Give Me Back My Five Bucks

My former life as a personal finance train wreck

2013-11-03 13.34.35-2My finances used to be bad. Like, really bad.

I’ve been hounded by collection agencies. I’ve had my credit cards declined in public. I’ve borrowed money from friends. And I’ve been so maxed out I couldn’t even afford to take the bus.

That was me in 2006. I was 24 and just about to graduate from college. I had a mountain of student loan and credit card debt, and basically no job prospects. My three part-time jobs weren’t enough to pay “real” rent, so I was stuck living in my parents basement, and in a relationship I needed to get out of. With my college diploma in hand, I was desperate to start my new adult life. I needed change, and it needed to happen immediately.

I haven’t really thought of that time in my life for a while. But doing my taxes this year and shredding a bunch of old paperwork showed me just how bad it was. I saw max out credit card statements, a line of credit that I used as a revolving debit account, and collections notices for bills I couldn’t pay and chose to ignore. Shredding those pieces of paper was liberating, but it made me realize that the financial disaster of a person I used to be is still hiding inside of me.

Last month I spent nearly $2,000 in car repairs, travel, and clothing. And it could have been a lot worse. My life has changed in that I can now pay for all of that spending in cash – but when I look back at 24-year-old me, I can still see how easy it would be to slide back into old habits. Buying two items of clothing to replace two that have worn out was fun. I could have bought way more and still not have been satisfied. I still fight the urge to be lazy and not cook a single meal (and not having RD around lately has made me even lazier). I’ve been fantasizing about what I could be spending my money on instead of saving for retirement (imagine having an extra $1,500 per month to spend!), and can you imagine the traveling that could be done if I emptied my savings account?!

So what’s stopping me from sliding back? A lot of it has to do with the anxiety and hopelessness I felt when I was living perpetually in the red. If you’ve ever been in debt before, you know the feeling … like it’s too big of a mountain to climb … like you’ll always be struggling just to get by. I remember spending countless hours worrying, crying, and stressing out over how I was going to ever turn my life around. I had never been good with money, and was never taught how. I came from an immigrant family, but my parents were always responsible with their cash. I should have learned from their example, but I didn’t.

It took a lot of will power and motivation to take the step to change my life, but looking through those financial statements showed me it was worth it. Seeing my debt shrink each month (even if it was just by a little bit) was so motivating as it was happening back then, and it was motivating to me to read 10 years later.

I thought that once I got out of debt and taught myself how to be responsible with my money, that the urge to spend would disappear. But it hasn’t. Sometimes I slip up and buy things I regret, or I eat at restaurants too often, and I’m still sometimes shocked at my credit card statements. I have all of my savings automatically withdrawn from my account as soon as I get paid – not because it’s easier for me, but because if I don’t, I’m afraid I’ll spend it. I keep a detailed spreadsheet of all of my spending and savings and transactions because it helps me stay focused and on track. My monthly budgets and spending recaps on this blog? They’re for me, not you. :)

I may not be the personal finance train wreck I used to be, and I think my money management will always be a work in progress. I’m not a natural saver, but I know that it’s important for my future self, and for my current sanity. Seeing my savings grow and knowing I’ll be okay financially in the future gives me a lot less anxiety than seeing my debt grow. So I’ll continue saving and investing and spending within my means. But it’s not easy.

Are you a natural saver or spender?

June 2016 Goals

After a very expensive May, I’m hoping June is a quieter month for spending.

I technically have no confirmed travel plans this month other than a weekend home to take my dad to a baseball game. But because we both have a lot of banked/vacation time to use up this year, we were thinking of taking the last week of June off and tackling a portion of the Sunshine Coast Trail over in Powell River. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do more than go on an epic multi-day hike to celebrate Canada Day! So I definitely hope this happens. :)

Work looks to be busy this month. Actually, it’s been busy for the past few months, but seems to be catching up to us lately. I don’t mind though, because I’m still loving my job and the company. I feel valued as an employee, and that’s not something I’ve felt in a really long time. Along with a small raise in April, my overtime hours have just been bumped up from 1.0x  payout to 1.5x (with the option to get paid out or bank the time). I was already collecting banked time off at a pretty rapid rate, but this just means I’ll end up with a lot of carry-over days for 2017 (which isn’t a bad thing – because next year I want to get on a plane and go somewhere amazing!).

RD won’t be home from his big 5-week work trip for another 7 or 8 days, and he’s gone again later this month for another 5 or 6 days of field work (and then again in the beginning of July). So I’m going to try to keep my dining out habit in check (something I failed at last month). I love the summer, but will love having him home even more. :)

Anyway, here is the budget I’m proposing for the month:


June 2016 Goals:

  • Continue being active. May was an amazing month for working out. I did something active 5x times per week, and loved it. This month will be a bit different because I’ll be bringing rock climbing back into the mix, but hope to continue mixing climbing up with yoga, spin class, and hiking.
  • Go hiking somewhere new. Aside from the SCT, I’d like to try something in the Lower Mainland I’ve never done before. Since there’s still a lot of snow up high, I’ve been looking at some hikes near Chilliwack and might head out there one weekend.
  • Examine my retirement plan. For many years I feared I wasn’t saving enough money. Now I think I’m saving too aggressively for the kind of retirement I actually want. I need to actually sit down and take a look at the numbers. Could I be putting my money towards savings outside of retirement? Or can I adjust my retirement goals to stop working even sooner than I thought?

May 2016 Goals: Recap

Wow am I glad May is over. Not because it was completely horrible – there were some really great moments – but because May was super expensive, and the end of May means that RD comes home in just over a week. :)

I had planned two trips for may – home for the long weekend, and a camping/hiking trip with Cait. My three nights home were really great. I got to spend time with friends and family (and eat a lot of delicious food!). Plus, I took my sister to the spa (as you can see in the ‘Gifts’ category below). However, my camping/hiking trip with Cait ended up not happening. She got super sick with the flu – and even if she hadn’t gotten sick, the weather last weekend was so horrible I doubt we would have gone anyway.


Over Budget:

  • Food – I got lazy and stopped cooking meals at home. It was surprisingly hard to keep disciplined, even though we’ve been cooking the majority of our meals at home for the past 6 months.
  • Clothing – I got two dresses altered, and bought a new pair of workout pants.
  • Car & Transportation – Well, now. My little car got new tires, an oil change, and a couple of other random fixes that I’ve been putting off for a while. I knew I was going to have to get this done before our October road trip, but I didn’t anticipate doing it this month. One of the little fixes got to be too bothersome, so I ended up taking it in and just getting everything done just out of convenience. I’m glad it was all taken care of, but ouch!

Income and Savings:

This month I saved 48.6% of my income, which is just a bit below my target of 50%. I brought in $3,000 through freelancing, and still have $6,250 in outstanding invoices yet to be paid.

May 2016 Goals:

  • Be diligent with cooking meals at home. FAIL. Oh, yes, this was a complete and total fail. I had all these grand ideas of cooking my meals at home and not getting lazy just because I was cooking for one this month. :) I actually did fairly well for a while, but a bachelor mentality set in, and I ended up going $60 over budget for the month – mostly in take-out food.
  • Workout 5x/week. CHECK! I worked out 19 times this month, and did a mixture of yoga, spin class, climbing, and the gym. I shed a couple pounds (which was not the intention, but I’ll definitely take it!), and feel much stronger.
  • No alcohol or coffee. PASS. I did quite well with not drinking alcohol (I had 4 drinks all month), and I was doing well with coffee for the first three weeks … but the last week has been hard. Work got really busy and I ended up coming in early a lot and grabbing coffee on my way in.
  • Be creative with freelancing opportunities. PASS. I had some good conversations with potential sponsors. Nothing has been confirmed yet, but I’m just glad I was able to flesh out my ideas and pitch them.
  • Save $2,500 towards retirement. FAIL. My huge car bill ate up the majority of my freelance income from the month, but I still managed to put over $3,000 away in retirement and savings combined – so even though it was a fail, that’s still a win in my books. :)
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