Friday, April 27, 2012

IT'S HERE!!!!!!!!!

My last loan cancellation just posted this morning. YES! So, I now have $2,297.39 left to pay on my student loans. That is my last debt, and after that I owe nothing! I almost can't believe I am this close to being debt-free!!!!

Of course, knowing that I have that money in my Emergency fund, I'm tempted to just pay it off...but that would leave me with almost no fluid E-fund cash (the house fund is not as easy to get to). As much as I'd like to see it disappear, it's going to have to be in smallish chunks over the next few months.

Anyway, check out my sidebar and observe that my student loans are now 89% paid off! Have a great weekend everyone, I know I will!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Your Best Advice

My friend Ursula has started a blog called My Twelve Weeks, in which she's been writing about her various goals in twelve week cycles/phases. I like this idea because it gives built in reflection and a chance for a fresh start every three months. Brilliant! And I like her. :)

One of her many ambitious goals is to work on getting out of debt...I've been there, and I know a lot of you have. She wrote her budget this week (Holla! Get it girl!) and is getting on the right track for sure.

I can remember when I was first trying to get out of debt and get my finances in order, I was hungry for tips and tricks and strategies. I read blogs like crazy before I started mine. I got to thinking of the most helpful advice for when I first started out. Here are my top five:

1. STEP AWAY FROM THE CREDIT CARDS! I had a bad habit of paying an ambitious, unplanned amount on my cards right after payday, and then getting to the end of the month, running out of money (I wasn't budgeting or changing my habits) and pulling out the credit card to get by. I would end up undoing most of what I'd paid, and sometimes making the balance even worse than when I started. The only way to get out of credit card debt is to STOP USING THE CARDS. Even if that means a smaller payment at the beginning, make it one you can stick to and put those cards away!

2. TRACK ALL OF YOUR SPENDING. I cannot guess how much I spend in various categories, even now. I sometimes take a few days to update totals and am unpleasantly surprised by how much I manage to spend. For me, it's written in a little black book (forget guys' phone numbers) and divided into categories. It's low-tech, but it works for me.

3. MAKE A BUDGET! I have to have boundaries. Tracking spending isn't useful unless you have limits and boundaries of how much you are allowed to spend. It takes time to get your perfect budget (I still build a cushion into mine every month for unplanned expenses or overages), but you have to create one to get anywhere.

4. YOU DON'T HAVE TO KEEP UP WITH THE JONES'S. This was more implicit advice, but in reading PF blogs, I saw that not everyone is rushing out to buy the latest gadgets or going clothes shopping all the time. Plenty of people limit themselves, and most find they are happier that way. I gave up clothes shopping for a year, until my credit cards were paid off. Some of my friends thought I was crazy; some said they wished they had that discipline. But when I stopped caring if my friends thought it was odd that I collected cans and bottles to recycle for cash, I did MUCH better in my finances.

5. EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS! This is the idea of "snowflaking" small amounts of money toward that debt snowball the Dave Ramsey talks about. I have record of transferring amounts as small at $3 toward my credit card debt. I sold books, DVDs, and CDs on Amazon to have more to put toward my cards. I recycled bottles and cans, unplugged appliances when not in use, and requested free samples of feminine products. Yes, those are all small things; but it led to big results in my debt payoff (check out my sidebars if you don't believe me!)

Okay readers, it's your turn: what's the best advice you received when you were first starting to get your debt paid off? And feel free to visit my friend's site to offer encouragement as she starts down this road.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Data Analysis...Good for a Laugh.

So, I found a list of things people have searched, which have led them to my's pretty funny (feeling gassy?!?!), and reveals that I should do more recipe posts (so look forward to those).

Keyword Results:
Homeowner by 30
I'm alive and going pretty well blog
avocado spring rolls recipe
cilantro chicken pasta
envelope system blog
feeling gassy
track net worth
vegetarian spring rolls with avocado recipe
cheap hipster panties

I just remembered that one of my posts about saving money on gas is cleverly titled, "feeling gassy." That makes more sense now. I thought I had overshared again.

Anyone else look up their keyword searches?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Finding Motivation

I would definitely say I am not the most disciplined person when it comes to food. I am about five pounds above my recommended weight for my height, which is about fifteen pounds above my ideal weight for my frame (still a healthy weight for me). I fluctuate five to ten pounds pretty consistently. Part of the problem is that I really like eating and I have a big appetite. I can eat A LOT, people.

Anyway, I decided to rejoin Weight Watchers in hopes of losing about fifteen pounds. I've done WW before, and it works for me, though I have trouble sticking with it long-term. But, I have a new way of thinking that should help me find some motivation this time.

This week, BF is starting on budgeting again. He's tried before, done okay, but has fallen off the wagon. He says that he just has trouble sticking with it, and since he knows that sometimes it's hard to start. He also says it's hard for him to let someone see his finances (that someone being me). It's something  I've conquered, and he knows he should too but he just has trouble with it.

That is EXACTLY how I feel about Weight Watchers. He thrived at WW, while I floundered. He stuck with it, showing AMAZING self-control, I made excuses and quit. We've both been here before. But, this time when I want to say, "Screw it, I'm EATING what I want!" I'm going to remember that I want BF to persevere with his finances and not say, "Screw it, I'm BUYING what I want!" When I think that it's ridiculous to weigh lunch meat and count the handful of jelly beans I ate into my points, I am going to remember that I want him to track the one dollar soda he buys as part of his grocery budget.

I'm not saying this will be the magic bullet...but it IS changing how I think about this. I know many people (myself included) have made the comparison between finance and weight loss before. But seeing it acted out in my house does seem to be making a difference.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I made a two point Weight Watchers dessert that I need to go and try.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

It's Coming...

I just pulled up my APLE account (student loan forgiveness for teaching in a low-income school) and saw that my final payment of $3,000 is on it's way to Sallie Mae as of April 2nd. It says to allow four to six weeks for it to show obviously I will check once a week until I see it I will be checking it obsessively at least once a day until it shows up, starting right now. Sometime within the next month, it will be there! Once that's posted, I plan to continue my regular payment plus $300 per month, as I have been. BUT, I will also start snowflaking any extra money that comes in toward that goal, hoping to get it paid off even sooner than my goal of October (in time to be debt free by thirty!).

I'm actually excited to start throwing all my extra pennies at my loan. I've held off doing so, because I knew the $3,000 payment was coming, and I wanted to be sure there would be $3,000 left for them to pay off. Is it weird that I feel a little nostalgic for my hard-core debt payoff days? I do, so I am looking forwarding to conquering this last debt.

Okay, I gotta go check to see if it's posted again. I'll keep you posted, internet.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tracking Net Worth

In January of this year, I started tracking my net worth each month. I use a calculator from CNN that I really like. I keep it pretty simple and just count actual funds in various accounts (retirement, savings, bonds, etc.). I don't record my checking, because all of that money is budgeted to be spent each month. I also don't record actual belongings like my car or jewelry. I understand it has value, but my goal is to calculate my financial progress. I also put in my student loan and then hit calculate.

It's been really cool to see how far I've come in just four months! I don't feel comfortable sharing numbers...I'm not anonymous. BUT, I have increased my net worth by 700% since January! Yes, that's seven hundred percent. And that includes a trip to Europe. This number has been shooting up because I have been putting around 50% of my paychecks toward either debt or savings in the last four months. And my tax returns helped for sure, since I paid $2,000 to my student loan from that money.

I'm really glad I started tracking this number, it's been a fun motivator. I'm also glad I didn't start when I was in a lot of debt...then I think it would have just been depressing.

Do you track net worth? Do you find it satisfying or depressing?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Envelope System for the BF?

The other night on the way home from the Dodger game, BF and I got to talking about money. He said,
"I need you to help me with a budget again. I want to do it, but I just don't get how you plan for how much you'll spend on things."

My answer: "You have to track your spending. You have to record every expense or there's no way to know if you're in budget."

We talked a bit more about why it matters. He agrees with me in theory, but the execution has been hard for him to get down. He did a great job in paying off his credit cards a few months ago, but since then he hasn't made progress in saving or paying his car or student loan. I mentioned that he should do an automatic deduction to savings from each paycheck, which he agreed with. Then I casually mentioned the envelope system.

He had never heard of it, but when I explained the idea, he was very intrigued/interested. He compared it to Weight Watchers points (when you use them, they're gone) which is always good, since he kicked ass at Weight Watchers. I suggested that he and I work out what would go in his envelopes weekly, and then any leftover money for each week could go into a jar and he could decide what to do with it at the end of the month (I'm pushing for debt payoff or savings, but it's his money).

I did the envelope system just for my fun money when I first started out, and it wasn't my favorite. BUT, I also wrote down all my spending anyway, so I didn't really need it. So, sometime this week we're going to sit down and go over a budget for him, hopefully planning to try the envelope system. I would love to see him get stronger in this area. He's not out of control...he has no CC debt, and pays his bills. But I know that I am so much more peaceful and content now that my financial life is in order. Not that the money makes me happy, but having control over it does.

Any envelope system users have suggestions for how to make it work well for BF? I'd love tips or tricks you've used!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Thanks, Stranger

You all know how much I love using Swagbucks to get free gift cards from Amazon. For a while, I was super on top of it, making sure I did searches for EVERYTHING, getting lots of referrals, I was on a roll.

In the last few months, I've been a lot more lax about using it. I still use Swagbucks, but I also use my Google toolbar (since they got rid of the Safari toolbar...boooooo). I don't do the Daily Poll daily. But, I decided to get back into it and make an effort.

I logged on and noticed that my total seemed a little higher than I would have expected. Then I saw that I have a few new referrals, one of whom is all over it! In the last week that one referral has earned me 56 Swagbucks. Score! I also have a few others that are still plugging along, which is great!

I have no idea who the new referral is, so if it's a reader who used my referral link, thank you! It not only added to my total, but it's also motivated me to get back on there and earn those Swagbucks everyday. And if you're not yet doing Swagbucks to earn free gift cards, you should be. And you should use my referral link to make me happy. :)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Europe Trip: The Numbers

Before I went to Europe, I built up a travel fun in my ING account, totally separate from my other savings and checking. I am SO glad I did it this way. While I was there, I withdrew from ATM's using that account and bought tickets and other things with my debit card from ING. I didn't have a way to track my exact spending, because of the conversion rate and fees. I did check on the account from time to time while I was in Europe just to make sure I wasn't getting close to overdraft (I didn't.). I had $1,400 in my travel fund when I left, and I came home with $525 left in that fund (which I will use toward a trip to Yosemite for BF's birthday next month).

I didn't track what I spent that $875 on while I was there. I can tell you it was a lot of food, part of the B&B bill, museums, train tickets, and very few souvenirs. And I'm fine with that. I'm sure I could have been more frugal, but that wasn't my goal. I just wanted to come home with some money left in that account, and I succeeded.

So, how much did my eight day (including travel time) trip to Europe cost me? Here's the breakdown:
Flight: $890
Hotel in Bruges: $185
Pre-paid Museums: $40
Money Spent while on Trip: $875
Total: $1, let's just say $2,000 since I'm probably forgetting something.

Like I said, I'm sure someone out there has done the same trip for fifteen dollars or something. But I am actually fine with my total. It was an amazing trip, and I had so much fun with my friend, Shelley. And, since I kept the fund separate, I have no regrets about using them for the trip.

I've decided to put $100 per month away in my travel fund, even when I don't have a trip planned. I love traveling, and being able to do it IS a priority for me. I have been on six international trips in my twenties, five of them to Europe, one to Jamaica. I'm happy that getting serious about my finances doesn't mean never going on a big just means planning for it a little better.

How much do you spend on your vacations? Do you make travel a priority?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bruges in Pictures

The last two days of our trip were spent in Bruges, Belgium. Bruges is beautiful and old and lovely. You should go there. It was a nice end to our trip after being in crowded Amsterdam for four days.
Canal View from our hotel room!

View of the city from the top of the tower

At the top of the 366 steps to the top of the tower

The Tower

Enjoying a local Bruges beer

Belgian chocolate is famous for a reason

So are Belgian waffles....YUM

More pretty canal views


Ikea style beer instructions at the brewery we toured

The brewery tour was a lot of fun and very informative. :)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Europe Pictures: Part 1

Yes, I've been back for a week. I just haven't been on the blogging bandwagon...but here I am, with some pictures from my trip. Today I'll post pictures from Holland, tomorrow will be Bruges, and Tuesday, the financial side of the trip. :)

I took over two hundred pictures of my trip, posted over 100 to Facebook...but I really tried to narrow it down here. So if you think this is a lot, HA!

Amsterdam was a lot of fun and I enjoyed a lot of the activities we did there. It's not my favorite city that I've visited (too dirty and crowded), but I'm definitely glad I went! Without further ado...

We met Richard Simmons during our layover in Newark!

The Anne Frank House. GO THERE. It's amazing.

This is the kind of breakfast we got each morning, in our room. YUM.

Canal View.

Darth Vadar and the Royal Palace.

You know I was all about this touristy picture. A giant wooden shoe!

French Fry Stands are big in Amsterdam.

So are bikes. And they have the right of way. Watch out, pedestrians!

Stopping to smell the flowers at Keukenhof Gardens.

Tulips, windmills, and wooden shoes: Check!

Stop being so pretty, tulips!

It's not a trip to Europe unless you go to a beautiful, old church.

Inside The Hiding Place in Corrie Ten Boom's House

Train station in Haarlem. It was COLD.