The highest form of payment you get for writing a blog like this is happy stories from readers. Although all this Sensible Living stuff becomes obvious after a while, there are still new people showing up every day with all sorts of monetary problems. The full-on crazy life with the double-financed-SUV-ultracommuting, insurmountable debt, and deteriorating health due to stress.
Occasionally, someone will receive a few of the face punches here and then flip things around in an instant: immediately shed the whole consumer fur coat, slam on the brakes and crank the wheel and smoke the tires to begin a fishtailing joyride in the opposite direction. A friend of mine coined the term for this: Pulling a Mustachian 180.
Although it comes from the opposite end of the financial spectrum, my favorite recent M180 story from the inbox is this one:
Comments: Hey MMM!
My mom mentioned that she likes calling people “complainy pants” around June 10th or so, and when I laughed and asked where she got the phrase, she e-mailed me a link to your blog. Since then, I devoured every last word on every last page. Yes, that includes the comments, even the hilariously out of place whiny ones.
At the risk of sounding like a hyperbolist, this blog has helped me get a grip on my life before it was too late. At 22 I had piled over $15,000 of debt including a defaulted government loan, an eviction, and about $3,000 of collections and consumer debt. I never had anything to show for it, and still don’t. Nothing insurmountable in the long run, but I was building a habit of being careless and untrustworthy.
I teeter on the brink of homelessness, even today, because I was too stupid to have back up plans and savings. I blew $500 in a day on eating out and pleasure driving, and gave a big hearty Fuck You to my future self.
That’s changed. When it was time to get a car (I know, but my hubby is a disabled vet and really is not capable of biking or walking), I bought a manual hatchback and learned to drive it on the way home. I have begun to track my spending, a concept that was completely foreign to me. I have taken stock of whom I owe what, and am working to pay everything off, highest interest rate first, until it’s all gone. I’m even looking into learning skills at Treehouse so that I can earn additional money while still being at home for my partner. I am finding cheaper, healthier, tastier foods at the grocery store and working my middle finger out like crazy. We’re sleeping on the floor in our cheap apartment until we can find free furniture on Craigslist, and we are ridiculously excited at the idea of being free.
Thank you for giving into the urge to type shit into the computer. Count me and my husband as two Americans saved. We ought to be caught up with the rest of the Mustachians in just a few short years!
So I wrote back with my thanks and surprised congratulations, and asked if our friend could share more, so I could present the story to you. Here are the juicy details.
First, some additional background. As previously mentioned, my husband is a retired veteran. He was awarded a temporary disability rating upon exiting the Army, and is now on a permanent, lower disability rating. This change happened in July and resulted in a $901 drop in pay. Also, around August, my husband’s condition had reached a point that unreliable transportation was no longer acceptable, meaning our options were to risk becoming wheelchair-bound or buy a car at stupid high interest rates to avoid walking, as unmustachian a doctor’s order as possible. Luckily, I had a head start on these disasters; I was already carefully nursing my stubble.
Between January and May 2013, this is my best guess at what our spending looked like. We never kept receipts and often didn’t even look at price tags.
Total Income: $3,130
Utilities, phone, and internet: $600
Transportation: $100 (bus fare, borrowing cars, paying for late night taxis)
Impulse Spending: $400
Household $100 (Cleaning, toiletries, maintenance, cheap fixes)
Banking Fees $100 (ATM, Overdraft)
Total Spending: $3,350
Fast forward through June, July, and August, which were spent reading all of mrmoneymustache.com, writing up sample budgets, taking notes where they applied to us, and picking one thing to tackle at a time. In September 2013, this is our budget:
Total Income: $2,229
Transportation: $320 (insurance, gas, taxes/registration, and maintenance)
Car Payment: $320 ($~4,900 @ 23.99%, hair is on fire emergency.)
Dental Work: $118 ($~2,500, no interest)
Student Loans: $118 ($9,000 @ 4.5%)
Phone: $46 (unlimited, we share a phone.)
Cigarettes: $108 (woohoo, a 46% reduction!)
Household: $100 (Cleaning, toiletries, DIY toolbox building)
Fun Money: $240 ($120 each, gradually working down to reasonable levels.)
Banking Fees: $75
Total Spending: $1,760 <– Saving $469/mo to throw angrily at debt!
Also, upcoming in October, I am scheduled to start my first month as a part-time nanny. I will be making an extra $300-$550 month, $45 of which will be kept for a Treehouse membership and a gym membership, and the rest will also be thrown angrily at debt.
We are also staying with my mother, she offered for us to stay around the time she found out *I* was going to be on *your freaking blog*. We intend to get out around March 2014.
I am proud of this huge 52% reduction in spending levels, but even more proud of the lifestyle changes that allowed it to happen. For one thing, we’ve started cooking at home with at least partially healthy ingredients with more and more regularity. We’ve also all but entirely cut soda and fast food from our lives. My husband has cut his nicotine addiction nearly in half in only three months. We are no longer fostering stray dogs and are buying better-priced cat supplies.
We have not only cut our discretionary spending, but we have also started buying things we need with it instead of random impulse items. We have started paying off my federal loans, previously left in default. Moving in with my mother is not only saving us nearly what our pay cut cost us, but it also allows me to have a job and easy access to a grocery store with reasonable prices. We are also being forced to think carefully before each purchase due to space constraints and a strong desire to become independent as soon as possible. When things break around the house, I determine which tools are needed, buy them, and add them to my collection of problem solvers.
There are several areas that we have identified for further improvement, including every single section of the budget, but for now our largest priorities are a sucka banking cycle we’ve been in for over a year now (borrow $1500, pay $100 in fees, pay back on pay day, repeat…) and that really hot car loan burning my scalp. Once these two emergencies are settled, we’re prioritizing a small emergency savings, our own dwelling, and our disfigured credit reports/scores. As we continue to learn to not suck, we hope to get our monthly living costs down to around $855 plus mortgage by 2015, and from there who could possibly predict? How’s that for a Mustachian 180?
I would say that’s an amazing Mustachian 180. One of my favorite parts is the very hearty self-mockery that she packs in to every sentence. Because when you think about it, we all really do suck, and thus there is room for easy improvement in all aspects of our lives. Sure, I ride my bike instead of driving, and we’re downsizing our house.. but I still do an awful lot of gas-powered travel and the new house will still be pretty fancy. If finances were a concern, I would be a fool to delude myself into thinking that this was the most efficient life we could happily live. And this is not a depressing thing, it’s an inspiring one.
Are you one of these tire-shredding M180 practitioners? Or more of a steady-handed airline pilot making a few course corrections as part of a long journey?