Sunday, June 28, 2009

Are my friends toxic and getting me into debt?

Did I have a family member or friend who kept me motivated while I was getting out of debt? I will have to answer this question with yes and no. Yes, I had my boyfriend who was very supportive and wanted me to get out of debt. No, I didn't have support from my family and friends because I was too embarrassed to tell them. Actually, I didn't want to ruin my image with them. I wanted everyone to think that I was this successful young adult who really had it together.


Were/are my friends or family members toxic to my financial life? Yes, a few were toxic to my financial life. I had to finally make the decision that it was more important for me to get out of debt than to worry what other people thought of me. So, I started to pull back on my spending and I lost some friends because of it. To this day, I think they were using me. They were using me for a free meal and alcohol when we would go out. How did I ultimately make the decision to get out of debt over some friends? Well, I thought to myself will these friends help me out of debt if I really needed them to. After thinking about the possible responses to that question, I discovered that no, no one would help me out of this situation. I had to do it myself. Ironically, one friend who stopped talking to me, hanging out with me, and wouldn't go shopping with me anymore has found herself in a ton of debt. Currently, she has a mountain of debt and without a job as of a week ago. We are talking again and she now understands why I had changed my spending habits a few years back. Like I said in my last post, you just never know what someone is dealing with privately unless they open up and tell you. I know this may seem obvious but sometimes I think this is forgotten in our busy lives (working, commuting, parenting, etc.).



Here is a cartoon clip that highlights unhelpful friends to your financial health. Garfield says to his lady friend, "But if I order another pizza with Jon's credit card, he'll kill me." Obviously, Garfield isn't helping out Jon's financial health by taking his credit card and charging something that will be consumed quickly or sneaking a charge on Jon's credit card. I got this cartoon clip from http://www.garfield.com/. This isn't the full reproduction of the cartoon strip because I just wanted to illustrate my point with one frame from the strip.




Copyright 2008 Paws, Inc.



Note: These are solely my views and my interpretations of the cartoon and do not reflect the views of anyone working at or associated with Garfield.com.


Today, I would like you to spend a little time thinking about your getting out of debt support group. Your support group doesn't have to be a person that you know. It can be a blogger, a set of blog posts that are especially helpful, or a set of books. I just love books and I love to read. I believe reading makes you more resilient!



Action Items:



1. Do you try to keep up with others (a.k.a keeping up with the Joneses)?



2. Do you have monetary jealousy?



Best wishes,



Janie

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What types of purchases do I use my credit card for?

What types of purchases do I use my credit cards for? I use my credit cards for online purchases and for items like airline tickets, furniture, and anything that is over $200. This over $200 purchase needs to be the total price of an item.

However, I wasn't always like this and I didn't always have a rule for myself. Before when I was in debt I was using my credit cards for EVERYTHING- groceries, clothes, gas, decorations for my new apartment, etc. One day a few years ago, I learned a very important lesson about credit from my grandmother who grew up in the Great Depression. She told me that you should never use credit for "things" that will be consumed quickly like food, groceries, alcohol, etc. I wish I had learned that lesson sooner.

While I was living pay check to pay check I had some very scary moments. The most memorable and threatening memory to me revolved around not having enough money to eat. I went to bed hungry many nights because I had to pay bills that month (monthly rent was the big one). Here I was a 25 year old college grad with a good job and I was going hungry to pay my bills. Yes, I could have gone to my parents house for dinner but then they would have asked questions. I really didn't want to answer any questions at that point in my life. So, I decided to go hungry for many nights each month when my bills were due. Another lesson that I learned during this ordeal, you just never know what your co-workers, friends, and family members are dealing with privately. It is important to be respectful and kind to everyone.

Do I use cash? When do I use cash? Now, I use cash or my debt card for almost everything. I still use my credit cards for online purchases, restaurant meals, and furniture. I like to carry around $200 in cash in my purse now. As you can see I have a $200 trend going on. It actually started between my husband and I. We decided that anything that costs over $200 we would discuss with each other before buying it. So, I just continue to use this $200 rule in my day-to-day finances as well. It is just easier that way for me.

Do you have a cash rule for yourself? If you don't I would make up a cash rule for yourself now. This way you will stop to think about the rule the next time you are shopping. For instance, if you are single and your cash rule is $50 then delay purchasing an item that is over $50 until you weigh the pros and cons of that purchase. It is all about slowing down and thinking about what you are buying before you actually buy it. This way you avoid having buyers remorse later.

Also, I want to say Thank You to everyone who has emailed me or left comments. It means so much that I am helping you. I am truly grateful for the kind words and support. I have you all in my thoughts and prayers and I will continue to post my personal story of how I got out of debt.

Action Items:

1. Do you have a family member or friend who can keep you motivated to get out of debt?

2. Are your friends or family members toxic to your financial life?

Best wishes,

Janie

Thursday, June 25, 2009

How I feel about budgeting?

How I feel about budgeting? Personally, I dislike budgeting. I would rather go to the dentist than budget on a weekly or monthly basis. This maybe part of the reason that I got into debt to begin with. Back then I didn't know what was coming in or going out each month. How do I feel now about budgeting? Well, lets just say that I know it is necessary in order to stay on track and save for my future goals. In the future, I plan to discuss how I budget and how I live within my means on a daily basis.

Do I write all of my expenses down? Yes! I write everything down in a mini spiral notebook that I keep in my purse. I just write the date, vendor, and cost. For example, a line in my notebook would look like this: 6/12/2009 McDonalds $5.65. This is very helpful for me to see where my money is going daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.

I would also like to bring your attention to a new link that I have added to this blog. The link is to the experts page on Yahoo Finance you can click here to view the experts. I particularly like reading the Laura Rowley - Money & Happiness articles. After reading her articles, I always leave feeling as if I have learned something new from her posts. Plus it gives me another perspective on money and life and happiness.

Action Items:

1. What types of purchases do you use your credit cards for?

2. Do you use cash? When do you use cash?

Best wishes,

Janie

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How did I track my getting out of debt progress?

How did I track my getting out of debt progress? I tracked my progress by drawing a picture of a thermometer and erasing the amount that I paid back each month from my thermometer picture. For instance, the Alumni Association at the college I attended uses a thermometer to show progress of growing contributions to the alumni funds. Basically, I have taken this concept and reversed it because I wanted to get rid of the debt that I accumulated. To me the thermometer was a symbol of how bloated my debt had gotten and how it made me feel- both hot and uncomfortable. So, by subtracting from the thermometer I was decreasing the heat and cooling myself off. I know this is probably a crazy visualization but it worked for me. I would encourage you to find a picture or diagram or something to track your getting out of debt progress. Believe me, it works and you feel motivated to keep going with your debt repayments. Here is my thermometer picture:

In the above image, you can see that the red is above the $20,000 mark because I had over $20,000 in debt. Each month that I made a payment of $500 or whatever I could afford for that month would be erased from my thermometer picture.

How did I know when my credit card statements were coming due? I knew they were coming due because I constantly checked my online credit card statements. But this wasn't working out so well because I was becoming obsessed. To tame the obsession, I marked all of the credit card due dates on my calendar. I used an online calendar and a physical calendar at my desk to track these bills and the due dates. In the beginning, I was paying my bills by check but then I switched to online banking. In a future post, I will discuss my online banking strategy that I used to pay back my debt. But for now here is an image of my online calendar to illustrate how I organize my bills that are coming due:


I have decided to put some structure to my questions in the Action Items section at the end of each post. To do this I have created "Janie's Getting Out of Debt Action Steps." These steps will group the questions into main categories. This way it will give you a road map that you can refer to. I realized that you may not understand why I am asking certain questions in my Action Items section. Therefore, I thought that by making my very own "Janie's Debt Road Map" would be helpful to you. This road map will be coming soon! I am in the process of putting it together right now. Stay tuned and it will be here shortly.


Action Items:

1. How do you feel about budgeting?

2. Do you write all of your expenses down?


Best wishes,
Janie

Friday, June 19, 2009

What inexpensive rewards did I do for myself while I was getting out of debt?

What inexpensive rewards did I do for myself while I was getting out of debt? Over the past couple of years, I have complied a list of inexpensive things to do as a rewards system for myself. These items kept me happy and motivated during the difficult moments that were sure to come as a result of digging out of debt. Here is the list of my inexpensive pleasures:



1. Taking a walk outside.

2. Checking a book out from the library.

3. Reading a book outside on a beautiful day.

4. Reading my favorite blogs.

5. Taking pictures of family and friends.

6. Taking a nice long bath and pretending I am at an elegant spa.

7. Playing with my dog outside.

8. Snuggling with my boyfriend (now husband) or a stuffed animal.

9. Talking to my best friend.

10. Writing an email or letter to keep in touch with a friend or family member.

11. Listen to music on my ipod.

12. Bake cookies, brownies, anything sweet!

13. Volunteer in the community and at church.

14. Pray.

15. Go to church.

16. Make a list of everything I am grateful for.

17. Blow bubbles outside.

18. Swing on a swing set at a playground.

19. Plant flowers in a garden.

20. Dream.

21. Do something artistic.

22. Keep a daily journal of thoughts and experiences.

23. Use my imagination.

24. Watch TV or videos on YouTube.

25. Watch America's Funniest Home Videos.

26. Take a walk along the beach or a lake.

27. Go for a run outside.

28. Google funny words and see what is returned from the search engine.

29. Play with Google Earth and dream of vacations that I could go on around the world.

30. Read anything about travel. I just love to travel the world and see new things but I had to do it from my computer back then!



Honestly, even today I still use the above list. It is so nice to know that I can get so much pleasure from the little things in life. Therefore, I no longer need to do retail therapy at a mall because there are so many other things in life that don't cost much and make life so wonderful. I encourage you to make a list and try it out. It just may change your life. I believe Oprah said it best in her July 2009 issue of The Oprah Magazine, "They say you can't buy happiness, and I say there's no need to try: The world is full of simple treats that barely cost a thing."



How often did I check my credit card balances? Back then I would check my balances everyday and every hour of everyday. I was obsessed and I was so anxious about making sure that I was paying everything on time. I would check my balances constantly. I started to see a therapist, due to the state of my mental health and she recommended that I only check my balances once a week. I needed to trust myself and my online banking enough to believe that all of the bills were being paid on time. I also needed to convince myself at times that "YES, the balance was going down and progress towards my goal was being made!" However, this wasn't always the case for me. Sometimes, I would pay a card down and then in a month I would have a need that I would think was an "emergency" and then charge more money on that zero balance credit card. Not smart at all! It was like I took two steps forward and then four steps backwards. I was really in a self defeating mode at times.



So, go out and treat yourself to an inexpensive reward for reading this blog post today. You are on the right track to getting yourself out of debt. I am just so happy for you. You will be free in no time and then you can start a savings plan. Speaking of a savings plan I just checked my online account and I have $10,029.76 in savings. Again, this number seems so surreal to me because of how far I have come in just a few years. I can't wait for my savings to be at $26,000 then that will be a day for a big celebration!



Action Items:



1. How are you going to track your getting out of debt progress?



2. How do you know when your credit card statements are coming due? (e.g., bill due date, pay by date)





Best wishes,



Janie

Thursday, June 18, 2009

How many credit cards do I have?

How many credit cards do I have? Currently, I have 5 credit cards but I only use 1 credit card on a regular basis because I like the reward points that I get. In 2003, I had 11 credit cards and I was carrying a balance on almost every card. Here is an image of my cards in an Excel spreadsheet.
What were my balances? Below is a screen shot of my balances in 2003.

I used an Excel spreadsheet to track all of my various credit cards and the corresponding balances. Please feel free to use whatever medium works best for you to track your credit cards and the balances. You could use a text editor like Notepad, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, or good old pen and paper. At this time, it is also important to create a system to stay organized. In a future post, I will discuss the system that I used to keep all of my bills and financial papers organized (both digitally and on paper). Since I know how much of a daunting task this can be I would recommend breaking this up into mini steps.

Step 1- Make a list of your credit cards
Step 2- Determine a way you are going to stay organized
Step 3- Reward yourself for doing step 1 and step 2
For me, I would become very anxious and depressed after pouring over the numbers and overtime I learned that I needed to treat myself for all of my hard work. My reward could not be something that I purchased at the store. After all I was attempting to change my spending habits and rewarding myself with a new shirt from JCrew wasn't going to help me reach my goal. So, I would usually take a nice long bath with scented candles and music. This was a great way for me to relax and unwind and stop thinking about my many problems. While in the bath, I would close my eyes and pretend that I was in an elegant spa. Mainly, I just needed this time to stop thinking about my money issues.
In the next post, I am going to explore the low cost rewards I used during the 5 years it took me to get out of debt. These little rewards would recharge and clear my head especially during the stressful periods of feeling very depressed and completely frazzled due to the debt load!


Action Items:

1. What are inexpensive rewards that you do can for yourself while you are getting out of debt? (e.g., take a walk outside, check a book out from the library, etc.)

2. How often do you check your credit card balances?

Best wishes,

Janie

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Did I believe that I could get out of debt?

Did I believe that I could get out of debt? Initially, I didn’t believe that I could EVER get out of debt because of the amount I owed on my various credit cards. I got into the game of moving my debt around to the lowest interest rate card and opening new credit cards to get more available credit. This was an unhelpful little game I was playing with myself because I would just think that I had more money to spend. In my mind, I had convinced myself that this wasn’t a serious problem and some future pay check or raise would make this whole situation disappear. However, my beliefs about my debt situation were actually hurting me even more. It is very important to determine what your beliefs are surrounding money. This point is so important that I am going to highlight it and repeat it again. It is very important to determine what your beliefs are surrounding money. Once I stopped believing that a credit card was free money and that I could truly get out of debt was the moment that changed my life forever. I knew that I was going to get myself out of debt.


Did I have a goal of when I wanted to be debt free? Yes, my goal was to be debt free by my 30th birthday and before my wedding day. I didn’t want to enter into my marriage with any debt. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) was a saver and had never carried a balance on any of his credit cards. Can you believe it a spender marries a saver? I could write another entire blog about a spender marrying a saver. Ha! But anyway I knew a major cause of stress in marriage was due to money issues. I didn’t want to hide any debt from my future husband. Looking back that was a wise decision and one of the best goals that I had ever made for myself. It was truly a gift to me and to my new marriage.


In my next post, I will talk about the number of credit cards that I had with balances and a technique that I used to keep myself organized. Today, I encourage you to believe that you can be debt free. If I can get myself out of debt I know you can. I will be your cheerleader in this journey.

Action Items:


1. How many credit cards do you have?


2. What is the balance on each credit card?


Best wishes,

Janie

Monday, June 15, 2009

When did I realize I was in debt?

When did I realize I was in debt? It actually happened during the housing boom when it seemed like everyone was buying a home instead of renting. I started to get curious about the prices of condos in my area and whether I could afford something. Well, you can just guess at the shock that I was in when I realized A. How expensive housing is in Northern Virginia?! B. That I was really in debt. At the time I had $13,967.00 left to pay on my car and $23,259 in credit card debt. I had no savings and was paying $1000 a month to rent a condo in DC right by the Metro. That rent was just my half because I also had a roommate who was paying $1200 in rent (this was back in 2003-2004). At that time, I made the decision that I was not going to buy a home and that I wanted to be debt free by my 30th birthday.

How did the debt make me feel? The debt made me feel trapped. It made me feel scared and it was a surreal experience because I would look at those numbers in disbelief. I would say things like "How would I ever get myself out of this?" "I don't want my parents to find out or any of my friends." I felt guilty and ashamed. I started to search the Internet for help, support, resources, and anything else that would help get me out of this mess. I started to pray. I would go to this beautiful white church and sit and pray for love, support, guidance, and help in any form.

Since I believe in the power of prayer and I have a strong faith I have decided to start another blog devoted to praying for anyone who is struggling with credit card debt. I have had a few friends confide in me about their debt situation. I know first hand the difficult journey they are going to have to take to get themselves out of debt. All I can do is pray for them and I would like to extend my prayers to anyone else struggling with debt. Please e-mail me if you or anyone you know is struggling with credit card debt and is in need of prayer at janieoutofdebt@gmail.com. I will only post your first name and last initial like Kirsten G. on this new prayer blog. By just having your first name and last initial I can ensure that your identity remains unknown to the public. I also want to know when you are debt free because this is truly a time to celebrate and be very proud of yourself for your accomplishment.

Action Items:

1. Do you believe you can get out of debt?

2. Do you have a goal of when you would like to be debt free?

Best wishes,

Janie

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

First Experience with Credit Cards and Money

What was my first experience with credit cards? I received my first credit card from my parents on my 16th birthday and so began my twisted relationship with money. Honestly, I don't even remember my first credit card purchase. Back then my credit card didn't seem like real money to me. I was unable to appreciate the hard work that went into paying the bills because I wasn't working and I wasn't paying my credit card bills. So, you may ask "how did you manage to get yourself into $26,000 of debt?" it was easy because I didn't know anything about money, I had no appreciation for it, and it is way too easy to blow money using credit cards.

Who taught me about money? No one. I learned about it on my own while getting myself out of debt. I read various blogs and the following magazines: Money, Smart Money, and Kiplinger's. These resources helped me feel more in control about my situation and become more financially literate. I knew deep down inside that I was smart enough to learn about money I just had to seek out the right resources.

Hopefully, you had a chance to answer these questions for yourself (above questions were from previous post). This may help you identify the root of the problem or at least illuminate your own relationship with money and credit cards.

Action Items:

1. When did you realize you were in debt?

2. How does the debt make you feel?


Best wishes,

Janie

Monday, June 8, 2009

Who I am? Who I am not?

Today, I am participating at Kelly's Korner Ministry blog post.

Who I am? I am a 29 year old gal who graduated in 2003 with a business degree from a state university. Since graduation I have been working full time as a consultant making a decent living with no additional sources of income (a.k.a mom and dad). I grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood and I was unfortunately given my first credit card (with no instructions on how to responsibly use it and my parents paying the bill) at 16 years of age. This was obviously a recipe for disaster for me.

I believe in the power of prayer and I have created a prayer request blog for those who are struggling with debt: http://prayerrequestsfromjanie.blogspot.com/.

Who I am not? I am NOT a financial advisor and I am NOT a psychologist. This is NOT a place for advice about stocks, bonds, mutual funds, IRAs, retirement accounts, etc. This blog is a place for me to publicly tell my story and hopefully help you in the process. I want to give back the information and wisdom from my acquired "debt street smarts" that I learned along the way.

At the end of each post, I will give a few action items for you to do. I would suggest having a personal journal, email account, blog, or whatever you use to write your thoughts. If you don't write your thoughts down I would really recommend doing so. It has helped me so much in this journey of getting myself out of debt.

Action Items:

1. What was your first experience with credit cards?

2. Who taught you about money?


In the next post, I will share with how my first experience with a credit card shaped my views about money.

Best wishes,

Janie
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