2/1/12

Happy Chinese New Year

(The decorations at my son's Chinese New Years party at school cracked me up.)

Good thing Chinese New Years is here to give me a second chance on making a resolution. The one in January came and went without a goal in site. If you haven't made any resolutions, don't worry. Chinese New Years continues through February 6th. You still have time!

Rob and I (like millions of other people) have decided this is our year to get out of debt. We've always lived as if money was right around the corner. Like a carrot dangling out in front of us. And that someday, everything would figure itself out when a mysterious windfall of money arrived at our door step. It never came and our debt slowly began to grow.  It was to the point that I didn't even know how much we were spending on credit card monthly fees.  I'm glad I learned this lesson young. We needed to come up with with debt and savings plan fast before it got out of control.

Of course right before we decided to get serious about our money, there have been so many opportunities to spend big bucks. It's like the girl who decides to go on a diet on her birthday. Does she eat the cake? And ice cream? I would. But that's the problem! I need to learn how to say no.

We know it's going to come with sacrifices. Not real sacrifices, but the kind of sacrifices over privileged twits complain about.  Just this week, there's been a fancy ballet class come up that I really wanted to sign Ella up for, but I resisted to the point of tears (not her, me!). And Rob was planning our family trip to Washington D.C this weekend. And we got the official date for the family reunion in California. We were so tempted to buy plane tickets! Usually, we would have just said yes yes yes to all of these things. But we've learned our lesson. We feel trapped by debt. So we said no. No. And no.  The craziest thing is that saying no didn't cause an argument between Rob and me. It actually felt good to say no. Empowering. Shocking.

We spent hours today making sense of our finances and drafting a plan. I thought I had a grasp of all of our debts, but I was clueless of how bad it had gotten.  After researching all the different methods to keep a budget, I've concluded that a pencil and regular composition notebook is the best system for us. I needed something tangible. Almost like money. To remind me that this debt is real and not some number on a computer screen that I can just turn off. I'll see how it goes.

This month's goal: Cut back in general but especially on our outrageous food bill. We set aside a specific amount of money for food and plan on sticking to it. That means filling up the frig with actual groceries, learning a few new recipes,and experience the thrill of eating from NYC food trucks. Cheap excellent food! Gung ho FAT Choy!

What system do you use to keep a budget? Do you use excel? Mint.com? A planner?An App?Your brain? Nothing? How's it going?

113 comments:

  1. Hello Sharon, I've been perusing your blog for a few months and enjoy learning about NYC life. My husband, 4 month old son and I live in Nashville, TN, where I grew up - so reading about New York is educating and exciting.

    We're Dave Ramsey fans as well, and he offers a free and quick way to formulate a monthly budget online. You start by typing in your monthly income, and his website breaks down what is reasonable for you to be spending on mortgage, groceries etc. based on your income. Then you can use sliders to adjust each category to what you'd like.

    http://www.daveramsey.com/mobile/gzbudget/

    Props to y'all for getting your family finances in order. What a gift to your three kiddos and their futures.

    Jessica

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  2. Sharon, this is what we do too. Google Docs Excel spreadsheet. I share it with Jon and so anything I put in is automatically saved. Also, I know this isn't the best for those in debt but we do use credit cards for everything and we have it on auto pay (both american express and Chase credit cards offer this feature). So it pays in full every month and I never have to worry about fees. I like this because then we get to rack up points on our credit cards for amazon.com or disneyland, etc but also I get to see what I'm spending and what Jon is spending. I enter every expense on a google doc. It's tedious. I do it twice a month by looking at my credit card statements online. I tried Mint.com but it wouldn't allow the Chase credit cards. Plus I found myself just glancing at what was being spent. I think I have to write it all out to have it register. Mint does seem great, just didn't work for me and the way I think I guess.

    Good luck. I think you guys rock for trying to do this!!

    Also, I do cook every night and well with a 2, 3 and 4 year old, I don't take them out to eat much. Their nuts!! So cooking at home does help the ol' budget like you said. Last night we had a rotisserie chicken from Costco, yams and wild rice. The whole meal for our family cost $10 :)

    If you want meal plans or one of my google docs (not that it's fancy shmancy) just email me.

    Love ya girl!

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  3. I just wanted to say hello. I am new to your blog but was immediately smitten! I have 2 boys and also live in NYC! Budgeting here is unlike anywhere else that I have lived... this city has a way of making people like me - reasonably well-off, middle income people - feel broke all the time. Have we talked about how much child care costs?! I'm with you on trying to get better about groceries and meal planning. Trader Joes has been a HUGE help for me! I love this post and your honesty - and especially the recognition that our sacrificed might seem huge, but they are still privileges. I often try to remind myself that having a warm home and a hot meal is enough. Gosh, it's hard! Anyway, thanks for giving me something fun to read about every day!! :)

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  4. Once again I have to suggest and recommend Dave Ramsey! He has great stuff for teaching kids responsible money skills....check them out, you will be impressed. I did the series for high school age kids with 6 young people on a camp out for 4 days and we had such a great time and all of us....including me, learned a whole lot. comes with dvds and notebooks and all kinds of great "tools" to make it fun and also very exciting

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  5. Love Dave...he has a great on line tool for setting up a budget and paying down debt that is soooo handy to use. I highly recommend it. We paid off everything and are debt free, total wonderful feeling!!! Best to you on this adventure. You will not be sorry you decided to change your money habits.

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  6. You know why I think you're going to succeed this time? Because you put it out there for the world. (So brave.)

    In high school, I was from a family that had fallen on hard times in an area that was fairly affluent. I was completely honest with my friends and they worked hard to make it a non-issue for me. They would drive me to school since I didn't have a car and then I would return the favor on weekends when I could barrow my parents' car. We'd pick low cost activities like picnic and hiking instead of going out to eat and the movies. I really don't think my friends are the out of the ordinary. We truly want to see our friends succeed in life and that includes finances. I bet just putting that out to the world will help your friends support you in this goal and that will make a huge difference for you. Best of luck.

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  7. This post inspired me to try to get our family grocery budget down each month. We have been budgeting for years, but food has always been HUGE because I like to eat. :) And because I try to cook healthy for our family...but I looked around and I believe it is doable. I will keep you posted and post about it. Good luck on your endeavors too!

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  8. Hi Sharon. Great post & I love your blog. My husband & I have been working long hard hours while flipping houses so that we can pay off our cars & student loans to be debt free. This comes with the price of having to live in the houses that we flip which sometimes means staying with friends or family while we fix it up. We don't have kids yet so that makes it a lot easier. Anyways, we are right there with you & many other readers! It does feel good to have others out there with similar goals.

    I am from Denver & there is a local, super cool blogger that blogs about getting out of debt. I highly suggest checking out her blog. (andthenshesaved.com)

    Good luck!
    Alison

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  9. My tip is of course related to clothes. Sorry. Before I buy any clothing item or accessory- I have to justify the purchase by knowing 3 different ways I would wear this item. Sometimes I can talk myself out of it immediately, other times, I know it will be a good player in my wardrobe.

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  10. Hmmm.......you're at a very expensive time of life, raising children and wanting them to have great experiences, lovely trips, basically the stuff memories are made of. They won't remember how you set out your outgoings on a spreadsheet, or bounce up and down with excitement if the visa bill is paid off every month....They will however remember family trips and reunions and such. As the mother of teenagers now, I have sacrificed a lovely savings account and zero credit card debt to enjoy life and experiences with them and I think it's been worthwhile to do so. I'm not saying debt is good, but it's not all bad either......I wouldn't want to add to my borrowings to say, eat out all the time, or buy clothes I or the children didn't need. However when I have spent money to give the girls a great outing or holiday, I've never regretted it. Their childhood is over so fast and if I had a choice of memories I will have forever and ever or no credit card debt I know which one I would choose.

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  11. thankS! i'm going to amazon right now. thanks for the tip!!

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  12. Thank you! Hopefully you have less to pay off but no matter what the number, it can be done!

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  13. We have always lived on one income (my husband is self-employed so his income isn't always steady). This has helped tremendously in staying out of debt. Even when we have big expenses, we put every bit of his income towards paying it off fast (and my income pays all our living expenses). When we bought a new car, we had it paid off in 18 months this way. I guess this is just a long-winded way of saying that we live way below our means and that has made all the difference.
    It's hard to get out of debt, so good luck! But when you get there (and you will get there!), keep yourself out of debt by then living below your means.

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  14. I use Mint and it is really helpful. You can set email notifications to let you know when you are getting close to your budget for groceries, or coffee shops, whatever, so you don't have to always be logging in to check. So even when I'm not proactive about staying on budget I can remember to stay on budget!

    Good luck!!

    ~Elise
    sparkletwentysomething.blogspot.com

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  15. Oh, and we also have an emergency fund of $1000. We're working to have more than that but that's where it's at right now. It's a cushion that we won't touch unless something happens with the car or house that we need taken care of right away. Our next step is saving six months worth of living expenses! That's a biggie!

    Once we wrote our whole budget down on paper it really was like we had gotten a raise. We put a name to every single cent and we now know where everything is going--even savings. I am so incredibly excited for this year to see where we take our money!

    Like other commenters have said, I really can't recommend Dave Ramsey enough.

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  16. Yes! It's weird to think that car payments and mortgages are actually debts. With some hardcore savings my husband and I are hoping to save enough money to pay for a house in full!

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  17. My husband and I just started Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. IT. IS. INCREDIBLE. We will be out of debt completely in 6 months. We're setting up our retirement funds at 21 and 26! We withdraw cash every month for groceries, eating out, and gas. It's saved us so much money since it's tangible and it hurts a little to spend it. Good luck!

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  18. great post. This is also my resolution for this year. We also spent an enormous amount of money on food/groceries. We love to cook and eat good food (who doesn't!). This is one area that I felt like I can really cut back. even though I didn't hit my target for my food budget in January for food, we still were able to spent $300 less than we have been on a normal month previously. And we still ate well! We have been eating more grains and beans (I started buying them dried and it's so much cheaper and better even though it takes a bit of prep). I also started making my own bred, which has helped and again is much better. I also stopped buying juice on a regular basis for my kids. It's something special now. This is obviously good on many levels (teeth!). It felt so good to spend less and still eat well. I really like using Mint.com. I can quickly check in on my phone to see how I am doing in all my budget categories.

    Please keep writing and sharing your experience about eliminating debt. I think many of us are in that same place.

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  19. Hi Sharon, thank you for this post. I think debt makes people feel alone, so seeing it in print is somehow reassuring.

    I'm a student facing a considerable debt when I graduate and I'll tell you the number one thing that has affected my bank account: Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution cookbook. The 30 bucks I spent on that book has saved me tonnes of money on eating out. I always get multiple meals out of one recipe, so that makes my frozen lunches for school! Seriously, this guy has single handedly changed the way I eat and live. Also, 30-minute meals is a fantastic book! Take care, adele

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  20. Lourdes EchagarrugaMarch 30, 2012 at 6:43 PM

    I definitely like this post. I just got my masters and am now facing year's of paying off loan debt. I decided that I would sacrifice on "luxuries" to pay off my debt in half the time. I know it will be good in the long run!

    XO Lourdes

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  21. Lourdes EchagarrugaMarch 30, 2012 at 6:43 PM

    Oh, and I keep a budget on an excel sheet. It really does help!

    XO Lourdes

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  22. I truly enjoyed reading this post. While my husband and I are not in much debt, we do have a tendency of charging careless things to the credit card (though we pay it off monthly in full) ... but the point is ... that's money that could be saved, instead of being splurged on silly things out of pure spontaneity. My budget system is simply a notebook and pen. I write how much is owed, and cross it off when a payment is made :)

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  23. This is such a refreshing post to read! So many bloggers seem to have these endless pockets, and it's reassuring to hear that it isn't exactly how it seems. That said! Being in debt really sucks, and I'm hoping that it's something I can avoid. I'm a college student lucky enough to have parents who willingly cover my housing, tuition, and books. Having a boyfriend who has a full-time, professional job helps to. It's only because of these advantages, however, that I think it's actually even feasible I'll be able to go through life without debt. As I typed that, I realized that I don't consider a car loan or a mortgage "debts" in the traditional sense, but they obviously are. Hmmm.

    Anyway, I use Mint, and I try to keep the amount of cash I carry pretty small. I like using my CC because I get cash back, but I try to treat it like a debit card.

    I can't imagine the ways in which having a wedding and having children and buying property will complicate all of this! Whoooo boy.

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  24. It's really an important issue. My hubby uses smart Apps and I don't, just need a paper, pencil and calculator :)

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  25. I went through this exact thing last year. I read "Smart Cookies", and started it all going. It's still going - not great, I'm not the best at keeping track of things, but it's better than it was....

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  26. Right there with you. We have cut back significantly - it's all about planning. I take out my cash for the week on Monday - when it's gone, it's gone. I charge groceries becasue our credit card gives us 3% cash back on it. Also, I started using coupons. It really makes a different with four mouths to feed.

    You can do it.

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  27. LOVE what you said: "bloggers seem to have these endless pockets, and it's reassuring to hear that it isn't exactly how it seems." totally. hahaha

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  28. Oh, also, and I didn't mean to imply that I'm glad you're in debt or anything of the sort! Best of luck working your way out--it sounds like you're really committed to your goal, and I commend you!

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  29. Make a list of WANTS and NEEDS. Include such things as your family vacations, reunions, eating out, ordering food in, ballet class, etc. on the WANTS list including the cost of each item. Now prepare the NEEDS list to include rent, school supplies, food for meals to prepared at home, electricity, savings, portion to pay-off debt, gifts, and all the stuff you need for basic survival, include a monthly cost of each item. Add-up the monthly costs of your needs list. If it exceeds you monthly income then you are in deep do do's! If it doesn't then use the left over money for your wants list. I would not buy any wants items until the debt is paid off. D

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  30. Helpful hint- Tiffany over at The Nest Effect (thenesteffect.com) is blogging this month about wrangling in finances to help you get them under control. This morning's post was complete with a budgeting sheet that makes it look downright easy. Good luck. <3

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  31. I should keep track of my finances too, I am afraid of the pain of seeing the numbers but as you say it is also empowering to say no! I find that it helps to buy groceries on bulk. Like rice, beans, quinoa, you can order or pick them up from Costco, red flower, or nutsonline. If you find a magic answer please let me know!

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  32. We keep our budget in excel spreadsheets. Since my boyfriend and I have no shared accounts, the sheets detail what each of us are responsible for in the month. It includes our personal debts (credit cards, student loans, car payments) and also our portions of our shared debts (mortgage, utilities, groceries). We also set aside set amounts for savings accounts, 401k, and entertainment. Although it seems that the entertainment budget is so very low lately. Dang economy. Good luck with your budget!

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  33. Thank you for this post! This is one of my biggest goals for this year! I have some student loans that won't get paid off the year (or next year for that matter). I just want to get rid off credit card debt. Whenever I have credit card debt, I feel that everything I am purchasing - whether it is gas or groceries or a new pair of jeans - is irresponsible regardless of how much I need it.That is the worst feeling.

    It is also hard when you have kids. I have two little ones, and I know how you feel. When I read about Ella and the ballet class, my heart broke a little too. I am sure there will be other similar experiences for her later!

    My husband and I use some tracking thing to track our finances, but I prefer paper and pencil. I am also going to try and pay for everything with cash. I think it will really help me budget better! Thanks for your honesty!

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  34. Thanks for the honesty! We have gotten serious about getting out of debt (after a track record of false starts and completing an adoption!). After a lot of tries at different techniques (Mint, YNAB, Excel spreadsheets), I have found that a paper log and cash spending are keeping me on track. We have stopped using the debit card and I have felt a never-before sense of relief since balancing the checkbook is a breeze and I don't have to argue with my husband about missing receipts! You are right, it has felt good to tell myself "no" and to have some idea of what we actually need to live on. Good luck and thanks for the encouragement!

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  35. Uh, I know the feeling. After my first 3-4 years in Manhattan, living on an entry level advertising salary, I found myself waaay in debt. I moved to Brooklyn to an apt I could more easily afford. I found that I didn't take cabs as much since it's a more expensive trip from Manhattan to Brooklyn. And then I begin setting up a spreadsheet to budget. I start with my paycheck subtract the necessities, bills and known expenses. I allocate every dime (even to the fun spending, new clothes, Sephora, gym, travel) and continually update the spreadsheet when I go off budget, just to know where I stand. I also make sure to "save" my rent budget within my spreadsheet so that I don't "accidentally" spend it all. And of course, as the years passed, I was able to begin a savings account and actually save money (amazing.) I was debt free after about 3 years I think. Anyways, long comment.... In short, good for you! You can do it!!!

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  36. That is awesome Sharon! Paul taught me my favorite budgeting tip ever when we were first married. Trim back expenses but instead of focusing 100% on not spending also figure out new ways to earn more money. It sounds obvious but it was totally eye opening to me to put an emphasis there too.

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  37. I agree that it needs to be tangible, not something on a computer screen. That's why a couple of years ago I started paying CASH for everything! Counting out $35.67 and handing it over to someone seems
    like so much more money than swiping a card. Good luck! I'm pulling for you!

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  38. Ok, first let's discuss the Tsing Tao Draft Beer decor. Hilarious!

    On to the real stuff- have you ever visited http://andthenshesaved.com ? It's a woman who went on a spending fast in order to eliminate her debt and it's pretty inspiring. If you look through the archives, she has a lot of good tips for activities to do for cheap, etc.

    I totally think of my own debt as a mythical thing. It can't actually be real, right? Oh, but it is. My husband and I are also trying to manage it better this year and honestly, the thing that's helped us the most is to have a goal. We have a goal amount of what we want to save and how we want to use that savings. It's crazy to think of how we never had a goal in the first place. I think it just felt too out of reach to even set a goal, but the flip side of that was that when faced with savings we always thought, "well what's the point?" Now we have a point.

    Good luck with this! It's so hard!

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  39. Hi Sharon,

    Great post! And thank you for your honesty about money. My husband and I live in Manhattan as well, and it can be so easy to eat out all the time, take taxis everywhere, and spend money on the latest clothing trends. We use (among other tactics) the "envelope system", where you set aside cash in envelopes for certain areas of your budget, such as, groceries. Although we are not in any debt, this has really helped us trim our spending in almost every area of our budget. I'm a very visual person, and having to hand over cash for clothing, food, etc. really helps me grasp the tangible side of money/budgeting.
    Best of luck with your resolution :)

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  40. You're not coming to California? I think I'll shed a tear over this one. Great post. Hope the budgeting goes well.

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  41. My husband went back to school full time almost a year ago, which meant he could not work. at all. This alse meant that we had to do some major revamping to our budget. A friend told me about Mint.com. I gave it a try and have found it to be extremely helpful. It took me a few months to really get the hang of it, but it has proven to be worth while. It helped us to see where all of our money was going and showed us where we could easily cut back if we tried.

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  42. I live in DC on Capitol Hill. If you guys can figure out a way to get down here cheaply, maybe we could figure out a house swap or something :)

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  43. What a refreshing post (also, hi-larious about the beer!). I've always considered myself pretty good with money (don't spend more than you makes...sounds simple enough, right?), but I got myself into a bit of a pickle last year. I've only told one friend (who was like "What did you buy?!" and I'm like, "Uuuuhm, fun?") because I feel/felt so foolish for not being more aware...

    It's funny you say that you had to learn to say no, because I had the *exact* same talk with myself, and as soon as I started turning stuff down, it really did feel empowering! I'm also an "all or nothing" personality - even once I knew I was in over my head, I was in several months of "It's not too bad" denial before it got *that bad.* It's kind of like eating a piece of cake you know you shouldn't have, and then deciding to just eat the whole cake. I'm that girl.

    Anyway, touching on Jordan's point, I went back to a p/t job with my tail between my legs where I had hostessed for years and pleaded my case to be a server. It was humbling, and the worst part was that I had to sacrifice time with my friends/loved ones to work two jobs. However, not only did I really become aware or my weird relationship with money (I think nothing of spending $30, but getting a $30 tip from one table was pretty exciting!), I was able to live just off my restaurant earnings, and put all of my paycheck (post-other bills, of course) to my cc debt. That, combined with the help of a generous Christmas bonus and my on-its-way tax refund, I've been able to pay off my $10K debt in full within 2 months, and I actually will be able to keep some of my refund in savings! (Since I'm being honest here, my state of denial started at $4500...it took that much to get real with myself.)

    Anyway, sorry to write such a long comment, but I just wanted to share. It can be done! And, dang, I wish I had $10K sitting in a bank account instead. Lesson. Learned.

    Oh, *cough* and to answer your question, Excel sheet. I love highlighting off a paid row!

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  44. Sharon, great post! Many of us forget that no one is going to come up and save us from the debt, we need to take control and fix it ourselves! A great tool is Learnvest.com - this is a site designed primarily to empower and support women and their finances, it has great tools and webinars you can use. Gung ho FAT Choy!

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  45. We were in a similar situation about a year ago and decided to try a modified Dave Ramsey cash system based on a recommendation from a friend. Once we figured out our official "budget", we pay for most everything with cash that is divided into little folders - especially FOOD because this was out biggest over-spender. I can't tell you how much stress and weight this has taken off of me because we actually stick to it. Even if sometimes I steal from my "home" category to eat out one more time, or from my "health" category for clothes. It still always comes from the cash and never out of the mysterious (seemingly bottomless - although obviously not really) checking account. Can't recommend it enough.

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  46. ps. I always get my "fresh" cash on a Friday because weekends are when we spend the most money and it is easier for me to hold back/get by/skimp during the week. If I overspend on the weekend, it is easier to just find a way to save during the week. If I had spent all my money during the week and the weekend came along and I didn't have any cash, I would be much more likely to "cheat" and spend out of our account.

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  47. Hi Sharon! Just have to put in my 2 cents. We are HUGE Dave Ramsey fans. I would highly recommend buying his book: the total money makeover. It's a great plan! We started 3 years ago. We paid off all our debt (car loan and student loan--paying off the mortgage is later on in the plan) within the first year and the following year we saved up 6 months worth of living expenses! It's such a great feeling! Good luck to you guys! It is SO worth it!

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  48. I use quicken and swear by it. I have heard mint.com is very similar (and free!)
    good luck!!!

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  49. What an honest post! It's always hard to be in debt and even more difficult to come to terms with it. I am meticulous about finances and I track all of our expenses with an excel spreadsheet. Mint is great for analysis but can be hard if you have any separate accounts (my husband and I still have some separate accounts). Even though it's a lot of work to enter all of our receipts and expenses, it is actually a relaxing process for me as I know in the end I will see the bottom line - how much did we spend versus how much we earned. Good luck with the composition notebook! I look forward to reading how it turns out.

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  50. Dave Ramsey http://www.daveramsey.com/home/

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  51. Sharon, I am too on a debt diet. It is hard. Kid-related expenses make it harder. Actually going to the bank today to see if we can get a better rate on our mortgage. Wish me luck. I use Excel to budget monthly expenses and try to be quite methodical. I also went on a little money diet a couple of months ago and that really put things in perspective. A family CAN live on a small cash budget, it just takes a commitment (and lots of prayer for more time you need for cooking YOURSELF, cleaning YOURSELF, etc.). Here is a bit about my money diet: http://ordermatters.com/blog/?s=money+diet

    I found your blog recently and love it. I am a New Yorker at heart now living in Vancouver and missing my Big Apple like nuts.

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  52. My husband and I use Mint.com and it's going great! We celebrated last night that we hit the 1/3 mark for a down payment on a house and we've only been saving since we got married (8 months ago!). And we live in Chicago! I know housing prices aren't like NY or DC, but they are pretty steep and in 20 months we'll be able to BUY our first house. It's amazing what budgeting can do!

    answertheunasked.blogspot.com

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  53. We use the GoogleDocs Excel so that both my husband and I can access it wherever we are. It's nice to have different tabs all in one place to track different budgets, debt, etc. I also just found this awesome budget tool to help figure out what is a reasonable budget in the first place - http://www.daveramsey.com/tools/budget-lite/

    I would STRONGLY recommend looking into Dave Ramsey's books, etc if you're serious about getting out of debt. I don't agree with everything he says, but he has sound financial advice on a lot of things and is a great inspiration for sticking to it when it gets hard to keep saying 'no.'

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  54. Though I don't have a lot of debt I would like to pay down my 1 credit card incase I have an emergency and need to use it (like when my dog got sick on New Year's Eve and it cost me $400 for blood work.) I'm also saving like a crazy person so I can treat my mom and me to a vacation in Europe this September.
    So here’s what I am doing: I wrote out all my bills, one list for things due the 1st of the month and then one list for the things that are due after the 15th. I get paid the 15th and the last day of every month so this works best for me. I pay all my bills right away so I know how much I have left to work with. I put a couple hundred into my savings and then what I have left is my food money and play money. The new thing I am trying out this week is paying cash for everything. I live in LA and am not always good about getting groceries for lunches so I tend to eat out a lot while I’m at work and my roommates like to get dinner a lot so that doesn’t help. This week I gave myself $100 for everything but gas. Gas is so expensive here and I never know how much it’s going to take to fill my tank; I think that it’s the one thing that is truly easier to just pay for with a card. I don’t know how well it’s going to work but it’s my way of making myself think twice before I buy something I don’t need because I don’t want to not have lunch money at the end of the week.

    I haven’t decided what I’ll do with the left over money I have at the end of the week (if I have any at all.) Maybe get some of the DVD’s I’ve really been wanting, or maybe I’ll put it in a piggy bank and put it towards my vacation? This might not work for you since you have little ones but I thought I’d pass the idea by you anyway! Good luck!

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  55. So that's why I keep hearing fireworks every night! Just kidding, I figured out that it was Chinese New Years a few days ago. We used to use Mint until those bums downgraded the free version and started charging money for the good stuff. Now we use some free budgeting software through our bank USAA. Actually, I barely glance at it, b/c I just forget to. We almost never eat out. That's my tip for saving money. Here are some of my fav cookbooks that specialize in fast, easy and delish:
    http://www.eco-novice.com/2011/12/green-gifts-for-adults-cookbooks.html

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  56. This post could have been written by me. Especially: "We feel trapped by debt". We really want to be able to travel and to eventually move to NYC for a time but our debts are getting in the way of being able to put money aside. And we are very much natural 'yes' people when it comes to spending money. But we're learning to say 'no', and I completely agree - it really does feel empowering to say 'no'. We use excel. And we've started getting our total food money out at the start of the month and putting it in envelopes for each week - if by the end of the week, we have money left, we can buy overpriced (yet so good) coffee & pastries at a nice coffee shop or a takeaway - we get a reward for being good during the week! And no guilt.

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  57. Love what ohsosophi said about bloggers having seemingly deep pockets. So true. Thanks for your honesty.

    My husband and I got into debt when we moved to New York five years ago. It's a horrible, horrible feeling. We love using Mint.com to budget. We also are huge fans of automatic savings plans - most banks offer them - where your money is taken out automatically before you can spend it. Take a look at ING Direct, they have a super simple online interface and you can open multiple savings accounts where a chunk of your paycheck can be transferred automatically. We have one set up for traveling, student loans, Christmas (yes, we save all year just for Christmas) and a general one for emergencies. It has helped SO much.

    And even though credit cards offer big incentives (cash back, airline miles, etc.) I've found that we spend wayy less when we only use our debit card/cash. That way there's no way to spend if the money's not there. I also recommend reading posts over at Get Rich Slowly, one of my favorite personal finance blogs. Good luck - keep us posted!

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  58. Look on the bright side of your New Year's Resolution....Your city is full of FREE places to go see & do throughout the whole entire year! You can make a debt free adventure out of it with your kiddos and hit all the cool free things this year:) Remember when we did that a little bit in California? I'll join you on your debt free adventure at the end of this year:) You will be a pro by then:)lol The Macy's Day Parade is free, right?:)lol Can't wait to see ya:)

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  59. Congrats on deciding to get out of debt. It's tough! We use mint.com. But what really helps us with our food budget is my husband following me around the store with a calculator making sure we stay within the budget. It kind of stresses me out in the moment, but it really helps in the end!

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  60. My husband and i started a similar journey 2 1/2 years ago. It has changed our life in such a positive way! We use the Dave Ramsey plan, I wrote about it here http://whatgnau.blogspot.com/2012/01/dave-ramsey-plan.html and plan to update readers regularly (hopefully every friday).

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  61. I love this idea. Have a garage sale, sell stuff on craigslist/ebay, do a few paid focus groups, get a part-time job.

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  62. Great post! I agree with a few other that some bloggers make it seem like money is no object in their lives, and this is frustrating. We don't have any debt now (well, besides mortgage and reasonable student loans), but we're trying to start a family, and if we have a baby things will get tighter. We kive day to day by a lot of the typical money aving tips-- we dont eat out more than one lunch and dinner per week, we skip the $4 lattes, we got rid of cable, etc. We tried mint.com, but I thought it was a pain. At this point, we just use our debit cards, and we check the accounts and communicate about spending every few days. I have heard great things about Dave Ramsey, but it sounds like you have to be pretty serious to have success there. Good luck, keep us posted!

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  63. Love this post Sharon. Jared and I never had debt until this year when we got our house and all of our savings went to the downpayment and we charged some renovations on a credit card. It's almost paid off, but regardless we need to be smarter about our money. I always wonder where it all goes! I'm curious about your notebook system, I have tried online systems and I never kept up with it. Maybe I just need a notebook and a calculator?

    ALSO, on a similar but separate subject. What about money and kids? I ordered piggy banks for the kids this week, I'm thinking of having the money chat with them soon about savings... yikes!

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  64. I just sent you a bunch of tips via FB. :)

    Also, you probably figured this out already but just in case... make sure you have a debt elimination strategy - paying off debt with the highest interest first. Do an online search for "Debt Elimination Calendar" or go to http://personalfinance.byu.edu/?q=node/425. Your local bank might have a financial planner that can help you set up a plan, too.

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  65. First of all, it needs some guts to post about money problems when your friends are posting about Valntine gift guides and party planning. And this is why I read your blog, because you write true things in a true way, you share how you are trying and learning, like all of us.
    According your problem, which is very common, you've done the first step : SHARING it ! When sharing, you get help and opinions from same situations. Second you can do, is try to get some professional help, from a friend or a friend of a friend or relative. There are great people who can help you (let's hope for free) to shake your way of living and start getting real on saving. Wish you and your family lots of health and luck. Don't forget being united and loving each other conquers everything. Literally :)

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  66. Oh wow--that's HUGE that you have the discipline to pay of your credit card in full every month. nicely done.

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  67. thanks! yes--the cash method is tempting. i'm looking into it :)

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  68. I just found Smart Cookies over at amazon. Looks like a great book! thanks for the recommendation!

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  69. thanks! yeah-- the cash method seems to be really effective! i might give it a try :)

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  70. cool thanks for the link! i just checked it out--i'll have to spend more time over there. great stuff.

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  71. haha the magic answer is that mysterious windfall of money to take all my troubles away... Vegas here I come.

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  72. thanks! i'm noticing the notebook method might be a little messy at times and I'm only on day 2! excel is looking better. i'll keep you posted if i make the change.

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  73. totally agree with your statement: "I feel that everything I am purchasing - whether it is gas or groceries or a new pair of jeans - is irresponsible regardless of how much I need it" I TOTALLY relate to that feeling! i can't wait for it to go away.

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  74. thanks! i'm glad i'm not the only that's using a paper log! yes-- a lot of readers have raved about the cash system. must work!

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  75. wow--Congratulations on getting debt free!! yes--Sounds like you made some good choices and over time learned a lot about money and got control over it. i hope to follow your example!

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  76. first of all congratulations for not being in any debt. that's so awesome. and what is with it with cabs in the city? I really didn't think i was using them too much until i added it all up. shocking. i might as well have had a car payment. yikes!

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  77. yeah-- i set up a mint.com account awhile ago and i like that it sends me email alerts with ways i could have saved money. i'll have to give it another try if my notebook method gets boring :) got to keep it fun.

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  78. ahhh. i thought i responded to your comment. where did it go?!

    here it is again (sort of): YES! thank you for appreciating the beer promo. ahha

    the mythical debt. exactly. and setting a GOal! so simple but exactly what we needed. well said.

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  79. wow--thank you so much for your honesty. CONGRATULATIONS on paying off 10k in 2 months. that's huge! so inspiring!

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  80. thanks for the link. i just checked it out--i'll have to register and get started.

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  81. hi lindsay--thanks for the recommendation. a lot of readers love the cash method. it must work!! tempting.

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  82. wwowwww. Congratulations on paying off your debt in a YEAR. amazing! i'll have to check out Dave Ramsey from the library.

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  83. thanks--i'll try to keep you posted. :) also, i'll try to keep your perspective of making "a relaxing process". such a great way of looking at it.

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  84. just spent 15 minutes on your site! loved it. jam packed with great info!

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  85. congratulations on the 1/3 mark!! you guys are rockstars. good luck!

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  86. this is such a good idea. only 2 days in, and i've lost my notebook once. having an googledoc excel is sounds so much easier. i'll keep you posted if i make the change.

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  87. yes--the envelope method is so popular around here. maybe i should give it try :)

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  88. cool. i agree about what you said about the credit card incentives. same story for us.

    i'll have to add Get Rich Slowly to my reader to keep me motivated .thanks for the tips!!

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  89. see you soooooooooooon!!! yes-- the parade is freeeee!

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  90. this is so smart! i'll be going to the grocery store tomorrow and i'll for sure add up my food along the way. i have you to thank for reminding me of this helpful yet simple tip. :)

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  91. Visiting Florida is on the NEED list though, right?? (kidding!)

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  92. just checked out your site: since 2009 you've paid off $77,000 in debt?! Congratulations. What a success story. So inspiring! Thanks for commenting.

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  93. I just sold my textbooks back to Amazon with their buy-back program and they give Amazon.com credit. It's not nearly what I spent, but it's better then them collecting dust on my shelves. They even pay for shipping!

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  94. Ugh, debt is like a black cloud. I got in some credit card debt after by divorce and my new husband had some as well, so when we got married it turned into one big mess. Baby steps, though. Although we mostly only make the minimum payments, we haven't added to it in years. It's still going to take us a long time to get rid of it because of the interest, but at least it's not growing.

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  95. thanks for commenting. yes-- i'll try to keep you posted. we too are getting rid of cable. . .right after the Super Bowl ends!

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  96. Hi Michelle--Miss you!! My notebook:

    Page One: All monthly expenses. Rent, insurance, food, etc. in column one. Estimated costs in column two, actual cost in column three (to be filled in at the end of the month)

    Page Two: Credit Cards. A list of the names of all the credit cards in column one, outstanding balance in column two, amount paid off in column three (to be filled in at the end of the month)

    Page Three: Restaurant Expenses. I put the amount we can spend on the top of the page, in big bold print. Then: A list of all the restaurants we ate in column one, amount paid in column two. I keep subtracting from the amount we allotted for restaurants.

    Page Four: Grocery. Basically the same as the restaurant page.

    That's it. The only reason why I've dedicated two separate pages to food expenses is because that's what we are working on this month. Maybe next month I'll focus on something else. :)

    And KIDS! Yes--I'll have to tackle this discussion soon. At least with the sex talk I felt like I knew what I was talking about. I have some experience with that! But money--I'm clueless. I'm sure there's a book that can help me ;)

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  97. thank you so much Janet! I remember being so jealous of your grasp on money back in our Hawaii days. I'm still just as clueless then as I am now. Oh well--time to learn. Thanks for sending me so much info!!! You're great.

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  98. thanks! i'll start asking around :)

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  99. Here's a website that might offer some good tips...http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/. Good luck!

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  100. that's so awesome you aren't making any more debt. .. it's hard to break the habit. you are on you way!!

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  101. We went through Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University a couple of years ago through our church and it has changed our financial lives. It gave us so many practical, easy steps to get debt free. We are no longer using credit cards and although we're not where we want to be, every emergency that.s come up we've been able to deal with using cash and not a credit card which is such a good feeling.

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  102. I have two cats, but if that's not a deterrent, then sure!

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  103. Even though we're debt-free, one thing that has helped us cut expenses tremendously: FreshDirect grocery delivery. You order online so there's absolutely no temptation of samples or smells or impulse buys off the shelves like in a real grocery store. We set a weekly budget and list to make the meals we want and we stick to it. Prices are about the same as Whole Foods and not having to lug your case of San Pellegrino up the stairs is amazing.

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  104. You know, as relaxing as it can be when you're looking at all of the money flying out the door : ) But nice music in the background while you're "inputting" doesn't hurt. Also, I limit my receipt entry to 15 minutes one day each week so it doesn't occupy lots of time over multiple days - sort of like a speed contest with my nerdy self!

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  105. Dont got crazy on budgeting , and one day you will BINGE - spend.
    For starters - For food - Cook with what you have, you will find a lot of things that you have bought and never cooked them. Supplement them with fresh produce because that is the only one that if it stays in the fridge will start to smell, wilt etc.
    For movies , use the library , Use Red box. Make it a point to return the very next day. You save on movie money and popcorn and eating out- that is BONUS plus non deprival.
    For Clothes, shoes, or handbags - Look around. You have way toooo many clothes to wear. You do not need another one. Sales and discounts will come again next year.
    For children activities - their current age will never come back. so go ahead and spend for the ballet lessons. Don't deprive them of what will allow them learn and live and grow and learn.
    Keep yourself well groomed - That is a good investment. great for your self esteem and feeling good. But may you can do the mani and pedi yourself. Yoga is really self spa :)

    Thank fully I have kept out of debt all of my life. My biggest expenditures have always been school and travel. I love bags and great shoes and feed into these indulges when it meets my budget. I say NO to myself many times when I see a great shoe, but if I have to go to a show, or conference or anything exiciting in the city, where I can explore and see and learn something new - I indulge.

    Do not let "money" rule you. You "rule" and let dollars be your slave :)

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