Jana Says

Living life from cover to cover

beginnings

What’s new on the menu

I’ve talked about the status of my blog and where I’d like to go before. It was always kind of vague. But now, after months of thinking and talking with others, I’ve made some concrete decisions and I wanted to share them with you. 

Like two of my closest friends, I’ve been going through a blogging identity crisis. That crisis hast taken me to some weird places including starting and stopping a variety of blogs. I started them because I needed an avenue to write about subjects not related to finance. And that was fun and refreshing. But then they abruptly stopped. Mainly due to the fact that a) DMS is really where my passion is and b) I just didn’t have the time. Which left me with content strewn haphazardly about the internet. It’s not necessarily bad content. It’s just content I don’t have time to tend to and grow. Like the tomatoes on my deck.

But I digress.

In order to keep my sanity in tact and prevent all that content from being lost, I’ve decided that consolidation is the way to go. Over the next few weeks, you’ll see a variety of features added to, or taken away from, Daily Money Shot. Some of them will be completely new while others will be culled from my various sites. Here’s what you can look for:

  • The Aldi Experiment–This feature is already up and running (it’s a new category in the menu bar). Two years ago, on my first blog, I conducted an experiment to see how much money my family would save if we shopped almost exclusively at Aldi. During the 6 weeks of the experiment, I chronicled our budget, our menu plans and did a summary of each week. Feel free to browse some or all of that.
  • Sidebar Shots–This feature is currently under construction. Sometimes I like to rant about things that are only tangentially related to personal finance. Sometimes they’re not related to personal finance at all but I like to talk about them anyway. That’s where this feature comes in. It gives me a forum to talk about other topics while still trying to stay true to the mission of Daily Money Shot. Some of the content from The Jealousy Files will end up in here.
  • This Independent Life–A site I started to give tips on beginning to live independently (I know. I’m great with names) kind of flopped. So I’ve decided to relaunch it as a series on Daily Money Shot (how I’m going to do the series is to be determined. It will either be every day for a month or once a week for numerous weeks). I also hope to turn most of the content, with some new and unreleased information added, into an eBook. Look for that in weeks to come.
  • Money Tune Tuesday and Sharing Thursday–These will probably become bi-weekly features rather than weekly ones. I love these features but I can’t keep up with them in the manner that I’d like. Rather than sending them to their untimely demise, I’m just going to cut back.
  • My yet to be unnamed fiction book–I’m still not comfortable discussing the details of this but I do need a way to stay accountable to actually writing it. To do that, you’ll notice a progress tracker in the sidebar. Every day (or week or when I remember), I’m going to update it with the latest word count. I’m aiming for 50,000 words by December 1 (if I go over in order to completely tell the story, that’s okay, too. But 50,000 is the minimum). I figure if I make myself accountable on DMS, some of you will harass me if I fall behind.

Also, I’m trying to get to 100 individual (not blog or fan page) likes on Facebook by the end of the month. If I do, I’ll host a giveaway for $25. If I get to 200 likes, I’ll give away 2 $25 prizes. You can help make that dream come true by liking Daily Money Shot.

There are some other behind the scenes things I’ll be doing but they’re boring and I don’t think that you’d find them interesting so I’ll just keep them to myself. But what I won’t give up is telling my stories with the hope that you find something useful in them.

I hope that you’ll all stick with me over the next few weeks as I roll out the new changes and features. I promise that the DMS experience will be greatly improved as a result.

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No-hit your debt

For those of you who don’t know, I am a huge New York Mets fan. I’ve bled orange and blue since 1986 when I was 9 years old and the Mets won the World Series. At that age, it was hard not to get swept up in “Let’s Go Mets!” fever and it just stuck. Better than another disease, I suppose.

As a Mets fan, I’m well versed in lots of emotions: horror, shock, disappointment, anger, and shame. There was one year the Mets were so awful, I wanted them to keep losing just so they could be the worst ever. I mean, if we’re going to suck, might as well do it the best we can (insert dirty joke here. I could not think of another way to say that. Fine. I didn’t want to). But this past Friday, I experienced an emotion that has become a rare commodity for Mets fans: pride.

That’s right. Pride. Why? Because on June 1, 2012, the Mets finally accomplished something that had been eluding them for the 50 years of the teams’ existence. A no-hitter. It was a beautiful thing.

I didn’t actually see the game but thanks to my Mets app and the live in-game Twitter updates, I was able to follow along. It kind of felt like I was there. It didn’t matter, though. On Saturday, Mets fans all over the world walked a little taller and held theirnheadds a little higher because of 134 pitches thrown by Johan Santana, 8 runs scored, and some pretty kick ass defensive work by the rest of the team. Including me. I proudly wore my Mets shirt on Saturday, incurring some wrath of the Phillies fan who are present in abundance where I live. Then again, I’ve never cared much about being popular so the part with the Phillies fans didn’t bother me at all.

Anyway, the point is this: they did it. The Mets finally have a no hitter. And the momentum that’s picked up as a result is unbelievable to watch. Kind of like what happens when you finally pay off that one debt that kills your soul more than the rest.

When you first set out to pay off your debt, it seems insurmountable. The sheer number of bills, debts and expenses is overwhelming and exhausting. You break it down into smaller bites just for it to seem manageable (for me, I used the Dave Ramsey snowball method to do that), and you work to eliminate one at a time. But even with that, there’s still that one that stands out, like a red flag for a bull, taunting you, harassing you, doing whatever it can to make you its bitch. No matter how hard you work, that debt never seems to move in the right direction. I know because I’ve been there.

For me, that debt was my home equity loan. In one of a series of stupid financial mistakes, my husband and I took out a home equity loan to help pay down some old debt (for the record, I do not advocate this). Like any good, practical people, we incurred more debt after we took out the loan and those later debts were the ones that we paid off first. But that home equity loan just stood there, every month, making us feel like no matter how hard we tried, no matter what we did, it wasn’t going to go anywhere. It was right, too. Whenever we felt like we were in a position to pay it off, something would happen and we’d need that money for something else. We’d get thisclose and then…nothing. It seemed like paying it off was never going to happen. Kind of like the Mets and the no-hitter.

Then, one day, it all clicked. We were finally able to get it all paid off. And once that happened, everything else just fell into place. The freedom that came with eliminating that debt made us feel like it was finally possible to live a debt free life, even though we still had more to pay. But conquering that hurdle was exactly what we needed to keep going.

I wish there was a magic formula to give for making that happen. Unfortunately there’s not. All I can tell you is this: just keep working hard. Surround yourself with people who support and encourage you even when it gets difficult (Mets fans are excellent in this capacity). Tell yourself that one day, it will happen. Be patient. And never, ever give up.

If the Mets can get a no-hitter and the Red Sox can win a World Series, you can pay off debt.

 

Thank you, thank you, thank you: Reflections on a year of blogging

One year ago today, I launched Daily Money Shot. What was started on a whim with a name that was intended to be a joke has become so much more. I could spend this post spouting statistics and highlighting my favorite posts. But I’m not going to do that. Because it’s boring. And it wouldn’t at all cover what I want to say.

Throughout the last year, DMS has evolved into something I never imagined. It’s been an outlet for me to talk about money, my life, music and pretty much anything else that’s crossed my mind (well, most of what’s on my mind). It’s expanded my vocabulary by introducing words I’d never heard of–page rank, do follow, no follow, Yakezie, sponsored posts, Alexa, plugins…a whole new dictionary for my shelf. It’s given me skills I never thought I’d have. It’s made me a better writer. It’s introduced me to the world of Twitter. And, most importantly, it’s given me a community of people who stop by every day to read the drivel that I put out there.

So to you, my readers, fellow bloggers and friends, I say thank you. Thank you for making this past year so unbelievably amazing, even through my personal ups and downs. Thank you for being there with your encouraging words, supportive and entertaining comments and for coming back to read. Thank you for sharing my words on Twitter and Facebook and your sites. Thank you for allowing me to guest post on your sites (and podcasts). Thank you for not doubting me when I’ve doubted myself. Thank you for creating an atmosphere where I can be myself. Thank you for helping me find my voice, even if that voice is a bit rambling and crazy at times. Thank you for giving me the confidence to launch some new projects, and thank you for allowing me to be as vague as possible about those projects while still supporting me.

Readers, I could not have made it through this last year without you. I am humbled by all that you have given me. And while I know that this little blog won’t change the world, I hope that for the 5 minutes it takes to get through my posts, it makes your world a little more entertaining. Or gives you a bit of hope that you can get out of debt or change your relationship with money. Or passes the time while you’re waiting for a meeting to begin or your kid to get out of the bathroom.

Whatever it does for you, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this last year. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

What I’ve gained from paying off debt

There have been several times in my life when I’ve leaped into the unknown, only half sure of what I was doing but completely sure it was the right thing. The first time was in 1995 when I left my hometown for college at the University of Delaware. The second time was in 2004 when I got married. The third time was in 2006 when I found out I was pregnant. The fifth time is now amidst some pretty big decisions I’m mulling over and decisions I can’t quite mention yet.

The fourth time, though? That was in 2007 when my husband and I got serious about paying off our debt. I’ve discussed ad nauseam the reasons why we decided to pay down our sickening amount of debt and I’ve talked about what we’re thinking about doing next. However, what I don’t think I’ve discussed are the benefits we’re reaping from the fact that our debt (with the exception of his student loans and our mortgage; I don’t count his loans as my debt since a) he came into the relationship with that debt and b) my name isn’t on it) is gone. So perhaps it’s time to talk about that. So let’s do that.

Although it took 5 years, we did it. We paid off our jointly accumulated debt, including the extra $17K we incurred in 2010 when we had to buy my husband a new car. Overall, we paid off just under $70K in 5 years. Not too shabby. And when I made that final debt payment, I felt like Andre the Giant was lifted off my shoulders. I know that I walked a bit taller that day. However, along with the relief of no more debt, there are some other benefits including:

  • The lack of stress over money. Although we don’t fight about money, when we were paying down debt, there was a tremendous amount of stress. We would stress about how much to put towards a specific debt and then stress that we weren’t doing enough for the others (we followed the DR snowball method, although not quite perfectly). We stressed that the date for the final payment seemed so far off and that we never felt like it would come. We stressed that something bad would happen, and that bad event (whatever it was) would derail us from our very well constructed debt repayment plan. The list of stressors on our money was extensive and exhausting. But now that we don’t have those payments, those stressors are lifted. It’s nice to get paid, make the necessary utility payments, withdraw cash for the other expensive and then just breathe.
  • Having choices. Now that we don’t have money allocated to debt repayment, we’ve been able to readjust our budget to include more funds in areas that were sorely lacking. We can have a little more fun with our money (within reason, of course) as well as know that  if certain things happen, we’ll be okay (I’m sorry to be vague but I promise all will be revealed at some point). It’s a fabulous feeling to be able to control your money instead of having it control you. Which is what happens when all of your extra money is being spent on unnecessary debt.
  • Being able to help and support others. A very dear friend of mine is just beginning her debt payoff journey. She and her husband are in exactly the same position that my husband and I were in 5 years, and I know how hard this is on them. It’s a huge lifestyle adjustment to go from frivolously spending on credit and worrying about making payments every month to carefully watching every nickel that flows through the checkbook. But the fact that we’ve been there means that we can support them and encourage them and mentor them in ways that we didn’t have. DR talks a lot about giving back financially; I think giving back in this capacity is even more important.
  • Learning from the past. Five years of paying off debt isn’t something you quickly forget. It’s kind of like labor–it’s painful, it’s exhausting, it takes forever (if you’re me) and although time does lessen the severity, it’s not something you ever forget (anyone who says that she doesn’t remember the pain of labor is a damn liar). But you learn from it. You know what to do differently the next time. In the case of debt, you make sure to remember the causes of that pain and then you don’t do that. Although we’re stronger people because of it, my husband and I never care to relive the last 5 years, financially speaking.

It’s true that debt freedom is priceless. I can’t wait for the day my husband’s loans are gone and our house it paid off. But for now, I’ll settle with having no consumer debt. Like Cookie Monster singing the praises of the letter C, it’s good enough for me.

Readers, what have you gained from paying off your debt? 

 

 

It’s Money Shuffle time!

I know I promised a doozy of a post today. For reasons that will be clear when I actually write that post, I just couldn’t get it done. Instead, I’ve decided to entertain you with another edition of Money Shuffle.

For those of you who are new, Money Shuffle is a game I totally ripped off of my favorite morning show, but added a financial twist. Here are the rules:

I set my iPod on shuffle and write down the first 5 songs (yes, the actual first 5 songs. I don’t skip if I don’t like the song) that comes up. Then I think of a financial situation that I was in that was related to the song title but not necessarily the subject matter of the song.

I’ve done a few special editions (Holiday, Labor Day, FinCon) but I think for today’s version, I’m going to keep it basic. Just 5 songs and 5 financial situations.

Let’s see what we’ve got this time:

Is That Too Much to Ask by Beth Hart This is how I remember feeling when my husband and I had almost no money to spend on food for ourselves. At the time, Aldi was not nearby and we had no options except the regular supermarket chains. All I wanted was to be able to buy whatever I wanted (within reason) at the grocery store and more often than not, I would express my desire for that. I didn’t think it was too much to ask to want to have more than $30 or less per week to spend on food.

Forget My Name by New Found Glory When it comes to money, I’ve never actually forgotten my name (when it comes to alcohol, well, that’s a whole separate issue). There was the mortgage signing where I signed my name so many times I thought I was spelling it wrong but I didn’t actually forget it. I’ve been blessed to never be the victim of identity theft and the one time someone did steal my debit card number, I caught it that day and my outstanding bank had it fixed within 24 hours.

Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets This happens sometimes. I’ve got nothing. Well, there was the time in college that my husband participated in a 24 hour charity dance marathon (the idea was totally stolen from Penn State). He and my sorority little sister were both participants so I agreed to stay with them. Until they got hungry and I offered to go to my apartment to get them food. I maybe, possibly fell asleep and didn’t come back for about 5 or 6 hours. I did remember food, though. I guess the charity element makes it kind of related to money…

Mad About You by Belinda Carlisle This is how I felt about my Chevy Blazer. It was the first car I bought for myself, along with my husband. It was green, it was an SUV and it was awesome. I loved The Green Monster (yes, I name my cars. And yes, I totally stole the name from Fenway Park). At the time we bought it, we knew we were getting screwed on the interest rate but we didn’t care. This is the one time that my materialistic side really got in the way of my common sense. And oh, did we pay for it.

In Too Deep by Sum 41 This is an easy one. This is exactly how I felt when I finally calculated exactly how much debt we had. We were definitely in over our heads and felt like we were drowning on an almost daily basis. When we realized no one was going to send us a life raft, we had to fashion one ourselves. And the rest? Is poorly documented all over this blog.

Thanks for playing! If you choose to play along, make sure to let me know and I’ll include your post in my Sharing Saturday round-up.