The Weekly Habit: Track Your Debt

So, the last Belly of the Whale column by Howard Leder really inspired me. He talked about dealing with and tackling debt, and I know debt is something that almost all of us have a history with in some form or other.

To tell you the truth, I’ve only started handling money wisely in recent years. When I was in my 20’s it was easy come, easy go. I saved up for trips or other things, I most definitely didn’t save up for the far-off future. Also, I sometimes fell into the worst starving-artist-with-a-crappy-day-job traps, including

1. I need this now, I’ll figure out how to pay for it later.

2. I’m going to make lots of money someday, I’ll pay off all of my debt then.


3. I deserve this.

Needless to say, I got into a lot of trouble in my early 20’s thinking this way, but the best and worst thing about being a starving artist is that you don’t have any extra money, and after a few years, you often get sick of this and start forming a few good money habits, just so you don’t have to play guessing games every time you hit the ATM.

I got rid of all my credit cards and didn’t apply for any new ones, because I couldn’t afford to haveĀ  the option of “extra money” lying around. I also started cooking (lots of pasta) for myself and pursuing activities that didn’t cost a ton of money. For example, Derby Dolls cost $80 bucks a month in dues, but it was a great workout, a free alcohol hook-up when you worked fundraising events and games, and some Doll was always throwing a party or knew of a party or something like that, so $80 during my worst money months pretty much met all of my social and workout needs. Not bad.

I also started recycling all of my clothes with themed seasons. For example, during my poorest L.A. year, I had Writerly Winter (lots of corduroy, nerdy sweaters, and blouses), Rock Star Spring and Summer (torn jeans, non-matching color schemes, cowboy hats), and Bohemian fall (warm colors everywhere). I was basically in the same clothes as the year before, but different looks. So fun for me, and easy on my wallet.

And even when I got a really good writing job, I didn’t go crazy. I still drive the same car that I did when I was starving. There’s nothing wrong with it, and it’s very dependable. I only recently applied for a credit card, but I pay it off in full every month. And I try to reward myself for finishing projects as opposed to the vague excuse of “I deserve this.” For example, if I get my book published, then I’ll buy myself a Macbook Air. Til then, I just have to make do with the heavy, no-battery-life, hand-me-down computer that I’ve been using for over 3 years now. Because of this I really, really want to finish my novel and start sending it out, so win-win.

Despite all of my progress, however, I still find that I have problems with overspending some weeks. So I’m going to go back to the basics, and per Howard, start recording everything I spend this week. Supposedly, just a week of doing this will illuminate places where you can cut back faster than a budget ever could and maybe even make you a better spender. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, all that you need to do this experiment with me is a little notebook and a pen to record all of your transactions. I’m a little scared at what I’ll find this week. But I’ll let you know how it all goes next Monday. And if you have any advice on this subject, please let me know, as we’ll be talking about debt all week.


Photo Credit: Marques Stewart/