Tuesday, January 24, 2012

7 Small Steps Towards My Financial Freedom & a Few Other Things

Hello there,

I thought I'd catch you up on how things are going re: my 2012 goals. The first of which is connected to my physical fitness, the second of which is related to my financial fitness.

Physical:

I've been attending my bootcamp, but it's been a little bit harder to get there 3 times per week. I guess the combo of January weather, having had a Christmas break from it, and me going out of town all conspired to keep me struggling. I have been to 4 out of a possible 9 classes - 3 in the last week. On the healthy eating front, I've been tracking all the food I eat and I've lost 2.4 lbs. I also did some researching of working for Weight Watchers (when I finally reach my goal weight). If the google search was accurate it won't be any get-rich-quick scheme, BUT, it would be a way to help me stay in a healthy range and make some pin money. I probably have to lose about 20-25 lbs to get to where I want to be in that range. It may take me a while, since I'm not into starving or eating fake foods to do it, but I am consistently moving in the right direction, and have been for a year now.

Since January 1, I've had an old friend die suddenly in his 40's of a massive heart attack, and another very young friend diagnosed with breast cancer. I keep thinking that being healthy just keeps getting more and more crucial as the years tick by.

Oh, I also decided - to help nudge myself in the right direction - that I would forsake the empty calories in that magic elixir, alcohol, until I reach my goal weight. Unseemly, right? Well, besides wanting a gold star for this Hurculean task, I do feel pretty good about how I've managed it. I even had to endure an open bar at the Keg, during the reception of my old friend's funeral, WITH all my drinking buddies from my university bar tending days. Just imagine. I enjoyed this eviscerating event stone cold sober. After this testing by fire, I think I'll be fine.

Financial:

This has been a major focus for me since January 1. I'm actively encouraging myself to become properly obsessed with it. I wrote in my last post, 'Clean Slate' about ultimately wanting to pay off debt and get down to one job. I also wrote about wanting to get really clear about my budget and spending, and to automate as many things as possible. Some things I have done thus far in January:
  1. Read David Chilton's 'The Wealthy Barber Returns'. I'd recommend it, - and his first book 'The Wealthy Barber', though it is old, taught me a lot about basic concepts, like RRSPs etc.
  2. Written down every nickle I've spent this month, including date and what I spent it on. I'm keeping it on a list on a 'note' on my phone. It's important to know what (and where) I'm spending in order to make a realistic and accurate budget and to grasp where I can cut expenses to live the dream of spending less than I make, AKA financial freedom.
  3. Searched out budget spreadsheets and expense tracking spreadsheets. I found one that I prefer, since it has space for idealized budget, actual amount spent annually/monthly/daily, plus tracking monthly expenses and seeing the difference and charts all kinds of things. It is only about $15. I think I will order it and test it out. I'll report back and share the link if it seems as good as it looks.
  4. I've signed up with mint.com - a neat site that shows you all your financial stuff in one place (i.e.: assets, loans, banking) so you can see and track expenses and net worth etc. It is read only, so you can't DO banking on it, but it is nice to be able to see info from a variety of different places together in one spot. They use the same type of security as banks do on their site.
  5. I've begun the book 'Financial Serenity' and am leaving it at work to read on breaks.
  6. I'm listening to Susie Orman's 'The Laws of Money' on CD at work while I do mundane tasks.
  7. I'm carrying around 'To Buy or Not to Buy' by April Lane Benson to read on the transit.
A couple of weekends ago I ended up shopping on a whim. I was on my way for groceries, at a store that was in a mall, and was seduced by the January sales. I ended up getting cute slouchy cowboy boots for $60 from a store that was closing - regular $150! - and bought 4 x $9.99 items at Joe Fresh - marked down 75%! - and couldn't pass by Winners without going in to look at clearance items. I ended up getting a fuschia velvet skirt and a black velvet tank top - for less than $10 each!

The problem isn't so much the price, as the lack of control. I ended up buying things I didn't really need, in THREE different stores that day. Had to scrimp on the groceries. I could justify the Joe Fresh things by saying they were for working out. I've lost enough weight my track pants are falling off when I run or jump. Hurray. But the fuschia velvet skirt was really just a colour hook. I've used all the Joe Fresh workout gear in the past two weeks, but have yet to use my new boots or velvet garb. Soooo, I will need to a) avoid the mall, b) stop and think about need versus want before I do buy things. And make a plan to wear velvet and cowboy boots this weekend so I can asuage my guilty conscience.

I'm trying to get really specific about my spending, to live BENEATH my means (& spend less than I make), and to stop buying things I don't need. I think a new goal is that I will not buy any clothing for myself, (except something like new runners if mine wear out) until I reach my goal weight and need some new things. Also, another goal is that we will only spend $80 on food per week. This will be challenging, shopping for my wife and I with this amount, but I think it is doable. Tracking expenses, getting started on the spreadsheet, working on a budget to pay off debt and get back to saving (currently I'm only saving $150 a month for retirement) will be ongoing areas of action.

Suzie's message thus far is about truth and lies and money. She talks about how when we aren't true to our situation, it creates financial problems. i.e.: try to keep up with pals with money, have gadgets and clothes that don't reflect what we can actually afford, feel afraid to say no to invitations to do social things we can't really afford, think that if we can afford to charge it on our credit cards means we can really afford it, etc. I found it helpful; I'm thinking about how I can be more truthful about my spending (being true to my financial reality and also my goals for the future). And, in general, all this stuff is keeping me focused on my goals by constant bombardment :)

That's about it for now, so stay tuned for an update soonish.

xo Tara

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Clean Slate

Hey there,

It's 2012, and world ending predictions aside, I'm trying to figure out what I want from myself this year. I found out over the past two years, that if I put my mind to a goal, even a tough one, I can really do it. I also realize that I'm the type of person who particularly enjoys turning things into 'projects'.

In 2010 I made a goal of not buying anything new for a year. And I did it. I didn't even buy so much as a pen. And it felt very good and gave me a strong sense of being able to tough something out. I also was able to be quite effective financially with paying things off and saving.

2011 was a different kind of year. I set my primary goal on my physical health and really decided to give 'er. It was quite successful. I lost 30.2 lbs in 2011 and have been regularly attending a boot camp exercise class three mornings a week at 6:30 a.m.  If you know anything about my typically Taurean sensibilities, this will shock and amaze you. It's been an ongoing effort to eat better and be more active, but well worth it in terms of how much stronger and fitter I feel. Like everyone, I'm getting older and there simply is never going to be a better time to get healthy. Also, it's something I'm just going to need to keep chipping away at forever. Like the dishes and laundry - you're never really done.

So here we are at 2012. I'm feeling fitter and stronger, but I still haven't gotten quite to my goal. And in fact, to get really specific, my goal is to reach a 'Lifetime Membership' with Weight Watchers, so I can be hired as a leader there, and phase out my second job. For those of you who have read my blog in the past, you'll know it is a long held dream of mine to 'retire' from having two jobs. My economic reality is that with 25 months left to pay on my student loan (I'm paying $1050 per month to shorten it to 25 months-was 28 months), I NEED two jobs.

I'm hoping that by getting to a goal weight & getting hired by Weight Watchers to lead groups, I can kill two birds with one stone: Stay focused on my own healthy living, AND put my facilitation skills to use while moving them to a less draining second job.

My current second job is four evenings a week for 3.5 hours working with people who have been homeless with addictions and mental illness. It is important work, but after a full day working in community mental health, lately, I find myself struggling to have the energy to do this all evening too.

What I've been working on in my spare time, leading up to and since New Year's, is quantifying my plan to make this stuff happen. Spending less money is also a part of the picture. As someone (maybe Chris Rock?) said, I don't want to be working two jobs just to be broke at the end of the month!

I also think that I'll feel MUCH differently about having two jobs when I don't NEED them both. i.e.: if I was just saving dough with the second job and had the Financial Freedom to chuck it anytime I wanted. I've conceptualized my NEED for the second job as ending when my student loan is paid off. My second job pays me approximately $1380 per month. (There are other perks like 40% of a monthly metropass and about $65 month to my RRSPs). My student loan is costing me $1050 per month. When that expense is paid in full, I should theoretically be able to survive without my second job.

But, I also think that every extra $1050 (one month's worth of student loan) I can scare up, shortens my NEED to have a second job by an extra month. I'm looking to shorten the 25 months remaining if at all possible.

Another thing I'm working on is a real budget that has me automatically transferring money on payday that accounts for all expenses that will be coming out, rather than going in and doing it manually the day of. I want to automate it and be ahead enough of the game, so that there is a tiny cushion. Wish me luck! It's still in the fantasy stage with us being 'super cash poor' right now :)

That's about all for now. Hope to be back in touch with y'all soon.

xo Tara