I grew up poor, then middle class, then slightly upper middle class enough that by the time I went to college, I just exceeded the poor-enough line to qualify for work study. So that was cute. My sisters did. Me? I was waiting tables and hocking beer. So I have never been an extravagant spender – learned from the best, maybe? My grandmother is very, very frugal and my mother worked with what she had. And she we very clever about it (whether she realized it or not); for example: When it came time for school clothes for the year, she gave us $200 and said “I don’t care what you buy or where you buy it, but this is all you are getting”.
My sisters and I quickly learned where and how to shop and make $200 into and entire wardrobe for the school year. Mostly, we decided to find our wears at Gabriel Brothers (which is like a broke down TJMaxx – so you really have to search the clothes for holes and stains before your final purchase). And we made our money stretch. She didn’t do this every school year, some years there was more money than others, but I think this tactic worked best – as years when we had more money to spend, we were very wary about how much that Aeropostle (that shit was fancy to us) sweater cost. Every time I go home, I still stop at Gabes (I got an entire summer wardrobe for $150 a few months ago – at least 30 articles of clothing. And not socks.).
Obviously, I am still quite frugal. Deal hunter. I can coupon like nobody’s business (I used to get small audiences when I went grocery shopping and older ladies exclaiming they needed to shop with me. I was 24.). Sometimes I refer to myself as Frugal Mable: I can find a deal on anything and talk people down prices (except for my car insurance company, at least this time around; more on that in a minute). And I sort of have to because, while I make a decent living on paper, I have mounds of school loans and other debt that amounts to approximately three figures (and I’m not counting student loan interest either…sigh.) and DC is an expensive ass city. That is a technical term: expensive ass.
Prompted by my car insurance renewal yesterday and having about nothing in my bank account week (in an effort to pay off my rotational points card that had racked up way too much the previous eight weeks, because I didn’t want ANOTHER card open), I have decided to make a change. And what unwelcomed change is fun without a challenge? For every crap situation in life, I’m fairly certain you can make a game out of it, e.g. credit card debt and the ongoing switch-to-0%-APR game. Last year was great, it was my “Yes Year”, but it turned into something much more expensive than I would have normally lived. It was wonderful and worth it and I am STILL enjoying those experiences and I want to continue saying YES! to everything, but I also want my debt to go away.
Currently, I have about $15,000 worth of credit card debt. (Am I being too open?) I’ve always been rather good about credit card debt. (I have a really good credit score.) I opened my first credit card at 18, and paid it off at the end of the month, usually. In college, I bought my car and put the down payment on a card – with three jobs at the time, I had a plan to pay it by selling my old car and working my ass off for a couple of months. Then I broke my foot: I couldn’t work and I had to use my money from my old car being sold to live on. Then my computer was dying and I was 8 ways to bummed out and I bought a Mac – on a credit card. Dumb, yes? Do I still have it and use it? Yes. Did it get me through grad school? Yes. Good investment? Yup. I also managed to get some more credit card debt during my year of grad school (we really couldn’t work because it was an expedited program). Within 6 months of graduating with my masters (with my school loans deferred for 6 months), I paid off all of my credit cards. A year later, my live-in boyfriend lost his job and since he didn’t have any previous credit cards, guess who’s we lived off of? Then my company furloughed us, the economy tanked, we broke up (and living on your own is more expensive) and my parents said “pay your own car insurance” which is really high and I had no choice but to put on cards.
While we’re on the subject, my insurance is really high. I’ve never *knock on wood* been in a major accident. Once I ran over a railroad tie in my parents’ driveway (I figured out last night that I will have paid more than what it cost the insurance company to fix my car by the time it’s down paying the increased rate. So that’s cute.) Then a dump truck was going way to fast and spraying 395 off of NY Ave at rush hour with gravel and I instinctively swerved to miss the gravel and bumped a guy who was going at least 30 over the speed limit in the lane left of me. Other than that, I’m an idiot and have two speeding tickets from April and May of last year – one of which I was driving a mini-van. No, really. And why was I doing that? Because I decided to roadtrip down to Nashville instead of fly – 'CAUSE THAT’S CHEAPER, RIGHT?! Last summer I also bumped into a Lexus that still had paper plates: I had just renewed so I was supposed to get one small accident forgiveness: HELL YEAH!, I thought as I called to make sure that Progressive would, in fact, “forgive” the accident. They said yes and when I got my renewal, they had lied. So I called in and eventually Frugal Mable talked them into forgiving that accident ($500 is their max for small accident claim – the claim was $550. I should have paid out of pocket. BUT THEN WHAT’S THE EFFING POINT OF INSURANCE?)
But I digress back to my point from a few moments ago: Yesterday I got my renewal. For six months my car insurance is over $1,300. If I pay in full or auto-debit, it’s about $1,160. That’s insane. My car payments are only $4 more a month. And with my car paid in July, and me being hell bent on not accumulating any more debt, I need to start paying my insurance by month – not by credit. Also, my step-dad has generously been paying my phone bill for the past seven years and he doesn’t want to any more. So add another $100. All of this and my sub-$400 bank acct (which is only that high cause I turned in credit card rewards points for a $250 check 10 days ago) and my $77,530 worth of school loans (and I just looked and $77 of the $315 I pay every month into my FEDERAL school loans actually goes towards principle … I just threw up in my mouth. Also, FUCK YOU GOVERNMENT. You greedy assholes: Education should not be a money-making scheme. And you wonder why the economy won’t pick up? Cause anyone that would be willing to buy big-ticket items are too busy giving you fucking interest money on their mother fucking educations. Dicks.)
Allow me to digress again.
Deep breath in, deep breath out.
Okay. I’m back. Moving forward…
Hi. So I decided that if I’m going to be poor, I might as well make some fun out of it: Lemonade out of lemons, perhaps? ::searches for vodka, makes frozen alcohol drink:: Enter: The Extreme Budgeting Challenge (imagine that being read al la WWF sports announcer). I’m still working out the kinks: So far it’s just an idea I plan on initiating soon --- very, very soon. But it would go something like: Any part of money spent that is (slightly) optional, will be trimmed extremely significantly. My first thought was $30 for food per month and $50 for “fun” per month, but considering I went to Safeway last night and bought lettuce, tomatoes, a cucumber, dressing and pistachios and it cost $20 (even with Frugal Mable buying BoGo (buy one, get one free)), that seems a little too unrealistic. I worked on my budget, unminding what is unable to change which includes: rent and utilities (approx. $970/mo.), three student loans payments (totaling about $560/mo.), credit card payments (approx. $320/mo.) and my car ($222), which will be paid off next month and replaced by a monthly car insurance payment ($188 or $88/mo.; I’m still trying to decide if I should save $600 and go with liability only) and cell phone bill (approx. $100/mo). Obviously there are other miscellaneous expenses such as: a social life, gas, Netflix (this is a non-negotiable, particularly now that I feel I will find myself at home more when I run out of funds in the “Fun Fund”), etc. but as they are not a set amount – or high enough to really matter - I’m not going to go into that much detail (yet).
With that huge mouthful out, Budgetary Mary is off to make some rules for the Extreme Budgeting Challenge and will be back with you shortly. So far what I know is that I will have a set budget each month, al la Dave Ramsey, minus the envelopes, and much more impoverished and extreme! (wee, now it's fun right?!). If I run out of money in the fund, there is no “emergency fund”, as that money will be going to paying off credit cards (and it's against the rules...duh!) – so I will have to find interesting,
cheap free, ways to keep myself full-bellied and entertained and with a social life in tact. This blog will hold me accountable, regale you of my stories of extreme budgeting, and document my (under!)-spending.