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Figuring Out What’s Important to Me

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I was raised to value shelter, food and clothing. Everything else was just candy. The problem, though, is that if you’re constantly denying yourself candy, every once in a while you find yourself going on a candy bender. Then you have to pay for that bender by being even stricter with yourself than you were before…which means that your next bender will be even bigger. It’s a vicious cycle that eventually landed me flat broke in the spare bedroom of an alcoholic roommate’s apartment. Yuck.

The problem wasn’t that I didn’t have the means to work my way out. The problem was that I wasn’t sure exactly what I should be working toward. I could lead a super cheap life right where I was, even if I hated it there.

That’s when I realized that my priority scale wasn’t working. So I had a sit down and I thought: in my ideal world, what would my life look like? Here’s what I came up with:

  • An apartment of my own in a neighborhood I love
  • Healthy food to eat
  • Clothing that fits properly
  • Reliable entertainment
  • Not feeling guilty because I decide to go out for a slice of pizza instead of buying something frozen on the cheap and cooking it myself
  • No more debt
  • A healthy emergency fund and healthy savings account — maybe even some investments. Nothing huge but maybe an account or two with solid CD interest rates

I’m not there yet, but I’m making progress. Here’s how I did it:

I saved every penny I could. I did this by creating a budget in which I itemized every little thing I thought I would actually buy/pay on a bill and inflated its price by 10%. I added it all up. That’s how much I worked to bring in each month.

I looked at the neighborhood I loved and figured out how much it would cost to rent a small one bedroom apartment there. I listed the highest price I found in my budget as my monthly rent price even though I hadn’t moved yet.

Each time I paid a bill/bought a thing/paid rent, I’d put the difference between what I’d budgeted and what I actually paid into my savings account. Between the small monthly bill “overages” and the large rent surplus, I was able to save several hundreds of dollars a month.

After six months, I had saved up enough to cover the cost of a basic move: first month’s rent, deposits, U-Haul van, setting up utilities. I had also managed to build up a steady six month history of solid on-time bill paying, which was good for my credit history and showed I was serious about improving my financial situation to potential landlords.

I managed to find an apartment for less monthly rent than I had budgeted and still in my favorite neighborhood in town. And that’s where I live now.

One life goal accomplished! Now to work on the rest.

This is where the want vs. need is coming in handy. I’ve allowed myself to splurge a little on things that I love, like a decent cable package and some streaming media accounts. I’ve created a space in my budget for dinners out with friends.

And you know what? I’ve found that by making space for that–and doing the extra work required to earn that–I’m less tempted toward binging on things that I don’t need but that I buy because I’m so sick of being so frugal.

So really–what’s important to you?

This post was written by Jane Brown. Do you have a debt story that you would like to share? We are always looking for personal debt related stories to share with readers. Contact us if you have something that you’d like to share


Bad With Money

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This is a guest post by Purchase Baby who has recently started the Mickey Mouse Debt blog.

I’ve always been bad with money. Well, I call it binges really. At times I can be the most organised person – full of financial control. I can put my mind to things and save, save, save. And then something happens in my life and – BAM – I go back down the spiral road of debt.

Here’s my story: It started when I was a teenager. I used credit cards and loans to ‘keep up with everybody’. I come from a working class background, no airs and graces. My parents worked hard and saved hard for whatever they needed.

I landed a good job in advertising. A marvellous achievement for my age at 19 years old! Soon I got into the self-belief that I could keep up with everyone on the social scene. The trouble was, these people were middle-class and HAD money, while I didn’t! Anyhow, the credit cards balances started to pile up, and the loans. It took 10 years to get rid of the lot. If you asked me what I spent it all on, for the life of me I really don’t know!

Fast forward to 12 years ago. I bought a house with my partner. He was already £5k in debt as he wanted to help with the ‘deposit’. Within a year we (and I say we as it was my decision as well as hiss when he suggested it to me) wanted to get rid of his £5k debt, and I wanted to help him out. So we added £10k onto the mortgage (don’t ask why the extra £5k, we just did!) Within 2 years we did it again! We changed mortgage providers and added another £10k. Now, all of this time I was paying for the mortgage with the partner, as a partner when he could! Fair? Well, again I put up with it, so I’m not going to grumble – it was my fault in letting him get away with it in the first place.

The decade of 2000 was a very strange one. Everyone thought they were RICH. I had been in negative equity in the early 1990’s and so put my foot down in not putting anymore money onto the mortgage. I always believed in a mortgage should be 3 times your salary and capital/repayment. I’m glad I stuck to that guideline. However, I bought a second-hand car, and 3 years into my car loan financing debt I then took on the partner’s debt because “he couldn’t cope with it” (yes, he got himself into about £15k more debt). What a idiot I was, but hey, I could handle it because my salary was growing while his salary was, well, going nowhere. And that’s also my problem. I always look to help out others who are more in need than i am, and always put them first.

Roll on to 2008 and 3 more years until I would be debt-free. I had a serious knock-back. There was an unexpected bereavement in the family. It hit me HARD. I’m still not over it. And my relationship was beginning to show serious cracks. He couldn’t understand the pain I was going through, and the support I was giving to my family at this emotional time. And I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t “supporting” me. We slowly stated to become distant from each other. I needed things around me to feel happy. I decided to take out another loan, but this time to revamp the kitchen to cheer me up.

As a precaution, I took out credit cards (just as a back-up in case the loan didn’t get approved – which it did). it wasn’t long before I started to spend on my cards… and spend… and spend. I had to get the best of everything. I had to “keep up with everyone” and spent a fortune on business class flights to far off places like my work colleagues did. I was buying bracelets and fancy bags. I was doing things I had never done before – starting to live – starting to spend like I was middle class and not working class! It was the beginning of the recession / credit crunch, and instead of keeping my 1 loan debt in control, I added an extra loan plus credit cards! I was depressed and these “materialistic things” were making me feel happy, at least immediately. It took away the pain of feeling sad, lost, lonely and losing my family member.

Then the defaults started kicking in last July. I was not making the minimum payments on everything. I was getting phone calls from the credit card providers. I was not getting regular money from the partner (which wasn’t anything new, but now it was really affecting my cash flow). This has been going on and off until now. I decided in 2012 and I need to sort out this crap – and fast.

So, that’s my story. Here’s where I am in my life. Fortunately I do not have any children, so it makes it that little bit easier to concentrate on me, and me alone! No more bailing out other people’s debts. No more helping out people because they want something, but don’t have the means to pay for it themselves. The buck stops HERE and I’m determined to be debt-free within 2-3 years — tops.

With this in mind, I started my blog. It’s all mickey mouse money which we as consumer owe. It’s about all crap that we have accumulates. We all have to start taking control of our lives and get out of the debt cycle we’re all in. feel free to follow my journey and goal of becomming debt-free, and most importantly, having FREEDOM! I don’t want to be rich — I just be free of all of the stress and financial strain which millions of us are going through. We need a revolution, people.

Do you have a debt story that you believe others could benefit from reading? We are always interested in finding stories that touch on a variety of aspects of personal debt. Your previous writing is of little concern to us. Wehter you’re a long-time debt blogger or your story will be the first time you have written anything, we’d be interested in sharing your experience. If this sounds like something that is of interest, feel free to contact us.


My Debt Reduction Story

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This is a guest post from reader Jennifer who is 32 years old, married, with no children, 2 dogs and a cat. She lives in a rural part of Virginia and just started her debt reduction in February 2012.

Debt…A monosyllabic, 4 lettered word, such a small word, but can get you into so much trouble. Like most Americans, I assumed that carrying debt was just a way of life. I graduated from college with debt, bought a brand new vehicle, bought a house 2 years after graduating from college and just assumed that I would always be in debt for the rest of my life.

Fast forward 5 years, by this time I’ve paid off my vehicle (affectionately named Eleanor), married and acquired 2 dogs and 1 cat. Although I loved my little house we decided to sell and buy a larger house with a little land. Luck would have it that we found a foreclosure! The house was originally for sale for $250k; not really in our price range. The sellers kept dropping the price; or rather Freddie Mac and they dropped it into our price range. We put in an offer, it was accepted, and with the money we made off the sale of my house; we were approved for a loan of $169K. Husband’s car goes kaput and we have to get him a new one, a new loan of $17K. My student loan was originally $12k, but I had whittled it down to $6K.

Now with all my rambling from above, are you keeping track of my lovely debt record? Almost $200k in debt…OMIGOD. I think I just had a stroke. Actually, I got really pissed; pissed because I’d been raised smarter. What was I doing?

I had listened to Dave Ramsey on the radio and always wondered how in the world do people get out of debt? So, I went to my library and checked out his book, The Total Money Makeover. I personally found it one of the easiest books to read on debt management/reduction. His ideas and logic made sense to me; my husband and I were just throwing money away each month.

I am in charge of the money and bills for our household. My Type A personality does not want anyone else dealing with the money; I have to know where it goes and when each month. The problem was I did not know when and where it was going. I had no idea actually; all I knew was that we looked excellent on paper, credit scores and repayment histories. Seriously, is that how I wanted to be known? Was that going to be my legacy?

Dave told me to tackle the emergency fund first. DONE, $1000 in the bank. That was actually the easiest part. 2. Start repaying debts, starting with the smallest amount. I had started repaying my student loans in the Fall 2003. My original payment was $120; I consolidated to 2.5% and $88/monthly. Repayment would reach finality in 2019. 16 years of repaying my student loans.

People I would talk to said, “Oh, don’t worry it’s such a small amount it doesn’t matter.” Seriously?? I think it does. Starting in February 2012, I started throwing every extra dollar I could scrounge up at this debt and am happy to report that as of May 18, 2012 that my student loan debt is repaid!!! I am no longer a slave to Sallie Mae; actually she owes me 2 cents (think I’ll see that?). I called my husband to tell him what I/we had done and his response… “That’s awesome, what’s the next debt we are going to tackle?” Um, excuse moi, for reals?

Let me tell you people, this man was skeptical. He told me let’s try Dave’s plan for a few weeks and see how it goes. Well, it went GREAT! He is right on board with the plan now, and I love it! We pay for everything with cash. Here is how Dave’s plan works for us:

1. The beginning of each pay period, I pay all the bills with checks (I know I’m in the stone age, but I don’t like to use automatic debits except the car payment and mortgage).

2. I pull out anywhere from $400 – 800 for spending cash, gas, miscellaneous expenses, food etc.

3. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

4. If we need anything, we save for it. Case in point, my husband wants/needs a new boat battery. I told him he’s going to have to wait until we can pay cash for it. We don’t even use debit cards anymore.

This has been a real lifestyle change for us. But, I also know that I AM going to be one of the very few who has no debt and no credit score BECAUSE I pay for everything with cash. I realize that this might sound silly to some people, saying you need a credit score for some things. Why? Because that’s how it’s always been done? Nope, not anymore.

Both of us have given up a lot of things, I’ve given up pedicures. I loved them! My husband, I think, dreads mealtimes mostly because we don’t eat out anymore. No more restaurant dinners or quick stops to grab something. It’s healthier for him in the long run and I have to say he has lost a ton of weight and is looking mighty fine these days.

So, our debt reduction lifestyle continues. I know it will take a few years to get where I want to be and it is frustrating at times. I don’t by any means want to belittle this plan and say it’s easy; it’s really not. I know Dave’s plan is not for everyone; sometimes it’s just not feasible. I really like the idea of not using debit/credit cards, taking out consolidation loans, to get out of debt or enter into debt settlement. Cash seems to work for us. The one thing I don’t care for with Dave’s plan is stopping your contribution to your retirement plan to assist with paying down your debt. I still contribute $700/monthly to my employer’s plan. My peace of mind is worth it and to my husband, even if he doesn’t know it.

I look forward to the lifestyle we can live after our debt is gone. There are also more money saving/debt reduction tips I could share. Maybe if I’m allowed to write another article I’ll share those. I guess the one thing to remember, is you’re not alone in your fight with your debt.

I’ve shared our plan with my family members and although they made fun of me initially, they are now supportive of my mission. It stinks and sometimes I want to throw up my hands and just use my cards to get what I want NOW! I’ve learned that my sense of entitlement is pretty selfish, and if I wait, I enjoy things more.

We live in a society of right here, right now. It’s pretty sad considering where my grandparents came from and how they lived. Debt was unimaginable to them. How did our society get away from that? It’s astonishing how far my grandmother’s salary could go; we could learn a lot from that generation. Maybe we should.

*Side note…When I told my sister I had paid off my student loans, she told me I was one of the 1% population who had accomplished this. WOW, what a sad statistic.*

Are you interested in guest posting? We love to receive stories about different aspects of personal debt. It doesn’t matter if you are a seasoned debt blogger or you have never written anything before, but have a story that you would like to share. We’re always on the lookout for different perspectives about debt. If you’d like to share your personal debt story, please contact us.


My Cup of Coffee Rule

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This is a guest post from Debt and the Girl blog who writes about her student loans, mortgage, credit cards, and her other priorities.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the endless supply of budgeting advice these days? I see tons of articles that tell me how to break up my budget every which way and then some. I, for one, am trying to live a simpler life. I try to pick out the best information that I can for my financial situation, but I know I would go crazy if I paid attention to every little thing out there. This is why I came up with a little rule that has helped me put things in perspective from an economic point: the cup off coffee rule.

Many people take for granted their cup of coffee (or other favorite beverage) in the morning. It is something very simple that can bring an immeasurable amount of joy. Many would not be able to function without their coffee and, therefore must have it to feel good. I find that this is a way to measure your finance as well.

How much does a cup of coffee cost in your area? One dollar? Two? Whatever it is, it’s probably not very much. Okay, now let me tell you a little story. Back in college, I was a spendthrift type of person (to say the least). No, seriously, I had packages coming daily to my dorm room from all sorts of lovely online shops that were only too happy to take my credit card. I was also a broke college student with little in terms of employment as I went to school full time.

One day, it was particularly cold outside as it had been snowing for a few days. The roads were paved with ice and everyone on campus was bundled up to the neck. I remember thinking how much I wanted a cup of coffee and, luckily, I saw a nearby cafe. I jetted inside and ordered some java but my credit card was declined. I left that cafe feeling colder and more embarrassed than ever and I immediately began thinking about all the money I had wasted buying unnecessary things that I could have really used to buy that coffee with. It made me feel like two feet tall that day. The truth is when you waste money on things, then it can be preventing you from doing something else in the future that might be important to you. I ended up just going home.

I decided from that point on that I always wanted to be able to afford a cup of coffee and not think twice about it. This may seem silly or overly simplistic to someone else, but I find it very helpful. This means that I need to make sure that I budget my money carefully today so I don’t have to worry as much about tomorrow. Does this rule solve everything in regards to budgeting? Absolutely not, but I find that it does give me motivation to lead a more satisfying life. If I woke up tomorrow and I couldn’t even afford a cup of coffee again without going into a financial panic, then I know I am doing something wrong. However, I would like to stress that you should try and make your own coffee and take it to work as much as possible. After all, it is a great way to save money and isn’t what this is all about?

We are always interested in receiving motivational and real life stories about personal debt. We aren’t concerned whether you’re a well established debt blogger or are just beginning to blog about your debt. We are always interested in different perspectives if you’re willing to share your personal debt story. Contact us if you’d like to share your personal debt story.


$7 That You Absolutely Must Spend Even If You Are In Debt

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This is a guest post from Shane, the author of the Debt Crushing Dad blog and a father of three. He and his family started on the debt free journey in 2007 with over $90,000 in debt. Currently they owe about $25,000.

If you are anything like me, paying off debt has become the lens through which you see the world. I hesitate to do anything that would take away from the goal of paying down debt. This can be good and bad. Good in that it helps me to get out of debt faster and bad in that it can cause me to make bad decisions about issues that are more important than money.

A friend recently suggested that everyone in our area have their house tested for Radon. I didn’t think much of it as I have heard the term before, but no one I knew had ever been very concerned about it. To be perfectly honest, I was afraid that something would be wrong and I would have to pay a lot of money and derail my debt payments. It was easier, but stupider, to assume that everything was fine as it was. After my wife asked me a few more times I finally went to our local health department and purchased a $7 detection kit. I’m very glad that I did.

So what is Radon?

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the US. It’s a radioactive gas that derives from the decay of uranium and thorium in the soil and bedrock. Certain areas are worse than others, but every home is at risk. Your house acts like a chimney for it due to the lower air pressure versus outside. Over time, as you breathe, the radioactive particles get into your lung tissue and then decay, giving off a burst of energy that can cause dangerous cell mutations to occur, the first step in a cancerous growth. Generally your immune system destroys these cells before they can become a tumor, but it isn’t a guarantee so minimizing your exposure is a must. Outside air usually contains about 4.0 pCi/L (Picocuries Per Liter). This is now considered to be the upper limit for safety indoors. Our test showed levels of 106.5 pCi/L!! To put that into perspective, a level of 20.0 is equivalent to smoking five packs of cigarettes a day.

So, obviously, we set about figuring out what to do about this. I was feeling pretty guilty about having exposed our family to this (albeit unknowingly) for the last three plus years, but realized that I couldn’t change the past and finding a solution was my top priority. We ended up having two different Radon specialists come to our house to give us an estimate. My biggest fear was that they were going to tell us that there was nothing they could do, leaving us in an unsellable and unhealthy home. Thankfully there are solutions and they’re pretty affective.

The contractor that we decided to go with tells us that his system can generally get the levels down to about 0.6 pCi/L. A huge improvement over where things stand now. The process involves drilling a hole in the foundation and inserting a pipe. The pipe extends all the way above the roof and an inline fan pulls the bad air from below the foundation and exhausts it where it is diluted and swept away before it can enter the house.

The cost for the system is about $925 installed. Thankfully we had a $1000 emergency fund in place. I always have to fight to keep from feeling down about losing debt reduction time when stuff like this happens. It means one more month of paying on our debts. When I feel that way, I remind myself that this was going to happen anyway, and because we were prepared, we won’t be incurring more debt to get it fixed.

The lesson I want to pass on here is to not neglect important things just to get out of debt a little faster. Get a physical every year and maybe even keep the gym membership. Your health is more important than your debt free date. And you should contact your local health department for information on a Radon detection test kit.

We’re always on the lookout for interesing, motivational and real life personal debt stories. It doesn’t matter whether you are an established debt blogger or have just started blogging. We’d love to have you share your personal debt story. Feel free to contact us at any time with your personal debt story.


Food Cost Calculator: How I Calculate What Our Average Monthly Food Cost Should Be

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This is a guest post by Todd Ryan who blogs at So Help Me Todd where he talks about faith, family, finances, and other quandaries.

When I first started trying to improve my financial situation, I went through a series of phases:

Denial

I didn’t think I had that much to learn. I mean, I was already balancing my checkbook and reviewing my statement each month, and I could tell you about what I was spending as I knew how little much we had left over each month. We weren’t doing anything wrong, we just needed more money and then we’d be fine.

But, I didn’t think it could hurt to at least read a book and make sure.

Shock and awe

One of the first things any personal finance book will tell you is that you have to start recording every purchase you make and associating it with a category. Cash, check, credit card, everything gets recorded.

After a week or so of recording everything, you’re told to go back and add up what you spent in every category. So I complied and dutifully went about adding up each category, thinking that it shouldn’t take too long to find that you can’t get blood from a turnip…

Anger

Holy (insert family friendly expletive here)!

I spent how much on work lunches?

Why do groceries cost that much?

I could buy a coffee maker every month and STILL spend less on coffee!

“This is crazy!” I said and quickly set out to see how we could reduce our spending.

On a mission

Suddenly, I became Ima Schwartzasaver, the Terminator.

And every category suddenly read “Sara O’Connor” in big bold letters.

“Are you Sara O’Connor?” I said to the cable bill.

“Yes”, replied Ms. Sara Cable Bill O’Connor nervously.

Well, I’m fixin’ to terminate you.

(gratuituous violence scene)

Repeat. Lather. Rinse.

Closing in on total annihilation

After surveying the trail of “reckless spending” carcasses in my wake, my eye caught one of the behemoths of my budget.

(queue the suspenseful music, preferably something from “300“)

Groceries.

(Hopefully when you read that word, in your mind it sounded like the guy who does the movie trailers for the summer blockbusters)

That one should be easy to cut, especially after all the stories I heard about couponing. Heck, I’m such a bad dude I bet extreme couponing would be more my style.

And off I went.

I did the research.

Read the forums.

Got the book from the library (Did I mention I’m frugal?).

Watched the show.

And so, a couple of weeks later I was ready, having laid the foundation:

  • Bought multiple copies of the newspapers for my area, and filed the coupons by coupon source and date
  • Saved the coupons in the mail
  • Scavenged coupons left behind by others at restaurants
  • Set aside a storage area for my bounty
  • Registered for all of the in store reward cards
  • Used websites to figure out when my coupons would line up with store sales
  • Compiled a list of which stores I would visit (4 in total), which coupons I would use, and how many different transactions it would take at each store.

Operation “Grocery Store Domination” is a GO!

And it really did work.

I came home that day, exhausted after several hours of shopping and driving between stores, but I had saved over 50% on my grocery bill.

So I gleefully set about unloading the car and marveling at my loot, feeling like the modern-day metro sexual version of a pirate.

The fact that I was the “wench” because I did all the shopping and cooking kind of ruined my fantasy, but I did have a pretty cool parrot.

Anyway, about an hour later I had everything stowed and had bragged about my success to my wife (who actually accompanied me on some of the trips).

Having worked up a big appetite, we were starving, so I casually remarked something about whipping up something that would probably cost us pennies on the dollar.

Off I went to the pantry to see what we had.

Hmm.

20 boxes of cereal.

Nah, not for dinner.

30 boxes of spaghetti.

Rats, the spaghetti sauce was on next week’s attack list so that won’t work.

3 blood sugar test kits.

What the? Oh yeah, that was so I could get that rebate thing that made them free and gave me cash back in the store so that I can……never mind. I can’t eat them anyway.

10 Air fresheners.

Well, that’s good. If I cook something that smells nasty I can overpower it with that fresh pine scent.

10 pounds of chicken breast, boneless / skinless.

NOW we’re talking! I’ve got a bunch of great recipes for those….

(rummage through the recipe box)

Well, I’ve got about a dozen great recipes, but we’re missing at least one ingredient for each of them, which means another trip to the store.

Man down!

So we ordered pizza that night, and I quickly realized that couponing wasn’t going to work for me. It was hard enough (and I failed) coming up with something on a weekend after I had just went shopping, I couldn’t imaging trying to do that after working all day.

So back to the drawing board I went, and I stumbled across a site called emeals (at the time they were E-mealz).

The premise of emeals is that they provide a one week menu for you (they offer menus by store or food type, i.e. low carb, low fat gluten free, etc.) with the shopping list to go along with it.

And, their menus are designed to average (now) around $85 per week to feed a family of 4. For us, the “family of 4” has been very inaccurate in that we’re able to feed a family of 5 (including a teen that wears a size 14 shoe and his younger brother who eats more than he does) to satiety and we have had leftovers every single meal.

They have sample plans available under the “How it works” section on their website if you’d like to see the types of meals they offer. We have a couple of picky eaters and we’ve only found one or two dishes that we didn’t like.

How do I know what my grocery budget should be?

Even after implementing emeals, I still struggled with determining how I was doing in my grocery budget. Most of the personal finance books I’ve read speak in percentages, but those were always way off and didn’t seem to make much sense to me.

How can one percentage work for a retired couple, a house full of teenagers, and a single person?

What if there are special dietary needs that are required medically?

Doesn’t the cost of food change? If this book was written in 1999, are the percentages still accurate?

Get your slide rule out…

And then I discovered the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) website. On their site, they have a document (PDF) that is updated monthly. In that document, they list the average cost of food necessary to eat according to the food pyramid broken out by age, sex, and four different budget levels.

Even though I’m not necessarily a huge fan of the pyramid, that seemed like a reasonable model and the fact that they tied it to the consumer price index made it very factual to me.

So I pulled up the PDF and began to calculate what our average monthly cost should be:

  • Let’s see, I’m a 42 year old male so, let’s start with “Thrifty” (jot that number down) from the “19-50” column.
  • Next, my wife…find her age range….find thrifty….jot that number down
  • (Repeat for the other 3 family members)
  • Cool, here’s my total. Wait…..what’s the text at the bottom?
  • Oh, I need to adjust the total by 5 percent because these figures are based on 4 family members. Makes sense, but a pain in the butt.
  • So there’s my total. Oh. I should probably do the other 3 spending levels as well just so I know them.

Needless to say, this became a lengthy, tedious process that I wasn’t anxious to repeat.

Here he comes to save the day!

Never fear though, dear reader. Not only is this the “Blogging Away Debt” blog, but you happen to be reading the “Blogging Away a Pain in the Butt” guest post.

Luckily for you, I designed and hired someone to code the math behind the table and present in a homely but very efficient and beneficial (not me, the calculator smarty pants) page where all the math is done for you.

All you have to do is select the sex and age range for each family member and press the “Calc” button to see what the average spend in each food category for your family should be.

The table supports up to 10 family members; if you have more than that you already have your own reality show on TLC, so what do you care how much groceries cost? Sheesh…celebrities are so needy.

Anywho, here’s the link to the calculator: Food Costs Calculator (don’t worry, it opens in a separate window)

For us, thanks to emeals, we fall just above the “Thrifty” average and just below the “Low” average for most normal months. If we have company or cook a holiday meal it creeps up to “Low”, but we average below that.

So how do you fare?

Are you at the “Thrifty”, “Low”, “Moderate” or “Liberal” level?

If you’re at the “Thrifty” level or below, how do you do it?

If you’re at the “Moderate” or “Liberal” level, can you think of ways to lower your bill besides becoming a Republican? (Sorry, couldn’t resist. Get it? Liberal? Republican?. Never mind.)

Have you had success at couponing, and if so, how did you overcome the challenge of finding meals easily based on what you have in hand?

We are always looking for interesing, motivational and real life personal debt stories. If you have a personal debt story that you’d like to share, feel free to contact us so that we can share it with all the readers.

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How to Help a Loved One in Debt

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This is a guest post by Samantha Peters, who is a regular contributor on Paid Twice a personal finance blog, where she writes about practical ways to reduce personal debt.

My older brother had been in dire financial straits for sometime, and was far too proud to ask his little sister for help. It’s a standard personal finance rule to resist getting involved in the money messes of relatives, but of all the money management rules we’re meant to follow, this one is broken the most. So if I was going to decide to help my big brother get out of debt, how was I going to go about it without getting myself in trouble or robbing him of his self-respect?

I decided to sit down and devise a series of rules and regulations to follow. Not only have they helped to minimize risk while maximizing my ability to get involved, they’ve also helped to reduce the embarrassment my brother doesn’t want to experience, which was one of the main reasons he wasn’t seeking help in the first place.

The following is my very own how to help a loved one in debt manifesto, which so far has been working out quite well:

Demand to See Everything

I decided that before getting involved financially with my brother’s debt problems, it was imperative that I have a complete understanding of his entire situation. By asking my brother to fetch every shred of paper proof of his total debt, he actually discovered he owed a little bit more than he thought he did. While it would have been an innocent mistake, his underestimation could have potentially made any efforts of mine to help utterly irrelevant.

Exhaust All Third Party Resources

Upon talking with my brother about his debt, I discovered he hadn’t even bothered to call his student loan lender, let alone anyone else he owed money to. I wanted to make sure that all the obvious moves had been made before getting myself involved any further than as an acting advisor. You’d be surprised what people won’t do simply because of pride.

Provide Tools and Offer Limited-Risk Options

Before I lent any money, I wanted to makes sure that all other non monetary options had been explored. I was willing to offer a spare bedroom if my brother was willing to sell hi home to pay off his debtdebt. I had a used compact car that I was willing to sell at discount to him if he was willing to sell his brand new truck to reduce his debt. While my brother didn’t take me up on all of my offers, it gave me the opportunity to explore options that didn’t mean a cash hand out plus see how serious he was at getting rid of his debt. I think it’s important to see if these sorts of options can solve a loved one’s personal debt crisis before choosing to lend cash instead.

Write up a Contract if Money Is Exchanged

I decided early on that if the only way my brother was going to get out of debt was if he borrowed money from me, that we would get it in writing. While it may seem as though such a formal agreement would alienate a loved one looking for help, I found that a personal loan contract had the opposite affect. My brother was ashamed of his debt and he felt as though a contract made it less like charity and more like a business transaction.

Virtually every personal finance guru out there tells you to avoid helping relatives get out of debt at all costs. But the honest truth is that when loved ones that are close to you need help, it’s almost impossible to say no. With that being said, it’s critical that you take the proper steps to ensure that such assistance actually helps and that it doesn’t put you at risk for getting into debt yourself.

We are always looking for interesing, motivational and real life personal debt stories. If you have a personal debt story that you’d like to share, feel free to contact us so that we can share it with all the readers.


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