Ben’s Challenge: Week 1

In case you missed it, last Tuesday I made a commitment to publicly document my New Year’s resolution, which is to pay off my credit card in 2012. I vowed that I would stick with it by taking the ReadyForZero New Year’s Challenge and using our Zero Debt Action Plan to make it happen. As of last week I’m working toward these two goals:

Goal #1: Pay 10-20% more toward my debt for 3 months

Goal #2: Don’t use my credit card for 3 months

So how am I doing after one week?

Well, one of the goals is proving to be more difficult than I thought, but I’m more motivated than ever to complete this challenge. I’ll explain below – and I’ll preview my plans for next week.

It’s time to put this credit card on lockdown.

Goal #1 Update

In my blog post Tuesday I asked for your feedback, and a lot of you left really insightful – and encouraging – comments. For example, Sean said:

[I] definitely agree “debt is not embarrassing”. More people should speak publicly about theirs and help each other get out of debt.

And in response to my question about whether I should aim to pay an additional 10% or 20%, people had great suggestions: Ben Edwards said “pay $480; pay as much as you can.” And Carrie Smith agreed. She posted a comment saying, “if you can manage it okay, I would pay debt down an extra 20%.”

If I were to add an extra 20% on top of my previous $400 plan, that would be a total of $480, which seems like a good goal, so – thank you Ben and Carrie – my “Official Monthly Credit Card Goal” will be: Pay $480.

Will it be hard? Yea, I think it will be. But that’s the point of this challenge – to surprise yourself with how much debt you’re able to pay off. My success (or lack thereof) will be public: I’ll keep you updated on my progress toward this goal each week.

Goal #2 Update

I’m already finding that it is really hard to cut off all credit card spending. As fate would have it, in the very first week after starting the challenge, I had to pay for two surprise expenses that popped up unexpectedly: a health problem and an auto repair.

Both are very helpful and slightly expensive

Luckily, both my car and I are now restored to health. However, I had to swipe my credit card at the doctor’s office and the auto mechanic because, although I do have an emergency fund for situations just like that, I didn’t have the cash on me at the time (and debit cards were not accepted in either place).

But I’m not going to get discouraged. After all, one of the main reasons that people have a hard time getting out of debt is that unexpected expenses push them off track. So I know I’m not alone in dealing with the challenge of medical bills or auto repairs. I plan to draw from my emergency fund to pay off the amount I charged on the credit card for the doctor and mechanic visits. I will need to do this soon to make sure I don’t forget, and then I’ll need to start adding to my emergency fund again. We at ReadyForZero always say the best approach when these things happen is to keep your head up and continue marching toward your goal. So that’s what I’m going to do.

Next Week: Spending Less

Speaking of spending money, in the coming week I’ll be doing Week 2 of the Action Plan. The focus of Week 2 is on evaluating how you spend money and finding ways to reduce those costs. Let’s take a look ahead at how difficult this might be for me. Here’s a pie chart of my spending that I pulled from my Adaptu profile:

A breakdown of Ben’s spending last month

While this chart may not be 100% accurate because it doesn’t include things I paid for with checks (including my rent!), it’s very useful for giving me a quick picture of where my money is going. What’s immediately clear from the chart is that I spent a lot of money on food. The categories for “Groceries” and “Restaurants/dining” make up about one-third of the spending in this chart. That means I have an opportunity to reduce my spending by making wiser choices about meals.

Check back here next Tuesday for my update on trying to spend less. And more importantly, help me out by:

1. Leaving a comment – tell me how you’ve dealt with unexpected expenses in the past

2. Sharing this on FB/Twitter

3. Doing the Action Plan with me

Last week’s post had 6 comments and 17 people supporting me via Facebook and Twitter. I’m hoping to receive even more feedback this week!

If you want to do the Action Plan along with me, it’s not too late. Just enter your e-mail address in the box below to sign up, and you’ll get a weekly e-mail from us for the next 9 weeks:

Image 2 by Walt Stoneburner; Image 3 by justtohottotouch

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  • Jenna

    Thanks for mentioning Adaptu!  Good luck spending less next week!

    • No problem, Jenna! It’s a very useful tool.

  • They wouldn’t accept debit cards at the doctor’s office? Ugh.

  • Rod Ebrahimi

    nice work, great post

  • Glad to see you’re trying to max out your debt repayments! And I’m also sorry to hear you had a few auto/health emergencies come up. Isn’t that how life turns out? We decide to make a change then the bottom drops out!

    But the good news is you’re back on track. Keep it up! I can’t wait to see your progress next week.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Carrie. You’re so right – things like that always seem to happen when you’re least expecting them. I’ll definitely keep you updated on my progress!

  • Love that you’re recording your progress here. I’ll be following – good luck with the challenge! Also, I echo Loren’s question – No debit cards at the doctor’s office? What?

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