If you have any exposure to the personal finance community, you’ll be familiar with the concept of a “no-spend weekend.” And as she’s not one of shy away from a challenge, The Lady in the Black tried her first no-spend weekend. How’d she do? Read on, my friends, read on.
Disclaimer: In my continuing attempt at full transparency, I need to preface this whole blog post with the fun little disclaimer. You see, when you are a “mature” adult female with a full-time gig, a boyfriend, and a kid starting back to school, it’s best practice to write a blog post in a timely manner when you write time-sensitive content. While I’ve done my best to recollect all the details of my no-spend Labor Day weekend, the fact is that is was 10 whole days ago. That’s like 70 days in old Lady days! I forgot some details. Sue me.
The Big Idea and The Reason Why
August 2018 was a tough month on this Lady’s cash flow situation.
I was on vacation until August 7. And as a freelance employee, vacation equals “no income.” Then, when I returned to work, a large project of mine was canceled and I was left scrambling for hours to bill to. In short, my August income was significantly lower than my average income..and it seriously hijacked my ability to pay rent on September 1.
On August 30th (2 days before rent is due), I had $240 in my checking account. My rent is $2,440.
You see a problem? Ya. So did I.
I did what I had to. I pulled savings from various accounts (designated for vacation, tax savings, emergency, etc.) and sold off some of my STASH portfolio. The next day, August 31, I had bolstered my account balance to $2,240.
I was also staring down Labor Day weekend being broke.
While I was amazed by the fact that I could pull together that much money that quickly, I was defeated that I had no money to make it through a weekend that was suppose to be fun and relaxing. Honoring all the “labor” in America was tough on me when I felt all my labor was going to squat.
Yet if The Lady in Black has learned one thing in this crazy financial journey, it’s that any success is due to a positive attitude and perseverance.
So, instead of crawling into bed and being depressed, I decided to make being broke as fun as I could.
“Hey, let’s do our first no-spend weekend. It’ll be fun,” I convinced myself. “I’ve got food in the cupboards, the freezer, and the fridge. I can totally do this.”
Then, I had to sell my uber-frugal idea to The Man in the Black (my boyfriend) and The Kid in the Black (my 10 year-old daughter.) Fortunately, they were both understanding. They weren’t thrilled but I was honest about why it was necessary. Then I sold the crap out of the idea as the best thing since cheap white bread.
The Lady’s 1st No-Spend Weekend
Friday, August 31: $0
This is where the hazy memory kicks in.
While I can verify via my bank accounts that I didn’t spend a dime, I also can’t exactly remember what I did Friday night. Based on what I know about my life, I can assume that The Kid and I probably just chilled at home. Seems like I probably even made dinner, which is a win in my book even if I can’t remember what I cooked.
Is it gingko biloba that is supposed to help enhance memory? I forget.
Anyway, I didn’t spend any money. ‘Nuf said.
Saturday, September 1: $12
Now this I do remember!
Saturday I had planned for my gang to go to the Orange International Street Fair. (Picture the cutest of historic towns closing their downtown circle intersection and filling all the streets with interesting vendors.) It’s a long-standing Labor Day event and I hadn’t been in decades.
While I reminded them of our no-spending challenge on the drive to the event and they were “in”, the instant I stepped foot inside the fair, I knew I fucked up.
In fact, it may have been one of the stupidest ideas I’ve had in a long time. The WHOLE DEAL about the fair is the dozens of food booths, beer trucks, and trendy arts and crafts available for sale. Sure, I brought snacks and waters for everyone (I’m a mom after all) but the event felt like one big-ass culinary tease. It was like bringing a Lunchable to a 5-star restaurant.
Realizing my immediate mistake, I had to come up with something to distract The Kid…and fast. Fortunately, I’d just passed down my old phone (a sweet-ass iPhone 4s thank you very much) and suggested we both take photos and then “compete” for the best photography later when we got home. (The Kid is the best kid in the world so she was down with the idea.)
Art as distraction. Score one for The Lady.
Anyway, blah, blah, blah. Click-click-click.
All was going well until we arrived to the Norway section of the international street fair. And there they were. Ableskiver. (Google it.)
I caved on a dish of ableskiver. Price $6. Now, I rationalized this treat was for my daughter and technically I owed her $25 so really it was her buying the treat, not me. (Rationalization is a bitch but I still counted the expense because I’m honest.)
Next, I just couldn’t say no to a $4 root beer float in Ireland. (Is root beer Irish? I don’t know. Doesn’t matter, I guess.)
Then, I got busted by an event authority guy for not having a wristband. The Man in the Black graciously bought me a beer but I had to fork over the $2 for the wristband. (I should also disclose that I met up with a co-worker at the event and she bought me a beer, too. Thanks, JB!)
All in all, I escaped the street fair only spending $12 of my own money! Not bad.
In fact, I challenge anyone to do better. Go ahead. Make my day, punk.
Sunday, September 2: $12
By Sunday, I knew the money in bank account wasn’t sufficient to cover my rent. I had bounced yet another rent payment.
I was angry. I was stressed. I was desperate. I bought a bottle of $12 chardonnay…and drank it. All. By. Myself.
Beyond that one indulgence, it turns out moping around feeling sorry for yourself is 100% free. Yay.
Thousand Steps beach, Laguna Beach, CA
Monday, September 3: $0
With the kids transferred to their other parents, The Man and I had Monday to ourselves.
One of the huge benefits of living in southern California is the beach. It’s right there…everyday and is surprisingly easy to take for granted. However, that was not the story for this year’s Labor Day Monday.
Monday we took full advantage of an out-of-the-way beach equipped with our sunscreen and cooler packed with goodies. Full disclosure: The Man did shell out $13 at the local grocery store to supplement the snacks I had packed.
In short, it was AWESOME. It was the perfect no-spend day.
We swam, snoozed, explored, snacked, and swam some more. We were like Sandy and Danny frolicking around in our own version of a Summer Lovin’ flashback scene.
And it was all free…and once I stripped off my bathing suit in the ocean for a few minutes of nudie swimming….freeing as well. Don’t judge.
No-Spend Weekend Lessons
My official spend of $24 on a 3-day, no-spend weekend seems like a decent first attempt.
Am I disappointed that I can’t say “I did it! I spent $0”?
No, because I think I did great.
To analyze my expenditures, I spent half my money feeding my kid and the other half drowning my sorrows. And for those of you moms out there struggling with making ends meet, that might sound familiar.
So what did The Lady in The Black learn from her first no-spend weekend?
First, meal planning is a “thing.” The better you can plan out your meals in advance, the better off you are–nutritionally AND financially. Honestly, I’m not great at meal planning and most of my “cheat” expenses involve eating out. This is not news to me but not go out once over the span of a long weekend was pretty awesome for me.
Next, don’t be an idiot. Choose your activities well. Avoid situations where you will tempted to spend your hard-earned money. Select places where you aren’t bombarded by retail temptation. The street fair was stupid. The beach was genius.
Lastly, make sure your partner, kids, friends, etc. are mentally, physically, and fiscally prepared for a no-spend challenge. Sure, I spent some money on treats for my child but she didn’t beg or whine for anything all day. She knew the situation and didn’t push. My boyfriend understood my predicament and respected it by choosing an activity for the two of us that wouldn’t cost me money or my dignity for being broke.
Oh, and if you are into this kinda of thing, can I direct you to the Zero Day Challenge from my fellow blogger, Zero Day Finance? It’s kinda his jam and he has great articles about it.)
I see no-spend challenges as a type of cleanse. They can help reset your financial metabolism and put your personal finances on a healthier path.
The Lady in The Black enjoyed her no-spend weekend, even if it was involuntary. In fact, I look forward to trying it again soon, under better circumstances.
In summary, there’s no doubt that being broke is trying–but it doesn’t mean you can’t try to make the most of it.
Like one of my good friends says, life is short. Live long.
Sometimes the best way to face the challenges of everyday life is to run away…far, far away.
What? Does that sound defeatist or weak to you? Well, it doesn’t to me. It seems wise and necessary, if only on rare occasions.
The last couple of weeks have been very trying on this middle-aged Lady. There were all the problems of work stress, piled up with some significant “be a great mom” pressures, backed up with some romantic discontent, and bolstered by good old-fashioned financial anxiety. Oh, and if that wasn’t all bad enough, I felt the profound and utter guilt of how first-world and “white privilege” all of my issues were. And yet, despite understanding how blessed I am, these stressors were heavy enough to cause a real (yet brief) mental/emotional collapse.
I almost quit my job. I almost broke up with my boyfriend. I almost did a lot of hurtful things.
Instead, when I was staring down a 3-day holiday weekend with no kid and no plans, I did what any sane Lady would do. GET. THE. FUCK. OUT. OF. DODGE.
I contacted a friend last minute, threw some stuff in the Prius and drove, and drove, and drove….7 hours to Sedona, AZ.
And it was the best idea I’ve had in a very long time. But you know what was even better than running away from home? Not thinking.
I purposely didn’t think about my worries. I strategically avoided solving problems. I was intent on “staying Zen” and just relaxing. In fact, if I wanted to go somewhere, I went. If I didn’t want to do anything, I didn’t. I slept. I read. I hiked. I shopped. But I didn’t think. I ate. I drank. I drove aimlessly. But I didn’t think. (And that’s no small thing for me.)
Now, that’s not to say that my brain didn’t receive messages because it did. And quite honestly, these little bolts of enlightenment were pretty profound. Here’s a small sample of these pearls of wisdoms paired with the photo that inspired them.
It’s easy to misinterpret signs. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Just because you are worn down by forces outside of your control doesn’t mean you aren’t beautiful and inspiring.
If a stream with no water is still a stream, am I still a writer even if I’m out of words?
You can be inviting and defensive at the same time.
There’s really no way to expect the unexpected.
LA traffic is fucking ridiculous.
In short, I believe the Universe was telling me to chill the fuck out. My friend agreed.
I’m on a solid path and just need to stay the course. Will my current gig fulfill every creative craving? No. Will my finances fixed themselves overnight? No. Will my friends and family abandon me if things take a dive? No. Will my child stop loving me if I can’t be a Stepford Mom? No.
[Insert deep breath here.] I’m fine as I am. I’m fortunate and beautiful and smart. I’m loved and supported and adored. Yes, Universe. I hear you. And yes, I’ll chill the fuck out.
I returned to my real life on Monday, Memorial Day and part of settling back in was retrieving my mail.
And there it was. A letter from the IRS.
For those of you who’ve followed my journey, you know that taxes and tax debt remain top of the heaping pile of personal financial bullshit. I have a love-hate relationship with the IRS and any communication from them triggers immediate dread and resulting anxiety. This letter was no different.
To provide some context, I filed my own taxes for 2017 and due to my continued underpaying of estimated taxes, I owe them a substantial chunk of change. I accept it and was expecting the big bill. That bill would not only add considerable debt to my current tax heap but also set my net worth back substantially. (And one of my financial goals for 2018 was to hit positive net worth.)
However, instead of tearing into the letter, I carted myself off to an Irish pub for a little liquid courage (AKA pints of Harp.) I also took the time to play What-If Up with the situation.
What is What-If Up? Well, I’ll let Joe Vitale explain it, as he is where I learned it from. Check out this video.
Understanding the "What if UP Method" by Joe Vitale - YouTube
I said to myself “What if I won some secret IRS lottery and they forgave my debt? What if they love me now and want to help me? What if I paid more than I thought and they reduce my tax bill? What if that letter sitting at home is good news not bad news?”
Ya. I know. It’s hard. The What-If Up game is not an easy one to stomach, especially for natural cynics like myself.
So, I trudged home, lit up a pre-execution cigarette and ripped into the letter to face the firing squad. Here’s what I saw.
Wait. What? Is that a minus sign?
So, the letter wasn’t the one I was expecting. It was something else entirely. It was them telling me that my previous year’s tax debt (2016) was REDUCED by about $4,500! WHAT!?! That’s crazy.
Was it some sort of weird IRS karma? (I have been trying like crazy to improve my situation.) Was it some magical manifestation of the What-If Up game? (I mean, OK. That’s cool.) Or was it just a temporary reprieve before next year’s tax bill hits my balance sheet? Ummm….probably all three but I’ll take it!
So, where does this put me? I’m not sure but since this balance is already rolled up in an installment plan, I’m already handling this debt. And that my friends is half the battle.
When I looked objectively at what had changed in my life recently that brought me from content status to discontent status, there were some obvious changes. (I won’t list them all.) However, the one that truly stuck out like a red and throbbing sore thumb was my lack of creative expression. (Sure, sure. I write all ding-dong day as a freelance marketing writer but it satisfies only a small portion of my voracious creative appetite.)
In short, I stopped writing this blog and it had negative consequences that rippled into other aspects of my life. I know many bloggers write for different reasons and many stop writing for different reasons as well. My friend, Brent, does a good job of explaining this in a recent post.
I don’t really have a ton to say on this topic except that maintaining contentment and equilibrium in life has lots of tips and tricks. Most probably, those are unique to you and only you. It’s a proprietary recipe that only you can know.
For me, having something to say but shoving it down is damaging to my spirit. Being a writer and not writing hurts. You see, I found a unique voice through The Lady in the Black and realize I need to let her have her say more often.
Do I need to maintain such a vigorous posting schedule? No. Do I need to maintain such a high-level of transparency? Actually….yes. I think I do.
I need somewhere in my life where I can’t let loose while still holding myself accountable. I need this silly little blog and I hope, somewhere out there, someone else does, too.
What are your most profitable things this week? What have you learned by not thinking at all? Any success stories playing What-If Up? Anyone have a free place to crash in Sedona? (What?!?! Doesn’t hurt to ask.)
For those of my readers familiar with my financial situation, you know that The Lady in the Black’s has an evil personal finance nemesis. In the end, she concludes it’s not always about the victory…or the defeat. Everyday financial battles are waged everyday, somewhere in between win and lose.
Personal finance nemesis? (Yes, I’m excited for the premier of Marvel’s Infinity War. Sue me.) For those thinking “I don’t have a personal finance nemesis,” this article might not be for you. This article is for those of us that fought many battles with a specific yet dark financial figure or maybe they fight many. When you struggle with money, it’s a mentally, emotionally, and physically draining experience. It’s a fight and probably, if you are like me, an ongoing on.
The evil often starts lurking when you are young, and perhaps innocently enough, you get caught up in bad habits or difficult situations. It might be impulse buying, intolerance for budgeting, or an inability to save money. It might be situational like a divorce or a debilitating health condition. You might battle unemployment or underemployment. Or perhaps it’s just as simple as not ever learning about money management….or any myriad of issues that cause financial stress.
The Lady in the Black hasn’t posted in a while. And maybe, just maybe, I know why. Because she knew this day would come; April 17, 2018 Tax Day AKA The Big Battle. But before we get too far ahead let’s give the financial voyeurs out there a little upfront peek-a-boo.
Current balance due (prior to today) was in the neighborhood of $30,000. That’s a lot, you say. To that, I laughed heartily and with my best Dolly Parton impersonation say “Oh, bless your heart, sweet child. That’s nothing.” I’m actually proud of all the steps I’ve taken to reduce my tax debt. This amount represents 2 separate years of past due Federal tax balances. I currently have an installment plan in place for $500/month.
CA Franchise Tax Board
Just a couple of months ago, the lien these villains had on my credit report was cleared. That means that for a brief yet glorious moment in time The Lady was not indebted to these incredibly gruesome devils. (You might pick up that I don’t respect this particular agency. However, through amended returns and $200 monthly payments I cleared off a $6,500 debt.)
We could argue that tax obligations are good or evil. I’m not down with politics but will reveal that I don’t necessary oppose the concept of taxes. I do however feel that instrument of my personal devil is estimated taxes.
I know. I know. They seem so harmless. Estimate your tax bill and divide by 4. Send in payments by the due dates. Easy-peasy. Right?
WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! At least not for me.
As a freelancer living in one of the nation’s most expensive regions with a notorious bad history managing her taxes and/or personal finances, it’s hard to set aside the appropriate amount for estimated taxes. Then add into the mix that I share custody of my child and only claim her (and her expenses) every other year. Oh, and my income is far from “predictable.” And if that isn’t enough, try out that fact that my budgeting system often doesn’t have enough wiggle room and I’ve been forced to use those estimated tax savings to cover those “crises of cash flow.”
Last July, when I determined to launch my most recent battle with taxes, I was determined to take a few deep cuts at that bad boy.
And you know what, I did….kinda.
The Battle Plan
Back in July 2017, I promised that I’d try to pay estimated taxes, even though I knew I was starting late in the year. It was a losing battle for sure BUT I thought I might be able to mediate the financial damage inflicted on me come The Big Fight.
And you know what, I did….kinda.
I managed to make 2 out of 4 (or 50% for those math nerds out there) of my estimated taxes for 2017. Perfect? No. Still incur late fees and penalties? Yup. (Those little goblins are relentless.) While you’ll see in a bit, this represents a drop in the bucket…but I’m still proud as shit at myself. I made a commitment, a plan, and I tried really hard.
If you are fighting your own personal finance nemesis, I strongly suggest gearing up and getting tactical. Battle wins don’t just happen. They are planned.
Leading up to The Big Fight (otherwise known as filing taxes), it should be disclosed that The Lady fired her previous knight in shining armor. I had used Block Advisors for previous years work but became dissatisfied and distrustful. I decided that part of my battle (perhaps foolishly) was to file for myself. (Ok, ok. An ethereal wizard named TurboTax helped tremendously.)
The Lady girded herself with requisite forms and color-coded file folders. Rainbow paper clips and Post-It notes were a trigger-fingered breadth away.
1099s? Bring it. 1099-SA? Whatevs. Home office deduction? Been there, fought that. Forfeiture of debt? Ok. Ouch. Dividend earnings? Oh, those are new. HSA contributions vs disbursement? Ummm… well. Filing single/no dependent? Ya. Ok. That one hurt.
Truth is, The Lady arrived at the tax bill she was kinda expecting for her earnings and change in filing status.
Total damage? An additional $24,000 for Feds and $6,400 for State. Nice hit, Uncle Sam and CA Bad Dudes. The Lady is down but she’s not out.
Finding My Feet and Dusting Off
Before I continue, I’ll have to pat myself on the back for a moment.
For a person with my history and current financial situation, I could probably just stay down once receiving a hit like that. Wallow in my continued defeat against my personal finance nemesis. I could close my eyes against the sound of his cackling and maniacal victory laugh. But no. Not this Lady, mister. You got the wrong gal.
To my credit, I’ve remained remarkably cool and collected during the last few weeks. Did I procrastinate until the very day before the filing deadline to file? Yes, yes I did. (Let’s not dwell on that, shall we?)
The good news is that I fought the good fight.
I promised myself as part of my New Year’s Goals that I would “file and pay taxes on time.” Yesterday, I electronically filed my Federal and State taxes ON TIME (one day early in fact.) Today, I waited in a long line at the post office to mail my two payments in ON TIME. OK. Fine. I sent them each only a token payment. I could not pay the entire bill but still I’m happy about this small victory.
And quite honestly, that win is not really too small. I sent them each $2,000. That’s $4,000! I don’t know about you but that’s a lot of money to me! It leaves me still owing and returning again to humbly request installment plans but it’s better than nothing and I’m quite proud of how I got it.
I sacrificed my emergency fund and about half of my investment portfolio. Before everyone gets up on me for doing that, remember that everyone’s fight is different and what makes financial sense to one may be different for the other. The $4,000 I pulled out of my ass today represents a good-faith gesture on my part to continue my battle.
It also was an internal acknowledgement that I know I’ve been a bit pre-mature about my investing strategy. Well, more accurately, I’ve been a bit pre-mature about my lack of investing strategy. I’m the first to admit that it’s a strength to admit when you don’t know something. I don’t know investing. I don’t. But I’m teaching myself. And I’ve learned a lot in the last 11 months. I’m OK with dumping some of my one-off positions. I need to focus on getting this tax debt under control. It’s once again my priority.
In summary, The Lady in the Black just added a huge chunk of debt at her own feet. But she’s made some serious inroads in winning one year’s battle (the war is relentless) and she knows her opponent much better. She’s getting better, stronger and if she acquires bionic hearing that would be awesome. However, in the absence of bionic powers, she’ll just keep doing what she’s doing and working her steps toward a profitable life.
Yes, and I’ll establish new installment agreements. (I even know where to pull from my budget to increase my monthly payments.)
For those fighting similar battles, I encourage you enter the fight with your chin up. You might be your own worse personal finance nemesis but that is no reason not to treat your opponent with respect. Plus, there’s nothing uglier than a girl boss fighting herself.
Save your aggression for a more worthy foe like…..I don’t know, people who leave their blinkers on.
Managing personal finances can be a struggle. It can also be one of the most empowering exercises you can do for yourself. However, for The Lady in the Black, managing her finances is a continuing saga of both. She compiles a list of her top 5 financial confessions.
Warning: This post contains lots of swearing. Like lots. You’ve been warned.
There are lots of competent and capable personal finance bloggers who admit to the occasional “whoopsies” financial mistake. That’s cool. I respect that.
But at age 47, The Lady in the Black has a long history of financial mistakes that exceed a little “whoopsies.” Worse yet, there are some I simply can’t stop from happening. Am I feeling a little defeatist and down? Perhaps. Am I thinking that maybe any progress I make will be destroyed by my own financial incompetence? Maybe. Am I sick and tired of sucking at the same damn things? For sure.
If you think this post is for you, it’s not. I’m writing (and publishing) this post for one reason. I want to end this cycle of financial dysfunction.
I’m hoping that by writing about it (with little to no filters) that I might just arrive at something that I can use to improve myself.
If, by some miracle, my readers have some suggestions, great. Send them my way. If, by some coincidence, my readers struggle with some of the same issues, well….shit. I’m sorry. That sucks.
In short, I need to own my own shit and figure out how to move forward. The following is a list of my top 5 financial confessions.
The Lady’s Financial Bullshit List
B.S. #1: I can never figure out my cash flow.
For some people, money just floats in and out of their lives.
For others, every dime is accounted for and given a job.
For me, managing my personal finances is like a math problem that I know I should be smart enough to figure out but NEVER CAN!
I spent decades being a full-time salaried employee with a stable, timely paycheck. Back then, my problem was not having a handle on what needed to be paid and/or when the bills were due. I tried so many different tracking systems but never found the one that made my cash flow in and out smooth. It should also be noted that I never could save a dime either. Stable income, poor organization.
I’ve also spent years as a freelancer. The problem there was compounded as my income was both variable in terms of amount and in timing. Again, I tried to create elaborate systems but could never figure it out. As a result, my debt increased. Oh, and I also never saved a dime. Variable income, poor organization.
The result of both of these divergent situations was that I hated paying bills. I hated managing money. In fact, I really hated money in general. However, when I found myself with a face full of rock bottom, I knew I had to do something.
One thing I did was to fully automate my finances. And instantly, I was in love. Finally, I found the organization I craved. I didn’t have to figure out when to pay bills every month. I didn’t have to write checks and dig for stamps. I didn’t have to do much more than check to see if everything was clicking along. I was paying bills and saving money like crazy. I even began investing! And for a whole year, I had the financial bliss I always hoped for. I had finally cracked the code!
Except I didn’t.
About 3 months ago, I experienced a “hiccup” in my smoothly operating money machine. I had to dig into my savings to cover my rent. I thought “sure, whatever. The holidays threw things off. No worries. Gosh, I’m glad I have that money set aside. I’ll just pay it back.” But I didn’t because the same thing happened for the next 2 months (including this month.)
Today, I’m staring down a “pay or vacate” letter from the rental company and two $40 overdraft charges.
I’m back to square one trying to spot the error in my equation.
I get that my income as a freelancer is variable but how can something work for 11 months and then suddenly crap out? Am I working less? Am I not tracking properly? Am I spending more than I realize? Am I trying to save too much? Did I make changes that work break my system? Am I investing too aggressively? Did using a credit card for the first time in a decade throw off my spending habits? Did increases in rent and health insurance break me?
The answer is “yes”….to all of those questions–which leads me to my next steaming pile of personal crap.
B.S. #2: I don’t have my priorities in order.
For most people on the front end of their personal finance journey, the elimination of debt is priority one.
For others, it might be to save enough for an emergency fund.
Both of those tasks are easy to prioritize although they may take a significant length of time to achieve success. They are easy to focus on and then you can proceed onto the next step.
Maybe that’s the problem. I’m not really a “step” kinda gal when it comes to new adventures, even financial ones.
You see, my job is a creative one. I get paid to figure things out in new, compelling ways. I’m conditioned to think outside the box and use my imagination. While I fully appreciate logic and sequence, I profit far more heavily from my right brain than my left.
I’m a “let’s try to juggle all this new stuff because it’s fun” kinda Lady.
Sure, I started with a focus on debt reduction. Then, I quickly dove into automating my finances, designated savings accounts, tax filing modifications, ETF investing, individual stock investing, credit score improvement, net worth tracking, tracking dividends, responsible credit card use, estimated taxes, college saving, high-interest CDs, money mapping, personal finance blogging and a bunch of other stuff I can’t even remember right now. Oh, and all of that in under 2 years.
If you are thinking that all might have been too much, I’d be forced to agree.
It’s very easy to become distracted by the shiny new possibilities that proper money management (and the education thereof) can bring. But distraction, by its very definition, is a loss of focus.
Essentially, I need to figure my shit out. I need to re-evaluate what’s important to me at this time and take things one step at a time.
And sadly, and SO BORING, is addressing my biggest weakness, taxes. UGH. (I can’t even.)
B.S. #3: I’m fricking lazy.
It’s a new year and the joy of the holidays are behind me.
It’s Girl Scout cookie season and The Kid and I are busy.
I’m focusing on my health and fitness.
I found a great guy and am investing time in building a relationship with him.
The market is down.
My friends and family are far away and I miss them.
They shifted my accounts at work to so I need to spend more time there.
Taxes are coming up and I have lots of organizing to do.
My car is in the shop.
The carpets need cleaning.
I have a side project.
My friend just tweeted.
Blah, blah, blah.
Any sound familiar? These are all just excuses for slacking off on my personal finances–and I frickin’ know it. I FRICKIN’ KNOW IT.
I have learned that staying on top of your finances is an ongoing process that takes time and energy. The same precious time and energy that everything in my life is clammoring for.
The simple fact is that as you grow and change so does your money. While a certain amount of “set it and forget it” tactics are possible, your money will eventually want require your undivided time and attention. I updated my budget to reflect changes at the new year. I took HOURS. Tracking my payments needs to be done daily.
Keeping my money machine operating smoothly takes time that sometimes I just don’t want to give it.
I JUST wrote a note to my financial advisor that I’m “giving up” on my ROTH IRA contributions because my recurring payments have been returned (costing me fees) 3 times. Am I giving up too soon? Maybe. Should I maybe take the time to figure out if I can afford it first. Definitely.
In fact, now that I write all this, it’s not that I’m lazy. I’m just a busy, working professional single mom who values her downtime and quality of life. Is that more self-excusing bullshit?
Fuck. Maybe. DAMN IT.
B.S. #4: I assumed my income was enough.
I get paid well. I make more money now than I ever had before. But I also live in own of the most expensive areas of the country.
I thought I was making enough money. I’m not.
I himmed and hawed for months about “raising my rates” at my current freelance gig. It’s a sweet gig and I CAN’T mess it up. It’s the one thing that has truly enabled any financial success I’ve experienced in the last 2 years. (Well, that and my own resolve to stop sucking at money management.) I was being a pussy be not asking for what I am due.
But, guess what guys. I wrote that request just today. I asked for a 20% increase. Is that a lot? Did I ask for too much? Will they laugh me down? You know what? I frickin’ don’t know and don’t care.
I’ll wait to see what they counter with next week. In the meantime, I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I make “the right amount” of money because there is always change. Things get more expensive and “savings” can be a greedy little bastard to feed.
More money equals more freedom to me and while I tolerate being a corporate loser I refuse to be a slave.
B.S. #5: I forget my own power.
This is a big one. I’m not sure where you fall out on the whole “theory of abundance” or “self-fulfilling destiny” or the “Universe giving you what you need” but I gotta say I was a huge skeptic. However, over and over again, I witnessed myself having a power to alter the Universe with the power of my thoughts.
And it started happening more when I switched my world view from pessimism to optimism.
A simple thought or idea would simply manifest itself in a most unusual yet undeniable way, and usually in fairly quick order, too.
So, why aren’t sitting pretty, sitting in a long fitted black gown and tiara and declaring myself the Queen of my domain? Because I forget. I forget my own power. I forget that small changes can radiate out to big changes. I forget that I am in charge of my life.
So, how can I remind myself? Hmmm. Well, it might come down to some additional gratitude exercise and surrounding myself with positive people. It might mean pulling out my old vision board, or better yet, building a new one. It might mean to stop procrastinating and stop beating myself.
It might mean reminding myself that I am a plain old human woman with supernatural superpowers.
I don’t know. But writing that makes me feel a bit better. I wonder if it helps you.
The Lady in the Black partners with her 9-year old daughter to craft four stories that hold important financial lessons for kids as well as for adults. As with all fairy tales, our story begins with “once upon a time.”
ONCE UPON A TIME…
…there were four money trees. Their names were Cash, Penny, Benjamin, and Buck.
If you don’t know anything about money trees, you should probably know that money trees look and act and grow like normal trees but grow paper currency instead of leaves.
Cash, Penny, Benjamin, and Buck all grew up together in the nursery orchard until they were big and strong enough to move to a new home. Each tree was planted in a different backyard, at a different home, with a different person taking care of them.
In short, each money tree has a different story.
PENNY and SAM SAVER
Penny was thrilled to be planted at the quaint and cozy cottage of Sam Saver and his wife, Susie.
From the very first day, Penny noticed that the Savers were very special people. The two of them spent many of their days tending the little vegetable garden that sat in the opposite corner of the backyard as Penny. The Savers seemed to enjoy being home together and often had their friends join them for backyard barbecues.
Sam was very tender with Penny and treated her with the utmost amount of respect. He watered her every day. He plunked any weeds that might grow too close to Penny’s trunk and provided her tree food to help her grow. The truly special thing about Sam Saver was that he never picked a currency leaf off of Penny’s branches. Instead, he patiently waited for them to fall to the ground before gathering them up. Sam also thanked Penny for her blessings before took the money to his wife.
One day, a wise old owl paid Penny a visit.
“Who-who is taking such good care of you”, the owl asked. “You look so happy, Penny.”
“I am happy,” smiled Penny. “The Savers are so responsible and caring. It’s a dream come true.”
Owl nodded his agreement. “It’s true. Savers respect money and know that their patience is rewarded in time.”
Penny spent the next several months growing bigger and stronger. The older Penny became the more leaves she dropped to the ground. Penny was happy to share her leaves because it allowed the Savers to build a small addition to their cottage. She knew that room would soon be home to a teeny Saver baby. A wooden swing set soon joined Penny in the backyard.
Just a few months later, Owl flew over a party in the Saver’s backyard. Friends and family were cooing over a small white bundle cradled in Sam Saver’s arms. Susie was resting and chatting happily with a friend under the cool shade of Penny’s canopy.
“Looks like the Savers have their bundle of joy,” hooted the wise old owl. “Those Savers sure appreciate the value of one good Penny.”
BENJAMIN and ISABELLE INVESTOR
Benjamin was planted in the sunniest spot in Isabelle Investor’s amazing backyard garden. Benjamin was one very lucky money tree, indeed. She was famous for making things grow and more than one person in town envied her green thumb. Isabelle was passionate about Benjamin’s care. She provided water, fertilizer, and daily care. She pruned any underperforming branches to allow the other branches to thrive. In short, she gave Benjamin the best conditions in which to grow.
In fact, Isabelle took such good care of Benjamin that he starting to bear golden coins like fruit. Isabelle never picked the currency leaves; she didn’t need to. If Isabelle needed money, she would simply pick a coin or two. Picking these coins didn’t harm Benjamin in any way.
One day, the wise old owl popped by to visit with Benjamin.
“Hello, Owl,” Benjamin said. “See my shiny gold coins? I didn’t know I could do that!”
The owl smiled. “Yes, they are lovely little gifts, aren’t they? You are a very special tree, Benjamin. You can not only grow money, you produce dividends.”
Isabelle continued to care for Benjamin and he continued to grow and produce coins, more and more each season. In fact, Benjamin bore the most fruit in all the land. Years later, the owl flew over the Investor house and was surprised to see not one but TWO money trees in the backyard. Both money trees were ripe with coins.
“What a smart lady,” hooted the wise old owl. “That Investor cared for her Benjamins so well that all their lives are full, flush, and fruitful.”
CASH and SALLY SPENDER
Cash started his life as a money tree just like everyone else. He enjoyed the gentle summer rains and the bright sunshine. He loved the wind in his leaves and his roots in the ground. Cash was planted at the luxurious home of Sally Spender. Sally was a nice girl who lived in a nice home and loved nice things. Nice things made Sally happy–at least for a little while.
Sally Spender did a fine job of taking care of Cash, at first. She watered him and hugged him. Every day, Sally plucked off Cash’s currency leaves to pay for all the nice things she wanted. It hurt Cash to have his leaves removed but it made Sally happy so he didn’t complain.
One day the wise old owl came to visit.
“Hello, Cash. How are you feeling,” asked the owl. “You don’t look too good. Your branches are thin and your leaves are sparse.”
“I’m not feeling well at all,” Cash whined. “I’m so very tired. With so many leaves missing, I can’t gather enough energy.”
The owl looked sad. “I was afraid of that. Ms. Spender is a greedy girl. I don’t think she means you harm but she has taken too much from you, Cash. Money trees need special care.”
Cash knew the owl was right.
In the following weeks, Cash worked hard, very hard, to grow the new currency leaves that would help him feel better. He pushed his roots deeper into the ground and turned his branches toward the sun. But even as one new leaf grew, Sally Spender would come and take it. As Cash offered less money, Sally stopped watering and hugging him. She stopped treasuring him. Cash felt the life slipping from him.
One sad day, the owl flew over the Spender house and saw that Cash had withered and died.
“Poor thing,” the wise old owl hooted. “Spenders who can’t care of their Cash don’t deserve a money tree.”
BUCK and DANNY DONATE
Danny Donate was a friendly man and was thrilled to have his money tree, Buck, in his backyard. Danny made sure to make Buck feel welcome right away.
“I am so thankful for you, Buck, that I plan to share all of your blessings with those in need.”
Once Buck learned that this was the case, he produced more currency leaves than any other money tree in the land. Danny never once picked from the tree. He waited for Buck to drop his leaves. (He’d learned this from his neighbor, Sam Saver.) Only then would Danny collect them. Since Buck dropped so many leaves, Danny had to use a rake to collect all the money.
The wise old owl flew down to visit with Buck.
“Hello, Buck,” stated the owl. “You look good.”
“Thank you, Owl,” replied Buck. “Not only do I look good I am doing good deeds and that makes me feel wonderful.”
“That’s true,” said Owl. “A money tree that gives to others is the wisest and most noble of all the trees. It’s fortunate your man agrees.”
Buck loved watching Danny rake up the leaves and load them to his truck to give away. Danny often returned to share gratitude from those that had received his blessings. Some of the people he had helped got money trees of their very own. Danny Donate was thankful for him everyday. Buck felt such pride for himself and for Danny’s generosity that he produced more money any other money tree in the land.
Years later, the wise old owl flew by the Donate house.
“How huge he has grown,” hooted the wise old owl. “Donate has done such good deeds that he deserves the big Bucks.”
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
While money doesn’t really grow on trees, we should take care of our money so that it can take care of us.
Sure, money trees are things of fairy tales. But the lessons behind them are very real.
How do you feel about money? Is it something that simply flows in and out of your life? Is it something you work for and struggle to get? Or is it a living, growing thing that helps to support you and your dreams?
And how do you take care of your money? Do you find nice places for it to grow? Do you find ways to nurture and care for your money? Do you share its blessings with others?
What do your children know of money? Are you passing on the skills they’ll need to nurture their own money in the future?
Authors Note: This story is a strong collaboration between The Lady in the Black and her 9-year old daughter, The Kid in the Black. Not only did the kid come up with the story concept (money trees) but she gave them their names as well. She also had a firm hand in the art direction of all of the graphics. I’m using her love for art to open conversations about money. I knew to do that because I used my own love of writing to open myself to the financial community 7 months ago.
Comments are love! (Especially since I’ll be sharing them all with The Kid!)
Happy New Year! The Lady in the Black had an interesting experience in drafting her financial goals for 2018. It’s not as easy as making a list, is it?
2018 Financial Goals: Draft 1
A few weeks ago, I was inspired to write down my financial goals for 2018. I took a little time out of my workday and jotted down a page and a half of “to do” items with the big title of 2018 Financial Goals at the top.
This is what I came up with:
Achieve positive net worth
Save 30% of my income for estimated taxes
Start a car savings fund
Pay 2017 taxes on time
Increase my freelance rate to increase income
Increase passive income streams
Max out HSA
Max out IRA
Refinance car loan
Re-negotiate my lease
Visit Greenville to research retirement potential
Take 2 week vacation with daughter
Get a reward credit card
Keep and improve automation
Eat more at home
Sounds pretty great, right? Well, not really.
After I really looked at the list and reviewed it, I realized something pretty damn important.
The list is missing dreams. It’s missing ties to emotions. It’s the “what” not the “why.” In short, it’s missing me. (In my years as a marketing writer, you’d think I’d spot a list of tactics. That’s what that what this list is; tactics not goals.)
Back in April 2016, when I first put a plan together to help solve my ongoing financial woes, I organized a traditional budget spreadsheet by goals. And that list worked like a charm.
Here’s what it looked like.
Goal 1: Find and Maintain a Positive, Can-do Attitude About Money
Goal 2: Eliminate Crushing Burden of Debt
Goal 3: Feel Confident that Life Goals Can Be Achieved Financially
Goal 4: Live Comfortably and Happy Everyday
Goal 5: Support My Goals Through Work That is Rewarding
Goal 6: Allow Wiggle Room to Account for My Mistakes
Do you see the difference in those two lists? I do.
After just under 2 years working diligently on my finances, I can see that I’ve lost my way a bit. Quantitative tactics had somehow displaced qualitative goals. And to me, that’s a big “whoop-see-daisy.”
So, let’s do this. Let’s reset my priorities back to what matters.
2018 Financial Goals: Draft 2
Goal 1: Maintain and Inspire a Positive Attitude About Money
I’m going back to this one since I feel it’s so vitally important…but tweaked it just a tad.
Sometimes I’m shocked about my own positive attitude about my finances. Sure, I still get nervous and/or anxious on occasion especially when I think about the possibility of losing my job. And now, sometimes I’m overly critical for not doing more, being more aggressive and/or diligent.
Yet overall I am transformed. I am empowered to take care of myself and my daughter; emotionally, physically, and fiscally. With 6 months of this blog under my belt, I hope to be able to inspire others that are also struggling to feel that sense of confidence and security.
Some of the tactics I see attaching under this primary goal would be:
Keep educating my daughter about personal finances
Post at least once a week on The Lady in the Black
Talk about money openly and honestly with family and friends
Track financial tactics, progress, metrics, etc.
Goal 2: Recover Pride of Citizenship
I wouldn’t consider myself overly patriotic but I am aware of how fortunate I am as a white educated female American. And politics aside, I do believe that I have a responsibility to contribute to society. Yes, part of that is becoming a responsible tax payer. (For those that know my story, you understand that taxes aren’t exactly my “jam.”) Yet being a citizen means more than paying timely taxes. It’s a feeling of worth and belonging.
Here’s a few things that can help with this:
Save for and pay estimated taxes on time
File and pay taxes on time
Vote in local elections
Identify 2-3 non-profit organizations to contribute to
Volunteer 4-6 times over the next year
Encourage my daughter’s philanthropic nature
Goal 3: Increase Sense of Self-sufficiency
I’ll let you in on a little secret, I never lived by myself until after my divorce. (Well, there was 6 months in college when I got dumped by my boyfriend whom I was living with but that didn’t really count.) Since my divorce, I’ve successfully supported myself. Yes, I’ll admit to a few major bumps where I need my friends to help support me. All in all, I’m happy to report that I’m 100% self-sufficient….at least financially. (Emotionally maybe not so much but that’s another story for another day.) I hope to expand that sense of self-sufficiency.
A few things I thought of to help include:
Triple my current emergency fund (aim for $3,000)
Increase my annual income by 10% over 2017 figure
Continue to invest at a rate of at least $300/month
Improve my professional networking
Get 2-3 new freelance gigs
Achieve a positive net worth
Take care of my health
Goal 4: Envision a “Real” Retirement
I thought I had it all figured out. The lakeside cabin in the woods. Me writing of cheesy romance novels for income. The quirky, love of my life writing away in his study. The wooden boat docked in the boathouse. The snowbird lifestyle; 7 months in upstate NY, 5 months in the desert.
It looked like one great retirement dream.
But turns out the lakeside cabin is too damn expensive and the writer guy isn’t into co-habitation. It also turns out that most of family and friends in NY might not even live there by the time I return to retire. It also turns out it might be good to finish writing one romance novel before relying on that for retirement income.
In short, the reality of my dream was perhaps a bit too dreamy. It’s time to get a bit more practical with my retirement dream.
I can spend a bit more time in 2018:
Build a new vision board/vision of the perfect day
Max out retirement accounts
Visit affordable, temperate areas in mid-Atlantic states
Ask friends and family of their retirement dreams/plans
Incorporate writing on my novel into my weekly schedule
Continue saving for daughter’s college education
Invest more quality time with my family and friends
Return to dating (cringe)
Goal 5: Live Comfortably Everyday
One thing I’ve discovered is that managing finances isn’t all about denying yourself today in favor of tomorrow. While I plan to prepare and plan for the future, I don’t want to sacrifice the quality of my life today. I live somewhat frugally and that’s OK. I will splurge on occasion and probably spend “too much” on eating out. It’s part of me being authentic, present and grateful in the moment. It’s about living a profitable life.
Things that will help me stay comfortable include:
Cooking at home more (and teaching my daughter)
Reducing clutter/sorting through excess possessions
Having money in the bank
Talking to my friends/family more frequently
Writing/reading for fun
Use credit sparingly and responsibly
So, there you have it. A MUCH better list of goals for 2018. Sure there are a few financial tactics in there but they support larger more emotive goals. There’s talk of dreams but ones based in reality, not fantasy. There’s also only 5 goals to focus on instead of being overwhelmed with a huge list of checklist items.
The Lady in the Black might forget herself sometimes and might confuse tactics and goals but she can take a step back and see the big picture. And for 2018, the big picture is about quality of emotions, not quantity of dollars.
The Lady in the Black is celebrating 6 months as an investor. When a Lady such as myself (single, investing naive, and a little financially blonde) places herself in the open market, it’s natural to want to play the field, right? Ok, fine. Whatever. Some might call me a promiscuous investor.
Truth is, when it comes being a newbie investing, I get around.
I can’t help it. There are just some many exciting and handsome opportunities out there. With all the action I’ve been getting in the last 6 months, it’s a wonder I haven’t lost my shirt.
Last month, as I was reviewing my portfolio, it occurred to me that my investments somehow mirror the male archetypes of my youth. I have a working theory how dating preferences may in fact directly correlate to investment risk tolerances but I digress. For now, let’s just have a little good-old fashioned fun.
As way of background, it might be helpful for you to know that The Lady in the Black is GenX through and through. My early attractions and sexual awakenings were deep-seated in the 80s, right aside John Hughes films and hair bands.
So this should be fun, right? I mean, who doesn’t like a little casual sex with their personal finances?
Oh, there’s just something so….[fans face]…alluring about the bad boys. They are raw. They defy convention. They are brash and spiky and unpredictable. These rebels make your heart pound and your net worths tingle.
Intuitively, you know getting mixed up with them makes no kind of sense. But there’s always that thought in the back of your mind, “what if they grow up a bit? What if they just found the right girl?” All girls want to believe that bad boys might have some long-term potential.
I’ll admit it. Straight out of the investing gate, I took up with a few bad boys. These stocks didn’t cost me much and they’ve kept me guessing since Day 1. Sure, sure, they aren’t treating me very well right now but I can’t seem to cut them off.
Call me crazy. I just love a bit of bad boy drama. For now, I’ll just watch them flail around with their Rebel Yell.
Man, Jake Ryan. Look at him. The perfect hair. The perfect car. The perfect package.
He’s the strong solid type, the boy you don’t think you deserve. He’s rich and nearly unattainable. He’s attractive and shiny and goddamn All-Fucking-American. Jake Ryan will show you a nice time and drop you home before your curfew. He’s respectful, maybe a bit entitled, but he’ll rescue you and kiss you on your birthday.
The Jake Ryan investments are the ones you want to take home to your financial planner and say “Look! Look how great I’m doing.” They are the ones you plan to hold onto until you are old and can’t remember your kid’s birthday. Jake Ryan stocks aren’t perfect but they are pretty dreamy, increasing their value your heart, mind, and wallet nearly everyday.
Current Jake Ryan Investments: TXN, ALL, SBUX, F, MGC, ABBV
Remember Val Kilmer in Real Genius, Matthew Broderick in War Games, or Anthony Michael Hall in The Breakfast Club? Or MacGyver? Good God, MacGyver. Let’s hear it for the geeks.
This Lady has a proven track record for falling for the geeked-out intellectuals. Seriously. Ask my friends. The geeks are perfectly adorable in the way they simply defy social conventions. Geeks are often, and tragically, under valued. Sure, they might act awkward and clumsy. They just need loving encouragement, a little guidance, and an opportunity to shine.
My geek stocks are those that probably only I see as beautiful. Somewhat similar to the bad boys, they might not always do the right thing but their heart is in the right place. I have a few long-shot geek stocks that I root for everyday–mostly due to their ability to make something out of nothing.
Michael P. Keaton might be the only Republican that I crush on…well, that’s not exactly true, but he was the first.
For those not in the know, Michael P. Keaton was the first-born, academically proficient, economically savvy son of hippies. He was a square peg in a round hole. His passion for economics and wealth were lost on me as a young tween. Sure, he was quippy and cute but I never really “got” him.
However, now, as a woman learning about personal finances, I find Michael P. Keaton more and more attractive, despite his right-wing politics and pleated pants. Michael P. Keaton investments are, first and foremost, smart. They hold long-term potential and sustainable appeal. These investments might not be too very exciting but they make financial sense. They might not give you the shivers but they are responsible investments.
Current Michael P. Keaton Investments: SPLV, IWF, VUG, VTI
Ladies. It doesn’t matter how you start investing or who you end up fooling around with at first. It really doesn’t.
Investments, like men, come in all shapes and sizes. You don’t have to wait to find the perfect one before you dive in.
I started by purchasing partial shares of ETFs via the STASH app. It was fun and exciting. Then, I advanced up to purchasing some individual stocks via a brokerage account. That was super exciting even though I knew little of what I was doing. Now, six months later, I’m settling into the reality that playing the field is fine. In fact, it’s recommended. It’s what the experts call “diversifying your portfolio.”
Sure, you might hook up with a few losers. Hey, a few might even break your heart. But, if you put in the TLC investing deserves, these cute boys may very well be the ones taking care of you when you are an old lady.
Be a little adventurous. Be a little daring. Be a little promiscuous.
Investing, just like dating, can sound scary. But once you get past the nervousness, you can have a lot of fun.