Friday, April 29, 2011

Day 200 - Weekly Roundup

April 29, 2011

Day 200 - Weekly Roundup
Blogs and articles of note this week....

Storms Ravage the South: How You Can Help: Yesterday tornadoes ripped through six Southern states destroying everything in its path and killing almost 300 people. Having grown up in tornado alley, I understand the serious devastation that can occur. CNN has an article on how you can help out these folks. Just ten bucks could make a difference. If you don't have ten bucks consider donating your time to a worthy organization.

Eventual Millionaire Blog: Ever feel like picking the minds of millionaires for advice? Check out this blog and pick away to your heart's content. Jaime, the blog creator, paid off $70,000 in debt and is on her way to a million. Go Jaime!

NY Times Blog: What Happens if the Debt Ceiling Isn't Raised? Matthew Zames, managing director at JP Morgan Chase and chairman of the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee, writes a letter to Tim Geithner giving his thoughts.

Billshrink.com: Do you live in a state with the highest or lowest average credit card debt? Check out this great infographic. Oklahoma (my original home state) has the lowest average credit card debt - awesome!

Problems with Procrastination? Try Bribery. I think Fortune wrote this piece after following me around for a few weeks.  A discussion of human behavior and how to overcome the widespread procrastination epidemic.

BofA raising interest rates for late payments: Yet another reason to get those credit cards paid off!

Personal Finance on a Napkin: The New York Times has compiled this great series into one page for easy browsing. Money basics explained through graphs and diagrams on - you guessed it - the back of a napkin.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Day 199 - Financial Blogger Conference: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

April 27, 2011

Day 199 - Financial Blogger Conference 
Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The first annual Financial Blogger Conference is this October and I really want to go. Not only will the advice and conversation with seasoned veterans be amazing, but I'm also curious to see how these bloggers interact with each other face to face rather than over blog comments and the Twitterverse. But, as usual, I am hesitant about making this commitment for many reasons.

1. It costs money. It's difficult for me to justify a trip to Chicago while under a strict budget plan. This type of trip seems like a luxury to me especially since my blog writing isn't really bringing in significant income and most of my writing has to do with cutting back my expenses and paying down debt.

2. I'm a logical thinker. If I make the decision with my brain and a few Excel spreadsheets I can easily talk myself out of going. Logically, there is not a good reason for me to attend (at least that is what my head says).

3. I'm afraid. I'm very new at the blog thing. I don't write about my Alexa rating because there isn't much to say. Most of my family and friends don't even know I'm writing this blog. Plus attending this conference with some better known bloggers is intimidating and I am terrible at cocktail conversations.

4. I'll probably be really busy at work. In the past I have used this excuse often and given up many hobbies and social events - so much so that people just stopped inviting me out. Which sucks because I actually enjoy going out.

5. I'm terrible with names and faces. I know all of the dogs' names in my neighborhood but none of the owners' names. I think it's genetic. My Dad and I used to have conversations where 65% of the time was spent describing the people we were discussing because we couldn't remember their names. I might have a panic attack if name badges aren't supplied.

So now here comes the deep breath. I have been reflecting quite a bit on my life these past few months and the way I define myself. A lot of my hesitation about doing most things is because of 1) fear, 2) lack of belief in myself, and 3) craving praise and respect and attempting to find it in the external world (e.g. working way too much and giving up any semblance of self). I am determined to change this way of thinking because it's no way to live. So without further ado, below are five reasons I SHOULD attend the Financial Blogger Conference.

1. What an amazing learning opportunity. A weekend packed full of personal finance bloggers with all types of experience,  advice and motivations.  I can't think of a more exciting way to learn about how to improve the blogging experience for both myself and my readers.  Definitely beats Googling when I can't figure something out. Although it will cost me some money, I know I can make enough extra money on the side that this weekend will ultimately be a small blip on my radar screen.

2. I'm going with my gut. Logic aside, this just feels like the right thing for me to do right now. My gut is telling me this is a positive choice in my life.

3. I'm afraid. I am a Biggest Loser junky and the past few weeks have really focused on working through your fears - whether it be a fear of heights or a fear of failure. I am inspired every week by the ability of these everyday people to overcome whatever fear they are feeling inside. It's time for me to do the same. First stop, Chicago. Then maybe I'll try jumping off the Skytower in Auckland.

4. Work is no longer my life. I'm saying it here first! I have put family, friends and my own health aside to make sure that my work is always done with excellence and perfection. I didn't take breaks or lunches and frequently worked 12 hour days. I got to the point where the way I felt about myself on a certain day was contingent on how a conference call or presentation went for me. "I aim to please" was definitely my motto and if I failed at this I became stressed and full of self doubt. This type of thinking leads to extreme highs and lows in life because your mood is based on an external source. Two words - not healthy. I received a wake up call a few months ago when I was diagnosed with an incurable immune disorder that is exacerbated by stress and fatigue - the first two words in my job description and behaviors I have lived with for many years.  So even though this aha moment was a little forced (Thanks, T-cells!), I am thankful to have finally realized that I'm never going to please everyone no matter how hard I work, and striving for perfection pretty much sets you up to fail. So I'm making a promise to myself to put in my 40 hours, walk away from my desk for lunch and then turn off the computer and smart phone emails at night. I will strive for imperfection and not allow my thoughts to be consumed with work. I will take a few days off in early October so I can go to Chicago!!

5. Just because. No justification, no reasoning, no explanation needed. I'm just gonna do it.

Just registered! Can't wait!

Stay tuned,
Sarah 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Day 198 - 5 Painless Ways to Avoid Debt

April 27, 2011

It's the inaugural edition of Guest Writer Wednesday! If you would like to submit content for The $60K project, check out the guest writer guidelines and send me an email if you are interested.

Day 198 - 5 Painless Ways to Avoid Debt
Joy Paley is a guest blogger for My Dog Ate My Blog and writes on the online psychology degree for Guide to Online Schools.

There are many great, intense commitments that you can make to stay out of debt, like taking time off from college to work, or selling your car and committing to a much longer commute. Besides these big debt busters, however, there are many little, daily steps you can take to avoid debt altogether. Check out these five small rules to live by that will become debt-lowering habits in no time.
 
1. Withdraw a Week’s Worth of Discretionary Spending—Then Leave Your Cards at Home
Putting a latte or bag of chips on your debit card can really add up throughout the week. Instead of carrying your card with you everywhere, withdraw your budgeted discretionary spending cash on Sunday. Tell yourself that that is all the money you have to spend throughout the week, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. This will keep you from overspending, and from buying things you don’t really want.
2. Autowithdraw $100 a Month to Your Long-Term Savings
Your long-term savings account, also known as your emergency fund, is there to cushion you from a number of large, unexpected expenses. Whether your car needs a new alternator or you need to fly home to visit a sick relative, your long-term savings is where the funds will come from. This fund will help end a reliance on credit cards for emergency spending. Set up an automatic withdrawal from your primary account to your long-term savings for at least $100 on a monthly basis, to keep you from forgetting to add to the account and to painlessly help it grow over time.
3. Want Something? Wait a Month
For all discretionary purchases over a limit of $20, don’t buy on a whim. Set up a reminder in your iCal, Google Calendar, or pencil it into your planner a month from today. What might seem to be necessary or highly desirable right now might not look so rosy after you’ve had a month to think about it. In the off chance that it still looks great at the end of your waiting period and fits into your budget, feel free to buy it.
4. Set Low Limits On Your Credit Cards
Those who have a habit of extensive credit card use may need a little more help when it comes to avoiding overspending. To cut the dragon off at the head, give your credit card company a call and request a low spending limit, of say $200-300 dollars on your card. This will take away the option to drastically overspend at all.
5. Get High-Deductible Health Insurance and an HSA
No matter how much you budget and plan, it’s hard to save enough to cover the costs of a serious medical emergency, if you don’t have health insurance. And these days, with more and more people working in a job that doesn’t provide health insurance, this is a real concern. Even if you’re young and cash-strapped, it makes sense to shell out for a relatively cheap, high-deductible insurance plan if you don’t have employer health insurance. You can compare plans on eHealthInsurance—they range from $40 and up, depending on your age. Once you’ve got your high-deductible plan, you can open a Health Savings Account, a special tax-sheltered account that you can use for healthcare costs. Trust me, your $60 monthly premium and $3,000 deductible will be the least of your worries if you get into an accident and rack up tens of thousands worth of medical bills.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day 197 - Bachelorette Party Madness, Part One

April 27, 2011

Day 197 - Bachelorette Party Madness, Part One

And so it begins....I am in charge of planning my best friend's bachelorette party in Las Vegas.  I've got fourteen ladies showing up in mid-May and I managed to wrangle a suite package deal at the Palazzo that includes breakfast, afternoon tea, 3 hours of open bar/apps in the Palazzo Lounge, access to the Azure pool (they keep out the riff raff at this pool according to the staff), access to Canyon Ranch Spa....the list goes on.  Since I'll be driving to Las Vegas, I plan on packing the car full of water and booze (Hello, Two Buck Chuck!) so we can save some money.  I feel like we got a good price and all these amenities, food and booze will help us cut costs for the weekend. But the one albatross around my neck right now is the dreaded table reservation at a nightclub. Although everyone has hinted at trying to have a frugal weekend, this piece of the puzzle seems to be a requirement for the weekend. Here's the catch: There is nothing frugal, from what I can tell, about bottle service in Las Vegas.  Let me give you a few examples:

Tao Nightclub: I was told by a very snotty girl over the phone that to get a table there would require a $2,250 minimum charge (bottles start at $450) PLUS 8% tax and 20% gratuity. Total price per person - about $230. Note: I'm assuming the bride will not be paying for this so it will be split 13 ways.

Chateau at Paris Las Vegas: Although Lance quickly replied via email to my request for information, he was also just as quick to tell me that bottles start at $500.  I haven't responded back to his email yet.

Marquee Nightclub at the Cosmopolitan: So far the most "affordable" option. For $2,145 we get two bottles of vodka, mixers and a "complimentary" (how generous) bottle of house champagne. Plus we get the table all night as opposed to being kicked out after three hours. Total cost per person - $165.

Seriously? Am I just way out of the loop? Do you know how many kick ass bottles of Justin Isosceles, Far Niente, Midleton Rare Irish Whiskey or ________(insert your booze of choice here) this could buy? Don't get me wrong, I've done the bottle service before at about $100 a person and it is definitely fun - yet still a total ripoff. Except for the fact that they escorted me to the front of the bathroom line every time - that might actually be worth 100 bucks!

I need your help! Are we destined to pay this much or is there something I don't know? PLEASE, PLEASE leave your comments. I'm begging you - help a fellow frugalista out.

Stay tuned,
Sarah

Friday, April 22, 2011

Day 193 - Weekly Roundup

April 22, 2011
Day 193 - Weekly Roundup
 Blogs and articles of note this week....

The Debt Diet Challenge: Looking for five people to try out Jean Chatsky's Debt Diet program.  In exchange for regular progress updates that will be posted to credit.com, you will receive a year of free access to the the Debt Diet.
Consumerism Commentary: Great podcast related to financial literacy in honor of Financial Literacy Month.  Topics include financial clutter, 

Questbridge: Sending kids to college soon? Questbridge is a non-profit organization that links bright, motivated low-income students with educational and scholarship opportunities at some of the nation's best colleges.  See the National College Match program which connects high-achieving low-income students with admission and full scholarships to 30 partner colleges (including Princeton, Notre Dame, Yale and many other great schools).

Best 25 Financial Blogs from Time.com: Looking for some good reads on a more advanced personal finance level? Think investing, market and economic analysis, housing trends, financial reports.  A lot of this is over my head right now, but after the debt is paid off it will be important for me to understand these concepts as I focus more on investments and retirement.

Free airline tickets to Europe?  I'll give it a read.  This blog post is courtesy of GetRichSlowly.org - even if you don't use credit cards you may still find a way to reap some reward.
When will you be a millionaire?  Find out with this cool calculator from cnnmoney.com. I've got a ways to go - how about you?

Happy Easter weekend! Don't eat too many peeps and don't drink too many bottomless mimosas.

Stay tuned,
Sarah

Friday, April 15, 2011

Day 186 - Weekly Roundup

April 17, 2011

Day 186 - Weekly Roundup
There are so many great blogs and articles out on the "Internets" I thought I would try to incorporate a few of the extra special tidbits I read each week.  Some focus on money and budgeting, but others may just be about life.


Blogs and articles of note this week....
KevinMD.com: Considering medical school?  Make sure you understand the true cost of attending - very eye opening.

Time Magazine blog: 204 Money Tips: Ways to Find Jobs, Get Free Shipping, Avoid Debt and Impulse Purchases, and More

Time Magazine blog: 78 Money Tips: Why it's Sexy to be Frugal, Secrets Your Jeweler Never Reveals, and more.  Make sure you check out '24 Quick Actions You Can Do Today to Change Your Financial Life Forever'.

Cordelia Calls It Quits: Some of the most insightful and witty blog writing out there - one of my favorites.

Kiplinger: Ever wondered how long it will take you to pay off that credit card balance?  Use this handy dandy tool from Kiplinger to find out.


Stay tuned,
Sarah

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Day 181 - Mid-Year Review

April 12, 2011

Day 181 - Mid-Year Review
Image: scottchan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I'm taking a page out of my 12 Steps to Debt Freedom and writing about Step 12: Celebrate Your Victories today.  We are almost exactly halfway through the 365 days to pay off $60,000 - and I'm happy to report we are ahead of the game!  Over the past six months we have cut our budget, vowed to make money on the side and cut our budget even more.  We have lived on one paycheck and even gotten to the point where people we know comment "You don't go out much, do you?".  No, we don't and thanks for rubbing it in!  My parents did not pay for my education and buy my first house so why don't you stick it where.......but I digress.  As Dave Ramsey would say, we are weird.  But right now it feels good to be weird.  Here is a recap on our goals and progress:

Goal #1: Pay off $60,000 in 365 days.  To date, we have paid off $31,746 in 181 days.  That is about $175 a day - over $5,000 a month.  That's about 70% of our "take home" pay (the amount actually deposited in our accounts on payday).  Sounds rather impossible when I look at the numbers, but see goal #2 to understand how we were able to do this.

Goal #2: We need to bring in $10,000 each of additional income this year.  Based on the numbers we calculated at the beginning of this ordeal challenge, we realized there was no way to pay off $60,000 just using our current income.  In order to meet our goal, we would need to bring in about $20,000 of additional income beyond our monthly paycheck.  This is one goal I wasn't sure we could reach, but I'm happy to report that we have accomplished this goal after only six months!  Thanks to some well-timed bonuses, second jobs and just plain hard work.  I am particularly proud of this because this is an area where we could have easily slacked and used as an excuse when we didn't get to $60k.  But we have sacrificed and it is paying off.

Goal #3: Create a bi-monthly budget and stick to it.  It's definitely difficult to stick to a budget at first, especially when you are used to just buying whatever you want when you feel like it.  But you know how they say it takes at least 30 days to create a new habit - maybe more like 90 in our case but we finally figured it out.  There are some months I wonder what the heck we were spending our money on before because we actually have a good amount left over in the bank account now.  I've gone from trying to make a paycheck last until the end of the pay period to trying to figure out if there is anything we need to buy with the extra money we have. It feels so great.  I actually look forward to paying our bills and updating our budget.  Like I said before, we're weird.

So what did we do this past weekend?  We went out to eat Thursday night, Friday night, and Sunday morning and went clubbing with our friends until the wee hours Saturday night (yes, we actually do like to go out).  We celebrated.  And it was the best $120 bucks we have spent in a long time.  Now back on the wagon so we can finish strong (and dare I say exceed our $60,000 goal?).

Stay tuned,
Sarah

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Day 174 - April Update

April 5, 2011 
Day 174 - April Update

The first (give or take) and fifteenth of each month I will update you on the status towards our goal of paying off $60K in one year.

** Check out the Real Time Debt Tracker!!! Keep up to the minute tabs on our debt balance and whether we can pay it off in 365 days! 

Almost at the halfway mark! We are almost halfway through are $60K Project year and I am excited to say we are right on track.  To date, we have paid off $29,795 of our debt - almost exactly half of our goal.

Challenges: Unusual medical bills and travel seem to be our albatross' this year.  Fortunately, most of our medical bills can be paid out of the Health Savings Account but this money is quickly running out.  And on the bright side (I think), we are prepaying our travel for trips that are required in the near future and sending only one of us when possible to keep expenses at a minimum.

Extra $$$: We've got about $10K of extra income coming in over the next few months.  Second jobs, retroactive raises and tax refunds are going to put a HUGE dent in our debt.  Can't wait!!  Our hard work is really paying off.

Additional Cutbacks: Our budget has almost become second nature to us now.  We are down to only buying the bare necessities and have limited our eating out to almost nothing with a few exceptions due to moments of weakness.  What can we say, we're human - if we behaved perfectly we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place.

Stay tuned,
Sarah
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