10 Easy Peasy Ways to Trim Your Budget ~ Personal Finance Blog

I'm a little weird. I think we knew that. I mean, what kind of person names "personal finance" as a "hobby"? But, I like finding ways of trimming my budget. I think of it as kind of a game. If I can save somewhere, I will. 

Think there's no money to be found? Think again! 

Here's 10 ways to trim your budget without feeling like you're losing out big time on life. Read it and pass it on to someone who could use it, spread the love! 


1. Cut the Cable Cord
I know a LOT of people who have gone this route in recent years. Given all of the options now available to us to enjoy television WITHOUT cable, I think the cable companies are going to have to start reevaluating the VALUE they are offering if they want to stay relevant. 

According to research, the average cable bill is $103 a month!!?! That's nuts. We only paid upwards of $85 a month when we did have cable. I know someone close to me (I'll protect their identity, as not to shame them lol) who had a cable bill approaching $300 a month because of all their extras.

I like TV as much as the next person, but DAMN. 

If you go with Netflix ($11/mo) and a Roku streaming player ($30) and maybe an Amazon account or something, you are still FAR under the average cable bill.

Possible savings: $50-$75 a month


2. Ditch the Landline
We are currently living with my inlaws while we build our house and they have a landline phone. I swear, at least 99% of the calls they get are sales calls. Everyone has a cellphone, a landline is simply a waste at this point.

Some people are super attached to phone numbers they've had since they were kids. This was the case with my grandparents. So, when they both passed away my aunt had their phone number put on her license plate. The phone number lives....the bill does not! 

Potential Savings: $10-$30 per month

3. Fast Food and Restaurant Stops

This is SUCH a big one. I am TERRIBLE at this. I will raise my hand and admit it right now. I love Panda Express. I love it so so so much. And I'm gonna be totally honest, I'm hoping the CEO of Panda Express reads this and sends me gift cards for loving them so much. I have no shame.
But, going out to eat for lunch, to meet with friends, or for dinners because you're too tired to cook adds up SO MUCH. When we blow our budget, I know it's because of restaurants. I KNOW it. Everytime I go to Panda it's $7.70 (yes, I have that memorized).
This takes some white-knuckle willpower. But, start packing your lunches and save your favorite restaurants for special occasions. 

Potential Savings: Depends on how often you're doing this, but I would save probably $77 a month.


4. Capsulize Your Wardrobe
I talked about "capsule wardrobes" before HERE , but to break it down it's basically eliminated unneeded or unworn pieces from your closet and only wearing a select few items. You can mix and match these items, but I would argue that what's nice about this approach is it shows no one really NEEDS a whole closet full of clothes. Kids don't need new clothes every month. They grow quickly, but not THAT quickly. 

When I shop for my three girls, if it's not on clearance or the sale rack, they don't get it. I don't buy items willy-nilly, we buy clothing when we go to the store to buy clothing. Meaning, I have a set budget when I arrive at the store. More than half of their clothing is second hand. Most of my own clothing is second hand and I don't buy anything that isn't on sale. I also don't buy a piece of clothing until I need it, in most cases. 

So, if you enjoy the ACT and RUSH of shopping sprees.....well, that's probably how you ended up needing to search personal finance websites. Right? 

Believe me, once you get into the habit of NOT clothes hoarding, it's relatively easy.

Potential Savings: $10 to $100's a month, depending on how prolific of a shopper you are

5. Refinance Your Mortgage
Keep a keen eye on mortgage rates. I know....snoozeville. I get that. But, when rates fluctuate down, you can pounce on that. Refinancing your mortgage can save you hundreds a month, a bonus just for paying attention. According to Nerdwallet, homeowners are losing OUT on about $13 BILLION (yes, with a B) a year by NOT refinancing. 

Potential Savings: $100-$1000 a month

6. Reconsider the "Hurried Child" 
I had a discussion with my oldest kiddo the other day. She's 10. I asked her if she felt like she was missing out because she's not in sports or organized things like dance or gymnastics or something. She's in her school's forensics and art club and she draws a LOT. But, as far as organized (read: SPENDY) after-school activities, she's out. 
She said no. She really had no interest in those things. She did dance once. It was, if I remember correctly, about $40 a month + the cost of costumes. Now, no disrespect to my kiddo but she's never going to be a professional dancer and she didn't even really enjoy it that much. I just felt like I was being a negligent parent because she wasn't involved in SOMETHING and it seemed like everyone else was.

Because everyone else pretty much is. The average cost of children's extracurricular activities nationwide is about $739 a year, or about $60 a month. Worth it? Depends on the kid, I guess. But, some kids are enrolled in MULTIPLE things: music lessons, dance, sports, groups. They barely have time to breath....and their parents are shelling out thousands not only in the cost of the activity but shuttling them around. 

My advice? Maybe, if your child shows potential or interest in an activity, limit it to one activity that they can really THROW themselves into. If they SHOW no interest in these sponsored activities....that's okay too! 

Potential Savings: $50-$60 a month


7.  Start Doing Things Yourself
I'm a big believer in "if I can You Tube it, it can be done".....of course, this is complete and utter crap. I know there are some things I just will NEVER be any good at and those things need to be outsourced to a professional before I burn our house down or something.
However, I think we often sell ourselves short. 
I can, for example, paint an item of furniture. We bought a table for $6 at a secondhand store recently and chalk painted it and it's super cute. Savings? Who knows, but it's a midcentury piece that would probably go for a hell of a lot more from Target or something. 
I insource MOST of my work-related tasks. I don't even have an assistant. I answer my own emails, I do my own content creation, I take the pictures, I edit them, I build the albums, I go to the meetings. Now, a lot of people who do what I do for a living would say I was nuts and wasting a lot of time.
But, it keeps costs down on running my business. Which I like.
See what outsourced things you have that you could maybe learn to do yourself, like oil changes or hair trims.....you may surprise yourself! 

Potential Savings: Hey, endless! 

8. You're Not a Tree. Move. 
A lot of people look at moving as the biggest pain in the ass on the face of the planet. And it is. Seriously. I HATE moving. But, if your budget is not balancing and your home is just too much for you to handle....or WHERE you live in general is just so ridiculously expensive that no one can ever get ahead (San Fran. I'm looking at you.).....then you may have to uproot and move.
There are lots of options. Smaller home (homes have grown in square footage since the 1950s like absolute crazy). Moving outside the big city. Moving outside of high cost of living areas. 
Just sometimes you have to rip that bandaid off and DO IT.

Potential Savings: Thousands


9. Trim Your Grocery List WAY Down
Look at ways to trim that food list. Growing your own fruits and veggies, if that's an option, is a great way to not only participate in a stress-relieving activity but also generate food for the family. 

Also, don't snub generics. My favorite cereal in the whole wide world is a generic (Hello Malt-o-Meal!). I buy generics on pretty much EVERYTHING. Most big grocery stores have "store brands" that have the same ingredients as big-name items. This can trim your budget considerably. This applies to prescription drugs as well. If there's a generic available, do it. 

Don't shop when you're hungry. In fact, it helps to have a regular shopping day, a set shopping budget (ours is $150 a week), a list, and a meal plan. You'd be shocked how much a meal plan can help you just buy what is needed, make items that can serve as leftovers for several days (lasagna is GREAT for this) and organize your shopping trips.

BRING A CALCULATOR and add up everything as you go. If you go over budget, put some stuff back. Use coupons, but only if they are for items you would buy anyway and are not for brand-name items (because these are still going to be more expensive in most cases, even with a coupon). 

Look to see if the deli and bakery have any "hey, this is about to expire" deals that you can incorporate into your meal plans and save! 

Potential Savings: Hundreds! 

This is the #1 tip I can tell you. If you keep running out of money before the month is over, I can guarantee you that you are not budgeting. 

This means you sit down, pen in hand, paper in front of you, spouse if you've got one, and you total up ALL of your monthly income. Everything you've got coming in. Income from selling stuff. Income from overtime. Everything. Don't fudge the numbers. Just write it all out.

Then, you sit down and write out ALL of your monthly expenditures. Everything. Down to that candy bar you pick up at the Walmart checkout and that "quick run" to Walgreens to get God knows what. Every penny you spend gets written down. 

Now, math.

Take the first # minus the second #. Are you in the black? That extra money gets put either to debt or to savings, depending on whether you're debt free or not. If you're in the red....it's time to have a "Come to Jesus" and start cutting. And in that case, see numbers 1 through 9. 

Potential Savings: Endless. 


I know waking up and realizing that your budget is just not working is really no fun. We'd all like to be able to just spend without hesitation. Well....maybe not me. That may send me into a panic-induced hysteria. I'm a terrible shopper. But, for most people....worrying about this junk is just.....ugh. The worst. 

But, that's why we do the written budget. That's why we assign jobs to our money and we know where each dollar is going. 

We are all here with ya. If you want some MORE motivation to up your take home, make sure you sign up for Pudgy Mail and get the 100 Side Hustles list FREE. You'd be surprised how you can add more dough to column #1. 

Let's Talk Medical Costs, Shall We? ~ Personal Finance Blog

I got a message in my PG inbox the other day from a reader who wanted to see an article about medical costs. They are on disability and medical debt was a concern. I spoke to other readers who also expressed concerns with the dents that medical bills make in their budget. 

  So, we are going to tackle this topic and I urge readers to TALK about this topic, whether it's on the PG Facebook page or just over coffee with a friend. It's so so SO important, and we'll get into WHY.....and what you can do about medical costs if you're looking to be financially secure and debt free in the future.

I realized that we have been extremely fortunate throughout our 11 year marriage to have little issue with medical debt or costs. This doesn't mean I'm completely ignorant on the subject, but I do have to acknowledge my privilege here. 
My husband works in a state job, so we get....probably...some of the best insurance coverage currently offered in Wisconsin. 
Our out of pocket costs are very minimal. When I had my 3rd child in 2016, I believe we paid about $2000 out of pocket, and that was after a difficult birth and an extended hospital stay for me. 

So, I KNOW. I know we are lucky as all hell to have what we have. If we had to struggle with medical costs, we definitely would not be in the position we are today. 

I don't say this to rub it in, quite the contrary. I say this to make it clear that I am not coming from a place of blind apathy to the struggle of medical costs in this country. Believe me.


So, now that I've said that, let me tell you where I AM coming from.

After I graduated high school and was out on my own, I was completely uninsured. This was far before the ACA (Affordable Care Act), so you could BE uninsured without penalty. You just couldn't get sick. Right? I did not qualify for any state benefits. I was a single person with no children. I actually had a woman at our local community care clinic tell me that she could better help me with coverage issues if I were to pop out a kid.

Really. This happened. 

I worked as a bartender and waitress before I married my husband and those jobs do not typically lend themselves to stellar healthcare coverage, if any at all. So, when I screwed up my shoulder lifting big dining trays, I pretty much had to just suck it up and ice the hell out of it. Going to the doctor for it wasn't going to happen.

I went roughly 7 years without insurance. When I married my husband he was working a job that offered really great insurance coverage. Coverage that would have likely not existed under the ACA. The company he worked for had only 4 employees and was pretty "Ma and Pop". So, when we had our first two children we were beyond fortunate to be covered under their amazing plan. Everything was paid for. We never had any out of pocket costs. 

When he left that job and moved to a job that did not offer such great coverage, I (a self-employed person) took over the responsibility of our healthcare plan. We paid roughly $380 a month through Dean Care to cover our family of four, which is incredibly affordable from what I've found. What made it so affordable was dropping maternity care from the plan. I believe our deductible was $5000.

Then the ACA came along and we were booted off our plan.

Fortunate circumstances stepped in once again for us and it was right about that time that my husband found a new position with the state. Enter state insurance and we've been blessed with great coverage ever since.


Over the years we have had medical bills, which we have included in our debt snowball since 2012. We haven't had any medical bills in the past few years, however. When they do come about, they take their place on the snowball until they are paid off. 

The statistics on medical care, coverage, and cost in America are scary. There's no other word for it. 
Roughly 27 Million people (per Wikipedia) still do not have health insurance coverage at all, which means with each illness or injury they rack up out-of-pocket medical costs. Without specialized insurance contract pricing, those out of pocket costs can be astronomical. I know when I had my last child, the cost before insurance kicked in was about $36,000. 

Many "average" families in the United States may still fall into the crack of making "too much" to qualify for subsidies or Medicaid, but too little to get ahead of mounting medical debt. 

One main problem that is uniquely American is that even with insurance coverage, it's a rarity for 100% of costs to be covered. Insurance companies negotiate with healthcare providers for "contracted rates" and for what they will...and will not....cover. 

Studies show over 43 million Americans have outstanding medical debt, with the average amount being $1766. Some Americans with on-going medical issues have revolving medical debt that rivals home mortgages or school loans. 


So what can be done to slow the bleed of medical spending? What can be done to reach debt freedom if medical bills keep cropping up? What can SERIOUSLY be done when it seems as if, no matter what, the system is designed to fail you? I am no fan of pointing the finger at systemic failures as the cause of debt, but in this case the system's shortcomings are clearly partly to blame. 

There are no easy answers, but approaching the debt head on and not hiding from it starts us off on the right foot. 

Here are some ways to attack your medical debt and not let it beat you:


I know it can be tempting to not even OPEN your EOBs (explanation of benefits) or bills, but ignoring them will never help the issue. Once they are sent to collections (which some providers will do faster than others), you're kind of SOL. 
 So, keep your various bills organized. Make sure you look over EACH Explanation of Benefits (from your insurance company) and compare it to your billing. I used to work in medical billing and believe me, they screw up ALL the time. They are counting on the compulsive nature of people to automatically pay what the doctor tells them to pay or face possibly losing access to care. They double bill constantly. One provider has no idea what the other is doing. It's up to you to check their work. 
 Open a dialogue with the financial office at your provider. If they know you are actively addressing the bills, they typically will be more lenient with payment plans. Often, they will set up a very affordable payment plan for you as long as you promise to pay monthly.


Sometimes, insurance companies and some providers of care are the evil-est of all evil jack-asses on the face of the planet. They will deny things they know should be covered. They will red-tape you to death. They do not see you as a name with a medical issue. They see you as a number. That's just the way it goes. Good ole' American healthcare (can you tell I'm not a HUGE fan of our current system?)

But, we have to work under their rules.
So learn the rules.

One time I had a radiology provider refuse to cover a claim because they said I gave them the wrong information when I was admitted. I knew they were full of all the bull-dookie (you know this girl has all of her insurance information in her wallet at all times), so I ended up pulling their provider contract and nailing them with their own rules to get the claim covered (basically, to make a long story short, if the provider was late submitting the claim....as they were because they claimed I gave them the wrong insurance info, which I didn't....I cannot be charged. But they charged me anyway in hopes that I would not be aware of that rule and just pay it. See. Sneaky) 

It felt really good to nail them all with their own back-asswards information. They probably weren't counting on someone who used to negotiate insurance contracts for a living coming back to bite them. They make things intentionally confusing because they are betting on us, the lowly patient, to not have a clue what's going on.

So, get a clue. And fight them with it.

You have a right to resubmit claims, to appeal coverage, and to fight for attention from providers. You also have a right to demand pricing for procedures and care upfront. 

How many people even ASK how much someone is going to cost before it happens at the doctor's office?



Here's the thing, if you're overweight, a smoker, a drinker, or have other unhealthy habits, this is going to increase your medical costs....if not now certainly in the long run. So care for yourself the best way you can.

If you have an ongoing medical issue (diabetes, cancer, etc.), then follow doctor's instructions on how to live the healthiest way possible. Try not to skip doctor visits, even if you're afraid of the charge. Letting medical issues go just leads to more serious medical issues....and higher charges. 

  But it costs NOTHING to quit smoking. It can even be cost EFFECTIVE to eat better or in smaller portions. It saves you money to stop drinking. Over the course of your lifetime, you are better off if you treat your body more like a temple and less like a garbage can. 

 Some folks can't help their medical issues. But some folks can. If you CAN....help rather than hurt.


If you are getting nowhere negotiating payment of your bills, consider hiring a professional negotiator/medical biller to help you arrange payment. They speak the language and can advocate for you. A medical bill negotiator can be found at www.billadvocates.com. (This is not an affiliate link. I just found them via a search.) 

Also, don't be afraid to negotiate costs BEFORE a medical procedure or visit. You can also pre-pay for a discounted rate with some providers. 


When we panic we make bad financial decisions. We dip into our 401K, we use credit cards to pay on medical debt, we allow things to go to collections. 
The most important thing to do when facing on-going or rising medical costs is to keep the lines of communication open with who you are paying and your insurance company.
 Also, make sure you are always, periodically, checking  your coverage options to see if you can decrease your monthly premiums or find better coverage elsewhere. 
 I have some friends that go through Christian Co-Ops for coverage, some who have found affordable coverage through the ACA and carry a high deductible to lower their premium, and some who have moved jobs in order to get better coverage.
  In this country, where we do not have universal healthcare, sometimes you have to sacrifice what you WANT in the moment for what your family may NEED. And I KNOW that sucks. I know sometimes the premiums are more than the average mortgage. It's a shitty situation, for sure. Which is why I suggest making yourself a health-insurance expert. It's not terribly exciting, but knowing our options can lead us to more flexibility and cost savings. 

Depending on how much medical debt you have, there are several ways to pay it off: 

- I always suggest the snowball method first. List your debts smallest to largest (interest rates do not factor in). Pay the minimum on all except the smallest and attack the smallest with all extra funds. 
- If you cannot afford to snowball your medical debt, consolidate it with a consolidation loan. I'm not a HUGE fan of these, as it's just moving debt around and not attacking it, but it can make things more manageable and easier to address, especially if the medical provider is done billing you for awhile. 
- Configure a health savings account if you have on-going medical expenses/needs. 
- Just like anything else that is included in our budget, if you know that medical expenses are one of your larger expenses, you will have to adjust your other, more variable expenses to make room....if possible. So, for example, if you bring home $50,000 a year household income, and your medical costs are $15,000 a year or something similar, you are probably not going to be able to afford something like a large car payment or $1000 a month in groceries until you increase your take home or decrease your debt. Medical is going to take a larger bite of your budget. 

  If I can get a TAD political for a moment, I truly feel that until this country catches up with the rest of the industrialized world and gets on the Universal Healthcare train, we will always have an ongoing medical debt issue. Healthcare costs are astronomical in this country and our wages are not rising to meet the demand on consumers. It makes me sad that, very often, folks are turning to GoFundMe or similar means to cover medical costs when something goes wrong. 


 A medical or health issue should never devastate someone financially, but they do all the time. 
  So, do your best to keep abreast of your charges, keep on the insurance company and provider's butt at all times, and be your own best advocate. Let's hope for change in the near future but until then, you are your own hero. 

Updates Like I Should Do More Often ~ Personal Finance Blogger

I know, I know...when I first kicked off this blog I was pretty good at updating things. Telling about how we saved, spent, and simplified. 

I want to get back to that. As motivation not only for readers but for myself. Seeing data in black and white just HELPS. 

So, here's where we are! 

So far in 2018 we have paid off $3339.00. 
Since 2012, when we started the process of getting serious about eliminating debt and working off all cash, we have paid off $67,801.41. 

The #1 reason we have paid off that amount: THE ZERO BASED BUDGET. No doubt. Without a written budget, it never would have happened. 

We started this journey 6 years ago with $124,364.63 in debt. The largest part of that being my student loans, unfortunately. I say unfortunately because my regrets are few, but I kind of regret that 10 years of college (I was a slow learner, apparently). I don't use the degree and the area of study I went into proved to be pretty useless. It'll be the last debt we complete and I cannot TELL you how happy I'm going to be when that sucker is GONE. Out of my life forever and ever. 


In every life, decisions must be made. We made the decision to move out of our house before we were debt free. We made the decision to build a house instead of buying used and have been cash flowing the needs for the house as we go. Building a house can be ridiculously expensive if you don't keep everything in check. This means making your "wants" few and filling in the needs frugally. 

I plan on doing a whole run down of building on a budget once the house is done. 

This blog was started with the intention of it being REAL. Realistic goal setting, realistic budgeting, and me being completely real about difficulties in decision making, financial implications of decisions made, and frugal living. 

I promise that in addition to some articles I have planned in the coming months to update you guys with REAL numbers. It's what I like to read and see, so hopefully other folks do as well! 

I'm also planning some freebies and some regular mailing-list fun stuff so make sure you sign up for Pudgy Mail! 

Spring is right around the corner, so that means spring cleaning and spring ORGANIZING! Almost as fun as New Years! I promise! 


Can You Afford It? (Probably Not. **Sad Trombone**) ~ Personal Finance Blogger

I love Jeopardy.
Yes, that's an odd way to kick off a blog post about money, but stay with me...I have a point.
I love that show.
It's pretty much the only show I "save" and never miss. I try out for the show every time the online test pops up...and even made it to the in-person test once (where I got my ass kicked by a bunch of PhDs. A humbling experience indeed.)

Ok, I'm going off topic.....
Last week I LEARNED something from my regular Jeopardy viewings. Something I made mental note of. I said "Self....make note of this. This is blog fodder."

Mortgage. The word "Mortgage". It LITERALLY means "DEAD.PLEDGE".
Yes. As in "pledge to be beholden to this sucker until you DIE". 



I found this little Jeopardy tidbit to be both funny (in a nerd-joke kind of way) and sad. Sad I never really thought about the word origin "mort" before....and sad that all of us seem to be okay with signing our financial lives away on not only mortgages...but car payments, credit card payments, 90-days-same-as-cash deals, "Only $29 a month"! schemes.....etc. etc. etc. 

This is how the companies, regardless of what they are selling, "get you". I mean, you've heard the car dealership commercials, right? 
"All you need is a job and $99 a month and this brand new car is YOURS!"

Well, no. It's NOT yours. It's the bank's. It's not yours until you pay it off. Which you probably WON'T. 

The Story of Average Joe and Average Jane

 According to Experian Automotive Statistics, the average car payment is $493 a month (for a new vehicle loan). A statistic I found staggering....but moving on.

The national average household income is $56,516.  So, let's pretend we are talking about average Joe Neighbor here, who has an average income and just bought the average new car.

He is spending roughly 11% of his income on a car. But, let's say Joe Neighbor has an average house (this is starting to sound like a Talking Heads song. And I just dated myself horribly....).

Mortgages vary GREATLY in this country, where most people who live in high cost of living areas like San Francisco are priced completely out of the housing game. This is not HGTV where you can be a used bicycle salesman and your partner a part-time flower arranger and buy a million dollar home.

But, statistically the average mortgage payment in America is $1061.00 for a 30 year mortgage. So, if we are talking Average Joe Neighbor, he's spending 22% of his income on his house, 11% of his income on 1 car. So, we have now eaten up 33% of Joe's income. 

But Joe is married and Joe has a wife and Joe's wife wants a new car too, so...now we have 44% of the income taken up by house and two cars. 

So, honestly, Joe is not doing SO bad. So far. I mean, that leaves him $2662.00 roughly a month for food, clothing, utilities, etc. Right?

Sure....but Joe and Jane Neighbor have kids. And those kids need care. Let's say those kids are not in school yet. They need to go to daycare. Average daycare cost is $972 a month. PER.KID. So let's say Joe and Jane decided they could only really afford 1 kid anyway. They're still down to $1690.00 a month now. 


Joe, Jane, and Little Johnny need to eat, too. Right? 

Per the USDA Moderate Food Budget, a monthly food budget for a family of three is roughly about $700. Now, I'll add some personal notes below, but I found this to be really high. But, Joe and Jane Neighbor work hard for the money and they are probably stopping at Mickey D's more often than they'd like to admit. Because they're average.

So, we are now at $990.00

For their average house, Joe and Jane are probably paying roughly $150 a month in utilities, $60 a month for cable and internet, $60 a month in gas for their cars, $250 roughly for student loan payments (if they have them, and let's face it...a lot of us do), and roughly $200-$300 a month repaying consumer debt. 

That leaves us at ABOUT $270 left over for incidentals like kid's activities, clothing, entertainment, gifts, or hobbies. Things people just spend money on like gym memberships, giving to your church, or a case of Girl Scout cookies (not that I've ever done that......**whistles**). Haircuts, MEDICAL BILLS (I think that right there may have just put us all in the red, right?), pet care, and house maintenance. 

But RECORD SCRATCH for a moment, folks.

Joe and Jane Neighbor are going to want to quit working at some point in their lives and retire, right? 

Tell me, then, if Joe and Jane do not have a 401K or some sort of retirement plan via their jobs, where are they getting the money to invest? If we are working off AVERAGE here, that money is long gone by the time the end of the month arrives. If we are working off AVERAGE, Joe and Jane are not going to get nice little monthly pensions when they retire. 

Pensions are a complete anomaly. If you ARE getting one, consider yourself a blessed little unicorn.

So, being average....can you afford MOST of where your money goes?

Probably not. 
And that's normal. 

But, do you WANT to be normal? 
There's the real question. 


Back in 2012 when the husband and I really started to go "Gazelle Intense" with the Dave Ramsey Snowball, we realized that in order for ANYTHING we were learning to "stick", we would have to be okay with not being normal. 

Now, 6 years later, we have developed some abnormal spending habits that are pretty ingrained. Even though we are not yet debt-free, these habits have led to a payoff of $67,801 since then....and that's taking into consideration some MAJOR fall-age off the wagon at certain points. 

We are human. No perfection here folks and our debt-free journey has been rife with potholes.

BUT...we have learned. And here is where I tell you WHAT we learned about affordability, payments, and spending...in hopes that maybe you can apply some of that to your journey and speed up your debt-free process.

What We Learned

1. Never Ever Ever Buy a New Car
Now, I typically don't like to speak in absolutes. And I can tell you right now if I gave the green light for the hubby to plop down the bucks on a new Tesla he would probably be unable to resist the temptation. It's not that I don't like that new car smell. I'm a person. I get it. 
But, new vehicles are the biggest damn waste of money on the planet. They PLUMMET in value the minute you drive them off the lot, their "add-on's" are typically way overpriced, and the marketing from the car folks attempts to sway buyers into purchasing FAR more car than they would ever need. 

I drive our own version of a Dave car. A Dave car is a beater that looks not-so-great but does its job, gets you around, and that doesn't kill your debt snowball or your budget. 
It's not a TRUE Dave car because we did not pay cash for it. I will own up. We did that once, paying cash for an old Saturn Vue we named Suavecita. 
Suavecita died after about 9 months of very gingerly driving.
That kind of killed us on the idea of a true cash "Dave" car. I travel out of town for work several times a week, I need something that is at least not going to drop it's transmission after 9 months (like poor Suavecita). Plus, I beat the shit out of my cars. I will own up to it. I am a terrible car mom. 

So, when I needed a car I could fit 3 carseats into, I traded in my current vehicle and applied that trade in amount to a car that was 3 years older than the traded car and gave us the very minimum in payment. Sure, it's a little rusty. The door handle bits fall off sometime. There's a hole in the back hatch. But it drives and its a beast.

We learned awhile ago that really nice cars just really weren't worth it. 

2. Meal Plan Like a Mutha
We have been living with family for 10 months now while we build our new house. So, meal planning has been really tough. But, in normal circumstances, it does wonders for your grocery budget.

I said above that I thought $700 for 3 people was a LOT, and it is. I live in Wisconsin where groceries ARE relatively cheap, but we spend $600 a month for a family of 5 and this includes diapers, wipes, toiletries and milk-based toddler drink for the baby. 

The trick is to plan your meals out and only buy what you need for those meals. We buy off-brand cereal, we don't buy a ton of junk food (our kids are weird anyway and aren't really HUGE junk-food eaters. They've never even had a soda) and we stick to a "strict" $150 a week grocery budget. When the house is completed I'm hoping to grow, at the very least, my own herbs to use and maybe sometime in the future have a small garden. 

I have never felt like our budget has left us wanting more or feeling hungry. 

If it's anything we took away from spotty D-Ram Devotion, it was that you don't borrow money. Now, mortgages (DEATH! UNTIL YOU'RE DEAD!) are allowed in D-Ram world. We extended that to cheap-o cars but that was "last resort/smallest loan possible" situation and those are included in our current snowball. Soon, they will be paid off. 

But with anything outside of our vehicles and our house, it's cash only. We do not borrow money for clothing, trips, gifts, or any larger purchase. If we can't afford something we want, we wait and we save.

This has led to us sucking it up quite a bit in some areas, especially furniture. When we sold our old house I went on a bit of a Minimalists binge, and I got rid of SO much stuff....including most of our crappy college-age furniture. 

So, we have pretty much no furniture for the new house....and we may be going without some stuff until it all can be purchased with cash. 

Delayed gratification. It eliminates the weight of something hanging over your head that isn't paid for. Like our cars are currently. Sigh. 

The most important thing to remember is to not fall prey to the idea that just because you think you can afford the "payment" means you can afford the item. This is especially true for things like furniture or other large-ticket items. You don't want to be paying $40 a month for years past what an item's lifespan is. 

Wait. Save. Pay cash or go without. You'll be all the better for it and will be living a life you can truly afford. 

What's a FICO Score and Why Should I Care (Or Not Care) ~ Personal Finance Blog

I'm gonna be straight with ya'll. In the past, I was a Dave Ramsey-ite til debt we did part. I followed every word he said (mostly....all that Bible stuff was readily ignored, if I'm being honest). Hell, I even named this here blog after a D-Ram ideal. 

 D-Ram was never big on the almighty FICO score. He advocated no debt what-so-ever so, eventually, your FICO score would be non-existent. And, in THEORY, this is a pretty decent idea. After all, if you are paying cash for everything you don't need to prove a strong credit history in order to borrow money. 

HOWEVER, and this is a big fat HOWEVER, it's not terribly realistic when you get down to the brass tacks of it all. Especially in today's economy. 

So, let's dive into the highs and the lows of FICO score awareness, shall we? 


First things first, what IS a FICO score anyway? 
If you're over the age of, say, 21....or in your thirties and married and stuff and have no clue WHAT a FICO score is and what your's is....oh man, sit down my friend. 

Love 'em or hate 'em, it's definitely something you should, at the very LEAST, be aware of. 

FICO stands for Fair, Isaac and Co (creators of said score). The company specialized in data analytics (which contrary to popular belief or any other opinions is the most interesting of all maths....and the only math I ever did well in). The FICO score, a score to measure consumer risk, was unveiled in 1989. So, in the grand scheme of things, it's not really an old standard. Rather, it's become THE standard. 

 FICO scores take a look at your credit history (how much money you have borrowed) and assign a score from 300 to 850, which is supposed to show how much of a "risk" you are to borrow more money to.

FICO uses your payment history, amount of debt, types and length of credit usage as ways of compiling your score. Surprisingly, over half of people analyzed had a credit score of above 700 in 2017. I honestly expected that number to be worse, given the burden of debt most people carry.  But here's the thing, it has little to do with HOW much debt you have....only how on-time your payments are and your debt-to-income ratio. 

This is how people get in trouble with debt. Even if they have a crap-ton of it, they can still have a very favorable credit score....and banks will still be apt to loan them more money....making their debt burden worse and so the circle continues. 

When we went to get our mortgage, we were both praised for our unusually high credit scores. Yes, I was that annoying asshole who stopped the bank lady and told her NOT to praise us for anything, it was just an "I Love Debt" score and nothing more. (Side tip: if you are snowballing your debt and paying things off like crazy, your FICO score apparently spikes). 

I'm surprised they still gave us a mortgage, being what a twat I was.

But, there's some truth there. All a credit score REALLY says about you is that you like to borrow money and you're either good at paying it back or you're not. 


Still, your FICO score is used to determine all SORTS of things: whether someone will rent to you, whether you can purchase a home or a car, even some jobs will run your credit to see if you are a person who is trustworthy....or...something.

At one point, my goal was to completely eliminate my credit score. We are not there yet, obvs, but maybe someday I will be 100% debt free long enough to make my credit score obsolete. It's a rarity, but D-Ram says it can be done and hell, I believe him. It's my white whale.

In the meantime, however, it's important to keep that score healthy enough to secure the mortgage for our new home (done) and now that we have that well in hand we can start focusing more on eliminating the need for it ever again.

Because if you're willing to pay cash for EVERYTHING....your need to serve at the altar of FICO vanishes. 

Think of how nice that would be....to no longer have 3 little numbers control your life. 

Think of what that will look like....


The only real need you may have for a FICO score is to take out a mortgage. Getting a credit card is out of the question, right Gazelles? Buying a car? Typically not an emergency....so keep saving for your hooptie that you will get to drive until you are debt free. 

But, if you need to keep your FICO healthy for whatever reason you come up with, here are some quick tips:

1. Keep Your Credit Card Balances Low
Which shouldn't be an issue if you are snowballing your debt and cutting up all the cards anyway.
2. Do NOT Consolidate
FICO likes paying off, not moving around. 
3. They Say Do Not Close Credit Cards
If you pay off a card, what then? Well, CLOSING a card you've paid off will (temporarily) lower your credit score. Don't let that scare you. Get those bloodsucking tossers out of your life forever.
4. CHECK your score.
The only way to know if something is reported incorrectly is to keep tabs on your score. You can do this free via CreditKarma. You used to have to pay for that info, which was obvious bulldookie (because we don't pay for enough, right?) 
5. Pay Stuff ON TIME
This is really important. The thought of paying bills late is enough to give me itchy hives, but some people make it a way of life. Pay stuff ON TIME. Or, better yet, EARLY.

   Good luck dancing with dear old FICO, it's a love/hate relationship with them, for sure. But, if you are determined to be completely debt-free....you need to come to terms with not making FICO as important as everyone says it is. Because for someone who HATES debt, an "I Love Debt" score is useless.

Why I Can't Roll With MLMs (Or How to Lose Friends and Alienate People...Apparently) ~ Personal Finance Blog

  I've been sitting on this one for awhile.

  I have some dear friends that participate in MLMs (Multi-Level Marketing Companies), and I didn't want to make them feel bad or make them feel like I was coming down on them. So, let me preface this WHOLE thing with if you have put time and effort into researching an MLM and still feel it's a good financial move for your family, that is your right to do so. I trust you wouldn't do anything that was an obvious bad move and these are just my personal feelings on the subject. 
 I've made it pretty clear that I'm not a fan....and I've been saying for some time I was going to cover the WHYs of that....

  So, with that said, here we go....

 I've worked in "sales" in some way, shape, or form for quite some time. I've worked in retail, my husband and I owned our own retail record store, and I've had a service-based wedding business since 2008. So, I've had experience running my own business for some time, both retail and service-based. My father was an entrepreneur and ran his own business my whole childhood. So, I've been able to immerse myself in the "owning your own business" world. It's rough:  The up's and down's in income, taxes, marketing, sales, and personal connections to customers. There really is a risk and reward part to the whole "owning your own business" thing that is unlike anything else. 

 Multi-Level Marketing Companies are companies that people buy into, becoming a sales-person for their product. The way you make money is by recruiting other people to sell "under you" (becoming your downline). This is what makes it multi-level. Many MLMers will tell you that any business with a CEO is an MLM because anyone below the CEO is in their "downline" but this is not accurate (and that is all kind of a line that they'll feed you at those big rah-rah MLM conferences people attend).

There's quite a few differences between owning your own business and selling for an MLM company, and we'll delve into some of that here. 


MLM Products Can be Unproven, Shoddy, or Non-Existent
The first hint that an MLM company you're dealing with is bogus is their product really isn't all that much to crow about. Because it's NOT ABOUT THE PRODUCT. It's about recruiting salespeople. That's how MLM companies make their money: the more people who buy into selling for them, the better they are doing. 

Do you ever notice that when the next "big thing" in MLMs hits the market, it seems like everyone you know is selling for them? There's no consideration for market saturation at all. Because the MLM company doesn't care. They get your on-board money and they have you shilling their wares and recruiting more people. Once everyone gets sick of the product, they can move on to something else, leaving salespeople out there without a healthy income stream because they completely flooded the market. 

A lot of the products that come through MLM's make promises that can't be delivered (like wraps for your tummy that are supposed to help you lose inches or Herbalife that has promised everything from weight loss to curing cancer). A lot of them have products that are not worth what they cost. Some of them don't have a product at all.

MLM Salespeople are Pushed to Perform High-Pressure Sales Tactics
I've read the manuals/magazines that are sent to MLM salespeople, and in those magazines they give "sales tips" for their sales people to try and win over folks who say "no". These tips include badgering, online PM'ing, and consistent positive reinforcement on social media. You know how some folks who get on-board with an MLM company never shut up about it? They TELL you to do that. That you live the life of the MLM company and become a cheerleader. And people are all too happy to do it. This is pretty much free marketing for the company. They send their sales folks out to do their bidding, and the salespeople are paying to do it. 

So, the next time someone private messages you to say "Hey, I saw on Facebook that you have a cold! You should try this essential oil!"....that's the MLM company directing them to use that tactic to try and gain new customers. 

It's annoying. To say the least. You can pretty much be sure that if you PM me with information on your "surefire way to lose inches/kick the flu/whatever" I'm going to ignore you. 


Here's the thing. Any of us who own our own businesses more-than-likely use social media to market our wares/services. When my husband and I owned the record store I put out information about new records, sales, etc. Of COURSE.  It's the new world of marketing and advertising: social media, influencers, tag me,  etc. 

The way MLMs pound the idea of their item or service home is certainly a horse of a different color. It's like marketing diarrhea, as pleasant as that idea is (hey, there's probably an essential oil for that!)  They ADVISE their salespeople to hound customers (Did that customer say no? Maybe it was just no THAT DAY...come back another day with an offer! You are bringing something wonderful into their life! They just don't know it!). 

There Is Pressure to Stock Unnecessary Inventory
When you win prizes for being a top "seller" with an MLM, it's not because you sold a lot of product. It's because you BOUGHT a lot of product. The MLM does not care if you sell it or not. They care that you continue to stock inventory. 

Here's another difference between an MLM and a real retail store. When I owned my retail store, no one was giving us gold stars for buying a lot of records from the wholesaler. They didn't care if we made a purchase or not. We were able to survey what our customer really wanted and make smart inventory purchases based on those needs and wants. We didn't stock what would obviously not sell just to be able to purchase more from the wholesaler. 

Take the story of MLM Lularoe, for example. When you sign up to sell with them, you can buy certain items....but you have no control over prints. When I discovered this tidbit I was flabbergasted.  You get these boxes of rando prints and some could be complete, unsellable garbage. But, as some LLR sellers have relayed, the company tells you that "someone" will want them, eventually. That the sellers are just not trying hard enough to sell them. They don't BELIEVE in the company enough. They are not working their business like a business. This puts the fault on the shoulders of the retailer, not on the company for making items that are completely unwanted in an over-saturated market. 

Which leads me to....

Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell  
If some 30-something mom is inviting you to a "party" these days, you can be sure it's probably to sell you something. You can't even trust a party invite anymore. You're not a potential friend. You're a customer.
There's conventions...with cheers, and pep-talks (sermons?), and labeled swag and is this unlike other conventions? No....but conventions espousing the miracle of whatever-product are pretty weird regardless. MLM or not.
People will tell you again and again that such-and-such MLM has changed their life completely. That it made them believe in themselves. It saved their family. Made them a better mother. Whatever platitude they need to put on a brightly colored meme and stick on the internet. 


Let me be real with you here. They are going to sell you on the idea that you can stay home with your kids and make a full-time income with part-time work. This is false. The true statistics are bleak. 
While entering into an MLM is typically less expensive than taking on a true business venture, statistics show that after 5 years, 90% of those who sign on to an MLM have left the company, per a research study on over 400 MLM companies by Jon M. Taylor, Phd. for the Federal Trade Commission. In comparison, The Small Business Association (SBA) found that 44 percent of small businesses survive at least four years, and 31 percent at least seven years. 

Per Inc.com, the MEDIAN income for an MLM Rep per year is $2400. 
A year. 
That's $200 a month.
Could you be the exception? Maybe. But, the statistics say you won't. 

In a direct quote from his study of over 400 MLM Companies, Dr. Taylor concluded: “In every case, using the analytical framework described, the loss rate for all these MLMs ranged from 99.05% to 99.99%, with an average of 99.71% of participants losing money in an MLM. On average, one in 545 is likely to have profited after subtracting expenses and 997 out of 1,000 individuals involved with an MLM lose money (not including time invested)."

99.7% of people LOSE.MONEY. 

Write that down. Put it on a sticky. Stick it on your computer. Look at it. Read it. 


My intention is not to step on dreams, make people feel stupid for joining MLM companies, or to tell folks they cannot truly love a product an MLM may sell (though you will find many of these products are overpriced for what they offer and not good for a frugal budget). 

 My intention is to help people find legit ways to support their families, pay off debt, and become financially fit and every run-in I've ever had with various MLM companies have run, pretty much, the opposite of that goal. 

  So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you love Lipsense....save your cash spending money in your cash spending envelope and buy some Lipsense. If you love Scentsy (is it still called that?)....save your cash and get yourself some candles, girl. 

  But, if you're looking for a way to make money to help your financial fitness goals, there are far better roads to travel down than the MLM road to riches. If you want to invest in a business idea, do your due diligence and research the numbers.

  Any business venture is a gamble. A big one. But there are definitely ways of gambling smart and with long-term success goals in mind. 
 And please... Don't hate me :) <3


5 Ways to Get Through Lean Months ~ Personal Finance Blog

  We all have a time in the year where we will experience a bit of slow money flow. Well, maybe not ALL of us. There are those out there who make more money than they can ever spend and that's fine. Hi guys!! (HA! Like I know rich people. Right.....).

  Anyway....for the rest of average Joe's, "tight money months" happen. Whether you are conventionally employed in a salaried 9-5, hourly with hours that just won't stop being random, or you are self-employed (like me) and your income is all over hell and back. 

 My husband and I have supported a family of (now) 5 with self-employed variable income and regular salaried income since 2008. It's taken a few tweaks here and there to get it where it's not making us want to tear our hair out every month, but regardless of where the money comes, there's definitely a way to clean up your finanical house and get through those lean months without so much anxiety.


Now, this is a tip I've left again and again, but it bears repeating. You cannot have an anxiety-free financial month if your finances and budget are a mess. If you have no idea WHERE all of the money you bring in is going, you're likely to have "lean months" EVERY month. So, WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN. And I mean everything. Especially if you're not doing a regular zero-based budget. Every stop at the store, every coffee, every ATM withdrawal. Every single penny spent gets noted. 

At the end of your "write everything down" month, you should be doubled over in shock and awe at how much money you WASTE. Trust me. That is the punch in the face you need to start budgeting and tracking your finances. 


Typically, lean months happen because an unexpected expense burns your budget. You should ALWAYS have your $1000 baby emergency fund on hand and never ever touch it unless you have to. A sale at Target is not an emergency. In fact, you shouldn't even be IN Target if it's a lean month! Have some control, man! 

How do you save an emergency fund? You go crazy. You get mad. You sell everything that isn't nailed down. Stick all that money in savings and there you go. Typically, it shouldn't take you longer than a month or two to scrounge up your emergency fund. If you're having a hard time finding the cash and you are gainfully employed (you both are)...time to go back to step one and evaluate what stupid shit you're spending money on. 


 I love a good side-hustle. I am currently freelance writing as a side-hustle. It's not a big money maker, but it makes enough to cover anything outside of our strict household budget that may come along, like Crossfit or a gift for someone. 
  NOW, I say this with a huge caveat that I've said before. Beware of taking on a Multi-Level Marketing "business" (imagine that with very large quotes around it) as a side-hustle. If you research these, often the independent salespeople for these companies make very little money and spend more than they make on the product. Even if you say you're just jumping on to get discounted product? If you're in such a financial way that you're having "lean months", you don't need ANY product an MLM is offering, even at a discount. 
  I plan on blogging at length on the whole MLM thing, but there are so many other options out there for side-hustle money: babysitting, dog walking, take in sewing jobs or sell projects that you create online (Etsy is good for this). Waitressing is AMAZING for fast cash. I waited tables for years and you can make a killing on Friday and Saturday nights at a popular restaurant and the hours are typically flexible. Deliver pizzas, clean houses, mow lawns, fix computers. Do you have a specialized skill? LEVERAGE that skill into some extra cash you can count on when things get tight.
 If you have kids (I have three), maybe try to find a side-hustle you can complete while at home with them, while they're in school, or at night after bedtime. Yes, time is at a premium when you have kids, but can you really relax anyway if you're all amped up about your stretched finances? Doing something productive to work on the problem will ease some of that tension, believe me. More so than, say, zoning out in front of Netflix bemoaning your strapped existence. 


 Lord knows I love decluttering and one of the best parts of decluttering is selling stuff you no longer want. You would be surprised what you can command for some old junk. Old cellphones can fetch a pretty penny on Ebay. Old toys, clothing that is clean and barely worn. I would forego the rummage sale route and maybe try to sell piece by piece for a bigger return on time invested. 

Keep in mind, it's JUST.STUFF. You likely have too much as it is. We all do. 


We often talk ourselves into NEEDING to go to the store instead of actually being honest and saying we want our creature comforts and want to go get them RIGHT NOW. I know I'm totally guilty of this. If I don't have the stuff to make pasta or my favorite cereal in the house at all times I get downright annoyed. 
  But, we shop by a budget and if we want to go out to eat, that's budgeted too. If I spot a sale on something that may be a necessary item, I'm going to take advantage of (sometimes). But the best way to save money on an item is to NOT BUY IT.  You really need to get HONEST with yourself about needs vs. wants. This can radically change your lean months. 


  While there are great ways to deal with lean months, there are some dangerous ways as well. Payday Loans are something you NEVER want to find yourself embroiled in. They prey on the poor and those bad with money management. Their interest rates are insane and you'll likely never get out from under that debt. Stay FAR away. 

 So, what if you find yourself BROKE and OWING?  Strip your needs to the basic: food, shelter, clothing. Make sure your you and your family are fed, have a roof over their heads, and clothing on their back. Once those are taken care of, you can start to tackle the extras: debt, utilities, transportation, and entertainment. 
  If you are in a situation where you are in absolute dire straits with no way out....and no income...it may be time to seek out a state aid situation to help you get you back on your feet. 
  Your LAST resort should be taking out MORE debt to supplement a slow period. Avoid this at all costs, because it's just going to put you further behind the 8-ball. 

 Remember, slow months happen to everyone (except all those rich people I don't know). Take them one day at a time and remember this cliche but oft-true platitude: this too shall pass.



You're a Big Fat Failure ~ Personal Finance

Yes, I said it. You. Me. That guy over there. The really successful businessperson. That super gorgeous influencer with the perfect ship-lapped living room on Instagram. They have all, at one time, failed at something.

I swear. It's true.

Failed HARD. Like, red faced....pathetic...crying into your pillow failure. 

By this time, most of you are in the throes of your New Years Resolutions....and many of you have possibly made "paying off debt" or "getting your finances in order"  your focus for 2018. 

The problem with most resolutions and the reason why most of them fail to stick is people come across a failure, either large or small, and use that as their reason to quit. 

Financial fitness is, most definitely, a LIFESTYLE change....not just a money diet. And with any major lifestyle change there are going to be parts of the road along the way that are under major construction, rocky as shit, or full of tolls you weren't expecting (kind of think of the road as every major highway in Illinois. There you go). 

However, when driving....things can go bad. Flat tires. You can run out of gas. You can get stuck in horrible traffic. You can rear end the guy in front of you (but not because you were looking for Hamilton on Spotify. Nope. Not because that was happening). 

You don't just QUIT DRIVING forever. You learn from your mistakes and make pivots to improve your driving....or your workouts...or cleanliness...or whatever! 

You, my friend, will be a BIG.FAT.FAILURE. at some point.

I've had points in our debt-free journey (a journey that never seems to freaking end. Kind of like every Lord of the Rings movie) where I've accidently forgotten a bill, where I've oopsied and paid a bill twice, where I couldn't book work to save my life, and where I took on jobs that were so wrong for me that I can blame absolutely nothing outside of abject stupidity for taking them on. 

I have taken my turn on the wheel o' failure. And it sucks. But, it's not like I'm going to hop on Facebook and say "Hey friends. I can't book work to save my life and mortgage is due! I suck!" 
Would that be keeping it real? Uh....yeah! Of course! 

No one keeps it REAL real. Seriously. No one wants to follow a failure.

We are taught to avoid failure. We are shown, via carefully curated social media pages, that no one ever fails, ever missteps, and ever looks anything less than stunning. We are taught to spin flaws into followers. 

I'm here to be real with you. Upon taking on a debt-free, financial fitness journey....you are going to fail at some point. At some point you are going to want to chuck your notebook across the room and say "eff this" because it's hard and all you want to do is go shopping and pick up some take-out. There will be days you will spend too much. There will be times you'll completely space on the cable bill. 

Because you are human. And humans fail. 

But humans also succeed. They also take failures, take the lessons, apply them and use it to propel themselves to an eventual end. Whether that end is being so used to zero-based budgeting that it becomes second nature or the end is being completely debt free. Failure upon failure builds a tower to a successful resolution. 

So fail on, brothers and sisters.
Just make sure you are applying the lessons you learn from the failure and never make the same mistake twice. 

We could look at the paltry amount we paid off in 2017 (under $20,000 compared with over $30,000 in 2018) and be pissed at ourselves. But, we could also realize that we made concious decisions to place our money into certain spaces. We were intentional. And right now, I'm okay with that. I'm not seeing intentionality as a failure, but I am sure going to learn from 2017 just the same. 

2018 can be your year! Get out there and hit it! 



5 Ways to Prepare for a Debt Busting 2018 ~ Personal Finance Blog

  I flippin LOVE New Years. I always make resolutions....I always try to enter the new year with a purpose, a plan, and high hopes. 

 Yes, I am probably that really annoying person who proverbially clogs up the gym treadmill for the first part of the year. Except, not...because I'm a Crossfit gal, but you know what I mean. I like to make plans....and sometimes they stick and sometimes they fail miserably.  

  But, if your plan is to kick debt in the behind in 2018 and get your financial life in some order, THAT I can help with. I've dedicated a ton of time to different ways of managing our finances to see what works the best. I've worked out my personal finance muscle and I'm pretty ripped at this point. Still have some work to do on those little debt love handles, but we are on our way.  So, for your New Year, here are 5 things YOU can do to prepare to be a personal finance winner in 2018! 

1. Make a List of ALL Debts
Even those little ones you "don't count" or the big ones you believe you'll have a payment for FOR-EV-ER. List them all out, however you'd like. Smallest to largest, by interest rate, etc. But, regardless of what your opinion is on your debts, if you don't know WHAT you owe, you'll never get a handle on it. And yes...the number will probably be scary.

2. Make a List of ALL Income Sources for 2018
If you have a normal job with a normal salary (where you get a W-2 at the end of the year), this will be relatively easy. Take your 2017 salary and keep your monthly take-home expectation the same. Let's say you expect to get a raise in 2018. DO NOT INCLUDE THIS. This is counting your chickens before they hatch....and what if you get a dead chick and crap, now what?

Now, if you're self-employed like I am, this is considerably harder. I have been self-employed for 10 years and I still have a hell of a time with projected income. What I do is I take my yearly net income (net is what I get after expenses and taxes are taken out) and divide that by 12. That's my monthly "take". If I have a much better than average month, that's a bonus. If I have a worse month, I have my savings from better months to carry it. 

If you have a side hustle, like I do with freelance writing, you can decide to include that or not include that in your "Debt Slaying Weaponry". Some folks look at side-hustle money as savings alone, or money to invest only. 

3. Decide Your Debt Slaying Strategy
There's more than one way to skin a cat (ew). We have always worked the Debt Snowball, which is when you list your debts smallest to largest, regardless of interest rate. You pay the minimum on all of the debts except the smallest. You attack the smallest with a firey vengeance. You can also debt slay by listing debts out by interest rate. This may take longer and you don't get those early wins with the little debts that help you gain momentum. So, this is why we prefer the snowball. 

4. Figure Out How You Can Downsize
The best way you can do serious damage to your debt dragon is to sell a bunch of shit you don't need. Now, I'm a little weird. I actually think this is pretty fun. Go through the house and be RUTHLESS. You wouldn't believe the amount you can get for some pretty mundane items. 
Throw those babies on Ebay and throw that extra money towards your smallest debt. 

Another plus to downsizing is you can clear physical clutter which so often leads to mental clutter. Start fresh, with what you really NEED instead of all of those things you WANTED but only led to money spent and space/time wasted.

5. Have Grace With Yourself and Your Plan
Like any resolution, the more you go "full on" at the beginning of the year and change everything you've ever done, the less likely you are to stick with this lifestyle shift. Because that's EXACTLY what is wrong with resolutions, as much as I kind of like them. They are not "resolutions"....if you want them to stick, they HAVE to be lifestyle shifts. And lifestyle shifts take a ton of work, dedication, and CHANGE. Deep down personal reflection and change. 

If you're a raging shopaholic with a major entitlement problem and you've always been this way, shifting everything to become a non-spending minimalist who does everything with intention is, while an admirable goal, probably not going to just happen overnight. 

I've NEVER been a very good shopper. I usually put back most of what I pick up at any store and I spend very little on myself over a given year....and even I still "slip up" here or there and buy something completely frivilous and unneeded. It happens. 

So, my point is, we can't just QUIT if perfection isn't reached. The whole point in a lifestyle shift is baby steps. It sounds pretty trite but it's totally true:  if you fall in love with the PROCESS you will see results. Because your body and mind and spirit with ache for the process, whatever it is. If you fall in love with Crossfit, you're going to see results. If you fall in love with eating clean, you're going to see results. Fall in love with debt slaying, you will see results....because every facet of your life will become infected with that loving outlook. You'll start to eat differently, socialize differently, and most importantly you will spend differently. 

 That is when the real shift begins....and the real work is done.

So with this New Year, if you intend on making financial fitness your goal, make baby steps your plan. Not necessarily THEE Baby Steps....but small, incremental moves that will get you to a successful end. 


The American Dream is Dead, So What Do I Tell My Kids? ~ Personal Finance Blog

  I know what you're probably thinking....well, Merry Effing Christmas to you too, Pudgy. What a topic to spring on people in the midst of holiday cheer! 
  But, hang in there with me. It's not ALL doom and gloom and bad news bears. I promise. 

  The American Dream, as we knew it for so long, is dead.

  Now, I used to be a fervent believer in the so-called American Dream. I believed the lie that with enough gumption, elbow-grease, sweat-equity, and heart....anyone...and I do mean anyone...could succeed in this country. I believed that if I didn't "make it", whatever that meant, I just wasn't working hard enough. I wasn't putting in enough grit. I wasn't smart enough to figure out how to play the game. That if my peers were struggling, it was on account of their own unwillingness to work multiple jobs, to sacrifice and suffer and bow at the altar of capitalism.

  I was raised with this notion....brought up in a family of hard-toiling blue-collar workers who worked for everything they had. When I listened to D-Ram on the radio, he would regale us with platitudes such as "You know where's a good place to go when you need money? To work!" ......sure thing, Mr. Ramsey. Sure thing.

  Now, I have followed Dave Ramsey's Debt Snowball for years....and his zero based budgeting...and they work. For sure. But, it seems that the older I get and the more I think about our own financial situation, I start to think some of D-Ram's ideas may be growing mold. 

 The Dave Ramsey Show started in 1992 and things have certainly changed in America in the past 26 years. In 1992 I was 12 years old. My dad was part owner in an auto body shop. He was completely self-taught in his trade. My mother worked at a drug store as a cashier. We lived a very comfortable middle-class life in smaller-city Wisconsin.

   Ten miles away was the GM Factory, where many of my friend's parents worked and made hella-good cash on the line. They had nice houses....they had nice cars....they took vacations...they (hopefully) saved for retirement. They had pensions to look forward to. They didn't need a college degree to land this position either. They just needed to know the right people....or be lucky enough to be hired when GM actually OPENED up hiring....because no one in their right mind got IN to GM and then voluntarily opted out. It was the big game. It was what you aimed for if you lived in South Eastern Wisconsin and didn't plan on going away to college.

  GM's line shut down for good in 2008. 

  Paul Ryan is from that city. He still has a house there, up on Courthouse Hill I think....with all the rest of the big, fancy houses. So, being that the old GM home of Janesville, WI is Paul Ryan's home city, you'd think he'd have some insider knowledge of the American Dream gone bad. Of how wages don't rise with cost of living. Of how people who fall upon hard times are not necessarily lazy, good-for-nothing jackasses who don't want to work. Of how, sometimes, it's only by the grace of "entitlement programs" that people get through their month before the money runs out. Of how if you watch your grandfather, your father, your brothers, your uncles and aunts and mothers all work at the same factory and "make it", you'd be apt to think you could too. 

 To follow the creed of D-Ram and others who have a biblical, simplisitic take on personal finance is to believe, fully, that work = money = security. That saving = healthy retirement = happy old people with money to give their kids. That delivering pizzas + not going to parties in college = paying cash for a college education. It's frighteningly simplified and I think I bought into it for a very long time.

 I'm sometimes ashamed of how much I bought into it.

 4 year college in 1992 averaged (for Public Institutions in-state students) about $5740.00 a year (per National Center for Education Statistics) and today is averaging about $10,000-$16,000 a year for in state public education. So, it's nearly doubled or tripled since the Dave Ramsey program began. That's a crap-ton of pizzas. 

  He's still giving the same advice he did then....not acknowledging that costs steadily rise while wages stay stagnant and automation fast takes the place of workers in low-wage positions. Can you work very hard and put yourself through state school? Absolutely! 

But then what....

  Then comes the problem of having a college degree and coming out of college with nowhere to go but....well...maybe mom's couch. This is touted as a problem of the entitled, lazy millenials....and maybe in some cases (like those on Dr. Phil regularly) that's the God's honest truth. I'm not here to tell you that there are no lazy-ass, entitled people out there. Oh, there are. In SPADES. All over this great Earth of ours. 

  I'm here to tell you that I'm starting to believe they are definitely the minority. A "welfare queen" fable scare-tactic to support conservative talking-points. There are so many varying factors involved in chasing the American Dream (as it's been presented) including beginning social or economic status, race, religion, country of origin, job availability in your area or field, start-up costs of self-employment, access to affordable healthcare....the list could go on infinitely....and feel free to call them excuses. Successful entrepreneurs will tell you to hear the excuses and "do it anyway", because it worked out for them. And there is a nugget of truth in there. If you don't risk failure you will never reach success....because you'll never move from where you are. You'll be cemented to your space by fear.

  But staring fear in the face and doing it anyway does not mean blindly jumping and ignoring the reality of your situation.
   Is it wise to invest the last of your savings into a business idea if you are behind in your mortgage and have children to feed/support? Is there a more prudent way to use those funds? Is it wise to rack up debt going to college to get, say, a degree in art history when you live in the middle of podunk Wisconsin and you don't plan on going anywhere else to utilize said degree? Yes, that may be where your interest lies....but that's not where the jobs are, clearly.

  The American Dream, as the story was sold to us.....that anyone can be anything and succeed infinitely if they just try hard enough and soar high enough....is, indeed, dead. But, this is not necessarily a bad thing. I propose a NEW American Dream, pivoting from the old on account of new laws, new government, new costs, and new ideals. Maybe the reason so many are stuck is because they are focused intensely on that old Dream.....which has long been 6 feet under and turned to dust. 
  The new American Dream can look different to each person. Maybe YOUR dream isn't the same as mine, and that's okay. We have certain factors in play in this country that are hard to ignore. These include: a failing healthcare system with no sign of relief, an incredibly expensive higher education system that creates massive amounts of life-long debt for students before they even get started with their adult working lives, an administration laser-focused on playing to the wants and needs on those who bought them, not those they promised to represent.  We have new rules that we are trying to apply to old ways. 

  Yes. It's hard out there. For EVERYONE. Not everything is fair. Not everything is just. 

 But dreams, they can still be had. With careful planning, strong personal finance skills, and a realistic base to jump off of.....you can still make it happen. 
  I will tell my kids the same thing I've always thought: You are not a tree. If you don't like where you are, move. Just stop expecting the move to mean immediate change and success. I will tell them the way things are....I will regale them with stories of the way things used to be...and I will make sure they have a realistic base to jump from. 

 Be patient.
 And hang in there. 

That is the best we can do. 


5 Tips to Avoid Black Friday Madness ~ Personal Finance Blog

You likely saw all the ads rearing their ugly little heads by the beginning of the month. 


Oh, it come-eth. And there are likely folks all over this great land of ours that are ready-ing their credit cards for a spending frenzy so epic that it will make headlines.

In fact, well...it already has.

According to the National Retail Federation (which makes me think of men with machine guns forcing you to shop)...Shoppers are expected to spend around $680 billion this holiday shopping season, a 15-year high. Let that number sink in. $680 BILLION.

All the while....we sit back and lament our country's inability to afford healthcare, quality education for our kids, and retirement. Things that MATTER. I read recently that the average American has less than $1000 saved. 

But we are gonna shop. 

$680. Friggin. BILLION.

But Pudgy, you say....are you not a complete hypocrite who buys holiday gifts for your family and seeks out good prices for such gifts?

Yes. I do. 

I don't participate in Black Friday sales.....mostly because crowds of that magnitude make me want to hurl.

I will probably hop on the ole computer for a few Cyber Monday deals on things I was already going to purchase anyway.

I'm not saying don't shop.
I'm saying CHECK YOURSELF if financial fitness is a goal.

Here's a few tips for Black Friday that will help you stay financially fit, maybe prepare for next year (because lets face it, this year is already here), and avoid the pressure to spend yourselves into the red.

1. Avoid Black Friday All Together
Let's face it, most of us have gifts to buy. I'm not completely ignorant of this. But, getting wrapped up in the "I'm gonna pitch a tent outside of Best Buy in order to score a slightly less expensive TV that I don't need" insanity is a sure-fire way to blow your Christmas budget out of the water. You don't need to give into the pressure to shop on Black Friday. You can plan your holiday spending out a bit better than that. Remember, EVERYTHING is 100% off if you DON'T BUY IT.
If you must venture out, BE PREPARED. Be OVER prepared. Make a list and stick to that dang list. Use cash only. When the cash is gone you are done. Have a budget. Stick to it. Bring an accountability partner, not your best friend who likes to shop like it's her job or something. 

2. Give Experiences Not Things 
People have enough shit. Repeat that. People have enough shit. They don't NEED another doo-dad, fiddlestick, snarfblat or dinglehopper. The amount of things I purged when we moved was astounding....and one look at our storage facility proves I have more work to do. 
So what can you GIVE this year without adding to the hoarding tendencies of human beings?
Dinners out at a restaurant your mom has wanted to try. Theater shows. Hell...skydiving. I don't care. Trust me, the EXPERIENCE will last far longer than the thing.

This is one to put on your calendar for next year. Maybe in JUNE. Christmas, my friends, is not an emergency. I stole this from Dave Ramsey. What this means is....we KNOW it's coming. It's the same dang day every year. It's not moving. So, we know January 1, 2018 that on December 25, 2018 we will have Christmas. So, you need a sinking fund for this. You need to cash flow Christmas. That way, when the cash is done....you're done. It's not time to bust out the plastic so you're still paying for Christmas 2017 when Christmas 2025 rolls around.
So, January 1, 2018, make an envelope for your Christmas Fund and allocate dollars for that envelope in your budget. Then, when the holiday season rolls around, you'll be all set. Credit cards will be a distant memory.

4. Try to Get the Fam on Board
This is a tough one. Like, for instance, my Mom loves to buy Christmas gifts. I'm pretty sure Black Friday shopping is her love language or something. So, convincing my family to go gift-free would be a hard row to hoe. For sure. Convincing them to pare it down may be easier. But, maybe, if you've all reached adulthood and the "Magic of Christmas" has turned more into a present-buying one-upping frenzy, you may want to have a "Come to Jesus' Birthday" moment with everyone and see if you can trade gift-giving for more fun family time. 
This is part of that "experience" thing. Experience family time.....less stuff.

5. Say it With Me: "It's Okay if I Miss the Sale" 
Now, this is a tough one. My day job is as a service provider (that service being portraits and wedding photography). So, of course, I run a Cyber Monday sale for my clients every year. And, of course, I would love for them to take advantage of that sale. Sales and service giving is what puts food on my table and a roof over my kids' head. I'm not saying DON'T EVER BUY THINGS. That's ridiculous. And some of the sales going on this weekend are amaze-balls. Yes. What I'm saying is, we need to have a bit of self-control when it comes to resisting the pull of "ACT NOW BEFORE EVERYTHING IS GONE AND YOU ARE LEFT BEREFT AND GIFTLESS YOU NON-SHOPPING LOSER". Ok, that's a bit harsh, perhaps....but retailers prey on our anxiety over false scarcity. If you don't battle the crowd for that "thing" on Black Friday, you won't get it.

Let me be honest with you here.....they'll live. Your kids will live. Your spouse will live. YOU WILL LIVE without the thing.

My daughter this year wants a Fingerling. It's this little monkey thing that clings on to your finger. I'm pretty sure that's all it does. Not sure. But she wants it. It's at the top of her list. So, I've looked for them online.....Lord knows I don't really go to stores much but I'm assuming they're sold out at this point.

If I find one, great. If I don't.....they're experiencing Walt Disney World this year for Christmas and if the finger-monkey isn't under the tree on Christmas Day, my kid WILL LIVE. I promise you. I won't need to start saving for therapy because I was unable to punch another mom out for a finger-monkey.

We need to get our collective acts together and simplify. I need to take this to heart as much as anyone.

So maybe this year....just stay home on Friday. Cuddle up with your kiddos, watch a movie, eat some leftovers. Don't WORRY about what you may be missing at the stores. What's more important is what we may be missing elsewhere while we are worried about the stores. 


Image Courtesy of My New Official Graphic Artist Betty Reseburg (Age 10) 

The Ballad of the Perpetually Disappointed ~ Personal Finance Blog

If you sit down for a cup of coffee with a random Baby Boomer (those born 1946 to 1964) and ask them their outlook on the average Gen X'er (born 1961 to 1981) or Millennial (early 1980s to mid 1990's birth years) you're likely to hear how entitled and lazy the youngins are. How back in "their day" kids were grateful...they were polite...they worked hard and they asked for little. 

If you were to sit down with someone who lived through the Depression (a generation that is fast dwindling....sadly), you are likely to hear that the Baby Boomers are selfish, money-obsessed, and wouldn't know a hard day's work if it bit 'em in the ass. They don't know how to go without or make do.

If you were to dig up someone who lived during the turn of the Century, dust 'em off and have some tea....you'd hear about these damn Jazz Age kids and their wanton ways.

My point?

Entitlement, disappointment, complaining, and a selfish nature does not have an age attached to it. Every generation believes the generation after them screwed everything up. That they want everything done for them, handed to them, and complain far too much.

They are never. ever. satisfied. 

I've worked in customer service for years....really since the age of 12 when I decided I was going to deliver papers for the Beloit Daily News. So, over the years, I've run across plenty of folks who seemed to find a certain amount of glee in complaining....in expressing disappointment. 

They've been old. They've been young. But all of them have led me to learn something from my experience with them.

There was the lady I used to wait on at a local drug store who would bring in a stack of coupons every week and argue over pennies....PENNIES. To her, a coupon for Charmin meant she held a coupon for ANY sort of toilet paper. Now, I could have passed this off as pure senility....but something told me after months of dealings with the Coupon Lady that she knew what she was doing. Maybe she just wanted a "cause". The coupons were her cause. 

There were the difficult customers who came into the pizza place where I waited tables and always ordered the same thing....and always complained about it. When I finally asked them WHY they continued to order things that didn't live up to their standards week after week, they didn't really have an answer for me. 

I think they enjoyed being disappointed about SOMETHING. It gave them a purpose. Something to talk about with their friends. "That damn pizza place, they can NEVER get a sandwich right! It's because they're so stupid! I mean, how hard IS it?" 

But week after week they returned. And week after week they ordered the same thing. And week after week they chided me for how terrible the sandwich was.

There was absolutely NOTHING I could do to make them enjoy the sandwich.....believe me I tried. 

"If only you'd make the sandwich right, we would be so happy"

I didn't even MAKE the sandwich. I just delivered it.

Somehow, I doubted they would ever enjoy that stupid sandwich.

Perpetual disappointment in EVERYTHING is not a generational issue. I think it may be a personality glitch. Perhaps it's nurture over nature. Perhaps it is linked to social media and our constant view of everyone's highlight reel. What we see is everyone's perfection: their beautiful children, their lovely homes, their great vacations. So, in return, when reality happens to us we feel it's sub-par. It's not the way things should be. They should be perfect. The internet said so.

This doesn't explain bad-sandwich people, because that all went down prior to Instagrams of perfect meals, but it may help explain current complainers. 

Perhaps it's indicative of a childhood where one was always coddled, always catered to, never told "no". (Just a note, please people....say no to your children)

Perhaps it's indicative of a childhood where one had absolutely nothing, so now they grab at it all, in fear of going without.

There are different schools of thought with a number of theories, but it all comes down to one clear fact: the perpetually disappointed are out there in spades and they are coming to ruin parties, work days, and a whole host of other events. 

Being perpetually disappointed will even destroy your finances. People will go to great lengths purchasing anything they believe will relieve their ongoing dissatisfaction with their life in general. Because that's what it comes down to: a deep seated dissatisfaction with life.

So, if the big disappointments cannot be handled: who you married, where you live, what you do for a living.....then you will adapt: you will nitpick the small stuff to death. Maybe by taking care of all the small disappointments in your "way", the big ones will fall to the wayside and become less "big".

But this never really works, does it? 

Being disappointed all the time usually runs hand in hand with being entitled. And being entitled doesn't necessarily mean you were spoiled as a child, or you have money, or that you're a bad person. It does mean your expectations are skewed. Life is messy, imperfect, not timed well, and....very often...sad. It's rarely exactly what we expect.

Are You Entitled?

According to Psychology Today, there are some basic signs you can look out for to see if you have fallen into the trap of being an entitled person.....and probably impossible to please as well. 

Now, all of this takes, at it's root, a bit of self-reflection. I always wonder if folks who are constantly complaining KNOW what they sound like? Do they KNOW how others view them? 
Do they have an awareness of their entitlement, or is being entitled keeping them from being aware? 

Food for thought.

So ponder a few of these....and see if you can own up :) 

1. Rules that apply to others don't apply to you.
2. Being asked for favors annoys you, but others not doing perceived small favors for you annoys you as well
3. You expect others to be more interested in you than you are in them. Your goals/dreams/plans are more valid than other people's.
4. You disregard rules intended for the comfort of everyone. For example, you smoke in line at the amusement park or pull out your cellphone at the movie theater.
5. You are not respectful of other people's time. You cancel appointments at the last minute, you are frequently late, or you expect people to wait for you. 
6. In environments based on reciprocity, you take without giving. For example, if you are part of a forum of professionals, you consistently ask questions without offering insight or answers to others. 

So, taking these personality traits into consideration, you can see how being entitled easily leads to someone being constantly disappointed.  If someone calls them on breaking rules, they are angered because....duh...rules don't apply to THEM. They are special. They are entitled to breaking the rules. If someone stops inviting a person places because they are always late or blowing them off, it's unlikely the entitled person is going to take personal responsibility for this. It's more likely they will be dissatisfied with the friend and their lack of invites going forward.

So what can you do if you're reading this going "Shit, this is ME."

Well first, kudos for seeing yourself there. I think that's definitely the first step to changing your entitled behavior and not being one of the perpetually disappointed. 

Second, work on really mulling over the WHY behind your dissatisfaction with things. If it's a meal, or customer service, or something of that nature....ask yourself if the average person would complain about what you are finding so wrong....or are you making a mountain out of a molehill?

This takes practice, and a crap-load of self-awareness. I'm fond of asking myself "does it matter"?  I find the older I get, precious little REALLY matters enough to make a stink about.

Like, the other day my kid came home with an assignment that was half finished. The assignment had a note on it from the teacher that said my kid didn't finish her homework because she was playing around in the air conditioning vent (whatever THAT entailed, who the hell knows. Sounds interesting though). Now, my daughter was REALLY upset that her teacher had called her out. She knew she had done wrong and she knew she should have finished the assignment. Her lesson was learned and I didn't need to make some big ass deal about it, right?
Right. Because it doesn't matter. In 5 years we won't even remember what the worksheet was about. But, she will remember that I laughed my tail off at the "Molly was playing in a vent" note. Because it was funny.

When we introduce themes like minimalism, simplicity, and financial awareness into our lives, it means letting go of some of the toxic attributes of our personalities along the way.

Being entitled and perpetually disappointed about everything will never get you far, even if you think you are getting everything you want.....you're never happy, and happiness trumps stuff every time.

Last week I was working a wedding on the banks of a lake in Door County. The air was still unseasonably warm, but there was a hint of crispness to it that made it very comfortable. I stepped outside for a moment to retrieve something from my car and, breathing in, caught a hint of burning leaves, lake mist, and pine trees all wrapped up into one and it was absolutely wonderful.

It was a tiny moment but I just stood here and let it kind of waft around me. Now, I could have sat there and thought about the mosquito bite on my knee or God KNOWS what.....but in that moment, everything was PERFECT. I was in awe of the world around me. 

Don't lose that. Don't lose that ability to sense wonder in the little things by focusing on the negative. There will ALWAYS be negative if you seek it out hard enough. But in the meanwhile, the wonderful things will go by unnoticed. 


You Are More Than Just a Wage ~ Personal Finance Blog

People walk around pushing back their debts
Wearing paychecks like necklaces and bracelets
Talking about nothing, not thinking 'bout death
Every little heartbeat, every little breath
- Brett Dennen

I remember when I was 22 years old, I was working 3 different jobs to pay my way through technical college. At the time I wanted to be a police officer. 

(Side note: I would have made a TERRIBLE police officer, really glad I moved on from that)

One of my jobs was slinging drinks at a bar and one night someone I had gone to school with came in with a group of his friends. I had to wait on them....and while the majority of the group were cool, this particular person made some snide remark about "So....THIS is what you're doing with your life?"

Yeah. I was making shit money at a pretty shit job. I was making shit money at three different shit jobs because college is expensive and sorry Little Lord Fauntleroy, my parents didn't hand me the keys to a castle when I turned 18. 

I realized then that part of being an adult is being judged by your job/wage. Typically this is the first question people ask in mixed company or when kicking off a round of stimulating small-talk.

"So, what do you DO?"

They really mean "How much do you make?" 

Let's be honest. We are all just looking to see if we measure up to those in our peer group, most of the time.

What do they do, what do they make, where do they live, what do they drive? It's what energizes spending and marketing. See what that guy has? I want it. It's simple.

But, when we allow ourselves to play by these widespread rules, it negates all of our other gifts that we have to give to the world. 

Yes, I was a low wage worker. 
Yes, I came home smelling like grease and cigarettes and would head right to the local pool hall for cheap beer and a chance to just SIT. 
Yes, I lived in a crappy apartment and survived off cheap delivery pizza because I didn't really know how to cook.

But I also wrote constantly in those years.
I wanted to maybe go to law school or study sociology, I wasn't sure (sociology eventually won out). 
I knew....someday...I wanted a job where I didn't have some half-wit boss that I couldn't possibly muster respect for. Don't we all?
But I knew stuff wasn't just going to HAPPEN to me, I had to make it happen (or die in a vat of french fry grease trying).

We are all more than just a wage.

Here's the thing I learned (probably too late in life): my wage is simply a tool. Whether it's a big shovel or a small little baby shovel, it's a tool to attack debt and build wealth. Learning how to leverage that tool and correctly apply it to the task at hand is the basis of personal finance.

You are not defined by your wage, you are defined by your loves, your actions, your attitude, and your approach to life. 

Having a big, healthy bank account does not make you a better PERSON than someone who is just scraping by. Just the same, being rich does not make you automatically evil just as being poor does not make you automatically good and humble. I've met many rich people who are giving, wonderful, humble folks.....and poor people who are straight jackasses. And vice versa. 

We are all more than just a wage. 

While we learn to apply healthy personal finance tenants, let's work.....simultaneously....on becoming rich in other ways:  rich in understanding and rich in our love for learning, rich in work ethic and idea cultivation, rich in giving when we can and accepting help when we need it.

When I was hit with a snide remark nearly 20 years ago about my apparent lot in life, it stung. But it also spurred me on. My job was a tool....a ladder to the life I eventually wanted. Every table I waited on, every drink I served, every brake part I tested on the factory line.....it didn't define me, but it did build a part of who I am today. 


Exposure 7 9212017 72709 PM.jpg

Something Shiny This Way Comes ~ Personal Finance Blog

I'm kinda on a rant roll today (see my photo blog.....yeah, I'm looking at YOU, Nikon). So, be forewarned.

But, can we talk a bit about people losing their collective minds over shiny shit? I mean this as a general "shiny".....as in, anything new....anything fancy....anything BETTER THAN BEFORE...OMG...HAVE TO HAVE IT....BTW, it comes in rose gold or glitter or whatever....shiny.

The iPhone X was unveiled the other day. $1000 (Originally I heard it was $1200. $1000 isn't much better, really). The iPhone 8 was unveiled too. For the bargain price of $700. 

So what makes these doo-dad's worth so much? 

People will tell you all of the helpful and "can't live without them" features they hold, but let's all be honest. Most of us already HAVE phones that do what we need them to do. They get us to places with GPS....they let us check email and deposit checks and...sometimes....on rare occasions...we can even CALL people on them. If we are, you know, mentally deranged or something.

But, our phones are OLLLLLDDD.
They don't have an OLED screen for poppin' colors, man! 
They have home buttons. Apple said I don't need one of those anymore!
My old phone can't animate poop.

I need to animate poop, people. 

And $1000 will get me there.

Let's all have a collective come to Jesus moment, shall we?  WE WANT IT BECAUSE IT'S SHINY.
It's new. It's cool. It'll make us cool to carry it around. Apple plays to our most basic instincts. Fish are attracted to shiny stuff....which is how they very often get eaten (this was all totally explained in Moana, dontcha know). Human beings are not much smarter than schools of fish. Just look how we line up for the latest shiny item. 

Apple. Marketing geniuses, man. 

Here's the thing. Financial freedom or even financial fitness cannot be had if we continue to be attracted to shiny items. It doesn't matter WHAT the item is. Marketing makes us believe that we HAVE to have them, but we have to be honest with ourselves when considering every purchase. Yes, EVERY purchase. 

Is it a need or want? If it's a want, WHY do you want it? Do you think this one item is going to make you happy? If you think one shiny item can make you happy....you've got a whole lotta soul searching to do in the area of contentment, babe. 

This is not to say that wants can never be obtained....but if we keep filtering our hard earned money towards a mountain of "wants"....what we need, that being a strong investment in our future financial health, tends to be a bit thinned. You need a retirement. EVERYONE does. You need to create a financial legacy for your children. 

They're not gonna want your old ass iPhone X, mom and dad. Trust me. 

We WANTED a home in the country....in the quiet. With 4 bedrooms and a wrap around porch.
I think we were able to get this going because we've learned to change our mode of thinking with regards to STUFF. 

Learning to change our frame of mind with regards to shiny, new items that cross our path has helped us save THOUSANDS. Literally thousands. Husband will probably tell you I've taken my frugality a bit to extremes sometimes....but I can tell you straight up that I am CONTENT with what I have. I don't really own anything that I don't use, need, love, or want to save for my kids. When new stuff comes along, it is rarely a blip on my radar. I've trained myself to move along. It took a long time, but I've gotten to the point where I NEED very little beyond what I already have and WANT even less. 

It probably helps that I don't need to animate poop. Nor do I want to. 

But hey, if I ever feel the NEED to....I know where to look. 


Yes, We Are Still Debt Slaying ~ Personal Finance Blog

I know, I know. It's been all "moving" and "new house" and no "here's what we've paid off" as of late.

Yes, we are STILL actively paying off debt even while building our new house and saving to cash flow as much as we can.

Since January 2017 we have paid off $8954.00, which is NOT a number I'm terribly happy with, in all honesty, because we could be doing more. However, we've cash flowed everything for the house thus far (including $1000 to have plans drawn up by our shifty 1st builders that never went anywhere). We are cash flowing a family vacation this winter and have spent Year #2 completely credit card free, which means we are still on course. 

I was able to sit and make our our "New House" family budget and we will be able to up our intensity almost immediately after move-in, which is great. 

But, we are still on board with the "plan". Our goals for the new house include a lot more frugality and a lot more minimalism in our lifestyle. I almost cannot wait to begin! 



What Your Friends and Family Won't Tell You About Your Spending Habits ~ Personal Finance Blog

So, you know, I will.
Because I'm just a stranger who likes to talk about money. Better you hear it all from me instead of making Thanksgiving dinner super uncomfortable, amirite?

So....why don't you ever have any money?
Why are you up to your eyeballs in debt and you're considering asking for a loan (Ugh...no.)
Why do you have no retirement? 

Here's what they want to tell you....but won't.

You're Entitled
Yup. You are entitled. You feel like you DESERVE x,y,z and so you bend the rules of finances in order to obtain the items. You work hard, you DESERVE a brand new car with leather seats and a $600/month lease payment. You only live once, right? And who wants to commute in a shitty car? 

You DESERVE a big house with an equally big mortgage. You deserve to buy new clothes every season...or every week...or every day. Who knows. 

Either way, you are talking yourself into why you deserve the purchases you make. And what you are telling yourself is: in some way, I am entitled to spend this money....even if I don't have it.

You Spend Money on Stupid Shit
Maybe you were super jazzed about whatever sparkly brand new doohickey you last plopped down money for, but I can bet you got some side-eyes behind your back. If you are a serial-broke-ster.....you can bet your family and friends notice the stupid shit you decide to delegate your funds to.

Cigarettes, alcohol, gambling, whatever vice trips your trigger. This is STUPID. 
Gym Memberships when you've never set foot inside a gym
Consistently getting your hair or nails done when you don't have a proverbial pot to piss in.
Going out to eat all the time (this is MY own personal stupid)......stupid. 
Having to have the latest, best, greatest, and new-est? Stupid.

Yes, this is stupid. People try to justify it....but it's stupid. Stop spending money on stupid shit...save more money. Simple! 

You Think You Have Time
Who needs a retirement account at 30? That's, like, 50 years from death! You've got plenty of time to sock away some funds and, besides, isn't that what social security is for?

Oh poor, wayward spender. C'mere. Let's chat.

No....you don't have time. No one's time on this earth is guaranteed....and especially if you have a family, you need to start saving for retirement....AND get life insurance. 

You Care What Other People Think
Here's a tip: Other people don't think about you as much as you think they do. Believe me, I have MAJOR anxiety about what other people must think about me. For one, I typically dress like an early 90's scrub reject.....and it's not until I get to the bank/post office/whatever that I realize there's a hole in my sweater (like I discovered at this past weekend's wedding) or a big stain on my pants. And I get majorly self-conscious because what if these people think I'm some homeless, scrubby do-nothing with no job?

We buy things we don't need with money we don't have to impress people that DON'T MATTER.  Marketers THRIVE on this. They wrangle Instagram and You Tube "influencers" to have them talk US, the buying public, into buying what's cool. Because, hey...if that influencer uses it, I should too! Look at all the friends they have! 

It's a ploy....and it's only going to run you into a cycle of buying and becoming unhappy. Because things can't fulfill us. 

There's Hope
This all probably makes you sound like a royal asshole, right? Fear not, friend. This is ALL OF US. We are all, at one point in time, entitled. We all spend money on really stupid shit (some of us just don't live to regret it and repeat the process). We all think we have time......and we ALL, sometimes, care what others think.

The silver lining is....once you become aware of all this, it changes your spending habits drastically. Once you can tell yourself "You know what, just because I have a long commute doesn't mean I have to have a $50,000 luxury car.....basic is okay too"....Once you can tell yourself "I don't need to stop at Fazoli's for breadsticks right now" (I did this tonight....and even though I had a major jones for breadsticks, I was strong and resisted the pull of their buttery/garlic-y goodness). 

Once you change your frame of mind....once you identify your "WHY".....your friends and family will start to see the change in you.....and what they'll want to tell you about your spending habits won't need a big, awkward "come to Jesus" talk.

Sit Down...We Need to Talk ~ Personal Finance Blog

(This blog has swear words, truth-bombs, possibly offensive stuff and an affiliate link. There's your heads up) 

 I've had very few "life changing" moments in my 37 years. Moments that diverted the trajectory of everything....altered my world view....made things clear.

 My grandmother Betty died in 2008. I had feared that moment since I learned what death was. The second I realized as a child of 5 or 6 that someday Grandma would not be around anymore, I lived my life in complete and constant fear of it happening. I held on tight to every solitary moment with her because "it could be the last". It wasn't really a fun way to live, and because of my overwhelming anxiety over the inevitable....I probably missed out on some "life" in there.

 When it finally did happen, I kind of lost my shit for a bit. I felt set out into the world without a compass, because SHE was my base. She was there and all was right with the world and then suddenly she wasn't.

 My greatest fear had become realized and I was terrified of what it was going to do to me.

 In reality, it really "did" very little. I grieved. Big time. I held on to any little piece of her I had left. I would cry and be sad....but years pass, as they do, and the grief dissipates into a regular old missing. I survived it. Even though I feared it.

 We live our lives in a constant state of avoiding fear, fearing fear, fearing failure, and fearing death. This sucks. There's no other way to say it. Living your life this way sucks. But, it's what we are trained to do. We don't talk about death because it's scary. We don't talk about things we are afraid of because we are afraid of them and....duh...TALKING about that will make all that true. Then we have to admit that we are weak. We don't attempt things we may fail at because we live our lives in the wide open social network and people will SEE our failure...they will notice it...they will point....they will laugh.

 This is how I live my life. Lived. Do live. Still living, I suppose. 

I purchased a book (I had a gift card. Naturally). It was by Mark Manson and it's called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. The title itself drew me in. Because I was really tired of giving a fuck about SO much that I knew, in my heart of hearts, didn't matter.
 Over the past few months I've found myself starting to get worked up about something and then asking myself "OMG...WHY DO I CARE!" or, even better, WHY DO THESE OTHER PEOPLE CARE!?!  And do I have to care if THEY care if I care about them? (Whoa.) And if I don't care....does that make me a gigantic douche canoe?

 I am self-employed and I work in an industry (photography/weddings/seniors) that is very centered on "cool". Looking cool, seeming cool, seeming worldly and well-traveled and cosmopolitan.

  Since the advent of Instagram this has increased ten-fold because now we are expected to have nicely curated feeds with "color schemes" that are pleasing to scrollers. We should be handing out various encouraging tidbits of wisdom along with our beautiful images. We should be constantly encouraging....we should be worried about our reach, our ROI, our tribe, and our message. We should always be aware that someone is watching and any misstep into the reality of our extremely pedestrian, real situation will cause them not only to not hire us and give us money, but to unfollow us and drag our names through the internet mud.

I can be a bit dramatic, eh?

But I started to worry about things like "What filter matches the "feel" of my current feed" or "If I say what I really think about whatever current situation is going on in our industry, will I lose friends/followers/clients?" 


Because we ALL DO. Hell, marketers RELY on us being all anxiety ridden with giving far too many fucks about shoes, hair, cars, iPhones, nail wraps, fidget spinners, pancakes, eyebrow shapes, and/or Kylie Jenner's newest appropriated hair-do. And while we are drifting through life handing out our fucks like so much parade candy, the things that DO REALLY MATTER are getting little to no attention....because we are afraid. 

I fear my kids getting older and leaving.
I fear my parents dying.
I fear one day people will just STOP hiring me and I'll be without an income.
I fear dying.
I fear cancer.
I fear people being mad at me.

See.....we are big old bags of anxiety and fear and wanton fuck-giving.....and people are preying on this human behavior to sell us stuff. 

Shit, I'm gonna give you an affiliate link at the end of this. Click on it. Buy the book. It's good. Or don't. Whatever. 

But that's how it is right now. We are afraid of the real stuff so we cling to the bullshit because it makes us FEEL good in the moment. 

We get a rush from our favorite lifestyle-influencer-You Tube Star telling us to reach for our dreams, because apparently it never occurred to us to do so otherwise. 

We get an absolute jones for MORE celebrity gossip, more things to be offended by, funny or inspiring memes shared on Facebook, people on Social Media telling us we are good, pretty, right, amazing, or agreeing with us that we are victims and how DARE someone make us that way.

Because the real stuff is scary.

So, what the hell does any of this have to do with personal finance? 

A lot. 

We spend. We spend like insane people with unlimited credit limits chasing that immediate but fleeting high of STUFF. Stuff to make us happy, pretty, cool, and influential. We post our stuff on Facebook or Instagram and we say "SEE....I'm happy, pretty, cool, and influential. Buy this!" 

And we do. 

This book I bought with my birthday gift card was one of those books where I finished it....I closed the cover and I took a big, deep breath. Because everything I had been wrestling with, all my anxiety and my fears and my frustrations with my job and social media and people in general were all laid out there in funny, relate-able prose. 

So is it life-changing? Maybe. Seems a bit shallow to say 1 book may have changed my life. It certainly has changed the way I've approached selling my services to people, relating to my clients and my peers, and the way I see the world in general. 

I hope it changes my fear. I hope I can feel fear and jump anyway. I hope the closer I get to 40 I can slow down the liberal handing out of fucks. Because we only have so many to give.....save them for what counts. 

Here's the affiliate link to the book. Affiliate links to stuff I love and use helps me keep the blog goin'. I appreciate your support! Check it out HERE. 


Vacation Destination: Target ~ Personal Finance Blog

Ok, so before you go all "But PG, you CANNOT go to Target without spending $100. Those are the RULES"....hear me out.

I have discovered that a visit to Target, as of late, passes as a vacation for me. I'll tell you why.

As I've mentioned before, we are currently a huddled, technically homeless group chillin' in my in-law's basement as we not-so-patiently wait for our new house to be built.

We don't even have a hole in the ground yet.

Yes, it's rained a lot this summer. I'm sure that's playing a role. But, I am the world's most impatient woman. I want my house. I wake up every day ever the more aware that I have no house. 

So, I am currently jumping at any chance I can get to "travel".....gas station runs, work at the studio, oil changes, post office visits. 

The other day, I went to Target. And I realized it had been such a long time since I'd actually WENT to Target and just looked around that it was almost refreshing, relaxing, and .....damn vacation-y. 

There were the exotic Starbucks smells.....and the candle aisle. Mmmm...Grandma's cookies. Definitely love that. Would never buy it, because damn it's $20....but mmmm...smells good.

There's all the fun swimwear. I actually did purchase a swimsuit. I didn't own one and Kidlet #1 has chosen to have a swim party this week for her 10th birthday. I assumed I would be expected to enter the water, so I got a swimsuit. It was on sale. Hopefully I'll get some use out of it.

I calmly perused the book section and made mental note of all the books I should look for at the library.

The baby section with all the adorable little baby outfits? I coo'd and ahhh'd for a bit before deciding to check out the back-to-school aisles and pre-plan the BEST shopping day of the year: School Supply Day! (Budgeted for, naturally)

Target is almost becoming foreign to me. So much so that a visit without really buying anything is kind of enjoyable. Like a museum. 

I realize that this is all sorts of sad....but I chalk it up a bit as not being much of a traveler outside of wedding work in Chicago and northern Wisconsin....and squirreling away any extra funds for the "house that will never be built". 

But, try it some time.....take a sabbatical from Target for a REALLY long time and then go back and see how fun it is.....

Just leave your wallet at home :) Break the rules! 


PG With the Bad Hair (Confessions of a Stylist Ghoster) ~ Personal Finance Blog

  I am NOT a "hair" person. But, full disclosure: I USED to be a bit of a hair person. Not in the sense that I knew what the hell I was doing, oh no. Not at all. I NEVER knew how to craftily wield a straightener and once I burnt off a big ole chunk of hair because, I dunno, I started to think of a story idea or something mid-styling. But, in the sense that I had no problem plunking down the dough for a stylist. 

  Back in my freewheelin' pre-kiddo days (read: when I spent money like an idiot), I would get my hair done on-the-regular. At the fancy kind of salon that will massage your hands with lotion made from rare crushed opals or something as you get an amazing shampoo by a stylist with angel fingers. I'd leave the salon each time feeling like a gazillion bucks with my shiny, perfect locks.

 And then I'd shower and it would all go away and my hair would look normal again. 

 But, by God....for a moment, I was a queen. 

 Seee.....good hair. For a second.&nbsp;

Seee.....good hair. For a second. 

Problem is, that was all to the tune of about $200 when it was all said and done and that is all kinds of ridiculous, given my complete disinterest in continuing maintenance and upkeep of such a "do" at home.

 So, once the kids started to appear and I started to grow less concerned with fancy hair-do's, I started jumping around. I went to whatever stylist I could find that didn't terrify me with prices. Often, I would just stop going after awhile and leave my hair to the forces of nature, ghosting each stylist with nary a phone call or a "goodbye" letter.

  So let me say it now, sorry former stylists. It's not you. It's totally me. I decided to go all nature-girl as of late and not do a damn thing to my hair. 

 I haven't had a trim since January (when I used a gift certificate....thanks Mom)....and I haven't had it dyed in.....oh God, no idea. It still looks relatively okay to me, so I haven't even given it much thought. 
 Potential savings: Hundreds. I don't buy fancy hair creams or sprays. I don't go overboard on expensive shampoos. I do buy quite a few black hairbands but I keep losing them. 

 Now, with regards to the kiddos, I've discovered that trims at Cost Cutters are probably sufficient until they need that "one good haircut" before school starts. Cost Cutters is, like I said, sufficient enough but damn if they don't do a choppy job. 

 Those hairstylists at the fancy places are probably WELL WORTH what you pay them, folks, believe me. I am well aware my hair looks like shit 99% of the time. 

 I tried cutting Betty's hair once.
 I probably won't try that again.

Haircare is kind of where I've decided to just SAVE....as much as I possibly can. But I am, by no means, under the impression that I can "do just as good of a job". Good god no. But, the question is, where do my priorities lie?

 I've decided I can be a happy camper in a new home with jacked up hair. The trade-off? Worth it. :)