Financial Focus

Dealing with Financial Overwhelm: 5 Steps for Gaining Control of Your Finances

In August of 2016, I purchased a home and got some really unwelcomed expenses shortly after.  A few months after moving in, I completed graduate school and started the repayment process on my school loans. This meant paying an additional $300 along with the $150 for my undergraduate loans that were previously in deferment.  I learned that in the summer months the grass grows more quickly and requires cutting each week, this costs $100 monthly. I also recently learned that cooling a two-story home can run me about $125 in the summer months.  But of course, none of this was calculated into my expenses when I was considering buying the home. Feelings of financial overwhelm quickly set in.

What I originally calculated to be an increase of $300 in my monthly expenses has actually turned out to be an increase of about $800. As a result, I found myself reaching for my credit card more often and never seemed to have enough cash to cover regular monthly expenses.  There were five key moves I made to move from stressed and overwhelmed to financial stability.

While worrying about money was never a concern before, it quickly became all I could think about.  If I was going to ever get back to a place of financial peace, something had to change… immediately.

In hopes of getting a better understanding of my full financial picture, I made a list of all of my debt.  And the grand total was…drum roll please… $265,730.

The sheer number was so scary it set off the alarm in my brain that said, “Do something now!!!!”

Who the hell feels ok with owing this much money?  While I know I’m being dramatic considering that $217,000 was a home loan that I have only been paying on for one year;  I can’t help being bothered with what this amount of debt has meant for my lifestyle and more importantly my peace of mind.

I then had to reflect on what money was coming in and where it was all going.

I live a very modest lifestyle, which means no cable, no expensive outings, and I almost always pack my lunch for work. After reviewing the budget, there were few areas I could cut cost without having to ride a bike and dumpster dive. I can no longer get manicures and pedicures, go shopping for clothes or the home, or plan fabulous vacations. I stopped attending dance class so there would be no membership fees and could no longer invest in my many DIY projects, which often resulted in several trips to Walmart and Home Depot.

But it still isn’t enough to cover my monthly expenses, to allow for investing, giving, and saving. So Now what?

I had to take drastic measures.

For me, that means removing the one thing that has put me in this financial predicament…the house.  I heard a podcast referencing Joshua Becker’s blog post where he says that money problems often come from one of three things, “Too much house, too much car, or too much entertainment.”

I had way too much house and too much car.  Owing $10,000 on a car isn’t that much, but the truth is I could have gone with a sedan with the same miles and bought it cash.  The difference is a monthly payment and higher insurance rates. It all adds up.

So I had to take action.

Five Steps for Gaining Control of Your Finances

  1. Admit where the problem lies. I say admit because we all know which of the three categories we fall into…too much house, too much car, or too much entertainment. Step one is hard because once you identify what your issue is, you have to commit to changing your situation. If being debt free is the priority then some major changes will have to be taken.

For example, since I have too much house I have three reasonable options to remedy this situation:

Downsize: sell my home and move into a smaller home, with a smaller price tag and less maintenance, or an apartment with lower cost and no maintenance

Rent out my home: Find someone who is willing to rent my home for a year at a rate that covers the mortgage and a little extra for repairs. This can be done for a year and then I can reassess the situation later.  Now I’m free to move somewhere cheaper…living with family would be the cheapest, but I don’t see it as a viable option for my 70lb dog.

Rent out part of my home: Get a roommate or two roommates (Yikes!). The additional rental income will help offset the cost of the mortgage and utilities (however there will likely be a spike in the utilities due to the additional use by my roomies).

If you determine you have too much car then think about downsizing to something more affordable, smaller and more gas efficient, or sell the car and get a bike.  I can’t imagine biking in Houston heat, but those extremely frugal folk that are retired in their 30s did it and so can you. If you are a two car family consider getting rid of one and sharing. Sharing is caring y’all.

If your problem is the amount of entertainment decide what will give you the biggest bang for your buck i.e. Is the problem the lavish vacations? Your shopping addiction? Or do you frequent too many bars and clubs and get really generous with the rounds of drinks?  Cutting back on lattes will only get you so far so think about where you’ll get your biggest wins and cut it out.

It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it. This is the one area that will put you on the fast track of debt repayment.

 

  1. Review your spending. I know, I know, I hate budgeting too but it is necessary to see where our money is going. I recommend using Mint to easily track your spending in multiple categories. Consider your fixed expenses such as mortgage/rent, car payments, utilities etc. and flexible spending such as gas, groceries, entertainment, pets, and kids etc. Using the last three months, total your spending in each category and divide it by three. This is your average spending in each category.  Round up to the nearest dollar or five dollars (to create a cushion) and these will act as your new budget amounts for these categories.

 

  1. Cut 3 things out completely. I know this is hard, maybe even harder than number one because you have to make this choice every day rather than once.

Consider your flexible categories, which of these areas can you cut out completely?  For me this was my gym membership- a pole studio is like a gym right? Lol

While I enjoy the workout, right now I just can’t afford it.  The next thing I cut will make you ladies want to cry…..pampering/self-care.  No getting my nails done!  I love to indulge in a massage chair and have someone massage my dinosaur feet and make them look human. It’s so nice to have my fingernails look like I’m a lady of leisure rather than a mechanic.  But that $100 a month could go towards paying off the car faster so no mani-pedis for now. I also cut out shopping. I’m committing to a full year of not buying any article of clothing; not even a panty.  I am also committed to not buying anything that would fall under the home décor category.

These things may be different for you, but they should be things that will reflect a significant increase in your budget.  Consider monthly costs that you could do without.  Some suggestions are cutting cable, monthly subscriptions, upgrading technology, alcohol and/or eating out.   To make this work for you, you’ll have to review your own budget and note where you are spending the most.

 

  1. “Lower your overhead.” It was as if a light bulb went off in my head when I heard this. While everyone talks about cutting back on coffee (which I don’t drink), I finally read practical advice I could use.  Where could I lower cost? While I may not be able to get rid of some necessary essentials I could lower the cost of them.  Using Ramit Sethi’s “Save $1,000 in a Week” scripts I managed to dump my cell phone plan and save $40 a month by going prepaid, I lowered my internet bill by $20, got on a plan to lower the cost of my electricity bill, and am currently shopping for new car and home insurance coverage. Where could you lower cost? Could you downgrade your cable subscription? How about getting a family cell phone plan? Could you get groceries at Aldi instead of Kroger? (That last one is hard, I tried it.  Maybe just get your produce and meat at Aldi and the boxed and canned stuff at Walmart. You’ll still be saving a lot.)

 

  1. Decide on a debt payoff method that makes sense to you. I have heard so many people rave about Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball method in which you order your debts from least to greatest and pay them off beginning with the lowest amount. More specifically, you pay only the minimum on all debts except for the smallest debt. Once the first debt is paid off, the money used to pay off the first debt is applied to the next smallest amount.  Financially it doesn’t make sense because it is not taking interest into account, but I do like the simplicity of the system and the idea of making progress to get rid of some bills faster, so it is the method I am using.

Feeling like you are drowning in bills and can’t catch a break will greatly affect all aspects of your daily life.  The sooner you take control of the situation the better. Please comment on which of the five strategies you found the most helpful.