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Look on the Bottom Shelf

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It’s allergy time!!!

I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t always suffered from seasonal allergies. However, in recent years, I’ve found myself becoming more and more miserable during what are paradoxically the otherwise prettiest and nicest months of the year.

So as the itchy eyes set in and my sneezes grew in number (and force! Oof!), I decided to meander over to the nearby Walmart to find some meds to ease my pain.

I was not alone! Nope. There were about 4 of us red and itchy-eyed zombies standing in the allergy aisle reading labels on the backs of pill bottles and comparing prices. What a sight we must have been!

And you know what I discovered? Allergy medicine can be $$$$!

I’d finally found a box of generic medicine that looked good and had the same active ingredient, same mg strength, and same number of pills as a name brand medicine. I snagged it thinking it was worth the $10 (by comparison, the name brand was nearly $20!!).

But then one of my fellow allergy-sufferers stopped me.

The medicine I’d selected was positioned about eye-level on the shelf, sitting directly next to its name brand counterpart. But my allergy friend pointed out a box on the very bottom shelf that might interest me. I stooped down to do some investigation and discovered that this generic medicine also had the same active ingredient, same dosage, and same number of pills as the other two medicines I’d been looking at. The main difference is that this was a no-frills box of pills (not a bottle), and its position was literally on the very bottom shelf where you practically have to kneel down to see what’s down there.

But you know what a difference the position and packaging made in the price of this medicine? Instead of a $10 bottle of pills (or an $18 name brand bottle), this little box of pills cost only FOUR DOLLARS! Yes! You heard me correctly.

So let this be a reminder that often times the best deals are those that are hiding right under our noses….on the very bottom shelf.

Allergy friends, any tried and true solutions? What types of allergy meds to you use?


Here’s What’s Bothering Me

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There’s a lot I’ve been thinking about lately–mostly centered on a couple of questions:

1) Am I TOO frugal and/or cheap?

2) And what is this frugalness/cheapness costing me? (Not speaking financially)

Here’s what’s bothering me: I have family that live within a 2 hour radius (immediately family- parents, brother…other family members and grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins) and then I have family who lives an airplane ride away- of course my sister who lives in Orlando, as well as my favorite aunt and cousins who live in Ft. Lauderdale. So is my being, what I deem, too frugal and cheap costing me memories and life experiences along the way with all these people? Hell, I have friends right here in town where it feels like I haven’t seen them in forever. There’s no way it couldn’t be, right?

My sister, who just had her first child, I KNOW could use all the help she can get, so even though I went and helped her out for a few days (if you can consider it help…I did pay for meals, both for myself and her family (sis + boyfriend) and helped drive her around for doctor’s appointments and errands), I feel like I SHOULD do so much more. I wish I would have brought a couple hundred dollars with me and bought them a week’s worth of groceries and a month of diapers. (Note- I did buy them a baby supplies of their registry prior to me blogging here to help them out- still not enough, IMO). So why did it feel like I COULDN’T do this, even though I have the means to? Is it selfish? I think it is. And even though we were never really that close growing up, I can’t help but feel that adulthood is the best time to build a bond we didn’t have as children.

My parents- my parents gave me a fantastic childhood. FANTASTIC childhood. And even into adulthood, even though we don’t always see eye to eye, we’ve become, in a lot of ways, friends. I wish I were in a position to help them out now that I’m a grown man and say “thanks for everything.” I shouldn’t say this- what I should say is I wish I FELT like I were in a position to help them out. Again, if you look strictly at my budget, I have the means do it, so why does it feel like I can’t? Not only this, but I get a feeling that they still worry about me (granted, I’m not a parent, so maybe parents just always have that feeling with their children) since my existence right now is fairly…bare bones. They’ve never come out openly and said this, and I’ve never inquired about it so it really is just a feeling (like whenever I go up to Buffalo to visit them, my mom’s ALWAYS trying to send me back to Erie with a week’s worth of food, lol, which I normally decline unless it’s 1- homemade soup or 2-Sahlen’s hot dogs). For the mom’s out there- is this just a mom being a mom? And whenever something sorta minor comes up down here, my dad is always the first to ask if he needs to come down and sometimes he just comes regardless- again is this just a dad being a dad? Two notes- 1) I’m NOT complaining- I love my parents, I’m just wondering if my cheapness is keeping them worried 2) I’m completely independent of them financially and have been since college graduation. So is my debt payoff plan keeping me from building a trust and bond with my parents that I think we could have?

And then’s there’s my friends- the longtime friends that I haven’t forgot about. How many times does your phone have to ring and you have to say “No” or suggest the “cheap beer thing” before the phone stops ringing? I feel like I’m living this experiment right now. For the out of town friends- how many months and years have to go by between visits and conversations before the friendships are really just good memories? Again- living that experiment. I wrote about being an introvert in post describing my Social Life, and in no way, shape, or form a socialite (still true), but I’m not a recluse, either. A couple weekends ago, my best friend Cameron stopped by on his way through town, which subsequently led to a Moe’s trip. It was AWESOME, and something I haven’t had in far too long. Most of my friends are married with children at this point, and even though that’s probably has a lot to do with us losing contact, I blame a lot, if not most, of it on myself- had I not been so focused on debt payoff, where would we be? And that’s the tough question; one that no one can answer.

Over past couple of years, the only relationship that I’ve felt truly grow and blossom is my relationship with my girlfriend. Since we’re in similar but not so similar situations (I’m paying off debt, she’s going back to school), we really know where the other is coming from and we’ve been able to work as a team to overcome (knock on wood) any obstacle that we’ve come across. And since we’ve both have had to have a frugal mindset since we’ve been together, we have a pretty open relationship concerning our finances and our lives in general (and it certainly helps we share a lot of the same personality traits and interests).

This post has been very hard for me to write. When it’s come to debt and the payoff, I’ve always played the stoic card- the debt and my spreadsheets are just numbers after all. But what I’ve haven’t done is take time to look at what/how the payoff is effecting me in more than just financial terms. It’s pretty clear I’ve made pretty good headway on my debt, so my question is:

What would you do/what have you done if you found yourself in the same situation?

Would you slow down the debt payoff to take care of other, maybe more important things, or would you continue to pay it off as fast as you could and take care of things after it’s all said and done? One note to keep in mind- my timeline for this debt payoff (on my current trajectory) is completion by November ’16, or 18 months.

P.S. I don’t really have anything to share this week on the debt numbers themselves. I didn’t really pay anything, so I’ll save it for next week.

 

 


My Social Life

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I hope everyone is having a great weekend!

On my last post, a few of you have asked how my social life has been effected by my debt payoff. This is a harder question to answer than I originally thought it would be considering I’ve spent most of (if not all) my adult life either worrying about making ends meet or in a super form of debt payoff, but I’ll do my best to answer it.

Dating: It’s been 2.5 years since the last time I dated. I met my girlfriend in the summer of 2012. We  met on OK Cupid (a dating website) that made dating on a budget really easy. OF the hand full of dates I went on, I think we ended up going to Starbucks, or some other coffee place every time. So I was probably spending $5 at the most per date- pretty cheap. The only exception to this was when I met my girlfriend. Our “dates” consisted of hanging out at her place, having a beer or two and watching Netflix, so really, besides the beers, we didn’t spend anything on our dates. This is one of the reasons we work well together- neither of us like spending money going to a restaurants or to the movies to the bar and prefer to stay in instead. Our date nights these days consist of making dinner and doing a Redbox, or we like going for drives or walking the dogs on the nice days. We also love doing puzzles in the winter or having backyard fires in the summer. The most important thing to us is just spending time together.

Going out with friends: I miss how much I was going out with friends and such, but don’t get me wrong here- before I decided to hit my debt hard, I wasn’t going out every night or even every weekend. I’m very much an introvert and not at all a socialite. So before my big debt push, I was spending $50 a week, tops, meeting friends. A lot of times we ended up just hanging out at one of their homes. These days, it probably takes me a couple months to spend $50 going out with friends. Most of my friends these days are married and have kids, so even if I weren’t on a debt payoff, they’re not focused on the bar scene either. When we do go out, it’s usually to a low key dive bar that we like that has cheap beers, but it fits our purpose just fine.


Talking to Friends About Money

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Today I wanted to talk about something a little taboo (I guess we’ll just keep with the theme, since today’s mid-day post was a bit taboo, also).

Do you ever talk with your friends about money? Not just casual mentions of money, but deeper conversations about budgeting, debt payments, financial goals, etc?

Confession: when I first started blogging here I hadn’t ever talked about money (on a deeper level) with any of my friends, ever! It made for a challenging transition from my old spending habits to my newer (more frugal) ones.

Eventually I slowly started talking a little bit about how I’ve been working to pay down our debts. One of my friends, in particular, has been really kind about my debt reduction mission. She still doesn’t know specifics (exact figures of debt versus monthly payments, etc. etc.), but she knows that I’ve become much more money-conscious (side note: she’s actually made innocent comments occasionally about how “tight” money is right now in our household. LOL! If she only knew the truth = that we spend $2,000/month on DEBT!!!).

This friend and I used to get together nearly once a week for lunch or a happy hour and, instead, we now get together to do a little 3-mile walk/jog on a popular jogging trail here in Tucson. I love it because I’m able to get some exercise and some girl talk all at once, and to do so for 100% free!

But still….no one knows the extent of our debt situation, nor the sacrifices we’ve made to really try to chip away at our debt.

I have a different friend that I was chatting with the other day. She and her husband were preparing their taxes and realized that last year they’d had a dramatic income boost – 33% over the previous year. The scary part is that she said she has absolutely NO IDEA where the money has gone. They still have the same living arrangements (same modest apartment, same old car, no new baby, same basic “stuff”), so it’s not like their expenses have gone up. Just…the money has disappeared.

To be totally fair, she recognized that her spending has gotten a little “willy-nilly” lately (e.g., extra Starbucks runs, more dining out), and my friend is one of the most generous people ever so she spent a TON at Christmas (I don’t want to give her financial specifics, but when she told me the amount she’d spent on family I was SHOCKED!) I’m sure she’s equally as generous throughout the year with other occasions (birthdays, showers, etc.)

So after hearing all this, where does the conversation go from there? I know my friend has some debt (student loans at a minimum, though I don’t know specifics about other consumer-related debts), and I want her to win with money! I wanted to tell her all about what I’ve been doing, to encourage her to examine her spending, make a budget, try to cut back, etc. etc. etc. Only…I didn’t feel comfortable to do so completely unsolicited.

I did mention that I’d been working really hard this last year to pay off debts by really trying to stick to a budget (hoping this would open the door for more questions), but the conversation just kind of ended there. She picked up with a different topic.

So what would you do? Do you talk to friends about money? Would you ever do so unsolicited, or simply wait to be asked? It feels like a weird topic (kind of like trying to push your religion on a friend), but I’ve just felt so thrilled with my progress this past year and I really WANT my friend to do well financially, too! Especially with their big income boost, they deserve some financial wins, you know? But it’s definitely still so taboo.

How do you feel about the topic?
Would you talk to your friend(s) about money? Would you try to encourage them to get on a budget, or just let them see how you live your life (with the hopes that one day they ask about your success)?


Breast Versus Bottle: A PSA

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Hi friends! I’m taking a little time today to blog on something totally unrelated to debt as a little public service announcement (PSA).  Even though unrelated to debt, I really want to spread this message and encourage any/all of you to do the same. This is something that isn’t talked about nearly enough, but is quite near and dear to my heart. Mention it to a new Mom or Mom-to-be. Or just talk about it amongst friends. If this message reaches and helps even a single new Mom, then this post will have served its purpose. Thank you for your patience with this interruption to regular blogging. I’ll be back later with a more relevant post.

One of my lifelong best friends called me the other day.

I could tell instantly that something was wrong. She was clearly holding back tears, just trying to keep it together.

My friend Alice* (*not her real name) is a first-time Mom. She brought her sweet baby home from the hospital a few days ago, and is having a very difficult time with the transition. Although it’s totally normal to have your hormones all over the place in the early days and to feel some level of angst, Alice’s feelings were a bit amplified compared to most. As we spoke, I could tell that she was near-panic. My heart ached for her as she told me about her anxiety and feelings of helplessness.

What was Alice’s biggest problem?

Breastfeeding.

Alice’s baby was refusing to latch. She’d seen multiple lactation consultants in the hospital, but was experiencing continued problems. The doctor noticed it and even had her stay an extra day in the hospital, hoping the extra time would help.

Exhausted and feeling defeated, Alice turned to formula while at the hospital. Now at home, she was still trying to breastfeed, but was working herself into a terrible mental state due to her difficult and unsuccessful experiences.

She called me to seek some solace from our friendship and to ask about my experiences (I’m a huge breast-feeding supporter. I breastfed my girls for 6 months and attended a weekly breastfeeding support group religiously). I gave her some suggestions and talked about my experiences. Every person is different. Every baby is different. When I first had my babies I’d planned to breastfeed for a full year. I fought tooth and nail to make it to 6 months. I won’t go into all the details, but it felt like a daily battle and I struggled the.entire.time. It never came easy or naturally for me and my girls.

Here’s the thing. We all know that “breast is best.” We’ve all read the studies, heard it from nurses, pediatricians, etc. We have had it beaten into us that breastmilk is the best thing we can give our babies. I am not arguing with that.

What I would like to say though, the message I really want to spread, is that it’s not all about what’s best for the baby. There’s another very important person in the equation:  the mother.

Yes, we all know about the studies showing how important breastmilk can be for supporting a baby’s health (see here or here for an overview). But do you know how incredibly important maternal mental health is for her growing baby? A recent meta-analysis discussed the many varied ways that maternal depression can negatively effect a child long after infancy (see here).

I want to be clear that I’m not a breastfeeding-basher. If a woman can breastfeed then that is fantastic! I’m totally pro-breastfeeding! I’m just saying that there are many cases where trying to breastfeed may actually cause more harm to the child than formula-feeding would. One of these cases, specifically, is if the woman is battling severe anxiety and/or depression as a direct result of breastfeeding complications. We all have these ideas of what it will be like when we have a baby, and rarely do we think that one of our biggest troubles will be feeding the baby! Experiencing difficulty with breastfeeding is actually quite common. But if these complications translate into perpetuating a state of anxiety and depression in the mother then, “Houston, we have a problem!”

I liken this to being on an airplane. If the cabin loses pressure and the oxygen masks come down, we are instructed to put on our own oxygen mask FIRST! We do this BEFORE helping anyone else (including children and/or elderly) because if we don’t help ourselves then we aren’t in a position to be able to help anyone else!

If a woman is struggling with depression, then she’s unable to mother as effectively as she would otherwise. This can negatively influence the growing child’s affective and behavioral development in a number of ways (higher rates of depression and psychopathology, behavior problems, and altered biological stress reactivity profiles). In short, if a new mother is depressed, it’s bad for her child. I would argue that the effects of maternal depression are much worse (and longer lasting) than the effects of being formula-fed as opposed to breastfed.

Many people don’t look at it that way. They look at a new baby and if the mother is feeding the child formula, then she’s often judged. Why would you not want the best for your baby? But maybe offering formula IS the best choice for the baby.

I’m not a trained counselor nor am I a trained medical professional, but I gave my dear friend my own personal advice (this, coming from someone who is pro-breastfeeding, but also pro-mommy’s mental health). I told her not to give up yet. Try to pump so baby can still get breastmilk that way. Try to nurse (like, really try….could take a good 30-45 minutes) at least once a day. See another lactation consultant. Try a nipple shield. Etc. Etc. Etc.

But I ended the conversation with this:  If, after you’ve exhausted all other options, you are still finding yourself in a state of panic and depression, unsuccessful with breastfeeding….then you give your baby a bottle of formula. And you do NOT feel bad about it for one second. You are doing the best thing you can for your baby. You are taking care of YOU!

I know this is a controversial topic and you may not agree with me and that’s just fine. But I  urge you all to open your minds a bit about this topic and consider not just what’s best for baby, but what’s best for Mommy?

In my opinion, this concept (what’s best for Mommy) is not discussed nearly enough. Think about it. Keep it in the back of your mind when you offer a new Mom suggestions or advice. Remember that each person is different; our babies are different; our experiences are different; and let’s be sensitive toward each other in our choices about breast versus bottle because it’s not always the clear-cut choice that everyone makes it out to be. We’re all just trying to make it through life doing the best we can. Let’s offer each other a little bit of grace.

Thank you! I hope you’re having a fabulous day and will check back later for a more debt-related post. In the meantime, tell me one of your favorite things about your best friend. My dear friend Alice is so incredibly generous. She always thinks of others before herself (really to a fault), and over the years has taught me to be a more caring and giving individual. I am a better person for having her in my life.


Coffee Date #2

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As a reminder, this post style (the coffee date concept) was an idea I borrowed from the Fitnessista (with her knowledge and permission). If you’re into fitness, check out her blog. She offers tons of FREE workout guides, videos, healthy recipes, and more. See my last coffee date post here

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If we were having coffee right now….

  • I’d tell you all about the drama in mine and hubs’ families right now. There’s been a LOT. Hospitalization, rehabilitation (not the drug kind, the physical/health kind), threats of lawsuits, and icky job-related stuff. Nothing that directly impacts me or hubs and (knock on wood) things are going well with us, but these issues have been in the forefront of our minds as we’ve been having LOTS of phone calls home recently to discuss various issues.
  • I’d invite you and the kiddos to the zoo with us! We’ve been making great use of our family pass, going once a week for the past several weeks. The girls’ favorite thing is to see the gibbons swinging around (and they now know the difference between a gibbon, monkey, and gorilla). A close second is seeing the peacocks (since they wander freely the girls always try to chase them), and feeding the giraffes! It’s so fun to talk later all about what we saw and did.

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Intently watching the gibbons!

  • Speaking of doing stuff with the kids, I’d probably try to convince you to go camping with us in April! The town where we live hosts a big family camping night once per year and I really want to go this time. It’s super cheap ($5 for a family of 4), and the town does a big-screen movie in the park, has a huge bonfire, does tent decorating prizes, has a storyteller, offers crafts, and lots more (all for just the $5 admission). Hubs and I used to be big campers pre-babies but haven’t gone a single time since the girls were born. This would be our first family camping experience and I think it sounds like a lot of fun.
  • I’d have to tell you that I didn’t get the job I recently interviewed for. They haven’t sent an official rejection, but I was told the decision would be made the first week of February. Seeing as its now the last week of February…I think its safe to say I didn’t get it. It’s a big bummer, but not the end of the world.
  • Speaking of jobs, I’d tell you about my current employment situation. I’ve hinted at it before, but things went a little downhill with “University B” (the research job) at the end of last year. I got my last paychecks in January and haven’t worked for them since. Things with “University A” (where I teach online) are still going well, though I’ve had some frustrating class experiences. The past 2 semesters in a row I’ve had a class cancelled due to low enrollment. That’s not my employers’ fault, but its super frustrating when I’m expecting “X” number of dollars from 3 classes, but then get downgraded to only 2 classes. Next semester I’m going to insist/beg/plead/whatever it takes to move up to 3 classes (even if it means changing up the classes I usually teach). I really do get paid very well from them (like…. literally twice as much as the local community college pays), but I need a third class to boost my income a little after my loss-of-income from University B.

If we were having coffee right now we’d probably be chasing the kids around the park and trying to keep them from hurting themselves. It’d be a coffee date and playdate rolled into one. I’d thank you for meeting me and hanging out on such a beautiful day (sorry to those of you in cold places….it’s been in the mid-70s in Tucson). We should do this again soon!

If we were having a coffee date, what would you tell me?

PS: What do you think about the stock photo (of the coffee cup)? Trying to decide if I want to start sprinkling in additional photos to my posts. I’m a TERRIBLE photographer, so my own iphone-quality photos have been few and far between. But there are lots of free photos available through various websites that I can use (for free, duh!), but not sure if it would seem cheesy or if you guys like the pics to break up the text? Tell me what you think!


Starting the Debt-Reduction Mission

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Today I want to talk about a little of the back-story that lead to me really kicking into high gear on our family’s debt-reduction mission. Check out my story and be sure to leave yours in the comments! I’d love to hear more about what caused you and your family to decide that you really needed to kick some debt booty!

If you’ve read my debt story then you know that I haven’t always lived my life with debt. It wasn’t until I started graduate school that I took out my first student loan, then another, and another. Meanwhile, I also financed basic life essentials by paying with credit cards (and never paying them off). In the span of just two short years I amassed over $70,000 in debt.

It was an overwhelming amount of debt so I kind of distanced myself from it, psychologically-speaking. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make any real progress on it until I was done with grad school so I just pushed it out of my mind until that time.

I graduated with a Ph.D. in August 2013. I was lucky to land a position the same month, but at that point I still wasn’t gung-ho about debt reduction.

Really buckling down with debt-reduction had been in the back of my mind for awhile, but I hadn’t felt a great sense of urgency. I was making over minimum payments, but didn’t have a set plan in place (like my debt attack plan of action), and although we had a budget, the spending categories were all set much higher than currently (specifically, a lot more went toward groceries and eating out each month).

But the seeds had been sown.

By Fall 2013 I was really starting to feel more of a need to get our finances in order. I was working full-time (side note just to clarify the job situation…..I was hired at my old alma mater and worked a full-time/in-person position. But only a few months later in December 2013, the faculty member with whom I worked moved to a new university. I continued to work for the new university through distance, but switched from being a full-time employee to a part-time contract employee. This is the “University B” I’ve referenced many times). I started putting big chunks of my paycheck toward debt.

During this time, I started to immerse myself in stories of debt reduction. I’d been reading BAD casually for awhile, but I went back and re-read entire bloggers’ stories. I did the same thing with No More Harvard Debt, Man Versus Debt, and Fun Cheap or Free.

In February 2014 I was listening to my favorite morning talk show, The Bobby Bones Show (it’s a syndicated radio show in several markets across the U.S., so check it out, it’s really good!) and they had Dave Ramsey on. I’d heard the name Dave Ramsey before (Beks even wrote about attending Financial Peace University), but had never googled him, read his books, heard his show, etc. Bobby Bones had him on the show that day to give financial advice to one of the show’s producers, a mid-20s guy named Ray. Ray had just bet (and lost) his truck in a Super Bowl bet (True story. He got money at a cash-for-title place and bet it all on the Super Bowl. He lost the bet, his money, and his truck. You can see the segment here if you’re interested)

Anyway, this was kind of a turning point for me. Hearing Ramsey on Bobby Bones really made me curious about this money guy. I looked up his show and downloaded some (free) podcasts. Hearing the callers’ success stories and debt free screams was so incredibly motivating. I’d already been actively working on debt reduction, but this was the point at which I decided we needed to really be gazelle intense about it (a term Ramsey frequently uses).

This all set the stage perfectly for when Adam and Emily decided to step down as bloggers, and new bloggers were selected (in late March 2014 – you can see my first post as an official blogger here).

That brings me to the beginning of my journey here.

I’ve been lucky. I’d already committed to debt reduction previously, but hearing Ramsey for the first time, and then starting to blog here (and the accountability and encouragement that comes with it) has been a real kick in the pants! I have no doubts that I’d still be on this debt-reduction journey regardless (even if I hadn’t been selected as a blogger here), but I also have no doubt that progress would have been much slower. So I’m very grateful I’ve had your support and encouragement along the way. There’s still a long road ahead, but it actually feels doable now (something I couldn’t say only 2 years ago).

How did you get started on your debt reduction journey?