the bear that changed my life

no, not the hubs. he changed my life and continues to do so in a positive way every day, but this entry is not about that bear.

it's about this one.
[cue: a little bit of long-winded reflection as 2007 comes to a close]

i found him yesterday while purging and deadfiling a ton of bills and papers from a fat accordion file that held all my important papers from the college years and also from my much neater files from the past few post-college years. as i sorted through the college papers, i tsk-tsked at the irresponsible charges on my credit card statements, the amount of money i spent on long distance phone calls, the tons of parking tickets i got on campus (permits were harder to come by than LA-area schools' permits despite the fact we were in the sticks), the random notes and sketches haphazardly scrawled on bank statements or envelopes (notes having nothing to do with bills, no less). i also was not able to decipher my filing system, as there didn't appear to be any method - just madness. financial aid information was mixed in with utility bills and credit card bills, some of which had never been opened (i paid online, but still). anyway, as part of my clean-up-and-get-organized-before-the-new-year process, i re-found babu.

he was there for me during a difficult time. he helped me get my financial life and life otherwise organized and back on track. you see, college was a very busy, disorganized time for me. i didn't have many role models before then on living an organized, sane, fiscally-responsible life as my single mother was always gogogo, and organization was never her strong suit anyway (walking into her home office with its piles everywhere practically makes me break out in hives now). i had never had to work or budget before, and i was told to charge anything i couldn't pay for with my college savings, student loan money, and meager work-study earnings (bad bad bad advice, i now know). when i moved back to LA and secured a job, the reality of my gigantic debts and living paycheck-to-paycheck hit me head on.

i recorded all my monthly bills and expenses in babu. he helped me learn the art of budgeting. he helped me learn how to plan ahead. i wrote down my needs and wants outside of my monthly bills, which helped me better prioritize them and project if/when i could fulfill them by seeing them in black ink on his soft, green pages. black ink on stark white paper was still a bit too hard to face, you see. he was small enough to carry around in my purse, so i could consult with him every time i was tempted to spend. life has gotten a bit more complicated since the days of babu, so i have moved that record-keeping onto electronic spreadsheets, but at the beginning, he was the simplest and easiest way to do it, which made me more likely to even try.

with babu bear's help, your money counts + its accompanying workbook [warning, it has a strong christian bent to it. it contains as much on changing your views on money to align with biblical principles and good stewardship as it does on practical, applicable money advice.], a few spreadsheets, the accountability of two trusted friends, lots of discipline, a few (low-cost) "sanity" splurges here and there, radical changes in erroneous thinking and bad attitudes, and a few small miracles, i learned financial responsibility and paid off a rather large amount of high-interest debt in 2 years. i learned how to live off what i had, aggressively pay off bad debt, and even save - all on a rather conservative income for this high-cost-of-living city.

that was all background. now for what it has to do with 2007's reflections. finally. i know.

i don't do new year's resolutions, but i often set financial and personal goals, and not necessarily at the beginning of a year. last year, i did set financial goals at the beginning of the year. i purposely set them a little higher than that which i thought i could attain. after all, growth doesn't come without at least a little bit of stretching and pain. they were:
  • pay off all student loans, my only remaining debt. considering the ridiculously low interest rate i locked in, i know it wasn't necessarily the best allocation of funds. however, i did it so i could be start my marriage off fresh by not bringing along any debt baggage and in anticipation of taking on some bigger but "good" debt together in the near future.

  • give more than 10% of my income.

  • save up enough to pay for my half of our wedding costs in cash, and match that amount in savings for other goals.

  • give my mom a nice chunk toward the federal, parent loan she took out to help cover the tail end of my college education. most of the costs of my degree were covered, as a gift, by her and my late dad. very fortunate me. despite it being a gift, i am ever the oldest child and felt guilty about the generous gift. i wanted to "help." yes, i paid for a portion of it through work and loans taken out in my name, but i wanted to contribute beyond that small fraction i originally contributed.
as of today, i am proud to say i have reached every single one of those goals. i did not reach them by my own prowess, work, or discipline at all. rather, i received a bit of help from above and from those around me. the results, specifically:
  • debt - CHECK! as of april 2007, four months before our wedding, i was completely debt free.

  • giving - CHECK! don't worry, i'm not doing this to brag, nor am i *that* altruistic. my worldview mandates it for what i have found to be very good reasons, i have benefited much from others' generosity and want to give back a little, and i have seen a tiny bit of the kind of miracles that can be worked with the little i can more than afford to share. this has truly been one of the more fulfilling goals to meet, even though it was such a struggle at times to let go of those funds.

  • large purchase[s] + saving - CHECK! the wedding was paid for in full the day we said our vows, and i personally saved up the amount i spent on it sitting in my happy savings.

  • gift - CHECK! my mom was so, so surprised and touched when i handed her a check on christmas.
"and the real point of sharing so much about a topic that is often taboo?" you ask. to give you a little encouragement that no matter how dire your financial situation, it is possible to set goals, reach them more quickly than you think you can, and become "financially free," whatever that may mean to you. it takes some work, a lot of planning and discipline, is often painful, and you will feel some short-term deprivation, but it is so worth it to organize your financial life. ironically, being deliberate about it and facing the cold, hard numbers gave me an amazing sense of freedom and peace-of-mind that no amount of green can buy.

many times throughout this ongoing journey, i felt so alone, too shy or thought it too rude to ask others' their situation and advice, and very discouraged. however i drew such encouragement, wisdom, and knowledge through others' frank sharing (often sans real numbers, sometimes even with), such as that in m.p. dunleavy's bi-weekly women in red columns*. i hope my little, ok *really* long, story will do the same for you.

happy new year, all! i may put my 2008 goals down here "on paper" soon, depending on my negotiations with the bear. i hope the end of your year is as sweet and blessed as mine is turning out to be. cheers!

*the internets have *so* many personal finance resources. seek them out and use them [although cautiously and with discretion as it is the internets, after all]! hmm...i really like asterisks today.


  1. That is great! Congrats, tater! Very inspiring.

  2. I'm very, very impressed, tater!

  3. [high five]

    Congrats, Tater, on achieving your goals!

  4. big huge congratulations! :D

  5. awesome job on achieving your goals for '07!

    i had a "babu", too - the year i was on my own for the first time, after i left the ex. even though i'm remarried now and am able to easily manage our budget, i kept my little notebook and look at it now and then to remind myself of how far i've come since then.

  6. I really like this post. (I knew I was saving it for a reason.) I feel very inspired now. I would so love to be debt-free. It's just so...hard. Especially because we're both still students. Thank you for the advice and links. I really appreciate it!

  7. I've been meaning to comment on this post...congratulations on the meeting the '07 resolutions. That's really cool that you gave your mom a check and also that your wedding was fully paid for on your wedding day...makes the day more real, at least in my opinion :) Good luck with penning in the '08 resolutions.

  8. What a great post. I am also impressed! Congrats to you. I only dream of that kind of financial freedom. Some sweet day...


comments are tasty!