Monday, February 11, 2013

Thriving in 2013: Money Matters

Have you heard of The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin? I am reading it right now and it is pretty great. She took a year to focus on adding more happy into her life, keying in on a different area each month. I have taken so much from this book that relates to my theme for this year to thrive.

One of the areas that I seek to thrive in in 2013 (and beyond) is money. I have shared some of my financial woes before, and I am not afraid to be honest about my good decisions and my bad ones. Money is an area that is never really very happy, but a whole lot of stressful. I want to change that.

Last fall, I paid my last major tuition bill. I will still have fees to pay over the next few semesters until I finish my dissertation, but not like what I have had for a regular semester. While I rejoiced at that, it also brings the reality that I will have to begin paying back student loans very soon. And I have quite the pile of them between these last two degrees.

Rather than pretending it's not there and that it's not coming quickly, I am trying to get out ahead of my loans. First, by eliminating the last tiny bit of my credit card debt that I have been working vigorously to pay off, and which should be gone before spring hits. And then, by throwing as much money as I can at my loans now, to hopefully reduce some of the interest payments later, and my overall payoff amount. This is one dragon that I'd rather slay head on, rather than waiting for it to come find me. Because I won't truly be thriving financially until this dude stops breathing fire down my back. 

So my year of "thriving" might actually look a little bit like the opposite in terms of "stuff". Spending less now so that I have more to spend down the road. Not that making some changes, wouldn't be a good thing anyway. I have definitely made some progress in my spending and saving habits and thought I'd share a few of my strategies. 

1. Figure out those items that I'd just prefer not to spend money on. And cut 'em. 
There are things I just don't need, that I have eliminated already (for the most part). Cable. Manis/pedis. Magazine subscriptions.  

2. Creating and actually using a monthly budget.
This has been a hard task, but an important one. My "budgeting" technique in the past has been to open my account and make sure it still has money in it before spending. Not exactly the best technique. For the past couple of months, I am working on an actual written budget for each month, with regular tracking. It takes time, but it's worth it.

3. Asking for gifts based on need, rather than want. 
I shared my excitement for our washer/dryer, which has made a world of a difference in our lives, and has helped us to save some money already. I have typically been more inclined to ask for Christmas and birthday presents that meet a need. Whether it has been a new winter coat, or most recently, a pair of new suitcases, I always love receiving something that I need. Nothing too flashy. My grandma stocked me up this year with all of the black dress socks that I will need for work for the next several years! And I can't even remember the last time I have bought my own pajamas. Thanks Mom!

4. Cutting food costs. 
Since I started the monthly meal planning, we have definitely gone out to dinner a lot less. Not only have we done less "lazy" eating out - those nights where it is unplanned, that you just don't feel like cooking dinner, but I have also been much better about taking my lunch. I can still reign in our grocery budget a bit by being more mindful about our grocery planning and using coupons.

Things that I still need to work on:

1. Cutting the coffee.
I have done much better with this during January and February. Even though I typically buy regular coffee rather than fancy lattes, it still adds up to get one every day. For awhile, I was trying to bring in my coffee from home, but I then developed a collection of travel mugs at the office that never made it home. So instead, I bought a coffee pot to keep in our office at work, and will make coffee there in the mornings. 

2. Accounting for non-monthly expenses in said budget. 
You know those things like car repairs, airline tickets for vacation, Christmas presents, etc. I often let those sneak up on me. And it would be a whole lot easier to put aside $10-50 a month, than have to pull them all out in the same month. So starting in February, they are being included in my monthly budget, and taken out on pay day to be put in a separate account. So I don't "accidentally" spend it. Better to have a more realistic plan at the beginning of the month.

3. Not buying on impulse, but allowing myself to spend. 
This will always be a hard one. I have a track record of being good about not spending any money for awhile, and then splurging all at once. Not a good habit. I think I will actually be much better off if I allow myself to spend more normally.

So that's the plan! I'll keep you posted. And stay tuned for more on The Happiness Project. Hoping to finish it this week!

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