Quantcast Finally Frugal: 2010

The bumpy road to financial independence. . . .


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A frugal solution. . . .

I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful holiday! I certainly did, although my frugal tendencies went right out the window when faced with fabulous food, lots of opportunities (and time) for socializing, and, alas, the dreaded spending.

As has been the case since I began my frugal journey several years ago, the Christmas season seems to trigger the 'shopping gene' and I end up not only spending more than I intended to on others, but also on myself! For some reason, the act of purchasing gifts for others seems to get the juices flowing and I end up buying things for myself as well. It's as if all of my self-control, which I wield so successfully during the rest of the year, simply flies out the window for a two-week period.

Although I did score a wonderful new jacket and a pair of boots (70% off!), the upshot is that I had to send my last paycheck not to my second mortgage-holder or to my student loan balance, but instead to my credit card! Aaaarrrrrrgggghhhh! It's frustrating, to say the least.

Although I am kicking myself (even while wearing my fabulous new duds) the silver lining is that I have come up with a plan to help myself avoid this next year. My solution is this: for the first time ever, I'm going to set up a savings account just for Christmas costs, to include travel (airfare to visit the family) and gifts. I had intended to nix my savings (except for the savings that goes towards paying my water and auto insurance costs, of course) so that I could concentrate on sending every extra penny to my debt. However, in the long run, I think sending $50 a month to the Christmas savings account will benefit me by helping me avoid the frenzy of spending that I experienced this year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Student loan shenanigans. . . .

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that there might be a change in my student loan balance due to an inheritance (of sorts) that a close relative received. Actually, the 'close relative' is my father. Many (many) years ago when I was making some bad decisions in high school, my dad said, quote: "you get into college, and we'll find a way to pay for it". What I didn't realize at the time was that this meant students loans - for me.

After my first graduate degree was finished, my dad commented that when he received an expected inheritance, he would help me with my student loan balance (which was around $50,000 at that time). Over the years since then, I've not counted on that happening, for various reasons. One of those reasons is that I consider these loans to be 'mine', and therefore my responsibility to pay off.

However, just recently, my dad started the conversation again about how he could help me with my student loan balance. The scheme he's come up with has its merits and its downsides. Basically, he will transfer some stock to me equal to about half the balance of my current student loans. Then it will be my decision whether to sell that stock immediately (taking a capital gains tax hit), or to hold the stock with the assumption that the shares will 'split' as they've done in the past (this is stock from a major U.S. company) and will eventually - in who knows how many years - be worth much more.

The merits of this plan are that at a minimum, I'll have about $25,000 to pay down my student loan balance if I'm willing to sell the stock immediately and take the tax hit. The downside? Knowing whether to sell right away or wait and see what happens with this stock. If I wait for the stock to split (and there's no guarantee that this will happen soon, though it looks like a possibility given the direction the stock is heading) and ultimately gain value again, I could have more of my balance paid off than if I were to sell right away.

What a conundrum! Looks like I've got some thinking (and learning) to do! In the meantime, I'm going to continue working on my second mortgage debt while paying at least the interest (but probably a little more than that) on my student loan balance.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Tax savings? Not so much. . . .

I'm obsessed with my second mortgage these days (as you might have guessed if you've read the past few blog entries. . . .). A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that I had only paid about $1,500 in principle on my high interest (8.9%) second mortgage in the last four years! Last week I decided to torture myself further by adding up all of the interest that I've sent to my second mortgage holder; money that I'll never see again.

During the past four years, I've paid CitiMortgage over $10,000 in interest! Granted, I would not be quite so upset about this if my house were actually gaining equity - unfortunately, it isn't, which is just adding to my feeling that each month for the past four years I've been flushing money down the toilet.

"But wait", I thought, "what about that tax deduction that is saving me so much money on my taxes each year? Isn't THAT a benefit to home ownership? Certainly, it's on every real estate agent's blog as being one of the best reasons to purchase a home".

"THIS will make me feel better," I thought to myself. So I booted up my 2009 tax return, and learned that I saved a whopping $1,700 last year as a result of my mortgage interest payments.

And guess what? Since I paid $2700 to CitiMortgage last year in interest payments, only about 20% of my total tax deduction was a result of my second mortgage payments. Which, by my math, means that of the $1700 I "saved" on my taxes, about $330 of it was due to my second mortgage interest. I paid $2700 in (mostly) interest in order to save $330? Sigh. Doesn't really seem worth it, does it?

Again, if my home were gaining equity (aside from the artificial equity I'm creating by throwing money at my principle balance) I wouldn't be quite so perturbed by the falseness of this ridiculous tax deduction argument. I guess the silver lining is that realizing this will help me in two ways as I go forward: first, I will think twice before purchasing another home based even partially on the argument that it will "save" me money on my taxes; and second, it makes me even more committed to getting myself out from under my second mortgage at this point (and eventually, out from under my first mortgage as well!)

Much as I love my cozy house, it's just not sustainable given my income and future goals. I would rather rent an apartment for $500 less than my mortgage payments and pay that additional $150 or so per month in taxes.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In the beginning. . . .

Here's just a wee bit of graphic evidence that my newest battle against debt has begun in earnest! I hope to update this sweet little chart each month as I receive my statements, so I have a visual reminder of why it is I'm working so hard - and will be for at least the next year.

This is a rather small graphic; I believe if you click on it you can see a much larger version, though there isn't a lot of detail at this point. Two months in and I can already see the blue lines decreasing like tiny stairs descending towards workload sanity and financial freedom!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Digital motivator. . . .

When I graduated last spring, I splurged (well, $100 to start and about $70 a month thereafter) on a 'Smartphone' with which I can surf the Internet, check email, listen to podcasts, text, and oh, of course, talk. It's an extra expense that I don't necessarily need, but I wanted to reward myself for completing my program (without additional debt!) and it definitely keeps me sane on my 45 minute lightrail commute each morning and afternoon!

One of the bazillions of things you can download onto the phone is a 'Countdown Widget', which I used to create a clock counting down the days until my second mortgage is paid off. I'm estimating that by the beginning of March, 2012 I'll either have that baby paid off or will be very, very close to it.

Here's (essentially) what it looks like:

Neat, huh? I'm a spreadsheet nerd; I'm constantly playing around with different debt payoff scenarios. This little widget helps me to see the 'light' at the end of the tunnel as I pack my days (and nights) with more and more part-time work that adds to the coffers. It'll be nice to see this number get smaller, and smaller, and smaller the closer I get to my goal. Maybe once I'm down to a year or less I'll add the widget to the sidebar so you can all follow along with me!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Downsizing. . . .

Since my goal is to sell my house in another year or two (depending on this fabulous housing market I find myself in), I'm starting to look around my home with a critical eye, especially at clothing and kitchen items that I've neither worn nor used in the past year. I definitely don't want to spend my last month in my house (assuming it sells) frantically getting rid of things I don't want to put in storage.

Wherever I end up, it's a good bet that my new residence will be smaller than the one I have now, and will not have a garage. Now, I'm no hoarder, but I do have boxes of things here and there that I never unpacked when I moved here over four years ago! To me, that means those mystery items are unneeded; if I've not found a use for them in the past four years, it's as it I didn't own them at all. With that in mind, why not start downsizing before I really have to?

So today, rather than cleaning my floors as I promised myself I would do, I started the task of dividing some of my unused clothing into groups of: 1. nice enough to go to a consignment store; 2. nice enough to go to the Goodwill; and 3. what is this thing even doing in my house? This last group is unfortunately destined for the trash, much as I dislike discarding anything (it's the environmentalist in me that hates to see one more consumer item sent to our already full landfill).

I'm hoping to make a wee bit of cash with the consignment goods, and take a small tax deduction with the Goodwill items. I'm sure that my 'take' will be less than the original costs of these items (I found a $70 pair of shoes I've worn maybe three times because they're too big, and a $90 pair of boots I've worn a comparable number of times because they're too tight), but it's something, right? Plus, I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to fit Christmas into my meagre budget, and every little bit will help!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Satisfaction. . . .

In November, I sent a grand total of $1,452 to my second mortgage holder, which is $1,197 more than I usually pay each month. There's definitely some satisfaction in watching my balance decrease, since up until now I've been primarily paying interest-only (I wasn't aware that this was akin to an interest-only loan when I signed the papers, by the way, though if I'd been a smarter consumer I would have learned that beforehand).

What amazes me is that in the four years that I've had this loan, I've managed to pay it down by just around $1,500. I'm flabbergasted by this.

October, 2006 starting balance: $31,400
November 2008 balance: $30,877.76
November 2010 balance: $29,881.18

* Note: this doesn't reflect all the payments that I made in November, since some of my paychecks came late in the month.

Know what's even crazier? My November 2010 balance reflects an additional $400 in principle payments that month! So, essentially, the balance of my second mortgage has only decreased by about $1100 in four years of making regular payments!

With financing like this, it's no wonder some American homeowners are in such deep doo-doo. Loans like this remind me of indentured servitude, in which a peasant was obligated to a wealthy landowner (or other wealthy individual) until he died, because the value of his work on the land (which he didn't own) was never enough to cover the amount of his debt to the aforementioned landowner.

Anyway, this is just a rather long-winded way of saying that the satisfaction of finally watching the balance of this evil loan shrink is hard to describe. Perhaps it's akin to watching the pounds on the scale vanish with weight loss, or, conversely, watching the balance of a savings account grow exponentially. In short, it's FANTASTIC!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

In defense of the beater. . . .

I drive a 15 year old car with almost 115,000 miles on it. Hey, it runs (mostly)! I did just replace the battery, it has regular oil changes, and it's definitely due for a tuneup, but it gets me where I want to go. In addition, it's basically free (minus the $80 or so a month for insurance and gas). And for someone who is bent on paying off old debt, that is a good thing!

I do go kind of crazy from time to time wondering about all of the knocks, creaks, and bumps that my car emits while driving. My mind immediately starts adding up the cost of a new alternator, or clutch, or brakes, or any number of crucial auto functions that might need to be fixed in the next few years (I do have the money in my emergency fund for these sorts of repairs, by the way, though I would love to have the extra room in my budget for a 'repair and maintenance fund').

This month, I was convinced that my gas gauge wasn't working. My speedometer and tachomoter haven't worked in years (you get used to it, believe me!) and I've always said that as long as I know how much gas I have left, I'm content to leave those issues alone, since the instrument cluster alone could cost up to $150 to replace, not including labor costs.

I usually spend about $35 to fill up my tank at the end of the month, and with normal driving to the transit station and the grocery store and to my teaching gigs (when the Max isn't convenient), I'm usually left with just a little more than an empty tank at the end of the month. Well, for the last two weeks my gas gauge has been on half-full. No matter where I drove, and for how long, that gauge didn't budge one little iota. Which freaked me out. I've only been stuck once with an empty gas tank, and I didn't like it one bit; I had no interest in repeating that particular fiasco!

So last Sunday, I went to the gas station and got a fill-up, although the gauge still sat at half full just as it has for weeks. And guess what? I only spent $20 and got 7 gallons of gas! Meaning that my gas gauge isn't actually broken, I've just (somehow) driven less this month than I thought I had! Eureka!

I mentally saved myself $400-500 dollars just by putting $20 into the tank! I do wish for a shiny new car now and then, but the value of getting by with my beater might be equal to $90,000 (my remaining debt) when all is said and done.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Taking responsibility. . . .

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

While sitting in an airport waiting for an airplane (and making use of free wifi) I came across a website created by a young woman who owes almost $200,000 in student loan debt! Now, far be it from me to judge anyone else's debt, but I just can't wrap my brain around this one. I think all of this debt is from a bachelor's degree (nope, she's not a lawyer or doctor, as far as I can tell; apparently she wasn't a computer science graduate, since the links to other media sites on her blog don't work).

In any case, what intrigued me about her website is that she is asking for donations from people so that she can pay off her debt! And incredibly she's gotten a little over $6,000! I don't know how much of that came from family and friends, but the fact that she's 'made' over $6,000 in donations is pretty incredible. Her website is called 'TwoHUNDREDthou" and apparently she's getting all kinds of media attention.

Now, as a cautionary tale to would-be student loan takers, I like the idea of her website. If this keeps even one person from signing on the dotted line so they can attend an overpriced school or avoid working like a maniac or go on a really cool Spring Break trip every year, then the website is a success.

However, as a way to pay off debt that this woman knowingly took on, I'm sort of appalled. Or maybe a little jealous, as I work literally SEVEN days a week to right my wrongs and create a more stable financial future for myself.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Frugal cash. . . .

In September, I signed up for one of Dave Ramsey's local Financial Peace University courses. Although I feel that I've learned quite a bit on my own and through my regular blog reading, I wanted to go through FPU with a group of like-minded individuals, as a way to jumpstart my motivation to get out of debt. Although our group was small, there were a couple of people there who were just at the beginning of their journey, and a couple who were basically at the end of their journey and thinking about next steps. I fell somewhere in the middle, in that I already have "Baby Step #1" completed ($1,000 emergency fund) and I've been diligently working multiple part time jobs.

Unfortunately, about halfway through the course I had to stop attending, after I picked up an additional job; having "class" one night a week while attempting to TEACH classes for the first time was just too much for me. Although I did drop out early, I got what I wanted out of the class; a new sense of purpose, the knowledge that I am NOT in this alone, and motivation to continue on my path towards a debt-free life.

If you are struggling to correct the financial mistakes of your past and you are not familiar with Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover, I highly recommend it. One of the suggestions in the book is to use the 'cash envelope' system in which you budget for various costs (such as groceries, entertainment, gas, etc) and pay for all of those items in cold, hard cash. Since part of my course registration included my very own Dave Ramsey cash envelope system, I started using it in mid-September and I haven't looked back since!

Essentially, I pull several hundred dollars out of my checking account at the beginning of the month for groceries, entertainment, gas, and "miscellaneous" purchases. The theory is that we spend LESS money when we have to part with actual cash (rather than throwing down the debit or - horrors - credit card), and that once the money in the envelope is gone, it's GONE. No spending a little extra on this or that, because the money literally isn't there.

Although I don't follow all of the "rules" in that I often borrow money from one envelope (usually entertainment) to fund purchases in another category (usually miscellaneous, which is the bane of my existence), the system has worked well for me. Although I love the convenience of using my debit card at the grocery store, Walgreens, Target, and any of the other businesses I frequent, I never lose track of how much I've spent anymore. If I have $25 left in my entertainment envelope, then I know exactly how much I've spent that month, and what's more, I know how much I have remaining to spend. That's pretty huge for me, as pre-frugal-living I frequently lost track of both my income and my spending.

This is definitely not an 'easy' system to use or to get used to. I'm still figuring how the best plan of attack, and have had to adjust my habits to include actual change! I haven't carried nickels, dimes and quarters around in my purse in years! On the bright side, my change jar has never been more full! Although I'm using Dave Ramsey's "system", this is something you could pick up at the local Target or Office Depot store; get a little expanding file folder (I believe they come in 'check' size, which would be perfect for cash) and you're set!

Does anyone else use the cash envelope system, or anything like it? Do you have any tips to share? If so, please comment!

P.S. If I'm not mistaken, this is Finally Frugal's 300th post! I wonder how many there will be when I can finally announce that I'm debt free? (-:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The other side of the coin. . . .

I'm doing very well with my frugal budgeting; I no longer splurge on nonessential items, and I question each purchase I make. I just started using the Dave Ramsey Cash Envelope system, which I'll write about in a future post.

Anyway, once I began feeling comfortable with my level of frugality, I determined that it was time to attend to the other side of the debt repayment coin: increasing my income.

Last summer, I set a goal for myself to double my take-home income by the end of 2011. At the time, I was bringing home around $2,200 from my full time job (after sending 10% to a retirement plan). I usually bring home about $600 from my long-term part time job, which makes a total of $2,800, which doubled equals an astounding (to me) $5,600!

When I first made this goal for myself, the pessimist in me immediately started thinking: "there is NO way you can do that. Impossible!" In spite of this annoying little voice, I decided to stick with the objective of doubling my take-home pay; after all, why not aim high, right? Since making the goal, I've picked up two additional jobs; although I've not worked long enough at one of them to really have an idea of how much I could make on a monthly basis, I recently created an 'ideal' budget which shows what I could potentially make each month with all of my jobs combined (assuming that part-time job number two works out the way I want it to). Here it is, for your viewing pleasure:

Note that even with Part-Time Job #2 at its maximum, I'm a little short of doubling my take-home pay. But, the good news is that with this budget, I can throw an additional $2,400 at my second mortgage, while continuing to pay $600 toward my student loan each month (which takes care of all the interest and a bit of principle). So for now, I'm happy with this. After all, I did give myself until the end of 2011 to make this happen, and part-time jobs don't just grow on trees; the ones I have took persistence, additional education, and luck to find. I'm still looking, but for now am content with what I've managed to do.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My 'Next Big Thing'. . . . .

So here it is, the Big Plan that is helping me keep my sanity as I continue to work a mind-blowing 65+ hours a week between my four jobs. Well, first here's a hint:

Have you guessed? Not yet? Well, how about this:

Okay, that one was a little silly. So how about THIS:

Yes, you've guessed it! Paris! 'Uh, but what about Paris', you ask? 'You live in the Pacific Northwest, and Paris, France is roughly 6,000 miles away. Also, have you forgotten that you owe $90,000 to the U.S. government and to CitiMortgage?'

Yes, I do know all of that. But I need some kind of incentive to work like a maniac for the next year or two, and what better reward than Paris to keep a girl's eye on the prize?

Several months ago, my best girlfriend, whom I've known since I was six years old, called to see if I wanted to celebrate her birthday with her in Paris. In Spring 2011. I knew that my financial goals wouldn't be met by then (not to mention I had no idea where I would be working and in what capacity) so I told her that Spring 2012 might be a possibility, given that I wanted to have money in savings for the trip (no credit! I've traveled before, and even studied abroad years ago, and came home with nasty credit card bills).

Then, not weeks later a coworker mentioned that she wanted to spend next summer in Paris with a friend. Which started me thinking: Why should I limit myself? Why shouldn't I start living my dreams, once I've gotten rid of the heavy weight of $90,000 in student loan and second mortgage debt? Yes, I'll go to Paris for ten days in Spring 2012 to celebrate my friend's birthday. But what if I started thinking about how I could relocate to Paris, a city I love? I studied abroad in France many years ago, still speak 'un peu' (a little) French, and in reading back over my old travel and study abroad journals, I actually wrote about how much I loved the city and wished I could study there (this was never feasible, unfortunately, given my lack of funding and the requirements of my program).

Perhaps this is just a pipe dream, something that will help me justify the sacrifices I'm making now. Maybe it's a very extreme reaction to the sometimes plodding, nose-to-the grindstone life I'll be living until my debt is repaid. And I know there are people out there thinking that I've lost my everlasting mind. Then again, I've always been a 'planner', I've always looked to the future and matched my actions to my objectives, and this new goal just might be the thing that helps me keep my momentum on this last, long leg of the journey towards frugality, financial independence, and debt-free living.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Veteran's Day. . . .

Sending out a big thank you to all of our servicemen and women who have fought so valiantly, whether in our recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or in any of the previous wars in which our country has been involved. Much as I hate war and love peace, I recognize the sacrifices that soldiers and their families have made in the name of freedom.

I'm also posting (hopefully) a 'seize the day' graphic that I came across recently, and which makes me stop and think every time I see it. Notice that nowhere does it say that happiness lies in the amount of money or 'stuff' in our lives. . . . Enjoy!

Have a lovely day, all, and stay tuned for a post about my Next Big Thing (for after I've conquered my debt, that is!)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New developments. . .

Wondering where Finally Frugal has been lo these many months? Well, I've just snagged my third part time job (making four jobs total: one full time, three part time). So as you can imagine, I'm just a little busy these days. The month of October was really tricky and I wasn't sure I was going to survive it, to be honest.

In an effort to pay off my second mortgage (which will help me to build some equity rather than remaining "underwater" in terms of what I owe versus how much my house is now worth), I've added a part time teaching gig (at a local college) as well as a part time online teaching gig in addition to my online research position. The full time job remains the same, in spite of my graduation with a second master's in June. I'll probably stay there until I've met my next financial goal, and then after that, who knows?

My very, very, VERY optimistic plan is to have the second mortgage (all $30,000 of it) paid off in a little more than one year. As I say, that's incredibly optimistic - I'm not making THAT much at my three jobs. But I want to aim high, rather than succumbing to the idea that I can't do it. It's tough having all these jobs, but also challenging (in a good way), and hey, I can do anything for a year, right?

I'm also chipping away at the student loans ($60,000) although a recent death in the family that resulted in an inheritance (not to me, however) may result in a bit of that debt going away a little quicker than I anticipated. Maybe I WON'T be paying that off until I'm 90!!

Later this week, I'll post a little secret plan that I've been fantasizing about. I've not shared it with any of my friends and family, but what better place to let the cat out of the bag (and maybe get some objective feedback. . . .) than my trusty blog?

I can't promise daily posts (did I ever post on a daily basis?) but if my plans come to fruition, I'd like to renew my relationship with the Finally Frugal blog - it (and my faithful readers) helped keep my sanity while I made the transition from a credit-card carrying shopaholic to a frugal gal who actually THINKS before making purchases (and in cash, these days!)

More to come!

Monday, June 28, 2010

A blast from the past. . .

My current flash drive is full, so I'm moving some school stuff over to another drive that I own, and discovered an Excel spreadsheet showing my credit debt in 2005 (see below). As you can see, I owed almost $25,000 total; and I made less than $40,000 a year. I paid all of this off when I sold my first house (back in the days when homes had equity - sigh).

Of course, I immediately started running up NEW credit card debt after moving and buying another house. But it's interesting to see just how much I owed - for STUPID stuff. I have no idea what I bought at Mervyns (which doesn't even exist anymore) or the Gap (I owed over $1,000!!!! That is INSANE).

By the time I finally came to my senses a few years ago, I think I owed almost $5,000 again - these days if I run higher than $300 or $400 on my credit card from month to month I start getting antsy.

I guess the lesson to me in finding this old accounting of my credit debt is really that I have little to nothing to show for all of that debt. I have my car, which accounted for $4,000 of the $25,000, and a computer which is outdated and rife with computer viruses (and therefore unusable). And that's about it. So the next time I 'have' to have that little item, or those shoes, or that t-shirt, I hope I'll consider all the money I've already wasted in my lifetime on frivolous items. Maybe when I've paid off my student loans and at least my second mortgage (waaaaaay in the future) I can do some frivolous shopping (with cash), but until then I've got to get 'gazelle intense', as Dave Ramsey would say.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Hello, coupons!

With my new plan to live super-frugally - until I've paid off those blasted student loans - I decided to flex my couponing muscles again. I was really just beginning to learn the ins and outs of shopping with coupons a year ago when school got so busy I decided to give them a rest for a bit.

Now, though, with school done and my budget screaming for mercy, I need to get back on the wagon. Today, I went to Safeway and Target to see how much damage I could do, and I must admit I did well. Granted, most of my purchases were non-food related, but it's a start. Here's what I got today; I spent .57 cents for all of this, AND I got a surprise $2 cash-off coupon for the next time I shop at Safeway (AND, I forgot about this: there's a mail-in rebate for the razor, which, if it works, will net me $3.99)!

Since my grocery budget in the new super-frugal world will only be $75 (to include pet food and toiletries and other household items), I'm going to need to find as much 'free stuff' as I possibly can, so that I can spend as many of my pennies as possible on actual food. There's a blog I've been following called Eating Well on $1 A Day, which is quite interesting. I don't want to eat a banana and peanut butter burrito (one of the blogger's staples) anytime soon, but I think there are skills to be learned here.

Happy summer, everyone!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Super Frugal-istic. . . .

I've been doing some thinking about this $60,000 student loan bill, which is growing like a monster each minute I put off my repayment. I want to pay this sucker off as soon as I possibly can, and I'm just starting to consider what I'm willing to do to achieve that.

Today, I looked at my "day job" income (which is 20% lower than it was last year). With 10% going to my 403b, I'm bringing home just over $1800 a month. I logged into my trusty Excel spreadsheet to see what my life would look life if I were 'forced' to live off of just that income (thereby allowing me to send all the income from second jobs to good ole Sallie Mae). Here's what it looks like:

Pretty barebones, eh? I know that in order to make this work, I need complete confidence in my ability to live on $1800 a month, but this just looks unrealistic! Then again, I'm so tired of that $60K hanging over my head.

Since I stopped monitoring every penny I spend, I'll need to begin paying attention again, or this austerity plan will never work. So, starting next month (July 1st) I'll see just how frugal I can be!

Monday, June 21, 2010

A new chapter. . . .

School's out! Meaning, I've finished my graduate program and am now weighing my options (which are somewhat limited in this anemic economy). I will continue my previous job (now at part-time status) as well as my night job, and am trying to pick up teaching gigs on the side. It's tough, since I have little experience; I've really had to promote myself, which is not a 'natural' for me!

I'm so impatient to begin the next chapter of my financial life, yet am finding that the opportunities aren't just dropping into my lap as I'd hoped, so I'm having to learn a little patience and humility (as my many job applications are either ignored or denied). Baby steps!

As far as my financial life, what's on my mind now is the $60,000 in student loan debt that I'm carrying (and which is growing, growing, growing as that interest accrues!) I've been listening to Dave Ramsey's show on my morning MAX commute, which is helping inspire me, but to be entirely honest, the prospect of paying off that much debt is just . . . . daunting! I vacillate between: "I can DO this!" and "There is NO WAY I can do this!" If I could sell my house for what I owe, life would be much, much less complicated (I'm sure many Americans are in the same bind). I literally fantasize about selling my house and living in a cheap apartment, constantly running the numbers in my head, calculating how much extra I'd have each month to pay down that student loan debt.

So that's my current dilemma: how to pay off $60,000 in the shortest possible time on about a $45,000 year salary (including the second job), with about 55% of my take-home pay going towards my mortgage. Yikes! And I've already whittled my budget down as much as I can. Should I bite the bullet and try to find a roommate? I love my privacy, but having an extra $400 or so a month would be bliss!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hibernation. . . .

I suppose I shouldn't title this blog post 'hibernation', as that would imply that I've been sleeping away the past six or seven months. No, I've been busy -- and that's why my hiatus has stretched as long as it has. Not that it's technically over, just yet; but I did at least want to sign back in and let anyone who's still out there (um, anyone still out there?) know that I'm alive and well! It's just that, with working almost 70 hours a week at the day job, the night job, the unpaid internship, along various attempts at socializing, life has been wacky and hectic. Two more months and I'll be calling myself a graduate school survivor -- and one without any additional school debt (let us not forget that $55K in previous student loans I'll be working on as soon as I graduate).

There has been one rather big surprise in my financial life, though. I spent at least a year padding my savings account in preparation for the year of living super-frugally. I figured out how much less money I'd be making in my last year of school, and built a savings account that almost approximated the amount of money I'd need over a nine month period. The surprise? Almost the entire savings account is still in existence!

Somehow, I managed to live on 25% less income without digging into the savings account. I had to replace my computer, and that was really my only big expense. Other than that, I pay my bills each month, on time and in full, and rarely do I think longingly of the things I could buy with the $2500 that still sits in savings -- earning a now-paltry 1.1% interest (down from the high of about 3.75% when I opened the account years ago, pre-recession). I used my credit card over the holidays for travel and gifts, and have managed to pay down the balance to a respectable $250, again without dipping into my savings accounts.

I've been puzzling over this lack of reliance on my savings account, and mentioned this to a coworker. She pointed out that I had already adjusted my spending habits when I was in 'savings mode', putting every spare penny into the bank. My spending habits have remained the same, but I'm just not saving at the same high rate I was before. That's what explains my still-healthy account balances!

In any case, I'll be moving into another financial phase in a couple of months when I graduate; as I mentioned, I'll be starting to pay down that beast of a student loan debt, I'll need to consider what (if anything) to do with my house (sell? rent? stay? move?), and looking around for jobs that pay a little better than the one I have -- which may or may not find me relocating.

Stay tuned!
p.s. hope you all have been successful in your own financial journeys during the past few months! I'm looking forward to finding the time to browse the blogs and forums again, and reconnecting with my online support group!

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