Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Spring Cleaning for Your Bathroom + Dollar Shave Club Interview

Spring is here and as a minimalist, all I can think about is purging more items from our household inventory. To inspire you to create a zen, minimalist bathroom, here are some quick tips for keeping your bathroom tidy and in order. I've also included an interview with Dollar Shave Club, which offers a great way to save on razors.

1. Remove duplicates if at all possible. I had a HUGE stockpile of chapsticks that I found after cleaning up my bathroom before our big move at the beginning of the year. If you don't need it, donate it or give it to someone who will use it.

2. Limit your hair products. Seriously. It's amazing what a bottle of detangler will do for you. I use it to spruce up my hair before work to give it some body and lift.

3. Audit your makeup items. I may be boring, but I keep my makeup bag to a bare minimum with only foundation, brushes, concealer, two eyeshadows that I pair, mascara, and eyeliner. That's it. No need for all the fancy tools and extras. Keep it simple.

4. Check your medicine cabinet. I routinely check labels and properly discard of any items that are way too old. During Hurricane Rita in August 2005, I volunteered to help out with refugees from Galveston, TX and came down with who-knows-what. Luckily, my husband's grandma had a bottle of medicine that had to have been 20 years old. Let's just say I didn't remember Hurricane Rita blowing through Huntsville that night.

What tips and tricks do you have to keep a simple, minimalist bathroom? 

Now what about saving money on bathroom items? I love to hear from readers, and when I heard from Dollar Shave Club, I thought it made perfect sense to interview them, as I love saving money. Their slogan is: "a great shave for a few bucks a month." Sounds good to me. I personally don't love shaving and find it to be such a, ahem, hairy situation. When I first met my boyfriend-now-husband, I told him, "I don't like shaving my legs. So if that's a dealbreaker, let me know." But I'll be honest: there's nothing like shaving with a good razor.

When the time rolls around to tackle the jungle that I call my legs, I opt for a nicer razor, as you pay for the cheap ones twofold in nicks and cuts. I had heard of Dollar Shave Club before, but was surprised that women could also benefit from their service. It's also affordable, with packages at only $3 per month, with shipping and handling, up to $9 a month. You know by now that I'm a frugal person, but I think the $3/month option sounds pretty doable, even for a small budget.

Check out this NSFW video below about the company (contains cursing!):

LRJ: I see that you have plenty of options for men. Do you offer women's products, too?

DSC: All of our products are great for women! We recommend the 4X (aka the Lover’s Blade), but our women members have told us they love the Executive, too.

LRJ: I'm all about saving money. I've even splurged on waxing, but that gets expensive really quickly. What does an average person spend on razors a month, and how does this compare money-wise?

DSC: According to this WSJ article, about $20/month is usually spent per month, as compared to Dollar Shave Club options.

LRJ: What were some of the issues that he wanted to address by creating such a service?

DSC: Basically, help people save money and provide a great, fun service.

About the Company
Dollar Shave Club couldn't be simpler. Select one of our great razors, pay one low monthly fee, and we send 'em right to your door. No more over-paying for fancy brand name shave tech. No more forgetting to buy your blades.

 Links | Facebook | Google+ | Twitter

Thursday, April 10, 2014

How To Pay Off $17,000 of Student Loan Debt in Less Than 18 Months

I have been waiting over a year and half for this day. Actually, maybe since I pulled my own student loan in November 2007. After paying off my student loan in 2009, I knew our next pile of student debt would be large. I wasn't yet married, so I wasn't super concerned at the time about my future husband's debt. There wasn't much I could do about it at the time, as I hadn't even landed a well-paying job (and wouldn't for several more years).

When we got married in October 2010, I jokingly said I couldn't wait to marry into $16,000 worth of debt. A couple of years later I would discover I was mistaken. My husband's debt totaled over $24,000! This slight miscalculation startled us once we realized we had more on our plate than we knew about. We paid down $5,000 immediately with the help of a family gift, and then faced $19,000 head on. We had six months until we had to begin paying, so we paid $500 in interest so it wouldn't be tacked on, and promptly avoided any further thought to the debt.

Fast forward to November 2012, and there we were, paying ONLY the minimum (roughly $184 a month, some of which was being applied to interest only). If anyone reading this has debt, which we all inevitably seem to have, then you'll know paying the minimum doesn't really do too much to your principle. Most of the "payment" goes towards your interest on the loan, and you'll be right on track to paying that loan off in ten or so years. I definitely just assumed we would be doing this, as we weren't making much money to even pay for other things outside of food and shelter.

After watching Adam Baker's Sell Your Crap, Pay Off Your Debt, and Do What You Love video, I cried and then told my husband we are going to be debt-free and pay off the remaining $17,000 in student debt. SOON. And here we are, a year and a half later. Student debt-free. So, how did we do it? BUDGETING. Lots and lots of budgeting. And lots of talking. Communication was a huge reason that we no longer have to EVER make a payment to MyFedLoan ever again. I've written several posts on this already, and I've listed them below for you if you'd like to read the full journey.

Why I Had to Trade in The Stratus for Kia Rio
Progress on Our Student Loans & How We'll be Debt-Free in 2014
Knocking Out Our Student Loans One at a Time
The Chair That Almost Blew Our Budget For The Month
Keeping Our Eyes on the [Financial] Prize
Finance 101: 7 Reasons Why I Love Mint.com
Sell your crap. Pay off your debt. Do what you love.

If you have ANY questions about paying off debt on a small budget, please let me know. I love to hear from my readers, and I'd like to help! If you have any questions on budgeting, ask away. 

Here's some quick tidbits of info on the topic, based on our experience of paying off $17,000 in less than a year and a half.

1. Talk openly and honestly about your debt. Always keep an open line of communication about money with your spouse or significant other. Hidden purchases cause unnecessary drama. As a rule, we check in with each other for anything that's not in the budget or purchases that are $30 and up. Yes, I said $30! (As I typed this sentence, my husband asked me if we would have a budget to upgrade our phones later this year. I love him!!!)

2. Consider one checking account. We truly live on a shoestring budget and we found that having two separate accounts was a bit of an overkill for us. With minimum balances and virtually no transparency, we discussed combining our accounts. After we combined our money, it only took another six months for me to start tracking our spending using Mint.com and that's when we realized we needed to make a change.

3. Don't avoid having fun every once in a while. When paying down debt, keep some fun money and budget for a few luxuries. By no means did we completely lock down ALL purchases or eat rice and beans for months. We still went out to eat, visited the movie theater, and treated ourselves every once in a while.

4. Start on your smallest debts first. I listened to Dave Ramsey before we paid down our debt, but his advice always played in the back of mind: pay off your smallest debts first and use the snowball effect in your favor. This will keep you motivated and on track. After we paid off each student loan, we celebrated in some way.

5. Celebrate your success with family and friends. I regularly kept our family and friends up to date on all of our progress. I didn't do this to brag, but more so to be held accountable for my promises to myself and to keep me motivated and excited about paying down this debt. You never know who you may inspire.

6. Pay what you can, when you can. There's no rule as to how much you have to pay. I set a goal to be student debt-free before my 27th birthday, and I've accomplished that goal with 8 days to spare! Even just setting a goal for each loan would be good.

7. If you can afford to pay more, do it! Our minimum was $180ish, and I challenged ourselves to pay $300 the month we began to really focus on our debt. The next month, I paid $500 on the loans, and I didn't really feel a pinch. I was now watching our money like a hawk and we were getting the hang of it. Then we bumped it to $1,000, just for shits and giggles. After a few months, we were up to $1,200 a month! Without even really missing that money!

8. Learn to accept one ridiculous budget, and just go with it. We have a budget labeled "Convenience Store". After I really started to pay attention to our money, I noticed that there were SEVERAL transactions for only a few dollars at a time every other day at convenience stores. My husband was making trips to grab a drink or chips and didn't realize he was racking up charges as much as he was. He's tried to cut back, but whatever! It's in the budget, so I know to expect it each month. Old habits die hard.

9. Know your priorities and pay down your debt accordingly. I'm not saying to put ALL of your "extra" money towards the debt. You need to save for retirement, pay for your child's daycare, and put food on the table. I know! Just take a good hard look at your budget and figure out where you can shuffle. I used to wander the aisles of Target aimlessly looking to purchase something when I was bored. I was raised to shop, and that was a tough habit to break, but paying down debt is well worth it.

10. Once you've accomplished your goals, prepare for your next one! I'm already dead-set on our next goal. We're saving for a down payment on a house. STARTING TODAY! We just paid off all of our student debt ($17,000!), so now we can begin to focus on another goal. And guess what? It's only going to take me about 5.8 months, because the money is already budgeted. I'm taking the $2,400 that I was paying during the last four weeks of our loan payoff and socking that away to the tune of $600/week for a down payment. Once something is budgeted for, you know to expect it each month.

And, as always, please send me an email if you're looking for inspiration, have any questions, or want to share your own accomplishments for paying off debt! I'd love to hear your story or help you get out of debt, too. Happy budgeting!

Additional resources:
I'm Fine Thanks (Documentary)
Mint.com | Review
Man Vs. Debt | Adam Baker

Monday, April 7, 2014

Our Other "New" Car & Why We Bought It

Only a few weeks into living in the Houston, Texas area, my husband was rear ended. I won't go into the details, but basically, it wasn't his fault, and were now stuck with a totaled 2000 Honda Civic. He was completely fine, no major injuries or even minor, so we're lucky for that! I can't even describe the amount of sadness my husband felt after his wreck; he LOVED that car. It had over 220k miles on it, and it was 14 years old. He had only had it for about 4 years or so, but it would have probably lasted us a while longer.

After two weeks of waiting and driving around a rental car, we finally received our check from the insurance ($4,000), which we then used as a down payment for the next one. We also used our tax refund ($2,000), so we had a total of $6,000 to put down on a car. As soon as we arrived home from the accident, he began looking for another car on Craigslist. I have definitely sold things on Craigslist before, but when it comes to buying a car, I get a little nervous and would rather have a warranty and guarantee of a dealership.

I know there's pros and cons to both sides—dealerships can offer more of a warranty; Craigslist offers better pricing. After much discussion (and I'm talking like two weeks of discussions...), we settled on going with a dealership. That was only half of the battle. Next, we figured out what kind of car he wanted.

He had been looking at some pricey Volkswagon GTIs, and I was nervous about taking on more debt. However, we've been slashing our debt like crazy with big payments (and lots of budgeting), so I wasn't so worried. My rationale: The way we pay down debt (upwards of $1,200+ a month), a car that cost an extra few grand would only equal a few more months of payments. We ended up settling on a 2010 VW GTI that is really nice with low miles for a little over $16k. With the $6k we put down, we only owe roughly $10k, which we plan on paying off in about two years or less, as money allows. Without further ado, here's all the pics.