Getting Real Real About Your Money

This is my least favorite time of the month. No, its not my “monthly” visitor, it’s the pile of bills that are all payable the first week of the month. As a relatively recent law school grad, my student loan burden is at times overwhelming. Add to that a house payment, car payment, and all of the expenses of living that stack on the dining table feels like a mountain. Whenever I get upset about all of the responsibility, I have to think on the lessons that I’ve learned about money. Here are a few that always help when I’m singing my “it’s the first of the month” song.

1.) Be real… be real real

In order to be fiscally healthy (and by proxy mentally healthy), you have to be honest with yourself about your financial situation. I think a lot of people my age just keep their head in the sand about money. Women in the South aren’t brought up to talk about money. Credit card companies start targeting vulnerable and uninformed college students as soon as the leave the nest. By the time they graduate, they are up to their eyeballs in credit card debt with astronomical APRs. Do these kids even know what an APR is?!? Sit down with your calculator and put all of your bills on the table. Literally. If you are paying online, print an invoice. One can never take control of their financial futures if they don’t know where the starting line is. Is this a difficult thing to do? YES, which is why people don’t do it. I do this every single month. Yes, I still write checks for all of my bills, but doing this forces me to look closely at each statement, see how much progress I’m making.

2.) Get your game face ready

Once you’ve got a good grip on where you stand financially, its time to formulate a plan. Goal setting will keep you going even when you are discouraged, but be realistic. If you are $50,000.00 in debt, you might not want to shoot for being debt free by the end of this year. Setting unrealistic goals is the quickest way to failure. Start small and start from the top down. If you are carrying a credit card balance over from month to month where you are paying 27% interest, pay that off before you start making principal reduction payments to your mortgage, which is only charging 5.5% (the going rate these days for credit worthy borrowers). Even if you are only able to pay an additional $20 or $30 dollars a month, they will add up to big savings in the long run. Depending on your financial situation, it may be a long journey, but making small steps will make being debt free much more attainable.

3.) Think about returns

I’ve read lots of information on the early payoff of student loans being a mistake. While I’m not an expert in the field, I completely disagree. When I graduated from law school, I made a decision not to adjust my lifestyle from my “grad school” budget and take the “real money” I was making and have my student loans paid off in 10 years. Now it’s true, my student loan interest rate is fairly low, but for whatever I pay ahead on my loans (going towards my principal reduction), I am getting an automatic return on average of 6%. Now if you can find an investment these days paying that, call me. Its either the best deal in town, or I’ll have some beachfront property in Kansas that I’m sure you can’t live without.

So tonight I’ll be making out all of my bills on the kitchen table with my calculator, check book, and student loan amortization schedule, which I prepared on my computer. And you know how I’ll feel? Stressed, well maybe a little, but also accomplished as I look at the steady gains I’m making each month on becoming debt free.


Everything I Need to Learn about Budgets I Learned From Being Poor.

As the economy continues its nausea-inducing nosedive, people at all levels of the socioeconomic strata are cutting back big time. Having been raised by a thrifty single mom, I’ve never been able to spend much on anything. The wonderful thing about my mom was that while we lived on an unbelievably tight budget, she lived so well! I have such vivid memories of my mom wearing cashmere and Fendi perfume while working at a gas station in the sticks (where she studied for her Master’s Degree). Even in our leanest times, she was the picture of elegance and fine living. The invaluable lesson that I gleaned from that experience was that you can live well on pennies a day. It just takes a few skills, perseverance, and above all, the right attitude.

In this little experiment I want to share the skills that I’ve learned with others. While I’m not a financial expert, I’ve had to learn to budget the hard way. I grew up poor, worked my way through an exclusive (and expensive) private college, and scrimped and saved for grad school – all the while trying to live like a million bucks.