In January, I participated in Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary’s 21-day financial fast. It’s a financial challenge to only spend money on necessities for three weeks. The fast is all about curbing your need to consume. Michelle’s book, The 21 Day Financial Fast, helps you reel in your spending, break bad spending habits, reduce debt and track expenses with a budget.
The last assignment in the book calls for you to encourage at least one person to go through the fast. I went above and beyond encouraging four people to do the fast! All are working women with different backgrounds trying to achieve some kind of financial freedom. They shared their own personal journeys with me. For 21 days, I texted them with encouraging words, advice and tough love.
My friend Ricquel, a married homeowner expecting her first baby in June, wanted to do the fast because she was going crazy figuring out how she and her husband would be able to take on the extra cost of diapers and daycare. The other three are my co-workers/friends Lynette, Nicole and Valerie. Lynette did the fast to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, Nicole wanted to get out of credit card debt, and Valerie just wanted to go along for the ride.
Our financial fast experience taught us that we all had one thing in common — we all were addicted to eating out.
Ricquel is a new mommy-to-be and is expecting her bundle of joy in June. She thought the fast would be a perfect way to figure out how to fit the baby into her financial budget. She also wanted to see if she could afford to move into a bigger house for her growing family. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the average middle-income family will spend over $241,080 raising a child until the age 18 — and that does not include any college costs.
“Online shopping and eating out…The devil.” - Ricquel
Her biggest challenges on the fast were avoiding fatty foods, eating out and her preggo cravings. I know this was a real-life struggle for a pregnant woman. Before her pregnancy, she still ate whatever she wanted. She always ate out, and never brought her lunch to work, which she proclaimed added up financially. Her husband was very disgruntled when he learned they spent between $400 to $600 per month on fast food and restaurants.
Ricquel also struggled with online shopping while bored at work, and the daily sales emails from stores didn’t help either. At this moment, she is still debating whether or not to unsubscribe from the emails. She fears she will miss out on great deals.
From this fast, Ricquel learned the correct way to budget. Ricquel called the financial counselors that were listed in the book. I really commend her for doing this. She really took the extra step to navigate through her budget. The way she normally did a budget was just listing all of her typical monthly bills she had. For transportation, she only listed gas, her car note and insurance. She didn’t factor in things like oil changes, her car tag, new tires or windshield wipers. Those little things add up throughout the year and the counselor had her take the average of those things and divide it by 12 to add it into her monthly budget. The counselor also recommended a category for gifts such as birthday gifts for her husband and parents, baby showers and weddings. Ricquel also needed a category for her favorite thing to do – traveling. She had to figure out how taking three or four trips a year affected her budget. Instead of taking a trip on a whim, she now knows she needs to diligently plan out her trips and look for the best prices. Plane tickets and hotels are to blame for her crazy credit card bills. At times she didn’t really understand where her money was going, but after speaking with the counselor, it made sense. She said seeing those dollars allocated and itemized was really an eye opening experience.
Ricquel opened separate savings accounts during the fast, an emergency fund and regular savings. Money from paycheck is automatically transferred to those accounts. For her regular savings, she wants to save enough for a down payment on a bigger home.
The fast also got her thinking about her child’s future. Michelle Singletary mentioned a 529 college savings plan in the book. It is similar to a 401k in the sense that you can save money pre-tax dollars. After a little more research, she plans to start saving $50 a month into the account until the child graduates from high school. Depending on if her salary increases and if she has more babies, she plans to allocate more to that account.
“I am so ready to get back to and enjoy the simple life.” – Ricquel
Ricquel wants to make this a lifestyle change, rather than just a 21-day fast. She wants to try to live her life with her finances in mind. She never considered herself a spender because she didn’t buy stilettos, flat screens or purses, but she does love fine dining and to travel.
At the end of the fast, Ricquel had a surplus of $300.
Helpful Links for New Parents:
My dear friend Lynette was tired of counting her pennies every pay period, and wanted to get a firm understanding of where and how she was spending her money. On paper, she knew she got paid well, but just needed to figure out where all her money was going. Nearly half of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck and according to an Essence’s poll 25% of the respondents say it’s due to overspending. Lynette said the hardest part of this fast was scaling back at the grocery store. She had never figured out how to buy food for just herself until this fast, even though she has lived by herself for years. She says it’s still a challenge for her, but she has gotten better.
“I learned that store solicitation emails can bankrupt me!!!” Lynette never noticed how tempting online coupons were such as group-on, living socials, BOGO emails until her financial fast. Those pesky emails were to blame for a lot of her “wants” for new dresses, shoes and purses. She solved that problem with just one simple click, UNSUBSCRIBE and says she does not miss those sales at all.
Lynette managed to pay off a dental bill during the fast. She would have normally spent her bonus check/tax return on something that she wanted, but not this year. After reading Michelle’s chapter on debt, she felt like she was stealing. She borrowed the money (credit), but was dragging her feet to pay it off.
Lynette said the fast opened her eyes on her spending habits and forced her to look at why she spent her money (lack of planning, emotionally, entitlement, etc.). A great story she shared was that she noticed that Netflix overcharged her .09 cents one month. That seems minor, but she realized every penny counts. She called Netflix and got her. 09 cents back.
Her goals are to continue to stay ahead of her financial responsibilities, continue to budget and to add to her rainy day account. She says she still has a ways to go with her goals, but now feels in control of her financial future.
Nicole participated in the financial fast to help her pay down her credit card debt. She has been trying to lower her debt for months, but has made very little progress. She was hoping for this fast to shed light on her spending habits to see if she had any extra cash available to get rid of her debt once and for all.
According to Prudential’s 2013 “African American Financial Experience” study, paying down debt remains the No. 1 financial priority for African Americans. African Americans are significantly more likely to have some type of debt (94%) compared with the general population (82%). Credit card debt, student loan debt, and personal loans are all significantly higher in the African-American community.
The hardest part of the fast for Nicole was preparing all her meals. She didn’t realize how much she ate out. Before the fast, she was purchasing at least one meal from a restaurant everyday. The fast forced her to plan ahead and get creative with the use of ingredients.
Michelle Singletary’s chapter on entitlement was Nicole’s “AHA!” moment. She realized her attitude was causing her to overspend on food, and keep her in credit card debt. If she was hungry she ate wherever and whatever she wanted because her attitude was “you have to eat, right?”, instead of planning our her meals. She often picked up overtime to increase her income, but after the extra shift, she felt like she deserved to go to the movies, go clubbing or buy a new dress. Instead of putting the extra money towards her debt reduction, she would end up spending it frivolously and only putting $50 towards her debt.
The fast taught her to be mindful of her money. Last pay period, she made sure to check her pay stub and see exactly how much OT she made and put that amount toward her credit card. During the fast, she was able to pay off two of her cards with the lowest balances totaling $320.
In order to reach her goals, she knows that she’ll have to stay within her food budget. She has limited herself to eating out once a week and plans on packing all her lunches and dinners for work.
Valerie likes to try out different fasts during Lenten season, and she saw that Lynette and I had just completed this financial fast. She knew it would be a big challenge for her, but she wanted to give it a try anyways.
Like Nicole, the hardest part about the fast for her was preparing and cooking her meals each day. She really missed going out for food and drinks at restaurants. Surprisingly, she didn’t mind not buying clothes or shoes during the fast.
While fasting, Valerie learned she was paying too much toward her rent. Michelle Singletary wrote that your housing should only be 26-36% of your income. Valerie learned that her rent was 46% of her income, and this was the exact wake-up call she needed to find a more affordable place to live. The fast also made her evaluate how much she should tithe to the church.
Now that she’s gone through the fast, she plans on finding a cheaper place, continuing to save money, adding to her emergency fund and paying down her student loan debt.
Valerie has also encouraged a friend to do the fast. I hope she is coaching him through it
Helpful Links for Apartment Hunting:
I am so proud of all these ladies for attempting to get their financial lives on track. They may have broken the fast a few times, but they got right back on the wagon and kept riding. They all learned their own separate lessons which will lead to their financial freedom. I want to thank these ladies for taking the journey and letting me come along with them. Good Luck!!!
Riding bikes with my boyfriend…DONE! This was a simple one to complete on my Thirty before 30 list. My boyfriend and I have been meaning to ride bikes in the park for about a year, but the weather and our schedules prevented us from doing it. We finally had a weekend off together and the weather was absolutely beautiful. We packed a blanket and our lunch before heading out. Our lunch consisted of sandwiches, grapes, chips, chocolate-covered almonds and bottled water. The bf has his own bike, and I had to rent one from Atlanta Beltline Bicycle for $10 for the full-day. It was a great deal and I highly recommend it. We rode on the path all through Piedmont Park, ate our lunch in the park and biked it back through Old Fourth Ward past Martin Luther King’s home. Even though I struggled up the hills (sometimes getting off the bike and walking it up the hill), I had not felt this active in years. It was a great feeling and it was nice to actually spend some nice, quality time together.
Cheap, budget friendly date idea
I entered 2014 with with $2,000 worth of credit card debt. On Friday, I paid my last payment of $381.31 to American Express. It was a great feeling to be able to get it down to zero in three months. BUT it had me thinking, how can I stay out of debt for the rest of the year? I was at this same point last year. In February 2013, I paid off my credit card, which started at $1,300+, but I got myself back into debt. Last August, I received a new shiny offer from American Express. The offer was 0% until November 2014 and spend $500, get $500 worth of plane tickets. By October, I was in over $1,000 in debt and counting. I got my free flights, but I kept spending. Yep, I fell for okey-doke.
This year I want to change that. I don’t want to enter another year with $2,000 worth of credit card debt. How am I going to do this? I need a plan.
1. Stick to my budget
2. Go on another financial fast in September to refocus on my financial goals
3. Don’t use credit card!
4. If I do use credit card, debt cannot stay on my card for more than 2 months.
5. Don’t use credit card!
Wish me luck!
Okay, I went my budget for February, but I feel great about this month’s budget. I had so much going on in February that I’m actually surprised I only with over by $129 without using my credit card. February was a good month…income-wise. I received my bonus check and over $175 in per diem for food from work due to our snow days.
I want to start with the good part of my budget. I didn’t go over in the Food category for the first time EVERRRR. I am soooo proud of myself for getting this under control. I went grocery shopping once a week and packed my breakfast for work. I only ate fast food (Chick-Fli-A) once this month and that’s because I was stuck at work due to the snow. I received my money back for that food with my per diem. Although I went to several restaurants, I only went over by about $5. That’s partly thanks to my friend Heather who came into town and took me out to eat several times. I stayed on budget for restaurants until the last day of the month. I had to go to a last minute dinner with a friend who was in town (which was essential!).
I paid off my USAA credit card and got my AMEX debt under $1,000 this month. Woop woop! I plan to have my AMEX card paid off in April. I will be receiving my tax return this month which will be a pretty penny so I will put a lot toward that. I also saved $100 in my emergency fund and in my travel fund.
There was still a lot of RED in my February budget. My electric bill was something serious. Let’s just say it was a very cold month which featured two snow storms and freezing temperatures. It won’t be that high again. I will do better. Down in the life category, that’s where I did most of my damage. I had to add Valentine’s Day and my Taxes, which weren’t on my original budget. As you can see, I went over by $40 for V-Day. My boyfriend and I went to couple’s yoga for $28 and to Ted’s Montana Grill for dinner. It was soooo lovely. I didn’t mind going over due to the memorable experience. The same goes for my boyfriend’s “Po’ up for 30″ beer bash. It was such a great time. Anything for my boo Lastly, the Misc. may need to be revised if I go over in March. I went over $50 the past two months.
Goals for this month
- Stick to my budget FAIL I did good, but I still went over on my budget. Better luck in March
- Attend at least 2 yoga classes a week PASS
- Read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou FAIL This might not ever happen…
- Organize pictures on hard drive. PASS
- Throw a great, memorable 30th birthday for my boyfriend PASS Such a GREAT party! I overachieved on this goal. Loved seeing my boyfriend and friends having a good time
Beer Tasting Party
My boyfriend and I were suppose to celebrate his 30th birthday in New Orleans, but he could not get the days off from work. I then had to come up with another idea for his birthday extravaganza. I thought long and hard and even stressed myself out. But all I had to ask myself is “What does my boyfriend love beside myself?” And the answer was BEER and BBQ!!!! My boyfriend is quite the “beer connoisseur” so I came up with the idea of a beer tasting party. I went straight to Pinterest to straight pinning ideas for the party. I budgeted myself $350 for his party and I took the money from our travel fund.
I first started with the invitations. After a lot of research on Pinterest and blogs, I found a beer coaster design at Product80 on Etsy. He customized the invites to my liking, and they came out perfect. On the invite, I asked our guests to bring their favorite, obscure 6-pack beer for the beer tasting. I spent a total $29.25 on a set of 25 invites. I also found a party styling kit on Etsy at DownEmeryLane. It came with a “Hoppy 30th Birthday” banner, beer tasting scoring cards and 3 beer signs for my buckets. It was a great touch for the party. The kit was $42.00
A week before the party, I ordered the catering from Community Q BBQ in Decatur, GA. I ordered 5lbs of beef briskets, 5lbs of chicken quarters and a pan of mac & cheese. This totaled out to be $130.50. I thought this was a great price for BBQ. I then placed an order for the cake from Southern Sweets, also in Decatur. I got my boyfriend’s favorite cake, chocolate on chocolate. The cake was $40.13.
My boyfriend and I went shopping for the beer together. We first went to Kroger’s to see if there was any beer on sale. The 12-packs Terrapin and Pale Ale were on sale. We then went to the Farmers Market to get 12-packs of Woodchuck Raspberry, Angry Orchard Crisp Apple and Dogfish IPA. Lastly, we went to a beer store in Decatur called Ale Yeah. My boyfriend discovered a new beer called Denver Pale Ale and also picked up some Stone IPA. The beer totaled out to be $124. I went over $24. We also picked up 20 pint-sized glasses at the Dollar Tree.
The day of the party I bought 3 ice buckets from Bed, Bath and Beyond with a giftcard. I picked up the food, the cake, ice and my photos for my clothesline collage. To set up the party, my friends Lynette and Valerie came over to assist me with the decorations. I moved the furniture to make my living room more open for the beer tasting. I put flowers in beer bottles to act as vases on the tables. I also put different snacks in empty beer cartons to add to the beer tasting theme. I put the beer scoring cards in the glasses along with a pencil to hand out to the guests when they came. We hung up the birthday banner and made the clotheslines of photos on my bedroom door.
In addition to the BBQ, I made corn-on-the-cob and baked chocolate chip cookies from scratch. My boyfriend made the baked beans and they were a hit!
Invitations + Stamps: $36.25
Extra (beer glasses, birthday card, photos, ice, ice buckets, snacks, etc): $59.75
Total: $432.83 (over budget by $82.83)
– Party Styling Kits (Banner, score cards & beer signs): DownEmeryLane
– Invitations: Product80
– BBQ catering: Community Q BBQ
– Cake: Southern Sweets
– Beer: Ale Yeah, Kroger & Dekalb Farmers Marker
– Assistants: Lynette and Valerie
Last Sunday, I completed my first financial fast. The rules were: no shopping, no fast food, no dates with my boyfriend and no credit card/gift cards use. The fast was a practice in self-sufficiency and spending what you earn. It was truly an eye-opening experience. I ended the 21 Day Financial Fast with a new insight on money, budgeting, and why it is so important to save, invest, and plan for the future.
Here are the things I learned from the fast:
- I learned I needed to let go of my fear of not having enough money. I make plenty of money to cover my bills, groceries and to save for my retirement and emergency fund. I saved $241.75 on my financial fast. I spent $2,985 in January and the average of my spending from September-December was $3,225.
- I learned with careful planning and discipline, not only did I live a better life financially, my life was better emotionally, spiritually and mentally. I was more organized, I woke up early and I achieved my goals I set out for myself daily.
- I learned that my financial weakness is fast food. I learned how to survive without it on this fast. I planned out my meals weekly, bought food at the grocery store, cooked and packed a breakfast for work. I said no to my co-workers for coffee/breakfast runs. A week after my fast, I still have not been to a fast food restaurant.
- I learned to live without my credit card. It was nice not to depend on it for 21-days. Instead I paid $700 towards my AMEX card and paid off my other card. The past four months I ran up a $2000 credit card bill. After reviewing my credit card statements, I was very ashamed. A lot the purchases were from fast food restaurants, eating out and shopping. These purchases were very unnecessary and not well thought out. The other purchases were from plane tickets and vacation. I could have purchased these with my back account if I would have planned out my trips better.
- I learned to appreciate the things that I already had. I wore the clothes in my closet instead of shopping for more. I finally used my OnDemand from Comcast to watch movies/tv series instead of going to or renting movies. I went to free yoga classes and read books instead of going out. I no longer felt entitled for more things that I didn’t need just because I thought I deserved them.
- I learned the Dollar Tree is amazing! There is anything and everything at the dollar store, but discipline is key…don’t buy everything you see.
- I learned to stick to my budget. I already had a budget made, but I never stuck to it. It was just a background picture that I never paid attention to. Now, my budget and I are like best friends. I never leave home without it. Every dollar now has a purpose!
- I learned to give to others. I use to be very stingy with my money (from the fear of not having enough), but giving to others and charities makes me feel better about life. Helping others is exactly what Jesus would do and what he would want me to do.
- I learned to focus on saving money instead of spending money! This fast has recharged me to focus on my goals of getting out of debt and saving money into my emergency fund.
- I learned that I am BLESSED! People would love to be in the position that I am in. I have a good job where I get paid every two weeks, a roof over my head, clothes in my closet, a car in my parking spot and food in my fridge. I’m surrounded by love from my family, boyfriend and friends. I owe it all to God!
I will continue to follow the principles of this financial fast and stay focused toward financial freedom.
I made it through the fast and I’m still standing! I’m so proud of myself for sticking with this fast. I will be writing a post tomorrow about all the things I learned from this fast. In the meantime, here is a recap of the last four days of my fast.
Thursday, January 30: Day 18
PAYDAY! Whenever I get paid, I always pay my bills first and it was so nice to see that I had a nice amount of money left over in my bank account. This never happens. I usually just pray through the next two weeks and/or turn to my credit card.
With the first paycheck of the month, I pay half my mortgage, my home association fee, my electric bill, auto insurance and usually my cell phone bill (paid with last paycheck). The first of the month bills always drain me. I also bought a full tank of gas which cost me $33.55.
Thursday’s chapter was about the bonds that have keep you from accepting abundance in your life. Some things that keep me from abundance are my fear of being broke and of course, shopping and fast food.
Friday, January 31: Day 19
My job provided us with a free breakfast and lunch. YAY!!! It was to honor us for enduring the snow storm, risking our lives and coming into work. It was nice to feast on french toast and bacon without spending any money. Those were two meals I didn’t have to worry about for the day. For dinner, I ate some left over tacos.
Also, on Friday, I paid off my USAA credit card. I had $91.35 on that card. So, now, I no longer need to worry about that credit card. I only have to focus on my AMEX card. I then took out $140 from the ATM. I want to try this cash only thing. $100 is for groceries, $8 for my friend’s cake, $9 for my eyebrows (which look like a bush).
Saturday, February 1: Day 20
Saturday was hard. I dreamt of eating Chickfila and BBQ from my favorite restaurant. I woke up sweating. With two days left, I could definitely feel the finish line. I didn’t even leave the house this day. I ate whatever was in the house and made baked chicken and potatoes for dinner.
Saturday’s chapter was about relationships and spending time with your loved ones. It was about re-connecting with the family members and friends you lost touch with. Michelle suggests instead of buying them gifts, spend time with them.
Sunday, February 2: Day 21
SUPER BOWL SUNDAY! And the last day of my fast. Both are bittersweet. It’s the best game of the season, but the last game of the season, which always makes me sad. And this being the last day of my fast, I am so proud of myself for having the discipline to stick with it. I will take this discipline and what I have learned from this fast into my journey of financial freedom. I am so happy I did this fast. It was a real eye opener for me.
I celebrated my fast today at my co-worker/friend’s Super Bowl party (see picture above). I brought a bottle of wine from my refrigerator. No store-run for me.
The last chapter asked for me to calculate how much I have saved from not spending. I will report my findings in the next blog. It also asked me to encourage others to go on a spending fast, which I have already did. Two of my friends plan on going on the fast
Happy Black History Month!!! Only one more day until my fast is over and thank goodness because I have so much going on in February. Super Bowl tomorrow. A going away party and my friend’s 30th birthday party next weekend. My childhood best friend is coming to town the weekend after that. AND then my BF’s 30th Birthday party the last weekend of the month. All this means money, money, money!
I think and I hope my budget accounts for all these activities for the month. I set a budget of $350 for my BF’s birthday party, which I will take from our travel fund. Again, I set aside $100 in the miscellaneous category for when my friend and her family comes into town. I plan on helping buy a cake for my friend’s birthday and bringing wine to the Super Bowl and the going away parties. I will also be paying off my USAA credit card this month. Everything else is pretty much the same.
If you want to do your own template, I found this template at another blog called Blonde on Budget. I love it! You can customize the template to your liking. Add categories, delete categories, move things around… make it work for you!
Goals for this month
- Stick to my budget
- Attend at least 2 yoga classes a week
- Read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
- Organize pictures on hard drive.
- Throw a great, memorable 30th birthday for my boyfriend
Very similar to last months goals…
I put an extra $200 dollars (combined with the $500 in budget) to my AMEX card this month taking it down from $1,881 to $1,181. Decreasing my debt is always a good thing. Having an extra paycheck this month helped me put extra money towards my credit card. *pads self on back*
So, I really just went over $136 on my budget. That’s still a lot of money, but it didn’t put me in debt. I went way over in the Food and Miscellaneous categories. I went over $74 in the food category and $54 for miscellaneous things. If it weren’t for my financial fast, the food category would have been worse. I learned from my fast that fast food is the weakness in my budget. In the first 15 days this month, I have spent $89.23 on fast food and eating out at restaurants. In the month of December, I spent $204.42 on fast food and eating out. With the fast, I stayed within my limits with buying groceries by planning out my meals and bringing my breakfast to work. With miscellaneous, I went over these reasons: bought my BF’s invitation, gave my cousin money, and shopped at WalMart.
I changed my budget along the way. I added $50 to the groceries and $40 to the gas categories. I didn’t realized their was an extra week in the month so that’s why it needed to be adjusted.
In the end, I paid 23.4% of my budget towards my credit card, spent 35.6% on housing, 10.8% on food, 6.7% on transportation and another 6.7% went to my savings.
Goals for this month:
- Attend at least three yoga classes every week – FAIL I went to a least two classes a week, which is good
- Read two books — The 21-Day Financial Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Freedom by Michelle Singletary AND I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou – PASS (kinda) I read the financial fast book and instead of the Maya Angelou book, I started reading the Bible.
- Plan my boyfriend’s 30th birthday party – PASS We are having a beer tasting party. I’m excited.
- Clean out and organize my work and personal email inboxes – PASS/FAIL I organized my personal email, but my work email still has 15,000 unread emails.
Overall, it was a pretty good month. February will be better