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my turning point

August 21st, 2009 at 09:24 pm

Friday
Saving log - $2 tip box
Spending log - $1.75 coffee
Found money - $0.10 (sidewalk, 1st Ave)

Thursday
Saving log - $1 tip box
Spending log - $1.75 coffee
Found money - $0.01 (sidewalk, Greenwood Ave)

I can't say that I've had a St. Paul on the road to Damascus moment in being frugal. I was always a good saver, and had a reasonable amount of discipline even in college in the early 80's when I held myself to $10/week (this when a Saturday Harold's Chicken white half came to $2.75).

I graduated from college, worked for a year, applied to grad school, got into grad school, got my grad degree, moved and became a journeyman scientist, well for each leap I saved up about $2K for the move. It was always paycheck to paycheck but with 2K savings.

Where I really fell in my youth was in the money management arena. During my bad old days, my money management skill consisted entirely of: Look at ATM balance, I have $x in my checking account, therefore no spending. I hated it when the bank's monthly statement came in - I never looked at it. Too depressing. My spending was hit and miss - paycheck week I could be social, the next I had to be super frugal and was a pain to be around. Even up until my early 40s I felt like my money was managing me. Worse, when money manages you, you feel on edge in your job ... you have to keep that job no matter what because you have to keep the money coming in, no matter what.

My first big break was getting a PDA for Christmas. I found a free checkbook program and began putting in my checks, ATM trips, paycheck. Then I put in my savings. I put in my credit card balances, then I put in my 403B balances. I found, to my surprise, that even though I owed 15K in credit card and student loan debt, my net worth was positive.

My second big break came when I finally paid off my student loan. I was lucky (not skillful, particularly) that I took out loans only during my undergrad years; I grit my teeth and lived on the meager stipend during my grad years. Still, I realized that in 1984 I had $15K in student loan debt, 0K in credit card debt. In 2002, the tables were reversed. I had $0K in student loan debt, $15K credit card debt. I used the satisfaction that I got out of paying the student loans to inspire me to pay off the credit card debt, which I did in May 2005, a few months before I started this blog.

My third big break came a bit before the other two, strangely enough. DH gave me a share of Coke (KO) and started my first Dividend Reinvestment Program (Drp). My granddad used to invest in penny stocks in the 70s and had a lot of fun ... this before index funds, 401Ks, IRAs, or even Drps. All there seemed to be after passbook savings accounts were stocks, bought in 100-share round lots. Anyway, as I got a grip on the credit cards, I began to put in $50 every month or so into KO stock. I treated it a bit like a letter to a long distance friend. You get the mail, open it, and respond. I used to mail the check back within a week of getting the receipt of the last payment.

So really I had a lot of little money management revelations. For the longest time, it was paying off credit card $300-400/ month, putting in some $266 in the 403B every month, putting in $50 into KO, adding savings at the top of the month, tip box in the middle of the month, living within my means the rest of the month, and noting the transactions into the PDA. I didn't care about being splashy - I went for relentless. I decided to learn by doing with investing, never paying more than $100/ pop, but doing it over and over again.

Working small, gradual, and relentless meant I learned enough to handle two inheritances - as I describe in my blog. I really shudder to think about how I would have handled the inheritances when the money was managing me.

I've said it several times, and will probably say it several more - don't wait for the "big money" to learn how to handle money, the "small money" has a lot to teach you.

1 Responses to “my turning point”

  1. ralph Says:

    when the money was managing me Good saying! And a nice, thoughtful, and useful post - thanks!

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