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Debt almost ruined my life

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Almost.  But I didn’t let it.  In my 20s I went through five very rough years of financial stress because of overspending and taking my income for granted.  It came to a point where I was using all my income to make the minimum monthly payments on all my credit cards and loans then I was stuck living off credit until my next paycheck.  It was a vicious cycle of paying off debt and living off debt and I was stuck.

Personal confession:  I hit rock bottom and didn’t know if I would ever get out of debt.  I went to see a bankruptcy trustee to discuss my options.  I was convinced that declaring bankruptcy was my only way out of debt.

Bankruptcy wasn’t an option

It turns out bankruptcy was just not an option for me because it would wipe out a lot more than just my debt.  I was 27 years old and over $50,000 in debt from student loans, credit cards and a brand new car.  Oh and did I mention I was a financial planner?!

Declaring bankruptcy would have meant changing my entire life.  As a certified financial planner declaring bankruptcy would have meant losing my license…and my job.  The securities commission would have revoked my license and my employer would have fired me because clients don’t want to take advice from a financial planner who can’t even manage her own money.

Bankruptcy also meant giving up my new car .  My 2007 brand new Honda Civic was the first thing I ever really bought and having it taken away from me was more stress than I could handle.  I decided to sell it on my own instead of having it repossessed.  It was still a big hit to my ego, but at least it was on my own terms.

Debt causes emotional stress

I was at my ultimate low in life during my debt years.  I would wake up sad, stress about my debt all day and go to bed angry that I let my financial situation get so out of control.  Being in debt is an emotional roller coaster and if you’ve ever been in debt you know it’s true.

I ended up in debt because I spent money every day on material things because it made me happy.  But at the end of the month when I couldn’t afford to pay both my rent and credit card bills I would be in tears.  Then one day I had a revelation.  If being in debt made me sad, wouldn’t paying off my debt make me happy?  So that’s exactly what I did.

Being debt free is my happy place

I finally decided to make a change.  I decided  I didn’t want to live in debt anymore and I started to take my life back from my debt.

After selling my car I moved to a cheaper apartment, got a second job freelance writing, stopped using my credit cards and set up regular biweekly payments onto every single debt I had.  Watching my balances go down every month was the ultimate high.

I didn’t care that all my money went to debt repayment.  I didn’t care I couldn’t go shopping anymore.  I didn’t care that I couldn’t go out for dinner with my friends.  All I wanted to do was pay off my debt and pay it off as fast as possible. That’s the key to becoming debt free: make a plan and stay focused.  It won’t happen overnight, but you will become debt free if you stick to it.

Photo from Flickr

Are you a money prude?

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Some people say I’m cheap, yes it’s true.  You know what I say to those people?  I’d love to tell you but this is family-friendly blog so I’ll just follow my friend Lyanne’s advice and not say anything because I don’t have anything nice to say.  Moving on.  When people say I’m cheap I usually think to myself “Well you’re careless” because the opposite of being a money prude, hhhmmm how do I say this nicely, the opposite of being a money prude is being too loose with your money.

Everyone talks about money, don’t they?

I personally talk about money all the time, but that’s because I’m a financial planner and all my friends work in banking.  We talk about money all the time, everything from our vacations to our dinner, but I understand we are the exception.  Whenever I talk about money with people who don’t work in banking they always look at me like I’m crazy.  Why is it that people are so afraid to talk about money?

Why don’t people talk about money?

I think it’s partially because people are sensitive when it comes to money; that doesn’t make them a prude it just makes them private… and a little bit cautious.  Not wanting to talk about money because it’s taboo makes you a prude, not talking about your money because you’re shy is completely different.

I think people don’t talk about money for a variety of reasons.  Actually let me rephrase that, there are 3 types of people who talk about their money:

People who brag about what they’ve got.  I find a lot of people who talk about how much money they earn or how much their net is worth are kind of bragging – well at least in finance anyways.  Every time I get in the elevator there is always some corporate douche bag talking about how much his suit cost or how much he paid for his car.  That is totally unnecessary in public – it seems like more of a private conversation. Talking about how much money you have also alienates everyone else who doesn’t have that much from the conversation and that’s just mean.

Those who show off with how much they spend.  I don’t spend $1000 nights at a club and I don’t have $5000 shopping sprees so I can’t talk about it.  I hate listening to people who talk about how much they spend because I can’t focus on the conversation.  When someone tells me they just spent $500 on one pair of shoes all I can think about is all the other things I would rather do with $500 than buy a pair of shoes.

People who don’t make their own money.  I personally don’t have someone who takes care of me so I don’t brag about everything my boyfriend buys me.  BF and I both have full time jobs – sometimes we spend money separately and sometimes we spend money together.  I hate people who brag about all the things other people buy for them.  I mean why do people think that’s an accomplishment? Not being able to take care of yourself or taking advantage of someone else is nothing to be proud of.  I admit it might be nice to have a boyfriend who takes care of me and pays my rent, but then what kind of girl would I be?

Photo from Flickr

There’s no need to be broke in college

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Good morning Loves.  Today we have a very special guest joining us, Mel from Broke Girl Rich is here to help our college student and grad readers manage your money and get out of debt.  Mel believes in the value of a good education; 3 degrees and over $20k of debt later she lived to tell the story of her money life in college.  Please welcome her to Blonde & Balanced, she’ll be checking in so feel free to ask her any questions.  Enjoy!

Where did you go to school and what was your degree

I actually went to a lot of school. I attended a state school in NJ for my B.A. and double majored in theatre production and literature. Then I went to Liberty University and got a Masters of Divinity and a few years later I went to the University of Sheffield and got a M.A. in Theater and Performance Studies.

Were you broke in college? 

I had two very different college experiences. For my B.A. and the majority of my Masters of Divinity, my parents footed the bill for anything scholarships didn’t cover.  So I definitely didn’t feel broke then. I had a credit card from (my parents) for emergencies and a pretty good part time job that covered all of my spending needs.

When I went back to school a few years later for my M.A., I definitely felt broke. I footed that entire bill myself between my savings and loans. I knew I would have to pay back every penny I spent, so I was pretty money conscious the entire time.

I took out one traditional student loan from Sallie Mae for $3,000 and then a $20,000 – 0% interest loan from my grandmother.

What’s the biggest money mistake you ever made in college? 

The biggest mistake I made was putting the end of my Masters of Divinity on my credit card. My credit card! For Pete’s sake, the interest rates were RIDICULOUS. I should’ve applied for a traditional student loan for my last semester. I would’ve saved thousands of dollars in interest.

What’s the biggest money mistake you think college students make? 

I think the biggest money mistake is picking WHICH college to attend. Really looking into tuition and related costs should be just as much a part of your search as how good the program is and what campus life is like. Making that one big decision in the right way will save you tens of thousands of dollars.

How did you spend most of your money in college?

I spent most of my money eating out. I feel like I lived in the local diner. Honestly, it could’ve been a lot worse though. I went to school in the Pine Barrens in NJ, so there wasn’t a lot immediately around.  I spent a fair amount on gas just doing stuff like going bowling or going to the movies.

How should college students budget so they’re not broke?

I think students just need to start any budget and their finances will improve like crazy! I never used one in college and never had any clue where my money was going. It’s so much easier to make informed decisions if you just know all the facts.

Maybe all those diner trips are worth it and you’d rather cut back on gas to the movies from time to time? Or maybe once you see how much all those diner trips cost, you cut back once a week and save that money to start your emergency fund instead.

Photo from Flickr

6 Ways to Find Deals and Save Money After Black Friday and Cyber Monday

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Mark Barrera is a deals shopper and online reseller who enjoys sharing tips related to smart shopping and frugal living.

If you did everything you could to find deals on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but still have a few holes in your shopping list, don’t panic. There are plenty of great deals still to be had both in-store and online – as long as you know where to look and how to shop. The holidays don’t have to be a mad dash to the finish line, so take a look at the following shopping strategies, and get all your gift-buying wrapped up in no time.

1. Sign Up For Deal of the Day Websites
Use deal of the day websites like Groupon, LivingSocial, and Half Off Depot to your advantage. They all offer significant discounts year-round, including in the days and weeks after Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Most of the time, discounts are 50% or more – just make certain that whatever you order ships in time for gift giving.

2. Subscribe to Deal Sharing Websites
Websites such as SlickDeals and FatWallet take a lot of the legwork out of finding deals after Black Friday and Cyber Monday have passed, as they send out a roundup of opportunities via e-mail. Of course you can also peruse retailer websites on your own if you don’t feel like signing up, but deal sharing websites do make the job of searching and browsing for offers a lot easier. Check out deals on items including electronics, clothing, and accessories.

3. Wait Until the Last Minute
Although this is always a risk if you’re after a popular product that could sell out, a lot of stores do hold Christmas Eve deals. By that point, retailers are looking to unload leftover inventory and you may score some steep discounts. Approximately 17 million Americans said they planned to shop on Christmas Eve, according to a 2012 Consumer Reports survey, so join the army of savers and snatch up some last-minute gems.

4. Use Your Best Credit Card
The Discover Card offers 5% cash back on online purchases all the way through the end of December, and the Chase Freedom card features 5% cash back at select department stores as well as purchases made at Amazon. The RedCard from target also gets you a 5% discount on all purchases applied at the cash register, if you’re shopping in-store. Just because you might not see a discount up front, doesn’t mean there aren’t effective ways to save.

5. Bundle Purchases to Avoid Shipping Costs
No matter where you shop online, you always want to try and avoid shipping charges. Group your purchases together in order to qualify for free shipping, and pay attention to the spending level at which it kicks in. For example, the threshold is $25 at Best Buy and $50 at Target. If you don’t need to spend that much, you can check out websites like DealCatcher or RetailMeNot for promotional codes for free shipping.

6. Keep Up the Research on Gifts You Already Purchased
Many retailers have price match programs in place where if you purchase an item and then find it at a cheaper price somewhere else, the store refunds you the difference. However, each retailer usually has certain restrictions in place, so do your homework beforehand. Wal-Mart does not accept online ads, and at Staples you only have 14 days after you purchase the item. Also, the lower-cost item must have the identical model number as the one you purchased.

Conclusion
There’s no reason to go into debt just because you want to please the folks on your gift list. Sure, almost everyone would like a new iPad for Christmas but that doesn’t mean it’s your responsibility to purchase one. Focus more on your budget than the expensive gifts that people want, and save yourself the headache of huge January credit card bills.

What ways can you think of to find deals after Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

Photo from Flickr