Monica Bielanko
A chronicle since 2005 of my marriage & move to Brooklyn in my twenties; becoming a mother in my thirties; moving to Pennsylvania and learning to amicably coparent after divorce in my forties while living 3 doors down from my ex-husband in a small country town.
That's What She Said
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Monday
Aug312009

I Don't Believe In Debt

It has become all muddled. My great experiment initially began as the idea that I wanted to get out of debt, move to the Pennsylvania countryside and become a stay-at-home-mom. That's still the goal, but then I went and called this new writing contest thing we're doing THE GREAT EXPERIMENT because I wanted to find a way to help other people get out of debt and now it's all confusing. I need a new name for the first great experiment. My great experiment

I've become obsessed with getting out of debt. I'm thinking about it for much of the day. When it looks like I'm debating the merits of leading our 5pm newscast with a domestic murder versus the debate over sex education in Utah I'm really adding up numbers and mentally calculating how long until I can pay off this or that bill.

Debt-free living appears to me to be the only way to ever be truly free. I was raised without even the slightest lessons on money saving, bill paying, what have you. To be frank here, I was raised to get away with whatever you can when you can. Clerk give you too much change? Score! Bank accidentally deposits too much in your account? Well, what are you waiting for? Get your ass to RC Willey and buy a new goddamn TV! On credit of course, use the extra bank cash for some new clothes! Point is, mom's not the best with money, I think, because no one ever taught her either. It took me until this year, this, the 33rd year of my life, to learn that debt is for losers and poor people. I'm 32, by the way, working on my 33rd year, not 33. Now, before you get all blustery because you're up to your eyeballs in debt and don't appreciate being called a loser by some chattery yayhoo on the internet just know that I'm in debt too!

Here's how I think it works or why many (not all) poor/middle class folk are still living paycheck to paycheck. Poor people don't want to be poor, of course. Who wants to be poor? It's been my experience that when a little extra cash comes my way, instead of saving, I run out and buy the first item I can think of that will elevate my status. A new couch, TV or some fancy wardrobe item. This is not a conscious decision as in; I want to appear fancier than I am! (although many people knowingly live FAR above their means) It's more like fuck this, I've been broke yet working hard for so long I deserve a new whatever-it-is. So I'd buy whatever-it-is and go back to living paycheck to paycheck. And guess what? You never get anywhere and you forget about whatever-it-is within weeks.

Before this year, whenever I'd get some extra cash, I'd buy an item I'd rationalized that I needed. New couch. Rug. Whatever. But the difference between need and want is as wide as the Grand Canyon. Even though the Grand Canyon is a big fucking place, a lot of folks are blind to the distance that separates need and want. For whatever reason, I woke up this year and realized that I can spend the rest of my life in the vicious cycle that I've been hamster wheeling since I started working, or I can get my shit together and lead a more relaxed, happy life while teaching my daughter the keys to financial freedom.

Ever hear of Dave Ramsey? He's my new God. I love him more than I loved Cory Haim/Johnny Depp/Jared Leto/Brad Pitt/Clive Owen/Howard Stern. Dave Ramsey has a radio show during which all he does is answer money questions. Dave, my grandma just died and left me twenty grand. Should I save it or pay off my student loan? Dave, I'm not sure if I should sell my house and buy a smaller one or just refinance the house and try to make bigger payments each month. I love Dave. Would tongue kiss him if given the chance. His plucky southern accent, his Ross Pero-isms, it all just gets me to tingling. So Dave, he has this book called The Total Money Makeover which I just bought off Amazon. It contains his baby steps to financial freedom. Here they are:

1. $1,000 to start an Emergency Fund
2. Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball
3. Three to six months of expenses in savings
4. Invest 15 percent of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement
5. College funding for children
6. Pay off home early
7. Build wealth and give!
8. Invest in mutual funds and real estate

As you might have guessed, I'm on baby step 1. And kind of 2. It hurts me to save money when I could be paying down my stupid credit card. So I'm doing both at the same time which I guess is kind of like gambling. If an emergency popped up I'd have to max the credit card to get myself out of the jam and then I'd be back to square one. I should just do what Dave says and get $1,000 in the bank already.

So yeah. Reading this may be like watching paint dry for y'all but I really want to chronicle my journey here. Because when I'm debt-free, living in my big ol' house in the country and riding my pony to the general store to buy flour and beans and you wonder how I did it I'll be able to refer you back to the archives here. Now, I just need a name for the whole process as THE GREAT EXPERIMENT is already taken. Speaking of which; we'll kick that off again tomorrow when I announce the new topic. This time the entry fee is $5 and the contest will go the whole month.

Reader Comments (21)

I am 31, in my 32nd year technically, and I am not debt free. But my only debt are my student loans. BUT, here is the big BUT, I need to buy a car. Yep my brother's car died, so he is driving my car (which got given to me), and I am driving mom's and she is driving her newly inherited truck. So that leaves me really needing to buy a car. The plan for now is to let my bro have my car, and mom is going to help me with a down payment on a new car. I have never had a monthly car payment. I have never gone to a bank or anything and tried to get financing! Now THAT is scary!

August 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Monica, hey, I cannot seem to figure out how to email you. My outlook does not work and it won't give out your email address. I feel like a stalker, but I am writing to ask you how I can pay you for last month's contest and this months. My email address is mizkylie@gmail.com if you have time to drop me a line and let me know what you think. I am so sorry to bother you again! I am excited to find out what the new topic is! ;)

August 31, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkylie

My email is monicabielanko at yahoo dot com

August 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThe Girl Who

So when you do everything this guy says to do...then do you get to buy stuff???

August 31, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjazzylove

Everyone has credit card debt and I think posting about your journey to becoming debt free is an awesome idea. It will surely inspire others to get on board. And just think, if more people relied less on their credit cards, focused less on consumption and more on living and being, well, who knows what might happen?

August 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJan

Hey Monica - in the UK we have our very own God, only he's called Martin 'something or other'. Everyone knows him as Martin, Money Saving Expert!
He gives power to the people - he single handedly took on the Banks and told people how to get back bank charges going back about ten years, because the charges were illegal. Some people got literally thousands of pounds paid back to them.

I have to confess I've been known to call or text my daughter at 6.30 in the morning, saying something along the lines of "Quick, put on ITV, it's Martin MSE and he's telling us how to switch our credit card to a 0% interest, and save hundreds of £££'s".

Cautionary tale though, God makes mistakes - he did tell us all that the Icelandic bank, Icesave was pretty safe for investing our money and it collapsed.

August 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

I'll never be out of debt for two reasons: My mortgage and my student loan debt. But other than that, we only have a nominal balance on one credit card of about 2300. The car is paid off. So I feel pretty good about that. Our savings is way healthy and we both are still putting into our 401K's and all that so I feel pretty good.

August 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeneria

OK, I thought up some names for your mission!

MONICA'S MONEY MAKEOVER

or

OPERATION OUT OF THE RED

or

CREDIT & FORGET IT (Just kidding)

August 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKate

Katie, I like your titles! Living the simple life in the country sounds heavenly- I have to admit that I am debt free, and that is because my parental units drilled into me that you don't spend willy-nilly, and you save your money for something that you really want. I think during that extra time of wanting and saving you get a perspective, and don't spend impulsively.

It's so expensive to live in SF- I really have to watch myself. I tend to spend most of my disposable income on restaurants... ugh.

PS- I think your theory how/why people spend is right on, Monica.

August 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

oh sisterfriend, i am totally down with this money saving, hoarding, getting it all straight concept.

the living it, however, it breaking my soul in half daily.

i do the same things, and i rationalize the hell out of the, you know, i work hard, i deserve....this. or that. or 30 dollars worth of not very nice jewelry from for love 21 (cough cough this weekend cough).

and then i find myself still in debt, still s.o.l., still needing to fix my car, still searching for the next nanosecond of happiness that consumerism might buy me...and then, finally, sort of depressed that I get so giddy about spending the money that i earned doing the job that isn't exactly where i saw myself. ever. and i don't dislike my job. its just not the creative bastion of intelligence and challenges that i desperately wish it would magically morph into over, well, every night. ever.

so. hold on, stay strong, stay focused, I think you've got the right idea and some breakneck determination. now, you've just got to stick to it....and i tihnk you've got better resolve than i do :-)

August 31, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWinder

Yeah. It's a tough balance. You can't deny yourself so much you just get pissed at the world. At this point we're still buying alcohol because, well, you know. Serge still buys his flyfishing stuff. Me? I'm still holding out on not coloring my hair but I did buy a crockpot on sale at Wal-Mart. Got any good crockpot recipes? Bring it.

August 31, 2009 | Registered CommenterMonicaBielanko

I think financial responsibility is something that most of us only learn with age and experience....especially when you suddenly find yourself responsible for the well being of a child, but also...that ability to look to the long term and understand action and consequence is something that biologically, our brains only really get the hang of in our mid/late 20s and onwards. (And well, some of us take a bit longer than that....I just hope that my wrinkles and cellulite will have a delayed onset too.)

Sure it helps if your parents give you some basic lessons but i think most intelligent people will make a couple of financial mistakes and find it a miserable enough experience that they won't go there again (my lesson came when i was 19 and got my first credit card with way to big a limit .... when I got in trouble my parents wouldn't help me out and said I'd thank them one day.....I can assure you, that is a situation you only get yourself into once)

I found that once i found a lifestyle that i enjoyed, i didn't use retail therapy to compensate and with bigger goals to chase I don't fritter money on the small stuff. We still spend far too much on booze and i hinted over the weekend that perhaps we should try to cut back.....he just grunted...I guess acknowledgment is better than a flat out "no".

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Good luck Monica. I am very impressed with your efforts to cut back and save. I really think this will change your life for the better. I also think your daughter will have a better life because of your efforts now.

My parents taught me that it is best to live within my means, to never keep a credit card balance, and to save. Luckily, my husband's parents taught him the same thing. We live comfortably, but rarely buy the latest tech gadgets, trendy clothes, etc. I would rather see my money market account balance go up. It is incredibly satisfying!

Also, I believe in the saying “You’ve got to save money to make money”. Compound interest is a wonderful thing.

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDana

Three months ago, I was 100% debt free (except for the mortgage). Then my wonderful parents gave me a “free trailer”. Well, this turned out to be the most expensive free gift I’ve ever had. I had to buy a truck to pull it ($25,000) and I’ve NEVER had a car payment in my life. It sucks. Then you need an equalizer hitch, trailer brakes, and on and on… oh don’t forget a couple of motorcycles to go camping with also. Now I am in debt and I hate it. I figure that I will just have to bite the bullet and budget again for the next couple of years to get out again. I hope it is worth it. I have really enjoyed all the camping this summer with my family. My son loves the dirt bikes. I will let you know if it was worth it in a year or two.

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

Beans & rice; rice & beans! Love Dave! (although I turn it down when he uses his show as a platform for his religious and political views - which I don't agree with most of the time). But - his advice is terrific and is doable for ANYONE. We are debt free, including house, cars and credit cards. Its been 13 years and while it wasn't Dave that pushed us to this, he keeps me on track when I'm tempted to do something stupid.

It is amazing to not really worry about money! We don't fight over money anymore, and though occasionally we go over a bit on the monthly budget for things we just want (like a case or two of a wine we both love that's on sale - one of our biggest downfalls), we are comfortable and financially safe.

HANG IN THERE, MONICA! You will NEVER regret it - and neither will Serge or Violet.

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermary

I think the turning point comes when you realize that saving is not a harship. It is not a sacrifice. It isn't like you are squirreling away money that you will never see again. It is YOUR money and you DO get to spend it some day! Personally, I receive far more satisfaction from seeing my account balances go up than from buying new clothes or technology. Then again I have incredibly high security needs so I think that I'd be a nervous wreck if I felt like I was one paycheck away from financial stress.

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSuzie

2 questions about the contest:

1. I don't have a blog. I love to write though. Had a tiny children's story published once. Actually it's here: http://www.hcibooks.com/p-2738-chicken-soup-for-the-mother-and-daughter-soul.aspx (Click on "READ AN EXCERPT") That's my story...The Magic Jar Years.

anyway....

2. I have a Twitter and they have an Application called TwitBlogs that I could use to write my entry. Is that suitable?? I can write as much as I want with that. I think it would be fun to play along this time!

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCMarie

TwitBlog is fine :) just anything I can link to!

September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTheGirlWho

Do you need to go to some crooked financial type place (Smith-Barney-Rubble) to invest in a Roth IRA and that pre-tax thing?
Can you do it yourself without the 10% skim?

September 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJ

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September 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGofticrot

hey, speaking of crock pot recipes...this is one of those crock pot all day or just all day saturday in a pasta pot recipes...jacked from ina garten, who i'd like to one day grow up to be...and oh...there's a whole bottle of red wine in it (actual wine or perhaps slightly watery wine will do...but after that, i'd give it up)...


i buy cheap(er) cuts of meat and tenderize them a little longer, and i don't sit there and wait for it to all come together, let the meat/wine/basil soak overnight, brown the meat, and the whole shebang goes into the crockpot. 8 hours later the house smells like heaven. the leftovers are even sexy.

parker's beef stew

September 3, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwinder

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