(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?!



{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?



et cetera