After talking so much about finances over the last few months, I’ve decided to start chronicling how I’m doing with paying down debt and improving my financial situation.
The spreadsheet – you can DOWNLOAD a copy
At the end of October I created a KICK-ASS spreadsheet to track my money. And when I see KICK-ASS, I mean KICK-ASS. I’m one of those kooky people who really enjoys spreadsheets and having things organized, so it’s really fun for me to open my spreadsheet each day and enter the numbers. (Let me insert here that I like BEING organized. GETTING organized is something that makes me want to throw a tantrum.)
In my spreadsheet, I have a column for each item in my budget – food, gas, credit card payment, car maintenance, haircuts, etc. Each Monday, the worksheet automatically deposits the budgeted amount into that column. As I spend money, I enter it and I see how much is still left. The balance carries over into the following week. What I really like about this is that some weeks I may underspend and others I may overspend in a particular category, but because it’s cumulative I can see things even out. If I’m consistently overspending in a category, I can either re-adjust the budget numbers so that money comes from somewhere else, or I can find a way to cut costs in that area.
Because I have a variable income, I calculate my income at the far right. At the end of each month I can see how much money I actually brought in vs. how much I budgeted for. Since I started, I’ve been blessed that each month I’ve had extra money, so I’ve put that straight toward credit card debt.
I’ve broken the sheet tabs into 2-month segments so that I can easily readjust the budget numbers at the top if necessary without affecting the whole spreadsheet.
I’ve put together a clean copy of this budget worksheet for anyone who’d like a copy. You can download it here.
I have stopped using credit cards entirely. I am only paying for things with cash or debit, and only if I have enough money on my spreadsheet to cover them.
I created a $1000 emergency fund that I’m not touching for any other reason.
I sold my treadmill and a couple of other things, plus I’ve had good income from website building and maintenance.
In November, I was able to put an additional $1500 payment toward credit card debt.
In December, I was able to put an additional $750 payment toward credit card debt.
My goal is to do an additional $1000 payment this month.
I did some quick calculations this week and, thanks to having additional money taken out of my newspaper paychecks, I think I may not owe anything to the IRS (if the Universe is really good to me, maybe I’ll even get a refund that I can put toward credit card debt! )
GETTING A FREE CREDIT REPORT & FREE CREDIT SCORE (plus instructions to do it, in case you want yours)
I got a copy of my free annual credit report from Equifax (go to www.annualcreditreport.com – you can get one from each of the three agencies per year.) I read somewhere that it’s a good idea to spread out the three reports throughout the year so that you’re getting a free credit report every four months. I think this is a great idea, so I also put reminders on my calendar to get an Experian report in May and a TransUnion report in September. Then I made the calendar items repeat annually so I’ll remember next year too.
Lastly, I got my credit score. I don’t remember the last time I looked at it, so I had no idea what to expect. It was much better than I had imagined! I think a 760 puts me in the top bracket of debt-users and I’m really pleased.
Go to www.myfico.com. Click “FICO Scores & Credit Reports”. Choose “Score Watch”. It’s a paid service with a 3-month minimum, but you can sign up for a 10-day free trial.
I had to give my credit card, but it’s not charged until the end of the 10-day trial, so I cancelled as soon as I had my score. To cancel, click on “Support”. On the right side click where it says “Email”.
So there you have it! My first financial update. I’m proud of myself and all that I’ve accomplished in the last couple of months. I was scared when I started, but I put my head down and got to work and I already have a lot to show for it!
Mostly, it feels good to not be so stressed about money all the time. What a relief! And a miracle.
Thanks to Erika at Newlyweds On A Budget for the inspiration to start cataloging this out loud.
UPDATE – 1/16/12
When you download the spreadsheet, you’ll notice that it has an introductory page. To navigate to the budget itself, click the tabs at the bottom left: