Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Recipe: TV Girl's Mexican Rice Dish

And now for something completely different.

Silly me, I forgot to put my next post in the queue last night, so today's post will differ from the current series. Tomorrow will be a net worth post, and then I'll get back to the financial revolution series on Friday.

I'm no gourmet chef by any stretch of the imagination, but I do enjoy cooking a bit. One thing I've been doing a lot lately is discovering and creating new recipes that are frugal, healthy, and (since I'm a single gal) easy to make for one person. I'll be sharing a recipe with you from time to time. Most of them will be my own creation, but some will be ones I learned from a friend or family member, or ones that I learned from a book or a professional and then modified significantly.

Today's recipe is something I made up by just looking around at what I had on hand. I had some bell pepper that needed to be used up, so I started with that, and built from there. Here's what I came up with:

1/2 bell pepper (any color is fine, but orange is my favorite)
1 can of Mexican style stewed tomatoes
1 can of black beans
2 cups of cooked brown rice

Dice the bell pepper and saute it in a pan for about 3-4 minutes. You could add onions too, if you like them (I don't). Add the tomatoes (don't drain them!), the black beans (drained), and the rice. Simmer on medium/low for about 8-10 minutes so the flavors can meld together.

Optional: Sprinkle cheese on top or serve with avocado on the side.

That's it! Simple, healthy, and cheap. This makes about 3-4 servings, so I usually put the extra in baggies and freeze for later meals. Enjoy!

Next Time on TVG&M: October Net Worth

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

How Did I Get Here? – Part IV: Making Choices and Cutting the Crap

The most important part of making a budget was to look at my cash flow, see the big picture, and then choose the things that were most important to me.

Once I’d created the initial spreadsheet with all of my incoming and outgoing money, I took a look at what I needed and what I wanted, and then I snipped away at the list, until I felt comfortable with balance between the amount I could allocate to debt repayment and the amount I spent on wants. Basically I cut out all the crap that didn’t make me that happy anyway, and kept the things that were really important to me.

I did keep a few things that some people might consider frivolous and unnecessary, but I got rid of a lot too, and those few unnecessary things I kept are what will keep me sane in the next few years.

Some things I gave up:

  • Acrylic nails
  • Pedicures
  • Eating out
  • DVD on TV sets (mostly – I’ll probably still buy one once in a while)
  • Extended cable
  • Comic books
  • Subscription to Everyday with Rachael Ray
  • Subscription to Cosmopolitan

Some things I kept:

  • TiVo
  • Basic cable
  • Netflix
  • Subscription to Entertainment Weekly
  • Subscription to TV Guide
  • Plane tickets to visit my family

I keep myself in check by only buying what I planned to buy in my spreadsheet. Even if my needs/wants change in the middle of the month (and they often do), I put the expense into my spreadsheet before a penny goes anywhere.

I also use specific enough categories so that there’s no mistaking what the money is for, i.e. I don’t use a miscellaneous category because I feel like that hides what the money really bought. A latte is a latte, and those little “miscellaneous” things add up.

Using this system gives me peace of mind about what I spend my money. I never have to feel guilty about spending it, and I enjoy my purchases more because I know that money doesn’t need to be spent anywhere else.

This post is part of my Financial Revolution Series, which is my personal financial story. Each post gives a piece of the story, detailing how I got into debt and how I turned things around.

Next Time on TVG&M: TV Girl's Mexican Rice Dish

Monday, October 29, 2007

How Did I Get Here? – Part III: Budgeting Is Not a Four Letter Word

The next step in my financial revolution was to set up an Excel spreadsheet system to track all of my money.

For me, budgeting has always been a four letter word. My mom has tried to teach me to budget on numerous occasions, but I never stuck with it for more than a month or two. After reading countless pieces of advice on how to create a budget, I discovered why: Budgeting is not about bills.

She’d always tell me to add up my monthly bills, subtract that from my monthly income, and the rest was basically one giant miscellaneous category.

There were so many problems with this approach. First of all, miscellaneous isn’t a real, tangible thing. The miscellaneous money wasn’t allocated to anything specific. How was I supposed to know how much to spend on TV on DVD sets and how much to spend on food?

Second, there are many other things in life besides bills, and not all of them are monthly. This system didn’t take irregular expenses like car registration and gifts into account.

Luckily my mother is no longer my only source of financial advice. (I’ve actually been giving her a lot of advice lately.) There’s a whole internet out there with tons of different tips and tricks for creating a budget that actually represents my real life. The one that made the most sense to me was The Zero Based Budget, so that’s what I use.

Every month I start a new tab in my spreadsheet. On the top I list my income, and below that I list my expenses (with no miscellaneous category in sight). With the magic of a few formulas, Excel tells me that I’ve spent all my money when the total at the bottom is zero.

This post is part of my Financial Revolution Series, which is my personal financial story. Each post gives a piece of the story, detailing how I got into debt and how I turned things around.

Next time on TVG&M: Making Choices and Cutting the Crap

Friday, October 26, 2007

Weekly Wrap-up

Each week I plan on posting a Weekly Wrap-up to share some brief thoughts on how I feel about the way the week has gone, as well as link to some of my favorite posts from around the blogosphere.

I started this blog because I needed an outlet for talking about personal finance, and my friends and family can only listen so much. It's been really interesting to write about my financial life over the past week, rather than just pondering it by myself or spewing to people who aren't as passionate. I've found that I'm much more prolific than I ever expected - as soon as I decided to start the blog, post ideas came by the dozens - and I'm really looking forward to whatever this journey may bring.

And now, a few of my favorite posts:
That's it for this week! See you on Monday!

How Did I Get Here? – Part II: The Back Story

So, now that you know what my damage is, I bet you’re wondering where all that money went. Believe me, so was I. I certainly didn’t feel like I’d spend over $100,000 more than I’d made in my lifetime, but as I looked at each entry on the list, I knew it was true.

About $10k of the student loans are from undergrad, $40k are from the one semester I spent in law school, about $48k is from my subsequent technical degree for the field I’m currently in, and the remaining $1k-ish is capitalized interest.

The loan from my parents is from the period after I dropped out of law school when I was only sporadically employed for about seven months. They gave me money to pay rent, buy groceries, etc. for much of that time.

The loan from my friends is actually money that belongs to a committee we’re on. I’m responsible for keeping up our web space, so I received a check to pay for it after we had a fundraiser. The money is supposed to be sitting in the bank, waiting till we need to renew our subscription, but I (stupidly) used it to pay down a credit card a couple years ago and I haven’t put it back yet.

I bought a brand new car with no money down about four years ago.

The credit cards are a result of many things, but there were three main causes.

  • A pyramid scheme that ate $1,000 during my period of sporadic employment after law school
  • My period of sporadic employment after law school
  • Spending too much on eating out, DVDs, acrylic nails, etc.

I used credit cards exclusively and always planned to pay it off at the end of the month, but because of the scheme, the unemployment, and the over spending, the bills were perpetually too high to pay off, and they gradually got higher and higher. To make matters worse, I never really noticed that they were steadily rising.

I hope this post doesn’t make me sound too stupid. I’ve done some really boneheaded things when it comes to finances, but I’m on a new course now.

This post is part of my Financial Revolution Series, which is my personal financial story. Each post gives a piece of the story, detailing how I got into debt and how I turned things around.

Next time on TVG&M: Budgeting Is Not a Four Letter Word

Thursday, October 25, 2007

How Did I Get Here? – Part I: My Financial Revolution

I started what I call my “financial revolution” this past August when I read an article on MSN Money (I couldn't find the same one I read then, but this one is similar) about how most Americans don’t know the cold hard numbers for how much debt they are really in. I certainly didn’t know, so I did some crunching and discovered the number was $118,364.75.

All I could think was: Holy crap. That’s not good.

To add insult to injury, I later discovered that I hadn’t included one of my student loans, and the actual number was $120,067.02.

Here’s how it broke down:

DebtAmountInterest Rate
Private Student Loans$57,813.909.25 – 14.75%
Federal Student Loans$41,284.975.125 – 6.62%
The Bank of Mom & Dad$7,610.240%
The Bank of My Friends$526.270%
Car Loan$6,366.755.99%
Credit Cards$6,464.890 – 28.15%

Looking at that number, I felt a lot like Marty in Back to the Future III. I was staring down Mad Dog Tannon, trying to figure some way of the situation that wouldn’t get anyone killed.

Luckily, the article I’d read also had some helpful tips for reducing debt and taking control of your finances, as well as stories about people who had been successful. The Women in Red were especially inspiring to me.

From there, I found links to more articles, with more tips, and my PF obsession was born. I read everything I could find on paying down debt, saving money, being frugal, and living within your means. The more I read, the more I learned, and the more I wanted to know. I felt like the light bulb had just gone on in my head, and money suddenly made sense to me.

Stay tuned. In my next few posts, I’ll continue the story of how I got into debt, and how I plan to get out of it.

This post is the first part of my Financial Revolution Series, which is my personal financial story. Each post gives a piece of the story, detailing how I got into debt and how I turned things around. Read the whole story:
How Did I Get Here? - Part II: The Back Story
How Did I Get Here? - Part III: Budgeting Is Not a Four Letter Word
How Did I Get Here? - Part IV: Making Choices and Cutting the Crap
How Did I Get Here? - Part V: Student Loan Consolidation Is a Pain in the - yeah, that
How Did I Get Here? - Part VI: The Pruning Gets Easier
Where Am I Now? - Part I: Increasing My Income
Where Am I Now? - Part II: Nuts and Bolts

Next time on TV Girl & Money: The Back Story

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

About This Blog

The purpose of this blog is to share my experiences as I climb my way out of a mountain of debt. Along the way, I hope blogging will 1) keep me accountable, 2) encourage me to keep going, and 3) encourage others to do the same.

Because this blog is about accountability and sharing my experiences, I’m giving my readers an open invitation to spew constructive criticism. If you see me making a dumb decision with my money, call me on it! I may or may not agree with you, but I’ll listen and do some serious self evaluation. All I ask is that you are respectful of me and the other commenters.

This is first and foremost a personal finance blog, but since I’m appropriately named “TV Girl”, there will be plenty of television and other pop culture references scattered throughout.

I plan on posting about once every weekday at first, and I may scale that rate up as I gage how prolific I am. Also, just like each episode of your favorite show, my posts here will end with a pre-cap of my next post, like so:

Next time on TV Girl & Money: My Financial Revolution

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

About Me

Before I really delve into the depths of the content of this blog, I thought you’d like to know a little about me. Basically, I’m a twenty-something single woman and television-a-holic, and I’m in some DEEP debt.

Television-a-holic is the perfect way to describe me; I probably need a 12 step program. I’m very passionate about television, but it’s not a passive hobby for me. I don’t just watch it, I think about it, talk about it, read about it, write about it, and endlessly analyze it. I’ve been described as a TV whore, but since I don’t get paid to watch television (yet), that’s still a goal rather than a reality.

I’ve recently become just as passionate about personal finance. I used to detest anything to do with money. I didn’t want to talk about it, think about it, or read about it, let alone analyze or write about it. I also had selective math skills. I could add, subtract, multiply, and divide until there was a dollar sign involved – then I was completely confounded. But that all changed a couple of months ago – August of 2007 to be exact – when I had what I call my “financial revolution.” I’ll talk more about that in a few upcoming posts.

I’m also passionate about my career, and I love what I do. I currently work in marketing for an insurance company, but I don’t want to say much more than that because I’ve chosen to remain anonymous on this blog. I plan to share some pretty detailed financial information here, and I feel that anonymity makes this a little safer.

So that’s me in a nutshell. If you ever want to drop me a line about TV or personal finance, I’m all ears.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Welcome to TV Girl's Money Blog!

Welcome to TV Girl and Money. I’m a brand new PF blogger, and I’m looking forward to all the adventures that blogging has to offer. If you’d like to know more about me, my blog, and my money, then stay tuned. The first series of posts will cover exactly that. Thanks for stopping by!