I’ve been hyper focused on getting out of debt for almost three months now. Benefit: down more than $20,000 in debt. Downside: I’m hardly getting any work done.
I spend most any spare time drawing up spreadsheets that astonish me with their detailed power and demonstrate how I can be a millionaire again in a few years. I never before could make a decent spreadsheet and now I’ve got a life-changing one.
When I need to be working on my current book or preparing for class, I’m listening to Dave Ramsey podcasts, secretly, because it would blow my lefty cool to be associated with this evangelist preaching to the masses. But still I’m hooked.
I’m a bit OCD, to put it mildly. This is a curse and a blessing. I can hyper focus for an intense but short time. So as much as I am worried that my obsession is too much, I’m also worried that it will suddenly vanish.
I hope this time it is different.
Image: detail of Piet Mondrian, Oostzijdse Mill with Extended Blue, Yellow and Purple Sky, 1907-8. https://www.theartsdesk.com/visual-arts/mondrian-turner-contemporary-tate-liverpool
If only I had known thirty years ago what I know now. Blah blah blah.
No one knows what one will know going forward. NOW it’s a matter of attending to the moment with no regrets and with fearsome resolve.
And a fat check helps.
I just spent a whole day finishing a spreadsheet on my debt-getting-out-of future. It’s good, even with the plan to cash flow two kids’ college.
Now that I’ve actually started paying attention to what we’re spending and actually budgeting (which my former self poo poohed), my obsessiveness in detailing things yields that I will be totally out of non house debt by October 2020 and may actually be out of house debt three years later.
The trick is to have enough time, after paying off the debt, to sock into retirement accounts sufficiently to live well after retirement. The good part is that even with a decade post-debt-payoff we can pour enough into retirement to live really well thereafter.
Yes, it would have been ten times better to have figured this out ten years ago, but that me wasn’t paying attention then. This me is.
My past fear of planning for retirement was I think rooted in avoiding the brute fact of mortality. which I do in fact regret. But that this kept me in financial insanity is, to be tautological, totally insane.
I’m getting back a $9,000 tax refund. Woo hoo — right? Wrong.
The taxman got to use $9,000 of my money last year costing me about $1,400 that I could have avoided in interest charges on credit card debt.
Not next year. By then I will have set aside a tidy sum in an interest bearing account that I can use to pay for any tax shortfall. And today I adjusted my withholding so I will have a bit more each month for my own expenses.
What is now obvious today before wasn’t even a thought. Now that I’m getting my priorities straight, everything looks so different.
So, no, my friends, you do not want a big tax refund — though you do need to be prepared to pay for any shortfall by April 15.
Caveat: for self-employed folks, do not take this advice too far. If you don’t make adequate quarterly payments for more than one year you’ll get penalized.
Here’s a progress report of credit card debt since November, the very worst it had ever been. This is from $106k to $87k
The madness hit me when I saw $106,000 in credit card debt in November. At first I had hare-brained ideas like, oh, I’ll just quit shopping. Soon I realized I needed to be on a serious budget and grow up.
Now three and a half months later it’s down $19k. Nice! Pat on the back!
But I can do better. And I will. I’m waiting for a consulting income check and a tax refund to knock it down further. Plus I’m going to start setting aside money to pay for kids’ college.
Oh, if only I’d had my head on straight 20 years ago. Regrets. But more important now is conviction and action.
I totally forgot what happens to me when the buds start budding, when wee hostas start peeking through the dirt, when daffodils sprout out in all their yellowness, when the dead earth starts to come alive.
I suddenly want to go shopping — for plants. I am suddenly overcome with the imperative that I need more pine bark mulch, new hostas, maybe some new azaleas, perhaps some otto luykens, coral bells, anything that flourishes in the shade. Maybe some new patio furniture, clay pots, maybe even a new patio.
Last year I did all that, including a patio that I think actually cost nearly $10,000, maybe only $5,000. I wasn’t paying close attention, which was exactly my problem.
Today I decided I really do need five hostas for a particular spot — next to that new patio. Home Depot didn’t have any hostas yet, and I also noticed that all their plants still seem to have nasty pesticides. Then I went to the local fancy Ace Hardware. Each pot was $15. Holy hell, I realized; five hostas was more than a week of groceries.
I went home and surveyed the back yard. There were these errant liriope that didn’t work where they were. I dug them up and put them in that spot by the patio. I also dug up some hostas that had been wasted way back in the yard and transplanted them to more propitious spaces.
What surprises me most is not my ingenuity in transplanting what I already had but my horror at buying five little hostas that would have cost me what is nearly a week’s worth of groceries. Suddenly I realized what a horrible idea that was. And I left.
I’m nailing down grocery shopping on the cheap such that I can make a meal for three for less than five bucks easily. But the problem comes when I’m on campus and need to grab something to eat. A salad or a sad little sandwich can run easily between six and ten bucks. Add a coffee and I’m at $15 a day. Doing that four days a week is easily costing me $250 a month.
So let’s slam on the brakes!
Time to pack a lunch, even something as pedestrian and fattening as a pb&j sandwich, which I can make in two minutes and carry around in my bag all day. And if I’m walking a lot I’m burning off the calories. I can even toss in an apple. Lunch will then run me about $15 a month, saving over $2,000 a year, which now will go toward paying off debt and later fund a month every year on a Mediterranean island, where I happen to have a house debt free.
It happens every spring: suddenly I need to clean out the closet and switch from winter to spring. That happened today. But I was totally astonished by the amount of clothes I have. My spring closet is now super loaded.
Of course, I’ve got the debt to attest to it. Those clothes probably cost me many thousands of dollars. At least had the sense to buy Eileen Fisher clothes, which are sustainable and timeless, and so I can wear them for many years.
So I have zero need to buy any more clothes. I might suffer in terms of t-shirts and cropped jeans, but I’ve got at least 7 Eileen Fisher dresses, loads of light sweaters, croppd pants, and tanks. I’ve also got plenty of button down shirts. The amount of clothes I have is actually ridiculous.
In our time, clothes are less about need than about longing. Like something will be met if I get this one more thing, But of course the thing never meets the longing and on it goes,
So now that I am dealing with this gap between longing and need, I am left with a lot of clothes,
I am going to rock that gap wihout buying another damn thing.