The February Report

Survival of Valentine’s Day is notable. Repaying loans is impressive. Resisting purchase of low cost flights is prize-worthy.

Month 4 – $111,034


Original and current payoff totals and interest rates. Listed in order of repay.

Graduate Plus – 8.25% – $35,407.95 –> $28,203.62

Stafford – 6.55% – $80,356.09 –> $80,831.50

Perkins – 5% – $2,133.10 –> $ 1,998.87


Small Victories

I paid a total of $2525.06 towards my loans in February. Not the highest total yet, BUT – I’m so close to getting my loan under 6-digits, I can taste it!! Just a few more months… For now, let us celebrate that my Perkins loan is under $2,000 and my Graduate Plus loans are under $30,000. We won’t talk about the Stafford Loans. Those are gradually increasing. But don’t worry – I called my loan servicer on a random Tuesday to talk about whether my method of paying off the highest one was the most cost-effective. I also called my loan servicer today to ask about an email I received. It appears as though they have not yet processed my updated documentation for my income-based repay, so the email was technically erroneous. Erroneous! And I – me! – knew that something was off about it. This is a huge improvement upon past years. Not only did I open the email without hesitation, but I understood the communication and immediately called up the folks in Minnesota just to make sure everything was as it should be. These people are great. They are friendly. They are helpful. They are not scary – my biggest challenge now will be to avoid calling them when I just want to ponder life’s meaning. That’s probably beyond their scope.

Forward March!

I’ve been filling my weekends with babysitting and am hoping to have a sizeable tax return come through this month. Listening to Suze Orman the other day, I realized that waiting until tax season to get a handsome return may not be the best method moving forward. I’ve been pleased with myself for pulling enough taxes throughout the year to secure a return, but I may have gone a bit overboard. Suze suggests trying to find a balance, where the year-end numbers are closer to zero. This way, the money I should be getting from my return will actually be in my account as is should be throughout the year, and I can put it towards my payments – maximizing my repay and minimizing the accruing interest. I am looking forward to meeting with my tax gal Patty next week to ask her about the best plan for approaching my employer about this. And may I say – I love Patty. *Unpaid endorsement* She hails from HR Block and she is like an angel from above, sent to Earth to satisfy my personal financial needs. She has kindly managed my “past-self” taxes (ie: financially-unaware-self) and guided me towards where I am today. She expresses non-judgmental direction and tips and avails herself above and beyond. I am way too excited to update her on my recent “responsible” behaviors. She is going to be so proud.

And Dude! Guess What!!?!

Last month, I lamented semi-briefly about the difficulties of having no travel to look forward to. However, at the end of this month I get to travel to Chicago for a work conference. I could not be more excited to go on this trip! Not only will I get to geek out on endless topics related to my industry, but I will also get to dine out and explore the city – all expenses paid. But wait! There’s more! Knowing that I would be in Chicago, I have been trying to think of friends in the area I could sneak in a visit with and had been feeling like I would have to pass on the opportunity – until I realized an extended layover in Kentucky is the same cost as a direct flight to LA from Chicago. My boss approved the layover – and I get to spend the weekend my dear friend in Indiana and her new baby!! Kentucky/Indiana is one of my favorite places to visit. I am so excited to add to the memories and spend time with my girl! It’s really the best of both worlds – I get to honor my promise to myself for no travel (except holidays and weddings) and also get to explore new places and reunite with old friends – all the while, enjoying a departure from city life.

So, I will lose profit from potential babysitting the weekend I am in Kentucky, but have a feeling that won’t even be a thought on my mind while there. We will make the most of free fun! Maybe I can squeeze in a couple extra weekday shifts in the meantime. Also of note, is that I would have before this challenge, been inclined to hit up Ann Taylor LOFT to adorn myself for each day of the Chicago conference. But nope – I will not. I will dig into my existing arsenal and wham-bam myself into a fashionable professional. Besides, I can rely on my go-to pieces and none of those strangers will be any-the-wiser that I wear them every other Tuesday.

But does that even matter? …a conversation for another day…

Keep on Keepin’ On

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

Month 3 – $113,106


Original and current payoff totals and interest rates. Listed in order of repay.

Graduate Plus – 8.25% – $35,407.95 –> $30,382.36

Stafford – 6.55% – $80,356.09 –> $80,693.17

Perkins – 5% – $2,133.10 –> $2,030.41

The Update

January has come and gone… along with half of February… so it’s about time I report in about my achievements. I contributed $2675 to my student loans last month. Still chipping away at this boulder of debt bit by bit. I have expanded my side-work to include the care of two families, with more lined up later this month. And I continue to love it. I look forward to every visit and feel like I hit the jackpot every time I take the little ones for a walk/jog along the beach to play. I’m really just being paid to work out and laugh. Not bad!

I have had some recent conversations with my nearest and dearest regarding my choice of side-job. It is perhaps not the most lucrative of options. But for now, it affords me flexibility and requires very little driving. Which is a welcome relief from my regular commute-heavy life. It has also been enhancing my weekends – I leave feeling uplifted and productive. I welcome the positive contribution to the delicate balance between my goals and sanity.

The easy part? Not buying stuff. When you remove shopping from the equation of life – be it for clothing, home décor or otherwise… it really minimizes the amount of decisions needed in a day. A welcome relief! I have not missed it at all (except maybe once or twice during my “wamp wamp” moment). I do look forward to refreshing the ol’ wardrobe at some point – but I am in no hurry.

The hard part? Entertainment and travel. It continues to be tough to cut back in these areas for me. But when I am starting to feel like a spendy-pants, I just sit down with a calculator and simply crunch the numbers until I arrive to that “holy crap, you need to stick to your plan” moment. At the pace I’m going now, it will take me about 6 years to pay off the debt. I would luh-hove to expedite this, but we’ll see…

The Message

As quoted above, we make a living by what we get. True, I am honed in on what I can “do, do, do” to bring things “in, in, in.” But it is important to remember that giving must also be a focus. With the recent passage of Valentine’s Day, I was reminded – as I am most days, really – of how fortunate I am to have so many people I love in my life. I also realized I missed a resolution in the New Year…see number 7:

1: Continue down the path to financial freedom. 2: Be kind. 3: Work hard. 4: Stress Less. 5: Sweat once/day. 6: Drink more water. 7. Express more gratitude.

Gratitude. It is so important and I have been majorly slacking in this area of late. I ‘think’ gratitude most moments of the day, but do I express it? Maybe 5% of the time. The moments fleet. It’s really unfortunate how informal my gratitude has become – it’s just not good practice. Business or personal. I’m bringing back the “Thank You” letter. Snail mail. I’ve got some stamps and cards at the ready… it’s time they serve their purpose.


Wamp Wamp

That’s right… you heard me… this sucks.

I will likely look back upon this post and roll my eyes at what I whiner I am, but if anyone else reading this finds themselves considering or actually engaging in an extreme plan to eradicate their own debt, know this: as with anything in life, there will most certainly be ups and downs. And these past couple weeks have been especially difficult.

Perhaps it is the added stress of an exceptionally busy start of the year at work, the realization that I cannot, in fact, get my eyebrows right, or the fading away of the adrenaline from the honeymoon phase of this endeavor… I want to punch this mother f-ing goal in the face.

It’s Friday night and I am sitting at home, trying to make this complex excel sheet work for my budget. I am a combination of – again – proud of myself for cutting my expenses so drastically and securing additional employment, discouraged that even with all these things in place, this is still a huge mountain to climb with seemingly “no end in sight” and also realizing that this process can become quite isolating. Not because there aren’t endless options of things to do without cost, but rather I find myself generally refraining from making plans because I don’t want to find myself in a situation where I am inclined to spend money. I have a fun-filled weekend ahead: an afternoon hike tomorrow, babysitting in the evening and a family day on Sunday. So, what am I complaining about? That will all be lovely and align with my goals. Yet here we are… Friday night… I am not in Big Bear for the annual ski trip with my Nevada gang. I am not out among friends, toasting to another productive week gone by. I am sitting in my apartment, writing a public “dear diary” and marathon-ing Intervention (an attempt to remind myself that things could be worse… way worse).

In addition to this open expression of discontent, I would be remiss if I did not also present the flip side of the coin: my amazing, supportive friends, family and strangers. I have not held back a single complaint this week. I have blown up my friends’ phones with dramatic texts like “what is liiiiiiiife” and (direct quote), “I’m moving to another country. With different ideals. And the woods. Off the grid. Off the griiiid!!!” And the best part – my friends don’t really allow it. They may acknowledge the moment I’m having but it is quickly followed by “you got this!” and a string of the flexing arm emoji, or “It is going to feel so good when you are done!” or “Your hair will look FAB in 2016!” or a link to a Ram Dass podcast. There’s no “Well, why don’t you just bend your rules” or “Yeah dude, that sucks.” They are all about keeping me on track. How did I get so lucky to have these people in my life? And not to mention, the hilarious links and pictures they send that are just so darn uplifting. The encouragement and idea sharing I have received from strangers who happen upon my blog are also hugely impactful in their own way. It gives me a great sense of connectivity and keeps me going.

YET SOMEHOW… even with all this amazingness in play… it can still suck sometimes. And that really is like all things in life. And that is my message here. I tend to try to present the positive side to things in life and am therefore aiming to bring balance to the universe with this rant-like post. You’re welcome.

These past weeks, my thoughts keep going back to, “WHYYYYY didn’t I care more about money 10 years ago? Why didn’t I put this at the forefront of my decision-making process regarding career path, school choice, etc. etc. etc.” Among the “why why why” I remind myself to pause a moment. Because I have the answer. Money has never been my focus, because that’s not who I wanted to be. I have had the absolute good fortune of following my passions in life – dancing on cruise ships and traveling the world, realizing my childhood dream of performing with Disney, and pursuing a career that makes my eyes well almost daily as I witness the overwhelming kindness of others. I should be – and am – grateful.

I do realize that what I am learning in this grand exercise will serve me well and help me build an important financial foundation for my future. And I would not change a single thing about the decisions I have made. Any time I start to feel like I have “lost too much time” or will “never be able to ____,” I must stop, collaborate, and listen to the other voice in my head. The one that my peeps remind me of when I forget. The voice that tells me things are good. Things have been good. Things will be good. Keep working hard and loving others, and the rest will unfold as it may.

But still… Ugh.

Your souvenir photo from this rollercoaster ride is available for viewing and purchase at the exit.

Go the F*** to Sleep

“I want to feel confident that if I left my kids alone with you for 20 years, I’d come back knowing they would be good people.” – Nanny position interview.


Well, this has certainly been BY FAR one of the most entertaining endeavors I have explored in a long while. Continuing my quest for an additional income, I’ve been applying, interviewing and – BAM – starting work as a babysitter to the most adorable little munchkins on Earth – besides my niece and nephew, of course. It was so easy. Within days of creating a profile I had multiple interviews lined up, landing a job offer within a week of conceiving the idea to pursue this avenue. (I promise this is not a paid endorsement). This is especially fantastic because it means I accomplished my goal to begin a second job by January 2015. What a great outcome! But they say the gift is in the journey, not the destination.


The Interview North Korea Didn’t Hear About

If I had thought interviewing for a nanny/babysitting position would be low-pressure, I was wrong. I enter the first home – there are no children. Just me and Mr. Dad, an airline pilot and real estate man. He offers me tea and with a certain intensity asks me to tell him about myself. I give the ol’ “me in a nutshell” elevator speech, making sure to not only give an accurate picture of who I am, but also demonstrate my character, personality and values through my choice of highlights. He brings my tea over and sits across the table. I can tell this is about to get real. He asks why I am interested in the position. He gives me feedback about my response. This is getting more intense. It was time to talk about the kids. He tells me of his 4-year-old daughter. He loves her to pieces. They have been on daddy-daughter dates to Vegas and Italy. Wow, that’s great, she sounds very mature. She can wield large knives in the kitchen and engages in intelligent conversation. What a sharp, confident girl. She drives trucks and ATVs and shoots bears with a rifle while riding horseback…. What the… (I am not making this up). And he wants someone to care for his children who – as quoted above – left to their own devices, would produce quality, upstanding citizens. Just to clarify, you’re not really planning on this scenario, though, right?

He went on to explain that he had interviewed over 100 candidates and it was rare to find sincere people who ‘had it together.’ He was kind to me, however, and quite complimentary – I felt myself entering his circle of trust as he shared his disregard for people who are not punctual, all the while looking to me for a nod of agreement. We began to discuss how my availability might suit theirs. My availability wasn’t a perfect fit, but it seemed like we could make something work. We parted ways without a clear plan for what was to come next. The next day I composed a follow-up thank you letter, but I never sent it. Whatever hesitation I felt in sealing the deal was perhaps mutual. I don’t imagine this opportunity will come to pass. But the 60 minutes I spent with him that day shall remain forever engrained in my mind and the internet.

I was relieved to discover that the remaining interviews were more along the lines of what I expected a nanny/babysitter interview to be. The children were present. The parents were laid-back and made small-talk, asking about my experience with the age group of their children and wanting to know a little bit about my background. Whew.


Move Over, Mary Poppins

It’s the day of my first “gig.” I arrive to the general chaos that twin 3-year-old boys bring to a household whilst parents are trying to get ready for a night out. I get a brief and sufficient orientation to the house and the parents take off (looking fabulous, I might add) for their dinner date. By the time they have left the house, only fifteen minutes remain before the kiddos need to start making tracks towards bed. Things quickly escalate from “look at my toy shark” to “I am chasing you around the coffee table, attacking you with my shark while squealing with delight. And, oh yeah, there are two of me… but my brother doesn’t have a toy shark. He has a half-eaten chocolate-chip cookie.” Fast forward fifteen minutes, I finally realize I can outsmart these little dudes and collapse to the couch, covered in chocolate and giggles.

I was actually having a legitimately good time and did not want bed time to happen so soon. But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. We head upstairs and begin the ritual which includes brushing teeth, refilling the water supply on their respective nightstands and reading. Each of them presents the book they would like me to read and we begin with The Snail and the Whale, a lovely, moderately-tongue-twisting British children’s book. The boys are bundled up beside me, laying upon my lap. Precious. They hand me the next book, You Have to F***ing Eat. …Wait, what? Does this book say what I think it says? Yes… Yes, it does. I’ve heard of Go the F*** to Sleep. This must be part of that series. Well, here goes nothing…

I dive into the book and the boys are once again giggling. I wonder if they can tell I am artfully dodging the colorful vocabulary on every single page, while keeping the rhythm of the rhymes. We finish the book (finally, thank goodness) and it’s time to turn off the lights. They have their covers pulled up and look at me with their wide blue eyes, “Can you sing us a song?” And I swear they suddenly had British accents too. I asked if they had a request. “Edelweiss!” Are you for real? I did a lightning-quick scan of my brain to determine whether I knew the lyrics to the song. Nope. I could only recall the Weird Al-like version I had made up as a child called “Fatal Thighs.” That was probably not the best idea. So, we went with Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Go to Sleep, and Mary had a Little Lamb. Mary was popular. That one received 2 encores. After the third round, I wished them sweet dreams and left the room. They went to sleep peacefully and I returned downstairs to watch the Golden Girls for the remainder of the evening. What little loves. I would do this for free.

The parents came home and we briefly recapped the evening’s events. They were happy to hear there were no catastrophic meltdowns and very appreciative. I mentioned (with a hesitant laugh), the reading selections upstairs. Come to find out, the “F***ing” book was a Christmas gift to their son as a little inside joke between the parents because that particular child was going through a food-boycott phase… Their son loved to look at the pictures and point out the various animals. But they had never actually READ the book to him… …WELP! He’s heard it now! Thanks, folks! I accept cash, check or credit card, I’ll be here all week, don’t forget to tip your waitress, goodnight!

Fortunately, they seemed to be amused at the situation and we have another date night set. I am very much looking forward to it… and to taking on new families as well. I eagerly anticipate the amusing unknowns it will bring.

Merry, Happy!

With the holidays behind us, it’s once again time to reflect upon the past year and plan for the next. New Year’s resolutions were easy this year. 1: Continue down the path to financial freedom. 2: Be kind. 3: Work hard. 4: Stress Less. 5: Sweat once/day. 6: Drink more water. More on those later. Let’s talk progress.

Month 2 – $115,163


Original and current payoff totals and interest rates. Listed in order of repay.

Graduate Plus – 8.25% – $35,407.95 –> $32,605.01

Stafford – 6.55% – $80,356.09 –> $80,455.94

Perkins – 5% – $2,133.10 –> $2,101.82

‘Twas the Season

I managed to get through the holiday season spending zero cash money on gifts. I had already purchased many of the gifts before this spending freeze and considered them a sunk cost. I have also recently discovered that I am a gift card hoarder. The advantage of this is that during a spending freeze, Christmas shopping can be accomplished with very little impact to the pocketbook. I was happy to see that some of the items on my family’s wish list just happened to be from stores I had saved gift cards from. I had planned to use them for personal needs throughout the year, but was just as happy to utilize them for gifts.

I also have to say “thank goodness” for all the holiday parties – especially at work. The end of the year brought about many meal-centric events, which meant I was able to exceed my goal of $3 per meal, spending a whopping $1.58 per meal this month. Boo-ya! Considering that I was at home with family for about a week, it is unlikely this number will be as low in the coming months. Unless, perhaps, I take to spearfishing in the ocean from atop my bodyboard. If it comes to that… I beseech thee, dear friend, to stage an intervention.

I paid a total of $2818 towards my debt this month. More than ten times the amount that I had been paying monthly prior to this challenge. I am baffled as to how I managed to scrape together such a surplus, yet also discontented that it is not closer to $5,000 – where it needs to be if I am to reach my year-end goal.


Next Level

In order to take my monthly loan contributions to the next level, I must also engage the second part of my strategy: increasing revenue. I have spent some time this past month ruminating over how I will accomplish this. Since setting the January deadline in November, I have had plenty of time to ponder, question and rethink this strategy. All things considered, I’ve decided to move forward with the goal, and now is the time! It is with much trepidation that I begin my search. Part of me feels like I’m taking a step back professionally, since these lower-responsibility part-time positions have a significantly lower pay scale. I remind myself that I still have my stellar, high-responsibility and stressful big-kid job to feel important about.

I started my search by reaching out to a few friends who live in the LA area, asking for ideas or any job openings they might know of. My most direct suggestions were to look into restaurant and babysitter/nanny work. I began to poke around the restaurant industry online, looking into local high-end restaurants (assuming they might pay better than the alternative) and began asking around about babysitting/nanny positions. By the end of my restaurant search, I was underwhelmed by the hourly wages and not particularly thrilled at the prospect of that type of work. As I explored babysitter/nanny positions, I became excited about the potential of boosting my income by hanging out with kids. I was directed to by multiple friends and I decided to set up a profile. Perusing the job postings, I came across Opportunity 1: A family looking for a regular babysitter to play with their 3-year-old who loves to dress up. My immediate thought was “OH EM GEE! We can totally geek out, singing and dancing to princess songs together!” I love her already and we haven’t even met. Were this an online dating scenario, I would most certainly be considered a Stage-Five Clinger with the vacant smile of Overly-Attached Girlfriend. I’m hoping this is less creeper-status because she’s a little kid… but I’m not sure that makes it better. I’ll make a point to dial back the “crazy’ in my initial communication. Though my availability may not be what they are looking for, I’m giving it a go. Opportunity 2: Teaching gymnastics to young toddlers at a nearby gym on weekends. What?! I could potentially be paid to laugh at little kids rolling around and licking the floor? Amazing!

My instinctive reaction to both of these opportunities tells me this avenue could be a good option. I have applied for 3 positions so far and will continue my search. I will also extend my search into dance instructor positions. I am a little bit intimidated by the caliber of dancers in Los Angeles, seeing as it has been awhile since I’ve been a competitive dancer myself, but I suppose it won’t hurt to see what’s out there.

Stay tuned… and cheers to the New Year!

Hashtag Selfie

“If you see someone crying, ask them if it’s because of their haircut.” 

– The Internet

Something that has become very apparent to me during this spending freeze is now that all my regular grooming appointments have been canceled, I am experiencing a gradual visual metamorphosis. My nails are self-painted, my eyebrows are taking on their natural form and my hair is less manageable and in need of some serious TLC.

As I’ve engaged in this exercise, I’ve begun wonder just how superficial I really am. What does it mean to be superficial? Where is the line between professional appearance and unnecessary grooming habits? It is an interesting internal debate to me, as  I (historically)have never been one to engage in a laborious self maintenance program. Growing up, I was used to wearing my hair in a bun for dance so frequently that it became my go-to ‘do almost daily. This was accompanied by valuing function over fashion and, of course, a variety of graphic tees that I found especially amusing. I was also going through high school in the late 90s in the Central Valley of California, which I’d like to place partial responsibility for my lack of fashionable taste. I had eclectic input as to what my attire should be – a culmination of my older sister’s “cool skater friends” and the uber-girly fashions of my best amigos. I spent most of my college career in clothes that would comfortably layer over a leotard and tights, hair still in a bun. As I transitioned into a dance profession, I began to focus more on image. In any entertainment/performing field, the expectation is that you will maintain a certain standard of physical appearance. As I have transitioned out of this and into an office setting – now managing programs that serve entertainment industry members – I have continued to value the importance of external appearances. In fact, this year I made a concerted effort to operationalize self-care appointments more regularly into my weeks. Once long, beachy-curled hair became smooth and nicely placed. My toenails were no longer being brutalized by constant pounding in dance shoes were now neatly polished and maintained. The introduction of a gel manicure in my life assured me that handing over a business card would be accompanied by the *ding* of a used car salesman’s dazzling smile. When I take all of these things away, in spite of my efforts to DIY all these tasks, there is clearly a discrepancy between the finished products.

But does this matter? Is this something that people will notice? My instinct tells me that yes, even if I only on an unconscious level, people will notice. But is that important? I represent my company in outreach events, recruitment, and presentations. My clientele are entertainment industry members… good people coming together to support a great cause. Will these subtle differences actually have a lasting impact on the impressions I make and the relationships I build? Which of these habits should be considered standard practice and which are what many might refer to as superficial? I really don’t know the answer to any of these questions. I don’t know whether having a more relaxed appearance will necessarily have a negative impact. It’s possible that some people will find me more approachable or relatable, where others may feel otherwise. Does this have an impact on my confidence? In some ways, it has. When I recently prepared for a work event at a studio lot, I was abundantly aware of the pieces of my preparatory ritual that were missing. I had to dig deep into my psyche and reassure myself that these things would not matter. Does it have an impact on my self-worth? I’ve noticed that, if anything, my self-worth has elevated since taking a step back and thinking about things in terms of a bigger picture. I’ve also felt a sense of accomplishment each day as I work towards my goals with minimal falter. It has been interesting to tease out from all of this which parts of my daily, weekly, and monthly grooming rituals are strategic and which may serve as a crutch.

The challenge and beauty in all of this is to maintain a stance of non-judgment when I think about myself. Sometimes when I look in the mirror and see my eyebrows extending to the lengths of that of a distinguished, elderly British man, I think to myself, “wow. You are actually doing this and that is something to be proud of.” And sometimes when I look in the mirror and see my eyebrows extending to the lengths of that of a distinguished, elderly British man, I think to myself, “wow. You are going to die alone.”

Though I do not know the long-term impact or continued decisions I will make about these things, I will say it is certainly an opportunity to develop new skills sets. I generally consider myself a creative and skillful person, though lately I’ve been feeling a bit more like Amelia Bedelia – not excluding my endeavor to perfect cooking a steak on a cast iron pan. And by “perfect,” I mean that I get it to a point where the finished product is not a puffy charcoal in a smoke-filled apartment. Suggestions welcome.

I’m Rich!!

Eureka! I struck gold! I won the lottery! You can find me clicking my heels and shooting guns into the air like Yosemite Sam…

…Oh wait… there has been no dramatic bump in my income. There were no giant checks delivered to my doorstep with a balloon bouquet. I merely changed my spending habits. And only for a couple weeks (so far). It’s working!!

Month 1: $117,282

Not a big reduction in the debt. But for the first time ever, it’s headed in the right direction.


The Upward Spiral

They say change it begets change. And so do I. Adjusting my financial spending habits has impacted me in ways that I did not realize. Those who know me closely and have had any conversation at length in the past many months would tell you that I had drifted into some sort of existential crisis. It was rare that a day passed by that I had not deeply contemplated the meeting of life and the purpose of my existence. Though I’ve always been one to ponder the greater picture, logging many hours in my youth staring at the stars and contemplating my place in the grand scheme of things, this was a little different. This thought process was starting to interrupt my day. It was starting to feel a bit like a dark cloud over my head. Though I knew I could shake it off, I did not know what that was going to look like. I knew I had so much to be grateful for: a wonderful family who cares about me deeply, amazing friends in all parts of the world, a job that provides me heartwarming moments and regular fulfillment and keeps a roof over my head in what I consider to be a slice of paradise along the Pacific… but there was something that wasn’t sitting right with me.

Changing my focus in service of this financial goal has drastically impacted my frame of mind. I have derived much contentment from knowing that I am committed to myself and this goal, and successfully maintaining the discipline to do so. People may think my methods are a bit crazy at times, but it feels great.


The Method to the Madness – Kitchen Edition

According to the largest study ever conducted in my living room, preparing one’s own food in the kitchen is going to provide a far more nutritive and healthy balanced diet than eating out. So, not only do I literally get to tighten up my belt with my new spending habits (bonus!), but since I’ve known this about cooking at home and have yet to implement the regular habit, this has also revealed to me what intrinsically motivates me: money.

This comes as quite a surprise. I don’t think of myself as one who centers themselves around finances (obviously). Perhaps it’s more about what that money represents: freedom.

In an effort to make these blog entries life-altering to the six close friends and family who read it (and occasional unknown visitor from Canada… hello!), I have broken down my methods into a simple three-step process. They may not be “life-changing,” but they just might change your life.

  1. Kitchen-sinking.

There often comes a point when you look in the refrigerator and nothing really goes together, but many things are going to spoil if you don’t use them. It is at this point one must engage the kitchen-sinking method: putting on the ol’ creative thinking cap and start piecing together a food-puzzle. One of my favorite ways to do this is by making mini-frittatas. Armed with eggs and a cupcake pan, you can bake just about anything into them and they make perfect grab and go breakfast.

Sometimes creativity involves taking risks. Sometimes these risks do not turn out well. An important principle of the kitchen sinking method is to engage great intestinal fortitude. You won’t be sure how the flavor and textures are going to jive in some of these creations. And you won’t be sure while you’re eating it that you like it. Sometimes you’ll be pretty sure that you do not, in fact, like it at all. But you must remind yourself: it’s all good food, it will be over soon. You can add another meal to your Freedom Food Chart and pat yourself on the back for overcoming an obstacle in service of a greater purpose.

  1. Repetition Endurance

The next essential skill that you must engage is repetition endurance. This is especially true if you are a Costco aficionado, such as myself, who lives alone. You’re going to be eating things on repeat often. For instance, let’s say you have purchased a rather large jar of pesto sauce and open it on Monday. You’ve now got to revolve every meal possible around this pesto for as long as you can so as not to be wasteful. Last week involved pesto guacamole atop a grilled Portobello with roasted garlic. Next, pesto artichoke pasta, pesto avocado dip on veggie chips, and then more pesto artichoke pasta with added mushroom. Advanced level: addition of mushroom employed kitchen-sinking method as well. The jury is still out on the success of that dish.

  1. Do Yourselves a Solid

Lastly, you must nurture the relationship between your past self and your future self. Some people refer to this as planning. Past-self stops at the market on the way home from work and prepares future-self’s meals. Past-self is also responsible for remembering to take said items to work in order to have proper nutrition during the day. Future-self is generally very gracious towards past-self – appreciative to have meals prepared and (usually) delicious sustenance throughout the day. But sometimes past-self forgets. This can be frustrating. Future-self gets hungry. Future-self does not necessarily enjoy eating handfuls of almonds for breakfast and lunch in a single day. You can bet after a day like that, future-self will remind past-self to stop by the market or set a reminder to take the meals the following day. Although they don’t always get along, past- self gets a nod for a job well done when things go right. Some may call this self-love. Some might call this multiple personality disorder. I call it living alone. But I digress… the importance here is really in the planning. And not letting poor planning be an excuse to fall back into old habits.

The jury has returned from deliberation. The pesto mushroom pasta was not good. It shall live on forever in infamy on the FFC.

Black is the New Red

Black Friday. The day that those traditionally operating at financial loss, “in the red,” turn to profit. One week into my challenge to obliterate my student loan debt. Finding my way to the black.


A Short-lived Pre-contemplation

On the Saturday night that I first decided to take on this challenge I thought to myself, “this is perfect timing… I’ll start at the beginning of 2015.” I like clean data, and a fresh year would provide that tidy starting point. As I developed my thoughts around the issue more over the weekend, a sense of urgency began to nag at me. “Ok, perhaps I should start December 1st” – still a decently-clean point of departure at the beginning of a month. I began my week as usual, purchasing meals at lunchtime and even my first (and last) “red cup” of the season at Starbucks. With each meal, I noted the convenience of handing over payment for another’s work in preparing my food. I experienced a moment of rather serious self-doubt. “Can I really have my ish together enough to sustain myself with meals almost exclusively prepared at home?” Maybe I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Writer’s note: puns – especially bad ones – are always intended.

“I Say, Captain, Do You Hear Something?”

Tick-tock, tick-tock. One of my favorite across-species behavior comparisons is that of humans and crocodiles. A crocodile’s life essentially revolves around regulating its temperature. It situates itself in a place with the ideal conditions of light, shade and water, making choices relative to other conditions around it – threats, prey, etc. A crocodile will not move from its resting place until it has unequivocally determined that an oncoming threat outweighs the benefit of remaining in place. Anyone who has consumed a large amount of liquid before bed on a winter night can relate to this decision-making process.

Not only do I notice this in the human world as we navigate decisions based upon risk or threat, but also that there is a significant discrepancy in perception as to the severity that said threats need to achieve before action is necessary. Essentially, everyone is responsible for determining when to slither off their warm rock and relocate to a safer place. Some of us see the hunter in the distance and decide it’s time to mobilize. Some of us wait until the spear has pierced the flesh (also affectionately known as “rock bottom”).

So, how does this apply to my current situation? Although my debt was neither larger than before nor increasing at an accelerated rate, my increased awareness had changed my perception – and the threat had become abundantly clear. By Thursday afternoon, I was all-in. On my way home from work, I strolled those Trader Joes aisles so hard and hit that frozen section for ICE (In Case of Emergency) like my life depended on it.


Nothing Tastes Better than Freedom

When I got home, I began preparing and planning my meals for the week. I felt like I had spent a small fortune at Trader Joes, so I developed a system to keep myself accountable to my grocery expenses. My hand-written “Freedom Food Chart” includes dates and amounts of grocery expenses, number of meals prepared from said expenses and the resulting per-meal cost. Early calculations had me cruising at $17.80 per meal. Fast forward two days, I’ve got the average down to $8.90. As I replenish my grocery supplies and prepare meals, I will continue keeping track with the goal of getting meals down to $3 each. This will involve focused waste-avoidance – i.e. I will no longer discard the yolks of my eggs – and some creative meal planning.

Something about this particular method of goal-setting is tapping into my sparkly-star-sticker-chart-loving child. And I love it.

What I haven’t loved so much is the formerly-welcomed conversations of wining, dining, travel and “the best concert ever that will be in town soon.” Normally these conversations with my friends have me energized and wanting to jump in on every proposed plan put on the table. Now that there’s an absolution of non-inclusion for myself, I have to redirect my enthusiasm exclusively to the support of their fun and enjoyment. This isn’t always easy and was mildly painful at first (and that’s probably an understatement). But I’m starting to notice that focusing outside myself has started to shift the way I experience the world around me in other ways. Even in this short amount of time, my focus on the happiness of others rather than my own immediate gratification has led to things like passing up the best parking spots at the market for someone else to enjoy and valuing kind words from a stranger more than I have in a very long time.

These past many years, I’ve asserted without hesitation that living in Los Angeles has hardened my heart. I’m starting to wonder if the city really is to blame…

I Literally Can’t Even

$117,897 in student loan debt. And if I continue at the rate I am going, I will never pay it off. Ever.  

Let’s Take a Journey

The year is 2010 and I am 28 years old. I have earned my MSW from University of Southern California and am excited to embark on a meaningful career with a wide array of possibilities. I have six-figures of student loan debt and my ever-rose-tinted glasses gazing upon the future.

Directly following graduation, I was hired part-time by a non-profit to complete the pilot project I began in my internship and transition it into an ongoing program. I was also performing part-time at the Happiest Place on Earth, which I had also been doing throughout grad school. My social work position paid enough to cover my fairly modest expenses (thank you to dear friends who took me in as an additional roommate), and the dance position covered barely more than the gas it took me to get to Anaheim.

Let it be known: my Financial IQ was incredibly low at this point. I had always understood the importance of saving and the unsettling concept of paying back loans with interest. For this reason, I had always been very careful to avoid taking on any debt – I completed my undergraduate education debt-free and paid cash for the only car I’ve ever owned. I did not fully understand the long-term implications of taking on such a hefty sum of student loans. “People do this all the time, right?” Upon graduating from USC, I explored my options and decided that the best thing for me at the time was to enroll in income-based repay, set up my autopayment, and plan my monthly budget accordingly.

So, Here We Are

2014. It does not take a rocket scientist or otherwise arithmetically-inclined professional to figure out that the payments I’ve been making each month are not even enough to cover the interest accruing on my student loans. At this rate, I will never pay off my debt.

But was I really aware of this? No. I had employed the ever-popular Ostrich Method of financial planning, where I just kept on top of my day-to-day without taking the time to step back and crunch the actual numbers. It was not until I began looking into some “next steps” in my life – the bigger picture – that I began to pull these pieces together. It was time to take a look at my student loans.

Egad. I discovered that my amount owed was going up instead of down. “What? Why? How?” You might ask… “could you not know this was happening?” Now, I remind you, my financial literacy left much to be desired and I had resigned to the fact that I would either a) have my loans forgiven after 25 years of IBR or b) work 10 years in my service profession. But I did not realize that my loans were becoming so wildly out of control that I would essentially have no choice but to do one of these two things. And then one day – let’s call it “today” – I pulled my head out of the sand. I opened my eyes to how significantly this impacts my freedom. Not to mention, if I ever want to enter a legally-binding relationship, I cannot in good conscience bring this with me. And I need a good conscience.

If I am ever to get to a place where I am financially free, I need to take some immediate action.

I started to brainstorm about ways to work towards this goal. I decided that taking on an additional part-time job was probably a good idea. But it was still going to be a long road. Enter: The Internet. Late one evening, I began to explore. I had no destination in mind but found myself drawn to financial planning discussions. I happened upon the blog, “No More Harvard Debt.” The model was simple: Cut Costs, Increase revenue. What the …! This guy successfully paid off his $90,000 debt in 7 months. And his situation doesn’t seem so different than mine. It was the first time I’ve felt like I could actually do something about my situation.

Granted, my debt is higher and my income is lower – but the important piece here is that I experienced a long-forgotten feeling: hope. His goal was 10 months and he accomplished it in 7. (Mad props, Joe). I can do something significant too.  

Shoot for the Moon

Even the most generous math does not indicate that I will arrive to $0 debt by December 2015. There are many variables in play that remain to be seen. But I am excited, nay energized to see how far I can get. At this point, I am thinking I will take a 3-tiered approach. The first tier will be Now-May 2015. This will involve a spending freeze and additional work to supplement my income. When my apartment lease ends in May, I may move. My office is relocating and it will greatly impact my commute. It is also very possible I will need a new(er) car. My ’97 4Runner is a noble steed – my trusty sidekick – but the gas mileage and maintenance may become an unreasonable financial drain. These factors, combined with my assessment of the progress will influence the structure of the next tier, June-December. My goal by the end of tier 2 is to reduce my debt by at least 50%. Still lofty? Perhaps. But I do know myself – and I will be charging ahead at 110% and will be happy even to “land among the stars.” Tier 3 will be 2016 and beyond – at whatever pace I see appropriate when the time comes.  


Current payoff totals and interest rates. Listed in order of repay.

Graduate Plus – 8.25% – $35,407.95

Stafford – 6.55% – $80,356.09

Perkins – 5% – $2,133.10


Cutting Costs

Simple enough. I shall put my trust in hedonic adaptation: maintaining a stable level of happiness in spite of drastic change. I have tightened up my belt before and was just fine. I have every material object I could possibly need. I will engage in a spending freeze. I’ve accepted the fact that I will be returning to my natural hair color. No travel. No mani/pedis. No dining/drinking out. It will take major habit changes to get myself exclusively eating from home and taking lunch to work. As for drinks, enter: the flask. Fortunately, Los Angeles has many free offerings for entertainment – and I’m going to become “one with them.”

Increasing Revenue

Increasing revenue will be hard work, but I think I can do it. I’ve always had a tendency to keep many irons in the fire (ideally, not “too many”). I enjoy a challenge. That said, it is absolutely necessary that any additional work does not impede on my ability to excel in my current position. I realize that I am very fortunate to have a salaried position that rarely requires more than 40 hours of my time per week. Many of my peers work for companies that require far longer hours – and though I know I already exert a lot of energy at work, I can do more. And I believe I will benefit personally and professionally by engaging in new and varied opportunities. It absolutely must be a positive work environment and I would love to do something that involves physical activity. Current brainstorm on this topic: teach dance in the evenings or work weekends/evenings in fitness-related business. Bartending? Per diem medical social work? There are many options, each with their own up- and down-sides. I aim to secure a position by January.

Happily Ever After?

This blog will follow my journey as I aggressively work to slay this dragon of debt. Will it work? Will I reach my goals? Will I lose my mind? I’m excited and nervous. And I’m glad you’re with me.