The Bunker

Once upon a time, I blindly moved into a mad house. I am optimistic, impulsive, and naive, which can make a terrible combination. I moved in with two flight attendants who claimed they were hardly ever home. Perfect, I thought. Far from it.

They were both dating criminals who had done jail time. One of these boyfriends literally had six children with six different women and he would sometimes bring a kid to come hang out at the house, even when his girlfriend wasn’t there. One day I woke up and there was cat food all over the kitchen. We didn’t have a cat. Or so I thought. “Chris got me a little baby kitten last night. How do you feel?” Not great, roommate. Not great.

The other boyfriend would be loud and rowdy late into the night. As I thought about asking him to keep it down because it was 11 pm on a Sunday, he starts yelling at his girlfriend (my roommate) that he “doesn’t give a fuck, I’ve already been to jail, I’m not afraid to kill someone!” So I refrained and stayed locked in my room.

When I wasn’t locking myself in my room, I found any excuse to go out. I’d go out for food, for drinks, anything. With any and everyone I could find. Anything was better than being home. So I stopped cooking meals for myself to avoid common areas like the kitchen. I ate out all the time. I drank too much. Then I’d be hungover the next day and live off McDonald’s hash browns to pull myself together for work. I was gaining weight and wasting money rapidly. It was a bad downward spiral.

One day I couldn’t take it anymore. I told my coworker I HAD to move out but I didn’t know where to go that didn’t have roommates but was still in my price range. He had an answer for me. If I believed in miracles, this was it.

In his bachelor days, he bought a house, turned the basement into a one-bedroom apartment and lived there while he rented out the upstairs to earn some extra income. Now that he’s married (thanks to my match-making!) he’s moved in with her and the basement is available to rent – for $300 a month plus $50 for utilities. For reference, to live alone with all the space and amenities that this place had would easily be $1000+ for rent and utilities.

“CAN I PLEASE COME SEE IT IMMEDIATELY AFTER WORK TODAY!!??!?!?!”

I saw it on a Tuesday and moved out that Saturday.

After I moved out, one of the roommates texted me to ask if her boyfriend ever brought girls home while she was away. Not that I knew of, why? Apparently, his drug addicted cousin kept telling her that Chris was bringing a homeless woman that begs at a specific intersection back to our house during the day to hook up and let her shower. WHILE I WAS WORKING! She wasn’t sure what to believe because “you can’t always trust drug addicts, ya know?” Thank God I got out of there.

My private entrance to the basement was through the garage and down a set of stairs. However, the people the live upstairs are hoarders so the garage is stuffed from floor to ceiling with the most random crap with a small walkway for me to get in and out. Not ideal but it was a small sacrifice for a peaceful and affordable place to live!

I made the basement as homey as possible and affectionately named it The Bunker. It was my safe haven from the world. Nothing bad happened down there, mostly because no one ever came to visit me and I was rarely home, but still. It was my quiet space where I could block out the world. There was only an egress window in the bedroom so most of the time you couldn’t tell what time of day or what season it was down there. There was so much space though just for me. I no longer felt uncomfortable or confined to my bedroom avoiding the crazies.

I was so relieved and I will always be thankful for The Bunker.

Despite its unconventional ways, I wanted to stay at the Bunker for as long as possible because it was so cheap. Imagine all the money I could save! As most incredible financial opportunities I’ve been granted in my life, I have very little to show for it. Although I wasn’t going out as much as I had been, I didn’t stick to a strict budget. And I went through 3 months of unemployment, which ate my savings. But I did pay off my car, which was a great start.

Unfortunately, The Bunker gradually became not worth the price. It was about 30 minutes away from my social life, which meant I was driving an hour round trip several nights a week if I wanted to see anyone. No one ever wanted to come down to The Bunker. That became draining and it was disappointing how judgmental people could be about my unconventional living space.

As time went on, natural wear and tear made The Bunker harder to live in. The garage door antenna stopped recognizing a signal so I had to walk through the backyard in the snow and mud and into the dark garage’s side door just to get to my entryway.

Then the shower started leaking. Every single time I showered, it would leak out the bottom and flood my bathroom. I had to lay down towels before each shower and then wring them out and throw them in the dryer afterward. Not only was that process extensive, the mildew began to smell and I dreaded showering. And the landlord’s contractor wasn’t going to be available for months.

Then mice started taking over my kitchen and I completely lost all composure until they were gone. I had never killed anything bigger than a spider before and I hope to never have to do that again.

A few months later, my friend offhandedly mentioned that because he had moved in with his girlfriend, I should move into the house he owns since no one was there. Even if I paid him what I was paying for The Bunker, it would still help offset his mortgage. So we negotiated a slightly higher rate and I moved out shortly after. While it was wonderful to move above ground with windows and a working shower, The Bunker will always have a fond spot in my heart as a safe haven from a lot of rough times.

Chutes & Ladders

It’s funny the metaphors you can find behind a child’s board game. After 8 years of a lot of professional setbacks and stagnation, I suddenly got to climb the longest ladder I’ve ever seen. I spent the last year as a contractor for a large corporation, with the hopes that I would be hired on full-time eventually. After 25 interviews and a lot of tears, they hired me! And not for just any job but a senior position! I’ve jumped from Marketing Coordinator to Sr. Communications Specialist overnight. I worked so hard for this role and it’s the perfect fit for my experience, skills, and what I enjoy doing.

I’m only one week in but I am loving it. It’s a lot to absorb and the hours are long and busy, but I am absolutely in heaven. I’m surrounded by a great time, I get exposure to leadership within the company, and I’m already being recognized for my work. I honestly can’t believe I get to do this every day now.

If that wasn’t enough, this new role came with incredible benefits and a 46% salary increase + bonus potential. I don’t think I’ll ever have that big of a jump in income for the rest of my life.

I haven’t seen my first paycheck yet but after some calculations, I can’t believe the numbers I’m looking at. I have already filled out my direct deposit forms to designate savings, HSA, and Roth 401K contributions and I have established a plan for extra debt payments. It might have arrived later in life than I would have hoped but at least I can start now.

I’ve been dreaming of this for years and I was never really sure it would happen. I started to wonder if I just wasn’t meant for more of a challenge or a higher income. I am so thankful for this opportunity and I am determined to make the most of it. I don’t take this extra income lightly and I will not be dramatically increasing my lifestyle until I get my finances under control.

I can’t wait to show some real progress, starting with the next paycheck!

Saturday Night In

It’s 6:30 on a Saturday night and I’m trying to stay in. It would be so easy to meet up with friends for a drink and another night of shenanigans but I did that last night and $75 later (gulp), I should save the money. Even if I went out on the cheap, it would be $20 for ubers or parking and at least $10 on drinks. I’m proud of myself for not immediately going out and wanting to save that $30 instead but I can easily see myself getting bored and restless.

I’m dog sitting so I can’t even clean out my closet or do something all that productive. Looks like I’m about to get creative with ways to entertain myself.

Extra Income – February 2017

It’s always important to have additional income outside of your full-time job, especially when you’re paying off massive amounts of debt. My side jobs have varied across the years in diversity and frequency but there’s always been extra income from things I’m passionate about.

As I get more aggressive about my debt, I want to pay attention to the extra income and how that speeds up this process.

Dogsitting – $220 + $50 grocery gift card

Babysitting – $80

State Tax Return – $188

Total – $538

Total Toward Debt – $528

March has a few side jobs on the books, including a brand new opportunity that I’m excited about!

Cheap Meals of the Week v.1

I have found a few areas that I can cut out of my budget in order to make room for more savings and higher debt payments. This started with cutting out restaurants and fast food. But because I can’t cut out my food budget entirely, it has now become a challenge of how little I can spend while still being healthy and satisfying. When I think of meals on the cheap, there are common stereotypes that come to mind: Ramen packets, PB&J, soup, or a box of mac & cheese. It would be far from sustainable to stick to that kind of diet for both my waistline and sanity.

So I’ve tried to get creative in that department.

Pulled Pork Tenderloin sandwichesMonday dinner + lunches for the week
2lbs of pork tenderloin frozen from my freezer (package 1 of 5 from a bulk sale weeks ago), thrown into a crockpot with some seasoning, Worcester sauce, and a small can of french onion soup. My favorite bread was on sale for $2.50. Voila. 5 meals – $8 total – $1.60/serving

Healthy Tuna CasseroleWednesday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday dinner 
Cook a box of bow tie pasta (any noodle or rice would do), throw in a can of tuna, and a Green Giant lightly-sauced vegetable steamer, top with some salt, pepper, and cheese. 4 meals – $8.16 total – $$2.04/serving

Fish FryHosted friends for dinner Thursday night
The family I was dogsitting for loves to fish and they keep fresh sunfish and crappie fillets in their freezer. Friends brought sides and it was an adorable little fish fry that cost me nothing!

I have a feeling I’ll like this challenge!

 

 

 

Bye Bye BoA

After a 40-minute phone call, I have one less credit card to my name. The balance had been zero for a while now but when I logged on to Mint yesterday I learned about a $59 charge for their annual fee. Oh gee, thanks.

I could have paid the annoying fee and carried on. In the past, I honestly have done that. It’s a pain to call customer service, especially in their available time frame, and wait on hold and suffer through multiple transfers and avoid upsell attempts. And what if I need that card down the road for some unexpected purchase?? But my money is a priority and that 40 minutes was easily worth saving the $59. And now that’s one less credit card I can be tempted to overspend with.

It’s embarrassing to admit that closing this card is just the tip of the iceberg. My Bank of America card is only one of seven cards in my name. And the now-closed card is the only one without a balance. It’s not pretty and if I think about it too much I get a little crazy. My normally-transparent self doesn’t even feel comfortable sharing what my total credit card debt is. I am actively paying it down now but let’s just say at its peak, it was more than $15,000. Seriously. Thankfully they’re all on 0% interest programs, for now. Yes, focus on the positive before I send myself into a spiral of panic.

Anyways…canceling my BoA card was a small win in this mammoth challenge. That’s enough for today.

Side note: if it weren’t for Mint, I wouldn’t have noticed the charge! I don’t usually log into accounts that have a $0 balance so I would have missed it and then likely been charged interest on it for months to come. Score one for Mint!

 

Drunk Food

Now, I know this post will be a little passe and not exactly classy but it’s the truth. Like most millennials, I am a social drinker and most of my social activities revolve around drinking. Additionally, like most millennials, I tend to steer toward alcohol with stress.

And typically while and after drinking for whatever occasion, my gut reaction is to eat. Specifically pizza or at the bare minimum greasy foods. It’s a terrible habit not only for my health but also for my wallet. Not only do I spend (a lot of) money on alcohol, the “soak up” food and the hangover foods I buy to recover truly add up.

It’s for that reason that I am cutting back on drinking. I’m not giving it up for several reasons but it doesn’t hold as high of a priority in my life given my current goals. This goes hand in hand with going out to eat because if one is cut out, it frequently coincides with the other. Not eating out means I can’t purchase the magical hangover cure that is McDonald’s hashbrowns.

However, when I do drink, I need to find alternatives to ordering a pizza or getting fast food on the way home. I am 7 days into not going out to eat and I was definitely tempted to buy some “soak up” food tonight. Instead, I made some toast topped with parmesan cheese and a fried egg. It took less time and it included everything I had on hand. To boot, the fried egg included just enough “fried” to feel like the greasy foods I usually get.

When I think about it, that simple switch saved me roughly $6 tonight. It doesn’t sound like much but I know how quickly that adds up or how often that $6 looks more like a $20 Papa Johns order. I’m trying to focus on the seemingly little things to change big habits. I’m considering tonight as a win.

Weekend Recap

$28.33!!

That’s the total cost of my past weekend. And that includes grabbing a few groceries that will last a while. That’s an unprecedented number and needless to say, I’m thrilled.

Friday night I babysat – the easy way to get free dinner and a fun night with my favorite kiddos. Saturday morning I packed a bag and a lunch box and headed out the door to yoga sculpt class at my gym. It’s easily a highlight of my week.

Afterward, I headed straight to the bank to deposit my babysitting earnings and I immediately made a payment to my credit card. I’ve come to learn I’m not to be trusted with money sitting around, as it inevitably gets spent.

My friend is an instructor at a ski lodge south of town and he hooked us up with free passes and rentals Saturday afternoon. Despite a lot of time on the bunny hill, falling off the ski lift, and basically knocking down strangers with my poor coordination, it was nice to spend the day outdoors with friends. With the purchase of two beers, that was the most expensive part of the weekend.

Also, I’d like to point out what I brought in the lunch box I mentioned:

  • One portion of leftover chicken cacciatore
  • PB&J fixings
  • Two slices of leftover pizza
  • Two eggs
  • Half an avocado
  • A can of La Croix
  • 3 pieces of chocolate

Plans throughout the weekend meant I’d be staying away from home most of the time. Rather than picking up food for lunch on the way to skiing, eating at the ski lodge, going out to dinner, and relying on my friend’s stocked cupboards to feed me, I planned ahead and avoided eating out. Additionally, I was able to use up food in my fridge that would have otherwise gone bad while I was away. I’m happy to report that with that kind of planning, I am finishing up day 5 of not going out to eat.

Throughout the weekend, I was prepared to say no if something didn’t fit my budget. However, I am happy and thankful to have plenty of opportunities that I was able to enjoy for free. It won’t always be $30 weekends but for now, that’s completely fine by me.

2 Days Down

It’s funny how starting one challenge can have a ripple effect into other areas of your life. Granted, it’s only been 2 days but because I am not buying food, I also haven’t spent money anywhere else either.

Whenever I think of picking up food because it’s “on the way” or “faster” or “it sounded good”, I pause to think about it and remind myself of this challenge and my priorities. That pause has translated to every other purchase I’ve thought about making and poof, I didn’t make it.

So here we are. A full 48 hours of giving my bank accounts a much-needed break.

In fact, I’ve made money in that time. Today is payday and I immediately allocated money to savings and my credit card. It never feels like enough but it felt good nonetheless.

And as I type, I’m babysitting. Yes, I’m 28 vs 14 but I love these kids as if they were my family and it’s a wonderful and productive way to spend a Friday night. No shame in this game. So I’m looking at free dinner plus probably $70 going straight toward that card.

Again, it feels like a small dent but I’m working on remembering that every dollar counts. Whenever I felt like $5 here or $20 there wouldn’t make a difference, I inevitably spent it on stuff I didn’t need instead. Oh, the joys of changing stubborn mindsets and bad habits.

Looking at the rest of a very active weekend, there’s a decent chance I could I’m going to get to Sunday night with only spending $30 at most. I would call that a giant victory after last weekend’s $325. Yikes.

Cheers to reporting back on Sunday with success 🙂

The Last Supper

I recently became aware of Carl Richards and The Behavior Gap.

“It’s not that we’re dumb. We’re wired to avoid pain and pursue pleasure and security. It feels right to sell when everyone around us is scared and buy when everyone feels great. It may feel right-but it’s not rational.”

While I haven’t read the book and the teachings of investing might not apply quite yet, the concept of the gap between my goals and my behavior is incredibly relevant. When I look at my spending vs the financial stress and debt I carry with me, there is a massive behavior gap. It’s absurd.

One area I could see the biggest gap in was my food budget. Despite cooking and meal prep, I still go out to eat a lot. In fact, I’ve spent more than $800 on restaurants, fast food, alcohol, and bars in the last 3 months. And less than $200 on groceries. That’s not cool.

Food tends to serve as a comfort for me so as stress goes up, so do my trips to Chipotle, Wendy’s, or dinner with friends. Even when I have perfectly good food in my fridge, I’ll opt out.

So in an attempt to close this gap, I’m going to give up eating out for a month. I am not allowed to buy food outside of a grocery store until March 24th. There are much better ways to use my money than overspending at a restaurant.

After a friend’s birthday dinner at the best pizza joint in town tonight, I’m kicking the month off tomorrow.*

*Originally written on 2/22. The month started on 2/23 but finishing this post apparently took much longer.