Every day I read about 60-70 personal finance/frugal living blogs. Through the help of many of our online friends, I have been fortunate enough to put my personal finance position into its proper perspective, and begin to take ownership of my financial decisions and decision-making. However, even after completing a total overhaul of my spending and budgeting, there are some financial pitfalls I cannot avoid.
I often think about the little financial "sea of troubles" many times throughout the course of my day. I acknowledge several times a day, that despite all I learned, and all I am willing to learn, at some point the knowledge must translate into action, and through persistent action, habit. But, the process of financial planning is imperfect, that's why there are so many resources offering sometimes competing advice. This thing of ours (personal finance) is an imperfect science, one we must know inside and out, before we can hope to master it.
A famous Chinese proverb sums up the mess of our struggle with personal finance, "To learn virtue takes three years; to learn evil, one day." While I think three years might be quite optimistic, it is important to take steps toward acknowledging your faults, in order to turn vice into virtue.
With that in mind, I've listed some financial problems or areas of concern for my life. No matter how much energy I put into these areas, I generally cannot reduce the significant amount of stress they put on me and my budget:
- Automotive Expenses
Between auto loans, insurance, gas, maintenance, our automotive costs for two people sometimes consume nearly 40% of our entire monthly expenses. This is completely unreasonable. I've considered re-financing the auto loans to take advantage of lower rates, but banks do not like our high student loan balances and the fact myself and the future-wife (more on that below) are both still in school with no full-time jobs. I've also considered trading in the SUV for a compact-car to save on fuel efficiency. However, I have problems parting ways with my truck (especially with all the snow Upstate NY gets) so we are quasi-content to maintain the status quo, but try to carpool or walk whenever possible. I've promised some people a blog post on this topic and apologize for its delay, but I'm also considering how much fuel, i.e. money, I waste using my remote car starter approximately 600+ times per year. Until that post is finished, suffice it to say, the automotive expenses in our household elevate the stress/anger level a good two or three notches.
- Dining Out
Let me start by saying I love gourmet food. This flies in the face of almost everything we are trying to accomplish. To that end, we've reduced the amount of times we eat out (down to maybe once or twice per week) and become more conscious of what we buy at the grocery store. The problem is that when you weave our school/part-time work/internship/community involvement schedules together, there is little time left to cook. For some time we were both on Weight Watchers (eliminated as a frivolous expense) at the end of last year and since then we've been eating mostly healthy foods. The limited time for meal preparation + expensive healthy snacks puts a damper on the finances, but it is a welcome problem, because the causes are school (more education = more $$$) and a desire to eat healthy.
- Wedding Costs
Planning a wedding is not for the faint of pocketbook. We are both having a great time planning our wedding this June. However, we are not having a fun time dealing with the costs of our wedding. Getting married is expensive, but getting divorced is more expensive, which is why I don't mind spending gobs of money to marry the person I know I am going to be with forever (hope she's reading!) I checked out Myscha's article on going green with your wedding, and was delighted to learn that we were implementing many of her recommendations.
- Consumer Debt
This section is the bane of my existence. After implementing the debt snowflake model and porting our one credit card with a high balance over to several smaller cards with long 0% balance transfer periods, I feel this category is starting to come under control. Since we currently only pay the taxes on our house (although we plan on moving and purchasing a new house soon) and our student loans are still in deferment based on our active enrollment in Grad School, the credit cards are currently our only active debt. Admittedly, we'd be paying them down much faster if we weren't constantly setting money aside for the wedding. My goal is to be credit card debt free by the end of 2009, although I think the freedom will come much sooner then that.
- Grooming (Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta)
Total vanity point. I love to buy expensive male grooming products. Fusion Power razor blades, Grooming Lounge shaving products, Molton Brown soaps and shampoos and expensive colognes are my weakness. My partner-in-crime over at The Frugal Law Student has even spun-off and started a great new website, The Art of Manliness (check out his article on shaving like your grandfather ). There is nothing that brings me more pleasure then spending the afternoon surfing the web to purchase another over-priced hair care or shaving product. That being said, I'm trying to cut down. Trying is the operative word.