2nd Quarter Update – How We Cut $4500.00 a Month From Our Budget in One Year

2 quarter update 2018 PINTEREST

“It’s Only Crazy Until You Do It” – Nike

As mentioned in my last post….I’ve been a bit busy launching our podcast; so, our second quarter update is a bit late… But it is well worth the wait, I promise.

One of the most important bits of advice I can give to anyone else who is trying to build wealth – pay off debt, save more…spend less…any of these things or all three… TRACK WHAT YOU ARE DOING!  Why?  Because it is a loooooong road sometimes.  There will be times when you are certain you are doing horribly and that you haven’t made any progress.  Overspending, under-saving.  But if you track and periodically come back to the numbers, you can see your progress and, I promise you, it’s not as bad as you think.

It’s the daily, small incremental changes that add up and compound and lead to big results.  But you are not always going to see them.  You are not always going to FEEL them.  To see them, to know you are making progress, you have to know where you started and review your steps along the way.

And let’s be honest, sometimes, we are not doing the things we need to do.  The road to financial independence is not easy.  It’s hard to be on level ten all the time.  If you have a record of your progress, you can not only go back and use your previous wins as motivation, you can assess what you need to fix or where you have let a bit of lifestyle creep work its way into your life.

One of the major commitments Curt and I made when we began to journal our progress with this blog was to be transparent.  We have flubbed things up, more than once.  We have let our budget get a bit loosey-goosey sometimes.  We made purchases we probably shouldn’t have.  We let our chaotic lives get the best of us and settled for convenience over financial responsibility.  And I bet you have too.  And if you haven’t, man!  That’s great! You should be extremely proud of your commitment. That’s not sarcasm, that’s the real deal, hands in the air, admiration.

The reality is –  life happens.  And that’s ok.  Just shake it up, learn, and move on.

So, my second piece of advice is…remember this is YOUR journey.  Your journey is not measured by anyone else’s.  You are in competition with no one.  This is about where YOU begin and where you are going.  As long as you are focused on your future – that dream you have for yourself and your family – that will be your ultimate destination.  And when you arrive?  It’s going to be glorious.  But if you keep looking at the progress of others and worrying that you are not keeping up, you are going to waver and drive yourself off a cliff.  You will never get to where you want to be.  So, stay in your lane!

Got it? Good….now we can move on to the good stuff. (wink). But one final thing, we share this information for one reason only. And that is for your encouragement.  We started in a place that, even now, can feel unsurmountable.  The purpose of our sharing our journey is to show others that it IS possible.  Even when you are standing at the bottom of the mountain, looking up, and the road to the top seems an impossible task.  It’s not.  Trust us, it’s not.  You can do this. Just make a move.  Put your financial plan together and get to work, one foot in front of the other. Just begin.

Without further adieu, here is the stuff ya’all came for.

In our previous post, A Year in Review, we reported some of our overall gains at the beginning of this year.  Here are the highlights:

  • Reduced grocery budget by half (We were spending over $2500.00 a month before **cough** cough*)
  • Paid off and/or reduced debt and expenses for a total monthly savings of: $3186.00
  • Through a combination of debt pay off and increased savings we increased our overall net worth by $46,689.00. (A negative net worth, so a significantly LESS negative worth!)
  • Opened additional retirement accounts for both Wendy and Curtis and began funding them.

Now for the update. Below are the additional areas of progress made since January of 2018:

  • Paid off credit cards
  • Sold trailer
  • Sold my precious Lola Beetle (sobs)
  • Paid off small student loan
  • Consolidated/Reduced Wendy and Curt’s student Loans
  • Paid off a couple of cell phones

These additional changes resulted in another $1321.00 in monthly savings.   Overall, for the year and one month we have been on this journey, we have reduced our fixed monthly expenses by over $4500.00 a month.  That figure does not include the cuts we have also made in our discretionary spending (i.e. food, fuel, fun money, clothing etc..).

$4500.00 a month!  That’s pretty phenomenal! So, what have we done with that money?  The decreases in our spending have allowed us to pay off some of the debt, but also increase our saving rate.  At the time of this writing our saving rate is at about 38%.  Which, considering we started at about 5-7%, that’s spectacular.   The other thing it has allowed is for me to transition careers. As a lawyer, I have been a high income-earner for many years.  Going in to Real Estate, which allows be to be at home with my sons, has also meant that income is no longer coming in predictably – at least not yet.  So, part of this over-all reduction has allowed me to make this shift.

When we no longer have the burden of debt hanging over our heads, when we have savings, we provide ourselves with options. And, for me, more than anything else, being able to be more “present” in my son’s lives has been the greatest benefit of this Financial Independence Journey.

I hope you have found this information valuable – but also, that you can apply some of what we have done in your own lives so that you too can build the future you want for you and your family.

Stay tuned next week when we discuss the gains we have made in our net worth.

Love and Prosperity,

Your Girl.FI.day

 

 

 

 

 

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Leaving My Six-Figure Career…and How You Can Too!

Leaving a six figure career PINTEREST

At the time of this writing I am weeks away from walking away from a six-figure career. The last few years have been my most successful ever.  I am good at what I do.  And I am miserable doing it.  The weight of the responsibility of doing good work – the gravity of the consequences when, even the best work, results in a horrible outcome for your client…. it’s just too much.  Some spend their lives bearing this burden.  But the good criminal defense attorneys, the GREAT ones…it comes at a cost.

For over ten years, I have built my solo law practice and have grown my profitability every single year.  I don’t say this to toot my own horn – but simply to explain why leaving my practice is of significance and perhaps, also, be a source of encouragement for others who feel trapped in their current careers.

To continue my law practice, to continue serving my clients, would almost guarantee our family would reach our financial goals within about half the time that we have projected, and far in advance of the retirement age of most of the country – before we turn 50. We would be debt free.  We could retire comfortably.  We could do other work without regard for how much income it brought to our household – volunteer – complete passion projects.  How amazing would that be?

It WOULD certainly be an accomplishment.  But the cost…. it’s just not an expense I am willing to justify anymore.    I am sure there are some who would look at this decision and think that I am crazy…irresponsible even.  And maybe it’s true. In fact, it’s quite likely.

But the decision has not been made without serious contemplation.  A weighing of consequences and risks.  Introspection.  An inventory of the needs of our family – both financially and emotionally.  Input from our children, the Bigs and the Littles.  But primarily – I reflected on my own mental health.  Taking an honest, brutally honest, look at who I have become and who I wanted to be, not only for myself, but for the people I love.

We have been given this amazing opportunity to raise, not only our oldest children, but now – we are mom and dad to the most precious gifts, our Littles.  They were never part of our plan.  They were not a consideration when I became a lawyer fifteen years ago.  Life is funny like that, right?   You think you know your life…

In a matter of two years everything we thought we knew about our future was turned on its head.  It was an amazing turn of events and it was the beginning of the realization that our wants and our needs as a family were now different.  Not just the needs of our family as a unit – but my own.  Who I was as mom.  Who I was as a professional. Who I WANTED to be.

I wanted to be a better mother in my forties than I was in my twenties and thirties.  But not only a mother – a better friend.  A better business owner.  If I wanted to be all of these things, it meant I needed to make some changes.  I did not know exactly what that meant at the time, so I went about the business of figuring it out.  The entire process took several years.  If my story is resonating with you, don’t be discouraged – this process will hopefully not take as long for you as it did me.  My wish – is that memorializing this process will help you in your journey to discovering where you want to be, who you want to be and crafting a plan to get there.

I am in the beginning stages of career transition as a Realtor.  I also Blog and am launching a podcast, House of FI, in the very near future.  My income is uncertain.  I have no real safety-net.  But I AM certain – deep within my bones and throughout my spirit, that I will not fail.  I will succeed.

Have I always felt this much conviction?  No.  Fear has, at moments, been debilitating.  It has been a process.  A process I am now sharing with you.

In the next several weeks, we will be walking through the steps of making a career change.  The first step I recommend for any change is MINDSET.

If you are not willing to engage in a positive change in mindset – chances are very high that you will fail.  Your mind is your most powerful asset.  And we become who we believe we are. Thoughts are things.

But how do we change them…

Put your phone down.  It should not be the first thing you see in the morning.  Looking at your phone makes your thought processes reactionary.  You respond to the images and words you see.

Don’t look at your email for the same reasons.  It can all wait.

Read.  Read EVERY day.  A minimum of 15 minutes.  At the beginning of the day.  How you begin your day matters. If you are not sure what to read – I have started a list of my favorite books.  Each has impacted my life in a significant way. You can find them here.

If you simply can’t find 10-15 minutes to read in a quiet spot, then get an audio book.  Listen during your morning commute.  As you work-out.  While taking a bath.  But do it.  It’s Non-negotiable.

Make daily affirmations and/or motivational videos/audio’s part of your morning routine as well.

I used to think affirmations were silly.  But then I changed my mindset.  I began exploring affirmation APP’s and recordings on YouTube.  I ended up finding a book written by Florence Scovil Shinn, written in the early 1900’s.  It’s full of timeless affirmations and real-life experiences.  It finally clicked for me.  I wrote down several affirmations that spoke to me, I recorded them on my iPhone and saved them to my notes.  They are just a few minutes long, but I listen to them every day.  Some are merely affirmations of gratitude.  Saying thank you for life, health…family. Expressing gratitude is one of the best ways to build positive thoughts.

I have come to realize and believe, wholeheartedly, the affirmations I speak into my life every day have contributed to my success and over-all well-being. When I speak positive words out of my mouth, they travel to my ears, then continue to my brain.  My whole body.  I FEEL BETTER.  I FEEL empowered.  I am more determined.  The negative feelings and fear leave me.  I walk taller.  I speak more confidently.

So, give it a try.  (I find it works best when I put my headphones on and listen while I walk or work out.)

To Recap, your first step…. work on your mindset.

Flood your body and mind with positive and encouraging words every day in the form of books, motivational recordings and/or positive affirmations. Make it a habit.

Now that we have gotten your mind in the right place, we can move forward to discovering your “WHY”.

Love and Prosperity

Your girl.FI.day

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

Sharks, Scorpions & Alligators – Payday Loans, Title Loans & NSF Fees

sharks scorpions & Alligators

Payday lenders and title loan companies are Sharks.

You must train your brain that every time you drive by one of these lenders or see one of their commercials to hear the Jaws theme. They are predators and they prey on people who are afraid they can’t make it to next pay day. Let me ask you this, do you think these lenders are in rich or well-to-do neighborhoods? No, of course not. But you drive through a struggling neighborhood or near a military base, and you will see one just about on every block. And once you borrow from one of them do not expect to pay off your loan. You will keep paying interest on it indefinitely. This is how they make money. It is called predatory lending and that is why in many states, pay day lenders have been shut down by the law.

These same pay day lenders are now making loans on titles to vehicles and it is the same trap. Let’s say you own a vehicle that is worth $5,000.00. The title lender will loan you $3,000.00 and place a lien on your vehicle and charge you interest every month. Every month, you will pay them, for example, $300.00, of simple interest. None of this monthly amount pays down your balance. You cannot come up with the $3,300.00 to pay it off for next month, so you keep paying $300.00 a month. No matter how you try you can’t get together $3000.00 because something always happens. You intend on paying more next month, but there are some doctor visits or something else happens and so next month you only make the minimum payment. This goes on for a year. At the end of the year, you have paid them $3,600.00. You have paid them what amounts to 120% in interest and you still owe the original $3,000.00. Does this sound smart? Well, it is certainly smart of the title lender. But for you, not so much. As a bright line rule, just DON’T DO IT!

The same principle applies to the payday loans. You borrow a sum with the intention of paying it all off the next payday. But the next payday comes and you can’t pay it back, so the payday lender says,” OK, just pay us the interest and we will make a new loan.” Every payday, you pay the interest but the balance of the loan does not go down. Even with a small amount, you will end up paying more than 100% in interest in a very short time.
When I am up late at night and the commercials for these sharks come on, one of the things they hook you with is the guilt, “avoid NSF fees”, “avoid the embarrassment of bouncing a check” or some other measure that plays upon your fear. Now, get ready, because I am about to get harsh here. A simple solution to NSF fees is to NOT WRITE CHECKS UNTIL YOU HAVE THE MONEY! Novel idea, I know. But it is the truth. Let me remind you that you are not alone. You are not the first person who has bounced a check.

Hopefully, I have earned the right to speak frankly with you because I have been in your shoes. Just about every mistake I discuss in this blog, I have made. We have been there. We know what it is like to have your rent or mortgage due and to not have the money yet. So, we risk it and give the landlord a check hoping they won’t deposit it until tomorrow and that it won’t clear for 2 days and by then your deposit will go through. But WHOOPS! It deposits in 24 hours and now you have to have an uncomfortable conversation with your landlord. So, next month when you are back in the same boat, you go get a payday loan or title loan so that you can avoid that whole scenario. The problem is that you have now gotten suckered into something you cannot get out of and it’s going to cost you a ton of money you can’t afford.

So just don’t do it, no matter how tempting it is. Instead, call your landlord or whoever it may be and explain the situation. Nine times out of ten, if you are honest and simply explain it, they will give you an extension. They may charge you a fee, but it will likely be less than what you would have paid in bounced check fees, that often create a snowball of fees. I have never had someone not work with me, if I simply call them and explain the situation.

I once paid over $300.00 in NSF fees because 1 item cleared before I expected it to. Most banks have a policy of paying items largest to smallest. The reasoning, I have been told, is that the higher items are for more important items, like mortgage payments and car payments. The reality is, if they pay largest to smallest, they get more fees because more items will overdraft. That’s the real truth. Banks are in business to make money, period. And NSF and overdraft fees are expensive, often $25 to $35 per item. In 2009 the Huffington Post reported that banks make 38 billion, that’s right Billion with a capital “B”, in overdraft fees per year! They also reported that was double what they made in the year 2000. Overdraft fees are income for banks, plain and simple.

Have you heard the fable about the scorpion and the frog? A scorpion asks a frog to carry him across a river. Leary of the scorpion and not wanting to be stung, the frog says, “but you will sting me”. The scorpion assures the frog, “if I stung you, both us will sink and drown”. Feeling better, the frog agrees and begins carrying the scorpion across the river, but midway across the scorpion does indeed sting the frog, dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion explains, “what can you expect from a scorpion, it is simply my nature.” I’ve heard this fable told in many versions, sometimes it is an alligator toting a rabbit across and half-way the alligator attempts to eat the rabbit, but the moral is the same. Sharks are sharks.  Scorpions are scorpions.

The moral of this story for you is to beware of sharks. Like the scorpion or the alligator, sharks will always be sharks and they will always do what is in their nature. Your goal is to survive. And in this journey to be debt free, your efforts in doing so will be much easier if you stay out of shark infested waters.

And if you need a life preserver, I am here to help.  How can I help?

Love and Prosperity, 

Your GirlFIday

Debt Triage – First Stop the Bleeding

Debt Triage PINTEREST

In an emergency room, patients are treated based upon the urgency of their need for care.

If you are reading this and you are living pay-check to paycheck, and/or you have past due bills, or are just trying to stay on top of all the debt you have accumulated, you have a debt emergency.

The very first step for anyone in your circumstances will be to “triage your debt”. What do I mean by “triaging” your debt? It is this – Before you can dive in and begin working a system of overall debt repayment and savings, you have to first start with vital matters.

Are you behind on your rent/mortgage? Utilities? Your car payment? These are your necessities. Take a look at them first. Make a list and address each one of the following in order:

Food and Shelter

Your primary needs are food and shelter, then critical utilities (cable and internet are not critical- unless you work from home and cannot work without internet). Before you can even begin to start paying down your debt, you must get these items current. If you lose your shelter and cannot provide sustenance for you or your family, the least of your worries will be making sure your AMEX credit card gets paid. Talk to your landlord, will they forgive late fees, will they let you pay your rent a week late so you can get caught up on your utilities. Will they break the rent into two payments so that you have more to go around for each paycheck? Be honest with them – be creative. As my grandma used to say, “closed mouths, don’t get fed!”  You won’t know, unless you ask.

House-hacking.  One idea is to “house-hack.”  Can you temporarily rent out a room in your home.  Or can you rent a room/rooms in someone else’s home. Housing costs are most often our biggest expense and if you are able to change this one thing, it may be enough to give you the relief you need to get all the other areas under control. It may be humbling. It may be inconvenient. You maybe sacrificing your privacy.  Remember this is temporary and sometimes, we must do the hard things.

Utilities

After food and shelter, are utilities. If you are behind, call each one of them and work out a schedule of repayment AND STICK TO IT. Often, the dread of calling can be debilitating – I totally understand.  But, I promise, you will feel better once you have a plan.  I also know (from experience) that in the vast majority of instances, if you simply explain your situation – a lot of the time they will be able to help you. Besides, you also don’t want to find yourself in a situation where they get turned off and you have to pay reconnection fees.  This will only compound the problem.

Transportation

Next is transportation. Can you negotiate with your lender to perhaps postpone a month’s payment so that you reflect as current and then possibly use the freed-up expense to get caught up on your shelter needs? Will they forgive late fees? What else can you do? Perhaps you temporarily use public transportation or some other means of transportation and forego a vehicle all together? Be creative here.

Perhaps you need to sell your car and purchase one outright to get rid of your car payment?  Maybe you car share.  Remember, this is an emergency and you need to do what you can to stop the bleeding.

All Other Debt

The last priority is to bring current all debt.

But, before you begin focusing on your debt there are other steps that you will need to take, including assessing your income vs. outgo, total over-all debt situation and creating a budget. For now, focus only on triage – assessing in order of urgency and treating the most critical of issues before moving on. This is not to say that your overall debt situation is not important or that it is not an emergency. It is – debt freedom is an emergency. However, as with the emergency room, for now it can wait until critical needs are stabilized.

In an emergency room, the doctors and nurses work quickly, they work with purpose, they assess, treat and move on to the next patient. You will do the same with each necessary expense that is past due. Doctors and nurses also do not pretend that a situation is not as bad as it seems – to do so would cost lives. You have to triage your debt with an open and honest heart. Truly determine where you are with your necessary expenses. “Treat” each debt emergency as if your life depended on it, because in reality – it does. How can you be the parent – wife – husband – employee – friend – you are meant to be if you are consumed with worry about where you will live or how will be get your next meal – you simply can’t. And I am here to help you do that.  I care about your well-being and I want to see you succeed financially.

In the next several series of posts, we will be addressing the financial fundamentals so that you can achieve financial independence and begin saving.  But for now, first things first. Be brave.  You can do this!

Love and Prosperity,

Your GirlFIday

Don’t Be An Ostrich – You Can’t Hide From Your Debt

Don't be an ostrich PINTEREST

The first step in getting out of debt is to assess your situation. Over the years, working with hundreds of bankruptcy clients, I have seen over and over what I call the “Ostrich Syndrome”.  The enormity a clients debt situation is so hard to face they instead ignore it.  And I will be perfectly candid here, when I say “they” I include my husband and I in this category.  As we struggled over the years, we put our heads in the sand several times.  What we can both tell you is that ignoring your circumstances does not make this situation any better.  You too might be an Ostrich if:

  • Instead of opening your bills each month you stuff them in a drawer telling yourself you will get to them later.
  • You fail to answer all calls because you fear it is a bill collector
  • You do not check your bank account balance – afraid it is a negative balance
  • You do not balance your checkbook
  • You do not know how much you are in debt because you have not looked at your credit balances
  • You have not checked your credit report
  • You do not answer your door because you are afraid you are being served for a lawsuit

Does any of the above sound familiar to you?  Do not be ashamed or afraid.  Face the truth head on.  Much like an alcoholic or any other addict must do, you must admit where you are and how you got to where you are so that you can begin the process of healing.  You cannot skip this step because interest does not stop accruing, balances do not go down, bill collectors do not magically disappear, lawsuits do not get dismissed, negative balances do not turn into positive ones.  You cannot get financially healthy until you first know how bad things really are.

Adulting is hard.  But it does get easier.  Especially when you have help and know that you are not alone.

Let’s get started…

Assessing where you are:

  1.  I suggest getting out a pen and paper, or if you are a spreadsheet-type person, like me, start a spreadsheet.  More accurately, you may need to create more than one. At a minimum, create a list of every single monthly expense you have.
  2. You need to know the present balance, the regular monthly payment, past due amounts, if any, and due dates.
  3. Do the same thing for each debt you have.  ALL OF THEM.  Credit cards, loans, loans from mom. Collection accounts.  Everything.

You can combine the two lists, or keep them separate, whatever helps you feel organized and presents to you a clear picture of what you currently owe and what you owe going forward.

Determine what you have:

  1. What is your net monthly income coming in?
  2. When does it come in?
  3. If you have irregular incomes, go back to the past 3-6 months and chart each month’s average – or see if you can determine a baseline of the minimum you know you will receive. Anything extra will be extra.
  4. Do you have any savings?
  5. Do you have any items that you can sell?
  6. How much extra cash can you come up with to kick-start things?
  7. Can you hold a garage sale?
  8. Can you work overtime?
  9. Uber? Lyft? Amazon Flex?
  10. Do you have a side business you can supplement your income?

It’s time to really get creative.  If your child was sick and you had to pay for a medical procedure in cash (without committing a crime people!) how much money could you come up with?  Think of things in these terms and see what you can do!

Now that you know what you owe…OUCH, I know that hurt…and know what you have, the next step will be to create your plan.  Your Budget.  Get amped up.  Get excited.  You no longer have your head in the sand.  Be proud.  That was hard and you are still here.  You are about to kick some #ss and take names!  It’s time to attack.

Next week we will discuss your strategy for getting out of debt, stay tuned.

Love and Prosperity, 

Your GirlFIday 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden Debt – Shining a Light on Debt Shame

Debt Shame PINTEREST

I try to be a pretty open book.  I do not find it difficult to share the mistakes we have made financially.  So, the thought that debt, and the magnitude of others debt, would be something that many simply keep secret was surprising to me.  This came to light during a discussion with a colleague.  I was sharing my passion about helping others get out of debt and how I would love to share it on a larger scale.  She looked at me in surprise and said, “do you really think people will talk about it?”  The more I thought about her question – the more I recognized the magnitude of the issue and the shame that surrounds it.

We live in America.  This is the “Land of the Free”.  This is where dreams come true and anyone can make it.  Others risk their lives to live here in pursuit of their dream.  So, what does that mean for those of us who have or who ARE struggling?  Who are burdened by our debt?  In our minds, right or wrong, we are failures.  We have fallen short.  There is something in us that is deficient.  And all of that brings us shame.  Failure – shame.  OUCH.

Shame is powerful.  Shame can lead to paralysis.  It can lead to secrets.  It can prevent us from seeking the help we need.  Shame at its root is fear.  Fear of being judged.  Fear of rejection.  Fear of losing something or someone.  Since the beginning of time fear and shame have been with us.  In the Garden of Eden, it was shame and fear that led Adam and Eve to hide themselves from God.  Today, we suffer the same fear and shame when we make poor choices.  Often, like little children, our first reaction is to hide what we have done.  What we must realize; however, is that healing, success, and growth will not happen until we can expose these missteps, bring our failures into the light and seek to make right our poor choices.

I can tell you more times than not, when my husband and I have shared our past failures, what has happened is someone later comes to us and asks for help or they share that they, too, had similar circumstances with debt and how they turned it around. Not once have I had someone shame me or judge me (at least not to my face).  Does it mean that you have to shout your debt situation from the street corner or stand up in front of a room and proclaim you are a failure with debt?  Of course not.  But you do need to come out of hiding.  Seek out others.  Talk about it.  For now, maybe that may simply mean you have found this site and you comment or message me how to get started, or you have picked up a book or joined a Facebook group full of virtual friends. Whatever route you have chosen and you feel most comfortable with – just get out there so that you can finally break free of your debt and move towards a life of financial freedom.  You will be glad you did and I am certain you will discover that the rewards of facing your shame are far greater than the fear that kept you shackled to it.

My hope is that I can be a resource to you.  There is nothing that you have done that will surprise or shock me.   I’ve made some doozy mistakes in my lifetime and we have turned things around.  Chances are we have been exactly where you are.  But most importantly, there is no shame here.  Lift your head, be brave and breath in….and then exhale and get to work. How can I help?

Love and Prosperity,

Your GirlFIday

How to Save 38 Percent of Your Income

How to Save 38% of Your Income

When we began this Financial Independence journey back in May of 2017 – our savings rate was abysmal.  It was so abysmal that I really had no idea what a “savings rate” was.

I first heard the term years ago when I stumbled across my very first Financial Independence blog trying to find a way to quit my job and live a “laptop lifestyle.”  On one site in particular it was discussing people who were saving 40% and 50% of their incomes.  Which, frankly, I thought was insane. But at that time, I wasn’t looking at increasing our savings rate so it didn’t register what it meant.  I dismissed it as something unattainable for us.  I was still stuck in the Dave Ramsey train of thought that I couldn’t save because I still had debt.  It is one area where I have come to disagree with Dave. There are certain circumstances, late savers and extremely high debt balances – like ours, that I now believe it is OK  to do both.  If we didn’t make this adjustment in thinking we would be in our fifties before we could start saving and early retirement would not be an option.  Now we can pay off our debt AND take advantage of pre-tax savings AND benefit from compound interest while doing it.

In March of last year I found the FIRE community (Financial Independence/Retire Early) community and I went down a rabbit hole, never to return.  It triggered a change in my thinking.  If these people could save that much on ordinary incomes, certainly, my husband and I could find a way to do it to on our incomes.  And if we could figure this savings thing out – we could possible retire early and have the dream life we wanted.  Now that was  motivating!

First, I had to figure out how to calculate our savings rate.  The calculator that several people in the Financial Independence community kept referring others to was put together by Big Ern….I had no idea  who a “Big Ern” was.  Originally, I thought he was just some big guy named Ern.

Well, I was totally wrong about that and it actually stood for a blog, EarlyRetirementNow.  (You can find the calculator using the link below.) Clever, right?  Using the calculator, I found that we were at an 8% savings rate and that was only because my husband works in public schools and the state mandates it.  With our newfound excitement to retire early, we made a goal to get to 20% savings rate. We were still in a ton of debt and we felt that after we reduced a big chunk of our discretionary expenses 20% was GREAT and it would still give us enough income to pay down our debt with a fury.

Fast forward to today.  We are ten months in.  We have increased our net worth by $86,000.00.  Paid off a bunch of stuff! And have increased the contributions in our retirement accounts.  Initially, we were a bit worried that we were being too aggressive and that once we put in the amounts we decided upon, that there would not be enough left over to pay all of our bills and still pay extra on our debt.  We were wrong.  As it turns out, when you decrease the amount of your taxable income, you pay less in taxes.  And so, our paychecks were not decreased dollar for dollar.  There was still enough left in our net paychecks to go around.

If you would like to increase your savings rate, I suggest you follow the steps below:

  • First determine your current rate of savings using the calculator listed below.  (There are other calculators out there – you can use any one you choose.)
  • Then look at your overall spending. If needed, track your last three months of expenses to see where you can make DRASTIC cuts.  I have several suggestions.   Reducing your expenses will free up income you can then put into retirement.
  • Then set a goal of how much you want to save. What is your overall goal for your savings?
    • Do you want to retire early?
    • Do you want to want to have extra in your retirement account to pad what your current retirement and /or social security is expected to provide?
    • Do you have a large purchase you are trying to save up for?
      • Remember when putting savings into a retirement account you cannot draw upon these funds without a penalty before 59 ½ (unless you are doing a ROTH IRA), so make sure you are setting up accounts that are appropriate for your goals. Not sure what investment accounts to use, I have found this post very helpful.
    • Do you simply want options for your future?
      • Perhaps you have always wanted to work in a particular field that does not pay as much as you need. Would reaching Financial Independence alleviate your concerns about doing so?
    • Once you have your goal in mind, then figure out what vehicle to place the funds in.
      • Does your employer offer a 401K and you simply need to fill out paperwork to have the funds deducted from your paycheck?
      • Do you need to open up a retirement account from an investment provider?
        • As a self-employed individual, I decided to open an individual 401k via Vanguard. If you want to know why we opted for Vanguard and Index Funds, then I would hop on over jlcollinsnh.com and work your way through his stock series.  Or buy his book Simple Path to Wealth on Amazon.  Game changer for us.
        • Maybe an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) is right for you.
      • If all of the above just totally freaks you out, then start small.
        • Start with just $100.00 a month. Surely, you can find $100.00 that you have wasted in a month?  (And remember, when doing it via a pre-tax retirement account, it is not a dollar for dollar reduction.) Then, keep increasing that amount by $100.00 , or whatever amount you feel comfortable, until you get to an amount that will get you to your goals.

My husband and I have been diligently saving since the late last year.  I cannot begin to describe the satisfaction it has brought to see our balances increase every single month.  After consulting with our tax professional, we followed each of the above steps and opened an individual 401k for me, since I am self-employed, through Vanguard.  (These vehicles are AWESOME because they have higher limits for what you can contribute each year.) We chose Vanguard because their fees are typically much lower than the traditional brokerage firms and lower fees mean we get to keep more of our money.  Second, we contacted my husband’s  employer and filled out paperwork to max out my husband’s 403(b) and his 457 plan.  (These are both vehicles to save for retirement, similar to a 401(k), typically for non-profits and public service entities.) Both of these processes are pretty much automatic, which makes it extremely simple for us to save.

After following these steps and comparing our contributions from when we started to present, we are now saving 38% of our income!  We blew our 20% goal out of the water! That’s a 30% increase in less than a year.  Crazy-ridiculous, right?

We will likely remain here for a while.  Our next focus, now that we are saving at a phenomenal rate, is to continue attacking our debt.

Our student loan balances are a heavy burden and I would like to pay them off before we reach Financial Independence, which if we continue at this rate, should be in about eight years – at age 55.

Doesn’t that sound amazing!

Love and Prosperity,

Your GirlFIday

*** Nothing in this article is to be construed as financial advice.  I am not a financial planner, nor do I pretend to be.  You should always consult your own professional when seeking advice.

Links to Articles of Interest:

https://earlyretirementnow.com/2017/04/05/savings-rate/

How we Increased Our Net-Worth by $86,000.00

Six Ways to Save $1200.00 this Month

2017 A Year In Review

http://jlcollinsnh.com/stock-series/

What Type of Retirement Account Should You Choose