Monthly Archives: August 2014

Step 9: Zen and the Art of Debt Repayment

Debt repayment kind of sucks if all you are focused on is the goal.  It takes a long time, and you spend all of that time mostly not buying things you want.  Sure, the thought of being debt-free can help sustain you through that, but that’s not really enough.

These days, I’m into more immediate gratification.  Let’s focus on the process and not the goal.  What is totally awesome about throwing all your money into a deep hole of debt that seems to swallow your hard-earned cash without get smaller?*

As it turns out, lots of things.

  • We’re spending less money on restaurants and bars.  This means we’re eating healthier and drinking less booze.  We’re also polishing up our cooking skills, and acquiring new ones.  Just this summer, we’ve learned how to BBQ, cook fish, and worked on our homemade pizza dough technique.  As cocktail consumption at bars has decreased, homemade bar tending skills has gone up.  Mr. DebtFreeJD now makes a scrumptious gin and tonic.  And I’ve perfected my ability to drink it while talking his ear off about every personal finance issue ever.
  • We’re spending more time on our bikes and less time in cars.  We’ve been trying not to use our cars for small trips anymore (we both walk/bike to work, so that wasn’t an issue). This has been awesome – so awesome that a future post on this is forthcoming.  A quick run down on benefits: rock hard calf muscles that look pretty nice with my favorite skirt-suit, the ability to have several cocktails at a friend’s house without having to drive home, and a deeper appreciation of the various neighborhoods of the city we live in.**
  • We’re not watching cable TV anymore.  Cable was stupid.  Glad that’s over.
  • Treats we do buy are suddenly much more awesome.  We’re buying less cheese (our cheese consumption before was off the hook).  This has transformed cheese from delicious yummy thing to THE MOST AWESOME THING EVER when we do buy it.  I’d like to say the same of chocolate, but chocolate has always been the most awesome thing ever, no matter how much of it I eat.
  • We haven’t cut down on our charity contributions.  So I feel more virtuous than I did before.  (Does this make me a bad person?  I don’t want to know; don’t tell me).

The big one, however, can’t really be expressed by a bullet point.  I’m going to try first a parable.

Scene:***

6:30 pm, Wednesday night, law firm office:  Partner calls.

Mrs. DebtFreeJD: Hello?

Partner: Do you have time to take on a project?

Mrs. DebtFreeJD: (Envisioning something with a long term dead-line) Sure, yes!

Partner: Great!  We need someone to draft an opposition to a temporary restraining order tonight.  I’ll send everything over.  Let me know if you’ve got questions!

Mrs. DebtFreeJD:  . . . . .

Internal monologue:

I have two options:

Option #1: Grumble grumble grumble #$%#$%# #$%#$% grumble.

Option #2: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!

Obviously, the “CHALLENGE ACCEPTED” attitude is the right one to have.  And here’s the thing about loans: once approached as a problem to be solved through your own smarts, they become a lot less scary.  I solve problems all the time.  That’s my job.  People don’t call up lawyers unless they have a problem that needs solving.  I bet your job is also 100% about solving problems.  We’re expert at problem solving.  We do it for money all day.  So why not do it for ourselves on our own time?

So the last thing on my list of “things that are awesome about debt repayment” is: tackling a huge problem head-on.  When frustrated about loan repayment, I keep in mind this clip from Mission Impossible 2.  MISSION ACCEPTED!

*I hereby term this the “BLACK HOLE OF DEBT EFFECT.”  All rights reserved.

**Following this advice.

***This has never happened to me, but I do have similar stories.  Which I will not tell here.

Step 8: Reduce Clothes Buying

OK, here’s a confession.

I love cleaning out my closets.  LOVE.

I like:

  1. Throwing things away.
  2. Meticulously organizing what’s left
  3. Demanding Mr. DebtFree JD and Dog DebtFree JD (anyone else unlucky enough to be nearby) admire the stunning organizational gorgeousitiy* of said closets.

A few days ago, while engaged in a highly-enjoyable closet clean-out, the following thought struck:

Why am I not spending just as much time and energy in keeping things out of my closets as I am dealing with the mountain of clothes that seems to pile up inside it?

In other words, why I am so focused on dealing with the unnecessary clothes I have, and much less focused on preventing myself from buying unnecessary clothes in the first place?

This was revelatory.  And led to much deep thought, such as:

  • I mostly get rid of clothes I never really liked in the first place or clothes that were poorly made and started to fall apart approximately 3.5 days after I bought them.
  • The solution to not buying clothes I don’t like is simple in theory, hard to execute: only buy clothes I like.  My downfall is things on sale that seem like too good of a deal to pass up.  But the right amount of money to spend on clothes I won’t wear is: $0.00.
  • The solution to not buying poor-quality clothes is, alas, not obvious.  I will not try to solve this problem by throwing money at it.  Also price is frequently a lousy predictor of quality. More investigation is needed here.  (One thing is certain.  I will never ever ever buy a “summer weight” wool suit again.  It pills more every time I so much as look in its direction.)

I now have a dream; a vision if you will.  One closet–carefully organized–with a few high quality but reasonably-priced classic items that I actually like to wear.  That would be kind of cool.

*OK,  I just made that word up.  But it should be a recognized word, as “gorgeousness” is a hideous word: hard to spell and unpleasant to say and read.

Study Break: Podcast on Student Loan Crisis

Paying off more than a hundred thousand dollars in student loans concentrates the mind . . . on student loans. Obviously, my focus right now is on paying off the dang thing.  However, one does wonder (especially when throwing 100% of every paycheck at loans): why am I so deeply in debt?  Why is law school so expensive?  How did this happen?  What are other people doing to tackle this problem?  How did it happen that I’m paying off so much in student loans that it’s cutting into my chocolate consumption?*

Like every other law school graduate, my immediate reaction to any pending crisis is DO RESEARCH. I thought I’d share with you some of the most interesting results.  We’ll start with a podcast because, if you’re like me, at the end of most days the thought of reading anything else after a full day of reading many many many things is horrifying.

http://www.brookings.edu/research/podcasts/2014/08/is-there-really-a-student-loan-debt-crisis

This podcast is recorded by the Brookings Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C., and is an interview with someone there who researches student loans.  Her point is that a lot of people think of student loans as a crisis but really student loans are an investment.  People who take out student loans, overall, are better off than those who don’t because of the positive impact of education on their salaries. Her data shows that (a) not that many people have huge student loans; and (b) for those that do, it’s usually a good investment.  Listening to this interview reassured me that student loan debt is probably not going to sink the economy . . . although it may sink the Good Ship DebtFreeJD.

And with that last point, we get to the part of the interview that is concerning.  This researcher made the point that even if student loan debt may not be a national crisis, for some people it is a personal crisis.  These are the people that took out a lot in student loans, and then struggled to find a job that paid enough to pay off those loans.  According to this researcher, only 7% of young households held over $50,000 in debt in 2010.  She thinks this is a reason the country shouldn’t panic about student loan debt.  That still seems like a lot of people who are facing a huge challenge to pay back their loans.

All jokes aside, Mr. DebtFreeJD and I are awfully lucky – we may owe a lot, but we’ve got a pretty good joint income — and even more importantly, each other — to take on this problem on.  What is truly inspiring is those people who are facing the same amount of debt with much less . . . and still tackling it!

*I do not expect others to recognize the last question as the immense personal catastrophe that I do.

Step 7: Reduce Dry Cleaning Costs

Ahhh . . . dry cleaning.  How I hate you.  Let me count the ways:

Reason #1: All of my clothes are returned in individual plastic wrap with disposable clothes hangers.  This creates lots of trash, and those stupid cheap clothes hangers are very hard to fit in the trash bin.  On especially bad days (i.e., those days when I have lost patience and shoved as many of them as will fit into the trash bag), they tear the garbage bag, creating disaster.

Reason #2: It is an errand.  Like 99.9% of the human population,  that is enough to put it into the category of “Things I Hate To Do.”

Reason #3: My favorite suit is always, inevitably, inexorably, without fail* at the dry cleaners when I most want to wear it.  This leaves me wearing my second-favorite suit to important client meetings, court, etc.  Bad.  When one’s professional reputation is on the line, one wants . . . at the very least . . . to be wearing one’s first-favorite suit.

Reason #4: It is SO DANG EXPENSIVE.

So, obviously, reason #4 is what brings us here today.  Previously, I was spending an obscenely large amount of money at the dry cleaners.  These days, the monthly dry cleaning bill is reduced (although not gone).  What do you need to achieve the same result?

The tools

An ironing board, and iron, and a clothes drying rack (or some clean surfaces if you’re less fancy).  Mr. DebtFreeJD was suspicious of all these articles when I first brought them into the house, but he learned to live with them, and indeed, how to use some of them (the iron is still an object of some mystery).  Dog DebtFree JD was equally suspicious, and still runs for cover whenever the ironing board is brought out.

The technique

First, the easiest way to spend less money on dry cleaning suits . . . is to clean your suits less. Honestly, most suits/fancy clothes do not need to be dry cleaned every time you wear them (obvious exceptions are if you’ve sweated up a storm facing down opposing counsel, a terrifying judge, a lose cannon witness etc. etc. etc.).  The best way to make sure your suits don’t require excessive dry cleaning is to hang them up when you come home.  Here is the cycle I had to break: wear suit home, be ravenously hungry, cook dinner, spill pasta sauce all over suit jacket. OR. Wear suit home.  Make it safely through dinner.  Be so exhausted I throw suit on the floor before collapsing into bed.  Next morning, suit is wrinkled and smells like the floor. Finally, I learned to behave like an adult, and hang up my suits.  End result: reduced dry cleaning bill PLUS feel vaguely responsible.

Second, in my opinion, the only thing that really needs to go to the dry cleaner are your suit jackets.  Everything else I put in the laundry as follows:

  • Clothes are turned inside out
  • Wash on the delicate cycle
  • Use only a little detergent
  • Remove and put on clothes-drying rack the second the washing machine beeps (this avoids wrinkles)
  • Iron, also inside-out, on the lowest setting of the iron that will remove the wrinkles

So far, this has worked remarkably well.  So well that if in the future it doesn’t, those clothes are not for me, and the next step for them is the trash can.

And how is the debt-repayment going, you might ask? Pretty well so far.

Starting debt: $125,933.50.  Current debt: $78,021.94.  Debt paid off: $47,911.56.  Progress, progress.

*OK, may have spent too much time with my thesaurus lately.