In my last post, I talked about the gifts we exchanged for our anniversary, but I neglected to talk about the celebration itself. We didn’t do anything elaborate, just a nice bottle of champagne at home, then dinner at a nice Italian restaurant we wanted to try, and then we stopped by Papa Haydn’s (VERY popular Portland restaurant for decadent desserts) and got a couple pieces of cake to go, which we demolished along with the rest of the champagne when we got home.
The restaurant we went to was Mucca Osteria, and I have no beauty shots of the meal, because we were too excited to eat our food to take time to photograph it. But it was delicious – we shared a fresh burrata and heirloom tomato caprese salad, then we each had the seared sea scallops appetizer with truffle parmesan fondue, and then Ron had the steak with pancetta kale and green beans, and I had the wild boar ragu pasta. We knew we wanted to go to Papa Haydn’s for cake, so we didn’t order dessert, but when the server realized it was our anniversary, he brought us a complimentary glass of a grappa type dessert wine to share and two little biscotti to dip in it. The portions were perfect and the pacing of the meal was leisurely enough to keep us from eating before we knew we were full. We left completely satisfied but not stuffed – in other words, it was lagom ; ).
But the best part? We had the satisfaction of knowing we could completely afford it, so every bite was guilt free (well, maybe not calorically, but let’s not even get into that). We did not have to go into debt for it, and that made it all the more delicious. The restaurant was not outrageously expensive – I think we spent about $100 before tip (which included all the food mentioned above plus a glass of wine each), and then I think the cake (which is kind of ridiculously expensive) came to about $18. Totally within what we had budgeted for the evening.
This is also the first month since we’ve gotten out of debt where we have actually felt the difference. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that in both June and July we still had some big enough expenses that we were having to come up with close to what we had been paying monthly on our credit cards, but this month we were finally able to breathe a little. And so breathe we did.
And let me tell you, it felt gooooooood.
Last week Ron and I celebrated nine years of marriage. I still can’t believe it’s been that long! For the first time this year, we exchanged gifts to celebrate an occasion. As usual, Ron’s gift was easy- I gave him wine for his collection. This time, however, it was an extra special bottle, because we got it while wine tasting in Napa Valley at Groth, his favorite winery, and the owner happened to walk by while we were there and not only did Ron get a chance to chat him up and take a photo with him, but he signed the bottle. I have a feeling that’s one bottle of wine that will never get opened.
Also as usual, I picked out my own gift, which I really have no shame about. I would much prefer to get something I really want or need than be surprised with something that I would potentially end up returning. And this year, I did specifically have my eye on something I needed – a new wallet. I’ve been window shopping wallets for months – my old one was getting pretty worn, and I was interested in experimenting with a new style.
My old wallet was a traditional trifold style:
with a coin purse on the outside:
I initially bought it because I loved how much stuff it held. Look at all the credit card slots inside:
there were even two pockets behind the credit card slots where you could stuff even MORE cards, and believe me, I did:
Which adds up to a fat little wallet that weighs a ton, especially when I have a lot of pennies in the coin purse.
The new ones I was considering would require me to manage my wallet very differently, and I have to admit that made me nervous. I had it narrowed down to two styles, both of which were zipper enclosed all the way around. One had a center coin purse with a fair amount of slots for cards flanking the coin section on both sides, and the other wallet opened like a little book, with a TINY amount of slots for cards and a small coin/currency section on one side, and then a compartment to hold a cell phone on the other side.
For months I had been vacillating between the two styles mentally, and then it was suddenly the day before our anniversary and Ron said, “Uh…were you going to go pick out your gift?” Both wallets were at Nordstrom, so that afternoon I decided to go in and try to fit some of my actual crap into them and see which one might work best.
When I arrived I headed over to where I had seen them on display, but on my way I passed a discount table and the saleslady chirped, “We just marked down a ton of stuff so you might want to take a look!” And lo and behold, both wallets, in the exact colors I wanted, were on the markdown table. Fate.
I took the wallets over to some free counter space and began fitting my various cards into the slots and comparing the two. The wallet with the middle coin purse and the larger amount of card slots definitely fit my stuff better. But…I hated the way it functioned and how I would have to dig around in it. The wallet with the phone holder was a much better, much sleeker design, and I knew in my gut I loved it more. But it didn’t hold even a quarter of what I was used to carrying.
I started to sort my cards out on the counter, trying to figure out which ones were essential, and which ones weren’t. I was able to immediately put aside about five cards that were expired or for businesses I no longer frequented, but that was about it. It’s not like I use a ton of cards on a regular basis, but there were things that I knew I would want on me if were to need them – things like my library cards, a couple store credit cards, member/rewards cards from various stores, and some partially filled punch cards. As much as I often WANT to live a sleeker, pared down lifestyle, I am frequently faced with having to honestly admit that some of my clutter is useful to me. And the thought of buying a new wallet in a style I didn’t love that would help me continue to haul a bunch of crap around was…depressing.
I was dejectedly stuffing my cards back into my old wallet, starting to wonder if I should even bother with a new wallet until I learned how to travel a little more lightly, when the saleslady came over to see if she could help. I gestured helplessly at the mess of cards and coins all over her counters and explained that I while I loved the smaller phone wallet, I didn’t think it would go with my lifestyle.
She regarded my scattered items and then suggested kindly, “You know what some people do? They just keep their most important, most frequently used cards in their wallet, and then they buy something like a little business card holder for all their extra, less frequently used cards. You can keep that in your purse as well so you always have it, but it will allow you to have a much smaller and tidier wallet that you use every day.”
Why. Didn’t. I. Think. Of. THAT?????
So thanks to the nice saleslady and her excellent suggestion, I bought the sleek phone wallet that I really wanted. It’s lovely! Look:
And here is the inside:
A lot less room than I’m used to, but I’m actually looking forward to the change and seeing how I do with it. Not to mention, I love that it holds my phone, and because of the little wrist strap, I could even carry it as an evening purse. And it makes a PERFECT travel wallet. Lovelovelove it.
I had to go through all my cards and figure out what would make the cut. Truth be told, it was not that hard to isolate what my most frequently used cards were: driver’s license, personal debit card, personal credit card, household debit card, household credit card, a rewards card for the grocery store I shop at most often, and two health insurance cards. The money compartment on this wallet is also pretty small, but since I almost never have cash anyway, it shouldn’t be a problem. I will have to carry much fewer coins, but I am totally fine with that – I decided to start a penny jar with Ron and we’ll both unload our pennies into it every day, and use what we accumulate to go to the movies or do something fun.
The remaining cards I tucked into a little pouch which I used to use to carry my foreign money when I was touring a lot, and it’s the perfect size for them:
I’ll reassess how often I use some of them after a few months, and will pare down accordingly. I just made the transfer, so I’m still unsure how the new system will actually work for me, but I really hope it does. Much in the way I initially never thought I could live without all the clothes I’ve gotten rid of over the past year, I have a feeling once I’m used to it, traveling with a smaller wallet will feel totally lagom.*
*And if it doesn’t, I’m returning the damn thing. If you look close you can see I’ve left the tags on it for now.
I’ve been asked a lot lately how it feels to finally be out of debt. And my first response is always the truth – that it feels amazing, great, a total relief!
But what I usually say next, because it is also the truth, is that life doesn’t feel that much different yet. In fact, we’re guessing it will be a few months before we really start to feel like we can relax financially. To get out of debt, we put every spare cent we had towards our credit cards, which means we were frequently down to our last couple dollars at the end of the month. As a result, there is no extra “fun” money cushion available to us at the moment, and we actually had some significant expenses this month that were planned and expected, but need to be paid all the same. For instance, we had to do some repairs to the duct work in our house after we discovered one had come loose and we were paying to heat the crawl space instead of the house, which cost about $500. We put off Stella’s annual shots and vet exam for a couple months due to our finances, which we felt really anxious and guilty about, so we said we’d make it happen this month no matter what and we did – to the tune of about $250 bucks. So we may not have to come up with our usual credit card payment anymore, but we still do have to come up with close to $1,000 this month. I’m just grateful we don’t have to come up with the credit card payment ON TOP of that.
So yeah…life is not all that different for the most part.
But there is one effect of being debt-free that HAS surprised me – knowing we will soon have some discretionary income again has made me want to get rid of more stuff! I had felt pretty plateaued out on the whole purging process, and felt like maybe I had finally reached my lagom in certain categories. But right after we got out of debt, I suddenly felt this surge of of wanting to get rid of things, especially where my clothing was concerned. Weird, right?
Well, maybe not. Because when I think about it, much of the reason I was holding on to some items was because I wasn’t sure how long it would be until we were out of debt and I was no longer on such a strict shopping lockdown. I was hesitant to throw out too many of my clothing options when I knew I couldn’t buy something new if I got bored. And that fear made me clingy.
But knowing that it’s now an option (within reason) to replace something that is worn out, or to add a new item to my closet that I really love and think I will use, made me start to reevaluate things I’ve hung onto that I don’t love as much. Also, the weather in Portland has been absolutely glorious, so a couple weeks ago I took my spring/summer stuff out of storage and retired my heavier winter clothes. As I was about to hang each stored piece back into the closet, I really took a minute to decide if I still loved each garment, and in several cases the answer was either “no” or “eh…I dunno.”
This time, instead of doing what I’ve always done – which is to just shove everything back in the closet anyway – I decided if the item wasn’t a definite “I love it” piece, I would test drive it. I would wear the item as soon as possible, and if it was uncomfortable, or didn’t really suit my lifestyle anymore, or made me feel frumpy, or dove me crazy in any way, it had to go.
It proved to be a great exercise. Some items I only wore half a day before I couldn’t stand it anymore and changed into something else. Some things didn’t even make it past getting dressed in the morning and checking my reflection before they landed in the giveaway pile. In truth, I was probably being super duper extra critical of everything, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing in my case. As someone who has been prone to emotional and impulse buying, it’s good for me to practice being really, REALLY critical of purchases, whether that’s before I buy them (preferably), or admitting that they were mistakes after the fact and letting that acknowledgement make me more cautious moving forward. I found myself learning a TON about what I really love and want, and what I need to carefully consider and avoid the next time I’m about to buy.
For instance, I’ve been a such a sucker for a sale in the past, that I’ve been known to buy things that aren’t my actual size, thinking I may take them to a tailor, or that the fit isn’t as bad as I think it is. The items I test drove reminded me that I will pretty much NEVER take something to the tailor (because I’m lazy), and the fit is absolutely as bad as I think it is. As a result I barely wear the item. Like this very cute blouse from Anthropolgie:
It was on sale, and I loved it. But it was one size above my usual size. I bought it anyway, and then every time I wore it, I spent a lot of time checking to make sure the neckline was still in place (it often wasn’t). It looked great if I stood perfectly still, but as soon as I did something crazy, like, you know, move around, I was showing the world my cute blouse AND my cute bra. Classy.
Also, both these skirts have been hanging in my closet for years:
I don’t wear them that often. Why? Because despite the way I WISH my body was shaped, my actual shape does not look good in a skirt that’s cut like this. Again, if I stand perfectly still, it looks great. As soon as I start walking though, skirts like this start inching up around my hips and I spend all day tugging them back down. They’re meant to hit just above the knee, but frequently on me, they scrunch up to miniskirt length. I did make it through a whole day in the brown skirt, but it made me miserable and when I got home, I immediately took it off and threw it in the giveaway pile.
This shirt is a perfect example of how shopaholic crazed I can get sometimes:
I saw it online, and it was on sale. I dawdled about buying it for a couple days, but then decided I was going to get it, because it was the style I was looking for, I loved the color, and it was on sale. But when I went back to the website to purchase it, they no longer had it in my size. Suddenly I went from wanting the shirt in a nonchalant way, to an obsessive, white hot panic to track down another one just like it at any cost. I trolled the web for a couple days and found another one for double the price of the one that had been on sale, and was just about to buy it, when I happened to check back with the initial website, and they suddenly had it available in my size again. I triumphantly bought it, and was so excited to get it…until it arrived. It was much cuter online than in person – in person it was much boxier, and the neckline was a lot lower than I’d realized. Much like the blouse mentioned above, every time I wore it I found myself checking to see if my bra was showing. I kept it for longer than I should have, trying to convince myself I liked it, because when I thought about the fervor with which I’d pursued it, I felt stupid. But that’s the trouble with keeping things that make you feel that way – every time you look in your closet, they mock you and remind you of your mistake. I decided it was better to admit my error and get rid of it, rather than have to look at it every day and feel guilty.
In the end, the size of the pile I amassed really surprised me:
But I didn’t feel hesitant about getting rid of any of it. I took it to resale and walked out with $84, which I’ve used to replace some of my worn out basic summer staples like shorts and t-shirts. Everything I bought I found on incredible sales ($8.99 for some summer t-shirts at J. Crew, are you kidding me???), and I love the colors I chose, the quality of the items, and how they fit.
I have less stuff in my closet now than I’ve ever had, and while there still may be a few “on the fence” items lurking in there, I am pretty thrilled with everything I’ve kept, and still feel like I have a lot of stuff – maybe even too much. It may not be be lagom yet, but it sure has been a pleasure to get dressed in the morning.
I’ve got a new guest post up at the tiny homes site:
It actually went live yesterday and I forgot to post about it. You know what else I forgot yesterday? That is was Ron’s birthday, until I looked at Facebook and saw people wishing him a happy birthday there. The best part is, my birthday was two weeks ago and Ron did the EXACT same thing – we were up and about for a couple hours before he went on Facebook and then realized it was my birthday.
We weren’t trying to be callous. It was an honest mistake on both our parts, because we decided to delay celebrating our birthdays this year until June, when we’ll have more money to celebrate with. So we agreed that we wouldn’t do anything for each other this month on our actual birthdays – no card, no cake, no nice dinner, no gifts. We’ll do a joint celebration in June instead. As a result, when both days hit, they felt like any other day. I’m totally looking forward to our celebration in June, but I have to say, getting out of debt this month was the best present ever!
As of today, May 16th, 2014, Ron and I are officially out of credit card debt.
Let me just say that again….
WE ARE OUT OF CREDIT CARD DEBT!!!!!!!!
(Gee, it feels good to type that sentence!)
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might recall that it was May of 2013 when we took my dad’s advice about a process for paying down our debt and finally got really serious about digging ourselves out of the financial hole. A year later, we’ve accomplished it. I know I probably sound all braggy, but trust me, it was a long, crappy, depressing year filled with a lot of work, cost cutting, saying no to things, and very little fun. So I’m gonna brag a little, because I feel like we’ve earned it. I couldn’t be prouder of us.
A year ago this time, between my personal credit card, Ron’s credit card, and a joint household credit card, we were $26,000 in debt. It took me a long time to be able to admit our debt number to people, because I was ashamed of it. I knew we’d racked up that debt with some legitimate costs, but most of it was the result of a lot of careless spending, on stuff we didn’t need or love. Whether our number was more or less than anyone else’s is irrelevant – what matters is that we don’t have the income to support carrying that kind of debt, so for us, it was a really bad idea. Not to mention, the interest those cards were accruing was DISGUSTING. In order to pay it off in a year, we have been trying to come up with roughly $1,300 just in credit card payments every month, which let me tell you, was no easy feat with my variable actor income, and all our other bills.
But it’s over now – we have paid off every single penny, and it feels amazing. A week ago, when I asked Ron what he thought it would feel like to finally have it all behind us, he said, “I imagine it being like when the main character in a fairy tale is finally freed from the spell of an evil witch or wizard or something. That’s what this past year has felt like – like we’ve been under some kind of bad curse that couldn’t be broken.” That’s actually a pretty accurate description. Now we just feel…FREE.
I’ll write a post sometime soon with more specifics about our pay down process for anyone who is interested, but today, we are just going to celebrate. Ron took the day off work, and I don’t have a ton I have to do so we can spend some relaxed time together. We have a fancy bottle of champagne we’ve been saving for a special occasion, and I can’t think of a better time to drink it. While we still haven’t bolstered our account up enough to go out to dinner to celebrate, we’ll make a nice dinner at home, and the character I play on Grimm is in tonight’s episode (season finale!), so we’ll probably stay home and watch that. And we won’t have to feel guilty about any of it, because we aren’t charging anything to make it happen, and it’s totally within our means.
Best. Day. Ever.
I cannot tell you how excited I am to share this story from my friend Danielle Fournier. I got a message from Danielle one day after she read one of my posts, sharing some details of her own story and I begged her to write a guest post for me. I’ll go ahead and let you discover it for yourself, but I have to say, I am so inspired and humbled by Danielle’s journey and her honesty about the details of how she got herself into debt and then found her way out of it. All I can say to Danielle is, “Bravo!”, and to my readers, “Enjoy!”:
Confessions Of A Former Shopaholic
I was once a shopaholic.
When I turned 18, I received a $3,000 credit card from my bank. I hit the ground running and didn’t look back.
My first purchase was indicative of a pattern that would lead to near financial ruin fifteen years later. At the time, I lived just up the hill from Frederick & Nelson’s in Seattle. I used my shiny new credit card to purchase the most useful of items- a full length silver fox fur coat. I celebrated that purchase with perfume from another department, then dinner, then a trip to the cd store. All of it was bought with money I didn’t have.
Credit was cheap in the 90’s. My minimum payments, which was all I ever made, were $35-$75 a month. Easily affordable for a young woman with a roommate, a decent income and no responsibilities or financial planning aspirations.
My credit was so good, I bought a house at 25. By the time I was 30, I had 12 credit cards totaling nearly $80,000 in available credit, two cars on payment, a mortgage and second mortgage. I was a model of credit worthiness, all payments made on time, month after month. My house was lovely, the rooms filled with designer sheets, seasonal decor, and collectibles. I had three sets of dishes, including a service of fine china, and closets full of fashionable clothes, most with the tags still intact. Life was good.
However, it wasn’t really. I lived on credit. I had gas cards, department store cards, regular Visas and Mastercards, plus an American Express. Debit cards weren’t in high use yet, but I had an active check book and ATM card. I spent money as fast as I could make it. I never, ever had more than $40 on me, because I was breaking $100s the minute I got them. But hey, the money kept coming in every month, so who cared?
Two events happened a year apart that would bring me to my financial knees and change my life forever.
On May 27, 2007, my younger brother was involved in a diving accident that would devastate our family in ways both financial and emotional. Spinal cord injuries require vast amounts of care involving medications, caregivers, and surgeries. My parents saw their retirements wiped away in a matter of months caring for their son when the insurance wouldn’t cover expenses.
I found myself leaving a three generation family business to go into sales in my brother’s business while we figured out what his prognosis was. Three months turned into six, then a year. I spent six days a week traveling. My bills started falling behind.
I sold my car. I used the money for something other than my bills. I stopped buying a new wardrobe every season. I kept working, but the bills kept stacking up in my new position with lower pay. As a family, we all pitched in and just made it work that first year. We all lived in a haze of sadness over the injury, but remained hopeful for both physical and financial recovery.
I received a phone call from my father in October of 2008. I had turned over my finances to him during the past year when I was working out of town. The truth is, I knew I was in trouble and I couldn’t face the facts, so I just let him handle it. I completely stuck my head in the sand.
I knew what was coming. I had to sell my house.
I cried and cried and cried. I had turned a humble chalet with yellow Formica and glued down carpeting on five acres into a charming abode with high ceilings and custom wood floors. I was so proud I had done this in my twenties. I had all these things that signaled me as a success. And now I was going to part with each and every one of them.
I felt like a horrible failure. But it was the beginning of the happiest time of my life.
My beautiful little house sold in less than three weeks. I had no time to sort or even clean. Box after box went into the moving van. I had rented a tiny apartment next to my parents in Seattle that had room for a bed, a love seat, a desk and a bookcase. The kitchen was three burners, a small sink and a mini fridge. Everything else went into three 10×20 storage units.
Since the house had doubled in value, I paid all my debts off. I then closed each card, dying as I cut each one to bits over a trash can. They weren’t any good anyway. I had stopped paying them three months before when I could no longer afford the payments. My cheap and easy credit had ballooned to a whopping $7,000 a month, the mortgage being the smallest of the bills. I decided wrecking my credit was favorable over not paying off the cards. With my income cut in half, my only choice was to sell everything I owned to pay the debts.
There was one beautiful, beautiful blessing in my house sale. I got to see Paris.
With all my debts paid, I had some left over. I was heartbroken over the past two years and I decided I would let my money serve me for once. I was going to make a dream come true. Stuff, no matter how fine or beautiful, has never filled me up. It has never loved me, never held me or wiped a tear, or left me in wonder after a conversation.
Thanks to a travel agent with a a huge heart and lots of experience, I was able to travel for nine weeks on a budget I had previously reserved for a weeklong soiree at a hotel. Armed with three sets of clothes and a pencil, I roved over 16 countries by myself. I came home a changed person.
It turns out, the worst thing that ever happened to me was really the best thing to ever happen. Strangely enough, letting go gave me so much more than I ever dreamed of. I only pay cash now for anything, preferably with real paper money. Now, when I want to buy a pair of shoes, I do so without remorse or guilt. But I have a rule, for each one that comes in, one item must leave my closet. I have learned to create and respect boundaries with my stuff, which has poured over into all areas of my life.
Cutting the ties with things has opened me up to experience. My identity no longer revolves around labels, and I have found peace in simplicity. From the joy of making my own dinners to being able to afford four weeks of travel a year on a very average income (because I no longer shop frivolously), I live a life no longer tied to my financial security dictating every move I make.
And that is the greatest luxury.
D.E. Fournier’s stories explore the places where the mundane and the mystical coincide in everyday life. A third generation newspaper publisher, ink is in her blood. She studied Ethnic Studies at Oregon State, before earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Full Sail University. She lives in Seattle. Read her travel blog at http://farandawaytravelblog.blogspot.com/