Well, it’s time to come clean on my spending in September. And was there ever a lot of spending!

Where the money went: September 2016.

Where the money went: September 2016.

I have a lot of feelings about my spending during the month of September that I’m still trying to work through. On paper, it doesn’t look too encouraging: I spent $2,445 while bringing home $2,529. Which means I spent 96% of my take-home pay. Not exactly what I’m striving for most months.

My two biggest purchases last month were for a new camera and laptop. They were planned purchases. Kind of. 

I keep a list of things that I think I need to save for over the next few years. The list includes things that I want (like a new digital camera), along with things that I think I’ll end up needing, like a new cell phone. I try to prioritize as best I can, and allocate my $150 in savings each week accordingly. I’ll be honest, my priorities are constantly changing. For example: Having money set aside for a cell phone has been my #1 priority lately. After all, my cell phone isn’t exactly new, and who knows when it might finally break down (or I might accidentally drop it in the toilet)? I want to have that money in savings whenever the need arises.

At the same time, I have no plans on replacing my cell phone until absolutely necessary. It’s such a hassle, and I’m not fond of learning new technology. So, even though it’s my #1 priority, sometimes it loses it’s #1 standing. Like when I find a really great deal on a Canon digital camera, with a standard and 75-300mm lens, and camera bag (for $449, plus tax). Which also happened to be on my savings list, although not as high up as the cell phone. And, since I expected to spend $1,000-2,000 on the camera, it made sense to move it to the top of my list when I found it for a great deal.

The new laptop was a little closer to a necessity; Bryan and I have been limping along with my old laptop for years. He bought a tablet with a keyboard in February, thinking it would carry us along for a while with my laptop. Actually, he bought one tablet at Sam’s Club, which we took back within a matter of days because the keyboard wouldn’t hold a connection. He then bought a different tablet at HH Gregg’s, which has some connection problems as well. And, the longer we have it, the less likely it is to turn on when we want to use it. Basically, it was a total waste of money. And now, the old laptop is starting to freeze up constantly. So, when we were buying the camera at Fry’s Electronics, we found a new laptop on sale for $287 (plus tax). And, for some reason when we bought the laptop and the camera together, we scored an additional $70 off the camera!

So, the cell phone and a few other items got knocked down on savings priority, so we could buy the laptop and the camera. Of course, since then I’ve already managed to reach my $500 savings goal for the cell phone again. And honestly, $500 is way more than I’ll probably spend when I end up buying a new cell phone. I’m just more comfortable having that amount for it in savings, just in case. And, even though we have a new laptop, at some point in the next few months, we’ll probably end up buying another one. That way we’ll each have a working laptop.

Grocery costs were low, mainly because Bryan was gone for a week. I was supposed to go with him and a friend on a fishing trip to Minnesota, but I backed out at the last-minute because work has been crazy, and the timing seemed terrible. I thought I’d spend the entire week making all the crazy foods that Bryan doesn’t like, or going out to eat, and spend a ton of money. Instead, I spent the week eating grilled cheese, working long hours, and finishing projects around the house. I actually bought a loaf of bread at Menards so I wouldn’t have to make a separate trip to the grocery store. I quickly realized how much better my life is with Bryan around, even with some awesome variations of grilled cheese while he was away. But I managed to get ahead at work, removed the nasty old caulk (and re-caulked) our walk-in shower, which looks so much cleaner now, and reorganize our pantry area with some pegboard shelves. So the week wasn’t a total loss.

I went to Target last month. I had a list. I mostly stuck to the list. And yet, somehow, I walked out having spent $261. And I even had a $10 off coupon! I bought T-shirts, socks, and a shirt for work. I bought a gift for a co-worker, and a Christmas gift for my sister and her husband. I bought some groceries. Bryan and I had a party to attend where we were in charge of the Gin and Tonics and Brandy Slushes, so I bought everything but the alcohol for those items. I bought a nice 3-ring binder and some sheet protectors so we could organize our canning recipes. Cause we’re old-school like that.

While I was on vacation with my Mom and sisters, I somehow managed to hurt my back. Maybe sleeping on a pull-out chair for a week? Maybe when my sister jumped on my back at the pool? Maybe some other stupid thing I did, because there was alcohol involved? Regardless, I woke up one day in terrible pain. Luckily it was my upper back, which I feel is way easier to deal with than lower back pain. I went to the doctor once we got home, and was put on muscle relaxers and prescription Naproxen, and told to come back for X-Rays if it wasn’t better in a week. And, I almost did, because it didn’t really get better in a week. But then I tripped and fell, because I’m clumsy like that, and busted up my knee pretty badly. Nothing serious, but it definitely took the focus off my back. All of this meant September’s spending includes co-pays, prescriptions, and a variety of really big band-aids. Just when I started to think I should see the doctor for my knee, I stubbed my toe really badly…

September wasn’t exactly the month I thought it would be. I’m still adjusting to being debt free, and my new spending and savings rates. There are a few things I need to talk about more, but I think it’s best saved for another post. I hope October will be a little better spending wise. But, the Holidays are coming, so I mostly expect spending for the rest of the year to be on the high side.

  • Cindy W.


* Lottery savings is the $20 that I put away each week, in cash, for NOT playing the lottery. This is equal to the amount Bryan spends each week playing the lottery. If he wins, the money is “ours”. My “spending” the same amount every week makes things seem more fair. At the end of the year, we’ll probably use the Lottery Savings money to take a vacation. It’s like a guaranteed win!

** Insurance covers two term life insurance policies: One insuring me, and one insuring my younger sister. I pay my car insurance every 6 months, and renters insurance once a year.

*** To make things easier to track, I only list items that come out of my net pay, or what gets deposited into my checking account. My 401(k), health insurance, Flexible Spending Account, and other expenses that are taken directly from my weekly paycheck by my employer are not included here.

Net Worth Icon

Welcome to my monthly net worth post for September, 2016. Each month, I post a complete breakdown of my net worth, along with a chart showing the progression of my net worth since the start of this blog. Posting my net worth helps keep me accountable for what I do with my money, and motivates me to make better choices and push to reach new goals. You can see previous net worth updates here

Once again this month, I’m late getting the numbers out. And honestly, I don’t really have a good excuse. Work has been busy, and other than that, we’ve just been enjoying life. Things really are great right now!

Well, my handle on my money situation could probably be a little better:

September 2016 Net Worth:

Net Worth as of September 29, 2016.

Net Worth as of September 29, 2016.

September ended up being a much spendier month that I expected. I bought things. Several things. Expensive things. Honestly, I bought said expensive things because we found some really great deals. And, we were planning on buying them anyways. And, I had the cash available to buy them. Granted, I wasn’t planning to buy said expensive things in September. But I was planning to buy them eventually. And that’s kind of the same thing, right?

I thought (and felt) a lot about buying expensive things during the month of September. Had I not bought expensive things, my net worth would currently be about $800 higher. And, as a (sometimes) personal finance blogger who feels like she finally has her finances together, aren’t I not supposed to even want to buy things? Sure, I’m putting 25% of income into my 401(k) plan. But I could be saving so much more for the long-term. Or even for the medium-term. I look at my savings goals, and most of them are short-term things. I’m dreaming of buying stuff. Aren’t I supposed to be above stuff?!?! 

Eventually I came to the conclusion that I am not a minimalist frugalista. Nor do I necessarily want to be. Bryan and I aren’t big shoppers. And we try to make sure our purchases are well thought out. But yes, we like having nice things. We like stuff. Especially stuff that makes our lives better, or easier, or less frustrating. Or even just funner. So, on occasion, we buy stuff. Expensive stuff. And some months, we buy a lot of expensive stuff. $800 worth of expensive stuff. And then we move on, knowing that the world isn’t going to end, and our future plans aren’t at stake, just because we bought expensive stuff.

So, I only had $730 in growth during the month of September. Which is about half of what I would have expected. If I’m being completely honest, I don’t foresee having any big growth months left in 2016. After all, the Holidays are coming. We’re still going to travel some this year. We might buy more expensive stuff. My net worth will keep growing, albeit at a slower pace. And the world won’t end.

Net Worth Progress Chart:

Monthly Net Worth since the start of this blog (February 2013).

Monthly Net Worth since the start of this blog (February 2013).

At some point in the next week I hope to get the spending numbers together. And then we can talk more about the expensive stuff that was bought. Maybe I’ll even put together a post about our expensive plans for the future? Maybe…

  • Cindy W.

Well, it’s only half way through September, and I’m finally getting my spending update together for August. Finally!

Where the money went: August 2016

Where the money went: August 2016

There’s really nothing too surprising about August’s spending. Yes, I spent a lot on vacation. Most of this was for food (lots of dinners out)and beverages (did we really drink THAT much?!?!). But I’m happy with that amount; I’d planned for $150/day, or $1,200 for the 8 days. So, even though I spent a lot, I came in under budget. I consider that a win!

I spent more on Groceries this month than I would have thought. But then I remembered: We did an awful lot of canning during the month of August! Pickles, relishes, jellies, tomatoes… We now have a pantry full of canned produce. Canning would be super cheap, if it weren’t for the jars. I’ve learned which stores have the best deals, and even managed to score a few big coupons for Ball jars, but it still adds up. We do save jars to reuse, but we also give away about half of what we can each year. Most people don’t return the empty jars. It is what it is. We enjoy canning, and we love sharing what we make, so we’re willing to accept the cost. But if you have any ideas on where to find cheap jars, I’m all ears!

I kind of consider restaurant spending to be a failure this month. I didn’t spend a lot, but what I did spend is made up of a bunch of little purchases. All fast food and Starbucks. *sigh* When I look back on the month, I don’t consider these “value added” purchases. I wasn’t spending time with anyone, or doing something for my health. But, then again, as I was getting that Starbucks drink, I would have definitely said it was adding value to my day. So…

I finally ordered checks with my new address. I think that’s the last thing I needed to change over from the move. It’s only taken me a year and a half! I was tempted to just keep using the old checks, since there were still so many left. When I changed the address, I also changed which account the checks were for; I had been writing checks out of my Spending account. I’m now writing checks from my Expense account. I really write very few checks, mostly just my monthly rent check. Since that comes out of my Expense account, it made more sense to switch the account, instead of continuing to transfer funds between accounts every month. Far less confusing!

In the end, I spent $2,137 in August, while earning $2,173. That’s higher than what I’d hope to see most months, but not bad for a month with a big vacation. And, since I’d saved ahead for the vacation spending, it isn’t like it all came out of August’s earnings.

  • Cindy W.

Net Worth Icon

Welcome to my monthly net worth post for August, 2016. Each month, I post a complete breakdown of my net worth, along with a chart showing the progression of my net worth since the start of this blog. Posting my net worth helps keep me accountable for what I do with my money, and motivates me to make better choices and push to reach new goals. You can see previous net worth updates here


I’m incredibly late with this month’s net worth update. My vacation led right into the long Holiday weekend, and I’ve been super busy at home and work trying to get caught back up. I did actually put together the numbers on time. I just didn’t manage to get them published here!

August 2016 Net Worth:

Net Worth as of August 31, 2016.

Net Worth as of August 31, 2016.

I’m really surprised by the amount of growth I had in August: $1,486! Most months I expect to see right around $1,500 in growth. But I took a girls trip in August with my mom and sisters. I budgeted $1,200 (or $150 per day) for food, beverages, and whatever else while on vacation. I expected the large amount of spending to wipe out most of the growth I’d have for the month. But I only ended up spending around $900 while we were gone. Plus, being away from Wednesday to Wednesday meant that I spent very little of my regular spending money over those two weeks.

Net Worth Progress Chart:

Monthly Net Worth since the start of this blog (February 2013).

Monthly Net Worth since the start of this blog (February 2013).

I expect the rest of the year to be fairly smooth, at least as far as net worth goes. The Holidays are coming, but I hope to spread my spending over several months, so there won’t be a big hit all at once.

And maybe things will calm down just enough so I can post my spending for August. Maybe.

  • Cindy W.

It seems as though Summer is drawing to a close. Most (if not all) of the schools around here are back in session. The heat is starting to subside, if only slightly. And our garden is starting to wind down.

I spend most of the year longing for warm weather, and then always end up feeling like it passes before I’ve really gotten to enjoy it. Blame it on the industry I work in: Construction’s busy season is the warmer months, and my work stress tends to spill over into my evenings. And age: Time seems to pass so much more quickly as you age!

Our main focus in the garden is always tomato plants, which are starting to show a little wear. I’d considered pulling up the cherry tomatoes, since the plants were looking ragged and starting to die off at the base. But then they found a “second wind”, and started blooming again. So, for now, they get to stay.

We got a late start to the season, since it was so wet during May and June. It wouldn’t have mattered, but we extended the garden, and Bryan wanted to till the new soil several times before we planted. Things didn’t get the start they should have before the hot weather hit. And then, the animals hit. Have I mentioned we live across the street from a state park? We have animals traipsing through our yard that I’m not even sure what they are! We put up a gallant fight, pulling out every old trick we could find, but it seems we may have lost the war. They munch on the tomatoes as soon as they start to show the slightest bit of color. They mowed down the corn as soon as little ears started to form. And our poor spaghetti squash plants must have had delicious leaves, as they ate every one as soon as it sprouted. The plant continued to vine out across the garden regardless, with little green stems sticking up where it’s leaves should have been. Eventually it wound it’s way between the cucumbers, which seemed to provide some refuge from the wildlife. We have one little squash that may actually make it!

Despite all of the animals, we’ve still managed to harvest a large amount of vegetables. More than we can eat, which has led to large amounts of canning and preserving. And this year, we’ve decided to try a “Fall crop”, which is a first for both of us. Last night Bryan tilled some of the now barren rows of our garden, while I planted a variety of radishes, lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, and sugar snap peas, all from seeds. These plants are supposed to do well with the cooler temperatures, and will hopefully mature before the frost hits.

Even if we don’t have great success, it’s nice to feel as though we can extend the growing season a little longer. After all, it won’t be long before the ground is frozen and dusted with snow. I’d like to hold on to the joys of Summer for as long as we can!

  • Cindy W.

It’s been about a month since I received my shiny new Visa credit card in the mail. I’d love to say that the whole thing has been a resounding success so far, but it hasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been a complete failure. But there have been some issues, and a few things I’m going to have to adjust to.

Right off the bat, I felt like I failed at using credit responsibly. We had a pricey weekend at the grocery store ($101.96), which happens from time to time. It always seems like we run out of toilet paper, paper towels, and other pricier items all at once. No big deal, I had the money in the bank to cover that. Except, Kohl’s was clearing out their swimsuits online. And I really wanted a new swimsuit for our upcoming vacation. I’d found three online that I really liked, in my size, and being online, I wasn’t sure which would fit the best. But I’d already spent down my clothing fund, and there wasn’t enough money in my spend account to cover the swimsuits and the grocery store charges.

I’ll be honest, I was really tempted to just buy the swimsuits, and worry about the credit card payment later. Really, really tempted. So, what did I do? Nothing. For eight days, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t pay the grocery charge, or order the swimsuits. I just waited, and thought. Overall, I was really disappointed in myself that this was even an issue. After all, if I didn’t have the credit card, I wouldn’t even be thinking about it. The money just wouldn’t be there!

In the end, waiting it out turned out to be a good thing. One of the swimsuits sold out. Kohl’s sent me some coupons. I squeezed my budget a little bit harder. I managed to find a way to pay off the grocery charges, and buy two swimsuits.

I’m still a little disappointed in myself though. After all, when I got the card, I told myself that I would pay off the charges immediately, so it would be just like spending cash. So, after that first charge, I decided to double down, and do what I originally set out to do.

Except, paying off the charges immediately isn’t an option. I quickly found that it takes several days to be able to pay off recent charges on your account. Even though the charges show up online!

My credit card transaction history.

My credit card transaction history.

There are two charges showing up right now online, both dated for 8/08/16. We actually made those charges on Friday, 8/05, and Sunday, 8/07. It took several days for the charges to show up. But, even now that they are there, I still can’t pay them:

Payment options.

Payment options on my credit card.

I’ve already paid the $57.17 statement balance, so it won’t let me pay that. And when I try to enter an “Other Amount”, it tells me I can’t pay more than the Current Balance. Grrr!

I probably should have expected that there would be a delay between when the charges were made, and when the system would allow me to pay them off. It isn’t the end of the world. But, it does kind of mess up the system I’ve had going for a while now. I don’t exactly follow a real budget; I give myself a set amount of money every week to spend on groceries, gas, and anything else I want. When it’s gone, it’s gone. Except now I can’t just look at my online banking to see what I have available to spend. I also have to look at my credit card balance. And then think about whether there are any other grocery store trips that haven’t cleared yet. And then do math…

My bank does allow me to put money into “reserve” for something, so I’m considering just moving the “spent” money into reserve, so it looks like it’s already gone. It just seems like such a pain to make a purchase, move the money to reserve, then later come back and pay off the purchase. I do so much better when everything is automated, and I don’t have to worry about it!

The rewards also aren’t as rewarding as I’d hoped. If I use my credit card at a Kroger gas station, I can save 25 cent per gallon through September. I’ve done this exactly zero times. I don’t get gas very often. I’d have to go out of my way to get to the closest gas station. And I don’t like the idea of also charging my gas. It’s one more thing to have to keep track of paying, and makes it harder to separate out my grocery and gas spending on my monthly spending updates. We are slowly earning points towards a possible quarterly rewards certificate, but it could take a really long time for us to rack up enough points to actually see a reward. Although, thankfully, the points do roll forward, so if we don’t earn enough in one quarter, we don’t lose all our points.

There is one benefit so far to having a credit card:

Credit Score as of 8/09/2016.

Credit Score as of 8/09/2016.


Credit score as of 7/13/2016.

Credit score as of 7/13/2016.

My credit score has gone up 10 points since I applied for a credit card. Which is good, since my credit score was the whole reason I was willing to consider getting a credit card in the first place! I have no intention of spending enough on my credit card to start chasing rewards.

I’d consider myself in the “transition phase” right now. It’s just like any other part of personal finance, be it budgeting, debt repayment, saving or investing: I have to figure out a system that works best for me! My plan right now is to give it a few months, and see how I feel. I may end up backing off to one purchase a month, instead of putting all my grocery spending on the card. Who knows? Maybe I’ll figure out something else that works even better for me. The point is, I’m wading in to something new. It doesn’t have to be perfect right off the bat!

  • Cindy W.

As July was a pretty fabulous month Net Worth wise, it should come as no surprise that it was a fairly uneventful month for spending as well:

Where the money went: July 2016.

Where the money went: July 2016.

I spent a total of $1,255 in July, while bringing home a total of $2,624. There isn’t really anything too out of the ordinary this month. I spent a lot more than I probably should have on clothes; I’ve found myself much more in the mood the last few months for clothes shopping, and have taken advantage of that to round out my wardrobe a little better. I’ve been buying a lot more warm weather clothes, which helps a lot for day-to-day life during the Summer, and will also help tremendously when we go to Florida in a few weeks.

The Grief Expenses in July were for two flower bead chaplets we’re having made for Bryan’s mom and sister, using flowers from his Dad’s funeral. We both come from Catholic families, although the two of us are non-practicing. Chaplets are like mini rosaries. There are numerous companies online that can make beads out of flower petals that you mail in, and turn them into jewelry, or rosaries, or chaplets. It will take 3-4 months for us to receive the finished chaplets, so I can’t really comment right now on whether the money spent was worthwhile, or if I would recommend the company we used. My Aunt did this after my Grandfather passed away years ago, and I still have my chaplet tucked away in a keepsake box.

The garden expenses this month were for more mulch, and straw for our back garden, where we’re growing cucumbers, zucchini, watermelon and eggplant. At this point, we’re mainly just harvesting and weeding in the garden, and making sure things stay adequately hydrated. We have started canning some things, but any canning supplies I’ve had to purchase have gotten lumped in to our groceries and household expenses.

I do technically have a negative spending category this month: Vacation. The total cost so far for the vacation I’m taking with my mom and sisters later this month has come to $3,461. That included the Resort, along with flights and tickets for 3 of us (my older sister is purchasing her flight and tickets separately, since she isn’t staying as many days). My portion of the cost should have been $1,034. That’s what I calculated into my June Net Worth and Spending numbers. However, my mom realized that it would be difficult for my sisters to afford all of the cost for vacation. Since she’s in a position financially to do so, she wanted to help them out. But, it bothers her that she helps my sisters out, but doesn’t do as much for me. I’m in a position to not need the help, and I definitely want both of my sisters there, so it doesn’t bother me in the least who pays for what. But my mom decided that, to make things fair, she would pay the entire cost of the Resort (i.e. the room). I was given $3,000 to cover the Resort, plus her and one sister’s tickets and flight. Which means I only paid $461 for vacation, instead of $1,034.

With all of that in mind, once again this month I tried to back my Spending numbers into my Net Worth, to see if the math worked out. What I finally realized is that, unless I get more detailed in my tracking, it’s never going to work out. Why? Because when I calculate my Net Worth each month, I use the “available balance” on my bank accounts, which includes all the charges that are pending on my debit card. But when I calculate my Spending, the export only pulls forward the amounts that have already cleared my accounts. Sure, I could manually include the pending charges in my Spending figures for the month. But then, when I go to figure the next month’s Spending numbers, I’d have to remember which charges I’d already figured into the previous month’s Spending, and manually remove those. Which starts to make the whole thing more complicated. Over the course of a year, those lagging end-of-month charges should pretty much be a wash. It isn’t like they aren’t accounted for! It’s just that some of the charges from the last few days of July will show up as though they are early August charges. And next month, late August charges might show up as early September charges. I could remove the pending charges from my Net Worth, but I feel as though including that money as already spent is a more accurate indication of the liquid funds I actually have.

Vacation spending will be big for August, but otherwise, I’m expecting a fairly boring month. And that’s a good thing!

  • Cindy W.

Net Worth Icon

Welcome to my monthly net worth post for July, 2016. Each month, I post a complete breakdown of my net worth, along with a chart showing the progression of my net worth since the start of this blog. Posting my net worth helps keep me accountable for what I do with my money, and motivates me to make better choices and push to reach new goals. You can see previous net worth updates here

Overall, July ended up being an incredibly uneventful month. We started harvesting vegetables from the garden. Spent time with friends and family. Unsuccessfully tried to combine spending time outdoors with staying out of the heat. You know, normal summertime activities.

As it turns out, uneventful months are great on the finances!

July 2016 Net Worth:

Net Worth as of July 31, 2016

Net Worth as of July 31, 2016.

I had a total net worth gain of $3,722 in July, which more than made up for my June shortcomings. The markets played nice, and I saw a fair increase in my 401(k) balance. I stayed on track with my emergency fund: It’s now at $4,840. By the end of this week, it will be fully funded at $5,000. Even the value of my vehicle is holding strong!

In the first week of July, I surpassed my goal of gaining $10,000 in net worth during 2016. I’ve managed to make a $12,932 increase so far. I doubt I’ll make it to $20,000 this year, but I should get fairly close, depending on what the markets do for the remainder of the year. Actually, in the next few weeks I’ll start putting a larger percentage of my income into my 401(k), which should make things more interesting. Long-term, it’s a great financial move. Short-term? Well, it means my net worth will be much more out of my control, and in the hands of stock market fluctuations. It should be an interesting ride!

Net Worth Progress Chart:

Monthly Net Worth since the start of this blog (February 2013).

Monthly Net Worth since the start of this blog (February 2013).

I’m expecting August to be a less stellar month, since I’ll be spending a large chunk of change while we’re on vacation. I already have that money set aside, in cash, so no worries there. Otherwise, I’m hoping for smooth sailing for the remainder of the year!

  • Cindy W.

I’ve waxed on and on about my feeling on being debt free. My student loans are long gone. The car loan? Gone! Right now, I have zero financial obligations tying me down. Not even a lease on an apartment! No contracts on anything. I could move tomorrow and change my entire life if I wanted to. It’s an amazing feeling!

In all honesty, my financial life is better than it’s ever been. For the first time since the age of 17, when I signed for my first student loan, I don’t have any debt. I have a spending plan. I save money for big and small goals. I live a cash-only life. I don’t make as many frivolous purchases. My financial situation gets better everyday.

Unfortunately, the credit bureaus don’t see it that way.

My credit score was at it’s best right before my sister defaulted on the student loan I had cosigned on. Every time I applied for a loan (for a car, and later a house), people commented on how they rarely saw scores so high. I had a handful of credit cards, with total limits exceeding my annual salary. I’d charge up my cards, never maxing them out, but sometimes acquiring as much as $20,000 in debt, and eventually pay them off. I had no cash savings. No real retirement savings. Nothing much of value to my name. And I was frequently spending more than I earned.

My financial situation was precarious. And lenders loved me for it.

And then, the loan was defaulted on. I didn’t even know what was going on, until my credit score fell. And I only knew that because the credit card rates started sky rocketing, and my available balances plummeted. My financial situation spiraled out of control, and I felt completely helpless to stop it. Lenders didn’t even want to talk to me anymore; the old advice of calling the companies to work out a deal got me no where.

Eventually, I filed bankruptcy. In hindsight, I don’t think that was the best plan, but at the time, it felt like the only option. And just like that, I had zero credit cards to back me up. At the time, I had a mortgage and student loans. Some financial advisors recommend getting a credit card as soon as possible after bankruptcy, to help rebuild your credit. I decided my financial life was more important than my credit score, and stuck with my cash lifestyle.

It hurt when I took out a loan on the Nissan Versa; I was making the most money I’d ever made, and was putting down a nice sized down payment, yet the rates offered to me were terrible. By the time I bought my Ford Escape, my credit score was in the mid 600’s. Bad, but better than it had been. It wasn’t as hard to get a loan, but the rates still weren’t that great. I wasn’t too concerned: My plan was to pay off the loan as quickly as possible. The quicker it was gone, the less interest I’d pay overall. A bad interest rate does make for some nice motivation!

I set all my bills to auto-pay, so I’d never miss a payment. I paid ahead as much as possible. I signed up for CreditKarma, and watched as my credit score slowly rose. Eventually, I made it into the 720’s. I was finally back into the “good” range.

And then, I paid off the car loan.

My credit score, as of 7/13/16, according to CreditKarma.

My credit score, as of 7/13/16, according to CreditKarma.

Okay, it isn’t the end of the world. It was a small hit, and I’m still in the “good” range, even if just barely. But the bigger issue is that I now had zero credit.

The makeup of my credit score, according to CreditKarma.

The makeup of my credit score, according to CreditKarma.

What would happen to my credit score from here, now that there was nothing to report? Sure, the “Derogatory Marks” would fall off in a few years. The “Total Accounts” are all accounts that were closed years ago. I currently have nothing in my name, and don’t foresee having anything in the next few years. Would my credit score continue to fall?

I’d love to adhere to Dave Ramsey’s thinking, that a credit score makes no difference what-so-ever. But, the reality is, your credit score affects more than just your ability to get credit. Insurance companies check your credit score to assess your risk. Jobs can check your credit score. And, if/when Bryan and I decide to buy a house, we’ll have to take out a loan. Right now, my credit score is the strongest of the two, and I foresee that being the case for at least the next few years: His divorce settlement left the mortgage in his name for another two years, while his ex-wife got the house, and is supposed to make the payments every month. A house that neither of them can now afford. So she’s been late on making the payment, every single month. He watches every month as his credit score plummets. I said my piece in the beginning, and have since let it go.

Note: A lawyer is a legal advisor, NOT a financial advisor. It’s very likely they have no idea how something will affect your credit score, or your future financial situation. They’re primary concern is what is LEGAL.

I’ve read so many personal finance blogs over the years espousing the value of credit cards, that I now skip those articles completely. But, I get the idea: If you can use credit responsibly (not buying things you can’t afford, paying off your balance in full every month), there are some great rewards to be had. Some bloggers have made a career out of advice on travel hacking using credit card rewards.

The last few years, I’ve been considering applying for a credit card. But I struggled to find one that I thought would add value to my life. After all, I don’t spend enough most months to qualify for those large sign-on bonuses. I don’t like the idea of putting all my spending on a credit card, just to earn more points. I feel more secure in seeing my spending limits by the amount of cash in the bank. Would we be able to earn enough points to make a credit card worthwhile? Would having a credit card make me feel like I could spend more? I definitely wanted to avoid any type of annual fees.

For a long time, I didn’t see the benefits of having a credit card as being worthwhile for my situation. And then I paid off the car loan, and my credit score dropped. I started reconsidering the value of a credit card in my life. And, eventually, I found one that made sense for us: A Visa card through the grocery store where we shop.

We already earn fuel points through the store’s loyalty program, which Bryan uses to help offset the high cost of fueling the Suburban. With the Visa card, we’d rack up more fuel points per transaction. Plus, we’d automatically save 25 cents per gallon for the first 3 months, and 5 cents per gallon after that. And we could accrue points for quarterly gift cards at the grocery store.

So, I filled out the application. And then I waited. And panicked: What if I didn’t qualify for a card? How would I maintain, or improve, my credit score?

After a few days, I decided it didn’t matter. If I wasn’t approved, life would continue on as it had been for the last few years. So, I wouldn’t have the greatest credit score? It wasn’t a big deal in our day-to-day lives. We’d make adjustments where we needed to, and life would go on.

It turns out, I didn’t need to worry. The card came in the mail, with a $5,500 limit, no less! This is way more than I foresee needing, which is a great thing in terms of credit utilization.

My plan is to only use the card for groceries and gas, and to hopefully pay it off weekly, to prevent overspending by thinking I have more cash available than I actually do. It’s a new venture for me, so I know I’ll need to adjust my plan as needed along the way. And I’ll have to be honest with myself about how it’s working. If I start to feel that my budget is suffering, I’ll change my use of the card to once monthly: Just enough to keep it active. The possibility of rewards is not worth letting my financial progress slip.

Hopefully this will be a good experience, and I’ll prove to myself that I really have matured over the years. Time will tell.

  • Cindy W.

You know, as an Accountant, you’d expect that my numbers would always add up. After all, I spend my days making sure things balance. And yet, as I was glancing over my June Spending Update yesterday, I realized that wasn’t the case. I earned $3,281 in June, while spending $2,936. That leaves $345, which should have been the difference between my May and June liquid assets on my June Net Worth Update. Except it wasn’t; My liquid assets went from $4,713 in May to $4,747 ins June. That’s only $34.

So where did the other $311 go?!?!

I’m not 100% sure!

99% of my spending is done on my debit card or through online banking. I very rarely hit the ATM for cash. Maybe once or twice a year? Yet there always seem to be those occasions where you end up with cash. Most often it’s because I went out to eat with my sister, and we split the tab, with me putting it all on my card, and she giving me cash. Or when I booked our upcoming vacation: I put the entire $3,461 on my debit card, and then the others gave me cash.

For my “Lottery Savings*”, I’ve been setting aside that money in cash, so I can consider that money already spent for net worth purposes. But, as I said, I don’t typically hit the ATM, or go to the bank and pull out cash. My online banking allows me the ability to name “savings goals” within my accounts; It’s like have little sub-accounts, where you can see how much money is going towards what goal. Each week, I move $20 into the sub-account for “Lottery Savings”. When I figure my net worth, I pretend that money isn’t there. Then, when I invariably end up with cash, I put the cash aside with my actual Lottery Savings, and move the money in the bank out of that sub-account to wherever the other money came from (usually spending). That way I don’t have to deal with going to the bank to get the cash.

Except, there are times that I need cash for other things. For example, when I take the dog to the groomers, or I go to the hair salon. For some reason that I can’t comprehend, those places aren’t setup for adding tips on credit/debt cards, unless you tell them before they run your card. They know this, and yet never ask before they run the card. I guess they figure it’s rude to ask about a tip, and I always forget, and then I’m stuck with that awkward moment of trying to figure out how to tip after the fact. I always keep $20 in my car for moments like these, but that just becomes a hassle. So, I’ve just gotten in the habit of always taking cash to those appointments.

But, like I said, I’m not one to go to the ATM/Bank.

So, if I don’t have cash on me, I admittedly will sometimes “steal” it from my Lottery Savings, and then move money around in the bank. No big deal! Except my online banking consists of 4 different accounts. And I move money around a lot. And, sometimes, in all the shuffle, I forget what I moved, and why. It’s easy to track all the purchases made with my debit card. But every week, there’s money being transferred in and out of each account, some manually, some automatically.

But how do you lose track of $311?

Actually, it may not be as bad as I think. In all of my shifting around of funds, I’ve yet to go back and balance my Lottery Savings. I should have $452 at this point (at the start of the year, Bryan was spending $16/week on lottery tickets, but then they raised the ticket prices, so now it’s $20. So I’ve adjusted what I’m putting into Lottery Savings accordingly, so we’re both “spending” the same amount each week.). I know there are 2 $100 bills in that savings stash right now. I have $260 in my bank sub-account for Lottery Savings. But I know that there are smaller bills in my cash stash as well. How much? I’m not sure! Maybe $20? Maybe a couple hundred? I’ve been moving stuff around so much lately, I haven’t reconciled that account. I’m sure I spent some cash that isn’t accounted for, but how much I can’t be sure of. Yet.

So, I may have spent more than I’ve accounted for in the month of June. Once I reconcile my Lottery Savings, I’ll know more about how much. Net Worth wise, it will correct itself next month. $311 is definitely more than I’m comfortable losing track of, so I’ll definitely keep a better eye on things going forward. But, I’m not going to lose sleep over it. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t have much effect.

I’m definitely grateful to be in a place to be able to say that!

  • Cindy W.

* Every week, Bryan spends $20 on purchasing Lottery tickets. If he wins, it’s “our” money. Which seemed a little unfair to me, since I’m not contributing. But, I’m not much of a gambler. I’m fine with him spending $20/week, for entertainment value, but I’m not comfortable throwing more money into it. So, I put $20 away each week, and consider that money spent out of my budget. At the end of the year, we’ll probably use that money towards a vacation, or maybe for something around the house. The point being, we’re each spending $20/week, and we’re each benefiting from the “win”. Except my savings is a guaranteed win!