Simple Inspiration Interview with Lindsey from Cents, Sense & Sensibility

Cents Sense

Are you ready for some financial inspiration?  This week I have the pleasure of interviewing Lindsey from Cents, Sense & Sensibility.  She blogs about getting out of debt and taking control of your financial future. She offers her own personal journey to financial freedom and tips on budgeting, saving money, and investing. Make sure you stop by and visit anytime, she would love to hear from you!

Let’s hear how Lindsey has taken control of her finances:

What event lead you to want to get out of debt and simplify your finances?

It was about seven years ago. My best friend came to visit me for the weekend and it just happened to be on a payday weekend. I had a routine that I went through every pay day in order to ensure I had money for everything. At that point, I was relying on payday loans to get me through the month. I knew on one level it was a big mess, I just didn’t let myself think about it.
She watched me frantically run around and arrange new due dates with billers, wait for my last pay day loan to clear, and then run back into the same payday loan center and negotiate a new amount. This nonsense took most of the day and was beyond stressful. After everything was done, she asked me if I thought this was normal. I blinked a couple times and realized that I actually did think it was normal. It was that day I knew things had to change.

What area of your financial life needed the most help or simplification?

I needed to find a way to get my debt under control. No matter how closely I stuck with a budget or how frugal I was, the numbers just didn’t add up. I never had enough money to pay the bills and my debt. I needed some help simplifying my debt so I could get the rest of my finances in order.

What steps did you take to get your finances in order?

I had to face facts and understand that my debt was much bigger problem than I could hope to solve myself. The first step had to be finding a way to control my debt. Since I didn’t have the credit to do it on my own, I enrolled in a credit counseling program called Orderly Payment of Debts. It consolidated all my debt, set an interest rate, and put everything together into one payment that was more manageable.

What was the biggest financial mistake or mistakes you have made?

I think the biggest mistake I made was taking out too many student loans. By the time I graduated, I had over $50,000 in student loans. In a sense, I was finished before I even had a chance to start. I just didn’t realize it yet.

Please understand I’m not saying that everyone who has a large student loan is doomed. For me, it just wasn’t a good idea. There were definitely some extenuating circumstances: I was a single mother and I took a degree in something that wasn’t going to be profitable until much farther into my career. Not surprisingly, a big student loan number, combined with being a lone parent and employed in a lower paying profession was not a recipe for success.

What was your biggest challenge or roadblock to eliminating your debt and get your finances in order?

I think I felt trapped by my limited earning potential. After a while, I just ended up not even trying – everything felt so pointless. It wasn’t until I realized that I could get creative with how I made money that I understood I could take control and write my own future.

What app or tool did you use?

I’ve used several apps and tools over the years; I liked Quicken for tracking my finances but have recently moved to Mint.com. It’s great because I can access it from everywhere and it sends me notifications on changes or charges to my accounts.

 How has eliminating debt and simplifying changed your life?

Well, I haven’t fully eliminated my debt but I’m well on my way! Simplifying my finances has been about simplifying my life. I’m practicing good financial habits every day and I’ve devoted myself to learning more about how to be better at money. This has helped me be more flexible with how I approach new problems and planning for my future.

Are there any areas of your finances that you still need some work?

For sure. I think my finances will always need work because there is always room for improvement. At this point, I think I’m most concerned with having the resources to manage crises that always seem to come up. I don’t want to dig into my retirement savings whenever something happens so I need to find an alternative. I need a strategy for building an emergency fund for the future while dealing with whatever crisis happens in the present.

What advice or tips would you give to others who want to get their finances in order?

Everyone is in a different place when they start thinking about getting their finances in order. Some people really need to work on a budget, while others need to increase their earning potential, and still others need to do some retirement planning.
It’s important for you to determine what priorities are for yourself. Take the time to organize your finances in a way that works for you and go from there. You can do it!

What book, blog, or podcast would you suggest to someone who is looking to simplify or improve their finances?

The book that really got me moving in the right direction was the Smart Cookies Guide to Making More Dough by Andrea Baxter, Angela Self, Katie Dunsworth, Robyn Gunn, and Sandra Hanna. I started a money group with some like-minded ladies and got going on fixing my finances.
I liked that this book was written by Canadian women who just wanted to improve their money situation. They didn’t have any special knowledge or understanding about their finances; they just wanted a better future and made that happen for themselves. It was really relate able and inspiring at a time in my life when I felt overwhelmed by all my money issues.

Thanks Lindsay for taking some time to share your thoughts and how you have simplified your finances.  She offers some great advice Simplifying my finances has been about simplifying my life. I’m practicing good financial habits every day and I’ve devoted myself to learning more about how to be better at money. This has helped me be more flexible with how I approach new problems and planning for my future.

If you would like to read more from Lindsey her check out her blog Cents, Sense & Sensibility or follow her on Twitter @LindseyThurston.

To read previous interviews in the series click Simple Inspiration Interviews.

If you are interested in sharing how you have simplified your financial life, send me an email and I will follow up with you.

Enjoy the rest of your week. Til next time, take one step at a time to simplify.

 

Tired of your banking fees? Here’s how to eliminate them…

SFL FEES

 

Are you tired of those monthly banking service fees? Do you dread seeing that monthly service charge on your bank statement? Do you ask yourself why do I have to pay a fee to keep my money in the bank? Don’t you wish you could get your banking for free or deserve free banking for being a long time customer. Here is how you can make that wish come true of completely free banking or at least reduced fee banking:

Eliminate the ATM fees

Tired of those non-bank ATM charges showing up on your monthly statement. Review your ATM usage. Are you using the first ATM that you see or the most convenient one which unfortunately is not your bank’s ATM? To eliminate the non-bank ATM fee only use your bank’s ATM or ATM network. You could also withdraw money from your local store that accepts debit cards. No fees associated with cash back when you make a purchase.

Prevent overdraft fees

Do you have a tendency to overdraft your account every once in awhile which result in overdraft fees? Establish overdraft protection for your primary account by linking it to a saving account or a credit card. Some banks may still charge you for using the overdraft protection but it will be less expensive than the NSF charge by your bank as well as the merchant. The best way to eliminate those pesky overdraft charges is to set up an alert on your account bank account to alert you that your account has reached a minimum balance that you have established. For example you may want to keep a couple hundred dollars as cushion in your account so you do not overdraw your account. Then set up an alert to notify you when your account has reached your predetermined cushion level.  This post may also help Bank Overdraft UGH!! How to Avoid Bank Overdraft Fees with these 7 Tips

Avoid those monthly service fees

Service fees can usually be avoided if you keep the minimum account balance in your account. To do this you want to know up front what the minimum account balance is so you can maintain this balance to avoid incurring the monthly service charge. If you have multiple bank accounts consider consolidating your account to your main banking relationship.  This way you can maintain the minimum balance to avoid the monthly service charge.

Avoid check fees

Are you tired of paying for checks? Stop writing them. You ask how will I pay my bills if I can’t write checks? Easy either have all of your bills paid by credit card or sign up for online banking bill pay service with your bank. Using either of these methods to pay your bills will not only eliminate the need for checks it will also simplify your personal finances.
So the next time you open your monthly bank statement and see if one of these fees on your statement.

If you have done the above but still are seeing bank fees, it maybe time to look for another bank but before you make the switch here are a few questions to ask yourself:

Reputation

What have you heard from others who have used this bank?  We are not hearing about bank failures as we did during the financial crisis but it can still happen.  If you’re opening a new account, you want to be able to sleep at night knowing your money will be safe.

Convenience

How convenient are the bank branches and ATMs for this bank? How often will you use this bank’s ATMs or branches?

Online capabilities

Will you be able to view your account online and are there other online services available such as bill pay services or account alerts.

Fees

Will there be a monthly service charge for this account? If waived initially how long of a period will the fee be waived? Will you have to maintain a specific amount in this new account to avoid fees or to receive priority services or better rate?

Rate

What interest rate will this account pay? Is the interest rate on your account an introduction rate if so how long will you receive this initial rate? What will the rate be after introduction rate expires?

Other banking services

What type of service are you looking for? Are you just looking to use the deposit services of this bank or you looking to us other banking services such as safety deposit or bill pay services. What services are provide at this bank that are not provided at your current bank? Are does this bank provide better customer service than your existing banking?

Reducing your banking fees and asking yourself why you are banking here, you will be able to simplify your banking.

What have you done to reduce your banking fee?

How many banks do you currently bank with? 

Til next time, take one step at a time to simplify your finances.

Simple Inspiration Interview featuring MJ from Dream Beyond Debt

 

MJ

Welcome to another edition of Simple Inspiration.  This week I am honored to have MJ from Dream Beyond Debt joining me for an interview.

MJ blogs about her personal journey to debt freedom, while also nurturing her dreams. She also writes about how you can nurture your dreams while eliminating your debt.  The blog was started to help her keep track of the progress she is making to pay off her student and to keep her on course with her student debt elimination.  After only paying down her student debt down by only $1,079.00, She decide it was time for a change.

Here’s what MJ has to say about eliminating her debt:

What event lead you to eliminate your student debt?

I’d been carrying my student loan debt for almost fifteen years and made very little progress with paying it down. The New Year was on the horizon and I kept thinking about how I didn’t want another year like the last few. Something big had to change. I’d been living a very small life, which was refreshing for a little while. I was used to making big changes – cross country moves, jobs on a whim, experiences that would make good stories. But, in the last few years, I’d been referring to myself as “the friend with no news.” When I talked to old friends, I didn’t have much to catch up on. No house, no marriage, no trips, no work victories or promotions. Things were pretty stagnant. I got pretty cozy with Netflix. I didn’t go out. I didn’t meet new people. It was kinda lonely. I felt stuck. I couldn’t have the next year of my life resemble those hard ones.

What did having student prevent you from doing?

My student loan debt kept me from wanting more for myself and in my life. It sounds dramatic, but student loan debt is so oppressive. The longer I carried it, the more I resented my college experience. I kept looking back. I kept thinking, “Why didn’t I major in this or do that internship or make these connections?” I couldn’t shake the idea that my current financial situation could be traced back to bad decisions I made during my undergraduate education. I think student loans do that – they keep you tied to your past, which can breed depression.

Where did you begin to simplify and eliminate your debt?

I’d been reading personal finance blogs and books for years, but late last year, with the New Year approaching, I made a conscious decision to pay off as much as I could in 2015. I’d been paying for fifteen years and in that time, only $1,000 had been applied to the principal. I also had a drastically fluctuating income from the nature of my work – and my own moves throughout the years. It just so happened that I was on an upswing and making progress increasing my income when I made the decision to spend that income on eliminating my student loan debt. I think reading about side hustles helped in that way, as well. I’d also been nurturing an emergency fund for over a year, so I felt like I was in a good place to start throwing money at it. I wouldn’t have been ready before having the emergency fund or the growth of my income. Once those were in place, I had the confidence to give it a go.

What was your biggest challenge or roadblock when it came to eliminating your debt?

My biggest roadblock to eliminating my debt was my mindset. I had this nagging belief that it was too big to pay off in my lifetime. Or, that it wasn’t really my debt, since over half of it was money my parents had borrowed for my education without explaining it to me at the time. I had a lot of resentment around it. I don’t know how much that contributed to years of underearning, but my fluctuating income didn’t help my mindset either. Also, I wanted to be a writer, and I had conflicting beliefs about making money and being an artist and the kind of career you can build. It was all very complicated, and in the last year or so, I’ve started to unpack that baggage, which helped to move me forward in my debt elimination journey.

How did you get over this roadblock?

To get over the roadblock, I started reading personal finance blogs again. I’ve done a lot of priming in the year prior by reading Overcoming Underearning by Barbara Stanny and Money: A Love Story by Kate Northrup. I’d been playing with ideas from The Tightwad Gazette for years, but something clicked last November. I Googled “payoff student loan debt” and came across The Debt Myth blog. The success stories on that blog really inspired me. I found Dear Debt and saw how much debt she was facing and how much progress she’d made and I thought, “Why not me?” I thought I’d at least make one big payment to see what would happen. I gathered as much money as I thought I could gather, and that December, I made a “monster payment.” Seeing the principal go down as much as it did really shifted things for me. I’ve been telling my friends, “It takes one big payment to get motivated.” I think that’s true. It took a lot of priming beforehand, but once I made that first big payment, my mindset shifted drastically. A little action goes a long way.

Is there an app or tool that you used to help you eliminate your debt?

I use Mint. I have the app on my phone and I check it every morning. I look at my balances and practice gratitude. It sounds hokey, but it has made a huge difference. And I’ve seen my net worth go from alarmingly negative to breaking even. I can’t wait to see it as a positive number.

How has reducing your debt changed your life?

Reducing my debt has made me feel empowered. It’s increased my confidence. It’s trickled over into other areas of my life, and I find myself being more assertive and decisive and trying new things. For instance, I’ve been writing more, and pitching more, and sending out more work. There’s definitely a relationship between debt reduction and increasing income. Once I started paying down the debt, then my confidence grew and I was able to ask for more from myself and my work – which has led to more pay in a lot of cases. And a higher profile.

On your blog you mentioned several dreams you to accomplish how is your progress coming to accomplish these dreams?

Progress on the dreams I have listed is slow, but I’m just nurturing those now. The empowerment from debt reduction is contagious. It has a ripple effect. But, I can’t immediately do a few of those dreams AND pay down debt. I am looking at neighborhoods and researching house prices and trying to determine exactly where I want to establish my “home base.” I’m reading books about thru-hikes. My reading list is almost entirely fiction by women that has an anthropological setting or theme and memoirs/travel narratives from female adventurers. I joined a Meetup group that does local hikes. I’ve taken a quick, inexpensive class to learn about something that I think a character from my possible novel would know about. So, there’s progress, but it’s slow, inexpensive progress. I’m nurturing those dreams, and actively pursuing them, without putting pressure on myself to do everything right now. And it’s oddly very freeing.

How will you feel once you are debt free and what will you do to celebrate?

I imagine that once I’m debt free, I’ll feel incredible. I’ll pat myself on the back. And then I’ll start socking money away in a savings account. I’m gonna need money to feed that list of dreams.

Honestly, I can’t imagine what I’ll do to celebrate. I thought about this question for a long time. I thought of a necklace that I’ve had my eye on for several months. I thought of throwing a costume party. I thought of a spa day. But, honestly, I’m not sure yet. I’m going to sit with that question for a while until the right answer comes to me.

Besides eliminating debt what other areas of your finances do your need to simplify?

I desperately need to simplify my income streams. I don’t work at one place and get one paycheck. Right now, I’m managing three more extensive contract jobs with two smaller contract jobs, plus freelance work. I need to do better with both time management and streamlining the process. I’ve also got several bank accounts, and I could audit which ones would work best for the work I do. I also need to really look at what’s sustainable. I’m so focused on earning to pay off the debt, that I can’t take a step back and look at the body of work or see the pattern to see what makes the most sense. Maybe that’s how I’ll celebrate paying off the debt: taking a step back and seeing how much I need to make to fund my ideal life, then structuring my work and income streams to serve that life.

What advice or tips would you give to others who want to eliminate student debt?

Consolidate your loans if you can. That was a wise choice made early one. I’ve got one service to pay and everything is in one place with one interest rate. Then, make one big payment – as big as you can. Once you see a little bit of progress, it feeds on itself. Also, start a blog or a journal or some way to track your progress. I suggest a blog because your immediate peer group might think you’re nuts, but the personal finance community online will be your cheering section. Remember, too: once student loan debt is gone, it’s gone. You deserve to be rid of it.

Even though you are still trying to eliminate debt, do you have an emergency fund established, if so how did you determine the amount needed to fund it?

I do have an emergency fund. I keep $5,000 in it. I drive a 12-year-old car and I’m a freelancer, so having more in my emergency fund makes sense to me. With my current monthly expenses, I could live off of my emergency fund for four months. In that time, I should certainly be able to make some kind of income to help support myself. Once I eliminate the debt, I’d like to pump it up by $10,000.

What book, blog, or podcast would you suggest to someone who is looking to improve their finances?

Several years ago, a friend gave me “The Tightwad Gazette,” for Christmas. It made a huge impact. I realized that you could make a part-time job out of working for yourself to save yourself money by growing your own food and taking your own lunch to work. Then a year ago, I decided I wanted to grow my emergency fund. I’d read “Overcoming Underearning” by Barbara Stanny a few years before, but I wanted to really dive in this time. I asked a friend to read it with me, and we met weekly to talk about the exercises. I keep a copy on my bedside table and read something from it every morning.

I also like to read Wise Bread, Dear Debt, Budgets Are Sexy…and the debt-free stories from The Debt Myth were incredibly inspiring. They made a huge difference when I was just considering attacking my debt. I think they were the tipping point for me.

Any other thoughts you would like to share with others who are looking to simplify?

Educate yourself! Read personal finance blogs. Join Twitter – I discovered so many blogs that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. It’s also a very supportive community, and you can’t do this alone. You don’t have to do it alone. The PF community is so helpful. Join in the conversation.

Thanks MJ for time sometime to share with us your journey to debt your student debt as well as some of the roadblocks you have faced to eliminate this debt.  If you would like to follow MJ on her journey visit her blog at dreambeyonddebt.com and you can follow her on Twitter @dreambeyonddebt.

If these interviews inspire you and you would like to read more interviews in the series click Simple Inspiration Interviews.

If you are interested in sharing how you have simplified your financial life, send me an email and I will follow up with you.

Enjoy the rest of your week. Til next time, take one step at a time to simplify.

Have You and Your Future Spouse Had the Money Talk Before Your Wedding Day?

Money Talk Before the Wedding

Have you and your future spouse had the money talk? I am not talking how you will pay for the wedding or honeymoon but discuss how you will you handle your finances as a married couple.

Since money is high on the list of topics that couples most often argue about as well as one of the issues that many times leads to divorce. It an important topic to discuss with your future spouse before your wedding day.

I know before your wedding day you are focused on making this day a perfect day. Remember your wedding day is only one day, but marriage is a life time commitment so you want to start on the right financial footing.

Prior to your wedding day you and your spouse should take some time to discuss how you will manage your finances. Doing this will avoid those arguments and its better to know upfront how things will be handled so you can make the appropriate changes as needed.

Here are 8 topics you and your future spouse must discuss before you say I do:

Discuss who will Manage the Finances

Being single you are probably managing your own finances. But once you are be married, you have a few decisions to make regarding your finances. Deciding who will manage the finances is an important one. You want to decide who will pay the monthly expenses or check that it was paid.

If neither is designated as who will do what you may assume the other has done it but neither of you have paid any of the expenses. This can result in late fees and overdraft charges. To avoid this decide who will be the designated CFO. Doing this before the wedding will lead to a good start of your financial marriage.

Discuss if you will have Joint or Separate Accounts

Prior to your wedding you probably have sole owner accounts. Once you are married you have to decide if you will keep separate accounts or open joint accounts. This can be a tough decision because you were accustom to keeping separate accounts prior to the wedding. I like to always simplify my finances.

Consolidating your finances as a couple as much as possible will help you simplify your finances. But this may not work for everyone. Discuss and decide what you and your spouse plan to consolidate to avoid future financial arguments.

If you decide not to consolidate decide how you will handle paying your bills. Who is responsible for what expenses Having your own money that you can spend however you want can lessen arguments about money. Come to an agreement so everyone is on the page and agree with the plan.

Discuss how Much Debt Each has Outstanding

Debt is a commonly brought into a marriage. It’s likely one of you will have either credit card debt, student loan debt, car loan debt or mortgage debt which will be brought into the marriage. Having a discussion about the amount of debt each of you will bring to the marriage is an important conversation to have with your future spouse.

You want to be honest with your future spouse about your debt situation before the wedding. Not being honest about your debt situation is not a good way to start your marriage. If there is significant debt outstanding decide together how you’ll move forward with eliminating this debt.

While you are discussing your debt here are some questions you want to ask each other:

How many credit cards do each of you have?
• Do you have student loans?
• What other debts are outstanding?
• What are the balances?
• Are the payments current?
• What is time frame to pay off outstanding debts?

Having this discussion requires complete openness so don’t hide debts from each other. You can’t hide money from each other.

Discuss your Financial Priorities and Goals

Before your wedding day take the time to discuss your short term as well as long-term financial goals. It’s important to listen to each other’s goals. That way you can work together to create a list of your most important goals both of you want to achieve.

Once you have discussed your goals you can then set your financial priorities as a couple. Setting financial priorities as a couple doesn’t necessarily mean that you both share the exact same goals, it just means that each person is aware of each others financial priorities.

As a couple each spouse can have individual goals and you can also set financial priorities as a couple.

Discuss your Budget

One way to help you achieve the financial priorities is to take the time to establish budget as a couple. It is important that young couples budget together and not just for the weekly groceries. To do this you must understand your monthly income and expenses as a couple. Once you understand how much the combined income is then you can accurately calculate a plan to save money or eliminate outstanding debts.

Using an online budgeting software or an online budgeting site can be a helpful tool to track your monthly income and your expenses.

Discuss Your Savings Plans

Saving is an important part of your financial future together. It maybe a little challenging if both of you have different saving styles as well as savings goals. Now is a good time to discuss your savings goal with each other so you can make better saving decisions as a couple.

You should discuss the following regarding your savings:

• What are your savings goals?
• How will you save each month?
• What are you saving for?

Establishing your savings plans now will make it easier for the two of you to work toward reaching the goals you want to achieve.

Discuss long term plans?

You are about to get married you are probably not thinking about what would happen if one of you passes away or became incapacitated.  But as a married couple its something you need to discuss.  It’s better to have a plan in place when something does happen.

You and your future spouse should consider drafting a will and purchasing life insurance.  In addition to having a will and life insurance in place, make sure each of you update your beneficiary designation on your accounts to reflect your future spouse. This will ensure that your assets are distributed to the appropriate person.

Discuss on Regular Basis

Having the conversation about the above mentions topics is important before your wedding. But having ongoing regular discussions about your finances is crucial to a financially happy marriage. So make sure the financial conservation continues even after the wedding vows.

Your wedding day is the celebration before building a future with the one you love. It’s important that you and your future spouse have the financial talk prior to your wedding day to make sure both of you are on the same page when it comes to your financial future.

What are some other financial discussions you wish you and your spouse had before your wedding day?

Til next week, take one step at a time in order to simplify your finances.