— Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are
My lack of updates recently has been due to our heavily booked schedule—both personal and business. I feel that my once Gung-ho money saver energy is quickly depleting. We’ve been more than a little slack with our spending this month which will probably reveal itself in our end of the month savings. Yet, we are not giving up on our goals of paying off a chunk of student loan debt this month. Next week will be our big end of the month savings reveal. Until then, happy saving!
Almost halfway through the month, and we are not even at the halfway mark for reaching our goal of saving nearly $3000. And you know what? It’s okay. This year has taught me that if the savings doesn’t happen this month, then it will happen next month or the one after that. Life doesn’t always fit neatly into a box tied with a pretty bow.
So far in June, we have spent money on servicing our car and buying Brad some new summer clothes. I know, I know, this breaks our spending lockdown rules of no clothes shopping, however, he has dropped nearly two sizes since last summer!* We wanted to wait until July when our spending fast officially ends, but my husband was desperate for some warm weather clothing during this unusually hot weather we’ve been having in the bay. We were modest with our purchases, and to be honest, we found shopping exhausting and cumbersome after swearing off clothing stores for a year. Shopping, in general, has probably been ruined for me because of this spending fast—hey, I’m not complaining.
Lastly, we are attending a friend’s wedding in Southern California next weekend which will require some travel expenses. We are trying to make it as cheap as possible, but it will eat up some of our would-be June savings.
Truthfully, I would feel ridiculous complaining about not being able to save money because of these insignificant expenditures. There are much bigger problems that individuals and families face when it comes to saving money—kids’ and medical expenses come first to my mind. I’m thankful we are in good health and can enjoy our life right now. I’m not going to waste time worrying about buying my husband a new pair of shorts in lieu of saving that money. That’s the balance you have to strive for.
*Note: this is a side effect of eating at home for an entire year, along with exercise taking on the role as our main form of entertainment lately.
As July 1 quickly approaches, I find myself more than a little nervous about jumping back into the world of spending unrestricted. Is it really possible for Brad and I to save money to pay off our debt without a strict set of guidelines? This entire year on spending lockdown catapulted us into saving money simply by making a declaration to friends and family that we would not be spending on this list. We made some exceptions here and there, but for the most part, we stuck to our guidelines. It has been one big experiment—how much could we feasibly pay off in debt in a year by simply cutting out the extras? We’ve proven that this spending lockdown was not pointless and resulted in big savings and big debt payoffs. But really, we desire a more practical approach to spending and saving. As artists, in general, we have lived our lives scoffing at rules, so we don’t desire to conduct our spending by a set of rules forever. But the question is, have our behavioral patterns with spending really changed in a year? Will we be able to continue without a strict set of guidelines? These are the questions I find myself asking over and over. Only time will tell.
I recently discovered another great budget friendly “foodie” blog that I had to share with my followers! Kelly Hartman’s Frugal Foodie Family is a considerable resource of recipes for people like me, who live on a tight budget but still like to eat well. What I love about this wife and mother of two, is that she defies popular unfounded belief that home cooked healthy eating is more expensive than eating junk and processed food. Furthermore, she impresses me with her family of four food budget at a mere $400 a month all while living in expensive Orange County, California. She provides 5 simple steps for creating your own frugal foodie family budget so there is no mystery behind her low cost living. My personal favorite is her less than $1.50 per serving section which is useful when I’m searching for that cheap but delicious potluck dish.
My parents are flying into San Francisco today for a little visit, which means I’ll be off living like a tourist for the next few days. I love an excuse to show off the Bay area because it reminds me why I wanted to move here in the first place. It almost feels like I’m traveling. I’ll be back Monday with…gulp…our end of the month savings post.
(Art: LuciusArt on etsy)
For the last 10 months, Brad and I have been sacrificing, saving and paying off debt. It may seem like from the outside looking in (i.e. reading this blog), we have no life purpose beyond our financial goals. Although our focus this year has been to save money to reduce our debt, we’ve also experienced a newfound focus in other areas of our life:
Career - Being focused on saving money makes us think about how we bring in that money. As artists, sometimes we have a tendency to have our head in the clouds when it comes to income. Obviously, when we set out to be an artist, we thought less about income and more about career satisfaction. I don’t think this is a detriment, but at some point we have to establish ourselves with income that can feed, shelter and clothe us. Brad and I have been fortunate to find careers that cover all these necessities, but we would also like to build up from that. We have longterm dreams and aspirations—like extensive traveling or owning a condo/home. Achieving them will require us to make more money. In the course of our year long Operation Debt Reduction, we have set goals within each of our creative careers which has also reignited our artistic fervor.
Health - Less time shopping(online or in store) and spending money in general has forced us to go outside more, especially when we’re bored or need a break—walking the nearby neighborhoods, parks and beaches. We also spend a little more time at the gym on a weekly basis. But more than anything, our eating habits have greatly improved. Being on spending lockdown and banning ourselves from the inside of a restaurant, bar or coffee shop has meant more time spent at the farmers market, grocery store and cooking at home. We eat a lot more fresh veggies and a lot less meat. We avoid packaged goods which tend to be pricey because of the advertising, marketing and branding that goes into making that so called “food” item. Brad and I are in the best shape we have ever been in.
Spiritual/Mental/Psychological - When we cut out all the fluffy extras in our life, we embraced simplicity. There is an intangible effect of not spending money that forces us to look deeper into ourselves. We suddenly began to evaluate what’s important and not important in life. And it’s really that simple.
Closing in on these final months of our year long Operation Debt Reduction, we feel the need to set a dollar amount goal for our debt payoff from July 1, 2011 to July 1, 2012. Initially, we didn’t want to give a specific number so we wouldn’t feel defeated if we were nowhere near reaching it. Last summer, when Brad and I set about this challenge to change our spending behavior in an effort to pay down our debts, we honestly had no idea what we were even capable of saving on a monthly basis or paying towards debt. We were newbies to the world of saving. However, we feel now that we can aim for a set number knowing how much time is left in our spending lockdown. Having already paid down nearly $20,000 in just over 9 months, we believe we are capable of paying off $25,000 by July 1. What an achievement it would be to say we paid off $25,000 in 1 year just by changing our spending habits. So there it is, our goal is set.
Tax day has come and gone so it’s time for us to keep movin’ on. Wow, did I just write some lyrics to a country song?
Brad and I are ready to move past the big tax payment that completely drained our savings progress for the past 6 weeks. We were not only affected last month, but this month’s savings has taken a hit. In order to replenish our emergency savings plus summer travel funds, we’re going to have to buckle down. We’re facing the reality that we’re probably not going to see major savings until May, which alerts me to the fact that we are only 2 1/2 months away from the end of our year long spending lockdown! We haven’t decided how our spending will change after July 1, 2012, but it’s something we need to start thinking about. In just over 10 months, we’ve managed to erase over $10,000 in credit card debt and nearly $9,000 in student loans. And we’ve done this simply through lifestyle spending behavior. With our remaining student loan debt over $68,000, we realize we could knock it down a heck of a lot faster if we continue to restrict our spending. But can we mentally continue to handle the sacrifice? These are thoughts we’ll be weighing over the next couple of months.
Just when Brad and I think our financial situation is on a fast track downward spiral, the right set of circumstances occur that send us back up to the peak. As a freelance artist in the early stages of a career, this happens fast. Sometimes we’re in shock at how multiple opportunities arise in a matter of a few days. Only 3 weeks ago, I was griping about our big tax payment and Brad’s short supply of freelance opportunities. Today, he is abundant with jobs that should carry us through a few months with ample savings. We are thrilled! It’s a true testament to why we can’t give up on our dreams. That’s one of the joys of being an independent artist. But don’t let that fool you—the trials and tribulations to get there are a source to be reckoned with. A lot of artists give up. The ones that survive keep at it, work hard (and I don’t think the average population understands how HARD that is), and deal with the dark days while always holding on to that creative vision. I feel that as a working artist in my mid thirties, I can validate this claim.
(To read a past post about our freelance roller coaster, click here.)
I’m now officially back from my “unofficial” spring break (i.e. internet social media break). Unplugging for an entire week was exactly the kind of refresher I needed to free my mind from clutter. It was sort of a mental spring cleaning. So what did I do last week in my spare time with no internet? I read, cooked, cleaned, socialized, exercised, and enjoyed the outdoors. But best of all, was the quiet time I spent with my own thoughts which I recognize I need to do more often. I don’t have to sign off social media for an entire week, but I should definitely limit my use and give myself 2-3 day spans completely free from it.
In other news, I’ll just cut to the chase—our savings progress is going to be rocky this month. We are getting ready to send off a big federal tax payment this week, and as I’ve been mentioning in the past few weeks, it’s going to impact our personal finances for a little while. However progress is being made—Brad is finally back in business with his freelance after having an uninvited, nearly 2 month break. And as always with freelance contracts, we’re at the mercy of the employer to pay us in a timely manner. Yet, whether it’s this month or next month, we can plan our budget accordingly and make the best of it. We see some big savings in our near future. Operation Debt Reduction continues to roll!
It’s the final week of March, but instead of our usual scrambling to finalize our monthly savings, we’re just trying to figure out how to come up with a hefty federal tax payment due in 3 weeks. So why did we not see that coming? Unfortunately, we were bad accountants with my husband’s freelance work. On the positive side, he earned more this past year than in the previous year, yet we did not withhold enough for taxes. That is another reality with self employment—you are responsible for your own tax withholding. I take that for granted since I work for a company and receive a paycheck that already has my taxes deducted.
In an effort to take away something positive from this, we feel like we learned a valuable lesson in tax record keeping. I don’t think we’ll make this mistake again. For now, we’ll have to dip into our emergency savings, plus travel savings, and probably this month’s savings. But no matter what, we will NOT use our credit card! After paying it off in December, we’re not resorting back to bad habits. We know how to lay low with spending, eat on the cheap and come up with the cash. We’ll let you know how we fare!
So we finally got around to doing our taxes this week, and we knew that we were going to owe some money. However, we didn’t realize we would owe as much as we ended up owing. Rubbing more salt in the wound is the fact that Brad has not found any freelance work lately. He has projects on the horizon, but they aren’t paying the bills yet. We’re trying hard to think rationally and not make panicked decisions. What more can I say? It’s another reality bites moment, and it is what it is.
(Art: virginiakraljevic on etsy)