15 December 2014


The title of this post is definitely a reference to The Last Five Years, so let's just start this out with that wonderful trailer.

Better already? I thought so.

A lot has happened over the last few months, but my biggest focus has been Project Money. I'm in the PM2 program, which is a smaller version of the public competition. It has been an incredible experience to challenge myself to do more with my money than I thought possible. My coach, April, helped me work out a budget back in June, and while many budgets need regular tweaks, mine has worked really well from the beginning. There were some varied expenses in the first few months while I transferred my credit card balances to a lower rate card and unexpectedly had to buy a car, but I got through that and have been sticking to the budget diligently this fall and winter. Below I'll share some of the things I've learned so far.
  1. Don't just blindly "save."
  2. I used to just have one savings account where I put money if I had extra at the end of a pay period and which I regularly drew from whenever I had a large and/or unexpected expense. It wasn't working. Now, I have savings accounts for emergencies, gifts, travel, entertainment, and fashion/decor. I have automatic transfers set up to deposit a set amount (per my budget) into each of these accounts each time I get paid. That's how much I have to spend in that area, period. It's one thing to look at the balance in your savings and checking and think, "I can afford this ..." and another thing to see $37.50 in your travel budget and think, "Nope, not going to take that road trip this month." I also find it helps me plan ahead. If know tickets are going on sale for a certain event next month, I make sure to minimize my entertainment spending until then so that I have enough in the budget for that purchase. It helps me make decisions. It also helps me remember to enjoy my spending occasionally. After a month of carefully tracking every purchase and not splurging anywhere, I glance at my clothing budget and think, "Hey, I can get a few new pairs of tights to replace the last few that have gone the way of giant runs!" Holiday, birthday, and wedding/baby shower gifts are no longer a huge stressor, either. Yes, sometimes all of the accounts and budgeting feels restrictive, but much more often it feels empowering.

  3. Be creative - and patient.
  4. I have always been crafty, whether making certain gift items or sewing/altering my own clothes. But budget ingenuity has been less about that kind of creativity and more about thinking of better ways to do something combined with being patient for the right opportunity. I've had my 15" TV since college and have wanted to upgrade for at least five years, but it has never been in the budget. Recently, someone I know bought a new TV on Black Friday and, knowing my current TV state, offered to sell me his existing 37" unit. It was a great deal - plus free delivery! - and now I know why people have been raving about their giant flat screens for so many years. But I didn't break the bank (I pulled the funds out of my entertainment budget!). There are many smaller examples for how this patience and creativity has paid off for me, from art for my walls to household necessities. New arrivals at the dollar store, various reward points programs, and being persistent about finding coupons have all served me well!

  5. Document goals and successes.
  6. There is little that feels better to me than setting a financial goal and watching my progress toward it - except, perhaps, actually reaching it. I've known for months exactly when my credit cards would be completely paid off - early 2015! - and I have never been more motivated than I am when I watch that balance jump closer to zero every month. I set a savings goal for the end of 2014 that I am primed to hit and I definitely say, "This can wait," on the regular when I consider every small contribution I can add to that pot. It's also helpful to know exactly when you'll hit your next goal so you can look forward to it. The worksheets Summit provides have been incredibly helpful to that end. I plan to celebrate with gusto when I hit each of my goals, but not by blowing my budget. Instead, I'll likely divert a bit more to my entertainment or fashion accounts that month and pick up a special treat (for the best price I can find, of course!).

  7. Share your journey.
  8. As I've been more open to talking about money, it's been amazing how much I've connected with others. Friends have talked with me about their student loan consolidation and credit card payoff processes. I've been able to reference this project as the reason why I can't partake in a particular offer to do a pricy activity with a friend (but always offer an alternate suggestion!).  I've been able to follow the experiences of the Project Money participants online, relating to and learning from what they share. Most of all, all of the ins and outs of finances feel a lot less overwhelming and are a lot more fun when it's a relatively open part of your life.
I'm excited to continue applying what I've learned and keep learning more. I have goals set out far beyond the end of Project Money. More than anything, I'm excited for the future instead of nervous about it. That's a win to me.

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