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Monthly Progress Report (#1)

As I’m starting this adventure I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make sure I follow through. We’ve all been there, we want to do something but sometimes something just requires so much effort.

I’m going to try my best to avoid excuses. The one thing I think will force me to get some stick-to-itiveness is to maniacally track my progress. The last day of every month I’ll let you know how I did. So since we have nothing to really track just yet here is the initial debt breakdown:

Mortgage: $149,800 (I’m going to do some rounding for simplicity’s sake.)
Car Loan: $9,400
Student Loans: $4,800
Credit Cards: $3,700
Grand Total of Debt: $167,700

I don’t have much of a game plan. I’ve read different theories about debt repayment methods such as the debt snowball and the debt avalanche. I’m still undecided which method I’ll use, however I am leaning towards the snowball with my focus being on my smaller student loan.

My student loan balances

The drawback? Well, I have to put some money away for home renovations that will be starting in May. Turns out I didn’t pad my estimate enough and fell short.

So to add to the debt total:
Renovation fund requirements: $3,200
New Grand Total of Debt: $170,900

I’m hoping that between saving every spare penny and hopefully receiving a tax refund (fingers and toes crossed) I can make up the difference. I can’t tell you how mad I am about the shortfall. My own dumb mistake but seriously disappointing! The money that I’ll plug into the renovations could have been going towards other debt.

Oh well, hind sight is 20/20. But hopefully I can make up the difference without getting myself further into debt. Lofty goal? Probably. I mean we’re talking $800/month. Well, that’s just a bit unrealistic. I’m already looking into my options and realistically a portion of this will probably end up on the debt tally above.

Overall I know that I’m not in too bad of shape. My mortgage is crazy (I wasn’t joking about being house poor). But I’ve been lucky to have a job that pays for the majority of my education (according to CNBC the average student loan burden is $30,000).

This is my second master’s program and I should be able to escape without adding much more to my debt total. In all likelihood an increased student loan balance will probably happen sometime this year or next.

Now onto the savings side of things.

Savings account: $1,950
Peer-To-Peer (P2P) Lending account: $300 (there’s a story there for another day)
Investment account: $3.93 (you guessed it, there’s another story there and I’ll definitely tell you all about it soon)
Grand Total of Savings: $2,253.93

My goals are less concrete on the savings side. I want to build up my savings account and attempt some stock market investments. I don’t have a set amount that I’ll increase either by, it’ll likely be anything left over after everything else is paid.

Eventually, I would like to save 6 months of expenses for an emergency fund. An emergency fund is always a good idea. So do as I say and not as I do and set one up for yourself if you can.

Well, I certainly have some work to do. One day I hope to at least see those totals close to each other. But if we’re talking pipe dreams, I want that debt total to be $0.
Broke Dolly
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Adventures in Christmas Shopping: After Christmas Sales

On Friday I texted a friend to see if she wanted to join me on my first Christmas 2019 shopping trip. Like a good friend and fellow lover of bargains, she agreed. We got a late start and had to pick up some Craigslist bargain for my mom (she makes a killing buying and reselling vintage items - I promise I’ll tell you all about it another day).

Our first stop was lunch because a girl’s gotta eat before a full day of shopping. I picked up the tab and that set me back $22.44. In the name of transparency, I’ll include all of my spending throughout the day.

After meeting Karen from Craigslist, we were off to our first stop - and one of my favorites - Target! We were two girls on a mission so we headed straight to the Christmas Wondershop area.

I had just been there Christmas Eve and let me tell you, four days and 70% off discounts  makes a world of difference. The place was looking a little sparse but we had each found an ornament or two (I know, I know, I said I was going to avoid decorations but these two were just too cute to pass up) and I had found discounted peppermint bark (my favorite!), then I found what I was really looking for - wrapping paper!

My choices were slim but I picked up a cute four pack. I refused to buy the one packs that were almost as much as the four pack because they were “premium.” I’m not sure I know what premium actually means but my best guess is sparkly or shiny means you can charge more. And although cute, the abundance of Wonder Woman paper didn’t seem like a good idea.

A little bummed that the paper was so picked over I was ready to checkout when Tara spotted the holy grail of after Christmas shopping - an abandoned shopping cart full of wrapping paper. After stalking the cart out for a while (I mean I didn’t want to steal it from someone else, I’m not that level of intense shopper yet) and determining it really was abandoned we stole the cart and headed to the checkout line much happier.

Target Cart
Look at all that wrapping paper!

My happiness was short lived though, checking out at register 6 (I hate the number 6! I should have waited for 5...) the cashier broke one of my ornaments! Now you know that this ornament was pretty special because of my no decorations rule, but to the casual observer it was just a silly ornament that can be thrown into a bag resting on a metal plate. Already knowing what I would find I pulled out my shattered ornament and showed it to the girl that just replaced my favorite cashier. Tara said she knew where another one was but exchanging broken items is apparently a task I had to bring up with the returns folks so I headed over to the line that stretched about a mile long to exchange the ornament I had purchased two minutes before.

Learn from my mistakes - if a cashier breaks an item of yours do not pay for it thinking you’ll check it in a second or you’ll end up on the longest line you’ve ever seen for a $2.70 item too. All in all, everything worked out ok and it was still a great trip! I got my ornament and we happily trudged through the parking lot around the mall with our cart full of unbroken goodies.

My Target haul

So there you have it! Two ornaments, two bags of peppermint bark snowmen, two peppermint bark bars and eight rolls of wrapping paper for a grand total of $16.50. Total saved: $27.70.

Then we were off to our next stop, HomeGoods. HomeGoods is one of those stores I can’t help but love. Most of the items I have no idea just what you would do with them but I love to look at everything and imagine how fabulous my house could look if only I could find a full set of chairs there (just kidding! I actually did find a full set there once and I still love them).

The good news with HomeGoods was that almost all the Christmas stuff was marked down, except wrapping paper. I managed to walk away from the felt merry & bright banner that would have looked oh so good on my mantle next Christmas and instead gravitated to their shelf of sprinkles. I bake Christmas cookies every year to give to my family and friends, experience has shown me everyone’s favorite is usually jelly filled sugar cookies. Which require sprinkles to make them look fabulous. Since each bottle was marked down 50% I grabbed four - each with a particular sugar cookie shape I had in mind to use them for.  I 100% realize how crazy that sounds but my cookie wreaths and trees are going to be pretty sweet next year!

My should I or shouldn’t I purchase at HomeGoods wasn’t necessarily a necessity but I have said I needed one within the last week. And it was pretty cute. So I bought a wall calendar. It was the cheapest of the ones I found and it had been marked down since it started in July. I didn’t know that was a thing, did you? The calendar was 44% off - not 70% Target territory but not  bad. When we hit the checkout line Tara pointed out that the wrapping paper in the front was marked down 50%. Since I had already looked through most of it while we were in the Christmas section I had a pretty good idea of the one I wanted - animals with Santa hats on pool floaties of course! Take note Target, this is what I call premium paper! I spent $4 on it but I was ok with that because it’s a GIANT roll. And bonus paper find at the checkout line, zebras with Santa hats and cute sayings. I like quirky paper what can I say?

Funky Wrapping Paper
Seriously, how cute is that wrapping paper?!

After this shopping trip I have enough paper to last me for the next few years. At HomeGoods I bought two rolls of wrapping paper, a calendar and four containers of sprinkles. My total damage at HomeGoods was $16.81. Total saved: $14.93 (as calculated by me. Seriously HomeGoods, why is my total saved not on the receipt?)

Next we headed over to TJ Maxx. Again all Christmas was 50%, I didn’t find anything in the Christmas section but I did find a cookie rack with Christmas cookie shapes somewhere else in the store. I scooped them up quick! I hoard cookie cutters. Need a giraffe shape? Got it. How about a bat? Still got it. Pig? Two of them. These were pretty standard - Santa, snowman and snowflake - but the important this is they are a different Santa, snowman and snowflake. Christmas cookies are all about variety. And I was in desperate need of a new rack. I only have two small ones and it clogs up the assembly line a little bit at times. It was marked $9.99 but I was hoping I would end up with 50% off and I did!

Cookie cutters
I'm in love with that Santa cookie cutter!

I spent most of the rest of the time in TJ Maxx watching Tara shop until I spotted the perfect gift for my boyfriend next year. Something I know he needs more of. Then after finding one I found another! That’s what I’m talking about! Finding gifts that others want/need is the best. Even better, when I checked out, one was Christmas related and 50% off too!

Sneak peek at gift #1!

TJ Maxx was my most expensive stop so far spending a total of $24.15. Since that includes two gifts not too bad at all! Total saved: $10.99.

To round out the TJ Maxx owned store trifecta our next stop was Marshalls. Not needing any more wrapping paper I was looking around for gift ideas. Unfortunately I didn’t find anything to gift but Tara found some cookie stamps I ended up buying. I told you, I’m big on variety with my Christmas cookies so the stamps are perfect! It’s three separate shapes and I don’t have one already, it’ll be amazing if I can get it to work right! I’ve never owned a cookie stamp before so I have no idea if this is something that’s good in theory but not in practice but I’ll find out next year! Like the other stores, Christmas items were again 50% off.

With Marshalls my spending is starting to trend down just as I like it with a total spent of $4.31. Total saved: $4.00.

Next we went to Old Navy where I had another possible gift idea in mind. I ended up not buying anything though. The gift idea was ok but I felt I could do better than a $15 sweater. So I put my item back on the piles of picked over clothes and avoided buying anything for myself as Tara checked off some items on her list. If I thought Target was bad, Old Navy was worse. My sympathies to the girls that were left trying to salvage that disaster area (Old Navy must be a popular choice for gift cards!).

Since we closed Old Navy down and the parking lot was now seeming a little sparse we thought we were going to be headed home when we discovered Kohl’s is open until 11! So in we headed. I’m not a huge fan of Kohl’s. I mean, it’s ok but I don’t see what some people see when it comes to the place. Maybe that’s because I often don’t end up using Kohl’s cash when I get it because I can’t bring myself to spend money to buy something I’ll inevitably find priced more than my Kohl’s cash is worth. Apparently this is a me phenomenon though, my best friend loves, loves, loves Kohl’s and swears she gets the best deals.

But anyways, Tara and I weren’t getting so lucky. I had the perfect gift in my hand that I was carrying around the store debating if it’s worth the sale price of $27.99 when Tara found a price checker for her items. I thought maybe I’ll get lucky and scanned the barcode. And guess what happens next?! My $27.99 shirt was actually $4.50!! Tara and I high-fived (maybe I'm making that up) and headed towards the register.  My total came to $4.69. Total saved: $40.50. That’s right, 90%! Must have been a left over summer item but I was thrilled. Sorry no pictures, I carefully hid it away in my Christmas hiding spot before I thought about snapping a pic.

Everything I bought on our first
Christmas 2019 shopping adventure

Total for the day: $88.90. I had set out with a $100 max in my head and am happy to report I came in under and totally nailed it. Christmas 2019 outing one is in the books.

Total for non-Christmas items: $22.44

Total for Christmas 2019: $66.46

It was well past midnight by the time we got home but what a successful day! A bigger personal victory for me was that I was able to recruit Tara to join me on my Christmas 2019 mission. We’ve agreed to try to get together once a month and scour the stores for deals. Meeting a goal is always easier when you have someone to encourage you and hold you accountable, so ask them for their help. A good friend will join you on your crazy adventures.
Broke Dolly
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How I’m Going to Conquer Holiday Stress

As I’m sitting here looking at all the Christmas decorations I’ll have to take down in the coming days (ok, probably more like weeks if I’m being honest) it makes me think of the stress of the holidays. To be clear, I love, love, love Christmas and everything about it. I love going into lavishly decorated stores, I enjoy Christmas light shows possibly more than anyone and I adore the cheer in the air. Everyone seems happy about the holiday season, it’s infectious and it’s great.

What’s not so great is the amount of money I spend annually on gifts, decorations, cookie supplies and everything else. It’s not spending the money that bothers me, it’s the giant hit my checkbook takes each year in December. Since I’m about to change my spending habits, Christmas is a good place to start. I don’t anticipate spending much less, however I am going to do something about the timing.

In 2019 I have a game plan that should allow me to get everything on my family and friends’ lists without kissing my Christmas bonus goodbye. Because next year I’m using that bonus to put towards savings and paying off some debt, a little Christmas present to me!

So what’s my brilliant game plan you ask? Well, it’s simple. I’m going to make an effort to spread the Christmas shopping over the twelve months of the year and enjoy the tree trimming without stressing over presents. I’m not sure if it’ll work - but it’s where I’m going to start - one gift a month. Since I have a relatively small family and only exchange gifts with a few close friends, come December I should be pretty much set. Besides, one gift a month seems totally doable.

The hard part? As much as I love Christmas, I also love Black Friday and become super tempted when I see that newspaper full of flyers. It’ll be challenging to not go overboard when I see the deals. No one loves a sweet deal more than me!

Don’t worry, if I have a lapse in judgment I’ll be honest and spill the details. Even if it is embarrassing. And it probably will be, like that one time I bought a tire swing. I don’t have kids, nor do I have a tree that is suitable for a tire swing, but I still own one. It’s really no secret I have a shopping/spending problem.

Now that I’be started thinking about Black Friday, I’ve discovered what the major downside will be about my early Christmas shopping - paying full price! But with some coupons, well timed sales and a good cash back site, I think I can get a handle on things. A detailed list of just what I actually bought might help too. I’m pretty sure if I don’t document my purchases by December I won’t be able to tell you a single thing I bought.

Giving myself a full year leaves me with one other advantage: time to think about thoughtful gifts. We’ve all been at the mall two days before Christmas wondering just what the heck mom would really like. With my mom, the good news is she wouldn’t be awfully surprised if I did give her a tire swing.

Another Christmas savings idea? I’ll be hitting the stores tomorrow in search of half priced (or hopefully more!) cookie tins and wrapping paper. I’m going to try to avoid decorations unless it’s something that I just need to have but the last two years I’ve found myself at Target with an armful of still not discounted necessities to get through Christmas. Next year I will be prepared.

I know my game plan sounds silly. I know that you’re probably thinking “but just how will that help you save money?!” Honestly, I don’t know if it will. I’m going into this with the idea that my bonus next year will be all put towards my goals. We’ll see how it works out but I’m definitely excited to give it a try. Besides, if I’m spending money on Christmas gifts that’s less money I can spend on another shirt I don’t need.

Special shout out to my 160 lb Newfoundland, Miss Sadie Donatella AKA Cakes AKA Oompa, for all the help untangling those Christmas lights this year. And then posing for my photo shoot. As you can see, it just wiped her right out.
Broke Dolly
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I’m House Poor & in Desperate Need of Financial Help

I am house poor. As Investopedia defines it, I’m “a person who spends a large proportion of his or her total income on homeownership.” Isn’t that just about anyone with a mortgage? No? Just me?

I originally became house poor after I was divorced. My ex-husband wanted nothing to do with the house. I loved the house. It was a no brainer to take over the payments until I realized suddenly that only I was responsible for making sure the mortgage was paid every month with my modest paycheck.

So I decided to do something about it. I got a master’s degree and a better job (read: I got really, really lucky). Things were going well for a while. The mortgage payment wasn’t bad at all, I even added a car payment and was still doing ok.

Then I decided to make improvements on the house and take out a bigger mortgage. This wasn’t such a big deal because the house was a foreclosure and the aforementioned ex was a contractor that had done a significant amount of work already. The original price was a steal and the once rough house was showing nothing but potential to be my dream home.

With a job I loved, a boyfriend I planned to keep around for a while and my parents in the same town it seemed I would be sticking around and since I had been putting off these renovations thinking I would eventually move and find my dream house, it was time to put the effort into making this house my dream house.

So I did it. I refinanced. A scary process but I made it through with minimal collateral damage. My yard took the majority of the hit when the guy that came to notarize my closing documents got stuck in the mud and two tow truck companies had to make an appearance.

Besides a few awkward hours with a stranger it was mostly a night that went well, I was mentally past the point of no return. Legally I still had the right of recision (which I got through without freaking out too much). Now my mortgage was almost three times what the old one was.

I’m house poor again. I just wrote out the check for my first of 360 larger payments. And with that I need to make some changes. This will be about my journey to spend less, save more and pay off my debt. While still trying to have a social life. It’s not going to be easy but I think it’s possible. Wish me luck! I’m going to need it.
Broke Dolly
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