7 Easy Ways to Be a Little Greener on a Budget

7 Easy Ways to Be a Little Greener on a Budget

It would be easier to go green if things weren't so expensive.

There's always this tug of war for me between taking care of the environment, making the best use of my time, and staying on the budget.  It won't always be that way.  In two years I'll be debt free, and part of being able to “live and give like no one else” will be having the financial standing to make some bigger sustainability changes in my life.  The fact is that sometimes the “green” option costs more.

That won't always be the case, because more and more people are starting to vote with their wallets.  But it's where we are today.  I'm a “people over things” person, and in this season in my life, if I have to choose between cost and sustainability, I'll choose cost.  But the good news is that there are many sustainable options that are the same cost or cheaper than the traditional versions.  The best way to change the world is one small choice at a time.  To be crazy effective, start with things that require little or no behavior change, and cost the same or less than doing things the old way.  Here are 7 easy ways to be a little bit greener on a budget.

This page contains affiliate links – they don’t cost you a penny, but they sure help to pay off those student loans!  For more information, please see my disclosure page.

To be crazy effective, start with things that require little or no behavior change, and cost the same or less than doing things the old way.Click To Tweet

Change happens one choice at a time. These choices require almost no behavior change and will cost the same or less than what you are doing today. + FREE download with 20 more ways to go greener on a budget! - https://www.thecafescholar.com

#1 Change Your Printer Settings

One of the easiest ways to go a little greener on a budget is to change your printer settings.  Why?  It's simple. You make a one-time change, and then you don't have to think about it anymore.  From here on (or until you replace your printer), you'll automatically save resources and money.

First, if your printer has an automatic document feeder that allows you to automatically print double-sided, change the default print settings on your computer to print double-sided always.

Second, change the default settings to print as “draft” (uses less ink) and “black and white.”  That way, you are only using top print quality and color ink when you actually need it – then you would just change the settings from the application you are printing from.

Both of these settings will need to be set for any printer you regularly use, and they can be found in the printer settings on your computer.  Some big shared printers allow you to change the default for the printer itself as well.

#2 Refill Your Ink Cartridges

So you're printing, with those new settings you're saving ink, but you still eventually will have to replace those cartridges.  Take your empty ink cartridges over to one of these retailers, drop it off, and pick it up an hour later, filled with high-quality ink.  Trust me – I used to work for the company that sells this service, so I printed with refilled ink every day for almost 6 years.  It's good stuff.  Many cartridges can be refilled several times, and each time you refill, you save money (refilling is up to 60% cheaper) and you keep that cartridge out of the landfill.

If you don't want to deal with going in-store to refill your ink cartridges, you can buy refilled/remanufactured cartridges from Inkplicity (also available on Amazon). They are remanufactured or refilled in the US by the same company that does Costco's refills, so you don't have to worry about any shady business.  Whether you refill in store or buy refilled, you can go greener on a budget by paying LESS for a for more sustainable version of what you had to buy anyways.

#3 Use E-Books

I'm not against paper books. I have my e-Bible and my tree Bible.  Actually, I'm a Bible scholar so I have lots of tree Bibles.  But when it makes sense, I try to get the electronic versions of books.  Kindle books (or Nook, but I personally use a Kindle) are almost always cheaper than print books.  They take up no physical space other than your e-reader (this is a lifesaver for me…there are 500+ titles on my Kindle).  If you play your cards right, your Kindle will read them to you.  They are easier to carry around…ever been studying and realize you didn't bring the right book with you?  They are searchable.  You get them instantly.

And…oh, that's right, we're talking about going greener on a budget.  There's no physical book, so you're saving resources with the book itself, the manufacturing process, packaging, and shipping.  Some books aren't available as e-books, and some don't make sense to use as e-books (like a study guide with fill-ins). And some people don't like the feel of it.  But for many of us, e-books are a great way to go a little greener on a budget.


#4 Use Your Old Notebooks

If you're like me, you go through notebooks like crazy.  Oh, no. Not because they are full. Because you start one for this class or that project, use part of it, and then move on.  Last year I went through all my notebooks and there were like 20 of them with space. Some with only a page or two used. And then another 20 or so that were brand new, never used.

Now I'm on notebook-buying restriction until I have used up what I have.  I took some of the nicer new ones and used them for gifts.  The partially used ones I put on a shelf and labeled it…you guessed it, “notebooks with space.”  Each time I need a new one, I grab one of those.  You can make a table of contents (now I try to leave a few pages for a table of contents and number my pages).  You can also flip it over and start writing from the back.  Save a little space, save a little money, go a little greener on a budget.

#5 Keep a recycle bin close by.

Most of us have recycling pick-up with our regular garbage pickup.  But let's face it…if you have a handful of trash, and the recycle bin is in the other room or you don't have one at all, 9 times out of 10 that item is going in the regular trash.  Keep a recycle bin any place where you are working – especially the kitchen and at your desk.  Keep it closer than the trash can.  Then, recycling all that paper (and other things) is no more work than throwing out the trash.

You don't need to go out and buy a recycle bin or an extra trash can.  You may already have one around your house.  I did buy one when I moved.  But except in the kitchen, where it might get wet or have food crummies, your recycle bin can be a cardboard box.  It just needs to be easy to get to so you don't have to think about recycling.

#6 Use a Whiteboard First

I like to scribble down thoughts, map things out, and sometimes paper works best for that.  But a whiteboard can be a great reusable option.  Don't have a whiteboard, or working on-the-go and can't bring one with you?  Put a sheet of paper inside a plastic sheet protector and use it with a dry erase marker.  Instant whiteboard.  That's also really good if you have a template or form you use to work on certain projects.  Rather than printing it over and over again, put it in a sheet protector and use a dry erase marker on it.  If you need to save your work, take a picture for your Evernote account. BAM.

#7 Get Paid to Save Energy

Yes, you read that right.  I save energy (good for the environment, good for my electric bill), and then I get paid. Now that's going greener on a budget. OhmConnect allows you to connect your utility account, and then gives you goals to meet during certain hours to earn points which can be cashed out for gift cards or via Paypal.  I've cashed out for over more than $50 a few times during the summer months.  I usually flip off the circuit breaker so I know I'll meet my goal, which is why I was writing this blog post in the dark last night.  Once my mom came over during an OhmHour, so we had candlelight dinner.  I heart adventure. Sign up for OhmConnect with this link to get $10 when your account is connected.

Want even more ways to go greener on a budget?

I've put together 21 MORE ways in the download below.  Enjoy!  And make sure to comment below with some of your favorite ways to go greener on a budget!

Change happens one choice at a time. These choices require almost no behavior change and will cost the same or less than what you are doing today. + FREE download with 20 more ways to go greener on a budget! - https://www.thecafescholar.com

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How to Finish Baby Step 1 and Save $1000 in One Month

How to Finish Baby Step 1 and Save $1000 in One Month

I just finished up the first 6 weeks of my 90 Day Budget Boot Camp…and…Baby Step 1 is DONE!  I have got to tell you…this week I had some real fun with money.
Say what?
Yup, fun, with money, and my budget.
As you know, I’m going through Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps from The Total Money Makeover to get my debt paid off as soon as possible.  Baby Step 1 was to save $1000 in a “baby emergency fund” as fast as possible, and then Baby Step 2 is the debt snowball.
I’m going to be in Baby Step 2 for a looooong time.
Baby Step 1: Save $1000 as Fast as Possible! | thecafescholar.com

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. That just means that I may receive a small commission if you buy a product linked on this page.  It sure helps towards paying off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosures page.

But that $1000 emergency fund is so important because, for many of us, credit cards are our emergency plan.  The problem with debt as the emergency plan is that then your emergency keeps you trapped; it keeps costing you and costing you. So you really need the emergency fund before you can start paying off debt, so that every emergency doesn’t set you back into debt.  I am super excited to have completed Baby Step 1 in less than a month!  Here’s how I did it…and how you can do it.  Now, it really helped that I had a few side hustles lined up already at the beginning of October, and your expenses will probably look different than mine.  Everyone’s situation is a little different, but I found there are three keys to this first step:
  1. Get on the budget and try to beat it.
  2. Follow through with loose ends.
  3. Make Tough Choices

#1 Get on a Budget and Try to Beat It.Baby Step 1: Save $1000 by racing against yourself and trying to beat your budget goals! | thecafescholar.com

The written budget is about telling every dollar where it should go, before the month even starts.  These 6 weeks got off to a rough start with a lousy out-of-budget purchase that I had a hard time returning, but after that kick-in-the-pants I was so motivated to not be manipulated like that again!  I cut up my credit cards (on Facebook Live!) and I made a new goal: to basically race against myself and BEAT the budget.  I was determined to spend less than budgeted in any and every category possible.  For example, I had budgeted for food, but then I quit spending money on food entirely.  I stopped eating out, got more consistent about making lunches, kept my cubical at work stocked with some lunch options just in case.  After October 7, the only eating out I have done has been on gift cards.  And let me tell you, a free Chick-fil-a sandwich tastes so much better when you haven’t eaten out in weeks!  Seriously, when you stop eating out it feels like you are making more money.  And avoiding spending money even on groceries forces you to be more creative and use what you have left in the house.  I did a one-month spending freeze in college, and I ate the most interesting foods imaginable!  Who knew you had that much food sitting in your house?  If you can be creative with your expenses in Baby Step 1, you will be able to save that $1000 super fast and you will get excited for the next step.

Put Spending on Pause

In other areas, I tried to wait until November to make a purchase that was necessary but not “a fire,” so I could reach that Baby Step 1 goal first.  Use gift cards and points you already have to cover things you need or want to buy, so you can put that cash into your emergency fund instead.  Sell books or other items on Amazon or Ebay.  When you think you need to buy something, see if you can borrow that tool (or dress!) from a friend, wait until next month, or use something else you might already have at home.  Some of these you will make a decent price on, but even if you don’t, every penny counts.  It’s not that a few dollars are going to make the difference.  It is that your attitude towards spending or saving those few dollars makes the difference.  Something about being ALL IN with the little stuff helps you to be ALL IN with the big stuff.
I didn't succeed 100% in the race against myself – I had to replace a tire on my car which my “auto” fund didn't cover, BUT it felt so good to cash-flow that replacement.  I didn't even have to break into my brand new emergency fund!

#2 Follow Through with Loose Ends

Baby Step 1: Save $1000 for your emergency fund: follow up on all those loose ends. | thecafescholar.com

I turned in receipts that I had been holding onto from work and church and my flexible spending account, followed up on reimbursements and refunds that I hadn’t received, and set reminders in Producteev for each one until it was done.  The biggest one was my rental car reimbursement from this summer’s car accident…I realized I had never received the check!  It took some follow through, but I am finally in the clear on that one.  By the time the rental car reimbursement came through, I had saved my $1000 and was able to apply that to the next goal.  About 20% of my Baby Step 1 Emergency Fund came from reimbursements and refunds.

#3 Make Tough Choices

Trying to save $1000 for your emergency fund? Baby Step 1 starts with some tough choices today so you can be free tomorrow! Baby Step 1 is DONE! | thecafescholar.com

Part of Baby Step 1 is getting that emergency fund together, but part of it is getting motivated and laying the foundation for the rest of the journey.  That came with some touch choices.  I was a member of 3 academic scholarly organizations, all of which were up for renewal this month.  I made the choice to not renew until I am debt free.  The tougher decision was with sponsorships though.  I sponsored a few kids through organizations like Compassion International.  This is a wonderful ministry, but I realized that donating above my tithe while I’m this far in debt would be giving away money that I don’t have; it would be like borrowing to give.  But, I know that when I’m debt free, I can support as many kids as I want!  For you, it might be something different – a phone plan or other service that is hitting you month after month.  Whatever that thing is, make the tough choice to set it to the side for now so that you can really enjoy that thing later.  Every activity, product, or service that I turned down (and even the alumni fundraiser phone calls I received!) I used as an opportunity to share about my debt-free goals.  It helped me to remember the goal.

The Result? Baby Step 1 Done, and on to Baby Step 2!

Having that goal of trying to beat the budget made this process really fun.  If I got a check, I didn’t even deposit it into my regular checking account; it went straight into the emergency savings fund and I watched those numbers go up.  The best part: yes, I met my first goal to save up $1000 in the first month, but at the same time, I was able to pay off $2500 in debt in that first 6 weeks.  I paid the minimums on everything until I had finished the emergency fund, and then at the end of the month, everything left over got thrown at the debt.  I cannot tell you how exhilarating it was to pay some of those bills and know that I would never ever have to pay that bill again.
And here’s the thing…this is what I have learned the last 6 weeks.  It’s not just about the math of how much money you save or you spend.  When you make decision after to decision to honor God with your money, when you make the hard choices, money seems to turn up where you don’t expect it, like the receipt from work that I had forgotten to expense, or cash in a jacket pocket.  God honors you and equips you to knock out those goals.  “Whoever can be trusted with little can also be trusted with much.”  Can you feel the smile?
Now, to start hanging out in Baby Step 2.  Time to destroy the debt!  Me and Jesus, we got this!  What about you?  Do you have a big or small victory in your journey to be debt free?

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. That just means that I may receive a small commission if you buy a product linked on this page.  It sure helps towards paying off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosures page.

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Should I REALLY Destroy ALL my Credit Cards?

Should I REALLY Destroy ALL my Credit Cards?

Too late.  I already did.  Destroy 12 credit cards.  On Facebook Live. If you missed it, you can catch the video below.
Seriously, you guys, it feels like losing 100 lbs.  I can’t stop singing While We’re Young.  And I haven’t even finished paid off some of those credit cards yet, but I just know that once they are gone this time, they will really be gone for good.  NEVER AGAIN will I have those chains!
Yes - I did. Destroy 12 credit cards. On Facebook Live. Will you do it next? | https://thecafescholar.com

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. That just means that I may receive a small commission if you buy a product linked on this page.  It sure helps towards paying off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosures page.

This post is part of a series covering my journey to get out of debt!  Because you can’t talk about college and NOT talk about debt.  If you missed the beginning, check out how I got started with this crazy challenge!

90 Day Budget Boot Camp Week 4Meet your calendar: your new best friend for destroying credit card debt. https://thecafescholar.com

This week’s challenge had to do with planning and organization.  It was timely, considering that I now have to break out of using credit cards to deal with my failure to plan!  I love organizing – it is a lot of fun.  But as Rosie said in the 90 Day Budget Bootcamp book, “Organizing doesn’t make you organized.  Routines make you organized.”  The easy part (though it can be a bit time consuming, is putting everything in your calendar – everything that costs money.  The hard part is to build it into your routine to plan ahead, which is what I need to get better at doing. Rosie recommends saving this month for next month’s expenses (birthdays, events, etc).  So when I update my budget each month, I shouldn’t just be looking at the new month’s calendar, but also looking ahead to the following month.  Of course, I’m on month 1, so that hasn’t really happened yet.  As evidenced by the $10 I spent for a ticket to my brother’s band tournament today, which was on my calendar but not in my budget.  (Fortunately, for this first month I had a small category of “things I forgot to include!”)
Planning ahead, and building my baby emergency fund (which is now up to $625 or 62% of the goal!), is what will allow me to handle the expected and the unexpected without going more debt.  Obviously, that’s kind of important for the debt-free goal!  This is why Dave Ramsey has you start out with a “baby” emergency fund; if you don’t have an emergency fund when a crisis hits, you end up going back into debt to deal with the crisis.  I’m on track to meet that first $1000 goal this month, and I had enough of it in the bank that I felt ready to finally deal with the credit cards.  Here’s how I dealt with them:

But don't I need credit cards for emergencies?Do you really need a credit card for emergencies? Or does using debt in emergencies just keep you poor? | https://thecafescholar.com

Many people don’t have any savings, and so a credit card is the “in case of emergency” plan.  I feel like this is especially true for college students.  But there are two problems with this plan.  One, when you have credit cards, it becomes really easy to redefine “emergency.”  Failure to plan becomes an emergency.  “I ate dinner out and then a check got cashed and now my checking account is dry” is an emergency.  It is really easy to use your credit cards to deal with budget bloopers rather than toughing it out for a little while and then fixing the budget – or sometimes fixing the budgeter!
Second, I’m starting to agree with Dave Ramsey that going into debt to deal with an emergency is one of the worst things you can do.  Not evil, just not smart.  Why?  That emergency that cost you $100 (or even $1000) is going to cost you a lot more if you end up paying interest on it. Debt keeps poor people poor and broke people broke.  I have experienced this myself.  You end up feeling like you will never ever get out, and it is just awful.  This is why it is so important to build up that baby emergency fund first, as fast as you can.  If you don’t think you can have a $1000 fund, start with $500 and work your way up from there.  Then, be super careful about how you define “emergency!”

But…What about all those credit card points?

A lot of us think we can have the credit cards, use them for the cash back points, and pay them off every month.  It’s a great idea in theory.  But in practice, a few things go wrong.  One, most of us don’t actually follow through and pay them off each month.  Sometimes a crisis comes up and we can’t pay the full bill as planned, or we just forget.  (Yes, it happens).  Two, it is much easier to spend money on credit than to spend cash, so even if we are paying that card off every month, we are spending as much as twice as we would if we paid cash.  You may make a different situation for you, but I decided that for me, it’s not worth the points.  There are some debit cards with points out there, or rewards programs that you can link to a debit card, and I will probably chase some of those down when I’m debt free.  “No new debt!” is going to be my policy from here on out.

Credit card debt makes you do crazy things!

The truth is that debt makes people do crazy things.  One of my favorite movies is Confessions of a Shopaholic (highly motivating “Get Debt Free” watching!).  Like any good movie, it zooms in close up on something true.  When we are drowning in debt, and dealing with the stress in unhealthy ways, we start to lose our humanity.   It doesn’t happen all at once, but it creeps up on us over time.  But the thing is…it’s not hopeless!  There have been times this year where I felt like it was.  I looked at the bills and the debt and looked at the things I want to do with my life, and it just didn’t add up.  I felt trapped like there was no way out.  But there is a way out.  It won’t be as fast as in the movies (never is), but WE CAN DO THIS.  I can do all things (not just some things) through Christ who strengthens me, and if my Jesus is a chain breaker, me and Jesus can definitely handle this debt once and for all.

Ready to ditch those chains?Credit card debt feels like chains...like you can never escape. But you CAN! | https://thecafescholar.com

If you, like me, are ready to start dealing with life’s emergencies the smart way, I really recommend The Total Money Makeover.  Grab the book, and start working on that baby emergency fund.  Here are some ways to save $1000 fast.  As soon as your emergency fund is underway, bust out those scissors!  Better yet, do it on Facebook Live like I did!   Comment below with the link to your video cutting up your credit cards, and I will share the video on the blog’s Facebook and Twitter accounts!

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. That just means that I may receive a small commission if you buy a product linked on this page.  It sure helps towards paying off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosures page.

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Week 3: 4 Things that Get Me Excited to Pay Off Debt

Week 3: 4 Things that Get Me Excited to Pay Off Debt

This post is the third in a series following my journey to pay off debt, especially the process of paying off student loans.  Why talk about debt and money on a college blog?  Simple.  I can’t blog about college and grad school and not blog about money.  Money issues are the #1 cause of college stress!  If you missed the beginning of the series, be sure to check out my post introducing this money challenge and last week’s post about setting a budget that works.

What gets you motivated to reach your financial goals? Here are 4 things that get me excited to pay off debt! | https://thecafescholar.com

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. That just means that I may receive a small commission if you buy a product linked on this page.  It sure helps towards paying off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosures page.

Budget Boot Camp Week 3

I just wrapped up week 3 of the 90 Day Budget Boot Camp.

I love eating out, but am I willing to give it up for a little while to be debt free? | https://thecafescholar.com

 This week’s challenge was to plan ahead…to defeat your triggers.  What are the events or situations that trigger you to spend money and break the budget?  Is there a particular situation where you tend to spend?  For me, my trigger is a failure to plan for lunch.  To stay on budget, I need to pack my lunch each day and not eat out.  I can eat out when I don’t have debt!  Yes, I’m going extreme here, because I extremely want to be debt free!  But packing a lunch requires planning and follow through.  I really need to do it the night before, but sometimes that doesn’t happen, so I end up eating out.  Eating out works against both my financial fitness goals and my physical fitness goals right now.  When I pack a lunch, I tend to eat healthier and have better portion control, and if I eat out, I don’t have time to go on a walk at lunchtime.

Pay Off Debt by Beating Your Spending Triggers

Defeat your spending triggers to pay off debt faster! A little planning can make those nasty triggers less powerful. | https://thecafescholar.com

The idea of planning for the trigger is to reduce the number of situations where I’ll have to have super willpower.  Can I remove the trigger or take the steam out of it, or take the choice out of it?  In my case, I stocked my desk at work with nonperishable lunch and snack options.  If I forget to bring a lunch, I have choices right there so I don’t have to eat out and spend money.

Staying Motivated

It also helps to get motivated and stay motivated with the advice and stories of others.  You
can keep up the momentum and remember why you are making the hard choices.  The WHY will get you through this.  Here are four things that get me excited to stay on budget and pay off debt.

#1 Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover

Dave Ramsey’s book breaks down the process of getting financially on track into “baby steps.” Each chapter is filled with stories of people who have done this before, so you can get pumped up!  In this whole process, Dave Ramsey’s book has become the strategy for the big picture process of attacking the debt and getting debt free, while the 90 Day Budget Boot Camp is building the muscles to stay on the budget that I set.  The two programs are nicely complementary
Baby step 1 is to build a $1000 “baby” emergency fund as fast as you can. The idea is that if debt (credit cards) is your plan for dealing with emergencies, you will never get out of debt.  So while you’ll build a more robust emergency fund later, before you even start to aggressively pay off debt, you need a small emergency fund so that your emergencies don’t make you go back on your goal. I had a decent emergency fund before my car accident a few months ago, but hadn’t rebuilt it yet, so that’s my focus for the next few weeks.  As of right now, I have 20% of that goal complete, and I’m on track to be there by the end of the month.  I get super motivated by the stories from Dave’s book about how Murphy didn’t seem to come around so often once people had that emergency fund.  If you’re ready to get motivated – and get a great strategy – to get your finances on track, I really recommend Dave’s book.  I read it in a weekend, haha.

#2 Share the Journey!

Comment with your best budget tips, and be featured on The Cafe Scholar's Facebook and Pinterest pages! Make sure to include your social profile so I can tag you in the post! | https://thecafescholar.com

It was super uncomfortable to write my first post about my journey to pay off debt, and how far I have to go.  But since I started blogging about my budget challenge and debt repayment journey, I am super excited to tackle the challenge each week!  I talk about it all the time, not even just online.  My coworkers, my banker, and even the hotel concierge from this weekend’s work trip know what I’m all about.  It helps me get excited, and it also helps me stay accountable.  I don’t want to mess up, because people know.  I’m not going to beat myself up when I stumble – this group is also a great cheering section! – but the accountability definitely helps!  If you want to stay motivated, don’t hide your mess from the world.  Instead, share your journey.  When you are open about it, you feel so much lighter, you stay accountable, you have a cheering section, and you might even motivate someone else to take the plunge and get on a budget.  Your story doesn’t have to be finished to help someone.  Share your journey to pay off debt on a blog, on social media, or even with your group of friends. And if you have a great budget tip, share that too!  Leave a comment with your best budget tip on my post about breakthrough budgets, be sure to include your Facebook page, and I will share it to The Cafe Scholar's Facebook and Pinterest accounts!

#3 Don’t just get Physical, Get Visual

I'm 20% of the way to my baby emergency fund. How far are you? #babystep1 | https://thecafescholar.com

I’m not the most visual of people, personally, but it really helps to visualize your goal.  This post from The Cultivated Nest has some great ideas for creating visual reminders of your goal.  Try to come up with a visual in a place you will see often: your bathroom mirror, cell phone, screen saver, on your wall, or even taped to your debit card!  There are lots of free templates to create your own debt thermometer to fill in as you pay off debt.  Or borrow an idea from the weight loss community.  I once saw an episode of Extreme Weight Loss where Chris had the athlete-to-be move beans from one jar to another every time she lost weight.  You could do the same as you pay off debt.  If your goal is really big, try creating a visual for the smaller goals too, so you have something to celebrate early on.  Since I’m on Baby Step 1, I created a visual for my “baby” emergency fund savings, which I will update each week until that goal is destroyed!

#4 Listen to the Screams

I love listening to all the "debt-free screams!" on the Dave Ramsey Show! I can't wait till I get to do my own debt free scream! | https://thecafescholar.com

The debt-free screams, that is!  I was recently introduced to The Dave Ramsey Show by my friend Julie (who is an amazing voice teacher, by the way!).  I listen to the podcast on my commute, and my favorite part is hearing people who come on the show to do their debt-free screams.  These are people just like you and me.  People from all walks of life, levels of income, family situations successfully pay of debt and live to tell the story.  People that just decided to be different.  I love hearing about their journeys to independence, and that sheer joy when they scream “we’re debt free!”  Each time, I imagine my own debt-free scream and I am super motivated to get this business done.

Now it’s your turn.  What is one of your favorite ways to stay motivated towards your financial goals?

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. That just means that I may receive a small commission if you buy a product linked on this page.  It sure helps towards paying off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosures page.

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Week 2: 3 Simple Steps to a Breakthrough Budget that Works

Week 2: 3 Simple Steps to a Breakthrough Budget that Works

Woohoo! I finished Week 2 of the 90 Day Budget Boot Camp!  And I got that mistake purchase from last week returned…sort of.  The tough part about keeping to a budget that works is following through.  That was so frustrating.  This place was out of my way, and it was frustrating, and a different Joy might have decided to keep the product, but the money I got back was worth the hassle.  Following through is one of the toughest things about managing your money, whether it is following through to get a refund, cancel a service, or correct an error on your bank statement!

This week’s challenge was a doozy. We were tasked with creating a new budget – a budget that works! – accounting for income, planned savings, bills, groceries, other expenses, and even fun stuff. Thankfully the workbook breaks it down step by step, so you complete each task and check the box. You don’t have to finish it all in one sitting! Here are 3 simple steps I implemented during this week’s challenge.  Stick around to the end to offer YOUR favorite tips budget tips which will be featured on my blog's Facebook and Pinterest pages!

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. That just means that I may receive a small commission if you buy a product linked on this page.  It sure helps towards paying off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosures page.

I tend to set budgets that don't work...I go from one extreme to the other. Here are 3 simple steps for a budget that works! 90 Day Budget Boot Camp Challenge | https://thecafescholar.com
This post is part of an ongoing series about my journey through the 90 Day Budget Boot Camp Workbook and my mission to pay off my debt.  If you missed it, you can read about Week 1 and the money challenge here.

#1 Break Up to Break ThroughBreak up your direct deposit into separate accounts to break through on your budget! Keeping the funds separate will make it much easier to have a budget that works. | https://thecafescholar.com

The budget that works for you is going to make it easy to do the right thing.  If you are working towards a really big goal – such as saving to go back to school or buy a car, or paying off a large debt – and you want everything extra to go to that goal, break up your paycheck.  This works really well if you have direct deposit.  Open a separate checking account or savings account for your goal.  For this one, put it in a different bank from your regular checking account, so that it will be harder to “break” your budget by transferring money back and forth.  Make sure you won’t be getting charged any fees.  Most banks will let you avoid the monthly fee with a regular direct deposit (which you want to be doing anyways!)
Calculate what you need from each paycheck to cover your bills and living expenses, with a little buffer but not too much.  Then, split your direct deposit so that the money you need for your regular expenses goes to your regular checking account, and the money you need for your goal goes to your new account.

What I Did This Week

As you know, my Big Important Goal is to pay off debt…lots of it.  I opened up a new checking account (with a $200 bonus, yay!) at a different bank.  I calculated how much cash I would need from each paycheck to cover my non-debt bills and living expenses, with a little buffer.  Then I went to my HR department and changed my direct deposit, so that my set amount for expenses goes to my regular checking account, and the balance of my paycheck automatically deposits to my debt payoff account.  Then I changed the Autopay for all of my debt-related bills to pull from that new account.
Breaking up my direct deposit is really going to help create a budget that works. Since the new account is completely separate, I won’t be spending that money elsewhere, and I know at the end of the month that any money left in that account can go straight to an extra debt payment.

#2 Make One SwitchChoose one "low hanging fruit" change to make at a time. 90 Day Budget Boot Camp Challenge. | https://thecafescholar.com

Budgets that don't work often fail because of roller coaster budgeting.  We try to take on too much at once, go “all in,” and then crash and burn.  A budget that works goes “all in” by making slow, sustainable, changes, and then be consistent with those changes. One of the steps from the 90 Day Budget Boot Camp Workbook this week was to choose one thing – just one, for now – to reduce or substitute.  You don’t have to change everything at once.  That’s the roller coaster budget way.  Instead, look for the low hanging fruit: a bill or expense you have every month that you can cut back on.  In fact, you may not even notice the cut back if you do it right.

Shop for a Better Rate

The easiest way to do this is to try to get a better rate on a service you already have, such as your cell phone, cable TV, internet, or even car insurance.  Shop around and look for a better rate on the same service.  Before you commit to the new service, go back to your existing provider and let them know your plans.  Sometimes they will reduce their rates in order to keep you as a customer.  My mom is a pro at this one.  This budget step is awesome because you don't even feel a loss; you aren't missing out on anything. (Don't worry, those changes will come, but we don't have to tackle them all at once, right?)

Cancel Something You Don't Use

Another way to do this is to look for a monthly expense that goes to something you don’t actually use.  Sometimes, we sign up for a free one month trial…and then forget to cancel before the month is up.  Or, maybe you signed up thinking you would use something much more than you do.  Check your debit or credit card statement and look for a recurring charge for something you no longer use. If you don’t use it, cutting that subscription is a really easy way to create some more space in your budget.

#3 Take Your Buckets to the BankCreating separate savings accounts for different goals is easy with most banks. It will help you create a budget that works because that money won't be sitting in your checking account to be spent, and you'll know exactly how much you have towards each goal. | https://thecafescholar.com

In this week’s challenge, the 90 Budget Boot Camp had me create funds (I call them “buckets”) for infrequent purchases or expenses.  These could be anything from car registration to clothing to gifts to vacations.  Many banks have unlimited free savings accounts that are easy to set up and transfer to online.  I now have separate savings accounts for clothing, grad school, auto, as well as the emergency fund I had already created.  I’m not ready to start contributing to all of these quite yet, so I picked two to set a small automatic deposit each month.  I know that when it comes time to renew my car insurance next year, I will pay less because I’ll have the money set aside to pay it all at once instead of monthly payments.  And I also know that I won’t go out and buy clothes until I’ve set some cash aside in that special account.

Bank Account Buckets

Open as many accounts as you need; that way what you see in your checking account is actually what you have available to spend, and you can easily see your progress towards each goal.  These “buckets” or funds help you create a budget that works because the cash you are trying to save (the cash that you will need later!) won't be sitting in your checking account begging to be spent.  Instead, you'll know exactly what you have for each purpose.

Gift Card Buckets

Another way to create buckets for a budget that works, for some expenses at least, is to buy gift cards.  I bought a month's worth of gas cards so that I know that money is already set aside.  Since my checking account gets a little tight on this debt payoff mission, I wanted to make sure that expense was covered in advance.  I also do this with Starbucks gift cards.  As you know, we Cafe Scholars get our best work done at cafes, but if you are not careful, that cost can add up quickly.  I set a Starbucks budget and buy gift cards for that amount.  When they're gone, they're gone.  (I have more tips on how to be a Cafe Scholar on a Budget here).

The Next 3 Steps

Now it’s your turn.  What 3 steps would you recommend for a practical budget that works?  Comment below and let us know.  I’ll be featuring commenters on my blog’s Facebook and Pinterest pages, so be sure to include your social profiles so I can tag you!
Comment with your best budget tips, and be featured on The Cafe Scholar's Facebook and Pinterest pages! Make sure to include your social profile so I can tag you in the post! | https://thecafescholar.com
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Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. That just means that I may receive a small commission if you buy a product linked on this page.  It sure helps towards paying off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosures page.

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Are YOU Brave Enough to try this Money Challenge?

Are YOU Brave Enough to try this Money Challenge?

I can’t blog about school and not also blog about money.  It “ain’t all about the money,” but finance is hands-down the biggest source of stress for college students, and it doesn’t stop after you graduate.  Trust me, I’ve been there.  The money challenge and I are well acquainted.  College is expensive even at its best, and it is also a fertile ground for financial mistakes.  Some students are young and managing their own finances for the first time in their lives.  Many students don’t have a job while in school, or only work part-time, so unless someone else is paying for their school and living expenses, they are going into debt every single day.  And students are busy – and “busyness” can be a huge factor in overspending.  When we are busy, we don’t realize how much we are spending, we don’t catch mistakes, and we throw money at problems to make them go away.  Unfortunately, this usually just creates bigger problems down the road.

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. That just means that I may receive a small commission if you buy a product linked on this page.  It sure helps towards paying off those student loans! For more information, please see my disclosures page.

It takes courage to defeat debt! Are you brave enough to try this money challenge? 90 Day Budget Boot Camp! | https://thecafescholar.com

Drowning in Debt

As an undergrad, I found myself drowning in credit card debt, with very little income.  I made a huge dent in paying that off, and then graduated…with a mountain of student loans.  If you are stressed out about money, about paying your bills, or keeping track of it all, if you are embarrassed by your debt because you “know better,” I’ve been there.  Actually, in some ways, I’m still there!  I don’t want the world to know what I owe, and it feels like chains every day.  I’m at the point in my life where I am limited in pursuing some of my dreams because of the huge debt load I carry, and even though I have made some great steps towards paying it off, it is so easy to get off track.  It is so easy to pay for something that you can’t afford or be generous with money that you don’t have.
Confession time: I fell for the skin care in the mall trap this week!  I don’t know how…Usually, I know better than to even let them start the conversation.  A case of distraction and trying to be nice, I think.  And the level of sales-y push left a bad taste in my mouth.  BUT I decided about 10 minutes later to return the items.  Of course, I have gone back twice and the employee working there couldn't do returns, so I have to go back AGAIN tomorrow.  Heavy sigh.  Might be time for a Yelp review.  Who has their store open and can't do returns?

Life Happens

Sometimes, you’re actually making good progress towards those financial goals, and then life throws a wrench in your plans (like a car accident or something else unexpected), and it is so easy to get discouraged.  But I decided a few months ago that me and Jesus are going to be in charge of my life, not life circumstances or poor decisions from my past, and that means aggressively paying off this debt and moving forward with what God has called me to do.

The Money SecretTruth isn't just about not lying. Time to get open and honest about money. 90 Day Budget Bootcamp! | https://thecafescholar.com

The other thing about money is that we tend to be hush-hush about it.  Money is such a big secret! In our society, we often don’t talk about salary, and we definitely don’t talk about debt.  Why is talking about money is more taboo than talking about sex? I don’t mind talking about student loans, but I don’t like to talk about the numbers because…it is embarrassing!  How is it that I, a well-educated, financially literate adult with a decent job, have this massive debt looming over my head and keeping me from doing what I want to do with my life?  And even when I know where it came from and what to do about it, the execution – the following through to get rid of the debt – is easier said than done. But things can’t get fixed until they come into the light.  On Sunday, my pastor was talking about the Armor of God in Ephesians 6, and even though I have heard and studied the Armor of God many times over, the Belt of Truth kept standing out to me.  Truth isn’t just about not lying; it is about being out in the open, bringing things to light so that healing and repair can begin.  This is a hard thing for me, but I want that life.  I don’t want to have secrets.  We will always have some, but this doesn’t need to be one of them.
That’s one reason why I have decided to share my debt repayment journey on this blog.  The second reason is just as important.  I hope to encourage current students to make the best financial decisions possible (and learn from my experiences).  I also hope to encourage those who, like me, are already on this journey to pay off debt, and help you know that you are not alone! We are in this together!

My Struggle: Roller Coaster Budgeting

Are you a roller coaster budgeter? Time to get real with the 90 Day Budget Boot Camp! https://thecafescholar.com

I have the right ideas, but I tend to follow what I call “roller coaster budgeting.”  It’s a lot like a roller coaster diet.  I will read a great personal finance book like The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke, get all fired up, set a great goal, and I will be “all in” for weeks or even months, high-speed power through it.  And then at some point, I can’t keep up that pace any more, I bite off more than I can chew, and I fall off the wagon.  Sometimes I fall Big Time.  Staying on a budget requires planning and follow through, and sometimes it is just really hard.  So right now, my goal is to be both aggressive and consistent.  I want to set those high, ambitious goals, but I want to choose key behaviors to change over time and focus on being consistent.  This is why I was attracted to the 90 Day Budget Bootcamp Workbook.

Getting off the Roller Coaster…and Out in the Open

My friend Tana introduced me to the 90 Day Budget Bootcamp Workbook a few weeks ago, and I was really excited to try it out.  This workbook walks you through a different money challenge every week, and your responsibility is to read the short chapter and complete the weekly challenge.  It should help with my roller coaster budgeting syndrome, because each money challenge gradually builds on top of the others.  I have the knowledge to get this done, but I am looking for a tool that will help me apply that knowledge in a sustainable way.
So, this is GET REAL time.  I’m going to be real about it, even though it really stinks to have this out there.  Like I said, it’s embarrassing.  But I would rather be embarrassed and debt-free than fake and drowning in debt. If getting it out there will help get it GONE, and help someone else along the way, that sounds like a plan to me.  Who is with me?

Own your Mess

Money Challenge #1 is to own your mess.  The workbook has you write down every single debt.  We are encouraged to get physical – write it down, even if we already have it electronically.  Electronic tools are great for financial planning, but there is something about holding a pen and paper and writing “I owe a million dollars.”  (I don’t actually owe a million dollars. For the record.)  I actually did this a few months ago, so for this part of the challenge, I had to update those numbers.  It was exciting, on the one hand, to see how much I already paid off on some accounts!  On the other hand, it was disappointing; my car accident over the summer meant starting all over on a new car loan, and I still have a long way to go on my other debts.

Current Debt Breakdown:

Personal Student Loans (from family members): $14,700
Federal Student Loans (Unsubsidized): $64,957.29
Federal Student Loans (Subsidized): $1193.76
Car Loan: $17,748.52
Credit Cards (currently 0% interest): $7467.75
Total: $106,066.85

Credit Score:

The Budget Workbook hasn’t asked anything about my credit score yet, but this is important to track so I want to include it here.  Read more about why and how to improve your credit score here.  You can use a tool like Credit Sesame or Nerdwallet to track your credit score, or your bank may also provide this service.  Don’t forget that there are actually 3 different credit agencies, so you have 3 different credit scores.  Sometimes there is a significant difference between the scores.  I use both Credit Sesame and Nerdwallet because they report from different agencies.
Week 1 Credit Score: 671 – 683
So here’s the question…

Are YOU brave enough for this money challenge?It takes guts to go against the way our culture views money. Do you have what it takes for this money challenge? Yes you do! | https://thecafescholar.com

Are you brave enough to commit to getting off the roller coaster and on the right track?  Are you brave enough to make decisions that go against our culture and what’s convenient? Are you brave enough to quit living paycheck to paycheck?   Are you brave enough to be free from your debt?

Are you brave enough NOT to?

If you’re ready to get your finances on track, I have two action items for you.

#1: Tell Someone

Comment below and say “I’m in!” Let me know your biggest struggle with staying on track financially.  If you’re REALLY brave, share what you owe or your current credit score.

#2: Find a Battle Buddy

It's no good to go it alone.  Share this money challenge post with someone who will share this journey with you!

#3: Get Ready

Get the 90 Day Budget Bootcamp workbook and print it out.  (It’s a lot of printing, so I had mine printed at Staples and put it in a binder).  $27 plus some time each week to get on track and build good habits = debt free life.  Sounds like a decent return on investment to me!

So, let’s hear it!  Are you brave enough?

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