I've been teaching ballroom dance at the University of Minnesota Ballroom Dance Club for a few years and at the beginning of each year, they have a really big shindig where the veteran club members demonstrate their skillz, crazy people teach group classes, everyone can try out some social dancing, and there's watermelon.
And it's free. Everything. Including the watermelon.
Of course, these poor kids get sucked into Ballroom Land and never want to leave. Because MUSIC. MOVING. RHINESTONES. CLASSY. OPPOSITE SEX. ANNUAL WATERMELON.
And, as a college kid, ballroom dancing and most other things are pretty affordable. Housing, transportation, food, even your hobbies. Especially at larger colleges, there is a club for EVERYTHING. There are lots of college discounts, and sometimes, your parents are nice and still pay for things.
Recalling the easy days of finance, I nearly spun around during class tonight and yelled, "DON'T SIGN UP FOR THE CREDIT CARDS! IT'S NOT WORTH THE FREE T-SHIRT!"
Hell, they're probably giving away something cooler now, but back in my day, it was mostly t-shirts in exchange for minimum monthly payments, high interest rates, and little chunks of your paychecks for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. And maybe a free pen.
Granted, in college, I had a pretty sweet job where I made a shit-ton of cash. I'd pay for my tuition in cash at the bursar's office (after a sweaty and nervous bolt across campus with a fat bankroll), but my folks also paid my room and board for a year, or let me live at home. I had bills (a pager! a car!) and not a lot of free time, but I was blissfully confident in owning a stupid piece of plastic with my name on it.
And for about 3 years, it was No. Problem. College discounts. Great job. Free housing. Boom.
Then... I was out of school and didn't have a great [paying] job (because I was following my passion, so cheesy, but true) and after an admirable run of really responsible credit card useage, I became very, very irresponsible.
Long story short, after being a bit of a baller in high school and college and not having to deal with living within my means (not that I was drinking Courvoisier and driving a Benz; I had pretty simple desires at that point: a new case for my super fancy cell phone [$25] and some lip balm from The Body Shop [$8]), but once I didn't have money rolling in, I didn't know how to keep up. So, HELLO, unused credit cards!
Several years have gone by, and the credit cards are mostly paid off (huzzah!), but I was still confused as to where our money was going. I mean, we have the usual: a house, a business, a couple of credit cards, and student loans. I have kids, therefore I'm adult-ish in the eyes of many, which makes me feel like I should have a reasonable state of affairs in the financial district of my brain. But I didn't.
Then, my broski-in-law mentioned this budgeting program called You Need a Budget, or YNAB, and I totally blew it off because of the worst-name-ever status and I used Mint.com and EVERYTHING'S FINE OVER HERE.
But then, he was still using the same stupid program the next time I saw him, which was seemingly the longest-running responsible thing he had done [oh, come on, you know it was... back then... LOVE YOU!!!].
Jump to this year, and I'm feeling MY responsible streak coming on (although, I think in my case it's called "nesting"), and I text said broski and ask him if he's still using YNAB.
AND HE IS.
I did research. I watched videos. I signed up for the free trial. I made up some reasonable numbers to spend on things. We more or less followed those numbers. (There's even an app for that.) I got The G on board.
It's been a month.
And we've already paid off a credit card that was just sitting there being lame and a bit extra on our mortgage. We've reined in our somewhat-outrageous food budget. We've found cheaper, better options for some of our fixed expenses. We've made adjustments where they're needed. It's been pretty awesome, people. Because, classically, money has STRESSED. ME. OUT.
In a learn-from-my-mistakes kind of lesson, I'd highly recommend YNAB. There's tons of resources and how-tos on their website and their customer service was amazing, even when I was on the trial version (one of the little ladies entered in $687987945725874598764.88 to the iPhone app when I wasn't looking and the app was having a really hard time coming to grips with that).
I even have a coupon for you to get $6 off, in case you want to buy it after the free trial.
And guess what? College students get it for free.
One year ago: the Garbage Challenge - Coffee, in which I have first world problems.
Two years ago: LLLL, in which I am not shiny.