While perusing the blog, Divine and Debt Free, I was presented with the 'Go Green Challenge'. The Challenge is to ONLY use cash (hence the green) for the month of June. Not only have I accepted the challenge, but I've also gotten a friend to participate as well.

As a result of participating in the challenge, I've spent the last couple days making sure I've accounted for every necessary purchase I will need money for during the month of June. Once I made my list, I withdrew $400 from the ATM. I actually only needed $390, but the ATM only does transactions in denominations of 20. The cash will account for the following purchases:

* $60 for groceries for the month ($20 each week, but I already shopped for this first week).

* $60 for hair care needs for the month

* $75 for gas for the car for the month ($25 each week, but I already filled up for this week).

* $15 for my monthly manicure

* $160 for my frivolous spending/entertainment plan for the month ($40 a week spending divided into $20 for the work week [Sunday-Thursday] and $20 for weekend entertainment[Friday and Saturday]).

* $20 for miscellaneous spending, initially. But since I had to withdraw $400 ($10 more than needed) from the ATM, I guess the amount for miscellaneous spending has increased to $30.

So, there you have it--my cash spending allowance for the month. I don't anticipate a problem or experiencing any withdrawal symptoms, LOL. I stopped using my debit card for purchases once I implemented my $140 a month spending/entertainment plan.

A funny story, though...when I initially approached my friend about joining me in the challenge...she thought about it, then agreed. I told her the rules, and since she is a person who swipes her debit card mindlessly, I also told her some of the things she should account for, in advance, by getting the exact dollar amount from the ATM. She agreed. A few minutes later she came to me in a near panic saying, "But, how will I pay for my gas for the car during the month?!" I think it is absolutely HYSTERICAL how convenience-dependant our society has become. Even if she had forgotten to account for the cost of gas, there was a time--before debit cards--when people actually walked INTO a bank and (shocker) actually withdrew money from the teller.

I had to reassure her that she would NOT be destitute without her debit card because if she had forgotten to account for any NECESSARY purchase, she could either withdraw money from inside the bank or (shocker, again) write a check. The purpose of the 'Go Green' challenge is not to leave us stuck in a bad situation if we forget to account for a necessary purchase, but to stop us from swiping our debit cards mindlessly and think about each purchase.

I don't anticipate a problem...my friend on the other hand...well, let's just say we may need to keep the morphine handy because she is a junkie and will, most definitely, experience some withdrawals, LOL.

The Challenge begins tomorrow...wish us luck! I'll update you on my and my friend's progress periodically, but like I stated earlier, I don't anticipate a problem.

On Thursday, May 20th at 7:15am I was wheeled into the operating room at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. It was an hour long procedure to remove my thyroid gland. That is the short version. The long version is as follows...

For most of my life I had always kind of felt a little, well...off. I had always suffered from insomnia for no explainable reason; always had bouts of constipation; my hair was always a little more course than I knew it should have been. But, when you receive every annual checkup, as I always did, you just tend to think this is the way it is. But a few years ago, the symptoms got worse: chronic fatigue, hair loss, muscle aches, weight fluctuations, swelling in various areas of my body. The hair loss sent me to a dermatologist who ran multiple tests, including a blood test, that diagnosed my hypothyroidism in December 2006.

I spent the greater parts of 2007 and 2008 going to doctor's appointments nearly every six weeks for test of thyroid levels and adjustments in the amount of thyroid hormone I was prescribed. At different points, I was being given too much hormone which swung my condition from hypothyroidism to hyperthyroidism--which comes with it's own set of problems, including heart palpitations. At one doctor's exam my endocrinologist felt a lump in my throat. He recommended I have an ultrasound of my neck...are starting to get a feel for what my medical bills were looking like, even WITH health insurance? The ultrasound revealed that my thyroid gland was covered in nodules. As a result, I had to have the nodules biopsied...while the medical bills continue to flood my mailbox. The biopsy revealed that the nodules were not malignant (THANK GOD!), but I was told that they would be watched and in one year I would have to have another ultrasound....and continue to pay a mountain of medical bills that was getting bigger with each doctor's visit.

In December 2009, the ultrasound revealed the nodules had grown, so the surgeon recommend I have a thyroidectomy (complete removal of my thyroid). The saga ended on Thursday, May 20, 2010.

During the years of 2007 and 2008 I paid in excess of $3,500 EACH year in medical bills--this is WITH health insurance. As anyone who has had a chronic illness knows, each time one visits the doctor health insurance only pays a PORTION of the bill and the remaining portion is passed on the patient. So, in addition to being extremely sick all the time I dreaded going to the mailbox everyday. I don't know when or how health insurance companies are billed, but I would get a bill in the mail in April for a doctor's visit I had in December of the previous year. I was able to deduct a very small portion of the bills from my taxes each year. But, keep in mind, the $3,500 each year was only for the remaining medical bills and co-pays. This did not include the $112 premiums I pay each month to afford the insurance. Additionally, before my surgery I had to pay my $2,500 hospitalization deductible. I have not even done the math on what this illness and surgery have cost me this year alone.

The good news is I feel the absolute BEST I have ever felt in my life. All of the thyroid symptoms were gone immediately after the surgery and now all I do is take one thyroid replacement pill for the rest of my life (I know...). All I can say is thank God for my frugal ways because they enabled me to weather the storm of costs associated with my condition. I also thank God that my diagnosis was ONLY thyroid and not something more serious. During the entire ordeal I could not be unhappy or depressed because I just kept thinking about people, some of whom are innocent children, who go into a doctor's office with symptoms similar as mine and come out being told they are literally in for a fight for their life.

But, what my illness also taught me was that health care reform in this country is essential. Is Obama's plan the answer, I have no idea; but somethings got to give. I am a single woman who was able to make the sacrifice, along with the help of a repayment plan, to pay my medical bills without financial ruin. But what about the divorced mother who may have had to choose between feeding or housing her kids or repaying medical debt?! Medical debt is the number reason for bankruptcy filings in the United States. I reiterate, somethings got to give in regards to health reform. Additionally, we ALL have a responsibility to practice preventative care and avoid those illnesses that are needless.

Off my soapbox now....LOL

I've been out for a bit, having surgery....that's a post that is coming sooner rather than later. Anywho, I'm back to the blog, now. The extreme HIGH cost of getting sick in the US of A made me really appreciate my frugal ways; notice, I said frugal and not cheap. Which brings me to another issue...the naysayers.

There are always those who will criticise us, PFers. We have all heard the taunts, "Oh, live a little", "You can't take it with you", "You only live once", "You could die tomorrow", and on and on.... Like I stated earlier, I never talk about money. I simply set my entertainment and miscellaneous spending plans, buy from Ebay, buy on sale, etc and continue to live my life, thinking no one is the wiser. However, even without me saying a word about my spending habits or being "preachy" to others about their lack of financial planning/priorities, there are always the comments. Case in point, I had family in town visiting. I have a TV that is on it's last leg, and at the time, I was thinking of replacing it. I have since nixed that idea because now I watch most of my TV on the internet. Anyhow, during the visit, I had to hear constant comments about how they know, for sure, that I can afford a new TV and how they couldn't understand why I just don't buy a new one.

At the time, my plan was to save a reasonable sum, watch the sales and discounts, then purchase a TV when the price was right. Upon telling this to my family, they, of course, thought that I was absolutely crazy. According to their reasoning, if I have enough money remaining once my bills are paid, why not go out and by the latest and greatest TV; forget the fact that I don't really watch TV anymore. Everyone has a TV in their home and flatscreens are the only way to go! I basically told them I would purchase a TV when I had saved the money and had to kindly ask them to not bring it up again.

I can never comprehend how people DON'T "get it". If every financially responsible person ran out and made every purchase on a whimp they would be neither financially responsible or have an emergency fund. My method for dealing with the naysayers is to keep my personal business personal, while I allow them to live how they choose and request,kindly, that they allow me to live as I choose. Luckily, I don't have to deal with such inquisitions from friends.

I Don't Loan Money

First of all, I NEVER talk about my finances or my financial goals publicly. I just find that it's easier this way. But, for whatever reason, I have a reputation for being a financially responsible person--especially amongst my family members. Therein, lies the problem. I constantly have a slew of (mostly) family members always asking for loans.

A little background...I come from a family who is content with "just getting by" financially. Witnessing the misery that is "just getting by" is the reason I decided, as a child, to never "just get by". As a result, I never desired the latest and greatest as a teen. So, when I got monetary gifts I always saved most of it. As I got older, the loan request started..... Initially, I would ablige because the request would always be accompanied by a sob story. But, as I get older, I realize that there is a huge difference between a person who is financially responsible, but is going through some financial difficulties versus a financially irresponsible person who feels it is a responsible person's duty to bail him out of every financial crisis he creates for himself.

Therefore, I have adopted the policy that I do not loan money. There are always exceptions to any rule and there may come a time when I know, for sure, that a person has hit a tough patch and sincerely needs my help, but so far, that has not been the case. So, my policy for the last year and a half has been to simply say, "I don't have the money to loan". This is different from saying, "I don't have the money", because I do HAVE the money--just not to loan. The reason for this decision is twofold....

As a child, my grandmother was always the financially responsible person in the family. She worked hard and saved her money--which is not the easiest feat for a black woman born in 1919. But, somehow she managed NOT to pass these financial values down to her children. Therefore, she has six adult children still using her money to rectify every one of THEIR financial "crisis". My grandmother, by the way, will be 91 years old in October. After witnessing this, I vowed to never have to beg anyone for financial help and to pass down my financial values to my future kids. Additionally, for me, money is not about material things, but about freedom and security. I am single, never married (yet) and unlike many of my friends who would be able to turn to their parents in a true financial crisis, I only have myself to sustain me if something were to happen to me.

Therefore, my money IS my security blanket. Why should I loan money to someone else at the risk of my own security? Besides, I have also learned that in any relationship--be it romantic, family, friendship--if the relationship is not equal; if one person is always giving, then that person is being USED--it's that plan and that simple. If I am the one always doing the lending, wouldn't that mean that I am being used? Why continue to loan money to people who CHOOSE to be financially irresponsible and in the case of any financial rough patches in my life, I can't turn to them for the same type of assistance?

I don't know if the sum must be a large amount of money to be considered a windfall or not, but......My employer recently granted our employee raises--retroactive since October 2009. As a result, I received what amounted to nearly a full paycheck, free and clear. To me, any free money is considered a windfall! Needless to say, I am very thankful and grateful.

I have always been pretty financially responsible thanks to my grandmother. If I learned nothing else from her, I learned "If you have a dollar, save a quarter." That was probably the phrase I heard most from her. So, I have always saved a portion of all money I have ever received. When I worked a job that paid 26 pay periods, other co-workers considered this money "free money", but I would always bank at least half of it. Which is what I did with this free paycheck.

I saved what amounted to roughly 66% of the check and used the remainder to get a few things done that I had been putting off. I paid my car registration, got a few clothes altered at the tailor, brought a few clothes to the cleaners and I'm looking to purchase a quality scanner.

All in all, I think I made wise financial decisions with this "found money". What would you do if you received a free paycheck, free and clear?

The final tally for my food cost on the road was $27.06.....not bad. My goal was $25. Initially, I had planned to just go to town and sign paperwork, then immediately get back on the road. But my plans changed and I decided to visit a few friends. I ended up catching up with girlfriend and going out to lunch. The lunch is what put me over budget. However, I had a blast with friends and it was well worth it.

The purpose of this spending plan was to make me more accountable with my money. I will continue to set spending limits and will, most of the time, adhere to the limit. But, I have never felt deprived thus far on my spending plan and did not want to miss out on an opportunity with old friends. I didn't make my goal this time, but this was a special occasion.

The spending plan is still in full effect......

Today I arrived in my hometown of New Orleans, LA. I have a quick turn around trip to finalize paperwork for the renovation of my Hurricane Katrina damaged home. I wanted to fly Southwest, but with such short notice, plane ticket prices were ridiculous. Therefore, I made the seven hour drive from Little Rock, AR.

This is my first trip since starting my spending plan. And because the trip was short notice, I had no time to save the money necessary for the trip. Luckily, I served as a ACT administrator last month and received the $180 check in the mail a few days ago. This check financed my trip. I am looking at about $110 in fuel cost. My American Express card covered my hotel room, so it is free. Because I am only in town today and will have a turn around trip on tomorrow, once I am finished the paperwork, I have put myself on a budget of $25 food cost. I know this does not sound like much, but......

I ate breakfast this morning at McDonald's for $3.89. I packed a Fiber Bar and iced tea for lunch and dinner was my favorite fast food restaurant 'Raising Cane's' for the best chicken fingers in the world for only $6.51. So, far I have only spent $10.40. I only need breakfast for tomorrow, and lunch for the drive home. I think I can make due on another $14.

This spending plan really has me accounting for every penny I spend, but I don't feel deprived at all. On the drive in when I stopped for gas in Jackson, MS, I usually would have spent a few dollars on overpriced junk food also. But, not this time. I was perfectly content with what I packed. I will update on my total when I am back in the 'Rock' on Thursday.

I hope this final step to my home renovation is short and uncomplicated. It's been 4 long years and I am ready to be done with the entire ordeal.

The idea for a No-Spend Weekend came from a fellow PF blogger at Cash Only Living. Ms. Cash Only had an entire No-Spend Week. However, I decided I had to start small, so I chose a No-Spend Weekend. Initially, the plan was to choose a weekend that I had no plans with friends--that was the plan, at least. I set one rule that stated although I had no plans with friends I could not just sit home all weekend--the key was to find out how much temptation I could resist. Friday night, I ended up staying in because of severe weather and tornados in some areas. Saturday, I had to attend the tutoring session that is part of the program that I direct. There was a catch to the tutoring session, however. Tutoring is the first Saturday of each month and I am responsible for picking up the breakfast. I bought the breakfast, but the school reimburses the cost. It is a budgeted expense for the program, so it does not count as me making a purchase.

So, I attended the tutoring from 8am-11:30am and ate all the free breakfast I wanted. Afterwards, I returned home and had lunch. The plan was to go out and explore the city, but by then the weather had turned bad again. It rained for a good portion of the day.

Just when I thought I was in for the night, I got a call from a girlfriend reminding me that I had RSVPed to a surprise birthday for a co-worker a little over a week ago. I was about to say I had forgotten and couldn't make it because I had not purchased a gift---and could not just run out and get one because of my No-Spend Weekend. However, she reminded me that the co-worker's daughter had requested no gifts and instead requested we make donations to one of the birthday guy's favorite charities. The charity information would be provided at the party and we could make the donation by internet--which I must do today. I went to the party and ate all of the free food I wanted; while it stormed cats and dogs outside. The weather cleared enough for everyone to make it home safely then continued to storm the rest of the night.

Sunday was the usual, church, then home. I used the remainder of the day to continue reducing items and decluttering. I really did not have any temptation to spend all weekend--until Sunday night, that is. I was SO ready to give up by 8pm; not because I had an incredible urge to spend money, but because I was CRAVING soda so bad and had none in the home. I decided to fight the craving and used that time to reflect on how I would have just gotten into my car and bought a soda from a fast food drive thru. I resisted and drunk Iced Tea instead.

I left home early enough this morning to run to the grocery store to buy food items for this week to have for lunch. My first frivolous purchase now that I'm back on my $40 a week spending plan: An ice cold, Dr. Pepper from the office vending machine. A Dr. Pepper never taste so good!

Consequently, since I spent no money this weekend--and taking into account I only spent my allocated $20 spending for the week--My grand total spending for all of last week was $17.29.

Needless to say, I am SOOOO proud of myself!!! And a special thanks to Ms. Cash Only for giving me the idea. I think I will try a No-Spend Weekend again when I know, in advance, that I have no plans for the weekend. It was fairly painless.