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How do you define your finances?

Driving to New Mexico, I looked over at my friend and said those miraculous words, "So... How are your finances?"

Had somebody asked me that today I would have started rambling about my savings account, what I'm paying for school, my recent scholarship, my debt I've paid off. Finances to me means, accordingly, everything money.

Finances to my friend meant what she has available and what she owes on her credit card.

Which is true, those are finances. Her response allowed me to take a glimpse into her world on a monetary level. My finances are definitely a positive thing. I'm enthusiastic when I tell people what I've achieved this year. I don't just pay off debt, I knock out debt *punch punch*. I don't just save money, I boost my savings. I didn't just get a scholarship, I was truly blessed!

Is it that much different from saying what you owe and how much you have left in your checking account?

I'm going to give a boisterous, HELL YEAH to that question.

If you spend your entire day being positive about everything you've accomplished and keeping an open mind to any troubles that come your way, you'll fare much better.

If you spend your entire day fretting over negativity and retract when things become challenging, you'll wish you never climbed out of bed.

So why should talking about your finances be any different? My friend didn't give me details, but from her viewpoint I could tell that she wasn't financially where she wanted to be. And instead of reminding me that she just recently paid off her Tempur-Pedic mattress or that she's begun saving for her summer vacation abroad after she graduates, she focused on what she hasn't accomplished yet.

Changing how you look at your finances, understanding that you've made some progress along with any setbacks and just being nice to yourself could help you boost yourself in the right direction.

One bite at a time...

Confessions of a Debtaholic

Confessions of a Debtaholic:

This time last year I didn't want to think about my credit score, who I owed, HOW MUCH I owed. All I wanted to do was push it all away, make it disappear. The "letters" I'd get in the mail would miraculously get lost in my bedroom and then I'd find them weeks afterward and give a quick farewell/ohwell shrug and into the trashcan they'd go. They were already late anyways, might as well wait for the next one to come in the mail...

But I couldn't throw it all away. I couldn't go a day without thinking about them. I couldn't see them, but they were still there. I was still terrifyingly in debt. It was terrifying because I didn't know my credit score, because I didn't know who I owed anymore. But mainly because I didn't know how much I owed. I would fret that the figure had grown astronomically over the two year hiatus I took. I envisioned never being able to buy a car, a house. If an emergency were to ever arise, I'd imagine the ambulance drivers refusing to transport me to the emergency room without putting money down. I didn't know my credit score, but I felt that everyone else did.

I suffered from a severe case of finance paranoia.

"There she is!"
"What do you mean 'who'? The girl who owes $480,000,000!"
"Oh my goodness! She's such a horrible person! Quick! Let's walk on the other side of the street, lest we catch her bad money bug!"

Talk about my finances?! Are you kidding? Who would I talk to? My parents, so they could know that I intentionally ruined my life and let them down? My friends, so they would feel sympathetic to my situation but would cease to want to hang around me? My boyfriend, so he could know that I didn't feel good enough for him and I suffered from such a severe case of dis-financia that I'd probably drag him down with me?

No thank you.

I was content to sit there, terrified of the mail, and do nothing and accept no emotional support from anyone. If no one knew there was a problem, then there was no problem. It was private and personal and it was killing me.

Then the lawyer called, demanding payment or I'd be sued. Who took the call? My dad. My dad who instructed me on the day I moved out to take care of my credit first and foremost before I spent any money on anything else. My mom quickly whispered something about never going hungry once my dad was out of earshot. Yes, that dad took the call from a lawyer saying I owed $650 to be paid before months end or I'd potentially face jailtime.


Whoa whoa whoa... what? Jail? Seriously? It wasn't that far off the mark from how i felt. I felt like I was a bad person. I felt like I deserved to be punished. Paying back what I owed was the least form of punishment they could dish out. After that call, I had to sit down with my mom and explain my situation... most of it. Even when I was finally confiding in some one, I couldn't give the whole story. I couldn't tell her everything, then she'd know and she'd feel as bad as I did. I told her about the two credit cards and the issue the lawyer was calling about... I didn't tell her about the other two credit cards or the broken leases or the other debts that I'd pushed so far off my mind I'd forgotten about; money-nesia.

She was disappointed, but anxious to help. But how could I bring my mom into this mess? How could I put so much financial mental stress on my family, when it wasn't their fault nor their problem? A polite decline and an assurance I'd have it taken care of and I went back to my world of solitary confinement, with only my scarlet lettered credit to keep me company.

In the meantime, I spent money like it was going out of style. Food, beer, parties, movies, gas, cellphone, anything! Everything! I was like a stock broker (BUY BUY BUY!) except not very good at it. Soon I was paying more to my bank on overdraft fees than I was on anything else. Packs of cigarettes went from costing me a little over $5.00 to costing over $40.00. Gas was a little over $3.00 a gallon, but after averaging in an overdraft fee, was easily over $6.00. Some paychecks lasted as long as it took to drive to the bank to deposit them and instantly it was all gone to pay for last weeks siesta, fiesta, or what have you.

I'd have 30 minute conversations with my bank about my account over the phone:
"There is absolutely no way I could have spent that much money. I think I'm a victim of identity theft!"
"Well lets take a look at your account... Did you buy groceries last week?"
"Did you get gas?"
"Food at subway? Burger king? Pizza? Liquor store?"
"errr. Ya."
"Clothes at Ross, Marshalls, Hot Topic, Forever 21?"
"Oh well here's something.. Do you have an online subscription?"
"No! Finally, you see, identity theft!!!"
"Okay well, we'll take a look at this subscription."
"Oh wait... no that's me too."

I'd beg I'd plead and I'd give myself a cheesy grin and a pat on the back when they'd drop one or two of the handful of overdraft fees I incurred. Wonderful news! Of course the bank knew all along, giving me back the overdraft fee enabled me to spend outside my means again and owe them more in the end. I didn't know this. I was just pleased that I had my $35.00 and that I'd "stuck it to the man". *grrrrr*Serious face*grrrr*

And then I decided to take a peak, just one peak, appease my curiousity. Not lose anymore sleep over trying to sort it all out. Time to check out my credit score. Logged on to the free site, entered in more information than I was comfortable with and there I was. Staring face to with my worst nightmare.

One, two, three, four,..... ten, eleven... twelve! I owed twelve different companies, most of whom I'd never heard of! Reading down the list $112, $254, $713, $3600... WAIT!? What? $2500!? What are those... A brief spat of hyperventilating and my eyes regained focus. Like flashes of lightning I worked the total out on a calculator.

Needless to say it added up to a significant sum.

But I knew. I wanted to know then and then I knew. I'd done my part. Continue pushing it all around in my mind, sorting and categorizing and trying to decide which gets paid first.. who gets what? How I could afford it all and how long it would take me.

And if possible I felt worse about myself. How was I to get a loan for school with credit like that? What if I had to stop going to classes because I was a major screwup and one year of fun and reckless abandon was going to haunt me for the rest of my life?

Questions, questions, questions! Nonstop. Worry, panic, fear... what makes me feel better? SPEND SPEND SPEND. More overdrafts, more begging, more hiding...

On the outside, I was physically the same person. I laughed, I played, I worked hard... On the inside, I hated myself for getting myself so in over my head.

What changed between then and now?

Priorities, responsibilities, and the determination to love myself again.

Amazing how much can change in one year. Sitting comfortably atop two debts that seemed astronomical before; while, they're still pretty big I'm biting off managable chunks and I feel good. I've changed financial institutions, politely flipping the bird from one bank to embracing a credit union that genuinely wanted to help me. Everything is manageable and nothing is critical anymore. All of my payments are on my schedule and on my terms.

While I'm not perfect and I don't have the miracle cure for your bad money bug, I can tell you that I was in a place that no person should put themselves in. And I'm surviving and in some ways thriving. And I believe in myself. I can do this.

What to do when shopping...

I went to the outlet mall this weekend with friends and I felt I could fit a little treat into my budget. I withdrew twenty dollars from the atm and being savvy and sly left my debit card in the car to avoid temptations.

After buying a pair of new shoes for five dollars and a few pieces of jewelry I realized that this whole budgeted shopping experience was equally as fun as shopping with reckless abandon!

That is until I stepped into another costume jewelry store... and noticed the sale... 10 for $10...

I'm a sucker for cheap flashy jewelry. *eyes wad of cash and coins* Nope not $10. But I'd have to buy 10 items in order to get a decent sale on anything... Instead of asking my friends to spot me a few bucks I contemplate running out to my car to get my debit card. I resist the urge and was just about to give up on my purchase entirely before my hand instinctively found the checkbook in my purse.

Moral: You plan and you budget and you make decisions for a reason! Stick to them and avoid temptation. I now have 10 items that I got at a costume jewelry store, but I'd much rather be able to blog about willpower and self-control today.

What not to do...

I'm not going to name names, but I have a story to share.

About two weeks ago a dryer went out. The dryer would spin endlessly and never shut off but wouldn't dry the clothes. Flabbergasted the family decided it was time to get a new dryer. They set their old dryer onto the curb where it was quickly gobbled up by a neighbor and set out to buy a new dryer.

And boy did they get a good deal! It was on clearance at the store and was below what they were expecting to pay so they bought it! Brought it home. Hooked it up.

Didn't work.

Of all the rotten luck! The one dryer on clearance was, of course, busted. So they hauled it back and had to purchase a more expensive model. They brought it home. Hooked it up.

Didn't work.

Moral: If you have to make a major replacement purchase do two things: check to see if it can't be repaired and... make sure the problem is actually with the appliance and not with the wall its plugged into.

It will save you two trips of loading and unloading and the cost of replacing the appliance that you set out to the curb that had nothing wrong with it.

After planning, comes the doing

I practice what I preach. For the most part. I have got my planning skills fine-tuned and honed in on the most efficient way to handle the financial challenges that are thrown my way. But like a vast majority of things I plan for, I'm not following through with as much energetic enthusiasm on the "doing" compared to the "planning".

How does this happen?

Well take the vast majority of Americans retirement savings. Half the paid workers ages 25 to 64 don't own retirement savings accounts of any kind. People plan to live as long as possible. People don't plan on working for the rest of their lives. So whats the holdup? Why aren't more people planning for their own retirement? We've all heard the recent news that Social Security is running out on a timeline that is falling short of previous estimates.

So what do most of us do?

We plop down in a chair, pencil and paper in front of us, start writing down what we make, what we hope to make in the future, how much we can afford to put away. Move to another chair, plop down in front of the computer find a savings calculator or 401k calculator online plug in our numbers and sit in awe at the results of compounded interest. The more ambitious will take it a few steps further, comparing funds and different risk options, but for the most part we see the results and we know the "what if".

The "what if" is enough for us. If we start saving now, if we save this much, if we invest here, we'll have this much in the end. The "what if" is a mentality we could all do without. The "what if" needs to change to simply "when and will".

When I retire I will need x amount of money to live.
When I get paid, I will need to deposit x amount into my retirement savings.

Transforming your retirement savings goals from the theoretical to the actual is as simple as changing your expectations of yourself and the realization that you are ultimately responsible for yourself.

So how does this example apply to me? I have plans up to my eyeballs. They're not going to accomplish themselves, no matter how many times I tweak and retweak them. When I get done with this email, I will start the "doing".

Finals Finals Finals!

The great thing about studying until 2:00 a.m. for finals is that your awake til 2:00 a.m.

Everythings closed.

You can't spend money.

But alas, your blogging brain tends to malfunction.

I'm holding on to my money...

I spent a little under thirty dollars this week on non-debt related purchases. I've taken my lunch to work everyday, popped into one of my piggy banks to pay for my gas for the week, and stayed in. I'm pleased with the results and if I can do this once or twice a month, I think my spending habits that I haven't been able to purge, will be curbed more frequently than not.

How to take your food to work:
Step one: Go to your local dollar store. Pick up the best quality tupperware they have. Buy one of each size (sandwhich, rectangle and bowl). Dollar Tree has the containers with the snappy sides to ensure a secure seal. Its better to spend money once for an equivalently priced item as saran wrap or tinfoil than to continue replenishing after its been used.
Total for step one: $3.00 (+ tax)

Step two: Create a menu. Nobody wants to eat Cup A Noodles everyday of the week (or any day of the week). So sit down and think about what you're currently eating at the office ( Bean burritoes, veggie burgers, salads, soups, pasta, etc.) and mimic your fastfood/takeout tastes. Unsure how to make a pesto? Research, get your recipe, create your shopping list and proceed.
Total for step two: free

Step three: Shop for your lunch. If you're priority is to save money and get everything in one stop, well WalMart is the logical choice. If you're priority is to "stick it to the man" or "support local markets" well you already know where to go and what to expect. For savings purposes, I'll stick to what I know... WalMart. Not only does WalMart accept nearly every coupon known to man, they also to price challenging if you bring in a competitors add. Your research from step two should have provided you a list with everything you'll need to buy today. Before you step into the store, google your items on the internet ("bocca patties" AND "coupon") and see if you can't pull up any internet deals. Open up the paper and see if you find any specials or coupons for your item on sale at a different store in town. Armed to the teeth to spend as little as money as possible you're ready to shop. Use your good judgement when knowing how much to spend. A veggie burger costs $2.59 at Burger King. A pack of four veggie patties costs $2.98 at WalMart. We have a loaf of bread and condiments at the office, so in terms of fastfood standards, thats a buy one get three free deal.
Total for step three: The amount your used to spend on fast food a week each day times five divided by two... spend less than that. (I spent sixteen dollars last week on fast food at the office, my goal would be to spend less than eight dollars at the store.)

Step four: Prepare your lunch before you go to bed, or grab it in the morning and microwave it at lunch if its a simple meal.

Justifiably Finals...

Its that time again folks! The entire semester is culminating into one week and after that week SWEET MERCIFUL FREEDOM! Well until Summer semester starts up again. But don't head off to the bars just yet to celebrate your inevitable success on this hellish week.

We make informed purchases, budgeted purchases under normal circumstances, but through in a handful of stress and those well-mannered shopping skills get thrown away. They are inevitably replaced with "justified" purchases.

A "justified" purchase is when you compromise your budget or your plan to allow certain outside factors to infect your spending trends. I stayed in all week and ate only ramen... I'm going out this weekend and having fun because I saved so much money! While I'm the number one supporter of having fun, spending money to reward yourself for saving is a recipe for disaster. You save money during the week, you spend most of what you saved over the weekend, you wake up monday and feel like a failure.

And when you feel like a failure, you --unfortunately-- begin to act like a failure. I spent all the money I saved, gosh I feel bad... Starbucks! That'll cheer me up. And quickly your "justified" spending over the weekend leads way to more "justified" spending. I've already failed at saving, won't matter if I buy this grande cinnamon dulce latte with extra whip... I've already failed. And pretty soon you've compromised your budget completely nearly undoing everything you've saved for.

Mind you, this is an extreme example, but to tell you the truth, this is how I was just last year. I didn't have a handle on my finances. I was more comfortable with feeling horrible about my three or four overdraft charges eating up my paycheck and wasting the rest away on spending that didn't help me at all, than sitting down and getting my act together.

Money is a scary thing. When you have it, you want things. When you don't have it, you want more things. When you've never had it, you want very little.

The very little being the bare necessities: food, shelter, utilities, etc.

So if you were able to relate to past me, in my above upper monologue, than you need to make an executive decision: continue justifying your failures and pay the bank or start making a plan to pay yourself.

My failproof plan for paying yourself:
1.) People with less, want less, or at least want on a smaller scale. Take care of your basic living essentials (basic does not involve catalogs, websites, or the mall) first. Perfect your budget so you are only buying what you need instead of what you want.

2.) Sit down with your credit card bills and your debt and make a plan. The snowball effect works wonders, sets your balances up to be paid highest interest first. Read my first posts.
You may be fearful of where to start, don't worry, being overwhelmed is a sign that you're on the right track. I was fortunate enough to be in a position where I could pay a little to each debt monthly until my little bites turned into complete gobbles. Going from eight debts down to two has been a great achievement of mine, so I know that eliminating debt will make you feel wonderful about yourself. ITS TRUE! YOU'RE NOT A FAILURE!

3.) Eliminate justified thinking. I think that the savings gurus have been too far gone from the days of wallowing helplessly in a debt cycle to truly understand how people will react when they say "treat yourself... you've done a good job!". While I'm all for positive reinforcement, I think that "treat" should be defined and should be an informed decision. Treating to the gurus includes: going to the movies, buying a new shirt, going to the coffeehouse, buying ice cream, etc... But honestly, those are all things that could be detrimental to a budget or plan when taken from a justified purchase state of mind. Going to the movies does not mean go to the movies with three of your friends and buy a combo a piece. Buying a new shirt does not mean designer label. Coffeehouse does not mean the largest size most expensive drink with a pastry on the side. Ice cream... well that one might be safe. The point is you've been going at your saving from an informed state-of-mind, make sure that any "treats" you feel you've earned are still within that state of mind. No sense in setting yourself backward so you can have that new Coach bag.

4.) Whatever is left over after paying for your bills and contributing to your debt, should be cut in half. Use one half to pay yourself by depositing into your savings account, the rest to spend on your basic essentials (food, clothing, school etc.) If its not enough money than you have two options available: Make more money or Spend less money.

It may not be failproof and it may not work for you, but its my plan and I'm done settling and I'm happy paying myself.


What a great month April was! How does the saying go, "in like a ferocious maneating alien as tall as mt. everest from planet WeUseHumansAsToothpicks... out like a lamb?" I'm sure it was something like that. Or maybe I'm thinking of march.. anyhow!

I have some exciting news! I... have... a....SCHOLARSHIP!!! :)

I was awarded a scholarship by my local chapter of NAWIC (National Association of Women in Construction) and let me tell you I could not be more pleased, nor more happier and thankful to those wonderful women.

I would like to take this time to revisit the process of getting scholarships.

My previous post I told you how to find scholarships on the internet. While this can only produce positive results (even if you don't get receive any scholarships, you've undoubtedly perfected your essay writing skills) you should not overlook your local options.

Most scholarship funds are set up with a certain candidate in mind. Whether that be a single mother entering the nursing field or a first generation ESL college student, the chances of being able to qualify for a specific scholarship is pretty good. The options available to you locally possess greater odds than obtaining a scholarship outside your community.

Contact your local chamber of commerce and see if they are currently sponsoring or donating to any scholarship funds. Also mention your degree plan and career intentions and ask to be put in contact with any local businesses that potentially would be interested in speaking with you to help further your education. If you are a minority, most major cities have chambers for specific minorities. Here in el paso we have the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as well as a fund for Women: El Paso Commision for Women. Major cities also have more than one chamber, do your research--cough cough google--and make sure to leave no avenue unchecked!

Also if you know what you want to major in, see if there are some local associations or organizations that specialize in professionals of the same career field. For example, The Structural Engineers Association of Texas has an El Paso chapter worth looking into for scholarship opportunities, if you are majoring in structural engineering or a similar field it's definitely worth looking into.

Don't forget to speak with your financial aid advisor at your high school (if you're still enrolled), at your college administration building, or at your local VA for those with military experience. Speak with those individuals in your life you consider mentors, see if they have heard or read of any opportunities. Your church may have a fund for active members to help with the costs of classes or books or they may donate to a specific fund.

IT NEVER HURTS TO ASK! Only hurts you if you don't...