Amanda Dorough | She's Paying It Off

The Story of My Journey to Debt Freedom, One Tiny Step at a Time


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No Spend Challenge 2020: MARCH Recap

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Well that didn’t go as planned…

Me on March 1:  Yay!  I have so many awesome things planned in the next couple of months!  2020 is going to be great!

Me on April 1: *glazed over eyes* If I really ration my toilet paper I may be able to make it ’til May…

While we were all hyper-aware of Covid 19 a month ago it was still so foreign to most of us and mostly a joke to the American public.  Now stay at home orders are in place, TP is worth its weight in gold, and the “curve” is definitely not flattening.

Looking back on March it was a fairly successful month, both because I put forth the effort and because I didn’t have the choice.  While it feels weird to talk about going out, having fun, and social wins right now, in order to do March justice and celebrate the good things I’ve done when it comes to my No Spend Challenge I’m still going to write about it here.

Now just note the most of these things I’m writing about took place BEFORE all the social distancing and stay at home orders were put in place.

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So let me start with slip ups…

Honestly, I didn’t slip up to bad.  I got a drink from chickfila once to go along with a free sandwich (I know it’s sooooo bad, but it broke my wants vs needs rule)… but at this point, weeks later I can’t even remember what my other “slip up” was.  I know it didn’t break the bank at least so that’s what matters.

I did, unfortunately, have to get a root canal done, which was unexpected BUT because I had set money aside in January/February I had more than enough to cover it, which was encouraging.

Now some cool things from the month…

-So I’m a paramedic and a lot of events like to offer first responders discounts or free tickets, especially when the events don’t sell out.  It is actually really cool and generous.  Anyway, I never really paid attention to them in the past because they’re usually pretty last minute, but now that I’m trying to enjoy my year while simultaneously spending as little as possible I thought it would be worth a look.  That’s how I managed to score tickets to a Houston Roughnecks XFL game (off-season professional football) and had a ton of fun!  I went with my work partner and only ended up spending $7.50 on ticketmaster fees to get our tickets, tickets that would have been $50 each not including the fee if we’d had to pay for them!  We also parked away from the stadium so parking was free and the subway style train is free in Houston on Sundays so we didn’t have to pay for that!

*Note these kind of deals also apply to active military and veterans so if you fit into that category you should definitely look into it! (It’s called 1sttix.org for first responders and vettix.org for veterans)

-Speaking of free things to do, Movies.  I refuse to pay to go to the movies this year (unless it’s a date) so that led me into the world of advance screenings.  I’ve been using advancescreenings.com which lets you look up your city and then gives you links as to where to get the passes.  It can sometimes be hard to score a ticket, depending on how popular the movie or actor is, but if you can it’s an awesome opportunity.  I got to go to an advance screening for “I Still Believe” earlier in the month when movies were still allowed and I had a great time.  The only thing to note is even if you score a pass a seat isn’t guaranteed.  Get to the theater early (like about 45 minutes for a regular movie; a lot more for a popular one) to get your actual ticket.  Now obviously this isn’t something you can take advantage of at the current moment, but as soon as the theaters reopen, go for it!

-A big win for me…I used my creativity to finally get some things done that had been on my list.  Like finishing a “painting” I started about a year ago but didn’t have the inspiration to finish. I also turned an old, grimy, used up Bath and Body works candle jar into a votive holder for a pillar candle that had been sitting in my closed for years.  Now I can use it during my relaxing at home bath “spa” time.

– I found several apps on my fire TV that offer free shows and movies which is awesome!  I’m currently working my way through “The Middle” on IMDB TV.  There is around 1 (singular) commercial every episode, but for enduring the 1 commercial I get free entertainment.  That’s soooooo much better than HULU which makes you pay AND watch more commercials.

Now for some Stats…

Side hustle income: $48, so not even half my goal of $100.  With social distancing though, once that went into effect I couldn’t justify going out to complete most audits.  Some, like restaurant based audits were canceled too.  (This doesn’t include the 72 hrs I worked at my part time job)

Money to Debt: $2462.97 (This includes minimums)

Now here comes April… In about a week and a half they’re expecting a big surge in Covid-19 cases so my full time job changed up our schedule from 48 on/96 off to 24 on/48 off until the middle of May.  Overall it’s not a massive inconvenience but it does mean two things…

  1.  I’ll be driving to and from work twice as often so I’ll be spending more money on gas.
  2. I won’t be able to pick up as many shifts at my part time job if any.

I guess we’ll see how it all goes.  Until then, keep social distancing everyone!  Let’s prove all the models and projections wrong. And for everyone stuck at home having to get creative, I’d love to see all the ways you’re saving money or upcycling things you have, feel free to share!

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No Spend Challenge 2020 FEBRUARY Recap

Picture_20200308_134942945(*Now, just to make a note, I share the following just to share my experience through this no spend challenge and my debt free journey hopefully inspire others.  These are my own experiences, my own wins and challenges that I mainly share because I know it inspires me to read about what other people are doing or have done as well.)

Hello Everyone!  We made it to March!  Two months down, many more to go.  I’ve admittedly meant to sit down and write this blog for days now but I’ve been enjoying a good mix of living and relaxing that I can’t complain about.

So let’s get to it.  February was actually a pretty good month.  I stuck to my guns and had no big slip-ups outside of my “needs” and allowances!

That being said I did have a couple disappointments financially…

  • I paid more in electricity than I wanted to.  I’ve had a lot of issues with my Thyroid for years.  In December I went through my second round of radioactive iodine to essentially kill it off.  Well, needless to say it worked and I have been FREEZING for the last month which meant turning up the heat in my apartment a bit (because even wearing layers couldn’t compensate).  It only came out to $53 but that was $10 more than January which in the grand scheme is pretty freaking good, just disappointing to me.
  • I went through a couple tolls for convenience’s sake.  For the most part I avoid them, and I actually allow for some toll usage in my budget, but I try to record each time I do it.  In February I didn’t.  I know I’m being nit picky, but every little bit counts.
  • I was going to cancel Disney Plus but was trying to finish the Mandalorian first.  Well I finally finished The Mandalorian but missed canceling Disney Plus by one day (facepalm) so I’ll have it for one more month.

Now for the good things in February!

  • I cash flowed my taxes!  I know this may sound weird, but I saved more than enough in January to pay the $950 plus preparation fees etc. which feels good.
  • I successfully completed my Pantry Challenge!  From the middle of January until the end of February I was cooking solely from my cabinets with the exception of staples like milk, eggs and fruits/veggies.  I won’t lie, there were days where leftovers felt like the worst thing ever, and the firefighters I work with would make fun of me for it (all in jest) but I spent <$50 on groceries in 6 weeks.  That is a win.
  • I was on top of things with my good habits challenge!  I finished 5 books in February which blew my goal of 2 books out of the water.  I also followed my oral care plan to the T.  I had a dentist appt on the 27 for a cleaning and the hygenist commented that I had almost no build up!  Hooray!  I still have a lot of things I need to fix, but for the time being, I’m not doing further damage.
  • I found out about the Texshare card!  I was disappointed to learn that my library didn’t have a few books I wanted and it would cost me $3 per book to do an interlibrary loan.  My library does however participate in the Texshare program which allows members in good standing to go to other participating libraries to check out books, which means, I can go to the Austin libraries and get the books I wanted, for free!

Free and fun stuff…

  • February was Black History month and for a couple select days I found out Regal Theaters was offering free screenings of Harriet so I decided to take advantage of it and I’m so glad I did!  Going to the movies, or moreover paying for movies (outside of dates) isn’t allowed on my wants vs needs list so it was fantastic to get to enjoy the theater.  It also opened up a whole world of free advance screenings to me, so, after some research, it looks like I may be getting to enjoy more free movies in the future.  Don’t worry I’ll share details so you can enjoy it too when I know more!
  • I went to Mardi Gras Galveston with my friend/work partner Shannon.  This is the third year I’ve been and it’s just so much fun (and no, unlike popular belief you don’t have to do crazy things to get beads, at least not in Galveston).  I used my social budget to get some food that day, but made wise choices.  We also found free parking for everything even though it meant walking a little farther.
  • I got lots of free products to try and free food!  The Field Agent app gave me the opportunity to try a lot of toiletry products for free and then through Field Agent and other apps I got free Little Ceasers, Sonic, and Panda Express.  I’m obviously not eating out during my no-spend challenge (outside of my social allowances) so I’ll take everything I can get!

Overall I was able to put $1981.75 toward debt in February!  Heck yes!

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Finally, since I haven’t said anything about it, I went on a trip to Washington State to visit my family and friends at the end of January/Beginning of February.  This trip was planned prior to my deciding to do the spending fast and it was so worth it.  In all, not including the flight, which I bought last year, I spend $310.  This included….

  •  Ski equipment rental for two days of skiing (my dad blessed me by paying for the lift tickets and condo we stayed in)
  • Buying the groceries for the three days of the ski trip with my dad.
  • Taking my mom out to see a movie.  She covered dinner and I covered the movie.  It was a good night out with my mom.
  • Going on a hiking adventure with my oldest friend.  She drove, so I paid for lunch.
  • Lunch at Dicks drive-in on an adventure day with my sister’s family.
  • Supplies to make bath bombs with my niece.
  • The airport parking fees for my car in Austin for a week.

So there you have it!  Onward to making March the most successful month yet!

 


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No Spend Challenge 2020 JANUARY Recap

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Whew.  Anybody else feel like January lasted for like 100 days?  I don’t know why the first month of the year always feels so stinking long!

It was a crazy month indeed.  I moved to a new ambulance/station at work which is in an entirely new section of our county that I haven’t worked much in.  It’s fantastic though because it’s knocked about 30 minutes each way off my commute, 40 miles off round trip, and I’m using a lot less gas which is awesome.  Plus I pass by Costco on my way home from work, which thankfully is closed at 7am when I get off (because no one needs to spend that kind of money during a no spend challenge, lets be honest), but the gas station is open that early and gas there is super cheap!

As for sticking to my wants vs needs list, well, it was a challenge at times, I won’t lie, but I’m going to go ahead and toot my own horn and say I rocked it.

See my tracker below?

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Ya, I only had one big slip up…  A ticket to go see Kesha live with my work partner/friend in April.  Honestly, I could have technically filed it under my social category in the needs section (see my previous post to see my reasoning for needing a social budget) BUT, there are a lot cheaper social activities I could be doing than an $80 concert ticket, so making it a need is not justifiable.  That being said, do I regret buying it?  No way.  I have wanted to see Kesha in concert for years and when the opportunity popped up to see her and to have someone to go with I jumped at it, and I’m pretty excited!

(P.S. That same tracker is available in my free printables section of the blog if you need one!)

If I’m being entirely honest this month wasn’t a huge challenge with wants vs needs.  A fact I attribute to the whole concept still being so new and exciting.  There were definitely a couple things I ran into that I had to tell myself no when it came to it, but overall, differentiating between wants vs needs wasn’t to hard.  I’m sure this will change eventually so I’m not taking this honeymoon stage for granted!

Now let me talk about some successes.  Some small changes I made this month, or ideas I breathed life into that seemed to work….

  •  Actively avoiding tolls for the most part.  I still drove through a few toll plazas, because toll roads are everywhere around here and in these situations they drastically cut down in my commute time HOWEVER, I avoided tolls approx. 95% of the time, which I’m pretty proud of.
  • Starting a pantry challenge.  Halfway through January, I realized that I don’t need to be dedicating as much to groceries as I am because I am wasting so much food and I have a HUGE stockpile.  My cupboards are nowhere close to empty.  So for the second half of January as well as the full month of February, I’m doing a pantry challenge.  I’ll let you know how the rest of it goes, but so far so good!
  • Using my extra time to focus on establishing good habits.  The first I decided to focus on was a good dental care routine.  Dental work is so expensive (not to mention painful) so preventative care is paramount but I’ve always sucked at it.  I made it a goal to brush/floss/use mouth wash every night before bed and so far I’m at 100%!  The second goal/habit I chose to focus on in January was taking time to read a little bit everyday.  I will admit, I missed two days, but every other day I was successful and I finished 4 books by the end of the month!  Two books I already owned on my kindle, a physical book I owned, and a library book!
  • I finally finished up my bottle of dish soap.  Instead of throwing the bottle away I washed off the gook and refilled it using a giant bottle of dish soap I got from Costco for free last year.

Now lets get to the fun part.  The money I saved!

So January is a bit of a unique month.  I did cut categories from my budget, because of the challenge, which helped, but January was also a 3 paycheck month as well as the month where I get my PTO check (I earn 163 of bonus PTO a year since I have to work holidays as a paramedic (we get it instead of holiday pay) which cashes out down to 70 hours every January). So my income this month was abnormally high.  I won’t have this much leftover in the coming months so that’s something I’m coming to terms with.

Also, I will owe money on my taxes (approx $1000) so the first priority will be to apply what I save to that.

So what are my final numbers?

$5831.25!

I’m pretty proud indeed.  Hopefully in the next week or so I’ll know exactly how much I owe on taxes and how much I can pay to debt.

And now, one last thought on January.  I haven’t mentioned it yet, but the last week-ish of the month was actually spent on vacation visiting my family in WA, a trip that was planned before I decided to do the challenge.  I count the spending on that as seperate and a full breakdown and budget travel recap will be coming in it’s own blog soon!

And there you have it, 1 month down and at least 5 more to go!  We’ll see 😉 Anyone else out there doing a no spend challenge along with me I’d love to hear about your successes as well!

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No Spend Challenge 2020: My Wants vs. Needs List

Hello all!  Quick catch up in case you’re new to this space or didn’t read my previous post (which you can find here).  Starting on January 1, 2020 I would be completing a no-spend challenge.  My plan is to do the challenge for 6 months and then reevaluate.  At that point I’ll either continue for the rest of the year, downgrade to more of a “spending diet,” or I’ll stop completely (which honestly I don’t anticipate).

The basic framework of a no spend challenge is spending money only on needs, no wants, for the 6 months (or more).  The definition of a need is honestly different for everyone, barring some obvious line items such as rent or food.  So, these past few weeks I’ve really marinated on the concept of wants vs needs and thoroughly debated what I can truly consider a need and what I can give up (aka wants) for the duration of the challenge.  Y’all I got really specific when it came to some things on my list.  Some were super easy to give up, but others I had to really consider.  Lots of needs, lots of wants, and lots of items falling into the situational gray area in between.

So, without further ado, and for the sake of accountability, I’m going to share that list with you all today!

Here we go!

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(Note: An asterisk * indicates a gray area and it will be further explained at the bottom of the list)

Needs

  • Rent
  • Food
  • Fuel
  • Car maintenance and repairs (plus savings for registration)
  • Cell Phone Service
  • Health: Doctor, Dentist, Optometrist, medications, vitamins
  • Continuing Educations (for Paramedic License)
  • Chiropractor & Massage (because of tension and headache issues)
  • Gym Membership
  • Hair Dye
  • Hulu/Netflix*
  • Amazon Music
  • Tolls*
  • Art supplies for paintings (but only as I need it)
  • Social Budget*

Needs will also include any item I use frequently if I run out of it, but only if I run out.  ie. Shampoo, Toilet Paper, Bubble Bath (aromatherapy to help with headaches and much cheaper than bath bombs), etc.

Wants

  • New clothes
  • Alcohol
  • Candles
  • Bath Bombs
  • Costco (membership ends 8/2020)
  • Disney + & Prime*
  • Redbox*
  • New Makeup
  • things because they’re on clearance
  • Craft Supplies
  • Almost everything on my amazon wishlist
  • Eating Out
  • Travel*

The Gray Areas

  • Tolls:  Austin is littered with toll roads.  I live just east of the city and it’s seriously difficult to get anywhere, especially on the north side, without hitting tolls.  I’m going to be further challenging myself to avoid tolls and find creative backroads to get where I need to go.  That being said I will occasionally allow myself to go through a toll if a time crunch or situation requires it.
  • Hulu:  I have access to the Xfinity app through my parents and can watch most network shows available on Hulu using that.  Currently some of the Hulu original content, as well as Letterkenny, are keeping me from pulling the plug though, we’ll see…I have to weigh this one further.
  • Disney Plus and Prime:  I haven’t been to impressed with Disney Plus so far and haven’t found it to be worth it (yet).  I’m going to let my subscription go through January so I can finish the Mandalorian then I’ll cancel.  Then as far as Prime, my plan lasts through July 2020 and I that time I don’t plan to renew it.
  • Social Budget:  This is something many cut out but I find that my current life situation calls for more of a cutting back than cutting out.  I’m dating currently and want to be able to contribute to the costs of dates occasionally (because honestly, no one wants to be with a mooch).  I’m also living in a new city and therefore give myself a small budget for social activities so I can hopefully make friends and build a support system. Life is far too lonely without close friends nearby.  Also under this heading is a small budget for eating out.  I have a traditional monthly goal setting session at Panera that I’m not willing to give up, and I also want to give myself the freedom to buy into a meal with the firefighters I work with (usually $5) a couple times a month.
  • Redbox:  I have a bunch of redbox codes I’ll allow myself to use because they’re already paid for, I just won’t be buying new ones.
  • Travel:  As I mentioned in my last post, I have one definite trip to Washington planned during the challenge as well as a possible trip to Alaska to visit friends (using airmiles) and a possible roadtrip to Dallas to visit my cousin.  If all these occur I will just be approaching them from a super frugal perspective and incorporating as many parts of the no spend challenge into the trips as I feasibly can.

So there you have it.  I realize I have a lot of gray areas but really, as we all know life isn’t always black and white.  I’m laying these all out here today so, like I said, I can keep myself accountable and y’all can too.  I’m also putting this on here as a reminder that some spaces in my wants vs needs are flexible, but even that flexibility has limits and I need to stick to the bounds I set for myself.

T-minus 10 days and counting.  Then the fun really begins!

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No Spend Challenge 2020: What, Why, and my Ground Rules

Three years ago, while I was living in Alaska I was browsing through Pinterest one day looking at budget and money management inspiration when I stumbled upon a little blog called AndThenWeSaved.  Honestly, it was the kick @ss graphics that drew me in but I quickly found a source of inspiration that would (or should I say will) become life changing for me.  The blog’s author, Anna, had experienced a sick and tired moment when it came to her debt.  She then devised a plan to complete a year long no spend challenge, aka a Spending Fast, to get rid of her burden of debt once and for all, and she did it you guys!  She paid off over $20,000 of debt that year and chronicled it all in her blog.  Even more, just before I discovered her she published a book where she further outlined how she got out of debt and gave tips, tricks, and advice to inspire others to be successful at paying off their debts too.  So, of course, I immediately went onto Amazon and bought it (you can find it here), and I tell you what, I was on fire and ready to slay my debts…for about 3 weeks and then the reality of being a broke Paramedic student with barely any income sank in.  Yes, I could follow some of the tips and live frugally so that I hopefully didn’t incur any more debt, but the real attack was going to have to wait until after graduation.

Well, as you can imagine graduation came and my first paramedic job came around 5 months later.  It was amazing, after making only $12,000 in taxible dollars the previous year as a student I was finally bringing in a sizeable income.  Suddenly I wanted all the shiny, pretty things I had been depriving myself of.  To be fair I didn’t go out and buy an expensive car or a fancy laptop, but I could finally get all those fun little things on my list that were going to make me the coolest girl in town right?  Pricey brand name makeup from Ulta, a pair of Rifle Paper Co. designed Keds, a Clairsonic Mia.  Suddenly all of my WANTS were more important than the mountains of money I owed.

And it stayed that way for a while.

Every now and again I would get a wild amount of inspiration to start paying off my debt.  I’d even go back and read through Anna’s book again, but the motivation would quickly go away and I was right back where I started.

Then this last January something changed.  I can’t say that I had a specific moment where it clicked for me, but I was just really tired of being scared of my bank account.  I hated logging into the app for my credit union because I knew I was going to have a scary low amount of money in there.  Y’all that’s NO WAY TO LIVE!  Jeez.  So I committed to getting rid of my debt once in for all.  It was slow going at first but over time I’ve gained more and more momentum.  I’ve cash flowed car repairs, dental procedures, and medical bills.  Oh ya, and I also paid off my car and my line of credit!

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Now, why a spending fast aka no spend challenge?

So in general I follow the Dave Ramsey baby steps and use the debt snowball method.  Step number 2 is to pay off all your debts but the house (which I don’t have) smallest to largest.  That’s it.  There’s no how to’s or inspiration laying in that step.  Just pay off your debt however you can.

And that’s where the spending fast comes in for me.  Over the last year I’ve done a pretty good job at budgeting and cutting expenses but honestly, I could do better.  I don’t need a  new shirt from Walmart just because it’s cute.  I don’t need to eat dinner with the firefighters every day I’m on shift.  Instead, that money, one dollar at a time, could easily go to pay off my debt just a little faster.

I’m kind of looking at this as a cool challenge.  I’m a fairly competitive person so this is pretty much a competition for myself.  How long can I really go without spending money on my NEEDS (more on wants vs needs later)?

To sum it up I still have a lot of debt.  Close to $80,000 and if I don’t do something radical, at the rate I’m going it’s going to take me years to pay it all off.  If I can really commit to this fast I predict that I can pay off at least $30,000 next year, but possibly more.  It really depends on the amount of overtime and the number of shifts at my part-time job I can get.  We’ll see!

So what are my ground rules/general guidelines I’m setting for the fast?

First of all, the time frame.

I thought a long time about how much I wanted to commit and 6 months just feels right.  So as of now I’m committing to a Spending Fast from January to June.  Then once June comes around I’m going to reevaluate.  I’m keeping the possibility of doing a fast for an entire year high on my list, I’m just not ready to commit quite yet.  By June though, if not before, I should have a good idea if the tactic is working for me.

Now what else?  Let’s see….

  1.  Only buy needs.  To some of you that concept may seem super vague.  Others of you may think it sounds super strict.  I promise it will become clearer soon.  My plan is to make a general wants vs needs list, as well as a more detailed list, within the next week or two and share it here for accountability.  This is to keep me on track and remind me what my needs really are compared to simple wants.
  2. Have grace when it comes to unexpected needs.  I recognize that I could plan everything down to the detail and surprises will still arise.  My plan is to weigh each situation as it comes up and determine how significant of a need each item or experience truly is.
  3. Sinking Funds/Envelopes:  Once the new year starts I will stop contributing to a majority of my sinking funds and envelopes.  Sinking funds for health expenses, Toiletries (because hair dye is a need for me, but only the cheap stuff), social, and Misc. will continue to receive contributions.  All others will stop.
  4. Paying for needs.  Some needs such as rent, electricity, gas etc. are going to remain line items in my budget.  Other needs such as toilet paper or socks, should all of mine suddenly disappear (an extreme example but we all know that sock goblins love stealing socks), I’m going to use my current sinking funds to pay for.  For example, the cost of toilet paper would come out of my cleaning and organizing fund.  Because I will no longer be contributing to these funds, once the money is depleted the needs will be paid for using my Misc. envelope.  If that were to run out at some point I will have to go without or use another fund, such as groceries, to cover the need.
  5. Follow through on current plans.  I have a trip scheduled at the end of January/Early February to go to Seattle to spend time with my family and go skiing with my dad.  Two other tentative trips for the first half of the year are a short trip to Alaska to visit friends (using Airmiles) and a possible weekend trip to Dallas to visit my cousin.  I have decided to not cancel any of these trips but instead approach them very frugally.  Each will/would have their own set of rules that I will establish as they get closer.
  6. Make do and mend.  Try to fix it first, buy used if I can and new if absolutely necessary.
  7.   It’s OK to say no.  No to hanging out.  No to spending money.  No to OT shifts.  I’m doing this to tackle as much debt as I possibly can.

And there you have it!  My last paycheck for 2019 is December 26 which means things are going to start getting tight after that!  And the funny thing is, I can’t wait!

**Note:  The Term Spending Fast is trademarked by Anna and therefore I will refer to my Spending Fast as a No Spend Challenge going forward.  (P.S.  Anna, if I slip and end up calling it a Spending Fast and don’t realize it I apologize in advance!)


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New Look and the “She’s Paying It Off” Story

Well hello all.  If you’re reading this right now it means you found your way to my little corner of the internet, my blog.  Maybe you’ve been subscribed to me for awhile, maybe you founds me through social media… however you made it here, welcome.   Over the last 6 years this blog has covered everything from my time volunteering in Bolivia to my life going to Paramedic School in Alaska.  If you’ve been around here for awhile you may notice a bit of a different look and purpose currently.  Just as seasons change so is my blogging season, and out of this new season has grown “She’s Paying it Off.”  A place where I can share about my current journey to become debt free.  A place for victories and struggles, ideas and advice.

Now, without further ado, story time, or moreover the story of how I got to this place financially and why I decided to so something about it. I promise to make it concise *wink*.

Just after I turned 18 my mother took me down to the bank and helped me open my first credit card.  I needed to build good credit she said and this was an important first step. A couple weeks later I left for my freshman year of college.  I hadn’t worked that summer and didn’t have much disposable income at the time.  I still remember my first purchase on that card, Finding Nemo on DVD.  The thrill of the purchase, the idea that I could spend money even though I didn’t technically have it.  Still though I was very careful with the card, typically only using it for needs.  I was lucky I went to college before social media became very big (everyone was still using myspace at this time, and it was new, just to date myself) so the temptation of comparison and the luxury of online shopping wasn’t commonplace.

Fast forward 4 years to graduation.  By the time I was granted my diploma for my Bachelors of Science in History I was well aware of what debt was.  I had maxed that same credit card just a couple months earlier to pay for a spring break trip to Disney World and had approx $35,000 in student debt under my belt from my silly degree as well as a semester spent studying abroad.  Some of you may be confused as to why I refer to my degree as silly but it really was.  I had no plans to do anything with History, I just enjoyed the subject.  Everyone had said I needed to go to college after high school, so I did.  No one told me I should probably have some idea about what I wanted to do with my life first (trust me, I’ll elaborate on this much more later).

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Studying abroad with Semester At Sea, Fall 2006

I assumed after I graduated college just the fact I had a degree would land me a good job and I could pay off my debt and live the life of my dreams.  Spoiler alert, it didn’t.  I moved back in with my parents and after putzing around for a year was hired as a second grade teacher at a school in Bangkok, Thailand.  The job definitely wasn’t lucrative but it gave me adventure, something I craved more than anything.  My student loans were deferred, and I had a blast for 2 years.

I won’t go into all details of my life between Thailand ( I moved back to the US in spring 2010) and when I first discovered the way, er, *cough,* I mean Financial Peace University.  We’ll just say I traveled the world and made very little money.  I don’t regret a minute of it but in hindsight it probably wasn’t that smart.

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My second year teaching in Thailand, 2009

So on to FPU… my church always offered the class a couple times a year, but it was finally in late 2013 that I decided to take the plunge and invest $100 into the kit, and I flourished.  I did so freaking well.  I budgeted my little heart out and because I had few expenses (lived with my parents at the time and my car was paid off) I was able to save a lot of what I made even though my hourly wage was piss poor.  I knew a life change was coming so instead of applying everything to debt I put it in savings…

Then a lot of change came.  I made the decision to go back to school to get my dream job. I moved to Alaska to do that and bought a new to me car that could survive Alaskan winters.  I hadn’t forgotten everything I learned in FPU, but my debt started to increase and I kept telling myself that was OK…

Now here I sit.  5 years later.  I”m approx $80,000 in debt give or take, but I”m making headway.  I did finish that second degree and got my dream job.  I now make double what I did before which is fantastic, but I still have a long road ahead of me.

If you’ve made it all the way through my story I must say I’m impressed.  I know it’s not that exciting, but it’s also so necessary on this journey.  I need accountability and I’m hoping you can help me with that.  I don’t know how long this journey will take, but I know I’ll get there eventually.  I believe it.

Thanks again,

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Ways I Saved In July

This type of  post is new for me and a bit of a departure from my usual life recap posts.  See, July posed a bit of a challenge for me.  Because it was the end of the fiscal year I found out I would have to wait 6 weeks for my next pay check instead of the usual 4.  On top of that I also had to pay my tuition for summer semester, so when all was said and done I was left with a pretty empty bank account to get me to the next paycheck and I had to get a bit creative.

I can’t lie, having a severely restricted budget for the month was super difficult.  For example, there was one Saturday when the weather was gorgeous and I had nothing to do so I thought I’d take a road trip down to Homer.  Unfortunately road trips require gas and gas costs money, so it didn’t happen.  However, despite the frustrations that came along the way, I actually enjoyed coming up with ideas and figuring out how to make my few dollars stretch further.  In the end I compiled a list of things I did, ideas that worked, and blessings I got, and I thought I’d share it here .

So without further ado, here’s how I saved in July 2016:

  •  Cooking with what I already had:  My cupboards have never been bare.  I always have a few packages of pasta, pancake mix, ramen, etc., I just usually skim by these items until I crave them, instead favoring what I want right now (pizza anyone?).  So, in July I made the decision to only cook with what I already had with the exception of buying milk and eggs since most recipes call for one or the other. In the end I never went hungry, I found new recipes, and I appreciated what I had that much more.
  • Planning a Potluck:  Speaking of food, as an RA (Resident Assistant) I’m expected to plan and execute one event in the Residence Hall every month.  Since fireworks are difficult in Alaska (thank you 22 hrs of daylight), one of my fellow RA’s and I planned a Fourth of July Potluck and Movie night for our event.  I brought cupcakes (which I already had the mix for on hand, see #1 above) but got to enjoy other dishes like beer battered halibut and home made mac n’ cheese.  Not a bad dinner at all.  Then on top of the food we also had free entertainment by watching Independence Day on our big screen.
  • Went on ResHall Grocery Runs instead of driving myself:  In the Residence Hall I live in (picture college dorms but better), since we have kitchens but don’t have a dining hall we offer grocery runs every week to the local store.  Anyone can go on them so long as there’s space left in our Sprinter van.  More often than not we go to Fred Meyers, which is my store of choice, so instead of hopping in my car and driving myself (therefore using gas), I joined in on the grocery run.  I was able to pick up the few items I actually needed and the transportation cost me nothing.
  • Biked into town–  I needed something from the grocery store and it was a non grocery run day so I borrowed a bike and rode to town instead.  It wasn’t easy considering it’s been years since I’ve been on a bike, but it was free!13880374_10102722653168578_8337803630607402409_n
  • Cancelled my CBS All Access subscription–  A few months back I subscribed to CBS All Access so I could watch Survivor and The Amazing Race.  Both shows are currently out of season and I found I wasn’t using the app at all, so I cancelled it therefore saving me money.  I’ll pick it up again sometime in the future, but there’s no need to pay for something you don’t use.
  • Earned Amazon giftcards for things I needed:  I’ve been a product tester for awhile and one of the sites I go through, Crowdtap, also gives you the ability to earn Amazon.com giftcards for answering various questions or surveys on the site.  Another site, Swagbucks, is similar in that you can earn giftcards for doing various different activities.  When I watch TV etc. I usually like to multitask so I decided to put my multitasking to good use and try to earn some giftcards through these sites for a couple things I needed.  In the end I had $20 to work with, and while I won’t do this consistently it’s a good option, especially for those who like to shop on Amazon a lot.
  • Went on vacation for free:  Ok, this one is a little more of a blessing than something I did for myself.  Back in May my Dad called me and asked if I would like to come down to Washington to visit this summer and offered to use their air miles to get me a ticket.  Of course I said yes!  My parents ended up renting a house on a Lake in Eastern Washington for a week and it was absolutely perfect. See my post here to read more about it. My parents also covered everything which helped me out a lot in the end.   Some other ways I was able to save on this trip were:

-Used my Club 49 membership to get free checked luggage on my flight

-Brought my own snacks for the flight and an empty water-bottle to fill up in the terminal to save money.  I did end up buying a soda from McDonalds, but the McDonalds in the Anchorage airport is on of the few that still honors $1 drinks instead of jacking up the price like other airports.  They also don’t have tax so I was able to pull a dollar bill out of my wallet and be done.

13901328_10102734786158968_7224316368299274631_nSo there you have it, some of the ways I was able to save money during July.  This is most definitely not an exhaustive list, but I thought I’d throw a few things out there.  Right now I’ve continued the challenge into August.  While I’m not quite as strict as I was in July I’m really doing my best to save more, especially with my internship coming up next month!

 


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Lets Get Crafty: DIY Greeting Cards Pt. 1

DIY Collage Card

Back at the beginning of the year I wrote about my journey with Financial Peace, or, at least the beginning of it.  These last 8 months have been a huge learning experience in how to manage my money, and most of all make good decisions with it.  I’ll admit, I’ve slipped up a few times… usually at Target (lets be honest, that store could take all of my money if I’m not careful), but for the most part I’ve really impressed myself with how well I’ve done.

Part of the journey in learning how to manage money well is also learning how to take advantage of your resources and get creative with what you have, so I’ve spent quite a bit of time brainstorming ideas.

Which leads me to this post!

Chances are you give out a fair amount of cards every year.  Birthdays, thank yous, graduation cards, Easter cards, the list goes on and on.  When you consider the cheapest cards in the store are $1 the cost can really start to add up.  I know it has for me, so I tried to think of creative ways to make my own by brainstorming with the materials I already have.  I came up with a couple different ideas so I thought I’d share with you all!

This first DIY card is super easy.  You can literally crank one of these out in 15 minutes or less, so grab some old magazines and lets get to work!

First of all, here’s what you’ll need (Plus a pencil, I forgot to get that in the picture.  Lo siento!)

DIY Collage Card

First you’ll want to trace the card.  I like using cardstock for the card itself.  It’s heavy and has a really nice smooth feel compared to traditional construction paper.  I typically by big packs of it at Joanns when it goes on sale for $2 every so often, and usually I can cut out two cards from each sheet, so it works really well.

DIY Collage Card

Next it’s time to cut the card out.  I usually use a ruler and exacto knife to get a really straight edge, however I got these really great American Crafts scissors at Tuesday Mornings, and they rock!  They’re so exact and sharp!

Then, once the card has been cut out, go ahead and fold the card in half.  If the cut wasn’t perfect go ahead and trim the edges.

DIY Collage Card

Now  you’re ready to collect your materials.  As I go through my magazines I typically look for pages with lots of the same color (usually adds) so that it will give me a lot of room to work with.  A lot of times I’ll try to fit a specific color scheme as well.  Below are the ones I picked out for this card.

*Tip:  If you want to use white, try to use a page that doesn’t have a lot of print on the backside because once you glue it down the print will show through.

DIY Collage Card

Next cut out the pieces from each page that you want to use and from there cut the strips into little squares approx 1 in x 1 in (and no, it doesn’t matter if they’re perfect).

DIY Collage Card

DIY Collage Card

DIY Collage Card

Now you’re ready to start making your card!  Bust out your glue stick and get to work.  I personally like to alternate colors completely, but this is your card, get creative with it.  Also, don’t worry about lining up with the edges, you’ll be able to cut off the excess in the end

*Tip: Put the glue on the back of each piece instead of spreading it on the card first.  Each piece will overlap just a little bit, so in order to make sure the entire piece is glued down the glue will need to be applied directly to each piece.

DIY Collage Card

DIY Collage Card

DIY Collage Card

And viola!  You have a card!  Aren’t you proud?  I love these colors, they turned out so fun. Perfect for summer!

DIY Collage Card

But you also don’t have to stop with just the collage.  You can start adding other elements on top if you would like as well.  Here are a few other cards I’ve made using some of the leftover card stock scraps.  They’re obviously still a work in progress for the most part, but you get the jist.  The possibilities are essentially endless.

DIY Collage Card

So there you go, DIY cards using materials on hand.  Saving a little money and creating something personal for those special people in your life.  I have a few other card ideas swirling around so stay tuned for those.

And on another awesome note, this is the last post that will feature pictures taken on my poor little broken Canon Rebel.  The camera served me well for 7 years but it was time to move on.  I actually broke the screen on it while I was in Boliva so I wasn’t able to see any pictures I took until they got leaded onto my computer, which was a huge pain.  But, after more than a year of drooling over a new camera, and spending 5 months stalking Amazon.com to see if the price would budge I finally went for it and got a Canon 60D, and folks, it’s beautiful.  It’s amazing how much technology can improve in just a few years.  Oh, and the screen on it is one of those where you can flip it in and out and around (you follow?), so hopefully I won’t break it this time.

Yay for Gods blessings!   I head down to Mexico in less than two weeks so I’m excited to see what it will do!  (Ironically enough Mexico was the first big outing for my rebel too, this time I will prepare for all the dirt and dust involved).

Thanks for stopping by!

XO,
Manda

 


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Moola Saving Tip Numero Uno: Buy in the Off Season

Imagine.  It’s the middle of October and you’re headed to Walmart to buy a new pack of underwear.  On your way back to the unmentionables section you are suddenly overwhelmed by racks and racks and racks of clearance summer clothes filling up the wide aisle.  You think “sweet! Maybe I can score an awesome _______!” But after 20 minutes of sorting through XS booty shorts and XXL T-shirts with cats on them you give up.  Dissapointed not to make the find of the century.

Can you relate to this scenario?  Maybe it wasn’t Walmart (because lets face it, their clearance items are usually not that great), but at Target, JCPenny’s or some other store instead?

I typcially have great luck when it comes to clearance sections, but if I’m trying to find something specific I’m usually screwed, especially when it come to pricier items.

But I think I’ve finally found a way to get what I want for a price I can pay.  See, even expensive stores like REI can end up with to many Columbia raincoats and in an effort to move inventory they need to slash prices giving normal people like us a chance to get that sweet item we’ve been eyeing.

Case and point.  When I returned home from Bolivia last winter I had just spent the last year in summer climates.  My collection of winter clothes was lacking and I desperately needed some boots, but, considering I didn’t have a job and hadn’t had a paying job in a year I needed them to be cheap.  I looked everywhere, in stores, online, but nothing was right.  Either they were ugly or way to out of my price range.

Fast forward a few months.  Well, to a few days ago to be exact.  I went onto the Crocs website looking for a pair of sandals.  Say what you want about Crocs.  I hate the original ones but their newer styles aren’t so bad.  Well, I didn’t find any sandals I liked, but then I looked at the top of the page and found a word that always gets my attention, SALE!. So I clicked and that’s when I found these:

Boots!

They may not by Merrels but they’re still cute, had great reviews and are comfortable for people with wide feet, which I unfortunatly have, but the best part???  The price!  Originally $93 (a price I could have never afforded) they had been marked down to $30.  That’s right, $30!  Ya, I won’t probably be able to wear them for another 6 months, but who cares?  I finally have boots!

And this isn’t the first time I’ve scored a sweet deal in the off season.  While I was in Swaziland on the World Race in February 2012 I wandered onto Backcountry.com’s clearance website Department of Goods where I was able to score a sweet pair of Chacos for $45 in the color I wanted!  Chacos usually sell  for around $100.  That’s pretty steep in my book, so I waited and looked and finally found my pair for more than 50% off!  Another cool thing about Chacos?  When the straps wear out you can get them completely re-webbed for $36.  That’s like multiple pairs of sandals in one.  Score!

Chacos!

There’s nothing quite like the high you get from scoring an amazing deal on something you really want.

Have you ever made a great score on an items you’ve been eyeing?


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My Love Affair With the Target Clearance Rack

Sale.  This one word can make any womans heart flutter.  When you add the word Clearance into the mix, ooo, watch out.

When I go to Target (which isn’t as often as one might think) I have a habit of trolling the end-caps and attune my vision to notice the little orange stickers that mark an item as clearance.  Those beautiful orange  stickers.

Every now and again I make some great scores at Target, but this week was better than most.  Here’s what i got…Target Score

Pink Scotch Expressions Tape: Originally $3.20 on clearance for $1.64, used $1 coupon = 64 cents

Mead OrganizHer Coupon binder: Originally $15 on clearance for $4.50

Suave Professionals Hair Care: Not technically on clearance… had BOGO coupon worth up to $5, it took $5 off my total cost so each bottle came out to 50 cents in the end, yay!

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Heather Bailey Planner: Originally $15, on clearance for $3.50.  I have trouble using planners but I do make lists so I’m hoping the format of this planner will work for me, and if not at least I didn’t spend a fortune on it.

Target saving

 

Package of 4 bowls: Originally $7 on clearance for $2.  I’ve been stocking up on household items for awhile now.  A couple weeks ago I bought a pack of plates on clearance so I thought I might as well get some bowls to go along with it.  Afterall, you can’t eat cereal on a plate!

Target Savings

 

And finally I was able to score this dress as well as the same design in black for $12.50 each (Originally $25!).  The funny thing is a couple months ago I took pictures of both dresses and put them on my “want list.” I typically don’t get 95% of the things on my list so it was cool to score something for once, and for a good price!

Have you had any great scores at Target (or anywhere else) lately?