Bloggers You Should Know: Cassie

When I was considering putting an end to this blog, I decided that I couldn’t do so before introducing my readers to some of my favourite bloggers. The group of men and women I questioned write blogs that I have been reading for years. Some of their blogs are more personal, while others are more financial, but all of them inspire me for different reasons.

Today, I want to introduce you to Cassie. Cassie used to write a blog called Digging Out and Up but then, after a mini hiatus, started a new project. Tales from the Trenches is now one of my favourite Canadian personal finance blogs to read because Cassie is so good with numbers. I mean, ridiculously good. Her monthly net worth updates put the rest of us to shame! Read her answers to my questions and you’ll know why I love her blog so much…

When and why did you start a personal finance blog?

October 2010. In all honesty, I never thought it would last as long as it did. I had tried starting up blogs before, but I usually quit after 3 or 4 posts. Apparently, I just wasn’t writing about the right subject.

2010 was an incredibly turbulent (and expensive!) year for me. I was deep in debt, I knew I needed to make some serious changes, but I barely knew where to start. I was maxed out. I started out blogging like it was my online diary; it was a way to keep a record of my mental state that I could refer back to later. At the time, I had no idea there was a whole community of bloggers dedicated to personal finance.

How often do you think about money?

Oh geez, daily. If I’m not thinking about savings and debt repayment, I’m reading the financial news online, comparing prices in the grocery store, making spreadsheets to figure out how much money it would take to make me a millionaire (geeking out!), or talking to my sister or friends about their own financial journeys.

What’s the first thing you do on payday?

If I haven’t done it yet, I make a budget. There isn’t much point for me to log into my bank account and start dreaming about all of the clothes I could buy if there are actual NEEDS that need to be taken care of first this pay period. Once that’s done, I log in, pay all of my bills for that pay period, and log back out. Later in the day, I’ll actually go into the bank and take out money to put into accounts I have with other banks. I’ve seen a lot of places recommend that you keep your accounts with one bank so it’s easy to track, but I like my system. It makes it harder to blow through my money in one fell swoop, which when you’re an impulsive shopper is a plus.

Do you budget? If so, how often (monthly, bi-weekly, weekly)? Why does this work for you?

Yep! I get paid every two weeks, and my mortgage comes out of my account every two weeks, so for me it makes the most sense to do a budget every two weeks. It also makes it a little easier for me because I’m more likely to plan meeting up with friends a week or two out rather than a month out, so doing a budget more frequently allows me to see how much money I actually have to work with. It also forces me to pay attention to when my bills are due. Since February is the only month that is exactly 4 weeks long (75% of the time), the number of bills that come in per pay day is constantly shuffling. I have to actually think about what I have coming up, which forces me to know when my bills are actually due.

What’s the biggest/craziest/most important thing you’ve done to better your financial situation?

I sold my 3-year-old car and bought a 16-year-old beater to drive. My issue, as I found out, was that I had cash flow problems, not net worth problems. My ~$400 monthly car payment and ~$120 insurance payment were strangling my budget. My fixed expenses were so high that I didn’t have a lot of variable areas to cut from to make a big difference. I was the classic house poor/car poor young professional. Since I wasn’t ready to sell my (mid-renovation) house yet, that left the car. Friends of mine were preparing for their first child, and needed a vehicle that would better accommodate their needs. I sold my car, paid off the loan, and spent the next 13 months driving their old $50 beater with no power steering, no AC, and a slew of other issues. You want to crack the façade of “has it all together”? That’ll do it. I needed it too, because it forced me to wake up and stop placing so much value on what others thought about my possessions. It was the best decision I ever made.

Give one piece of financial advice (or a lesson you’ve learned) that you think everyone should know.

Just start. Nobody says you have to get everything right or do everything perfectly the first time. You want to pay off your debt? Throw an extra $5 at it. Roll your spare change and put that on it. Sell a pair of pants online and put that money towards it. No one expects you to be able to pay everything off in one fell swoop, and those little bits of extra money here and there are going to add up quickly. The only thing that’s harder than paying off debt is making the decision to get started, so just do it already!

What is your biggest financial goal this year?

The biggest one for me this year? To finish up my renovations and pay for it in cash. I did up an estimate a couple weeks ago that put the number right around $3,700. It should be doable, now I just need to get it done. After that, I also want to get my savings accounts built up again. If I could have a fully finished home, at least $2,500 in savings and $2,500 in investments by the end of December, I’ll be a happy girl. That’s not an end goal for the savings, but I figure it’s a reasonable goal for this year.

Who or what keeps you motivated to reach your goals?

I hate to say it, but right now fear is a bit of a motivating factor for me. I’m not in what I would call a “safe” position at the moment. My savings are low and my expenses are still quite high, so I’m very much dependent on my job for my wellbeing. Having been laid off once before, and having gone through a similar scare recently, I know how quickly circumstances can change. One of the reasons why I’m completing renovations while saving, rather than just saving heavily, is that it gives me the option of putting my house up for sale sooner rather than later. I wouldn’t say my house is in a sale ready state at the moment.

Who do you write for? (For yourself, to help others, both, etc.)

A little of column A, a little of column B. Writing is very much an emotional outlet for me. I find it’s better (for me) than working out, soaking in a bath or any other form of stress relief. Once the words are down on paper (or screen), they become the holder of my concerns instead of my head. I actually find I do my best writing when I’m going through a period of stress or emotional upheaval. I know I’m far from the only person to ever experience this, and there is a certain sense of relief that comes from knowing that you’re not the only one going through something. I hope that my blog does this for people. I hope that people who are struggling will stumble across my blog and go “it does get better!”, because it really does.