(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

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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?



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?



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?



Yep, you read that title correctly. In just two months, I’ve managed to pay off $4,000 of debt. How did I complete this most incredible feat, you ask? Well, I didn’t resort to selling my eggs (mostly because you have to be under age 28 to do so) and I didn’t get a visit from the Publishers Clearing House (do you think anyone has ever really gotten a visit from Publishers Clearing House?). What I did, however, is follow tried and true get-out-of-debt techniques.

Here’s what I did:

1.  Hello (and Goodbye), Tax Return. I put my entire tax return towards my debt. Yes, all of it. Sure, I could have used the money to buy those amazing knee-high boots with the triple-buckle detailing that I really wanted, but I decided having food, shelter and less stress over debt was a better option.

2. Track it. I wrote down EVERYTHING I spent — from the fifty cents I put into the parking meter to my monthly enslavement payment, also known as NYC rent. The simple act of tracking my purchases made me more aware not only of what I was spending but why I was spending. More often than not, I purchased things because they made my life more convenient. But guess what I’ve since concluded? Being broke really isn’t all that convenient. In the end, I decided I could live without much of what I wanted to buy.

I also discovered that what had been slowly killing me financially over the years wasn’t a secret designer shoe addiction or luxurious escapes to tropical islands. It was food. I ate out. A lot. I ordered in. A lot. I threw out decaying produce. A lot. In order to get rid of my debt, I had to get rid of my love affair with Indian take-out. And Brazilian take-out. And freshly made organic juices at the amazing little market down the street. This was not easy. And after a week of peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, I started thinking maybe being in debt wasn’t so bad after all (see section on finding support). But, eventually, I decided to become more creative with my groceries (i.e., I learned to cook) and am now eating much healthier for a lot less money.

Once I started tracking my spending, I began challenging myself to spend less on groceries than I did the previous month. I started checking out weekly circulars online, searching for coupons, and stocking up on the things I needed when they were on sale. Although this takes a bit of planning, it’s not nearly as tedious as I’d imagined. “Oh, it’s only a dollar,” I used to say to myself over and over again until all those “only a dollar”s became hundreds of dollars that I could have used to pay off debt–or buy some Indian take-out.

Up until this point, I had been convinced that I didn’t have even an extra dime to squeeze out of my monthly budget to help pay off debt. I was wrong.

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3. Make More Money. Even after the extra couple hundred dollars I managed to save from coupon-cutting and eating in, I knew the only way I was going to get rid of this debt before my 100th birthday was by bringing in extra money. I found a part-time job after work and put every penny I earned from it towards my debt.

4. Find Support. It helps to have a Partner-in-Debt helping you stay focused. My budgeting buddy and I are in constant contact about how we’re saving money or when we’re feeling the urge to cheat. We’re available to talk each other down from the peanut-butter and jelly covered ledge or give each other high fives when we get that $15 bottle of conditioner on sale for $3.50.

I also came clean to my friends and family about my situation, which is crucial. What I found out was that many of the people I know are either in a similar situation or have been there at some point in their lives. People were actually okay with meeting me for hot chocolate instead of dinner or going for a walk instead of going to the movies.

Lastly, I subscribed to emails from learnvest.com, a website dedicated to helping people take control over their finances, and the daily bursts of virtual motivation have gone a long way in keeping me focused.

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5. Sacrifice. Finally, I decided that if I really want to be debt-free, I have to make sacrifices. I capped my entertainment spending at $100 per month. YIKES. This includes meals out, haircuts, clothes, manicures, trips, etc. — pretty much everything that is not a need. DOUBLE YIKES. Although this has been the most difficult part of the process for me, it has helped me prioritize my wants. Do I want to go out to dinner with friends or do I want to buy a new shirt? Do I want to be free from debt or do I want to look cute walking down the street in those knee-high boots with the triple-buckle detailing? Hey, nobody said this would be easy!

It has also helped me become more creative with my free time. I mean, this is New York City–there are a ton of free things to do. (Note to self: write future blog on all the free things there are to do in New York City.)

To be sure, this is just the beginning. $4,000 down. $17,000 to go! But I know if I stay committed and focused on the end goal, before long the money that I’m using to pay off my credit card debt will soon be money I can put towards investments and, occasionally, knee-high boots with triple buckle detailing. And Indian take-out.

How do you prioritize your spending? Do you have any tips for saving money?



{March 26, 2013}   My Epiphany

My epiphany didn’t come while walking through Central Park and stumbling across a four-leaf clover. Nor was it borne out of a wine-induced conversation about life and love with close friends. Nope. My epiphany came the moment I asked my ex-boyfriend for $500 to help cover my rent.

At 38 years old, this was not how I imagined my life would be.

A little background: I moved to NYC in February of 2007, after spending too much time living in the Bible Belt of America. I was 32 years old, ready to take on my lifelong dream of living in New York, and ready to pursue a career as a public school teacher in the Bronx. Realizing my other goal of becoming a published writer, I told myself, would happen easily–what with all the vacations and summer breaks. But two years of graduate school, one difficult break-up, and the most challenging and time-consuming job I’ve ever had later, I found myself buried financially and completely ignoring all the things in life I had ever cared about.

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So the day the money changed hands between my ex-boyfriend and me, I decided it was time to make a change — starting with taking control of my finances. I calculated my debt and realized that I had racked up just over $21,000 in credit card debt since moving to the city. TWENTY-ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS. First, I researched ways to kill myself, but they all seemed a bit too painful to me, so instead, I decided to woman-up and deal with it.

Thankfully, I had a friend who was also struggling financially and wanted to join forces. (In fact, almost ALL of my friends in NYC are struggling in some way financially. At some point in our lives, someone had convinced us that if we went to college, found a job, and worked hard, we’d be able to afford food and a roof over our heads. SUCKERS. Clearly, they didn’t mean in NYC.) She and I decided to start a little budgeting club for two, and we made a pact to spend the next however many months and years getting out of debt and becoming financially secure.

As soon as we started, I could tell that THIS was the beginning. THIS was the beginning, not just of me getting out of debt, but of me realizing all of my life’s dreams. I suddenly felt empowered.



et cetera