(Re)Creating Carly











Less than seventeen months ago, I took the first step toward fulfilling my goal of getting rid of TWENTY-ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS in credit card debt. And, today, I am happy to report that I’ve reached my goal. (YAY!!)

Throughout this journey, I’ve learned a tremendous amount and in celebration of my achievement, I thought I’d share the top ten:

  1. Friends are people who love you regardless of how much money you have, where you can afford to eat, or what clothes you can afford to wear. I’m so grateful to have friends who love me, who root for me, who enjoy popcorn and movie nights and hole-in-the-wall dinner spots—and who understand when I can’t afford to attend certain events. My friends have been so supportive throughout this journey and I really couldn’t have done this without them.
  2. The simple things in life are free (or cheap). And the simple things in life also happen to be the best things. There is a ton of cool free (and cheap)  sh** to do in NYC. And pretty much everywhere. Do some research and find it.
  3. More people are in debt than you think. When you start opening up about your finances, others will, too. Once I shared my debt story, I heard from countless friends and family members who were also struggling financially. Being able to share honestly about what was going on in my life helped relieve so much of the burden. And not one person – not one—expressed any kind of judgment. To the contrary, most people showered me with support and encouragement, and actually looked to me for inspiration.
  4. Things don’t equal happiness. Happiness equals happiness. I lived on next to nothing over the past year and a half. I rarely bought things. And I was happy.
  5. Money matters. I recently read a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, a story of a woman who embarks on a yearlong mission to increase her happiness. She devotes one of her chapters to the idea of “buying happiness,” that is, purposefully spending to improve specific aspects of one’s life. In it she states, “When money or health is a problem, you think of little else; when it’s not a problem, you don’t think much about it.” I’ve learned that although having money won’t make you happy, not having it can make you pretty miserable.  If this seems to contradict the idea that the best things in life are free, it doesn’t. The best things in life are free, but if you’re constantly worried about debt, you probably won’t enjoy them much.
  6. Health is more important than everything. Everything. And, fortunately, exercise is free. And healthy food isn’t nearly as expensive as the world tries to make you think. A week’s worth of fruits, veggies, whole grains and lean proteins cost much less than a few nights a week cruising through the Wendy’s drive-thru.
  7. Ignoring problems doesn’t, in fact, make them go away. They instead manifest in other ways – stress, illness, unhappiness. When I finally opened my eyes and honestly examined my financial situation, for the first time in a long time, I felt as though I was in control. The stress and worry immediately began to dissipate. I had not yet paid a cent towards my debt, but I knew that I would.
  8. Tracking spending is the most crucial component of debt repayment. At least it was for me. I would’ve sworn on both my great-great grandmothers’ graves that I didn’t have even an extra dollar to put towards my debt. And I would’ve been damned to hell (or wherever you get damned for disturbing the peace of long gone family members) because I was wrong. But I didn’t realize this until I tracked my spending and discovered everywhere I was being wasteful. My debt accumulated over my refusal to accept the limits of my income and my refusal to believe that with a little effort I could, in fact, live within my means. It’s just take-out, I’d say. It’s just a manicure. Maybe my debt repayment wouldn’t have been so painful if I’d been working to pay off a 6-month trip around the world, but instead I was paying off old grocery bills and daily visits to the coffee shop.
  9. Don’t eat your way into debt. I didn’t realize that instead of spending close to $400 per month on groceries, I could spend about $150. I didn’t realize that instead of buying lunch and tea and breakfast sandwiches out every day, I could instead eat the leftovers from the dinners I’d made the night before. I didn’t realize that instead of ordering dinner out, I could actually just eat the food in my refrigerator before it spoiled. The worst thing about eating your way into debt is you have absolutely sh** nothing to show for it.

    My incredible view -- Blue Ridge Mountains

    My incredible view — Blue Ridge Mountains

  10. Debt is just a distraction. One of my favorite books is called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. In it, Pressfield discusses the struggle of artists. He calls the obstacles that get in the way of an artist’s work resistance. Resistance, as he describes it, appears in many forms, be it negative self-talk, or life hurdles such as illness or an abundance of obligations. I think having debt, at least for me, was a form of resistance that interfered with me pursuing something that means everything to me – writing my first novel. However, now that my debt is gone, instead of being focused on money right now, I’m at a gorgeous writing retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains. As I type this, the birds are singing, wisps of smoky clouds are curling around the adjacent mountaintops, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

 

 

I haven’t been the most consistent blogger – I’m so sorry! But to everyone who has read, commented, and offered support throughout my journey, I sincerely thank you. Your interest and support has meant so much to me. Going forth, I will still continue to blog about things that interest me (and hopefully you, too)–like money, writing, and fitness. For now, on to the next goal! Xox



Hello all! Long time, no blog!

Thanks to some down time via February vacation, along with some positive debt repayment news, I’m finally back with an update.

It’s been about a year since I made my first payment towards getting out of credit card debt. And what a year it has been. In addition to adjusting to a yearlong sacrifice of THINGS (which isn’t really as difficult as one might imagine), I’ve become so much happier and have taken control over my life.

When I first forced myself to look at the balance on my credit card statement, I was more stressed out than ever, feeling like everything was pretty hopeless. I searched everywhere, fruitlessly, for a simple solution. I felt sorry for myself and was enraged that I worked so hard every day, and still, as an educated professional, could not afford to do seemingly simple things, like order Indian take-out, or see my beloved Jack White in concert. I looked at everyone and everything, except myself, to lay blame. It’s that damn ONE PERCENT. It’s all THEIR FAULT! It’s Scott Walker and his cronies, systematically destroying America’s middle class! It’s NYC! What kind of imperialist city charges its residents $7.50 ONE WAY to travel from one section of town to another?! And when one of my close friends suggested I find a part-time job, I seethed – DOESN’T SHE CARE ABOUT ME AT ALL??? HOW COULD SHE EVEN SUGGEST SUCH A THING??? When I called debt counselors, their advice was the equivalent of a sarcastic eye roll. “Spend less and get another job, lady.” But HOW could I work MORE??? I was already working so much, and was utterly exhausted by the time I got home. And how could I cut spending from my already tight budget?? No more take out?? EVER?? No more coffee house stops in the morning?? THIS IS NOT A LIFE! I MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD!

Yep.

I know.

Pretty pathetic.

But once my tantrum was over, I faced the truth that there would be no easy way out for me, and I was going to have to be a grown-up. After all,*I* had gotten myself into this mess (regardless of what economic injustices may have indirectly befallen me, or what lines of consumerism BS I chose to believe). It was ALL ME. I am no victim. And spending even a moment believing otherwise was only delaying the inevitable: me cutting my spending, increasing my income, and getting out of debt.

When I changed my perspective, that’s when my life changed.

Getting real about my finances and learning to live within my means has made me see the world, as well as myself, in a new way. I am more than THINGS. I am more than EXPERIENCES I CAN’T AFFORD. I am CAPABLE of making intelligent financial decisions. I am capable of being a GREAT FRIEND to others without overspending. I am capable of enjoying the SIMPLE THINGS. In fact, I’d argue that the simple things are far more precious than those that come with a hefty price tag.

Cliché, yes. But the best things in life REALLY are free. (Clichés are clichés for a reason, people!) Listening is free. Exercising is free. Laughing is free. Kissing is free. Sharing stories is… well, you get the idea. Keeping up with the Joneses? Puh-ljoneses2mansionease. I gots no one to keep up with, and all the love I need.

This isn’t to say that it’s been easy, and that I haven’t grown weary of debt repayment. Oh, have I ever. But when I think back to how unhappy I was, living with my head buried beneath stacks of PAYMENTDUENOWs, I am so grateful to claim every last bit of this experience. The saying is true: what doesn’t challenge you, doesn’t change you.

I haven’t blogged a lot over the past many months – mostly because I only feel like I should be blogging when I have something significant to report. And I’ve pretty much said all there is to say about how to get out of debt: you just need to put a plan in place, live within your means, find extra sources of income, and make as big a payment as humanly possible each month until that balance is wiped out. I’m not there yet, but I will be soon.

I’m so happy to report that I’ve gotten my debt down to $4800. FORTY-EIGHT HUNDRED, GUYS!!! And I’m still on schedule to have it paid off by my debt-free date. What is especially fantastic about this is that while I’ve managed to pay off over $17,000 in debt (including interest) over the past year, I’ve also managed to keep putting money away for retirement. I know some people think that saving while paying off debt is counterintuitive, but my retirement account pays a ridiculous amount of interest for this economy and the more I am able to put in there now, the more the compounding interest will do for me later.

Some of you who have been reading this blog over the months may remember my decision to stop dating while I repaid my debt. Some thought this was a good idea. Others, not so much. Well, I am so happy that I made that choice for me. Paying off a ton of debt in a small amount of time requires sacrifice, and I know that having the added pressure of dating would have been too much for me. Now that the majority of my debt is gone, I’ve jumped back into those waters, though, and feel like such a lighter, happier person – no longer weighed down by financial worries and misguided priorities.

I really couldn’t have gotten this far without the support of my fellow bloggers, friends, and family, who have been more than happy to spend cheap nights out with me, and cheer me on throughout this endeavor. I’m not done yet, but that $0 balance is finally just a few short months away.

So… TELL ME! What’s new with YOU?!



{October 13, 2013}   Journey to Silence

Maybe it was debt fatigue, or blogging fatigue. Or maybe a little bit of both. Or maybe it was the way summer makes you forget your name for a while. I’m not exactly sure. But I haven’t had a lot to say. And instead of filling up the space with unnecessary words, it was time for me to enjoy the silence.

Silence -- A Film by Pat Collins: http://www.silencefilm.ie/

Silence — A Film by Pat Collins: http://www.silencefilm.ie/

I recently went to the Irish Film Festival here in NY and saw a fantastic movie called (you guessed it) Silence. It’s about a sound tech’s journey to record audio that is free of man-made noise. It’s poetic and profound. And it got me thinking about my journey to “silence” – that place of inner peace where things just make sense, free from all the noise that clouds our thoughts, our lives. For me, a lot of that noise over the past several years has had to do with financial hardship. It’s gotten in the way of me being still with the things that matter to me. It’s prevented me from exploring new paths, and being fully present in the moment. I’ve spent so much time either flagellating myself over past money mistakes, or frantically plotting how to rectify things. Amidst all of this noise, I haven’t made room for silence.

My journey towards financial freedom is in many ways my journey towards silence.

When I think back to the beginning of this quest—my proverbial rock bottom: asking my ex for money to cover my rent, it’s pretty amazing how far I’ve come in such a relatively short amount of time. It has been eight months since that dark, winter day and I’m happy to report that I’ve paid off $12,000 (including interest) and am finally below the 10k mark. Something about seeing that new balance on my credit card statement read $9,997 and knowing I have a solid plan to pay the rest off by my deadline has given me some of that silence I’ve been craving.

Oh, what a difference eight months make.

I remember how I felt back then—scared, angry and hopeless. I was convinced the only way out of it all was to find a roommate or leave NYC behind. But all it really took was commitment and perseverance. And voila. Things got better.

The new money habits I’ve adopted are now just that—habits. I no longer have to negotiate with myself to make smart financial moves. Don’t have the money? Don’t buy it. Need more money? Find more work. It’s simple. And despite the fact that I often feel like an idiot for getting into this place to begin with, I feel as though I’m moving forward with a tremendous amount of knowledge. I can’t wait until the time when my money is no longer going towards making credit card companies richer, but into my own investments. I can’t wait to become unchained to my creditors, and in charge of my life in a way I haven’t been for quite some time.

And most of all, I can’t wait to relish the silence.

(Can you hear it?)



Oh, summer. Buttercups under the chin.  Movies under the stars. Days that go on forever. Time for reading and writing and doing all those things I’ve waited all winter to do. I love summer—and not just because I’m lucky enough to get summers off, although that doesn’t hurt. There’s just something about the scent of lilacs in the air that make me nostalgic for summers past. Being a kid, playing hide-and-seek with the neighborhood crew. Or being a teenager and sneaking out to go swimming with my friends (Sorry, Mom and Dad). Or, as an adult, taking last minute road trips, windows down, singing along to anything and everything that comes on the radio. It’s always been a time for slowing life down a bit, and just enjoying.

Summertime is also a time for renewal. For trying new things. And for getting back to the heart of what’s important in our lives. Earlier this year, I tried my best to kick start a workout routine. I even blogged about it in my first installment of Tea & Inspiration. You see, deciding to pay off my debt isn’t just about becoming debt-free for me. It’s about living the dream—living MY dream life.

Part of my dream life involves being physically fit. And this summer, my focus has been on getting (back) into shape. Between school year madness and getting sick a lot, I dropped the ball on fitness over the past couple years. Sure, I made a few scattered attempts to get it together during that period, but nothing stuck. And my muscles have been hating me for it. I didn’t realize just how much until I recently took a 3-mile walk with a friend and had a ton of leg pain afterwards. LEG PAIN FROM WALKING?! Whoever heard of such a thing?! Not me, that’s for sure. And towards the end of the school year, I was getting pain just from STANDING.

I’m a naturally thin person—my weight hasn’t really changed since high school, so even though I knew I wasn’t as fit as I used to be, I considered myself to be in decent shape. The reality, however, is that I was slowly losing all the muscle in my body that used to make doing things like WALKING and STANDING a snap. Being thin definitely does NOT mean being in shape.  And, let’s face it, it doesn’t matter how much debt you’ve paid off or how much money you have in the bank, if you’re not healthy, none of it really matters.

Right now, I’m in Florida with family, soaking up the sunscreen, and hitting the gym for about 2 hours a day. Go big or go home, right? It’s been about two and a half weeks since I started and I’ve gone from barely being able to do a crunch to being able to do over a hundred of these:

Swiss Ball Jackknife. Ouch.

In such a short amount of time, I can feel a big difference. I feel stronger. Empowered. And my legs haven’t ached at all – other than the normal after-workout soreness. I know how lucky I am to have a summer off to dedicate to this, and I don’t want to waste a moment of it. Now I just have to figure out how to keep it up once I’m back to reality! I think I can… I think I can…

In other ‘dream life’ news, I’m excited to report that I just made a $2,000 credit card payment – courtesy of my summer sublet. Yay! It’s been about six months since I began my quest to become debt-free, and I’ve paid off almost one-half of my debt. On my salary, that’s a miracle!

I hope you are all making the most of your summer, and getting closer to living the life of your dreams.

What have you been up to this summer? What are some things you’d like to accomplish in order to be living YOUR dream life?



{July 3, 2013}   Take That, Dick!

It’s been over a month since my last blog post, and I’ve missed you all so much! But, I gotta say, I’ve enjoyed the time off. Maybe a little too much. June was tuh-ufff on the budget.

Between End-of-School-Year Madness and a full social calendar, finding time for blogging has been impossible. But I also haven’t really been in the blogging mood. I started feeling really guilty about my budgeting failures. How could I blog about my personal finance triumphs when it was all falling to pieces?

It all began one day in May when I was examining my budget spreadsheet and noticed that I’d gotten ahead financially. In addition to paying off debt, I’ve been slowly building up a nice cushion in my checking account. But that little discovery had ramifications I hadn’t prepared for. It summoned all of my old financial demons. PARTY AT CARLY’S! Sure, they showed up all smiles, gave me high-fives and asked me to dance, but as soon as I turned my back, they were plotting away. And before I even had a chance to revel in my accomplishment, they had already thought of multiple ways to spend my extra cash. Visions of new clothes and haircuts and manicures and Caribbean cruises (yes, I actually researched cruises) started doing the Meringue in my head. I looked up cottages and train fares, plane tickets around the world and high-end moisturizers I’ve really wanted to try. It was as if I’d been on a no-carb diet for five months only to find myself trapped in a Little Debbie factory.

Meet Dick: Universe's Evil Twin Brother.

Meet Richard: Universe’s Evil Twin Brother.

Somehow, I managed to get myself in check, and politely asked the demons to leave. (I told them I had a headache.)  But I decided that I had earned a splurge or two. So I signed up for a dating site (despite the fact that I’m leaving town for six weeks and can’t be bothered to actually log into it and respond to emails) and went to Philly for the weekend with friends to attend the opening of my friend’s gallery exhibit. (I stayed with a friend who lives there and the whole trip was super cheap – but it still cost my entire entertainment budget for the month.) So by June 3rd, I was already $60 over budget. BUT I COULD AFFORD IT, RIGHT? I had saved a lot and if I didn’t allow myself some fun, I’d go crazy. But it’s almost like the Universe–or the Universe’s evil twin brother, we’ll call him Richard—knew what I was up to and decided to teach me a lesson.

First came the dropping of my cell phone, which resulted in a $100 bill for a refurbished replacement. (Isn’t cell phone “insurance” awesome?)

Then came the dead car battery. There goes another $130. And then came the pizza party for my students. And the birthday brunch for a good friend. And another birthday. And happy hour. And farewell-for-the-summer-get-togethers. And, well, what budget?

For the first time since I began my quest to become debt-free, I’d spent more in a month than I made, by a few hundred dollars. And I couldn’t help but wonder if my journey toward financial freedom had just hit a dead-end. Would this be the end of my life as a budgeting superhero? Would I revert to my old buying-lunch-out ways? Would I no longer be able to resist the call for European knee-high boots and Indian take-out?

After I had a moment to accept that $#@! June happens (and will no doubt happen again), the easy answer to those questions is NO.

Sure, I splurged a little and things came up, as they were sure to. But how incredible is it that I actually had enough money to pay for them? Five months ago, I didn’t even have enough money to pay my rent.  I was also still able to make my double-the-minimum credit card payment. And in a couple of weeks, I’ll be making a payment of $2,000 and will have—officially—repaid over $10,000 of debt in the past five months. Not too shabby.

Most of what I’ve spent money on this month has been worth it. I wouldn’t have missed that weekend away for anything. And the memories I’ve made with my friends over the past month are ones I won’t soon forget. All of this stuff has been a lot of fun, and after five months of living like a pauper, I needed it. Part of life is making memories. And although I’m super proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish over the past few months, life is short and I don’t want to miss out on these important moments.

That said, I’m going to keep plugging away to become debt-free, and am happy to report that I’m still on track to reach my goal within my original time frame of 18 months (or less).

So, Richard, like it or not, here I come!

How have you managed to handle Richard when he’s come along to disrupt your plans?  What do you think is more important — saving money or making lasting memories with loved ones? Or, like everything else, is it just about striking the right balance?



{May 27, 2013}   Surviving NYC on a Budget

When I moved to New York City a little over six years ago, I had no idea the financial challenges I’d face. Wide-eyed and a bit naive, I believed things would just work themselves out. They always had before. I was blinded by the incredible view of midtown from my living room and Alicia Keys and Jay-Z belting out the city’s anthem from passing cars. Concrete Jungle Where Dreams Are Made, Oh, There’s Nothing You Can’t Do. And even once the music naivety began to fade and I started seeing New York for all of his flaws, like a doting lover, I largely ignored them. Until, that is, about six years later when I opened my eyes and found myself in $21,000 of credit card debt.

The view from my apartment

The view from my apartment

I’m happy to say, I’ve learned some things since then. And although I’m still in love with my gorgeous city, I’ve finally figured out how to manage his less desirable traits.

My top twelve tips for surviving NYC on a budget:

1. Chez Carly. The biggest temptation in NYC is all the amazing restaurants, so eating in (not to be confused with ordering in) is the best way to stay within your budget. But when you do go out, as you are bound to (what would be the point of living here if you didn’t eat out at least some of the time?), replace expensive dinners with cheap (but still yummy) brunches. You can also get great deals on websites like Groupon or Living Social so you can try out some new dinner spots on the cheap. And when you want to splurge at a higher-end place, wait until Restaurant Week. I’ve tried out some amazing restaurants, like The Modern and Giorgio’s of Gramercy, this way. A three course lunch is $25; a three-course dinner is $35.

2. Get to know the parking rules. When I first moved to the city, I got slammed with parking tickets–some because I moved my car literally two minutes past the street cleaning times. For those of you who aren’t familiar with NYC parking, each side of most city streets is cleaned twice per week during posted times. If you don’t move your car, it’ll cost you at least $60. Once, instead of giving me a ticket, they towed me. It cost me hundreds of dollars (and a lot of time sitting at the very unpleasant Tow Pound) to get my car back. If possible, get around NYC without a car. But if you need one, learn the rules. I finally did, and am saving a ton of money.

3. If you drive, do your best to avoid the tolls. The RFK, Whitestone, and Throgsneck bridges as well as the Midtown Tunnels are now $7.50 just one way without an EZ pass, $5.33 with an EZ pass. Yikes. That’s between $10 and $15 per day just to travel over a bridge. Try alternate routes, like the Willis Avenue Bridge to the FDR or Choose the Queensboro or Williamsburg bridge over the Midtown Tunnel. It will save you hundreds of dollars each month.

4. Travel by rail. As you can tell from numbers 2 and 3, it’s much cheaper than owning a car. If you do use the subway, get a monthly pass (currently $112). But if you only use it a handful of times per month, just pay as you go. But don’t lose your card. They now add a $1 surcharge for new cards. Ouch.

5. Live with roommates or find a rent-stabilized apartment. Also, avoid realtor fees by conducting the search yourself and look for apartments listed by owner. I know some people are weary of craigslist, but I found a great, no-fee apartment this way and saved well over $1,000 in finders fees.

6. Don’t pick the trendiest hood in the city. It’ll cost ya. Live in a safe neighborhood with good subway access. Every neighborhood has its charms and you’ll fall in love with all of its quirks and secret little hideaways. As long as you’re near a decent subway stop, everything in the city is right at your fingertips.

7. Cheat on your hairdresser. If you’re just getting a trim, use a groupon. Most NYC stylists are more than capable of giving a good touch-up, so don’t waste a ton of money at a high-end salon.

8. Go to your dermatologist for spa treatments. Some procedures, like light chemical peels to help exfoliate the skin, can be done at your doctor’s office for only the cost of your insurance co-pay. Contact your dermatologist for info before shelling out hundreds at that luxury spa.

9. Find free stuff to do. I was going to write a blog post dedicated solely to this, but the list is long and ever-changing. Fortunately, Time Out New York  and NYC Go keeps up with this for you.

My faves:

Taken while walking over the Queensboro Bridge.

Taken while walking over the Queensboro Bridge.

  • Kayaking on the Hudson or Kayaking on the East River I once kayaked from the Queensboro Bridge to the Williamsburg Bridge at night and it was incredible — and free. I’ve never seen the skyline look more beautiful. (Note: they supply the kayaks and life jackets.)
  • Bank of America customers — Admission is free to select museums (like the Guggenheim) with credit or debit card.
  • Bryant Park — Tons of free things to do here: Ice Skating, Movies, Yoga, Foreign Language Classes, Juggling Lessons, Ping Pong, and countless more. I love this park!
  • Bridge walks — Take a stroll over the Brooklyn Bridge or the Queensboro Bridge and see gorgeous views of the city.
  • Governor’s Island — The ferry is free and the park is beautiful. They also offer tram tours of the island’s history.
  • Staten Island Ferry — Bring your camera and take great shots of downtown Manhattan as well as the Statue of Liberty.
  • Free Concerts — This site is in-the-know about free upcoming concerts in the city.

10. Find cheap stuff to do. Again, Time Out New York is your go-to for fun on the cheap.

My faves:

  • Bingo in Brooklyn — Old school bingo at its best. But be prepared to keep up or you’ll miss the numbers. They don’t mess around.
  • Yoga — A list of cheap or free yoga spots around the city.
  • Meditation — Cheap or free meditation spots in the city.
  • Happy Hours — These cheap spots will make you happy.
  • Pot luck nights with friends.

11. When clothes shopping, choose classic over trendy. As cute as I think peplum tops are this season, I know they have a shelf-life. Classics survive fashion shifts while helping your budget survive, as well.

Update: Today in Central Park. Perfect Day!

Update: Today in Central Park. Perfect Day!

12. When shopping for groceries or personal items, use the club cards and shop the sales. Once I got $42 worth of items I use regularly for a mere $9 at Rite Aid. Also, try not to be too tied to a name-brand. Oftentimes the store brand is made in the exact same factory and the difference in taste is negligible. The difference in your wallet, however, is not. Lastly — once the weather is warmer you can find countless fruit & veggie stands on the streets where you can get your produce for less than half of what you’ll pay at the grocery store or bodega.

13. Yeah, yeah. I know I said 12, but this just occurred to me as perhaps the most important of them all. Don’t be afraid to say no to invites that you can’t afford. Temptation is everywhere in the city. And, let’s face it, a lot of people make more money than you (and by you, I mean ME). Don’t commit financial suicide by trying to keep up, impress, or live a lifestyle you can’t afford. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but trust me, it’s a long, hard climb out.

Whether you’re a a city-dweller or just someone trying to save money, I hope these tips inspire you to make the most of your life — and your money. (And now I’m off to a FREE picnic in Central Park. Happy Memorial Day, everyone!)

How do you survive on a budget? Any tips on free or cheap things to do in the city?



When I embarked on my quest to become debt-free, I decided that dating couldn’t be part of the equation. You see, when I’m dating, I have the tendency to spend a lot of money–on clothes, on my hair, on my nails, and if I really like ’em, on the guy. In fact, when scrutinizing my past credit card statements to try to figure out how the !$%@ I got myself in this mess, I noticed a GIGANTIC spike in spending during my last relationship with Mr. TooGoodToBeTrue.

So for the past few months, I’ve been lying low, focusing solely on paying down my debt. But ya know what they say — it’s lonely on the bottom. And sometimes I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. I recently read two posts–Budget and the Beach’s, Confessions, lamenting singledom, and My Everyday Power Blog’s, Start Before You Are Ready, which had this little gem in it:

credit: everydaypowerblog.com

credit: everydaypowerblog.com

They got me debating the age old question–to date or not to date?– all over again.

I’m turning 39 in a few months. I should feel some sort of pressure about that, right? I don’t really — partly because I live in the Singles Capital of the World, and partly because I’ve loved and lost and loved and lost and… well, you get the idea. I’ve been there, done that. And I’m freakishly okay with not doing it again.

Sort of. Every now and then that little meddler inside my head starts whispering things about how nice it’d be to be in love again. How nice it’d be to have a life partner to share all the highs, lows and plain ol’ middles with. She also has no problem reminding me that I’m not getting any younger. Asshole.

But I’m afraid of a couple of things. First, I’m worried that dating will keep me from reaching my financial goals. For me, trying to date while recovering from debt is a little like a recovering alcoholic getting a job as a bartender.  I just know I’m going to spend a lot more money. And, second, I hate the idea of having to tell a potential love interest that I’m a financial disaster (for the moment, anyway). When you meet someone you like, you just want it to be all wow-you’re-so-awesome and i-can’t-believe-someone-as-amazing-as-you-exists. Or something like that. But when you also have to slip in, “By the way, I’m in massive amounts of credit card debt and my fun for the week consists of Swiss Miss and microwave popcorn,” suddenly, awesome-and-amazing takes a sharp dive towards he’s-just-not-that-into-you. Or so I’d imagine.

If I woman up and wait a year until I’m happily in the black, I can step back out into the dating world a financially secure love-seeking machine.  But, if I wait until, as the quote above says, “I’m ready,” maybe I’ll be waiting for the rest of my life. And, just maybe, I’ll miss out on something awesome-and-amazing right now.

What’s a broke girl to do?

I’m still leaning towards not dating for the moment–mostly because I’m pretty happy on my own, and love being focused solely on lil ol’ me for a change, but, I’m curious–What would you do? Have you ever dated while on a budget? How did you manage?



It’s been about three months since I set out on my quest to become debt-free. And in that time, I’ve managed to pay off almost $6,000 of debt. (Yippeeee!) I’ve clearly gotten okay at sticking to a budget. But I’ve learned a lot more than that since becoming admitting I’m broke.

#1 Carly’s Computer Repair–At Your Service.

When my laptop recently stopped working, I feared it might become a gigantic financial roadblock for me. In the past, I would have used it as an excuse to buy a new one.  But this time around, I knew that just wasn’t in my budget. Neither was a gigantic invoice from the computer repair shop. When I consulted a techie friend of mine, he told me he thought it might be the motherboard. So I headed to one of my favorite stores–eBay, and was psyched to find new motherboards listed for one-sixth of the price it would cost for someone else to fix it. My inner computer geek’s hard drive started humming and I thought, hey, people repair computers all the time–how hard can it be? So I ordered a new motherboard–$60 including shipping–and let a YouTube video guide me as I performed my first surgery. When I finished and my laptop flashed awake for the first time in days, I felt as if I had just saved the world. And I had. Well, at least my little world.

My living room floor mid-surgey

My living room floor mid-surgery

#2 How to eat all meals plus snacks for only $5/day.

I used to spend almost twice this amount just on lunch every day. But now I cook all of my meals, am eating much healthier food, and am saving a ton of money. Here are some pictures of my latest creations. (I’m not sure the pictures do them justice, but trust me–they were really good. And keep in mind that these are from the girl who used to burn bagels regularly.)

Avocado, tomato and mushroom omelet

Avocado, tomato and mushroom omeletty thing

Breaded and baked tilapia with chickpea/spinach salad

Breaded and baked tilapia with chickpea and spinach salad

Slow-cooked barbecued chicken with sauteed zucchini and brown rice

Slow-cooked barbecued chicken with sauteed zucchini and brown rice

Vegetable stuffed peppers

Veggie stuffed peppers

For other recipes, a blog I follow called Drinking the Office Coffee recently posted some great–and cheap–recipe ideas in her post, Finding the Joy in Packing Lunch. Check it out.

#3 How to make extra cash.

In the midst of coming to terms with my financial situation back in January, I contacted a credit counselor. I had high hopes this phone call would provide me with some sort of financial panacea that would allow me to continue living exactly as I had been. But after hearing every detail of my sob story, the counselor paused for a moment and said unsympathetically, “There’s nothing I can do for you. You just have to make more money.”

The thought of getting a second job at the time made me miserable. I already worked so much and got home most days completely exhausted. But there was just no other way. So I started looking for extra work and found out I could pick up extra hours at my job. I also sold things. Websites like eBay make it so easy to turn stuff you no longer want or need into cash. Additionally, instead of giving up some much-needed relaxation this summer to a full-time job, I decided to sublet my apartment and am going to visit friends and family in CT, Boston, and Tampa. All of my home expenses will be covered while I’m gone and all the extra money will go straight to my debt. (And as a bonus–my ticket to Florida cost a whopping $10. Thank you, Delta Skymiles!)

I also recently finished an application to TaskRabbit — a website that matches people who need errands done with people willing to do them for a fee. I’m hoping this will result in some extra debt repayment money over the next year.

I’m constantly looking for new ways to increase my income, so if anyone has any other side-work ideas, please share!

#4 Friends love me for me—not the restaurants where I eat or the clothes I wear.

I mean, I knew this, but I also worried that people wouldn’t want to spend as much time with me because I can’t afford to do as much. It turns out everyone has been incredibly supportive. I’ve even inspired a few friends to get a bit more proactive about their own financial situations. The old saying is true–real friends don’t care if you’re broke. Or maybe I just made that up. But it’s still true.

#5 Bloggers are really cool – yes, that means YOU!

Since I started writing about this journey, I’ve received a tremendous amount of positive feedback and support from other bloggers. It goes such a long way in helping me stay motivated. Thank you so much! And an extra special thank you to the following three who recently mentioned my blog in their posts:

Brigitte’s Banter — Brigitte’s blog is uplifting and thought-provoking. Her latest post, Monday Musings and Motivations –Wishes, is all about the importance of making wishes–no matter what age we are. She is also the writer of the wildly popular and Freshly Pressed, A Gracious Guide to Benevolent Blogging. Every blogger should read this. Seriously.

Noted in Nashville — Anita is talented and insightful. Her latest post is all about that dreaded “Blogger’s Block.” What do you do when you just can’t think of something to blog about? Check out Whatever Am I Doing? Whatever Am I doing? for her take on this common experience.

Budget and the Beach — I’m so glad I stumbled across this beach lover’s personal finance blog. It’s been a huge inspiration to me. Please wish her a Happy One Year Blogiversary and enter to win her raffle for $50 cash and a $15 Starbucks gift card. (How cool is that?)

***

This journey is just beginning for me, but I’ve already learned so much. Can’t wait to find out what the next 14 months have in store for me.

What lessons have your recent journeys taught you?



When you focus on your goals, I’ve been told–and I believe it, the universe conspires on your behalf. But what happens when the universe goes on vacation? 
  

Sorry. I'm on vacation.

Sorry. I’m on vacation.

(Photo credit: Comstock/Getty Images)

It’s been a week of setbacks for me–from finding out my ex is moving in with his new girlfriend (It’s okay, REALLY, but couldn’t he have at least waited until I’m in relationship bliss and swimming in cash?)–to losing my laptop to an unforgiving motherboard merely seconds (okay, three months) after the warranty expired. It’s weeks like these that make me want to run out and book a trip to wherever Universe went and yell, “Hey, Universe! I can go on vacation, too, ya know!”

Sometimes these budgeting-superhero-amphetamines are hard to swallow. I mean, there are weeks (like this one) when I just don’t feel like making dinner. Weeks when I want to say yes to brunch and that new foreign film I’ve heard so much about. Weeks when the warmer temperatures beckon a new spring wardrobe. Sometimes life is stressful and it’s SO HARD to stay focused on the end goal.
 
I sat in my apartment the other night, looking at the same furniture and artwork I’ve been looking at for longer than I care to remember. And then I pictured my ex, taking time between his lucrative business trips to go house-shopping with his new girlfriend, while I’m sitting in the same apartment we once shared, lamenting over not being able to afford sunglasses or haircuts or the emerald and nectarine couture coloring New York City’s streets this spring. 

You’re all quite lucky I decided not to blog that night. It wouldn’t have been pretty.
 
But then a good friend-or five-gently returned (free of charge) all the advice I’d given them over the years. Things like “You shouldn’t compare yourself to others” and “Try to focus on all of the positive things happening in your life.” And instead of just dismissing these as empty platitudes, I decided the only way I’m going to survive the next fourteen months is to heed their advice, and quickly.
 
I started thinking about how I’ve paid off $4,500 of debt just in the past couple of months and how I’m about to send in another credit card payment next week. I thought about how I have my health (in the wake of the Boston bombings, this somehow feels even more precious), how my family is healthy, how I’ve started working out again, how I’m employed, how I live in one of the most amazing cities in the world, and how I have incredible friends that are willing to listen to me whine and remind me why I don’t have to (and, incidentally, are also able to show me how to install a new motherboard in my computer for next to nothing–booyah!). Really. I have so much to be grateful for. And with this quick shift in viewpoint, the fact that I have to forego a new outfit or dinner at that new spot downtown no longer seems like such a sacrifice.
 
It really is all about perspective, isn’t it?
 
There’s no doubt that the day I become debt free will be a magical moment for me.  But in the meantime, I have to stay focused on all of the amazing things happening in my life right now. There are so many.
 
Hey, Universe. Enjoy your vacation. You deserve it.
  
 
How do you stay focused on your goals? 
 
 


{April 7, 2013}   Tea & Inspiration (Part 1)

Sundays have always been my favorite day. They’re a little slower than all the other days, a little more peaceful. If you’re like me, you like to start your Sunday mornings off with a cup of tea and a few chapters of that classic novel you haven’t had time for all week. It’s the perfect day to catch up on the desperately needed me-time that the workweek has undoubtedly swallowed up for itself.

I’ve decided that Sundays are also the perfect day to take stock in the positive changes that taking control over my finances has brought to my life.

Last Sunday, I did yoga for the first time in ages. Ninety minutes of P90X yoga—which is not your Grandma Yogi’s yoga. This is the kind of yoga that reminds you there are actually muscles buried deep beneath those layers of skin and fat. I wasn’t sure how it’d go because it’d been so long since I last did it. But my trusty little deltoids and quadriceps rallied awake (eventually) and I was even able to hold myself in crane—the Holy Grail of yoga positions—for an entire three seconds. (A little context: When I was at my fitness peak three  years ago, I was still only able to last 15 seconds.) By the time I’d finished the 90-minute session, I felt like a superhero. Or SuperYogi.

crane

Now that I have a debt-free goal date set–July 1, 2014, I’ve started thinking about other goals I’d like to accomplish by then. Being in top physical shape is one of them.  I used to work out all the time, but the stress of my poor financial situation affected me so much that I didn’t have the energy for it. But now that the burden of my debt is lifting (and all it took for that to happen was simply starting to deal with it), I’m ready to unleash my inner SuperYogi. So by July 1, 2014, I’ve decided to join a friend in what, up until now, I’ve considered a practice in self-flagellation–a 13.1 mile run.  Yep. I’m going to run a half-marathon. (Note to self: Start practicing denial of last statement–just in case.)

This new-found delusion confidence is a direct result of my recent financial successes. Taking control of my finances has empowered me to take control over so many other areas in my life. I now know that I CAN accomplish any goal I set. And in order for me to reach my goal of being debt-free with my sanity intact–or at least partially intact–my life must be about more than just budgeting.  Oh, and the best thing about my new fitness goal? It’s free!

What goals have you created for yourself? Do you set deadlines to help motivate you?



et cetera
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