Sunday, April 1, 2012

Where I come from: Reaching for your financial goals, while struggling to make ends meet

First thing I would like to do is to thank Jana from the
 for this post (  This has spurred me to once again try this blogging thing.  She has so eloquently written about something that I too struggle with.  While I don’t wish to discuss that here, I really want her to know that her writing about her struggles has been deeply appreciated.

While I know that I’ve ended up in the financial blog land because of different reasons than most I’d like to back up a bit and explain a little bit about me.  I think a few things are important to know about me as we start this conversation.

1)   I don’t have (revolving) debt.  I understand how amazing that fact is and I’m very grateful for it.  However, I still have many struggles with money, and making sure that I stay debt free and I think those struggles are also important to the financial conversation.

2)   I’m a graduate student.  And while I’m lucky enough to have a stipend (money for living expenses) I also live in a very high-cost area in southern California.  This just means that there isn’t very much money to go around to all those bills.

This all results in a frugal lifestyle as I try to get by.  And while I realize that this is temporary and that someday I should (theoretically) be making a much more, I’ve been learning how to reach my financial goals while struggling to make ends meet.

This imposed frugality is how I first encountered the personal finance blogosphere.  I found all the tips and ways to stretch my money fascinating and I started trying to implement them in my own life.  At that time I had nothing in savings, I was living paycheck to paycheck and I didn’t see that as a problem.  Fortunately, I didn’t encounter any major set backs before I had started trying to straighten my financial ship, and started to build an emergency-fund.  Right now, I’m still working towards completing my first ever emergency-fund.

3)   Part of my financial breakthrough was surely influenced by watching my sibling go through a bankruptcy.  While our parents have a secure retirement, and were able to help us pay for our college educations, they never spoke to us (or around us) about money.  I think I occasionally overheard my dad searching for the checkbook so he could balance it... but who even uses checks these days? (I use checks for rent, nothing else.) Without having any relevant personal finance information we were sent into the world knowing we needed to earn money, and with a vague idea of how we could do that.  Needless to say, that has resulted in some hiccups along the way.  Reading financial blogs over the past year has really helped me learn about finances.

I think that we often have trouble sticking to something or following through when we don’t really understand what we’re doing.  We have basic guidelines for how we should spend money in our lives but when those are difficult to follow we don’t have the depth of knowledge about each of those spending decisions to consistently make good ones.

4)   I use credit cards for purchases (mainly so I get the rewards) and I struggle to make sure they get paid off in full every month.  I mainly buy groceries, I have no car to insure or gas to pay for, I have no A/C (in this part of the country that’s very uncommon) so my utilities payments are extraordinarily low.  My entertainment budget is about $80/month, which goes to having the Internet in my apartment and a climbing gym membership (yay exercise!).  I DO also splurge on having a smart phone, but that really does make my working life a bit easier.  Other than that I buy food.


  1. My husband and I are also grad students but we live in a lower cost-of-living area of the country so we have it a bit easier. We used to live in southern California and want to move back so it's nice to have this little reprieve. I love finding other grad student PF bloggers!

  2. Debts are always a problem that could balloon into something that would surely weigh down on you. Seeing your siblings go through a bankruptcy might have given you a glimpse of how it is being on the back end of a financial problem. As for me, I closely monitor my expenses and set a limit of what I could spend. I enjoy every once in a while but in moderation.

    Era Kehoe