OFB Interviews: Budget Takeover

OFB Interviews: Kelli

Happy Friday! We’re excited to share our next installment of our weekly interview series! Our guest is Kelli G., and she’s got a great story, so we’ll let her take it from here. Enjoy!

Tell us your story.

My husband and I have been married for 3.5 years. We have always been semi-good at saving (we saved money here and there, but we also really like our toys–and eating out ;)). Together, we have sat down multiple times to recreate and adjust our budget. But we never really created a “zero-based budget” and so money was definitely slipping through the cracks. About six months ago, I finally added up how much money was “slipping through,” and I felt a desire to act and change things! We had two car payments and a small student loan–what if we were able to pay BOTH of those car payments off–think of the cashflow that would create that we could use to attack the student loan!?

Go you! So why do you think you’ve been able to better whip your budget into shape than the hubs?

My husband, Taylor, was always in charge of “the bills” and following through with the budget. While he is good at A LOT of things, consistently staying on top of the budget wasn’t his strong point (but I still love him to pieces, in spite of this little flaw ;)). I asked him if he would mind if I completely took over, and he quickly agreed! It didn’t take long for me to learn that I actually really enjoyed keeping track of the budget. And I really think that was the difference between him and me, when it came to budgeting: I actually LIKED doing it!

What were the biggest expenses you slashed that helped make it possible to pay off your cars?

After looking at all of our expenses, I quickly found expenses that were easy to slash.

1. The gym.

Now, don’t stop reading with the thought, “Welp, too bad. I love the gym and can’t get rid of my membership there.” Because I LOVE the gym too! I am a big advocate of fitness, and I need a gym membership to stay sane! BUT what I did do was downgrade both mine and Taylor’s membership. We were each paying $21/month (which included extra incentives: massages, bringing in friends for free, tanning beds, etc.). I realized we hardly ever used those extra incentives that seemed so necessary when we first signed up. So I went into the gym the next day and downgraded both of our memberships to $10/month. That saved us $22 a month! Not a whole lot — but it was empowering.

2. Rhapsody/Audible.

Taylor used Rhapsody a lot, but he was willing to sacrifice this to help our budget. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom, an extra $10. Taylor can’t live without Audible — fair. But he was willing to lower his monthly subscription by $30… another $40 right there!

3. Eating out.

Taylor and I easily ate out 3–5 times a week — whoops. While Taylor may be bad at budgeting, I am really bad at cooking. HA! We realized that as much as we loved eating out (especially because of my awful cooking), we could definitely tamper it. I made a goal to cook 4 times a week, eat out once a week, and then have leftovers once a week (and on Sundays, we are lucky to have Mom cook for us ;)). But when I looked at cooking only 4 days a week, that was doable! Granted, at least once a week we have quesadillas or chocolate chip waffles or grilled cheese — nothing grand, but we are still saving money! Taylor also started coming home for lunch! Easily another $60–70 saved.

4. Gas.

After seeing all of my excitement with saving money, Taylor decided he could kill two birds with one stone by walking to work every day: save gas and get exercise. Fortunately, Taylor only works about 2 miles from home. But what a sacrifice! I was so proud of him. The greatest part of this was that we realized we could be a one-car family! We actually sold our car to his little sister and lived with one car for about 3 months (which helped us save on car insurance, too!).

By absolute luck and chance, Taylor’s dad’s company got a free car, and since we were the only ones with just one car, he handed it over to us! So now we have two cars again, but one was absolutely free! Now, I know that doesn’t happen to everyone (and things like that normally don’t happen to us!), but think about it! If we hadn’t given up that second car, we never would have scored the free car. I feel like it was a little blessing for our sacrifice ;).

5. Cable.

We realized we could save money without cable. We really only use Netflix anyway. Plus, it really gives us extra time to do more productive things.

6. Hobbies and Wants.

We decided to tamper some of our wants and hobbies. Sure, they make life fun. But we were a little excessive. We both made sacrifices. Taylor decided to go golfing less often and to look for deals when he went. I decided I didn’t actually need every article of clothing at J.Crew. I started looking at deal websites for clothes (one of my favorites is twice.com!), and also always looking for coupons/deals. We were a lot more careful about how often we were buying on Amazon. We decreased our Amazon orders from every day (an addiction, seriously, ha!) to about every third week. It’s hard to give an actual number of how much this saved us, but I estimate it saved us at least $200–300/month. Crazy, right?

I was also able to swing a deal with the girl who does my eyelash extensions. I tutor her daughter and swap for free eyelashes! That saved us another $100/month!

You guys! That’s at least $827/month that was slipping through the cracks. And sometimes it equaled upwards of $1,000, depending on what clothes we decided NOT to buy and how many extra times we said no to golfing!

How have you stayed on the same financial page as a couple?

Although it hasn’t always been easy, Taylor and I have been able to stay on the same page throughout this process, thanks to a few things. Firstly, we realized sacrifice had to be two-way. If Taylor was going to limit his golfing, I had to limit my clothes shopping. If I was going to sacrifice having my “beloved eyelashes,” he would have to sacrifice having Rhapsody and an expensive Audible account.

Secondly, we talked about it DAILY. I would always tell him what I was doing with the money. It wasn’t a surprise for him (which prevented future arguments). And for sacrificing so much (walking to work!? I mean, c’mon!), I loosened our purse strings a little so he could go out to lunch once a week. You can’t be a total control-freak about everything. 😉

What budgeting tools (apps, spreadsheets, strategies, etc.) are you using?

I love mint.com. But I also found that I like just keeping little records on the notepad in my phone. It was easy to do and access, and I could do it immediately if I needed to keep track of something. And then I would later add things to mint.com.

Any final words?

Within 4 months, we were able to pay off our car (since we sold the other one), and we’re expecting to be done with the student loan in about 4 more months! That is pretty exciting! Guys, paying off debt is empowering! And we don’t even feel like it was that hard. But regardless, you can do hard things! I know because I’m so close to being officially debt-free!!

Thanks for such an inspirational story, Kelli! More than anything, we think Kelli’s story shows how easy it can be to take control of your finances when you want it bad enough. If you have any questions or thoughts for Kelli, leave them in the comments below!

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  • Reply Katie Ball June 26, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Awesome story! I, too, took over the bills & finances from my husband. He’s good at having an overall idea of how much money we have to spend, but I am better at the fine details. But it really does take both of us being “in the loop” to keep our budget on track! We both have access to all of our financial accounts and we always make decisions together about our finances. I also email him a spreadsheet every two weeks of what we have coming in and what we have going out so he’s got the “big picture” idea in his head.

    • Reply Kelli Gilbert June 30, 2015 at 12:34 am

      Hi Katie,
      Thanks for reading my post! What a good idea to email spreadsheets!

  • Reply Jenna June 26, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    My husband and I are only just starting out with our tackle of the debt monster, but I must say it felt incredibly empowering when I realized we could slash our cell phone bill by simply reducing our data plans! We also reduced our Netflix plan, and agreed to take home-made sandwiches or left-overs for lunch at least 4 days a week (instead of always buying lunch).
    I use Google Drive to share a spreadsheet with my husband so he can open it anytime to see how we’re doing. They all feel like little baby steps, but as we keep taking more steps I feel more and more confident that eventually we’ll get there!

    • Reply Kelli Gilbert June 30, 2015 at 12:36 am

      Thanks for reading my interview, Jenna! Baby steps are the best way! Love the part about bringing lunch to work. I once heard that if you did that your whole career you could save almost $100,000! Think about if you invested that money at 12% interest! Huge difference!

  • Reply M.C June 26, 2015 at 8:17 pm

    I like how she talked about the free car. It’s amazing how when you set goals and work towards them, really great things start happening. A lot of people want to write it off as luck, but I feel like it’s just the natural consequences of trying to make good choices. In contrast, I read an article in the NYT today of a guy who defaulted on his student loans and he went on and on with a list of excuses. It’s nice to hear about how living responsibly can result in some great achievements and a sense of accomplishment.

    I am loving these interviews. One of my favorite PF blogs was Free Money Finance where people would anonymously submit their complete financial picture. It was so interesting and I feel like there is so much to be learned from other real life examples rather than simply discussing ideas all the time.

    • Reply Kelli Gilbert June 30, 2015 at 12:37 am

      Hi, M.C.! Thanks for reading my interview! I like what you said about goal setting and amazing things starting to happen! That’s the way I see it too!

    • Reply Johnny July 2, 2015 at 10:12 pm

      We’re totally digging these too, M.C. Super inspiring and awesome.

  • Reply Mel June 27, 2015 at 11:30 am

    These are interesting! Though frankly I think they’d be more interesting with more detail (salaries, expenses, etc) but I get that most people aren’t into sharing that much information.

    To each her own, but I’m puzzled about why they decided to go back to having two cars. The upkeep and insurance on a second car doesn’t seem worth it if you can easily get by with one.

    • Reply Kelli Gilbert June 30, 2015 at 12:39 am

      Hi, Mel! Thanks for reading our interview. Just to let you know, the second car is COMPLETELY free for us. Since it’s a company car, we don’t pay insurance or maintenance. And we only pay gas about 30% of the time. So it ended up being a great deal–we actually save money when we choose to drive that car instead of ours, because the company covers so many miles every month! Hope that clears up your question!

    • Reply Char June 30, 2015 at 1:39 am

      I was thinking the exact same thing as Mel! Personally, I thought that if gas/fuel was one of the extraneous items that could be slashed to generate cost-savings, why throw a second car BACK into the mix regardless of it being free. It defeats the purpose of listing gas as an item that could be slashed, and listing insurance-savings as a side benefit. Does the employer pay gas 70% of the time? So now with two cars, does Taylor still walk to work?

      I also agree with Mel that it’s hard to put this into context without knowing the rest of the financial picture and agree its sensitive info. But just from a quick read of the story, anyone who can cut $827-1,000 in discretionary spending per month (gym, subscriptions, clothing, golf, Amazon purchases, cosmetics, et al.) without having consumer credit card debt with that level of spending, IMO, must be doing very well. If that’s the discretionary budget, I can’t imagine what the fixed expenses look like.

      I eat out multiple times a week and it’s somewhat hard to reduce in that category especially in this foodie culture we live in–I’m either in Los Angeles or in San Francisco alternating weeks, and great food is everywhere. Sacrificing by eating left overs and/or eating less glamorous meals will go a long way but requires a lot of discipline! You guys are on a great path!

      • Reply Johnny July 2, 2015 at 10:25 pm

        While we’ve always been a one car family (which I guess isn’t totally true since I had a Vespa), I think one thing the “free” second car might open up is the ability to take a better career opportunity that might present itself. Not having a second car prevented Joanna and I from taking a few job opportunities when we were first married. Obviously we survived, but there’s a devil’s advocate take for you. 😉

        With these first batch of interviews, we tried to steer clear of numbers that were too too specific (for privacy sake), but we’re hoping to do another round later this year where folks who are interested will give us closer looks at their budgets and numbers. So stay tuned!

        • Reply Char July 5, 2015 at 8:48 pm

          Not about the merits of a car, second car, or third car…. Just confused about the logical progression of the story. That is all.

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