I have stuff cluttering my apartment, my office, my parent’s house, and my thoughts due to nostalgia. It has a negative effect on my productivity and happiness, but what about my wallet?

I know it affects my income due to reduced productivity so I’m working on de-cluttering, but I can tell you exactly what one particular piece of nostalgia has cost me in the last six months: $19. What was it? A savings account. More specifically, my very first savings account. My parents opened it for me at First Vermont Bank and it’s followed me through quite a few mergers and acquisitions since.

Unfortunately, earlier this year it dropped below the $250 minimum when I got into a pinch. I never even realized it had ever acquired a minimum balance. I immediately called my bank, they refunded the fee, and I transferred enough money in to bring it back up above the minimum.

A few months later, I again had to let it drop below the minimum and I haven’t been able to restore it since so had been paying $4 a month in fees. What’s worse? That savings account only had a 0.01% APR, so even trying to keep it at the minimum was only earning me 2¢ a month. I obviously had not been following my own advice.

So, on Monday I closed the account and transferred the remaining $35 into a savings account currently earning 1.3% APR. Had I done this months ago I would’ve not only saved the $19 in fees, but also would have earned higher interest on the larger sum. Better late than never, but stupid nonetheless.

Over a year ago I started out on what I thought would be a slow journey to getting out of debt. I did some initial introspection and wandered off in a random direction. I actually made some progress initially, but I got sidetracked and backslid considerably. However, something recently clicked and it’s given me the tool I needed: getting things done.

I’m a procrastinator so I’m always putting things on the back-burner and telling myself I’ll get to them later. That obviously does not work. My new weapon is—unfortunately, also the slogan for a sporting goods company—telling myself to, “Just do it.”

It took some time for this method to work. It started with switching to cash for purchases of gas & groceries. Then, changing my method of paying bills. It’s about building up a positive habit, so practice makes perfect. A recent change in my daily schedule has made me happier and provided significant motivation to make thinking “Just do it” really stick: getting my dog her morning walk every day. Sometimes the method comes out of left field, but being happy and healthy makes every decision easier.

Most recently, I’ve been getting through monthly bills by the skin of my teeth, so I’ve been trimming unnecessary spending:

  • Auto Insurance – I made an extremely poor decision and purchased a second vehicle a few months ago. What’s worse is that I was paying full insurance on both vehicles even though one is not being driven! A ten minute call to my insurance agent allowed me to lower my payment to only $10 more than I was paying for just one: first, I dropped one down to pleasure vehicle level; second, I upped the deductible on both to $500.
  • Late Fees – I’ve been committed to paying all my bills on time, but last month I managed to let one of my credit card bills slip until the day it was due. I payed it online, but after business hours. I soon found out that I have no grace period on that card when it’s carrying a balance, not even the one day it would’ve taken to clear. It was my fault, but I called my credit card company anyway and explained my mistake. They kindly offered to split the $39 late fee with me.
  • Recurring Payments – I’ve also switched my few recurring payments from my high interest rate credit card that carries a balance to a card with no balance so I’m not incurring extra finance fees every month.
  • Cell Phones – I had switched to UNICEL a few years ago to get better cell service at home and at the office, but it ended up being slightly more expensive than I had calculated. When AT&T bought UNICEL in Vermont, my bill went up even further. My employer now covers the data plan that I need for emergency server management, but it wasn’t enough and I had actually built up over 3,000 roll-over minutes. I just got off a 12 minute call in which I dropped down to a family plan with fewer minutes which just barely covers our usage, but was able to retain my rollover minutes and save $20/month. It’s also now on my calendar to check our usage every 1st & 15th.

For me, the biggest step has been getting to the point where I can tell myself to, “Just do it,” and actually do it. More importantly, this has allowed me to start whittling away at spending so that I can have more ammunition to attack my debt with. You can too. Everyone can build up their ability to tell themselves to “Just do it” and tick off the smaller issues that may be holding them back.

The best part of saying, “Just do it,” is that if you make a mistake, you can rectify it just as quickly as you tried it. Maybe not completely painlessly, but quickly. I’m certainly ready to change my cell phone service back up to a higher level if it doesn’t work out.

A classic digital short from Saturday Night Live.

“Well, let’s say I don’t have enough money to buy something, should I buy it anyway?”

“No.”

Simple and straightforward to follow. We may not all be in debt because of buying ‘stuff’, but we surely don’t need to buy more when we don’t have the money. I’m guilty of this.

[Via Smarty Pig]

Comedian Louis C.K., on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, discussing how things have changed during his lifetime:

And then, if you wanted money you had to go in the bank for… when it was open for, like, three hours… you had to stand in line, write yourself a check like an idiot, and then, when you ran out of money, you would just go, “Oh, well, I can’t do anymore things now.”

Now our, “Crappiest generation of spoiled idiots,” just continues to borrow when we’re out of money. I catch myself putting stuff on my credit card all the time because I (1) didn’t get cash out, (2) am waiting for payday, or (3) really can’t afford it at all.

BTW – Can anyone help me find a higher quality, more official link to this clip?

[Via Leo Babauta]

“Gnothi seauton,” or, “know thyself,” was once inscribed in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

It seems fairly pointless to start any journey, esp. one such as long and trying as getting one’s self out of debt, without at least a healthy dose of introspection first. Most importantly, one needs to determine what habits and tendencies they have working for or against them along the way.

There are a number of external factors that helped me get into debt, but it’s still all based around personal decisions made along the way and so the majority of the blame must rest on my own shoulders. That sounds like I’m being hard on myself, but the truth is I’ve got to be realistic if I’m going to be successful.

Let me start with my bad habits and work back up to the positives.

The Bad

1. Procrastinating

This is the big one.

I definitely put off tasks that I’m not “in the mood” to deal with at a given time, often until it’s too late. Worse, it can create vicious circles.

Effect: It has caused a few late payments in the past, but for the most part it causes me to delay in doing things that will get me out of the ruts I’m already in.

[Unfortunately, it has also has affected the writing/publishing of this post.]

2. Taking on too many tasks

Because I’m easily distracted and/or don’t have enough discipline, I like to take on or start new projects (another way of procrastinating). This means too many issues on my mind, too many tools for procrastination, resulting in mostly uncompleted projects and setting myself up for lots of failure.

There is a high chance that this could affect this project, so that’s why it’s vital for me to have accountability.

Effect: I have attempted to save for various projects many times in the past only to get distracted by something else.

3. Not planning ahead

I frequently don’t take the time to assess situations completely and plan my actions thoroughly, so my estimations appear quite poor in retrospect.

However, this is actually a byproduct of procrastination. The more I procrastinate, the more likely I am to have to take action on a task without having properly prepared for it.

4. Getting stuck in my ways

I can definitely get stuck in my ways and not be as open to change as I should be, and that has a propensity to hold me back.

Example: Not using online bill payment services because “I liked” writing checks and mailing them. I felt I had more guarantee that a payment was actually on the way, but I was paying for checks, stamps, plus having to drive to the post office way too frequently.

And The Good

1. Being a perfectionist/anal-retentive

Not always a good thing, but I’m very anal about having some things perfect, esp. knowing where all my money (or, more precisely, debt) is. Numbers are an easy thing to obsess over.

Examples: I keep all my bills & statements nicely filed in my desk. I keep my accounts balanced within a couple of days. I even assess my bills, arrange them chronologically, and mark them on my calendar as soon as I open them.

2. Diving in to learn new things

As much as this is very much a tool for procrastination, it’s also good to know that given a problem and setting my mind on it I can learn mostly anything. I do this day in and day out. It’s my hobby and my job.

3. I can pick up new habits

Even an old dog can learn new tricks. I’m young, I have plenty of time to pick up new habits. It just takes a lot of practice and discipline.

Example: “Assess[ing] my bills, arrang[ing] them chronologically, and mark[ing] them on my calendar as soon as I open them.” I built that habit and it works very well.

The Balancing Act

Habits are like a triple beam balance. You know: one of those mechanical scales.

You’re trying to get your life into an even balance, so you’re trying slowly shift around your habits (big and small) so that you can be where you want to be. Some have a higher weight (procrastination, in my case), some are smaller (like processing my bills as soon as they come in) and they all will have an effect on the balance.

I actually have less to worry about procrastinating paying my bills because I have already planned when each needs to be payed. I’ve been sending checks electronically from my bank account, so it only takes a minute to pay a bill. All this gives me a pretty good balance for paying bills on time, but there are bigger aspects of my finances that need to be in balance as well.

I’m going to start building the better smaller habits to try to counter procrastination and therefore reduce the effective weight it has in the balance of my financial life.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits posted 4 Simple Steps to Start the Exercise Habit nearly a year ago which, while focused on physical exercise, can really be applied to any exercise. In my case, the exercise is this web site.

While he outlines four steps, it really breaks down into two fundamental rules:

  • Set an achievable and measurable goal
  • Make yourself accountable to others as well as yourself.

While my overall goal is to get out of debt, I’ll be setting smaller, easily attainable goals along the way. Getting out of debt is inherently a long process and every little bit can help, but it’s really about building better habits. Creating new habits requires sticking to practices until they come naturally and automatically, so small goals help greatly.

As for holding myself accountable, that’s really what this site is here for. I will report not only my findings on what works for me, what doesn’t, and tips gathered along the way, but also my progress on each of my goals.

My initial goal is to post once per week. I have a number of topics queued up, so you’ll be seeing more from me in less than a week.