this was going to happen, but then... surprise bonus to the rescue! We were able to pay off the $1700 balance in November. Lesson learned this year: Fortysomething's got some good bonuses.

6. Attended TWO financial retreats! I had an opportunity to go to the Lola Retreat in Los Angeles in February and CentsPositive in Seattle in October. The main thing I took from these experiences is that I want to have more of them. I WANT TO DO ALLLLLL OF THE RETREATS. The women I met at these events went above and beyond my expectations in terms of how genuine, kind, openminded, and supportive they were, and talking finances in a women-only environment was incredibly empowering.

7. Attended a mini family reunion at Disneyland and visited family. Disney happened because we were invited to mooch off my family, and we did. Like, you want to give us this amazing thing? We will not argue or decline! And I'm so glad we went, because Scrooge McDuck here (me) ended up LOVING Disneyland. I can completely understand why people go back every year and spend hundreds of dollars to do it. We won't. But I want to.


Things That Did Not Happen


I mean, I had 19 goals on the list. No way was I going to check all of them off. Here's what fell to the wayside or had to be put off:

1. Achieve a positive net worth. We fell just short of this goal in 2019. That's okay. We're only about $4000 away at this point. SO CLOSE. As long as we continue to contribute to Fortysomething's retirement fund and make monthly student loan payments, we'll likely get there in 2020.

2. Max out my HSA. Once I left my job and decided to sign up for short-term health insurance instead of ACA insurance, contributing to an HSA was off the table. However, I still have about $800 in the HSA from The Worst Job Ever.

Can I just say this? I may have been at that gig for only a couple of months, but I am SO GLAD that I dumped enough into my 401K and HSA to get the company matches for those benefits. The whole experience was terrible, but knowing that they had to give me some extra money and couldn't take it back (because it vested immediately) was a silver lining.

3. Each day, meditate for 10-15 minutes, work out, and drink 64 ounces of water. Why do I continue to make health- and fitness-related goals? By now, I should know that I'm more successful with this sort of thing when I don't put it in writing. That said, I was very consistent with running. On average, I ran 5-6 miles most days of the week. The meditation and hydration, however, fell through the cracks while I was working at The Worst Job Ever. I didn't have the headspace to make it all happen, and then later I just didn't feel like it.

4. Get my passport renewed. It didn't happen but it WILL happen in early 2020. I need to stop procrastinating on this. 

5. Comment on or share three posts, four times per week, and make $100 on the blog. I increased my bloggy interactions, but not to the extent I'd originally planned on. I'm a slacker. As for making money off the blog:

*SNORT*

I tossed this goal out the window as soon as Adsense stopped working on my site. But whatever. Adsense, you suck. I DIDN'T WANT TO BE YOUR FRIEND ANYWAY. Also, I was (and still am) too lazy to figure out how to fix the problem because I was (and still am) too lazy to make money off this blog.

6. Read two books per month and log them on Goodreads. ...Do I even have a Goodreads account? I can't remember. In lieu of this goal, however, I did attend every single meeting of my book club. As a committed participant, I read approximately 1/3 of the books and sampled all of the wine.

7. Worry less. This is called Me Being Delusional. This is called Setting Myself Up For Failure. New 2020 goal: worry all the time. I can do that!

Here's the nice thing about goals: they can really help you see where your priorities lie. That's how it is for me, anyway. If I work towards the goal, I know that it means something to me. If I don't, it's likely because I don't actually give a shit and just wanted my list to look nice and well-rounded.

Stay tuned for a 2020 list in January!

What about you? How did your 2019 goals pan out?
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What I Learned From A Week Of Reducing My Plastic Use And Trying To Be A More Conscientious Consumer


Last week, I participated in the Tread Lightly, Retire Early Plastic Free December Challenge. The general goal of the challenge was to find ways to reduce plastic use, something I'm on board with one thousand percent. My family has developed and maintained a solid collection of environmentally-friendly habits over the years, but this is one area where I've long felt we should be able to do better.

Right away, I knew we probably wouldn't be able to go all-in on the challenge because plastic is so omnipresent at the one place we visit on a regular basis: the grocery store. There, plastic is everywhere. Plastic fruit cartons. Plastic bread bags. Plastic hummus containers. Plastic-wrapped lunch box snacks and cheese sticks. Meat in plastic. Cheese in plastic. Cereal in plastic. Yogurt in plastic. Inexplicably, sometimes even canned goods are bundled together in plastic.

It would be almost impossible to avoid plastic entirely unless every single person in the family was on board and willing to make major sacrifices - and I didn't want to ask them to do that, especially during a busy work and school week, and especially because I'm not the one who does the grocery shopping in our household. My partner does.

So instead, I decided to modify the rules and develop my own goals for the week while still maintaining the spirit of the challenge.

Here's what I came up with:

1. Continue implementing the environmentally-friendly actions that are already regular habits in our family (see below)
2. Buy milk in cartons instead of plastic bottles
3. Purchase dry goods from bulk bins, using plastic-free, reusable bags
4. Make more homemade food (such as bread, granola bars, and yogurt) to reduce packaged, processed stuff
5. Avoid all animal products


Current Enviro-Friendly Habits


As a family, we already make the following planet-friendly choices:

1. We drink water from the tap and use reusable water bottles. The water where we live is regularly monitored, safe to drink, and tastes great, so we don't see a point in buying it. Each family member has their own designated water bottle, and we've gotten accustomed to carting them around with us.

(Sidenote: I have a real problem with the bottled water industry because it takes a limited natural resource that should be available to everyone and commodifies it. Bottled water is absolutely necessary in some cases - for instance, in areas where drinking water is polluted - but for the most part, it's a total racket. Clean, safe water should be a right, not something that is transformed into corporate profits.)

2. We bring cloth bags to the grocery store. We have about 10 bags that we cycle through on a regular basis. At this point, it's a habit. If the occasional plastic bag sneaks into the mix at checkout, we don't sweat it, but cloth bags are so much more durable and so much better for the environment (assuming you're actually using them and not, you know, dumping boxes and boxes of them into a landfill).

3. We own only one car and fill the tank only about once a month. We can do this because (a) we live in a small town, so all of our usual destinations are close by, (b) my partner walks to work, and (c) I work from home.

4. I'm a vegetarian, and my partner and son have cut back on meat. Meat is an energy- and water-intensive product, so to us, limiting our consumption makes sense.


So How Did The Week Go?


I succeeded in maintaining my current habits and avoiding animal products. The only non-plant based food I consumed was half of a cheese pizza on Friday night. (I was really hungry and pizza is my favorite food.) We also met our milk container goal: my partner opted for cartons this week. They still contain plastic, but as far as I know, they contain less plastic than traditional plastic jugs. So... yay?

I completely bombed, however, at bulk binning. I visited a local organic grocery store that frequently boasts about its reduction in single-use plastics. It seemed like the perfect place to deploy my reusable cloth bags for items like beans, rice, and nuts. Turns out that the store has completely done away with its bulk bins and now sells - and I quote - "prepackaged bulk bin items." In other words, they wrap all of their products in plastic and sell them in pre-measured portions, just like every other grocery store in town. The produce section was tiny, and the rest of the establishment was pretty much a sea of processed goods. There was something extra depressing about shopping at an all-natural grocery store that's failing so hard at being good to the environment.

Not worth it. I won't be back.

I didn't get around to making bread or granola bars, though I'm hoping to do so this week. I did, however, try my hand at making cashew yogurt. This recipe turned out to be a smashing success! You just soak some cashews, blend them up with a little water, mix in a tablespoon of yogurt starter, and then let the nutty concoction sit in a low-temperature oven for 12 to 24 hours while the fermentation gets rolling. The yogurt is tart, tangy, and delicious, and it takes almost no time to mix up the ingredients. Best part: not having to spend $6 on a plastic tub of vegan yogurt.


What I Learned


1. I already knew this, but the Plastic Free Challenge underlined the fact that the grocery store is a minefield of single-use plastic. Even if you arrive at the store fully outfitted with your own bags and containers, you'd be hard-pressed to avoid plastic entirely. Berries? In plastic. Salad? In plastic. Cereal, rice, and other dry goods? Plastic (unless your store is still on board with "unsanitary" bulk bins). We could probably curate a wider array of non-plastic-packaged options if we were willing to visit multiple stores every week, but... we're not.

2. We're already making some excellent, easy-to-implement consumer choices. Obviously, there's always MORE one could do, but at the very least, we're grabbing the lower-hanging enviro-friendly fruit on a consistent basis, and that's something.

3. Consumers could make more environmentally-friendly choices if corporate entities offered more and better options. How often are we told that we as consumers are the ones holding the power when it comes to improving the health of our planet? How many times are we told that if we just use less water and less plastic, buy less stuff, drive less, etc. etc., the Earth will be a healthier place? How many times are we told that it's up to us? (Thanks for this link, Done by Forty.)

But how are we supposed to make better choices if our only options are mediocre ones?

Take the organic grocery store: I don't want to buy my almonds in a package. I want to pour some raw almonds into a cloth bag that I can take home, wash, and use again. That shouldn't be hard. But most stores where I live give me no way to do that. I'm practically forced to purchase all of my dry goods in plastic.

4. We need to stop pretending that consumers are entirely responsible for our environmental problems. I know this is going to sound totally depressing and defeatist, but the week made me feel a little less hopeful about the future. There's only so much that individuals can do. We need government involvement and legislation (especially for environmental issues that don't care about arbitrary, human-crafted boundaries), and we need corporate buy-in. We need the entities with the real power to use their power in a positive way and stop passing the buck to the little guys (us).

It's unfair and disingenuous for corporate and government giants to put all environmental responsibility on consumers. They need to take action and make changes, too. From a big-picture perspective, it's imperative they get involved.

In other words, we need systemic environmental change.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that you shouldn't make good environmental choices as an individual. You absolutely should, especially because your choices have positive impacts in your community. The less waste we create and the less plastic we use, the less crap that will end up in local watersheds. The more we walk or bike or bus instead of drive (if/when that's an option), the better our local air quality will be.

But unless the ginormous companies and corporations that are most responsible for this mess start cleaning up their processes and/or make it easier for us to create less waste, on a broad scale, I don't see how we're going to move the needle in a meaningful way.

I worry that the danger in putting all responsibility on the consumer is that it sets us up for complete and utter failure in the long run. It lulls us into thinking we're making progress when in fact, if we zoom out, we find we're being driven in the opposite direction. We must force the government and corporations to take just as much responsibility as we do. We need to change the narrative if we want to heal our planet.


Habits I'll Maintain


Aside from the long-term habits we've already cultivated, I can see myself making three changes after this week:

1. Eat an almost-vegan diet from here on out. I've never loved meat (the one good thing that comes from growing up with a parent who regularly served undercooked chicken and pork), so vegetarianism is pretty easy for me. However, I was surprised by how little I missed eggs and cheese this week (except on my beloved pizza). I plan to continue transitioning to a mostly vegan way of eating.

2. Make my own yogurt and make more of my own bread. The yogurt-making process is so easy and the savings are so obvious that it's worth it. As for bread, the only trouble with homemade is that my kid loves it and can eat half a loaf in one sitting. But flour is relatively affordable, so okay.

3. Pay close attention to the environmental platforms of political candidates and vote for those who have clear, actionable, meaningful plans to help the environment and mitigate climate change. If the environment is truly a priority for me and if I truly care about the well being of the planet for future generations, then the environment has to be a top consideration when I'm deciding how to vote.

What about you? Did you participate in plastic-free week? How did it go for you?

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Thoughts At The End Of November


Some of these thoughts have nothing to do with personal finance, but hey, at its core, this blog is a holistic record of our lives as we work to get out of debt. It's not always just about money.

1. Winter is here! We got hit with a Thanksgiving Day/Black Friday blizzard that dumped about 10 inches of powder at our house and more than four feet up in the mountains. I get so excited about water in any form now that I live in Arizona: the rain and snow that we receive in the colder months have a direct effect on the severity of our fire season the following spring and summer. The more substantial the snowpack, the less scary fire season is. I used to take precipitation for granted. Now it's like watching gold fall from the sky.

2. I avoided buying anything on Black Friday. One, we were trapped by the blizzard, so we couldn't have hit the sales even if we wanted to. Two, we've wrung our November budget dry; there's not much left to work with. Three, I didn't need anything anyway. That said, if I let myself spend too much time on social media, I start getting hypnotized by all the subtly advertised running gear being peddled by my favorite athletes. I have to check myself: no, famous runner, I do not need to attend your running camp. I do not need that watch, or that treadmill, or that skirt. *forces self to close Instagram*

3. The campground membership is fully paid off, and I'm still on a high about that. It feels good to have one less expense and $100 extra dollars a month to work with.

4. I don't know if I'll continue the Mental Health and Money Mondays series. I like the idea and feel there's value in it, but - and this is very on-brand - I got derailed a couple of weeks ago by a short bout of knock-you-over depression.

This unexpected episode was a reminder that it doesn't take much for me to get in over my head. I mean, the blog wasn't what made me depressed, but committing to one more thing on a regular basis is too overwhelming right now. (But it's just a few blog posts! you might point out. My reply: Yeah, tell me about it... but the message has been delivered loud and clear there's a difference between what I think I should be able to do and what I want to do, and what I can actually do.)

5. I'm feeling more and more ambivalent about Rover. I still love taking care of pets, but between the 20% that Rover takes and the ~30% that the government will take, plus the wear and tear on my car, I'm not sure it's worthwhile. For instance, the owner who hired me for my current gig paid just over $200 for my services. Rover will take $40. That leaves me with $160, and I'll stash about $50 of that into an account I reserve for taxes. I mean, yes, it's nice to have an extra $100, but damn, I did a lot of work and a lot of driving for that $100.

6. I'm facing a new work dilemma, one that's the polar opposite of the one I experienced at the end of last year when I was desperate to leave my shitty and soul-sucking - but well-paying! - full-time job (you know: the one I eagerly departed for a job that turned out to be sleazy, underpaying, and generally awful).

Now I have a highly creative and autonomous part-time job that I truly enjoy. I enjoy it so much that I worked over Thanksgiving and didn't feel resentful in the least.

But here's the problem: it doesn't pay enough. It especially won't pay enough when I go back to working 20 hours a week (from my current 30 hours a week) in January.

Basically, our combined salary will be sufficient to cover our bills and one or two inexpensive family activities per month. Beyond the retirement contributions that are automatically deducted from Fortysomething's paycheck, there will be almost no room for additional saving. Especially if our rent goes up again at the beginning of the summer. *pauses to headdesk*

Although I check the job boards every single day, the opportunities in my field are rather sparse. I know people are always talking about the low unemployment rate and the cornucopia of job openings out there, but... that's not my personal experience, perhaps in part because I live in a small and somewhat isolated town. This isn't Seattle or Phoenix. Job openings here are extremely limited in number and highly competitive.

Plus, I'm terrified of leaving a job I like for the unknown. I'm scared I'll end up in another awful situation. And I'm not entirely confident about my ability to work 40 hours a week (though if my current employer offered me a full-time role, I'd absolutely take it).

This isn't an issue that needs to be fixed right this minute. I have time to figure it out. All I know is that liking a job is great, but job security and being able to save for the future (especially when you're already behind) are also crucial.

Will I ever find that balance? Is it too late for me to find a job that pays well and that I enjoy?
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Another Debt Bites The Dust


Goodbye, Campground Membership


I'm just popping in to say that much to my surprise, we'll be eliminating one more chunk of debt by the end of the year. 

Fortysomething found out today that he'll receive an unexpected and rather hefty work bonus next week. It's truly a windfall. It's enough to cover the $1766 remaining on the campground membership loan that we acquired during our stint as full-time RVers.

The membership made sense back then: it allowed us to stay at full-service, RV-friendly campgrounds for several weeks at a time at no extra charge. However, we decided to stop RVing approximately two months after we took out the loan. Not a great financial move. We've been paying it off ever since to the tune of $108/month. 

(We still have access to the campgrounds in the membership plan, but they're not particularly close to where we live, so we don't make regular use of them. It's a terrible waste of money.)

I ended up paying off the balance today with my trusty REI credit card, which translates to some additional cash back that we'll receive in the spring with our REI dividend. When the bonus hits the bank account a week from now, I'll pay off the credit card.

I should note that I haven't included the campground membership loan in any of our debt updates (although I've always included the monthly payment in our budget reports). For a long time, I didn't want to acknowledge its existence. How's that for some warped and determined financial psychology?


Updating the Student Loan Repayment Plan


By paying off the campground membership, we'll be able to bring our monthly student loan payment from $400 to $508.

I just did the calculations. At that rate, the student loan will be gone in... drumroll, please...

a little less than eight years.


Wheeeeeeee.

I mean, I'm pretty sure we can do it faster than that - especially if we apply part of our future yearly bonuses to the balance - but that's the baseline, and it's fine for now.


Better Than Expected


We're almost at the end of 2019, and given that I went from making a salary of $60K back in January to making a current salary of more like $20K, I'm extremely pleased with our progress. No, we don't have enough in retirement. No, I'm not convinced my part-time job is sustainable over the long term.

But somehow, we're actually on track to meet the majority of our financial goals for the year.

I'll take that win.


Update


The payment went through! Take a look at this:

And now that it's paid, I'll admit that the interest rate was pretty high and we probably should have included it in our total debt stats. Oh well.


I'm just glad it's done. It really is a relief, and it'll be nice to have a little more wiggle room when my hours drop again in January. 
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Rainy Day Budgeting: November 2019


For the first time in weeks, we're getting some substantial rainfall here in Northern Arizona. It's chilly, it's pouring outside, and it feels like the perfect opportunity to settle in with some coffee and write about a topic I've been neglecting lately: our budget.

(Sidenote: I wrote this yesterday. It is no longer raining, which makes this former East Coaster sad. But it was nice while it lasted.)


Making the Most of Higher Paychecks


Right now, I'm getting paid for 30 hours a week while we wrap up a big project at work, so my paychecks have been more substantial than usual. In fact, because I don't receive employer-sponsored benefits and therefore don't have any related deductions, the amount I'm earning is roughly equal to what I was making at the shitshow job back in the spring. 

That means we have a little extra money to play with and plan with.

What we're doing with it:

1. Celebrating

As I was just sharing in a blog comment, October through December tend to be expensive months for us. We've got two birthdays, an anniversary, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. For the past couple of holiday seasons, we've tried hard to limit our spending, and without fail, we've... kind of failed. We've found that it's far more difficult to tighten our belts at the end of the year than it is in, say, March.

We don't go overboard with presents, but we like to gift things that our loved ones will truly value and that will last for a long time. Oftentimes, those items come with a higher price tag. The hammock that Fortysomething gave me for my birthday is a good example: it was expensive, but it's a high-quality product that should last for years. 

We also tend to spend more than usual on food during the holidays. I used to look at other people's food budgets and feel bad for how much we allocate in this category, but I'm over it. We buy the food, we share the food, we eat all the food, and we enjoy the food.

You'll see. Our food line item is high.

Anyway, in 2019, I'm facing facts: we're going to spend. It's okay. I'll be realistic and build it into the budget.

2. Saving

I also want to make sure we're socking away some of our extra money while we have the opportunity. In January, my hours will drop back down to 20 per week, I'll make approximately $800/month less, and we'll be saving much less - maybe $100 per month, unless I find a higher-paying job or ramp up my Rover business again.

I'm always going back and forth on where to put our savings. Regular checking account? 401K? My little IRA? Although it's likely we'll increase Fortysomething's investment contributions in the next month or two, for now, we're being boring and putting the savings into our bank account. There's a part of me that still feels like I'm on slightly shaky employment ground, and I want to be able to access cash easily if we need to dip into our savings.


A Word About Rent: Can We Do Anything About It?


You know what bothers me more than our food budget?

Our rent.

As much as I appreciate the perks of where we live (walkable, close to Fortysomething's work, beautiful location) and renting in general (we don't have to maintain anything, and we don't spend our weekends fixing stuff), the amount we pay in rent is a thorn in my side. I am never going to be okay with it.

I've written before about why we choose to rent our place and why renting something cheaper isn't much of an option for us: one, even the least expensive rentals here aren't that much cheaper, and two, I can't deal with shared walls due to extreme noise sensitivity (blocky apartment complexes are out; in our current duplex, the only wall we share is in the kitchen).

Also, right now we can get away with having just one car. If Fortysomething had to drive to work, we'd need to consider a second vehicle.

So. 

We're trying to figure out if buying property is an option for us and whether it would save us money (or at least allow us to avoid yearly rent hikes). Whether we can get a home loan on 1.5 incomes that would allow us to buy something that isn't totally falling apart is questionable, but we're looking into VA and USDA loans, which may increase our purchasing power a bit.

That said, I periodically obsess over "should we buy?" and then drop it. Who knows if we'll actually make any progress here. But we're likely to have a rent hike in May, so if we're going to avoid it by moving into our own place, we need to start taking action now.


Anyway, Here's The Budget


Item Budget

Rent 
2205
Internet 65
Phone  80
Car Insurance 64
Student Loan 400
Campground Membership 108
Gas/electric/utilities  151
Food 850
Gas in car 40
Cat 40
Netflix/Hulu 27
Miscellaneous 400
Donation 30
Savings 725
Health Insurance 340

Total 
  
5525
Pretty standard, right? Other than Miscellaneous (which is higher than usual due to a birthday and our anniversary) and Savings, everything else is typical of how we allocate our money every month. I will admit that we re-upped Hulu, so that line item increased a bit. Health insurance also increased somewhat because I added vision insurance to my short-term insurance package.

How's your November budget looking? Does your budget change at the end of the year, or do you run a pretty tight ship, unlike us?
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Mental Health and Money Mondays: I Spent Money and I Liked It



Preface


I wrote this post and immediately was like, WOOOOOOO I have so much financial confidence! Look at me go!

Then, later, I re-read it and started having doubts. 

First of all, I worry that it sounds braggy, which isn't my intent, but still. Sometimes what a writer wants to say and how the reader interprets it are two different things. 

Second, I feel like The $76K Project is going to give people whiplash. One day it's like, LET'S PAY OFF ALL THE DEBT! And another it's, The system sucks, everything sucks, people can't get ahead! A few weeks later I'm saying, SCREW DEBT, who cares.

And now I'm gleefully writing a post about spending a significant chunk of money. So.

Yeah.

I'm giving myself whiplash.

Look, people, it's a roller coaster: not only the process of paying off lots of debt, but also the task of overhauling your money mindset and learning to trust your newfound financial know-how. And for some people, like me, money is a very emotional thing. 

So what can I say? My money journey is rife with ups and downs, and the blog is reflective of that.

Please keep that in mind, and buckle your seatbelts.


Our October Spending Spree


When all was said and done, October was a spendy month in the $76K household. Having met our emergency fund goal in September, we celebrated by dropping much of our disposable income on fun things:

1. Hotel + food + transportation for CentsPositive: $500

Relaxing in the room before CentsPositive began

2. Going out to eat + coffee: $110

3. Aquarium gear + fish for Kiddo (and let's be real, for the cat, too): $100

Living her best life with her new fish friends/prey

4. Birthday celebration (homemade cheese tray + wine + movie rental): $60

This. Was. Delicious.

5. Birthday present for me from Fortysomething (a hammock! I love it!): $110

New favorite activity

6. 25K race fee: $92

Spent almost $100 to nearly lose my cookies on this hill

Total spent on fun: Almost $975

Whoooosh. Not a typical month. Very little money went into savings. (I feel obligated to add that no money was removed from savings, either.) 


I Have No Regrets (For Once)


In the past, my ability to let go and sink into such a financially freewheeling month would have been compromised by the little voice in my head telling me that I/we don't deserve it, we should be putting every extra cent to student loans, I'm being selfish, I'm being short-sighted, I'm being stupid with money, etc.

In other words, guilt and shame would have undermined my financial confidence and diluted my enjoyment.

But after some reflection, I can say that I have no regrets about our October spending spree. Every dollar spent represents something that made or will make our lives better in some way. Every dollar spent represents an investment in things that we value: being together as a family, communing with likeminded friends, being outside, challenging ourselves, learning new things. 

And as we were spending this money, I felt... good about it.

Not guilty.

Not ashamed.

Not ambivalent.

Not stressed out about whether we could afford it.

I literally delighted - DELIGHTED! - in every expense.

Spending money sans negative emotions? Who am I?


Good With Money


Good is a word I'm not used to associating with money, but last month, I felt unapologetically good about our finances and good about investing in things/experiences we care about. I felt good about my ability to manage and deploy money. I felt good about setting ourselves up well enough that we could afford to let loose for a few weeks. I felt good about crossing the finish line of that expensive race, setting up that aquarium, inhaling that fancy cheese (and wine), sitting in the woods in that crisp new hammock, and getting a solid night's sleep at that downtown Seattle hotel.

Obviously, not all months can be like this, and we're dialing it back in with our November budget. Although our plans leave room for some frivolity, we're also earmarking a chunk of our earnings for our savings account. Time to get back to our goals.

But October showed me what a healthy relationship with money can be like. It gave me a taste of what financial wellness feels like and how liberating it can be. 

Going forward, that's my objective: financial wellness. 

What about you? How would you describe your relationship with money? And is there anything you've bought or invested in lately that made you feel like, YES, this was the best decision? If so, NO SHAME AND HIGH FIVE.
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Mental Health & Money Mondays: Finding Community


I've been thinking a lot about relationships, friendship, and community this past week, probably because I've socialized more than usual this month: I attended a women's financial retreat with 70 other people, visited family in the Pacific Northwest, gave a presentation to a group of middle schoolers, hung out with friends, and even bonded with a handful of other runners (whom I didn't know beforehand) during a particularly grueling trail race.

And you know what?

This introverted, awkward hermit thoroughly enjoyed those interactions.

The truth is that social connections and community play an important role in the mental well-being of every human, and they're worth investing in because they have long-term impacts on our health. So I figured it would make a good topic for the second edition of Mental Health and Money Mondays.


Social Bumbles and Relationship Stumbles


For most of my life, I've struggled to make friends and connect with other people.

In grade school, I was teased for being overweight and mocked for wearing the same clothes multiple days in a row. I often ate lunch by myself. (That time I farted in gym class in front of all of the other sixth graders didn't help matters.)

I caught a break when I found a close group of friends at my junior high church youth group. Most of them eventually faded from my life when I left the Christian faith and married an atheist, but they supported me during some difficult years, and their friendship was critical while it lasted.

Things changed considerably when I met my partner: finally, I had someone I could depend on, day in and day out, an anchor to keep me from floating too far off into myself, though as anyone in a long-term relationship can tell you, it's important to have a community beyond your significant other. No one person can be everything you need.

A decade ago, as a lonely new mom, I tried joining Mommy and Me groups to find other women going through a similar big life change. I longed to sit in a quiet coffee shop, sip a latte in peace, and talk about how to be a mom while building a career; instead, I found myself in the middle of endless debates about cloth diapers vs. disposable diapers and breastfeeding vs. formula feeding. I flunked out of three meetups before I finally gave up.

But I started graduate school soon after that and established close friendships with people who shared my passion for our field of study and the outdoors, and who doted on my son.

And now I'm part of the personal finance community, building relationships with other money nerds who, like me, value planning for the future, investing in the things they care about, and giving themselves the freedom to do the things they love.


Connection: It's Good For You 


Although my social experiences haven't always been easy, I think they are fairly typical: many of us struggle to connect with others once we're well into adulthood, and our friends and friend groups periodically change as we evolve as individuals. As a result, finding a lasting and reliable community can be extremely difficult, to say the least.

It's especially difficult for those of us with mental health issues. For example, when I'm in anxiety mode, I'm often less apt to reach out because I'm worried about saying or doing something stupid that will ruin it all and destroy my life forever (welcome to my brain). When I'm depressed, I'm often convinced nobody likes me, and therefore I don't see the point in trying to connect (nor do I have the energy to try).

But research shows that making the effort to build relationships is crucial. People who are connected to family, friends, and community generally live longer, happier lives and experience less loneliness, depression, and anxiety than those who lack those social connections. Even casual relationships and acquaintanceships can make a significant and positive difference.

In other words, your health - including your mental health - depends not only on your genes, your eating habits, your stress levels, and your exercise routine, but also on the nature of your relationships.


Making An Effort


It's tempting for an introvert like me to hide herself away, and I often do - mainly because I need and enjoy my personal space. But I keep working to build community in various aspects of my life because I know my long-term happiness depends in part on my interactions with other people.

It's why I play online board games with Done by Forty and a few other people on a regular basis, even though I usually lose. (In a very kind move, Done by Forty asked me to play during a time when I wasn't feeling all that great. Just the invitation and our trash-talking banter made a big difference.)

It's why I attend my monthly book club with almost religious devotion, even when I don't feel like it and even when I haven't read the book. (Nope, I haven't got the foggiest idea what happened in Middlemarch, but why don't you give me the rundown while I drink this fortifying glass of wine?)

It's why I'm active on social media, even though social media can be highly problematic. On some days, Twitter buoys me.

It's why I attended CentsPositive, even though I was initially overwhelmed at the thought of meeting so many new people.

It's why I try to see my brother once a year, even though getting there is kind of a haul and it's never cheap.

It's why I force myself to keep working on my blog, even when I wonder whether it's worthwhile. There's a community here, too, and I depend on it.


Your Community


What about you? What's your community like? Do you feel like you have the support and connection you need? How do you find and engage with a community - especially when you don't particularly feel like it or the effort seems like more work than it's worth?
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