Wants, Needs, Money, Travel

Hi there, lovelies. I’m back for good. So sorry to keep you waiting (those of you who care). I’ve been dealing with some serious doubts – in general worthiness, in the nature of my life’s path, in my ability to correctly assemble the puzzle pieces of this pilgrimage. I’m just starting to get a few things figured out, and as my life gets sorted, pilgrimage is sounding more and more like a real possibility.

Since leaving a long term relationship and moving on with my life five months ago, I’ve really been struggling financially. I’ve never doubted that I’d eventually be OK, but it’s been kind of scary to go from a life that to me seemed almost middle class (for the first time in my life – a nice apartment, a fridge stocked with food, a washer and dryer of my own, even a car to drive!) back down to where I was 8 years ago and before, living paycheck to paycheck, with no guarantee that there would be another paycheck to follow. Yes, I know that many of us live this way. It makes me feel spoiled to essentially complain about my life as it is right now when there are people living on the streets, but the mental stress of feeling like I could be living on the streets soon, too, is really getting to me. It’s not that dire of a situation – there’s always something to be done – but at some moments over the last few months, it’s definitely felt that way. I recently had to start selling off possessions on Craigslist to be able to buy groceries, and that was really scary.

I’ve also been through complete loss before, and know that I am strong enough to come out on top. I can’t get too down about not having money or things. I learned the hard way that the only things that hold true worth in this short earthly existence are all inside of you. Like many in this city, during Hurricane Katrina I lost everything I owned, and was cast adrift in the world with no income and very few possessions (one outfit, a couple of photo albums, my laptop, and my cat). My story wasn’t at all tragic compared to most, but I was still broken for a while. Thankfully, with the help of a few great friends who took me in and kept me from crying myself into an early grave, I managed to pick myself up and build a new, stronger, better life. Now I have all the faith in the world that I am built to weather through moments like this. Also, thanks to my friends’ examples, I’m now equipped to help other people float, too. One day I will. But first, I need just a bit more patching up.

So I’m getting ready to embark on the hardest journey yet – debt repayment. In order to start saving up again for the pilgrimage, I need to pay off the debt I accumulated in breaking free of my old relationship, as well as my taxes from last year, plus save up my taxes for this year (I’m a freelancer, which means that my income taxes aren’t automatically taken out of my paychecks). If I’m very, very good, I might even be able to realistically plan to go to Santiago de Compostela next summer or maybe next fall. It’s only a year, but it will most likely be a hard year as I learn to live simply after living what (to me, anyway) has been a life of stressful excess. I’ve already started lightening my load over the last few weeks by beginning to clean out my apartment, selling off the things that are worth a few dollars, giving away the things that would be too difficult to sell, and making tough decisions about all of the flotsam and jetsam I’ve accumulated over the years. Next up will be paring down my spending, while increasing my work hours substantially. I’m not excited about that part, but it will have to be OK.

Just think, in a year I could be boots on the ground in Spain!

Creating a Five Year Plan – Part 2A (Debt)

Since I spent the greater part of the day obsessing about my current state of debt, I decided that tonight’s foray into the confusing business of creating a five year plan would be to think about said debt and come up with some solid strategies to start eliminating it. Here’s what I said about debt in yesterday’s blog post…namely that it was time to: “Get my debt under control. It’s going to kill me. Literally – the stress will kill me if I don’t get it under control, and the #1 thing that’s on my mind 24/7 is student loan, credit card, and tax debt.”

So where do we start? I can identify a few different reasons that I’m currently experiencing so much stress re: my debt. While some things can never be changed (off the top of my head, I’d tell my young self to go to state school instead of a Southern ivy, avoid wasting money on pointless bouts of graduate school at all costs, and to never, ever get more than one credit card), there are definitely some goals that I can set right now and then try to work towards. These are (in no particular order):

  • Make more money.
  • Spend less money.
  • Make paying off debt my top priority.

See, that was easy, right? Totally. Kinda. Not really. But whatever, I have to try. So let’s break those major goals into smaller tidbits that start giving me at least the semblance of a debt-destroying road map, shall we?

Make more money.

  • Earn more money at my job. This could entail getting a new job that pays me more, getting a second job, asking my clients for more money, or any of the above. I happen to like the freedom of my freelancing schedule, and I’m counting on that freedom to give me the ability to take off for Santiago de Compostela one day in the next couple of years, so I’d like to keep the job I have. This means that I need to get a second job. However, since my primary job isn’t paying me what I’d like, to make it viable I also need to ask my clients for more money. 
  • Sell things that I own. I’m getting ready to go home and do this tonight, in fact. I’ve been a collector for much of my life. I’m constantly picking up knick knacks and trinkets and electronics that I really want at the time, but later just leave laying about the house. When I first moved into my own place a few months ago, I sold some of those things. Now it’s time to catalog and sell the rest. 

Spend less money.

  • Keep a budget document. I have a budget in an Excel file. It helps me keep track of my bills, but it’s not helping me keep track of how to cut costs.
  • Stop overspending on food. It’s my #1 expenditure each month. I spend WAY too much money on food, and that’s got to stop. As much as it pains me, I need to create a strict weekly budget for groceries and entertainment, and stick to it. $50 a week ($200 a month) should be about right for groceries, one movie a month, and a cocktail with friends every now and then. 
  • Switch to Simple. I’ve already signed up for a Simple account, and have the card, but I’ve yet to have enough money in the bank to switch my funds over to Simple full time. When I do, though, I’ll have a system through which to estimate savings goals and spending limits, and a card that will straight up tell me “No, you can’t spend any more money if you want to be out of debt any time this century.”
  • Pay bills first. From now on, bills have to be paid first, while I have the money. Being a freelancer means that you never know when you’re going to get paid next. Luckily, I work for a great company that pays me every two weeks, like a regular employee, almost. But since they’re freelancers, too, sometimes they’re not paid on time, which means that it’s inevitable that there will be times my paycheck will be late. Every time that happens, I’m going to be subject to late fees and overdraft fees for bills due during that pay period. To keep this from happening, I’ve got to pay my bills first, and worry about everything else later.
  • Cut back on expenses. I can quit Massage Envy, Netflix, and dance classes, plus cut back on data use on my phone. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to get rid of my storage unit soon, too. All of that would save me about $150 a month, maybe a little more. I still want to join the gym eventually, but we’ll figure that out when I get there.

Make paying off debt my top priority.

  • Pay more than the minimum fee. The longer I pay the bare minimum for credit cards, the longer I’ll be paying them – and the more money I’ll eventually have wasted on them.
  • Don’t use credit cards unless it’s an absolute emergency. Lately, I’ve fallen back into using my credit cards when there’s a gap between pay periods. This can’t happen anymore. If I’m not going to be able to eat, I’ve just got to suck it up and deal with it. The credit card is not a solution. Making more REAL money is. I can keep a credit card around for dire emergencies, like the loss of a limb or something, but really craving a cheeseburger does not an emergency constitute.
  • Make a plan (with dates) for paying everything off.
  • Put all of second income into savings account for debt. If I’m honest about what it takes to scrape by, my primary job will allow me to pay the minimums of all of my bills, eat a simple diet, and go to the movies or out to a friends’ house now and then. If I could double my current income, I’m pretty sure that I could pay off all of my tax debt from last year and put away at least a little bit of money to pay this year’s taxes. It won’t be everything I need to cut my debt by the end of the year – not even close – but it will be considerably closer than where I am now.
  • Cut back on life. There has to be a balance. I need to look good to get ahead in my career, but I need to stick within a budget. Maybe $100 a month could go to my upkeep. That would let me get my hair cut every three months, buy most of an outfit every three months, and get my nails done every three months. OK, I need to budget more than that. But we’ll just have to work on that in the budget document, shall we?

That’s as much patience as I have for this right now. Tomorrow I’ll start making micro goals for each of these. Right now I’m going home to sort through my things and see what I can get rid of. Maybe I’ll have a yard sale this weekend…

Click here for the second part of my post on creating a plan to get out of debt.

Forgiveness

If yesterday’s Daily Post prompt were real…

This morning I walked out of my apartment and realized that Magazine Street was covered in confetti. For a second I wracked my brain to figure out what had happened. Mardi Gras isn’t until March, so we still have some months to go. My stretch of Magazine isn’t a normal spot chosen for second line parades, and even if it were a second line, it probably wouldn’t have happened overnight on a Tuesday. So why the celebration?

It took a bit, but then I remembered – student loan forgiveness was signed into law last night. It was the headline of every newspaper, the focus of every special news program on TV, the bulletin on every website. Student loans taken out before 2005 were being forgiven, and from here on out, all remaining and upcoming student loan payments would be reduced to .75% interest rate, the same as big banks.

It’s a huge weight taken off of my shoulders. I owe over $100k in student loans, and until yesterday, I was resigned to never paying them back in full. I thought that for the rest of my life, I’d be paying a quarter of each month’s salary into that loan, if I was lucky and rates didn’t change retroactively. I thought that I’d never be able to afford to buy a car, or put a down payment down on a house, or help my kids out with their own college educations (provided I married someone with enough money to afford the kids in the first place.) But now today here I am with no debt! I can hardly believe it’s true!

So what are my next steps, you ask? First, I’m starting a retirement plan. Before today, I was in the red at the end of every single month. Now I might have a little extra to start planning for my golden years. After that, I’m going to rethink my career choices. Now that I can afford to make a little less, I’d really much rather spend my time helping people or animals (or maybe both) at a non-profit organization for a living. Now I won’t have to work nights anymore, so I can finally use my post-work hours to start writing horror novels. I was already dedicated to the idea of going on pilgrimage next summer, so the only thing that will change in that regard is that maybe I’ll have a little extra money on hand to take some time to hang out in Spain afterwards, or maybe go back to Assisi for a week or so to spend time with the Franciscans.

Either way, this is exciting stuff! I can’t wait to tell my parents. Which reminds me, now I don’t have to live in fear of having to take care of one of them one of these days. Now that I’m not buried in student loans, I can start investing in a fund to provide for them. Such a relief…

Making Power Moves

Rumi Quote, Photo by Anna Harris

Note: I started this blog post on 4/30/13, so it’s half a month old. But I wanted to share it, anyway, as it’s a positive view on something that I’ve been kind of negative about lately: my relationship with The Man.

One of my two best friends always refers to groundbreaking actions as “power moves.” These actions can vary in depth and theme – anything from pushing your way to the front of a concert crowd to tackling important financial issues head on. Lately, I’ve been exploring issues here on Compass & Quill that I’ve been too afraid to really think too hard about. In some ways, I’m still going easy when I should be, as my friend would say, making power moves. It’s getting to the point where I need to take a stand for myself.

The other night after writing the last blog post, I had a talk with The Man about how I’m feeling about kids, marriage, living here in New Orleans, not getting paid nearly enough, and being buried in student loan & credit card debt. It wasn’t the most earth-shattering conversation, since a lot of the problems that we have with each other are entirely dependent on our current financial situation. However, as soon as some of my bottled-up complaints were out of my mouth, I felt much more free and relaxed than I had in ages. He agreed with me on almost every point. Where I was expecting arguments, I got either agreement or at least a try at understanding my point of view.

Update from 5/16/13

The Man left last week to live and work in New York City for a month or so. He works with the government, and it’s in his contract that they can just move him when and where they want. I’m fine with that, and he is, too. The same best friend that I was talking about above always quotes something that her mother says to her father – “How can I miss you if you don’t go away?” And it’s true. I don’t miss everything about The Man (for instance, I LOVE having the house to myself) but I do miss HIM. And he’s having an awesome time in NYC, so when we talk, it’s the happy, loving man I first fell in love with so long ago. I’m glad that he’s giving me precious alone time, but also glad that it’s on terms that both of us can handle. In a perfect world, we’d have a huge warehouse loft in NYC so that we could live there together, with plenty of room to escape each other when necessary, but that’s not happening (just yet, anyway).

In other news, I’ve made the decision to clear out my savings account (all the money I’ve saved up to pay taxes next go ’round) and use the money I’ve saved since January to instead pay off three of my credit cards. I’ve been worn out and sick for the last few days, and I started to get run down after about a week of feeling way too stressed out. I’m killing myself with stress, and it needs to stop immediately. The main stressors in my life are #1- not making enough money, and, #2-having so much debt, so I’ve decided to pay off most of the debt now, instead of letting it eat me alive for one more day. I can spend the rest of the year saving half of every paycheck to pay my taxes (instead of the 30% I currently put away). I have seven more months to figure the tax issue out, and without the stress of credit card debt on my back, I’ll be much freer to spend that energy tackling new projects and coming up with more cash.

I’ve got some big news to share with you this weekend, but it’s so big that it’s going to take another blog post and a lot more time to sort it all out into a manageable chunk. Keep me in mind – tomorrow’s Photography Friday, and I’ll be sharing pictures of my cats, New Orleans, and some Tibetan monks making a sand mandala (oh yeah, did I mention that I went to see monks make a sand mandala tonight?). The rest of the big reveal concerns my new company, a new gig, and hopefully my triumphant return to NYC for a weekend visit!

More Motivation Than I’d Hoped For

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

Not sure of today’s weight – I didn’t check. Today’s mood was great, if a little tired. It was a long week, and today I ran a couple of miles, then came home and did an hour of Zumba. On top of the physically tiring activity, my mind is racing. I got news yesterday that I’m approved for a very low interest loan, and the loan is enough to pay off all of my very high-interest debts. At first I was skeptical of using the money, but after carefully going over my budget with my financially savvy boyfriend, we realized it would be a good call to pay off my CC debts now, as it would save me a great deal of money in the end and also give me a way to start saving money right now so I can have some set aside in case of emergency.

It’s fabulous news for me – I never realized before yesterday just how much stress my debt has had on me. All the nights I’ve gone to sleep wondering how I was going to afford to put gas in the car to drive to band practice, pay for my monthly prescription medicine, pay the rent without bouncing a check, ever get out of debt, be able to afford to do anything fun at all without feeling guilty the entire time…all of a sudden I can see a little spot of blue in the sky.

This is going to give me a chance to afford to change careers when it’s time, and more relevant to this blog, it’s going to give me the ability to buy some new clothes for the first time in a VERY long time. Before, whenever I was thinking about the pretty clothes I’d like to wear if I were a bit more trim, in the back of my mind I knew that I’d never actually be able to afford new things, even if I was successful in losing weight. Now I will be able to buy a pair of new jeans, or splurge on a cute dress every once in awhile. Now I can set a weight goal and reward myself with a new outfit once I’ve reached that point. I got so excited when I realized that this morning, and as a result, my energy level when working out was so much higher.

This is definitely one of those times when I’m reminded of why I believe in being as positive as possible, even when it’s hard dredging up goodwill. Just keep aiming at where you want to be, and you WILL be helped. It might take six years, but eventually things will line up. Tonight I’m celebrating the sheer effort of plugging along. Maybe by next month I’ll be celebrating some new color (and sizes) in my wardrobe!

A Miracle

Australian Sunrise, Courtesy of Educated Earth.

It’s still a little early to be counting my chickens, but I think that something awesome might have happened yesterday. Without going into too much detail, it looks I’ll be receiving some money that I didn’t expect. It’s money that I’ll eventually have to pay back at a very small amount of interest, but it’s enough money that I will be able to get myself out of CC debt now, instead of in May. If this all works out, it will be a game changer. No longer will I be bent under the imaginary weight of these cards. I can burn them all, and then start saving for the future. More importantly, I’ll be able to afford to take a lower paying job if it becomes a necessity, or if something good opens up that I’m perfect for. I have been so unhappy for so long in my current position, but bound by the fact that I was an inch away from starving, and in no position to take any less money. Granted, I am worth more than I’m making now, but at least I know I have options, I am free to live again without 19% interest.

I’m going out for a run to celebrate.

Resolution Update #2

I got paid today. Since my biggest resolution is to create a budget and stick to it, I logged in to my account and starting paying bills, knowing that after paying everything I’d be broke again for 2 weeks. Now suddenly I’m frozen. I just can’t make any decisions, even though the bills I have to pay are all mapped out for me in an Excel document. I know it’s just a matter of visiting some websites, typing in some numbers, and sucking it up, but when I think about another two weeks with no chance of a social life or a meal I truly salivate over, everything tenses up. Still, this is just me being extremely spoiled. Think about all of those people who neither make enough money to pay bills nor eat at all. Think about all the children going hungry, the families being kicked out of their homes. Think about what it would be like if I suddenly lost my job and was in as much debt as I’m in now. Truly unpleasant, as upposed to just a tad unpleasant. Got to do this. After all, it’s my own damn fault that my CC’s are where they are, and that I’m having cravings for food that I could never actually afford, anyway. What a horrible little brat I am.

Off to delete my paycheck. I’ll check back in later.