This guest post from Gina is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all levels of financial maturity and with all sorts of incomes.
Back in 2007, I found myself experiencing an unexpected divorce. After the smoke, I realized where I was financially and panicked. However, my inner frugalista soon showed herself and I began making financial choices that had not been possible before. I started investing my time and effort into my finances. The momentum I developed surprised me and continues to surprise me today.
This is what I learned to do:
- I took my former budget for two and turned it into a budget for one. I continue to follow that budget and let it evolve over time. I know not everyone likes to budget, but a budget gives me the structure I need.
- I started using the envelope system. Whenever I was paid, I would take cash out of the bank and distribute it to my envelopes. What a relief! It worked, and I realize now that it relieved me from having to make more decisions. I still use this today. This one tool helps me know that if I did get a big chunk of money that I wouldn't blow it.
- I pay off my credit card every month and have spent time fine-tuning my personal system for limiting credit card charges when there's no more money to spend.
- I went after my vehicle loan and paid that off. Very nice — my first taste of financial freedom. I decided that I'd start saving now for my next vehicle, because it makes me sleep better at night.
- After my vehicle loan was paid off, I increased my 401(k) contribution. I had dropped my bi-weekly paycheck contribution in order to get through some really tight times. I'm hoping to increase my 401(k) contribution with this year's raise to where I would like it to be for a while. It's not maxed out … yet. I'm also investigating a Roth IRA.
- I now have four months of mortgage payments in the bank. My goal is to have six months saved, and that could happen within a few months. A very cool aspect of this is that I'm getting used to seeing bigger and bigger numbers in my bank account.
- Mortgage debt is the only debt I have. My house is “under water” but not too badly. I can't refinance right now. Even so, when I have extra money I've been going after the mortgage debt. As big as it all is, I have a dream goal of paying off all the mortgage debt. There's a real sense of satisfaction for me when I make a principal only payment. With this one specific action I continue to give myself more choices, more financial freedom, and increase my net worth.
After four years of applying the basics, I feel like I've reached the second stage of financial maturity: “Choosing to live frugally, saving in earnest, and pursuing financial goals.” What a great place to be!
The momentum of the choices that I've made for the last four years is seriously paying off. Because of my age and my debt levels, I've had to pursue more than one big goal at a time. I understand this is just a complication of the circumstances of my life right now. I may not have the compounding luxuries of my 20s and 30s, but I have the wisdom and focus of my 40s.
Today I'm committed to continuing my diligent efforts with my finances. It has become a natural way for me to expend my energy. I'm also looking forward to solidifying my second stage position and working towards the third stage of personal finance. Thanks to Get Rich Slowly for the motivation and inspiration!