This is part of a series of interviews with people who are either working to improve their financial situation or who have already reached their goals. This week’s interview is with Nicole, who writes Breaking Even.
Could you tell us something about yourself?
I’m an aspiring writer, aspiring personal finance blogger, and aspiring good person. I say “aspiring” because I continuously strive to be better, and expect the same of everyone else.
At 27 years old, I’ve found myself recently single again, living with my senior citizen dog in a new apartment. I’ve lived in the state of Maine my whole life, which I think makes me practical and outdoorsy. I’m known for embracing my joie de vivre, throwing great parties, and putting people at ease. I love to write.
In what way have you turned your financial life around? (Or what are you working on changing?)
When I moved to my current geographic location (at the time, to be with my boyfriend), I had a hard time finding work. The one full time job I did find that worked paid $7,000 less then my previous job. I had less money to play with so I suddenly had to be very careful about how I spent what was coming in. I decided to start a blog about how I was trying to save money (about a year ago). Breaking Even was what I wanted to do, and a hopeful way to think about having a good life at a low price.
I have made a solid budget that I stick to every month. I have also started putting money regularly into a retirement account and savings. I am living on less but I feel so much more in control of my financial situation then I ever have before.
Can you give a little bit of background on your story? What were things like for you pre-change?
Before starting my blog (and making the commitment to understand my money), the idea of money overwhelmed me. I let bills pile on my kitchen table, unopened. I actually had the money to pay them but I just felt a lot of anxiety about doing so. I would also buy things without researching or just when I wanted something. I reasoned that I was having a hard time and that getting this object or that thing would make me feel better. Of course it didn’t. I also deep down didn’t think I was smart enough to understand all that complicated financial stuff.
One thing I always felt though was that I made enough money. I never felt like I should make more, just that I should use it better.
How much progress have you made?
Things stabilized as I got my blog and budgeting underway. I also moved in with my boyfriend, which not only helped my bottom line but also gave me a financially responsible person to encourage the development of better habits.
I now pay bills the day I get them, and feel empowered to know what is coming in and what is going out. I am now the kind of person to shop around for car insurance and do other things to advocate for myself as a consumer and a person. It’s not pushy to want to understand where your money is going; it’s your right to know.
How do you feel about your financial situation right now? (Or how did you feel after reaching your goal?)
Having recently broken up with my live-in boyfriend, I’ve had a whole new dynamic to adjust to. I had to move into a new place, and decided to do what it took financially to get my own space. I’ve had to dip into the savings I built on this year to do it but I don’t think any of this process (or my resulting purchases) were frivolous.
Since I have a new living situation, I have to recreate my budget. It would have been comfortable to just keep everything the same but that’s not the reality of life. Things have to change on occasion and as adults, we have to deal with it.
What was the catalyst that caused you to take action?
The day I realized I needed to stop being like this was when my grandmother kept asking about a check she sent for my birthday, which I hadn’t cashed. Not opening my mail to avoid bills was making me flaky, and screwing up my grandmother’s checkbook balance. Suddenly, my not wanting to deal with bills was effecting someone besides me, not to mention making me look like a flake.
Did you have any setbacks? If so, how did you deal with them?
It has been a difficult few years. My father and a good friend both passed away suddenly, a friend has become terminally ill, and I’ve just ended my most significant romantic relationship. In the background is a tendency toward depression, which is something that I’m always monitoring. It’s easy to let life get to you but despite the big events, the normal, small, everyday things like bills, work, having to go grocery shopping, just keep happening. I think this is what people struggle with. When all your energy seems to be used to get through a day, it’s hard to say, get home from work and make yourself a nutritious meal.
What I’ve realized is you can let them pile up or deal with them as they happen. I’m oversimplifying of course. To be successful, you have to come up with a way to deal with it. For example, let’s say you get home from work early on Mondays. Do your cooking for the week Monday night and your nutritious meals will be ready to go when you get home.
While you can’t do much about the big stuff in life, you can systematize the little things so they seem more manageable.
What has been the hardest part of the process?
The honest hardest part was coming up with the systems to follow. Getting in the habit of writing down every purchase, estimating the cost of groceries as I put them in the cart so as not to be surprised at the checkout, having a specific place in the house to put paid and unpaid bills. It’s all small things but if you aren’t taught to create these systems you don’t think of even doing this.
The easiest part is being happy with less. I took it as a challenge (can I throw a party on $50?) rather then a setback. I’ve known people who make three times as much as I do who never seem to feel they have enough. Knowing I have enough and feeling lucky every day is easy with a supportive family, wonderful friends, and a job and budget that covers necessities.
How long has it taken?
I don’t think I’m ever quite done yet but I feel like giving yourself six months to create and adjust to a new budget is fair.
What will be your next step?
The next step is to work on doing more writing and website promotion work with Breaking Even Communications, my online business. I’m constantly looking for new clients and projects but I’m equally excited about what I’m already working on.
What’s the best financial advice you’ve received?
Live within your means and, in general, put yourself out there in a genuine way. Don’t be afraid to say you can’t go out to eat with friends but you’d love to have everyone over for cake afterward. You aren’t lame for having to buy a used car. If more people were honest with themselves and others about what they could really afford, there could really be some positive changes in our society. And being your genuine self brings all kinds of good things your way.
What inspiration could you give to someone in a similar situation?
Read the book “All Your Worth” and surround yourself with happy people who 1) care about you and 2) that you can learn from. This could be through online blogs or real life friends. And if you have one setback, don’t give up or be afraid to ask for support. The reason human society has so many group structures is that we need other people. And sometimes, I read The Desiderata to remind me of all these things in an eloquent way.
If you would like to be interviewed via email for a future article, please email me at