Tuesday, October 15, 2019

How I started to Budget

Maybe it was turning 40 this year and having a new job in a new town that made me start monitoring my spending like a fiend. In my previous blog post I mentioned that I was motivated by student loan repayment, which has led me to think about retirement. What will retirement look like when you haven't had a cushy corporate job for 30 years?

I've been watching a bunch of YouTube videos and reading blogs and listening to podcasts while I'm grinding steel at my day job (probably another blog post). I decided I want to stop living in the dark side of my financial moon. I want to scatter the roaches of ignorance about my finances. This is what I've come up with for the past few months.

Auto-pay up sucka!
You gotta understand how much easier everything is now with the internet and being able to automate payments. This has been a godsend to me since about 2006 (this is old news for me). Before that, I wrote checks and paid late fees. If I can automate it, I do it. I even pay rent through automatically having my bank send a check to my own landlord's mailbox in my apartment building...instead of writing a check, finding an envelope, walking down 5 steps to the mailbox. Sounds lazy, but its one less thing to think about. If you're still wasting time on this, you're still living in the 1990's! This is old news, but worth the mention because it was such a crucial baby-step for me.

Budgeting 101 for dummies 
The more I read about how to save for retirement and paying off student loans, the more I hear about how you need to have a monthly budget. A few year ago I tried to keep one on  Google's excel, but I don't know how to use it right. Fortunately there's a App called Everydollar, a program started by Financial granddad guru Dave Ramsey. If you're a standard issue MFA-er you probably have never heard of him like me (but my Veteran brother sure does). So instead of spending 99% of my phone time on Instagram, I decided to use this keep my shit in check.

I get paid every month from my day job, but also get some "side hustle" flow from pottery sales at farmers markets.  Usually I would deposit this into my checking account and spend the extra on cocoon deliveries and so I've decided to become an adult moth and fly...to the light of financial freedom.

Everydollar Budget Bro

While I was at the NCECA conference in Minneapolis, I went to a lecture by Nicole Gugliotti about how to budget and save for retirement for artists. Sounds familiar? It was right up my alley! I took some notes and pictures of her presentation. I also left the lecture feeling like I actually had a better grip on PF than what I perceived of myself.

Fast forward months later and I'm looking for a budgeting app, I dug up my notes and found Nicole's  Art of the Budget YouTube channel. She has been learning how to budget in real time showing us her weekly expenses and income. There's a bunch of other videos of folks doing similar things, but what I like about Nicole's is that she is so relate-able A) she's a ceramic artist too B) she's a teacher, even though I'm not one now, I relate to that way of life C) her income is similar to mine. Many of the other PF YouTuber's are making way more me. Its nice to watch someone budget that's isn't making $100k a year. At first I was thinking, why am I watching this random person do her finances online? But as I started to play with the app, it was helpful seeing someone else navigate it.

Here's a link to her demonstrating how to use Everydollar, also I get a mention! haha!

I've only been doing using this since August 2019. How has budgeting helped me?

1. Instead of guessing at how much I'm spending, I can really see it is! Wow $150 in gas!
2. I can see how much I'm spending on booze versus food. I can split restaurant bills to reflect this.
3. When I "reconcile" at the end of the month, I can see what I need to work better at. See above.
4. After "reconcilation" I can see what money is left over that I can throw into my student loans or my emergency fund, or my house payment. Normally, I would just guess and spend it randomly.
5. When you're thinking deeply about every purchase you make, it forces you to double-think it. Should I really buy this? My friends already know that I'm a cheapskate, so this is validation. 

There's a few budgeting apps out there. Everydollar is the only one I've tried. Do some research and find the one for you.

I usually watch some (streaming) TV before I go to sleep. There's a bunch of good TV out there now. But now I've added YouTube videos to the mix.

My MVP's (so far).

Art of the Budget. See above. :-)

Brad Finn. This super hyped fello is a really clear concise speaker. I feel like I'm dyslexic when it comes to numbers and its helpful to have someone break it down for me simply and with enthusiasm. Here is a good one to start. If you are thrown off by his "bro-like nature", ummm its free info, Check Yourself.

Mr Money Mustache. (link) Dude is known for his groundbreaking popular Blog and for revitalizing the recent FI (financial independence) movement. His YouTube channel isn't as polished as Brad Finn's but it endearing and he's helpful in explaining this stuff succinctly.  I just wish he'd do more. It seems he's really taking the retirement thing to heart. His blog is excellent. Note also his environmentalism and anti-car and anti-consumerism is very DIY punk Fugazi to me.

ChooseFI.  (This is a podcast.) These bros have sort of taken over from Mr. Money Mustache. They are very lively with 2 podcasts a week. Every time I listen to them I either learn something about personal finance and/or get pumped to save money. Don't be put off by their "bro-like nature" as they strive to be all-inclusive. Also noted that they are still in their 30's and are clearly still learning as they go. Also noted they are based in my hometown of Richmond VA.

Random Thoughts:

1) One thing I've learned is to make PF fun. I think having an app to learn and having Nicole to watch has helped me to relish financial planning.

2) I love how the ChooseFI guys talk about you are influenced by the closest 5 people that you spend the most time with. They posit that if you listen to their podcast then they will become one of the 5 people. Thus their Early Retirement podcast talk will influence you into saving money. I know it might be a insidious way to keep people listening to them, but I think it is true about the rule of 5 or whatever you call it. So I've decided to keep listening and every week I get motivated and learn something about Personal Finance.

3) Wish I found this last year. Wish I found this 3 years ago. Wish I found this 10 years ago. Wish I found this 20 years ago.

4) If you think this is something for rich people. I would say, as someone that has lived on food stamps, that budgeting might be for "poverty-level" folks most of all. Fight me. ;-)

What are your favorite youtubers or blogs or podcasts? Comment below.









Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Soul Sucking Student Loan Repayment Research

Out of the blue, I received a text message from a younger friend inquiring about my student loans. He gently asked how much debt I had and what I was doing about it. He was worried about being able to buy a house or have kids, etc. I told him I hadn't been paying the loan, for years, since I started grad school in 2008! During grad school I deferred them and after graduating I entered into the Income-Based Repayment Plan (IBR) I reported my meager income to the loan company by way of my annual taxes and they determined my monthly payment would be zero. Which suited me fine, since I started living on an adjunct instructor income at the time. I've kept it this way up until present time (2019).

My friend asked me if my loan was gathering interest and wasn't I worried about it?  Honestly, I just figured I'd be in this program for the rest of my life and probably never get this loan paid off....ever (sound familar?). But his worried texts got me sweating about it again, so I dug up my password and logged into my student loan account to see what was what. In my head, I thought I owed $60k. That's consolidated from undergrad at SAIC and graduate school at East Carolina University. Turns out that these loans had been gathering interest! PALM SLAP! Oh, only $15k extra added to the principle! Its $75k and rising! Yikes. Maybe I should be looking into this!

I started researching this like it was my full-time job. I fired all cylinders on trying to figure out what to do.  My friend said he was almost $100k in debt and I remembered I have another art school friend with that much debt too. They were both working multiple jobs and living with roommates in their 30's to try to pay down these loans and I knew many more in the same boat.  Maybe I need to stop ignoring this elephant too and start paying it off.

Another art school friend says he's in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Which means if he makes minimum of payments for 10 years the rest will be forgiven because he works for a non-profit (a community college). That's great for this friend, but I don't work for a non-profit at present as many of my friends do.

There are also reports of many many people signed up for this program 10 years ago that aren't getting forgiven! Why? Because they filled out a form wrong! Make sure you are sign up correctly, ya'll.

My generation has a huge problem (I'm an old Millennial). We should be buying homes, starting families with secure jobs, and saving for retirement. Instead we have 20 years of $500 to $1000 monthly payments just to get to zero. College was great! What a party it was!  I have many good friends I met there and I learned a great deal!  But the system is broken and maybe I would have chosen a different path if I'd known it was going to be such a financial leash. Will we elect a president that will help us? Haha not likely. I seriously doubt any president can POOF make millions of dollars disappear.

I'm not here to complain. I'm here to find a solution and to help my friends find a solution or at least some camaraderie. These debts aren't going away and I'm not afraid to talk about them or bring them up at a cocktail party (sorry friends).

In lieu of getting a teaching job (a tempting possibility at this point) I went further down the rabbit hole of how to pay these off, or at all. I found some podcasts and blogs about personal finance. I will use this dusty old blog to talk about this and use it as a way to gather up all the information that I've found useful, just so I can link my friends to it. Especially so that I'm not bombarding them with links and blogs in their facebook comments (haha sorry again).

So here's what I found out...if you're freaking out and need some guidance:

1) I found on Spotify an NPR program called Death, Sex, and Money. Among other uncomfortable facts-of-life subjects they discuss, they tackle the student loan debate. This helped me realize that I'm not alone. They interview a bunch of different loan takers and loan experts. There are millions of us out there with this problem and some of them way more in debt than me. So many people called that they had to split their show into two parts. Geez! They could have a podcast show just about student loans! I listened to them on Spotify (I think they have more than a couple about student loans). Here's a couple links to their official stories. Part one and Part two.

2) Another podcast I would recommend is this Choose FI episode. In this episode, a student loan "expert" is interviewed. He recommended that if you don't qualify for Loan Forgiveness then you could get your student loans refinanced. I looked into this and even though this would reduce my interest rate, I would be kicked off the IBR payment plans and never be able to return. Which means if I ever got a teaching job, I couldn't sign up for Loan Forgiveness. Thus I've decided to stay in the IBR program for now to keep that option open.

Now that I have a lower middle class regular job (instead of a food stamps level adjunct instructor), I decided to return to pay down this monster loan. I think the last time I paid on it was when I had the welding job in Richmond in 2008! So there's a lot of people out there that are paying these off by living very frugally and throwing as much money as they can at paying it off. Like WAY more that the monthly payments. Which seems to work too. But I'm not sure its a good idea to do this if you qualify for loan forgiveness. Then maybe its best to invest that extra money somewhere else...like retirement. But I'm no expert....yet.

This rabbit hole has led me to an obsession with personal finance. Something that I don't think I've been awful at, but now I'm really going to lock it down! I will post more about that next.

If you anything to share please leave a comment below.




Thursday, May 31, 2018

Papermaking with Veterans

Today I finished teaching a 5 week papermaking course through Veterans Affairs with art therapist/metalsmith/fellow AIR Maria Tritico. In addition to making books & personal pieces, they collaborated on a large collage and they cast into my big face mold and we sewed it together with a student's sailor's palm. Given my personal experience with veterans in my family, it was a powerful experience for us all. Art making is therapy.