In 2019, The Lady in the Black is doing Thanksgiving differently. I’m foregoing all the turkey and trimmings to hightail it to a remote (and pricey) rental cabin in the woods. Why? Because I’m waiting for the Great Pumpkin of Personal Finance.
The Great Pumpkin of Personal Finances (It’s a thing.)
As background, it’s probably good to remind my readers that in February 2016 I was essentially homeless. I had nowhere to live, no job, no car, and you guessed it, no money. Since then, I’ve been on a journey to improve my attitude and my behaviors around money.
To honor all the autumn holidays, I’m going mix my holiday metaphors. I’ll admit some delicious financial treats and also some real turkeys. I’m still spooked by a few debt goblins and continue to battle a demonic arch-nemesis. The sun shone on some forward progress and the clocks fell back on some missteps.
I was recently reminded that my friend, Linus, believes that the Great Pumpkin flies around bringing toys to sincere and believing children on Halloween evening.
The Lady in the Black believes in the Great Pumpkin of Personal Finance…but instead of toys it’s money he brings to sincere and believing adults.
So, Great Pumpkin of Personal Finance, all the efforts I made this year in my financial pumpkin patch are honest and sincere. I appreciate what I have–and what I have done to help myself. I may have missed you on Halloween, GPPF, but it’s Thanksgiving and I imagine it’s kinda your jam. I hope you appear to grant this hypocrisy-free Lady some cash. But even if you don’t, it’s ok. I’ve got pumpkin pie. I’m good.
So, without further adieu, here’s this year’s list of things I’ve done to improve my finance pictures that I’m grateful for.
The Lady’s Financial Thanksgiving List
10. Paid More Than My Car Loan Minimum
Readers might remember that I got reamed on my interest rate when I purchased my used Prius. Stupid, stupid high interest. I had considered refinancing at one point but it didn’t work out. So my plan of attack was to simply throw more money at my monthly payments that what was required. As a result, I’m $2,000 away from paying it off entirely. I believe I paid more the minimum 7 out of 12 months this year.
I still love my little Itsy Bitsy Prius and plan to plow the money I was paying on her loan toward my emergency fund. But that’s still a few months out.
9. Paid for My Own Medical Procedure
This time last year, I listed my HSA on my Thanksgiving list. This past February, my doctor suggested a medical procedure–and not the cheap kind. Miracle upon miracle, the balance in my HSA account covered the majority of my out-of-pocket costs. As a self-employed freelance copywriter, I have a private health savings account (HSA) with HSA Bank. I sometimes consider reallocating that $200 per month elsewhere but then I think of how comforting it is to know that money is available for emergencies and let it ride.
8. I Reined In My Investing
After becoming an investor “late in life” I quickly got hooked on the adventure of it all. I was investing like some people consume a Thanksgiving meal; greedy and indiscriminate.
But I knew deep down that I really didn’t know shit. This year, I scaled back my investing to a more appropriate level, which is minimal for now.
The truth is that my financial priorities changed and I was paying too much to “mess around” with a $6.95/trade investing platform. It was time to get serious so I dumped TD Ameritrade but kept my STASH accounts.
My current investment strategy is to auto-deposit $30/week into a custodial account for my daughter and to not touch my personal portfolio. Win.
7. I Didn’t Freak Out
I mentioned a few fails earlier. And they weren’t small but I am super thankful I didn’t freak out.
I had money seized from savings by the state of California to pay against back taxes. This WAS painful because it was money I had set aside for my daughter’s college education. Emotionally, it sucked. But it wasn’t like I ignored notices (they were sending mail to my old address) and it wasn’t a ton of money. After being pissed, I was sad. Then I just wrote my kid an IOU and promised to start saving again (hence the amount mentioned above.) They took $2,178 and I’ve already made back $904. So, pluck you, you mother pluckers. You can kick a Lady but she’ll come back kicking.
6. I Set Goals
I’ve never been very future-focused. It’s just not something that came naturally to me. I also think so many years of struggling financially (and emotionally) forces too much energy to be on the present. The future is hard to see when you are barely surviving today.
But this year, I had some financial goals. Of course, it’s now November and I don’t remember what they were. LOL (Kind of kidding, kind of not.) For me, some financial goals are as easy as “just keep doing what you’ve been doing”. Others are stupid ambitious, like saving $10,000 in 10 months.
Achieving goals is great. For me, just having goals is pretty damn good.
5. I Ditched The Credit
Me and credit cards are like cranberry sauce and gravy. Some people think it’s great. I believe the two should never ever touch.
I had gotten a few credit cards to help improve my credit score. It started off harmless. A gas card. A TJ Maxx store card. An Old Navy store card. I quickly converted my secured credit card into a unsecured credit card with an impressive credit limit. I was disciplined about using and paying off the whole balance…until I wasn’t. The debt piled up and I couldn’t even believe I let it happen.
My fix? Freeze the cards. Literally. I put them in water and froze them in ice in my freezer. Stop the bleed, right?
My most recent experiment is opening a STASH debit card. My rationale is that I should eventually tease out my “pay bills” money from my “fun” money into separate accounts. Credit cards didn’t work for me so I’ll try 2 debit cards. Plus, STASH debit card has some attractive features including stock-back bonuses.
4. I Invested in My Friends
While not a huge investment, I did fly home to help one of my best friends move to Florida. It wasn’t a huge ticket (it was February in upstate NY) but the opportunity to see family, say goodbye to her cherished house, and the road trip with her was priceless.
I lent my sister money so she could also move. She improved her quality of life and I wanted to support her anyway I could. Recently, I gifted a friend $400 to help with auto repairs. She did not ask for money, I just sent it. I wasn’t a loan, it was a gift because she needed it.
These small financial sacrifices are nothing in comparison to the feeling of well-doing and abundance I feel in being able to help those I care for.
In the past, I held onto my money with a choking stranglehold. I’m SO very thankful that I’m now in a position to let it ebb and flow more organically.
3. I Moved
When I finally found a place to live in 2016, it was not my ideal home. It was an 895 sq.ft. apartment in a giant corporate-run complex. But it was good and I was grateful.
However, back in April when they tried to raise the rent AGAIN for the 3rd year in a row and placate me with offers of renovations and upgrades, I’d had enough. I got out of my comfort zone and moved my kid and everything I own in order to save money AND improve the quality of our lives. I’m now 2 blocks from the ocean and living the beach life.
It was honestly one of the best things I did this year.
2. I Didn’t Get Fired
As a freelance writer, I can’t really get fired but I can lose my position. While I experience more than occasional frustrations with corporate America, it’s a really good gig. In addition, some might consider it a prestigious gig due to the name-brand recognition of the accounts I work on. It matches my skill set and pays very well. I never work more than 30 hours/week and the schedule flexibility is worth more than gold.
I tried many things over the year to adjust my attitude so I could become the happy-go-lucky pseudo-employee I was sure everyone wanted. In the end, I decided to be myself, do good work, and fly under the radar.
I am also transforming myself into a job magnet. You see, job searches suck. They just do. But being a job magnet is kinda cool and sexy…you know, like me. I’m going to slowly and steadily make it known to my whole network that I have “openings in my schedule” or that I can “onboard new clients” or whatever cool, PC, millennial-slanted saying means “hire me.”
1. I Didn’t Give Up
Trying to improve your finances is tough work. It involves physical, mental, and emotional aspects. Personal finances can be exhausting. It’s easy to give in and splurge. It’s hard to forgive yourself and move forward.
I’m grateful that I am still improving, despite the setbacks. I still speak to my financial advisor. I still write this blog (on occasion) to document my journey and hold myself accountable. I remain active in the personal finance community so I can share my learnings and garner lessons from others.
I have heard tell that improving your financial health is a marathon, not a sprint.
I guess it’s not ideal that the Lady waited so long to start but it’s amazing that I haven’t passed out from exhaustion quite yet.
Happy Thanksgiving! May the Great Pumpkin of Personal Finance find you and yours during this sincere season.