The Kinky Green


On Sacrifices and Liberation

Once I set my mind to the task, Project: Debt Rolldown became my reality.

Money came in, and it went right back out to its various destinations. I scheduled bill payments on payday and watched the numbers on my momentarily fat(ish) bank account dwindle before my eyes in a matter of minutes. What was left, I lived on. No credit card splurges. No dipping into savings for non-emergencies. No exceptions.

Of course, the tallies in my handy spreadsheet (have I mentioned I love a spreadsheet?) were somewhat heartening, if slowly so.

The emergency savings account was gaining monthly, just as it always had (thanks to auto-deductions). Notably, though, for the first time, it was retaining its balance for more than a month or two at a time. No more reverse transfers to cover airline tickets or those tight few days at the end of a pay period.

The credit card balances weren’t showing much of a difference initially, but in the event of… well, an emergency, the emergency savings would keep me from undoing the progress I was making.

I was feeling accomplished in the financial realm. But the day-to-day reality of living within my means didn’t take long to start wearing on me.

Being a Southern gal by birth, learning to politely decline invitations with some version of “thanks, but no thanks” was hard enough for me. But being someone who is already prone to put things somewhat bluntly and living in the land of Facebook-fueled TMI and boundary-less peer pressure, I found myself feeling obliged to explain my reasons for begging out of this dinner and saying I’d have to skip that concert.

Frankly, that just made everyone uncomfortable.

I mean, in the age of buy now, pay never, who wants to hear about one of their friends living on a budget and paying off debt? It’s a total downer, right?

It’s just pizza and a few beers… What’s $20 in the grand scheme of things… Or $40… I’ll get you this time, and you can pay me back… You know (hinthint), I just opened another credit card the other day… What’s one more bit of plastic in the wallet… If things get tough, you can always file… 

Okay, so maybe I didn’t actually hear all of that. But very closely related sentiments were directed my way.

So while I had some friends who were supportive, I had to start putting my foot down with others. I had to stand firm with my vague but polite “no thank you” when the invitations and my budget weren’t aligned.

Let me tell you something… that shit got old. Quick.

There I was, a gainfully employed professional in my late 20s, and I was sitting at home alone because catching a movie with the girls wasn’t in my budget?  Bollocks.

The trusty internets led me to blogs and books and articles galore detailing how to “find” money in my budget. Sure, I got a few useful tips, but what I really learned was that I had already become a tightwad in my actual budgeted expenditures.

No cable. No internet. No home phone. Super low utilities due to my willingness to bundle up and jog in place in winter and strip down and deal with the ‘glisten’ of summer. No real affinity for fancy coffee shop brews.  No car payment. Close to nothing spent on gas. I already cooked most of my meals at home and brought my leftovers to work for lunch. No monthly entertainment subscriptions. The most I typically paid for a book or DVD were whatever late fees I accrued at my local library.

Pulling pennies out of thin air didn’t seem likely to happen, but a few weeks into Rolldown I knew I needed money for beer and bourbon and general badassery.  So I got another job.

A couple of days a week, I put on a T-shirt and some khaki pants, smile at strangers, and make sure they have enough sweet tea in their cups and ketchup for their fries. In return, I walk away with money in my pocket that allows me to get beer and bourbon, join my friends for nights out and weekends away, and buy myself pretty new dresses and cute new shoes. All without disrupting the Rolldown.

It’s a win-win!

I soon learned that revealing this bit of information has a surprising effect on quite a lot of people.

Me: Blah-ti-blah-ti-blah. I have a part-time job.
People Who Surprise Me: Oh… I’m sorry. 

Apparently, working two jobs is a big indication to the folks around you that something in your life has gone terribly, terribly wrong. (And, apparently, some folks’ mothers didn’t teach them to save their pity toward you for polite discussion over a dinner table at which you are not present.)

What these people who surprise me failed to see is that a second job has been my liberation. Yes, it takes up a bit more of my time. And, yes, sometimes it’s tiring. Sure, I could have chosen to sacrifice my fun times and pretty things for my budget, or vice versa. But I didn’t. I chose to keep my D-Day set in stone and to have some fun while doing it.

For me, a second job was what I needed to make all the pieces fall into place.

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Excess Baggage

"Do I worry too much?" by Sam Brown of Explodingdog.com

A little over a year ago, I decided I needed to drop some of the burdensome weight I’d been lugging around with me unnecessarily for too many years.  Excess baggage accumulated via unhealthy habits that began well before college but were fostered and allowed to blossom there, aided by pizza giveaways and the lure of decadent things not meant for one with a tight belt. After college, the bad habits continued to grow in number and scope.

The truth is, the load was keeping me up at night. I couldn’t seem to avoid the endless headlines and water cooler talk about the folks around me who shared my problems. Or had it worse. It made me so uncomfortable I had to skip going places and doing things I otherwise would have loved. I watched as my friends enjoyed delights that I knew, deep down, weren’t for me. And when I did join them, my temporary pleasure was well-surpassed by the guilt and worry brought on my splurges.

When I sat down and took a cold, hard look at the reality of my situation, I knew I had to make some changes. I couldn’t keep behaving like a teenager. Yo-yoing between a firm resolve to abide by strict mandates in my daily life and the overwhelming appetite to get what I wanted when I wanted it, regardless of the lingering consequences. I knew if I didn’t make some changes, there would surely be a reckoning far worse than the relatively light stress I’d been handling so far.

I’d made up my mind.

The debt had to go.

With the economy in the shitter, my then-company doing layoffs at the drop of any old hat, and jobs as scarce as a virgin in a whorehouse, I was in no position to be carrying around credit card debt. And credit card debt I’d accumulated for what, exactly? Cheap wine and expensive beer? Shiny shoes and dull dates (with guys who insisted on going dutch)? Pretty things for my walls and shelves? Gifts I couldn’t afford and dinners out I didn’t need? Clothes, clothes, and more clothes?

The cold reality was the tawdry trinkets and throw-away imports of yesterday weren’t going to keep me warm and secure in the face of  potential financial ruin. And, with no savings in the bank, all my lines of credit nearly maxed out, and no real guarantee of a future paycheck, that’s exactly the tightrope I felt like I was walking, day in and day out.

I knew getting off the tightrope wouldn’t be an easy feat all by my lonesome. I’d need some help. So I consulted some friends who were making dents in their deficit then headed to my local library to check out the works of a couple of folks known for helping the everyday masses handle their money: Dave Ramsey & Suze Orman.

Fortunately, my research revealed that my circumstances weren’t entirely dire.

If nothing changed for the worse in my employment scenario and I could forestall any small financial disasters until I got an emergency fund together, I was confident I could pay off my debt in the 22 months between the start of Project: Debt Rolldown and my 30th in January 2012.

I’ve learned I’m not one for making progress in ethereal realms. (Still meaning to get around to that meditating business…) But concrete goals with measurable outcomes and well-planned, manageable steps to achieving them? Completely attainable. Particularly when there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The original plan:

  1. Build emergency fund of $1,000 in 4 months.
  2. Continue monthly savings to build $2,000 by January 2012.
  3. Meanwhile, pay off credit cards in order from smallest balance to largest.
  4. Turn 30 debt-free! (And take an awesome trip with my besties.)

Project: Debt Rolldown is well underway, and – I’m happy to report – on target. But the journey thus far might be worth a bit more detail.